Monday, June 22, 2009

So let's do less research and solve our economic problems in higher education, says professor

This is the kind of article that reaffirms for me why other nations tend to do consistently better when it comes to educating their students. It also reaffirms the trend that certain college administrators have of embracing the business models without actually thinking about all the possible consequences past saving a buck or two. Professor Joseph T. Johnson's recent opinion piece for Inside Higher Ed on "Less Research, More Economies of Scale" made me wonder about a few things, and it seemed a bit insensitive as well. Allow me to make a comment or two. Cites come from the essay unless otherwise noted.

On the issue of legislatures and their appropriations (or the recent drastic cuts in said appropriations), according to Professor Johnson, when colleges claim this is a problem, he labels it as "that response is hollow." Let me tell him and his peers what is hollow. The fact that this nation simply refuses to put their money where their mouths are is hollow. The fact that, allegedly, we want a well-educated workforce but refuse to pay for it, because heaven forbid it may mean paying some more taxes, rings hollow as well. And while legislators face various pressures in terms of what to fund, education certainly is important, and it is an investment. The fact is that legislatures across the nation have been slashing educational funding for higher education pretty much with impunity. There is evidence that someone with more education will earn more in the long term (says the Census Bureau here; hell, even the Canadians say it here. And I just ran a very quick search. If I actually put an effort, I can get you more). I am not an economist, but as I understand it, if someone earns more, they are likely better able to pay taxes thus increasing the revenues for the nation. But, as many business people say, you have to spend money to make money. So when colleges say that yes, lack of state funding is a problem, it is not just some hollow words. The fact that some states decide to cut funds and impose caps on tuition revenues is the height of hypocrisy. Education is not going to pay for itself, unless the good professor wants to teach for free, which I doubt. Then again, based on his essay, he probably just wants to be part of the small cadre doing research.

Professor Johnson also states that when the colleges look at economizing in terms of personnel, it "is directed at administrative and logistical workers, rather than faculty. . . ." Yes, we can grant that faculty make a big chunk of a college's expenses. However, schools are not pointing too much at the deans, vp's, provosts, and other high level "administrative workers." They usually point at the support staff like secretaries, librarians, and janitors, the people who keep the place running. When in reality, the ones who are costing quite a bit are the higher level college administrators. There is a reason why U.S. News and World Report named Higher Education Administrator as one of the best careers for 2009. Must be nice. Ironic too that the people getting the cushiest deals are putting the ax on everybody else. I am not seeing the big honchos taking pay cuts or getting laid off. So it may seem there is still much work to do for the sake of that efficiency.

And when it comes to faculty, what the professor does not seem to recognize is the increasing reliance on adjuncts, so if anything, the colleges are already cutting back on the faculty under the excuse of increasing efficiency and cutting costs. Here is just one story on the adjunct issue. In the interest of disclosure, yes, I was adjunct faculty at one point, so I know what I am talking about.

Johnson's idea in large part goes back to the notion of making a distinction between researchers and teachers. This is not new; Professor Johnson is basically advocating a two-tier system between the "elite" researchers and the teachers in the trenches. He writes as one of his suggestions: "Eliminate the scholarly activity requirements of most instructors on the undergraduate faculty and assign responsibility for research and developing curricula to a small cadre of professors." And I am sure that Professor Johnson would be happy to be part of that small cadre that tells everyone else how to teach in the interest of setting a uniform standard. The same kind of uniform standards that basically have turned public education into an extended exercise in regurgitation of "basic" facts that leaves students woefully unprepared when they get to college. We can certainly talk about the costs of remedial education to colleges (see this article from The New York Times for instance, and here is at least one study on the topic).

But what is truly offensive is the idea that teachers somehow do no research and simply teach like automatons to whatever they get in some mass produced textbook. In fact, Johnson says "there is no reason for this teacher-supporting research to be done by the instructor him or herself, rather than by the small cadre of professors, whose job is to research and develop curricula." Oh really? We just should forget the idea that teachers, the good ones, engage in thoughtful, reflective practice and do actually engage in research. Just don't tell these folks or these folks. And I am sure the folks at the National Writing Project will be happy to shut down so they can have the people like Professor Johnson impart their "wisdom" on their teaching practice. I am sure the various professors that I know because I work closely with them for information literacy training, and who I know do teacher research in order to improve their practice as educators, will be reassured by the proposed elitist model of the economics professor.

