Sep 282017

This campus recently adopted a Web Accessibility Policy, which earlier today Provost Mary Ann Rankin reminded us of by means of a memo to campus administrators. Soon “all university Web pages used for academic and business purposes must be compliant with applicable state and federal regulations, specifically, Sections 504 and 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990.”

The essence of her memo was to alert campus stakeholders to this and offer guidance on how to move forward, for which one of the helpful links given is to a campus Web Accessibility page whose sole apparent purpose is to then offer the reader a chance to click through to another campus Web Accessibility page.

Awkwardly, and as of the point I blog this morning, neither of the pages to which Provost Rankin refers us for 504, 508 and ADA compliance is actually 504, 508 or ADA compliant, at least according to freely available web tools which one can use for checking. (There are also broken links – that’s business as usual for the Provost site – and W3C compliance problems.)

We always appreciate how leadership offers us teaching examples for our students.

 Posted by at 10:01 am on September 28, 2017
Sep 182017

A roll up of some recent articles we hope you have already found to your morning browsing sessions …

The Assault on Free Speech (sorry about the pay wall at WSJ) points out the irony that public pressure caused China to walk back its censure of many academic materials which might have proven embarrassing to the state, yet at the same time US academics are championing censorship by purging campuses of opportunity for open and scholarly speech on hard topics. (On my campus there are generally no hard feelings in speech because leadership is careful who they invite to speak in the first place.)

The Atlantic weighs in with debate about the role of universities in fostering a commitment to the open exchange of ideas, and a NY Times article similarly advocates for some genuine diversity of views on behalf of our students.

Sometimes the problems on a campus are not just ones of leadership cherry picking who gets to speak but also of indulging in bad science in order to reach conclusions they sought based on prejudice. (“We’ll see it when we know it” science is not science.)

An article with subtitle the roots of the current campus madness talks of the costs of quashing discussion and our failure to teach scholarly debate. It closes with a quote that by itself makes following the link worth your while: “If you teach students to be warriors against all power asymmetries, don’t be surprised when they turn on their professors and administrators. This is what happens when you separate facts from values, empiricism from morality, science from the humanities.” Indeed.

 Posted by at 5:34 pm on September 18, 2017
Sep 072017

As alerted to us at Slashdot, Harvard’s Dean of Undergraduate Education Jay M. Harris went to the popular CS50 programming course to beg students please don’t cheat. This comes hard on the heels of a course change in order to suggest that students should consider attending class. A year at Harvard now costs north of $70,000.

Taken together, these offer a new definition of the word pathetic.

 Posted by at 8:48 pm on September 7, 2017
Aug 232017

That’s the new slogan promoted by the Washington Post, reprising a truism that has been around for years. It also describes what some state officials are apparently okay with.

Jumping on the virtue-signaling bandwagon, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (leading the trust which is in charge of statehouse facilities) recently enabled removal of a statue of Roger Taney from a place of honor in our capitol. What makes Taney worthy of being wiped clean from history? As Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court he authored the Dred Scott decision in 1857.

Removing statuary of people who would be panned on social media today is of course the ‘in’ thing. Social Justice Warriors thus knew that Taney had to go. And perhaps so, notwithstanding the missed opportunities for education, deference to a symbol of the good will of people who came before us – including, yes, liberals – or respect for a lifetime of public service.

But how we do things is just as important as what we do. And how this was done is just wrong. It was done in darkness, both figuratively (decisions made in virtual secret) and literally (the statue was removed in the middle of the night.)

That was the point made by Senate President Mike Miller who is not only part of the trust that made this decision but also an avid historian with special expertise in affairs of the mid-19th century. President Miller penned a letter that paints a more complex picture of Taney and calls out Hogan for conducting such business in darkness. (His letter was published by several news sources and we mirror it here. It is worth your full consideration.)

What is missed by people who are inclined to burn books instead of read them is that Taney was an anti-slavery activist who gave a lifetime of service to our state and country. His sin was reaching a decision based on law instead of the outcomes sought by political opportunists who came 160 years later. It sure looks like the man recognized slavery was wrong but also that how the country got to that conclusion was important. It needed legislators to be involved, for example. You know … the people who create laws in the first place.

Process is important, which brings us back to Hogan and the Taney statuary. As Miller laments, this affair was conducted out of the public eye. If proponents of the move were proud of what they did, then they should have been eager for a public forum to explain their position and persuade as to its merits. That they did not do so speaks volumes. Our state community is diminished accordingly.

 Posted by at 9:03 pm on August 23, 2017
Aug 232017

The Sun tells what everyone already pretty much knows: fewer than half of the students in Maryland public schools are on track for college readiness, according to latest PARCC scores, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. This is grim news given that the instrument is itself only the most basic indicator of college preparation.

Preparation is worst where the state spent most. Quoting the linked article:

In Baltimore, math scores held steady while English scores inched up. Still, fewer city students passed the exams than in neighboring districts. Only about three of every 20 city students in grades three through eight passed both math and English. Almost 12 percent passed math, about the same as last year. Fifteen percent passed English, an increase of 1.4 percentage points from last year.

