Saturday, November 27, 2010

Be Patriotic! Cheat! Spend!

In a recent post, Ashley Thorne discusses "Lessons of a Professional Paper-Writer" . Thorne cites a fascinating Chronicle of Higher Education column entitled "The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students' papers tells his story"

This is a class (inequality) issue: those with money can afford to buy entrance to careers, those without cannot advance in life unless they work hard--something not required of their affluent peers. Therefore I propose a federal program, "No Term Papers Left Behind" to close the writing gap by 2025. This means-tested program will fund ghost writing in high school and college. No child, no term paper ought to be left behind. Those who are more affluent but lack the proper skills may also be eligible if their standardized test scores fall below a certain level. Differences in intelligence and upbringing are no excuse for failing our children. We need to embrace those differences!

Statutory definition: “children” are eligible until 26 or until they complete their degree.

This vital federal program will “grow the economy” and give a hand up to the disadvantaged. With a degree in hand, they will earn (but not learn) more. With this increase in aggregate demand, they can stimulate the consumer durable sector of the economy and buy houses to soak up the inventory of unsold homes.

Privacy and confidentiality are ensured and will be protected to the utmost. The U.S. Department of Education will not tolerate revelations of plagiarism: it is nobody’s business but the student who does (or doesn't do) the work. After all, if someone does the work, then American productivity continues to rise---to the benefit of rich and poor alike. So, those dirty rats who would undermine the American dream of college credentialism will be punished.

Meanwhile, practice safe cheating until bourgeois morality (work, thrift, excellence) fades with the introduction of these new teaching methods.It is in the interest of "social justice" and American competitiveness that we have more college graduates. Only then can we boast "We 'r Numbyr Wun!"

Be patriotic! Cheat! Spend!

Friday, November 26, 2010

He's Back! Bill Ayers, Robert Kennedy's Son -- and What this Has to Do With "Higher" Education

Bill Ayers is back in the news. Robert Kennedy's son, newly on the board of the U of I Chicago, led a move denying Ayers emeritus status as a retired professor. Newsweek covered the story here (they lost a bit of the nuance in my quote but the story is an accurate summation of the controversy).

I had not thought of Ayers since I blogged about him two years ago(“Little Red School House”). In retrospect, while the issue was balance, not bias (so I argued) how does one balance someone so far to the Left? Can one even imagine a former member of the John Birch Society sans explosives being welcomed with open arms by education schools?

On turning radicals into academic entrepreneurs: The more incendiary, the better (think Angela Davis, Ward Churchill). And think of the speaking fees one can draw as a radical professor! Sure, sure, the student fees are supposed to represent the range of opinions in society at large (U.S. Supreme Court, Southworth, 2000). But who polices such Court decisions? The barbarians within the gates? Hardly.

Professor Ayers, erstwhile domestic terrorist, lived on the wild fringe of sixties radicalism. Like so many others, Ayers secured a position in academe that allowed him to bore within education by promoting "social justice" and "revolutionary education." While his ideas on education might seem "out there," they are taught in education schools as part of the canon of "progressive thought"--often in "School and Society" courses required of all future K-12 teachers.

Not that I am ungrateful. I must thank the Ayers of the world for making education school so stultifying that I left and entered graduate school to become a historian – for better and worse.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Portable Software: Better than Ever

Most of us have programs that we need but do not use very often. Why add a half dozen of these programs to your computer and thus "gunk" it up? Discover the wonderful world of "portable apps!"

A portable application is one that installs on a flash key and leaves no trace on your computer. You can run the program entirely from a flash key or on your computer's hard drive (all your portable applications run from a single folder with subfolders for each application--never touching the computer's registry!). Great for using on public computers that don't allow you to add your software or to fix a friend's computer.

The single best site for portable software (all free) is

This wonderful site also adds a launcher and auto-updater for all your portable applications (see above sample image. You can change how it looks and how the applications are organized.

Other sites (with launchers and updater):
(also comes with a launcher and auto-update)

Here are the programs that I use but you may find your own "suite" from the list of 300-400 available at the above sites. Many are cross-platform (work on Windows or Mac). All are FREE. Students take note: You can bring your flash key to computer labs (very handy since computer lab PCs do not allow you to add your own software).

7-zip: free (and more powerful) alternative to Winzip. Compress and decompress folders, file batches and test them to see if there are errors.

Audacity: the first user-friendly version of this super-popular audio editor. Past versions frustrated me to no end because they were so complex. This is easy to use and handles all file formats.

Bonkenc: audio conversion

CCleaner: cleans up temp files and registry after install/uninstall.

*Classmate Grading: fantastic grade book (commercial). I've been using it for over ten years. Tried the rest and the small lifetime fee is worth it.

DVD Styler: converts videos (AVI, MP4, FLV, WMV) to a DVD format for playing on DVD players or computers. Awesome for home videos or putting together a presentation. I use it to compile a playlist of music videos for my big flat screen TV.

Firefox 4: OK, I have Firefox on all of my computers but what to do when I'm on the road without a computer? Put Firefox, with all my bookmarks and extensions, on a flash key. I can use on any public access computer and leave no traces behind.