At the end of the day, the bottom line is that education is not a business, no matter how well those for-profit schools do (and thus give the impression we can simply slash and burn educational institutions). Education is a universal right, not something for just the priviledged or the lucky few who can afford it. Maybe instead of suggesting that we simply cut back on actual teachers, make the remaining faculty into researchers without any teaching duties, and teach to the outsourced book, we should actually look at what is working in the classrooms. And maybe, just maybe, we need to send some of those primma donna professors with a little too much free time back into the classroom to teach. After all, the main reason of a university is to educate. Besides, it is not as if the faculty are being that productive anyways in terms of research, according to recent surveys. And why are they being less productive? Because of all the cuts already happening in higher education. And it is not because some, as the article or Professor Johnson in his essay imply, because some teachers may be marginal scholars. By the way, the comments on that article I just linked from the Chronicle of Higher Education News Blog are worth a look as well.

I will grant that to teach undergraduates you can probably do the job with a masters' degree just fine. This may be proven by the many adjuncts with masters who work as lecturers and contingent faculty. Having said that, it does not follow these folks are somehow lesser scholars who don't do good research or are not reflective scholars. In many ways, these people are probably better teachers than a lot of professors with doctorates in our colleges. Just ask any undergraduate.

And I finish with another disclosure note: I am a graduate of the National Writing Project (here is my site where I did it). The teacher researcher model is something that not only I believe in, but that I have taken with me and embraced in my work as an academic librarian. To have some economics professor denigrate that in the interest of some elitist notion of "researchers versus lower level teaching faculty" is certainly offensive, and I can only hope more teaching faculty will respond to the article.

P.S. Allow me to offer a list of other ways that employers use to save some money in a tight economy without having to lay off people. I will suggest that this can work in our campuses too. Here are "11 Ways Business are Cutting Costs Without Firing Employees." Just a thought.

Friday, June 19, 2009

From quirky economic indicators to keeping up your lifestyle

Welcome to another edition of "Signs That The Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. I have an item or two, but before we get to those, I want to point out this article from Kiplinger (via Yahoo! Finance) which presents "10 quirky economic indicators." I could agree with most of the stuff, except the movie theater thing.

I don't disagree with the numbers. Just the idea. Have these people not discovered Netflix or their local video shop, where you can likely rent a few movies for the price of the movie theater outing? Because one has to note that, though the "average" ticket price according to the article is $7.18, you still have to pay for the popcorn and the sodas, and all that does add up. In terms of cost, the rental and your own food is likely cheaper. So, I am guessing, it must be the need to get out of the house that drives this. That, and maybe a few people had their big fancy flat screens repossessed during the recession. And no, I am not being snarky; a lot of people overextended themselves on expenses and credit. That is why TV reality shows like this train wreck seem to do well. Anyhow, it was something I wondered about.

So, going back to other signs that the economy is bad:

But the items above are nothing compared to this next item. Very often, on tv, you may see ads for car dealers that offer to get you in a car without regard to your credit. No credit check seems to be a popular thing for some people. Ok, I get it. Now, check this out. I think it speaks for itself as another sign that the economy is bad.

After all, you have to keep the lifestyle. Word.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Some values I hope to instill on my kid

These are some of the values my spouse and I have worked on instilling on our child. Remember, if you have a kid, the work on this starts right away. If you put it off til they are "old enough," it will probably be too late. Don't be one of those parents who wants to be their kids' buddy. You are not their buddy, you are their parent. Do your job. And I am sure there may be a thing or two I missed, but this is a good start.

good manners and common decent behavior
Good manners seems to be something that is going the way of the dodo. And yet, it is always important to know how to behave in the company of other people. Treating others with respect and dignity is important, and it will likely get you further in life than behaving rudely. Also some basic manners in terms of what to do when visiting someone else's home, when you go out to a restaurant, whether it be the local fast food joint or the five star place, how to carry out a conversation politely, and all the other little details of having good manners.

It is important to exercise self-discipline. This includes knowing that you can't always get what you want right away. So you work up to it. You may need to delay that instant gratification for a while in order to get a larger goal. And to get to the goal, you need to know how to focus and how to be disciplined in attaining that goal.