Maryland implements spending plans, not education plans. For those keeping score, the state dramatically ramped up funding for public schools over the last twenty five years, measuring its success by how much it spends, not what students can do as a result of their often not-so-close encounters with schools. As a result, the present news will be viewed by officials as a success … after all, the checks cleared, which was the whole point. Too bad for parents who thought their taxes were supposed to have been buying more than teacher union fealty.

Anyone who thinks this doesn’t impact us at College Park is kidding himself. This is a campus that lists skin color and orientation (among other characteristics) among ways an applicant can be deemed prepared for the flagship, so dismal PARCC scores which don’t factor in those characteristics won’t significantly affect our admission practices. We will maintain business as usual at the front door. But the professoriate in charge of generating scholarship will increasingly struggle in the face of a student base that similarly struggles with preparation. Time spent back-filling substandard education coming in to the flagship is time not spent pushing back the frontiers of knowledge in our respective disciplines.

All this is a recipe for implosion. The entrepreneurial mindset of public school officials does not stop at our front door; overall we continue to increase tuition beyond sensible limits, basically just raking in cash because it is on the table. Thoughtful people watch this knowing it is not sustainable. We have previously pointed out here how the bubble is already bursting around us, and we thus say it again: the market will reach a tipping point, after which consumers will demand to know why they pay so much for such poor outcomes, often in restrictive environments that negate the entire argument for campus as a place of free expression and thought in the first place.

We’re doing it wrong.

 Posted by at 12:31 pm on August 23, 2017
Jul 122017

An article in Scientific American summarizes what lots of us observe: Students are Better Off without a Laptop in the Classroom.

We hope nobody here is shocked by this revelation. Kids use devices to mess with social media rather than for purposes of supporting instruction? Good gosh … who’d have thought …

Scholars will try new approaches in education, assess carefully and use what works by objective criteria. Of course, here we have instructors who will stampede the herd toward one or another trendy idea because it validates their notion of what ought to be done, not because they know it works. (We’ll see it when we know it, I guess.) We have administrators who promote the tech since it sounds cheaper than investing in quality people – for them tech is a replacement, or at least a force multiplier. And what about tech company support for computers in the classroom? Gee, those would be the companies that have built a business model around convincing people that tech is good? Maybe we shouldn’t be surprised if they don’t look kindly on the above study either.

 Posted by at 12:52 pm on July 12, 2017
Jul 062017

The labor market is evolving quickly; how we prepare young people to enter it isn’t.

Vocational Ed, Reborn tells about the evolution under way now. At least in some places, even if not Maryland where officials see students as means of sustaining business models that serve them, not consumers whose future needs might be better served if only we got out of our comfort zones a bit. Maryland educators continue to eschew the word “vocational” in our programs. Here it is called career and technology education.

 Posted by at 9:29 am on July 6, 2017
Jun 282017

Study finds pay for public college presidents up 5.3 percent confirms once again that it’s good to be king … err … president.

5.3 might be the mean for presidential bumps last year, but once again Maryland leads the way, as (according to the Diamondback reporting of salaries, which may be time-shifted due to how long it takes for public information to trickle out to the public) Wallace Loh jumped almost 15 percent in the last cycle ($526,590.30 to $600,314.00). The 2013 report listed him at $459,000.

Not bad for an era through which most of us have labored under wage freezes imposed by the state.

 Posted by at 8:25 am on June 28, 2017
Jun 152017

College education is supposed to involve more than just ‘knowing stuff’. It might be just that in the minds of bean counters who increasingly drive campus policies. After all, they want bigger revenue streams and lower overhead, so the faster they can declare delivered! on an undergrad experience, the sooner they can bring in the next customer. Get ’em up, move ’em out! Nevertheless, classically it was a lot more – and our society needs it to be a lot more.

That’s why interested scholars look cautiously at articles like Many Colleges Fail to Improve Critical-Thinking Skills. And you should too. (Sorry about the pay wall, but you should be able to get that from on-campus accesses.) Same for Is the U.S. Education System Producing a Society of ‘Smart Fools’? We might not like the answers to that question.

Objective evidence of our collective failures on campus can be found everywhere. We see activities reported such as The Campus Inquisition at Evergreen State College, and also Those ‘Snowflakes’ Have Chilling Effects Even Beyond the Campus. (Another pay wall.) These articles report how communication skills are going down, perspective is narrowing and any sense of respect for diversity or selfless dedication to causes greater than an individual is becoming lost.

[And there are plenty of examples of how the products of today’s educational systems think that there ought not be consequences in the marketplace, which historically has served a hard but most excellent mechanism for quality improvement. Take for example: The tech world is rallying around a young developer who made a huge, embarrassing mistake.]

Utterly not a coincidence is the economic link, as mentioned in The US college debt bubble is becoming dangerous. In fact some of us have been trying to raise the alarm that higher education is in a bubble which is bursting around us. (What a shame College Park is driving itself to a place that will not allow our campus to be one of the survivors, much less to a leadership role in transforming higher education for the better.)

 Posted by at 10:01 am on June 15, 2017