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

December 7, 2012:  Inside the HEAD:  Week Fourteen (day sixty-seven)

You gotta love it when your alma mater makes the headlines for the wrong reasons: West Virginia University's mascot, the mountaineer, has been told by the University to not use his functioning rifle for actual hunting, this after he shot a black bear with it and posted pictures online.

It's painful to read the litany of comments that follow this story on MSN.com.  All of the idiots come out and show their ignorance.  The only reason I didn't add a comment, calling most of them out, was my promise to stay away from the irrational diatribes that disguise themselves as reasonable debate online these days.  Apparently that doesn't stop me from ranting and raving on this website.  There is an important difference--probably only 20 people will read this.  

Most painful is the lack of critical thinking involved with so many people, including, frankly, the writer of the story.  There really isn't that much of a story here:  Moutaineer used University musket to shoot bear, University discovered this, University told him he could no longer use University property for actual hunting.  There is no reprimand (according to the story), there is no pressure on him to never hunt again, or to never post pictures of his kill.

However, that's a pretty dull story.  So, it is spruced up to make it look like the issues are more than what they are:  the university protecting its assets from potential litigation still wildly prevalent in our society.

This is not a story of political correctness, of liberal values impeding conservative values.  This is a story of trying to avoid a potentially real story.  Mountaineer goes out to hunt with University musket, shot goes slightly awry and hits another person, even the Mountaineer himself.  University is raked over the coals of public opinion, and potential lawsuit, for allowing its property to be used in hurting a person.  That is it.  For all the people wondering why the University is just now making a big deal about the situation   . . . it's a pretty safe bet that this is the first time some leaders at the top of the University learned this was "a tradition."  Like it or not, this is why you employ a bunch of lawyers to protect the University.

Can you imagine the University of Texas allowing Bevo (their long-standing beautiful steer mascot) to be used for a bull riding event?  I am pretty sure that is not allowed and wouldn't be publicly scorned as politically correct.  It's called freaking common sense, people, and if our Universities don't embody it, then why should anybody?


Inside the HEAD:  Week Fourteen (day sixty-six)


There are many times I go, "wish I had thought of that," especially when it comes to goofy stuff posted on the web.  There are also times when I say, "thank goodness, I don't have that job."  Rarely do these two trains meet.   But, today they did. 


Karl Stavem's website "Thanks, Textbooks" was featured in a Chronicle of Higher Education news story this morning.  It is hilarious and I urge people to check it out immediately.  Since he works for a textbook company (hence my "thank goodness, I don't have that job" comment), he has had opportunities to leaf through textbook after textbook for ridiculous prose, insensitive examples, weird photos. 


On the website he encourages people to send him examples.  Since I no longer teach, I no longer see textbooks, otherwise he would be getting daily submissions from me.  Stavem promises updates every Monday, but it appears that he may not get enough material to meet that timeline.  I implore all my academic friends to help the man with his mission.  Check out the site to see the wide array of embarrassments passed off as academic material.  (In some cases, the textbook examples reveal authors or editors who have a sense of humor, something desperately missing in the sterile world of textbook publishing.)


I can remember  a decade or so ago writing a few chapters for a customized technical writing textbook.  I had hoped to bring alive some typically dull subjects and so I went for the humor.  If I can find the textbook I may forward these to Mr. Stavem and let him have his fun.


More importantly, while I love his site and his whimsy, I am reminded of why I wouldn't want his job.  Textbooks are already a shameful part of the higher education business, in part because of the almost impossible way for a company to turn a profit without having to release new editions every couple of years (a "used" book on the market immediately means lost profit for the publisher, whether we like it or not).  On top of that, I always felt sorry for a textbook representative who had to promote one glossy, heavy-bound expensive textbook that was ultimately similar to the other textbooks on the market on the same subject.  Now I realize that often those textbooks contain pathetic examples of scholastic thinking gone awry.  Makes me glad I hadn't thought of some of that.




December 5, 2012:  Inside the HEAD:  Week Fourteen (day sixty-five)

I'm going to do something I should never admit, except that I am a blogger and it is almost forgivable in the blogging world.  I'm going to speak about something without really fully researching it.  So, sue me and this site.  Like that never happens!

Anyway, I wish there was an online single resource that lists all of the academics in the country with their expertise.  It would be sortable by region and by expertise to help anyone looking for an expert on just about any topic.

Why do I want this, you ask, especially given that I usually scorn the kind of arrogance and egos that might be associated with listed in this virtual directory?  Well, I am looking for a scholar who can speak credibly about the Bible and musical theater.  SMC has a February production of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat," and I would love to have a timely expert on this broader subject as part of our academic speaker series.  To find one, as was the case with our zombie speaker and our Mayan culture speaker, comes from a bit of detective work, which normally I love.  Do a google search, use academic networks, review online databases.  Eventually I will find my guy   . . . or girl . . . or even goy for this topic.  

However, just think how easy it would be if there were online comprehensive Who's Who guides to academics.  I know those still exist in mostly paper versions (and probably some online versions, here is where my first paragraph comes into play), but they are hardly exhaustive.  My spam email at work was cluttered the last two months with announcements that it was my last chance to get included in a Who's Who. However, the books are like my Indiana University and West Virginia University alumni compilations.  I buy them because I am listed, they fascinate me for two days and then they make for really heavy paperweights.