A good core set of values
Notice that I say values, as opposed to simply morals you may get from a religion. You can be a decent and moral person just fine without religion, or you can be very amoral with it. Below I also mention questioning everything, which goes with this.

Some values I would include on that list: honesty and fair dealing with others. If you give your word or you make a promise, you keep it. Your word is your bond. To expand further, you should be the type of person where a handshake and a promise is good enough. It may sound old fashioned, but it is important to be able to keep your word as well as having the reputation of keeping your word. This goes with being reliable and trustworthy.

I would also add not looking down on others because you think they may be beneath you. I think the best way to put it is how my father taught it to me. Just because someone is a plumber or a bricklayer, it does not mean that they have less value in society or that they are not smart or wise. Being educated (formally) does not automatically mean you are smarter or superior.

Treat others as you would be treated. The golden rule.

Embrace diversity. Racism and bigotry are the excuses of the ignorant and the coward.

Stand up for what is right. Do not rush to speak up, but when you do, make sure you are doing so for what is right.

Continue educating yourself and learning. Learning should be something you do throughout your life not only to keep up to date or well informed, but simply to expand your horizons. And along with this, keep an open mind and be willing to explore new ideas, even if those ideas and concepts may oppose your values. Do not be afraid of asking questions nor of having questions asked of you. And if needed, embrace change.

Be willing to explore new experiences. I suppose this goes along with being open minded.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

New tobacco regulations not too inconvenient for the tobacco industry

The new tobacco legislation just makes me wonder how far the hypocrisy can go. I first heard about this from the GovGab blog which posted about "Tougher tobacco laws."I have given some thought to tobacco regulation before, but this makes me wonder whose interests are being served. As of this writing, Congress passed the legislation and sent it to Obama, according to The New York Times. Let's be honest: tobacco is bad for you and continued use will kill you in the long term. Period. The medical evidence is widely available, and if you need more, this librarian will be happy to help you find it. So you'd think that the powers that be would ban tobacco products the way things like poisons are banned to keep people from consuming them. At the end of the day, this legislation is driven by special interests rather than by what might actually be good for the public.

We have the tobacco industry from the farmers to the retailers who sell the products. Don't want to put them out of work now. So we have to keep the industry working. Then you have the people who consume tobacco products. They buy the products, which keep the tobacco industry going. And since tobacco products are taxed, the government has a revenue stream. The government is not about to give up that revenue. And I could go on and throw in something about how certain parts of the medical complex probably don't really want people to stop smoking. You have to keep those doctors, and especially those insurance companies, employed too. After all, medical care in this country is for profit. I could consider that as well, but I won't for the moment, tempting as it is.

The legislation is just enough for the government to say they are doing "something." It's not something substantial or meaningful. Sure, the companies get to do some more product disclosure and are further restricted on how they can advertise. It likely keeps the people who claim smoking is some kind of personal liberty issue happy. I am referring to the people who don't want the government telling them, like a nanny, what to do or not. Sometimes I do agree with such folks; I dislike the idea of a paternalistic government, and I think people do need to take serious personal responsibility. But government is responsible for watching for the public good, and tobacco use is a public health issue, the kind of stuff that the government should be acting on. However, I know that due to special interests this kind of legislation is about the only token we are bound to see. Just enough to appease those concerned about health but without creating anything more than inconvenience for the tobacco industry.

Friday, June 12, 2009

If I were a state

We made it to another Friday here at The Itinerant Librarian. My three readers know that Fridays here usually mean one of those online quizzes. I amuse easily in case people wonder. This one is not exactly the most scientific, but at least they picked a nice place, albeit one I can't quite afford to visit again. Last time I was there it was for my brother's wedding (he was in the Navy at the time and stationed there). So, I am glad I went, but I am not likely to repeat the experience (beautiful state; one of the lousiest plane flights I have ever taken and one I care not to repeat). I am not sure about the using plants for clothing part, but they did catch some truth in that I do have an explosive undercurrent, so to speak.

Anyhow, the results then:

You're Hawaii!

When they first meet you, few people can tell whether you want to say
hello or goodbye. Either way, most of them will end up saying that you're their favorite
person to visit, if only they could afford the trip. But your soft and warm image is
belied by an explosive undercurrent in your personality than can leave you drenched with
tears or boiling with anger for days on end. You are rather fond of using plants as

Take the State Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

Found via Liz's Tavern.

