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

November 21, 2012: Inside the HEAD:  Week Twelve (day fifty-seven)


On this day before Thanksgiving, I do have thanks to give.


Satire and humor must still be part of curricula somewhere in the world:  Hilarious Protest Signs (The respectful discourse one is priceless).


One of the most creative novels in a long time appears to be a fine film:  Life of Pi.  I am the kind of person who wants to avoid all the crowds of Black Friday through post-Thanksgiving weekend, but this should get me out of the house. 


A hilarious support for making my Thanksgiving dinner: The Thanksgiving-erator.  I am the chef this year in our house, and I wish I had discovered this earlier than today.  The choices seem silly, but go all the way through and click "see your menu," and you actual get great recipes.  For instance, as a modernist I choose something with "egg yolks" as a drink in addition to wine, and I got a heavenly looking Malta Fizz, a rum drink (note to my family reading this, I am still not making this.)


Tufts University is helping to show the realism of parts of It's All Academic.  This week Tufts announced that it has rescinded an honorary degree given to Lance Armstrong in 2006.  I have no particular feelings toward Mr. Armstrong and his "fall from grace," but the time spent, I'm sure, by Tufts to debate this topic probably resembled the amount of time Boan University debated whether to pull Peter Taylor's name off of its fieldhouse.

A new CD by the Blue Aeroplanes to come out soon:  Anti-Gravity. I am convinced I am the only person in America who loves this group, but the hope for a new album of guitars and weirdness and the mumbling of Gerald Langley for the first time in 6 years is awesome.


Dilbert--every day of my life. I am so thankful for Scott Adams and Dilbert.  Today's strip is typical of his always-on-the-spot humor.


And I'm always thankful for family, friends, and co-workers, especially ones that make work fun, even on days when the work itself can be barely tolerable.  And despite the cynicism that often comes from this blog, I am incredibly thankful for the higher education system that makes it possible for people to achieve their dreams.


Happy Thanksgiving all.  I'll be back on Monday.



November 20, 2012:  Inside the HEAD:  Week Twelve (day fifty-six)

I did a radio interview today.  A 30-second phone call about our new Criminal Justice program, announced after our Board meeting last night.  I don't know what the final product sounds like.  I haven't seen it posted yet by WSJM.  Everything I said was taped, of course, so there's no telling how the final segment was pieced together.

Honestly, what could I really say in 30 seconds? Encouraged to be brief and to talk in common language, maybe my responses forced the whole interview to consume only about 30 seconds.  I was asked 3 or 4 questions that in retrospect I wish I had elaborated upon.  For instance, I talked about how high school students have asked about criminal justice for several years, but neglected to mention that a primary audience for such an associate's degree (laddering into a bachelor's degree at Ferris State) are people already working in law enforcement.  The necessity for a credential is still something relatively new in a lot of police departments around the country.

30 seconds!  It took me longer to write these two paragraphs.

30 seconds!  It took me longer to read those first two paragraphs.

I have to be honest:  I was extremely anxious in the 15 minutes I had between being asked if I would do the interview and taking the phone call.  Enough time to struggle to remember the last time I had done any kind of interview, radio, t.v., or newspaper (I'm thinking it was 2009).  Enough time to realize this was my first for SMC, and the first time the President had handed one off to me.  As with every program brought forth, the Vice President is rarely the one most knowledgeable of the program,  but generally Vice Presidents are asked to tackle these duties, not the faculty who create the programs.

So, for 15 minutes my adrenalin was really pumping.  For 30 seconds!  Hardly seems worth it. (And I am fighting hard to resist any analogies here!)   I guess I needed a quick reminder of the sound bite world we live in. 


November 19, 2012:  Inside the HEAD:  Week Twelve (day fifty-five)

Today, I started guest judging for some speech classes, participating in a campus-wide competition to see which student is determined as our best public speaker. It takes me back 10 years to one of my favorite classes to teach, Fundamentals of Speech, although I have to admit one of the reasons for loving to teach that class was that the grading never took that long.

However, as guest judge, I am reminded of the actual difficulties there are in "grading" speeches.  I saw three students today, but have no context at all for how they have done previously or among their peers in the class. I know those things shouldn't matter, but they do to me as they help me frame good student speakers from average student speakers.  All that said, though, I am reminded of the greatest challenge:  separating the message from the messenger. 

One of my first lessons in speech class was a discussion of how studies show over and over that the words a speaker says are the least important element (and way down the scale) among words, voice, and visual presentation (the visual presentation wins over and over among audience perceptions of good speakers).  This doesn't surprise anyone, even the students in the class, as we see everyday among our politicians how these characteristics play out in successful and unsuccessful campaigns.

So, it seems very fortuitous for my blog, tonight, that I discovered this wonderful article from the Harvard Business Review  on November 16:  The Dark Side of Charisma.  In this article Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic (and what a name!), emphasizes how leaders (whether political or corporate, and, of course, I will extrapolate to educational) need to be judged on more systemized evaluations than charisma.  He highlights well the "charisma trap," and I'm sure all of us can identify a leader we know, have seen, or even worked for, who might have achieved success through the distraction of charisma.  While all of his points are vaild, I especially love the "charisma is addictive" argument, where Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic talks about the way the charmer falls prey to the very lure of his or her own charm and attracts classic sycophants who pledge to follow him or her to the end of the earth.  The "charisma disguises psychopaths" argument may seem a bit strong, although I would encourage us to see "psychopathy" as something much more complex than your neighborhood serial killer.

I say all this with a healthy dose of self-assessment.  I know I may have attracted over the years followers who share my "core values and principles" (as Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic describes "charisma fosters collective narcissism").  I haven't quite figured this one out for myself, as the truth is that over the 5 years I have spent as Vice President/Provost, I have made very few actual hires.  I don't particularly believe in the clean-house-because-there's-a new-guy-in-charge philosophy, which may be why I don't hang out with my neighborhood serial killer.

So, let me go back to the speech class.  What is it that we really judge our students on when they present?  We try to use "validated assessment tools" (again, relying on Dr. Chamorro-Premuzic's language), but that really only works for me when I have the whole semester to work with students and to watch them put their speeches together.  When I guest judge, it is almost impossible for me in seven minutes to separate the chemistry and the charm of the speaker from the structural and argumentative framework of the speech.  Such is the power of that visual presentation.  I applaud you, Dr. Charmorro-Premuzic, for your ideas, but I fear this is another example of great theory stretched thin by general practice. It feels like a defensive coordinator planning a defense to stop a pass from a great quarterback:  you know what he's going to do, but you feel helpless to stop it.