I know my naivety is showing again.  Can you imagine the jockying of full professors versus associate professors over who is the first name listed for a specific subject? Yeah, zombie experts, Mayan experts, even Musical Biblical Theater experts are probably a short list.  How about all of the Shakespeare experts maneuvering to be the first one listed, perhaps changing their name to Aarons so that they were listed first?  

So, instead maybe the little detective work is still good for me.  Looking for my Musical Biblical Theater expert allowed me to touch base with a colleague from a former institution today.  That, I admit, is always kind of fun.  So, let's forget the virtual Who's Who.  And if you are into Old Testament Tremelo, give me a call.


December 4, 2012: Inside the HEAD:  Week Fourteen (day sixty-four)

I'll be honest.  The most I really hope for in terms of reactions to this blog is something along the lines of "it made me think," or better yet, "it made me laugh."  I guess it surprises me that I can get stronger responses.  In reaction to last night's blog about the transfer issues with a major university, two very succinct responses I got were:  "Sad and maddening" and "Makes me sad to read about it.  How awful for the students."

I wasn't purposely trying to play the rage card, although maybe I did.  I was hoping more for a "Whoah!" card, a recognition that decisions have ripple effects and that sometimes those of us at the farthest edge of the circle, barely get noticed.

It's interesting because the rage card is what I see often online.  Recently, two institutions of higher education, Pennsylvania's Community College of Allegheny County, and Youngstown State, out of Ohio, cut back adjunct hours in response to the Affordable Care Act, known more widely as Obamacare.  In short, institutions have to provide health care to anyone who works 30 hours or more a week (hereby defined as "full time"). 

Youngstown State, then, decided to cut adjunct hours at 29 hours a week.  And the response, captured in the comments below this article, is not surprising.  Rage flies everywhere, toward people who supported Obama's election, or against the administrative fat cats perceived as "finding a loophole."  The Community College of Allegheny County is limiting adjuncts to 10 credit hours taught a semester, a more interesting way to approach the 30 hours a week definition.  The response, seen in the comments below this Chronicle of Higher Education article, again suggests a wave of rages.

All of us in higher education have to ponder this new challenge.  Will it be easiest to focus on those of us who use adjuncts primarily, as opposed to the major universities who use lots of graduate students?  Neither system is really sustainable in an era where accountability is the buzzword. 

Some significant changes need to occur in the basic business models of higher education.  Rage, while a temporary and valid response, is not going to help in the long run.  Where is the level-headed debate going to come from?  It doesn't come from our legislators, as seen when this health care bill was proposed, and it doesn't come from the majority of the people who lament the state of higher education at every website that barely mentions it.  I doubt it is really even being taught in the institutions themselves, where the ability to create a thoughtful culture is lost in the rush to completion and accountability. 

This is why ultimately, I would rather the responses to my blogs be about finding something humorous.  I am living Elvis Costello's words everyday, "I used to be disgusted/now I try to be amused."





December 3, 2012: Inside the HEAD:  Week Foureen (day sixty-three)

Trickle down effect.  Higher Education has its own version of this economic theory.  In this case, the four-years are the wealthy, the two-years are the needy.  Try and build a 2-year community college in an area where there isn't a nearby university and watch it suffer, eventually shrivel up and die. 

However, the trickle down is beyond the economic link.  It is embedded in the relationship between the needy and the wealthy.  I saw this (again) today when I learned that one of the major universities in our area was not accepting our students' transfer credits in a specific program. (I remain frustratingly vague to protect the guilty  . . .  and the innocent, which are our students.) It turns out that the advisor at the university was telling SMC students that many of the credits from us wouldn't transfer, and that they should transfer to a different community college because it would be cheaper. 

As a side note, because students often don't possess the greatest critical thinking skills, they think cheaper means lower tuition and fees, which would not be the case in the situation above.  Our students would be treated as out of district at community college #2.  Yes, if the major university doesn't accept our credits, then the students save money because they can take classes cheaper than the university's, that will count, at community college #2.  (Alright, by show of hands, who is completely flummoxed at this point?)

Here's the real problem.  Until this year, our credits did count.  We had a clearly delineated transfer equivalency guide between our classes and the university's.  Our students could complete most of the first two years at SMC.  Then, suddenly, the university gets dinged by their accrediting agency, courses (I suppose) have to be changed, and instead of working with us to allow us to change our courses, we have been shut out.  I'm sure the university is too busy worrying about their necessary changes to spend much time collaborating (although all that is needed is a listing of the changes) with us on our relevant changes.  The university probably thinks that once they are done, then this information can "trickle" down to us and we can adapt our curriculum.  However, that could take several years, given the slow nature of academics, and in the meantime, a large pool of students are now in a program where they believed they would earn transfer credits, but won't, or won't even come to us because at the moment the courses are not equivalent.  With only about 3000 students, this is not something we can afford to take lightly.

This is the second scenario in the last month that has been like this.  The other involved a clinical site for our nursing program and required me to call the CEO of the hospital to open a door to conversations that protect our students.  That resolution appears forthcoming, but until it is in writing, I am anxious. 

In the long run, I could probably live with much of this trickle down edunomics.  However, in every other way, we are at the mercy of these bigger institutions, an ignorant legislative body, and a mentality that community colleges are second- or even third-tier institutions.  I have even heard Michigan politicians basically lump us in with the high schools.  And when all of this happens the trickle down theory basically becomes a pissing contest.  And nobody wins, those. Someone just has to clean it all up.