Friday, June 05, 2009

What my house would say about me.

It's Friday, and the end of this week cannot arrive soon enough. It has been a bit of a long week, and let us leave it at that. Anyhow, the two readers of this blog know that Fridays are usually quiz time here at The Itinerant Librarian, but since recently we went up to three (count them) readers, I am mentioning it for the new person (welcome by the way). Anyhow, today we are looking at my house. Right away, I know this is totally not scientific. I live in a duplex (rented). But on the other hand, the part about not being too much into community is fairly true. I always find that kind of result fascinating given the type of work I do. Anyhow, the result then:

What the House Test Says About You

You consider yourself important, but no more important than anyone else. You love attention, but you don't feel like you deserve more of it than anyone else.

You can't stand community oriented people and annoying "buy local" campaigns. You prefer to live the best life possible, and that doesn't really involve many other people.

You are a calm, contemplative, and smart person. You take ideas very seriously.

Your looks aren't conventionally attractive, but they're definitely unique. And someone, somewhere, finds that hot.

You are moved by your own inner sense of peace. You spend a lot of time reflecting on the meaning of life.

A hat tip to Liz's Tavern.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

And some more on the defenders of pedophiles in the Catholic Church

This topic just does not go away. Here we have an interview with Bill Donohue, of the Catholic League (the league is not getting my link. Use Google if you must. The link to the interview leads to the blog that posted it. You can listen to it there).

Ok, so the victims according to Mr. Donohue are basically gold diggers (yes, he actually uses that label). And you should not count voyeurism as a form of sexual abuse? Nice way to blame the victims and defend the pedophiles. Oh, and emotional assault is a "slippery term" to this guy. What happened to the victims was "common punitive process" back in the day according to Donohue. To say this is disgusting is to be restrained. Now, if you can stomach it, you actually get to hear how one of the abuse victims confronts Donohue with the actual facts, which is the way to confront bullies like Donohue. Again, this is not easy to listen to, but it is necessary to shed light on this evil. Why? Because the church and its criminals need to be held accountable and brought to justice.

A hat tip to Pharyngula.

Shocking revelation: Republicans are Heavily White, Conservative, Religious

Do we really need a survey to tell us that the base of the Republican Party in the U.S. is White, Conservative and Religious? You may as well tell me the sky is blue. Welcome to another installment of the "Department of the Obvious" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the kind of study that I look at and wonder just how much was paid to tell us this. Here is the press release for the Gallup survey in question. Let's look at some highlights:

  • "More than 6 in 10 Republicans today are white conservatives. . . ." (Duh!)
  • "Further, by well over a 2-to-1 ratio, whites who identify as Republicans claim a conservative, rather than a moderate or liberal, ideology (or have no opinion when asked about their ideology)." (Double duh!)
And then, there is this little gem: "A great deal of attention has been paid to the plight of Republicans who at this juncture in history find themselves not controlling the presidency, the House, or the Senate." I am sorry, but after their eight years of politics of destruction where they disregarded the common good in just about any way possible in order to make a profit for their peers, I am not feeling exactly sympathetic. If they went the way of the Whigs tomorrow, that would not be fast enough. And I am not even touching how their demagogues use hate speech to incite violence, like they did with that abortionist in Kansas. Sure, there may be a couple of pro-life people now saying, "please don't get us mixed up with that killer," but let's be honest: your hands are just as bloodied, and if this was not the 21st century, you'd probably want to smear the doctor's blood on your children to pass on some twisted value on life.

And no, I am not sympathetic to the Democrats either, who pretty much laid down while the Republicans were ruining the nation and destroying its reputation abroad. Way I see, if both parties went the way of the dodo bird, and we started from scratch tomorrow, that would not be soon enough. The Democrats may have the advantage in diversity (this is noted in the poll as well), but they are not exactly doing any better given their lack of intestinal fortitude. A big reason they are barely on top now is because the Republicans pretty much insist on destroying themselves. Which is perfectly fine by me because I have no love for a bunch of willfully ignorant bigots who use religion as an excuse to discriminate against anyone who is different and who would rather put profits before things like, oh, I don't know, universal health care and the common good.

Anyhow, did we really need a survey to tell us this? At the end of the day, those of us who are informed already know the results. And the willfully ignorant will keep ignoring it anyways.