David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Week Eleven

November 16, 2012: Inside the HEAD:  Week Eleven (day fifty-four)

Earlier in the week, I discussed minutes. Now the minutes are turning into hours.

Establishing, maintaining and communicating hours of operation for colleges and universities is a bloody nightmare.  You would think it would be so simple.  The campus is open from 8-5, or 8-8, or 8-11.  However, you have so many variables, ranging from the departments, to the classroom buildings, to time of year, to who knows what, that you can literally waste valuable hours trying to set your hours.

I'm not ashamed to say that some of us at SMC have gotten bogged down in that.  Two campuses might or might not lead to two separate sets of hours.  Departments within each campus could lead to three or four sets of hours per campus.  Yet, someone, usually some poor schmuck in communications and marketing, has to be able to publicize those hours in a fairly simple way.  Our website can require constant scrolling down in order to see all the pertinent hours.  Forget trying to purchase permanent door signs that announce hours.

This became especially challenging today when we needed to esatablish intersession hours, those hours of operation between the semesters. The main campus, replete with student housing and five or six times the total number of students as our offsite, needs a greater variety of hours to meet the students', and potential students', needs.  The offsite campus, with so fewer students, and no on-site traditional students, barely needs any hours.  In fact, we could staff our learning center at the offsite with tutors and administrators for entire days during the intersession and probably serve no students.

So, we spend hours and hours trying to determine these hours.  And we're talking Vice Presidents, whose hours could be much better spent on analyzing contact hours or credit hours, not hours of operation.  One would love to come up a quick and easy decision that appears to make everyone happy (closing early or not being open at all come to mind); however, I have been in the situation when forced to make a quick decision about closing a campus for a few days between Christmas and New Year's, yet within hours of making that decision and having it communicated, I have had to deal with frustrated staff who are adversely affected by that decision anyway (I.T. staff, for instance, often use down time on a campus to swap out hardware and software). 

As I left campus today, I felt confident we had conclusively set the intersession hours.  I have no doubt that by Monday, we will be second-guessing that schedule, leading me to hours and hours of necessary therapy.

November 15, 2012: Inside the HEAD:  Week Eleven (day fifty-three)


Been thinking a lot about the dynamics of dual enrollment, especially direct credit, where high schoolers can earn college credit in their high school classes.  This is a contradiction I have lamented about before on this site, given that every study shows most high school students aren't ready for college.  Still, there is a lot of pressure to grant credit while they are juniors and seniors in high school (and potentially even earlier).


Thus, I present "This Blog Has No Title," a parody of the wonderful Elton John song "This Song Has No Title."  Hear it here, if you never have.  Read the original lyrics here. 




Tune me into the wild side of high school.


Today, I’m the ignorant child, outright fool.


Take me to the audits where the credits have died.


Show me the board rooms where budgets are decried.




Let me drink deeply from the coffee and the tea.


Bright eyed fifteen-year olds in dark, dreary seats.


Look in the mirror and stare at the white hair,


And wonder if that’s really me with the deep stare.




And each day they learn just a little bit less.


I don’t know why, but I do know it’s a mess.


If it pays to dual enroll, just do it, dude.


This blog has no title, just words and a ‘tude.




Take me down hallways where bullying is done


In a vast high powered curriculum to graduation.


Want to assign books for their studying


Despite bored on the bus and clique-ish buddying.




If I was an artist who paints in abstract,


I’d study this subject and over-react.


Cry for the darkness to come down on direct credit,


As confusion carries on churning as we let it.




And each day they learn just a little bit less.


I don’t know why, but I do know it’s a mess.


If it pays to dual enroll, just do it, dude,


This blog has no title, just words and a ‘tude.



November 14, 2012: Inside the HEAD:  Week Eleven (day fifty-two)

Whoever came up with the term of "minutes" for meetings?  "Minutes," according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, defined as "record of proceedings," goes back to about 1710.  It makes you wonder if parliamentary meetings and the such were more orderly and on topic than meetings of today.  Did they really want to record "minutes" on the clock?

As most of us know, the modern version of meetings can means hours of sitting and talking. If anything, recordings of such modern meetings might be called "quarter hours" because at best, something is worth recording about every 15 minutes.  At best!  Meanwhile, since so many meetings in the modern world are informational moreso than decision-making, what is the purpose of preserving some conversation over others? 

Why am I asking these questions, you might ask.

I am the secretary for the statewide community college academic officers group, a strictly information-sharing group, and I produce, right or wrong, lengthy tomes of our meetings that may, unfortunately, appear to be a recording of every minute of a several hour long meeting.  However, I do that because a) we are sharing information and ideas relevant to all of our jobs, and it will be a blur for attendees within an hour of leaving the meeting; and b) many of us can’t make the meetings, so the minutes are as much for them to see what was discussed and to have the ability to follow up with individual members of the group on points associated with their names.  However, in keeping these minutes for a year and a half now, we have never had an action step nor have we had a parliamentary motion.  (I know I could call these "notes" instead of "minutes" and rid myself of this euphemistic challenge. Still, bear with me.)