Filehippo Update Checker: Filehippos is an excellent place to download software. It also offers older versions if you don't like the latest version. The free Update Checker scans your computer and identifies all updates of your programs! What a time-saver compared to checking each program manually. You can even set it to run at startup, check all your programs for new versions and then shut down. Wunderbar!

GoogleChrome: fast alternative to Firefox with a huge (free) store of extensions.

Imgburn: CD/DVD/Blu-ray burner. If you are copying DVD video folders: Select “Build” – output as “Device” (not image) – and click the icon to burn. Imgburn will also create mp3 disks and ISO images (a single-file clone of an entire software installation disk). Use the default settings (the advanced features are mind numbing in their complexity).

JavaRa: "removes old and redundant versions of the Java Runtime Environment (JRE). Simply select 'Check for Updates' or 'Remove Older Version' to begin."

MozBackup: backups up all the settings of your Firefox to install them with one or two clicks on another computer's Firefox. No more adding extensions, bookmarks, etc. manually.

OpenOffice 3.3: an excellent alternative to Microsoft Office. The Microsoft suite is still the best but by a thin margin.

PDF-XCHANGE VIEWER: top-rated PDF reader with added features (highlight, typewriting)

PDFTK Builder: all the power of Acrobat in a very small program that splits, combines, merges, edits PDF files.

Renamer: how many times have you imported a batch of files with gobbledygook file names (as with digital camera numbering)? This free program will change file names according to rules that you add from a handy list. For example, I imported pictures of my family in Maine from Summer 2008. I added two rules:

1. Replace camera numbers with “Maine vacation” (followed by number sequence);

2. Add the original file date (the date I took the picture) to the filename suffice. Thus, “Maine Vacation 08-01-2008 (1).” Often, when you copy or import pictures or other files, the date changes to today’s date, not the original date. This corrects that problem and many more.

Revo Uninstaller: better than the built-in Windows uninstaller because it scours the registry and removes all keys. Revo also uninstalls stubborn programs that don't want to be removed!

Startup: great for adding or deleting programs to your startup, delaying startup of a program, etc.

VLC: plays any video or DVD file. Can also record entire movies or clips of movies by hitting a red "Record" button.

WinPatrol: prevents web sites and programs from installing unwanted start-up items (including malware). Paid version provides great information on what those stray programs are on your computer ($30 lifetime fee covers all your computers). This frees up a lot of memory and makes your PC faster. Why do computers "slow down" with age? Because the programs you install inject themselves in start-up and ALWAYS RUN even when you don't need them. This is the number one problem I encounter when “fixing” a newbie’s computer. Because I own Winpatrol Plus, I simply carry (or use) the portable version to help my friends or check my own computers. WinPatrol identifies unneeded software, and you can then disable those that don't need to be running.

Xmedia Recode: a comprehensive audio/video converter. Xmedia handles all formats and has a long list of presets to format to a iPhone, Xbox or other gadget. Fast and useful. Also does batch jobs.

One final note:

Once you find portable programs you like throw the inventor a few bucks. He/she deserves it.

See also:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Yes, Virginia . . . You are All Right

It is always nice to report good news. In the long struggle for sanity on college campuses, occasionally schools "do the right thing." In this case, the University of Virginia has eliminated all speech codes and earned a "Green Light" from the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE). For more on the story, click here

To see where your school stands in FIRE ratings, search here

Sadly, most schools are Red or Yellow. Take action by keeping an eye on your alma mater or local university.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Facebook and U: The Dangers of University Email

A certain Midwestern state requires all of its state employees, university workers included, to undergo "ethics training." This year the state confirmed the dangers of using university email for anything personal--including logging on to Facebook. The training noted how wrong it was for a university employee to log on to Facebook with his/her .edu email.

Many still do not know how this "misappropriation" of "state property" can be a ready excuse to ax employees, expel students, decertify student groups, etc. (Fortunately, my university has a "reasonable use" policy but I won't leave it up to a campus cyber czar to determine what is "reasonable"!).

I warned about this last year and this official state warning ought to be heeded. Search for all accounts using your .edu address -- or be busted. Advice to private sector workers: this applies to you too even if you aren't bound by a state ethics law. Pick up a computer magazine and see the advertisements for network "sniffing" software aimed at detecting illicit use of work email.

If you think I'm paranoid, well read some of the real-life examples from my past blog posts: here and here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Sexual Harassment: "Trust us!"

[FYI: There has been a long, heated debate over SIUC's sexual harassment policies and procedures. For a list of blog entries, click here ]

"Report Everything!" "Trust Us!" "Ignore the Procedures!"

Those three phrases sum up a sexual harassment workshop I attended in the College of Liberal Arts. Linda McCabe-Smith (Associate Chancellor of Diversity) and Deborah Nelson (Associate General Counsel) did most of the talking.

Disclosure: I have worked with Linda (on the Chancellor's Affirmative Action Advisory Committee); she is a professional with more common sense than most diversity officials. (Her office has also funded my travel to give presentations on black business history). However, the existing procedures place her (and us) "between a rock and a hard place." She acknowledged that the current procedures are "awful" and things would change under her watch. However, the procedures are still binding. The unions are bargaining and I would urge them to bargain hard for equitable procedures.

In short, we received the following counsel:

*"Report everything" (even if you think it is nothing): the presenters could have spent more time on threshold levels. True, it is up to them to decide cases based on legal standards (thresholds): sexual harassment must be "severe, persistent or pervasive" AND "substantially interferes" with the complainant's ability to work or learn. But the "report everything" mantra may backfire if people do not know (or appreciate) those standards. Individuals may be less likely to report if they think the threshold is so low that trivial things will end up destroying someone's career.

*Don't take the present procedures seriously because they will change (although they are still in effect!). Meanwhile . . .

*Trust us!

While I respect Smith's judgment, we need sensible procedures in place that "balance the rights" of the accuser and the accused. We cannot rely on the judgment of one person. Nelson used the term "balancing rights" throughout but her presentation was laden with "defensive lawyering": we must be firm to protect the University from lawsuits. The law requires policies and procedures but it doesn't require the kind that have caused so much trouble at SIUC.

The current procedures reflect a prosecutorial attitude: 98% of the relevant text is devoted to complainants: how to maintain the privacy (anonymity?) of complainants, advice to supervisors on using prosecutorial "tricks" to entrap the accused, and vague passing references to the rights of the accused (two murky sentences repeated throughout the "Resource Guides"!).

Does the respondent have the right to know the identity of the accuser, the specific charges, etc.? Past experience is rife with complaints by anonymous individuals, redacted reports, and a general policy of "keep the accused in the dark." Nelson stated that she would give "dates, times, names" to the accused. The question I will ask of her (and report back here): when? In a previous presentation before the Faculty Senate, Associate General Counsel Phylecia Cole presented her office's practice on divulging information to the accused. I summarized it in this passage (available in the above link):
Professors were a bit taken aback by the Powerpoint slide indicating that Legal Counsel would hand over documents to the accused IF A COURT ORDERED THEM TO DO SO. Otherwise, everything is secret. Look up "Star Chamber".
In other words, you have the right to know your accuser if you have the resources to sue us. On this point, see the following post by SIU law professor Leonard Gross: "The Right to Know Your Accuser."

There is a big difference between firm statements against sexual harassment and the present procedures which flagrantly ignore any rights of the accused. The 80 pages of procedures, available here offer 7 avenues for complainants to take against respondents. At all levels, those taking complaints should "express sympathy in a neutral manner." That is all to the good. But when it comes to the accused: "be prepared for anger, denials and defensiveness." The guide then offers ways to prosecute the accused in the initial interview:

“Be very specific about any admissions of certain behaviors . . .”

"If applicable, state that disciplinary action may include the employee’s discharge or student’s expulsion from the university” [squeezing respondent]

“Often discussing the behavior with the respondent, without labeling it as harassment will result in him/her admitting to it.” Gotcha! “Then, if appropriate, sexual harassment can be used to label the behavior and you can explain how it violates the University’s policy.” (BEFORE decision is rendered?!)

The charges may be "insufficient" to take action against the accused but fear not: you may find that "the behavior violated another policy, so disciplinary action is warranted.” This passage reminds me of the ever-shifting "extrajudicial reprisals" described by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in Gulag Archipelago (see his chapters on the perversion of the law).

and on it goes.

As for assembling a defense, the Resource Guides offer the following to the accused:

BEFORE A FINDING: two short sentences:

“Respondent may consult with an adviser to learn his/her available options”

Investigators “will afford the respondent a full opportunity to respond to the allegations.”

That's it! Contrast that with the detailed coaching complainants may receive: complaints may be oral (and thus change). The procedures state: "any oral complaint must later be put in writing.” But they allude to questioning the accused with only an oral complaint in hand. The accused, the procedures state, is likely to be emotional so why present anything in writing that might let him/her escape the prosecutors? Wink, wink, nod, nod.


”After a finding has been made and disciplinary action recommended, respondent may file a grievance in accordance with the applicable grievance procedure.”

While the advice and protection given to the complainant takes up many pages, the respondent may file a grievance. Where? Against whom? How?

These questions are for Associate Chancellor Smith and Counselor Nelson:
*Where does the "learning environment" begin and end?

*What information will be given to the accused? Will it be redacted? If so, what information will be redacted and why?

*Does the accused have a right to cross examine the accuser and other witnesses?

*What is the appeal process? The grievance procedure discusses faculty filing against the "administrative officer who made the initial decision"--what does that mean in the context of sexual harassment?

*SIU issues reports to state agencies on the number and type of sexual harassment cases. Are those available to the public at large?

*"False and malicious" complaints: is this the unicorn of sexual harassment cases? This threshold is almost impossible to prove. "False and malicious" is far harder to prove than frivolous -- frivolous is allowed! If this unicorn does appear on campus, the procedures state that “any complaint made falsely and/or maliciously will result in discipline to the complainant.” What is the process?

This blog is not taking the side of the accused or the accuser. It is trying to "balance rights" (Nelson's phrase). We do not need to ask these questions on behalf of complainants because the procedures already answer them in great detail.