In the interest of transparency at SMC, we have recently decided to post the minutes from management level committees for all of the college to see.  One such committee is 98% information sharing, so those minutes are fairly easy to link to without any change. However, the other one, and one that I lead, is about 40% informational and 60% decision-making.  All of a sudden I have to consider sanitizing minutes (to really get to persistent germs, do I need to sanitize seconds?) when this is something I have never particularly worried about before.  Knowing that minutes from academic meetings are necessary for accreditation, I have usually encouraged a pretty open record-keeping, at least in terms of the subjects raised, if not always aligning them to specific members of the committee, but that may be different than sharing details of potential decisions before decisions are officially blessed.

Now I have to change all of that. I don’t really want two sets of minutes (that sounds like the fun I had living in Indiana when the state refused to comply with daylight savings time).  That would defy the very notion of transparency.

Of course, if I have problems with the word "minutes," don't get me started with "transparency."  Why is "parent" the apparent, pun intended, root word?  I don't know about everyone else out there, but I don't let my kid know everything!


November 13, 2012:  Inside the HEAD:  Week Eleven (day fifty-one)

How do we get students to graduate in a timely manner?  Completion! Graduation! They are one and the same in the political eye.  That's about all colleges and universities hear anymore from politicians.  However, completion is not always graduation. It is, however, graduation that is most measureable.

So, it is not surprising that the California State University system wants to levy what they call "incentives" for students to avoid behaviors that put off their graduation.  (For the life of me, I would swear that makes these "disincentives," but what the heck do I know?)  

As a result, students could pay more if they have achieved too many credits (I'm assuming "units" are credits at Cal State.  Maybe Cal State should be incentivized to use normal English.)  God forbid, a student changes majors along the way and ends up with more credits than needed for graduation, but is locked in by the university's inability to allow credits from another program to apply to the newly selected one.

In another scenario, students would have to pay more if they repeat a class.  Perhaps the university could borrow from the airlines and charge fat students even more for taking up a seat or two while repeating a class!  Meanwhile, let's not allow a student to ever make a mistake by sticking too long with a class that he or she thought he or she might be able to pass.

Higher charges would also apply to any student that signs up for more than 18 credits, because it is likely that said student will drop one of the classes when the work piles up too high.  You high achievers have to suffer because some middle achievers haven't been able to cut it when taking a lot of classes.  

No one really knows how to manuever through the current crisis of education.  We all know, like our politicians, that our students rack up way too much debt and often leave college without a degree.  None of us are happy about that.  However, the knee jerk reactions that come from public policy are destroying the integrity of the institutions all the more.    What is needed is a new business model.  I leave it to you decide if I mean for higher education or for politics.


November 12, 2012: Inside the HEAD:  Week Eleven (day fifty)

We watch a lot of M*A*S*H in our house.  It often serves as the backdrop by default, helped by the fact that you can probably find an episode 24 hours a day.  It's been playing in the other room while I have pondered today's entry.

And then it hit me: if only higher education applied the concepts of the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital to student success.  What would that look like?

First off, I guess we'd call it the Mobile University Learning Environment (M*U*L*E), patterned in part by the missionary efforts to educate remote parts of the world by riding into tiny villages on donkeys.  The whole idea of the M*U*L*E would be to get education closer to those who need it.  Think how successful this could be for remediation.  The local high school puts their front line medics (the Pedagogical Aid Station) on the case to get students stable, then the M*U*L*E staff comes in and saves the day.  Classrooms are set up in tents, which can be taken down quickly if violence threatens to erupt at some of the gang-infested neighborhoods in which these students live, and commendations are made to the M*U*L*E units that have the greatest success at student completion.

Secondly, let's go ahead and imagine the staff:

  • Dean William Blake, generalist, but able to teach English at the drop of a hat;
  • Full Professor Charles Babbage Winchester, mathematician and music lover;
  • Full Professor Benjamin Franklin, all around generalist
  • Full Professor John McCullough, historian
  • Dean of Students, Margaret Youknowyoucan, advisor to students and in-class tutor;
  • College Clerk, Registrar O'Reilly, able to get signatures and document 24/7.

Thirdly, let's imagine the episodes

  • Dear Dad, several episodes where members of the M*U*L*E write home recounting their adventures in Compton, Detroit, or Harlem.
  • The Laptop, where the staff need to beg, bargain and steal to get a basic laptop.
  • The Lounge, where everyone retreats to the staff lounge and refuses to emerge until the semester is over.
  • The Debate, where Full Professor McCullough must debate another M*U*L*E's full professor.
  • The Consultant, where some consultant from the Higher Learning Commission comes in, making the M*U*L*E fear it is going to be broken up.

So, there you have it.  For anyone who thinks this was a weak entry, be thankful I didn't go with my second thought:  the release of Black Ops II tomorrow, which my son can't stop talking about.