Trust is important. But it is not enough. As Ronald Reagan said: "trust but verify."

I urge the Faculty Senate and the unions to remain vigilant.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Update on Windmill Turbine: Taxpayer Money at Stake

Ryan Klopf, Green Fund Committee Chairman, responded to my request for information on funding. Where was the Green Fund/SIU going to get millions of dollars if not from the government? His response suggests that the project is funded by the state and federal government. He emailed me:
[I'd] like to let you know that in addition to support from the green fund, the project has also obtained funding from the Illinois Clean Energy Foundation and the IL DCEO / US DOE / Recovery Act.
A few million dollars added to state and federal deficits will seem like pocket change to politicians accustomed to billions and trillions. It is time to remember, paraphrasing a quote attributed to the late Senator Everett Dirksen (R-IL), "a million here, a million there, and pretty soon you're talking real money."

News item from Klopf:
"The Wind Turbine Forum I mentioned in my previous email is on Tuesday, September 28 from 7PM - 9PM in the Student Center auditorium."

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Wind Turbine: Blowing $ at the Wind?

In a recent Daily Egyptian story, the "Green Fund" on campus, funded by a $10 student fee, boasted of a wind turbine that would cost $6 million and save $9 million for the university.

This story didn't pass the smell test on several counts:

First, the student fee raises $200,000 (approx.) per year. At that rate, it would take 30 years to accrue $6 million dollars.

Second, the "Green Fund" web site has no link that I could find to its "feasibility study." I emailed for more information but have yet to hear back from the Fund or the reporter who did the story.

I did find the following:
"Wind Power

In 2007 PSO began a study to determine the feasibility of constructing a wind power generation facility on campus. Preliminary performance estimates support a 2.5 megawatt turbine, which could reduce our main campus electric purchases from AmerenCIPS by 4%. This reduction amounts to an annual purchase offset of 3,547,800 kWh, saving nearly $225,000 per year in electrical cost at our current rates. Assuming that electric rates track inflation, the present value of the energy savings over the 30-year projected life of the turbine would be approximately $6,750,000."
Here the cost savings are not $9 million but $6.75 million over thirty years! Factor in inflation and the ROI (return on investment) is probably negative -- assuming that these forecasts are accurate.

Third, no one has asked the Jerry Maguire question: "Show me the money!"

Where is SIUC going to get $6 million? A long-term bond? Add the interest to the cost of this project. "Free" money from the federal government? When the federal government has NO money other than that it borrows from the Chinese or effectively prints?

So far, the SIU Green Fund has stuck with conservation and avoided the radicalization of other "Sustainability" programs. All to the good.

However, before the SIU Board of Trustees signs off on six million bond or federal grant, let's ask some hard questions about this project.

I'm happy to post the comments of any one involved with the Green Fund. Fire away!

Monday, August 9, 2010

University Posts Course Syllabi Online

The Pope Center posts a column on how a North Carolina university is posting all course syllabi for students to review before choosing their courses.

Three years ago, I made the same recommendation in the Daily Egyptian and -whoa! -- the furious response: "Pandering to the peons" (students)! "This is one step closer to McCarthyism!" Sheesh. Posting syllabi online is proto-fascist? Get a grip.

Seems this common sense proposal is spreading -- and worth considering (again) here at Southern Illinois University. As a former academic adviser, this was one of those legitimate student complaints ("the course didn't match the catalog description!"). All I could recommend was trying to request syllabi (past or present) for a course. But you know if a professor (me) gets toasted for recommending it, imagine the fate of a freshman requesting "please, Professor, may I see the syllabus for the course?"

Post the syllabi with the proviso that it may be changed or updated at the discretion of the instructor. This isn't rocket science. It is good manners.

For professors, it is also a great rebuttal to unfounded student complaints that there is "too much reading" or "too much writing" (whine): "Hey, kid, you knew what you were signing up for when you read the syllabus. Now get to work!"

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Billionaires Back Free Textbook Movement

In 2009, I blogged on the budding movement for open-source and free textbooks coming on the market. The latter (commercially free) often hope to make money by charging for the printing of online texts.

The movement has moved ahead sluggishly with little financial support.

Enter two tech billionaires: the founders of Sun Microsystems--Scott McNealy and Vinod Khosia. They are devoting their philanthropy to replacing the $200 textbook with free alternatives AND getting these texts accredited by California and Texas, the two "gatekeepers" of the textbook publishing market (K-12).

Look for rapid movement at the K-12 level and some progress in the college textbook market. Whether the textbook oligopoly can block competition with political influence is another matter.

For more, see


Friday, June 18, 2010

Supreme Court: No Privacy on State Phones, Computers, Email

I blogged about a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision over at

Bringing a private laptop or wi-fi device to work (for private phone calls/emails) would be useless if your university (like mine) has a closed VPN -- software that allows you access to the institution's wireless.

Fortunately, most universities have some "Rule of Reason" but, as they used to say on Hill Street Blues:
"Hey, let's be careful out there!"

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Race to the Bottom: SIU's "Historic" Dumbing Down of Education

Today I read an amazing column on the front page of the Daily Egyptian. The thumbnail translation: "Academic standards? Are you crazy?! We have a 'historic' commitment to keeping standards low. We cannot turn away any one."

This "Race to the Bottom" (an inversion of Obama's "Race to the Top") is achieving its aim: more special admits who will never graduate from SIU-C. The Center for Academic Success (CAS) serves (at no small cost) 3% of the student body. Yet 60% of our entering freshmen will never graduate (IPEDs six-year graduation data). How is this compassionate?

If lowering standards was the key to increased enrollment, our classrooms would be packed. Those interviewed concede that enrollment has declined for ten years while it has increased at other schools. Yet they remain committed to cheating the ill-prepared of their money and the well-prepared of a rigorous education.

It is an open secret -- and Interim Provost Don Rice alludes to it -- that a SIU degree is losing its value. We are getting a "reputation" for accepting everyone. Every incoming chancellor wraps this sad fact in maintaining our "historic mission." It is reminiscent of those Party apparatchiks in the late 1980s who maintained that East Germany must maintain its mission. That worked out well.
"SIUC Chancellor Rita Cheng said students who may need a little encouragement and help, such as supplemental instruction and tutoring, can succeed at SIUC."
A "little"?! Those of us in the trenches are trying to teach a mix of students: half who need a lot of "remediation." The other half are deprived of a solid education. It is demoralizing.

Let's face facts: we need a "remedial track" with courses for the half that need a "little" help. How can we teach a class that contains students with an ACT of 14 -- the cut off for the remedial CAS?
CAS is a one-year program that begins by reviewing a student’s class rank and ACT score.

“I usually don’t take a student that has anything below a 14 ACT score,” Williams said.
I went to the ACT web site and looked up a composite score of 14. It places a student in the bottom ten percent of all test takers! In math, it places a student in the bottom 6%.

Who are we kidding? We feel good about our "mission" but this mantra reminds me of a book subtitled "Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy." If your policy keeps failing your institution, your clientele, your staff then self-congratulation is a grotesque joke played on all parties.

I will end by quoting from the opening lines of FDR's first inaugural address.
"This is preeminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today."
Let's stop "shrinking" from reality. After all, "reality is not optional."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Freedom from Bad Academic Writing

The following column on George Orwell's advice to free students from bad academic writing is worth reading:
In two decades of teaching, I have worked with exceptionally bright undergraduates. Once they enter graduate school, however, they conform to the "smelly little orthodoxies" of theory and the jargon-ridden writing of their discipline. I've always despised jargon that deadens prose and will be passé by the time these young conformists hit old age. Future generations will have to decipher why words and phrases such as "subaltern," "post-structuralist," "late capitalism" meant to the scribbling class of early 21st century academics.

The advice Orwell gives is similar to advice Winston Churchill gave on good writing. This passage says it best (from Orwell, "Politics and the English Language"):
"Orwell leaves us with a list of simple rules:

* Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

* Never use a long word where a short one will do.

* If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

* Never use the passive where you can use the active.

* Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

* Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
I am posting this for my own students and as a reminder to myself (fallen creature that I am).

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"The Grades are In": ACTA on SIU-Carbondale


The American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA) has written a report card rating colleges, including SIU-C. The energetic head of ACTA, Anne Neal, will be on campus this Thursday to talk about college affordability. Given the timely nature of this report and Neal's appearance on campus, I asked David Azerrad, Program Officer for ACTA to write a guest blog:

"The grades are in"

Professor Bean has been kind enough to invite the American Council of Trustees and Alumni to write a guest blog post to highlight the findings of our recent report card on public higher education in Illinois.

In the report card, we evaluated 10 public four-year universities, including SIU-Carbondale, and concluded that, on the whole, they find themselves on an unsustainable course.

Tuition and fees are spiraling out of control—they increased by an average of 56 percent during the five year period we surveyed. Graduation rates remain woefully low. No university requires the crucial subjects of economics and American history. Most don’t require college-level math either (SIU-Carbondale, to its credit, does). And significant numbers of students report an intellectual climate that is not conducive to a robust exchange of ideas—almost a third of students at UIUC and SIU-Carbondale report perceived pressure to agree with a professor’s social or political views in order to get a good grade in certain classes. On the whole, the picture that emerges is one in which costs continue to rise with no attending increase in academic quality.

We did note a couple of bright spots. All universities ensure students graduate having taken a composition class and most, including SIU-Carbondale, also have a natural science requirement. The state’s public universities have also rightly made instructional spending take precedence over administrative spending in their budgets.

Much, however, remains to be done to promote affordability.

On this note, readers may also be interested to note that ACTA president Anne D. Neal will be in Carbondale on Thursday to speak at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute conference on college affordability.

The event is free and open to the public.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Lawsuit Walking: The Awful, Unlawful, Un-American harassment code

Time has passed since the SIUC administration began to "reform" the university's (unl)awful sexual harassment policies and procedures. Days before a Board of Trustees meeting FIRE lawyer Azhar Majeed, based here in Illinois, contributed a useful guest column in the Daily Egyptian: "SIUC's sexual harassment policies badly need revision."

Those responsible for the current policies and procedures were put in charge of "gathering input" from various constituency groups. The result, if possible, is even worse than what we had before: forget due process and hand all discretionary power over to a single person! God Bless America!

It's sad. SIU has walked into needless lawsuits in the past. From my vantage point, the Board ought to consider whether these "new" procedures leave us a "Lawsuit Walking."

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Tunnel of Oppression: Communist Theme Park

On college campuses, the "student programmers" could use with a bit of anger management. On my campus there is the obligatory Vagina Monologues sticking to the script of the "angry vaginas" and other pleasant scenes.

My university is also part of the growing movement to "educate" through "Tunnels of Oppression."

Alas, benighted Lithuania hasn't caught up with U.S. "higher" education. They actually have a tunnel of oppression that deals with communism under Soviet rule. In the U.S. academy this is known as "historical communism" (to distinguish it from the Real Thing).

At any rate, those of us stuck in the "late stage of capitalism" are disadvantaged by our freedom, yet we may experience "historical communist oppression" through this Communist Theme Park (trip to Lithuania not included):

A Tale of Two Campuses: How the DOUBLE Tuition Freeze Benefits SIU-E

In the past week, SIU President Glenn Poshard announced a tuition freeze for next year's incoming freshmen. Concerned with the "rising cost of tuition," our distinguished state legislators passed a Truth in Tuition Act that already freezes the freshman tuition rate for a four year period. In other words, the price you pay in Year 1 is the same price you pay in Years 2, 3, 4.

One would think that the unreliability of state funding (which will be cut next year) would raise the risk premium on anything with a four-year maturity, including tuition. That's the way bond markets work, for example, but apparently risk is an economic variable not factored into the popular mantra of affordability. Indeed, SIU boasts that it leaves students with one of the lowest debt loads of any state university in the country (see below). It is difficult to see how much more "affordable" we can be unless we give college away for free.

SIU cited the following factoid from U.S. News & World Report:
"SIUC ranked 14th nationally in graduates who leave school with the least amount of debt. Thirty-seven percent of SIUC's grads are in debt when they graduate, with the average amount being $12,413."
To wit: We are giving college out for free to many students (although only 45% will graduate over six years). Pell and MAP grants cover the cost for "needy" students. This sounds like a good thing but it makes SIUC dependent on continued state funding of the MAP grant program, along with direct state subsidies. This year's MAP grant fiasco should have awakened Salukis to the reality that we need

*More paying students (not just those with money from the state)

*Higher tuition -- but the tuition freeze eliminates that option.

Bottom line:

*No state money

*MAP grant money is unreliable

*Tuition freeze = tuition cut (expect some inflation with a recovering economy--unless SIU is expecting four years of economic stagnation and zero inflation).

While folks at the Carbondale campus are desperate for funds, they are downright giddy about the tuition freeze at our ever-expanding Edwardsville campus. Here's why:

The Edwardsville campus tuition and fees = $8,336

The Carbondale campus tuition and fees = $10,411

In short, at the undergraduate level, SIU's two campuses are competing with each other and the freeze only enhances the Edwardsville advantage. Little wonder that their enrollment is booming while Carbondale's is in long-term decline. The above links suggest that SIU-E is far less dependent on students who need state grants. Their facilities are newer, they are close to an urban center -- AND they cost significantly less.

Perhaps I am missing something (?) but no one has ever pointed out the significant cost differential between the two campuses. Obviously, parents and students have figured it out; they are voting with their feet for SIU-E.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Census 2010: So Damn Complicated! (SNL skit)

As you all know, this is Census 2010 and the government wants you to "get your fair share" of the money due you. I don't know why they are asking about my race, whether I own a house, have a mortgage, etc. but to bring some levity to this decennial PITA (pain the ass), here is a SNL skit I can't resist sharing with readers:

We folk in southern Illinois have to do a better job: Chicago counts dead people at election time, so why can't we "think outside the box"? This SNL skit provides some helpful advice.

FYI: One of the witty documents in my Race and Liberty in America book is by Ben Wattenberg, who listed himself as "Human." "So sue me," he writes. See

Alas, no census boxes for Bobcats. . .

(Cougar would have been a better double-entendre. but I still enjoy SNL even when it isn't perfect. LOL).

PS: The best cameo by Christopher Walken has to be Fatboy Slim "Weapon of Choice."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Proposed Budget Cut = 15% layoffs at SIU

Capitol Fax Blog reports that an across-the-board budget cut of 10% proposed by gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady would trigger mass layoffs at state universities. The Blog quoted SIU President Glenn Poshard:

"Glenn Poshard said such a cut would immediately trigger a 15 percent layoff across the SIU campuses, something he said is “not practical, prudent nor possible.”

Thursday, February 18, 2010

State of Denial: Illinois is Going Bankrupt

If bankrupts sounds extreme, read this widely-read blog. Things are so bad, the director of Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) slammed the state for being "totally negligent."

Meanwhile, Chicago Tribune notes Illinois is dead last in funding its state pension system and "Illinois health care and other post-employment benefit programs are 0.19 percent funded. You read that right: 0.19 percent."

For those of us working at state universities, this means we also need to get out of our state of denial about how bad it is. Want to imagine how bad it is? Think of the final scene from Thelma and Louise

My own university needs to sound the alarm and announce possible steps of action that we can all take to make it through the crisis. The following steps are being taken elsewhere and merely suggesting them will be unpopular. If folks have other ideas, post 'em here.


*Teach more courses:
tenured faculty have a long-term commitment to SIU and need to demonstrate that commitment by teaching a heavier load, thus reducing the reliance on lecturers and adjuncts.

*Hiring freeze: total and utter freeze. If people retire or leave, and a department believes their position "must" be filled . . . WAIT. Far too often in past crises people have pressured for special dispensations. It may be "necessary" but first it is necessary for the institution as a whole to survive.

*Salary freeze

*Online education: SIUC lags far behind its peers in offering online courses. Here again tenure-track faculty ought to be leading, not following. Offer discounted tuition for off-campus summer courses or overload courses (above 15 credit hours) taken online.

ADMINISTRATION (and Board of Trustees):

*Raise tuition:
the days of being the cheapskate college are over. The Truth in Tuition law should have raised the risk premium on tuition because it freezes incoming tuition for four years. The last tuition increase was laughably inadequate given the real risk of state neglect that we faced -- and are now enduring.

*Protect jobs: in return for teaching more credit hours, faculty ought to see it as a way of protecting their own jobs. Send the message that faculty cooperation will indeed result in greater job security.


In recent years, SIUC and state funding have left SIUC students with one of the lowest debt loads of any state university. This is unsustainable. The MAP grant crisis highlighted how much the state subsidizes higher education. You/we may not like higher tuition as an alternative but the State of Denial (Illinois) isn't a reliable partner.

That last point is something we all should have known. The level of denial -- even now -- is unbelievable. Let's do what it takes and hear leadership on what we all can do. The sooner we hear it from the administration and the unions, the sooner we leave Denial for good.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Fear Factory: Sexual Harassment "Reform"

Are you an employer who would like to effectively police your workforce? Instill fear that any misstep (real or imagined) could lead to dismissal, removal from the workplace, or mandatory "sensitivity training"?

Don't waste money on some high-priced consultant. Simply go to the web site of your local university and look up "Sexual Harassment Policies and Procedures" (SHPP).

Voila! For the price of a brief web search you will find a workplace model that empowers you and self-polices the employees. The model features:

1. Vague definitions of harassment that have nothing to do with sex.

2. Self-policing: The university model turns all employees into informants. If they refuse to inform on a violation of the incomprehensible policy, then others can inform on these refuseniks.

3. You will have no shortage of informants: coworkers (or customers/students) can turn in others for frivolous reasons and never have their identity known to the accused.

4. Even better, trained police ("advisers") will coach accusers and write their complaints for them (apparently, those in college cannot write a simple report of events).

5. Finally, have your lawyers repeat (again and again) "this is required by law" (even if it really isn't).

Sound unreal?

Welcome to Sexual Harassment "Reform" at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. In today's Daily Egyptian, the front page story is "Sexual harassment training begins, questions remain."

Questions indeed!

To bring readers up to speed, I am providing a select list of links on the issue (see below). The "sexual" in harassment is really lipstick on a pig: often the charge has to do with speech that makes someone uncomfortable or allegedly creates a "hostile environment." Like the drag show recently held on campus, the dressing covers what is beneath: in this case, "sexual harassment" is a speech code in drag.

As a recap, here is a Hit Parade of SIU-related links on sexual harassment, free speech, and due process:

This link sums up criticisms of the Code being shoved on faculty, staff and students:

Sexual Harassment Procedures: You Have the Right to ... (mumble mumble)

"The Right to Know Your Accuser" (Leonard Gross)

Professor Gross's entry got the most "hits" of any FreeU entry. It shocks people to know that you have NO right to know your accuser.

Lest any one think that there are only a few victims of harassment codes, they may peruse the full list of FreeU posts:

The Sexual Harassment Establishment (S.H.E.) would have you believe that this is a tempest in a teapot. "Mistakes were made" with the John Y. Simon case but that was the exception, S.H.E. says.

Fact check: the guilty-until-innocent abuses have such a long history here that two prior blue-ribbon panels urged real reform.

Phil Howze, one of the courageous voices of reason here at SIUC, said in today's newspaper: "never again" should individuals be deprived of due process and of their dignity based on a rigged system.

An objective observer viewing the "massive resistance" to reform would change the university slogan to "See you next time." When next time comes, it won't be pretty.

Salukis deserve better.

PS: The campus unions were to bargain the procedures but they have been silent as a tomb. I'd love to hear their perspective and what they plan to do. As a Faculty Association member, I'm beginning to wonder if my dues money is well spent. Convince me that it is.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Light a Candle: For-profit alliances, Online Learning

As everyone knows, state funding of higher education is notoriously unreliable. After a nationwide surge in direct spending to universities (the boom), the bust has arrived. Big surprise.

While direct appropriations to state universities have foundered, the state and federal money spent on students has increased. This follows public choice theory: politicians spend money to gain the greatest number of votes. There are far more students (and their parents) who vote than there are institutions who want government money.

This is good for those students who use the money wisely and it is good for "school choice": Unlike K-12, students can choose their state college or university. Universities with declining enrollments moan and groan when students head to their competitors. To wit: my own university consists of two campuses: one with skyrocketing enrollment, the other in perpetual decline.

No doubt the news for those wedded to the status quo is bad. Nevertheless, recent trends in nontraditional education have taken off during this crisis. Even before the fiscal bust, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and many others noted that colleges had gotten flabby--not with money but with their way of delivering education in the 21st century.

Campuses facing fiscal difficulty need to get aggressive with educational innovation. Online learning is up (again). Philanthropist Bill Gates is expressing interest in putting his money into improving online education. For the first time, I am using a free online textbook funded by the federal government and distinguished foundations.

Institutions with enrollment and/or funding shortfalls are turning to for-profit alliances. One of the biggest surprises: the National Labor College has formed a for-profit joint venture that retains faculty unionization (NLC is dedicated to promoting unionism). "Bread-and-butter" union faculty ought to take notice: Change or die.

Here's to a new year hoping that my own institution (Southern Illinois University) starts lighting candles rather than cursing the darkness.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

University finds free online classes don't hurt enrollment

"University finds free online classes don't hurt enrollment"

Actually, there is a lot more research on this topic. For more, see a presentation by SIUC's own Professor Mark Kittleson(Health Education). His meta-analysis debunks the notion that online education is less rigorous than “face-to-face” education. In fact, his cross discipline studies show that online education outperforms face-to-face based on measurable test results. My own experience corroborates this finding.

At a 2009 conference, Kittleson delivered a talk on the advantages of online education. The abridged video is available online: Go to for WMV (PC) format or for MP4 (Apple). I abridged because the first 15 minutes was taken up with Kittleson receiving an award for being a leader in his field.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Faculty Layoffs: Who and When?

A quick Google search of "university faculty layoffs" (without the quotation marks) reveals many recent news stories on state universities terminating faculty and staff.

For those who want to know the typical scenario, there are standards set by the AAUP, the American Council on Education, and legal precedent ("protected classes," including those over age 40 have special consideration under the law).

The best guide I found was from the American Council on Education.

The following is a typical situation explaining who is most likely to be laid off and in what order. This layoff procedure is from Wayne State (where a previous SIUC provost went) and fairly typical of unionized colleges:

"A. Faculty Layoffs

1. Normally, part-time faculty will be laid off first followed by lecturers. In unusual circumstances when special experience is essential to the unit, a full-time or fractional-time faculty member may be laid off, while the part-time faculty member is retained. If the budgetary constraints prove it impossible to staff the range of courses with the full-time and/or fractional-time faculty, then the full-time and fractional-time faculty may be offered the opportunity to teach the courses on an overload basis without additional compensation rather than to use part-time faculty during the academic year.

2. Additional faculty layoffs shall occur in the following order: (a) non-tenure-track faculty by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University, (b) untenured faculty on tenure track by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University, (c) tenured faculty by rank and (within rank) by length of service at the University. For purposes of this paragraph, untenured lecturers and senior lecturers with more than seven years service shall be treated as tenured faculty."

Life is not simple when it comes to layoffs, particularly when tenure and unions are involved. The wise faculty member will consult their union representative (if they have a union), read their state education labor law, and do what I have done--consult with a lawyer.

"Hope for the best, plan for the worst" is the motto for these times.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Colleges as "Attendance Centers": Why So Many Students Never Graduate

Several years ago, I chuckled when I dropped my young daughter off at a friend's elementary school. In fact, the school was named an "Attendance Center." I never learned why "school" was suddenly out of fashion.

How apt a phrase for what is happening in higher education, as every politician and president (Bush and Obama included) promise "more, more, more!"

A new book is getting acclaim for documenting how simply funding more college "attendees" is a waste of money: Jackson Toby, The Lowering of Higher Education in America: Why Financial Aid Should be Based on Student Performance. Toby hammers home the message that always shocks people when I tell them that most of those who go to college will never graduate with a degree. Moreover, mere "attendance" at a college does little to improve earnings and leaves many in debt.

The situation is even worse at community colleges, where politicians at the state and national levels are heavily subsidizing two-year college education. By accepting all, the old whip of "working hard in high school" to "get into college" is gone--every K-12 student knows they can go to college whether they prepare themselves or not.

The following excerpt from an article on the abysmal state of community college "attendance centers" highlights how much worse the problem is at that level:
"A cursory look at the data is not encouraging. Although 41 percent of America's college-bound students enter community colleges each year , only 28 percent of this cohort actually complete their studies and earn a degree , an even more dismal outcome than that displayed at the nation's baccalaureate colleges, where 56 percent manage to graduate . These depressing statistics haven't dampened the general consensus favoring support of community colleges because proponents appear to believe that college "access" trumps successful college completion and that "some college is better than none." Refuting the latter point, U.S. community college non-graduates have only marginally higher earnings and lower unemployment rates than high school graduates and do far less well than their counterparts that manage to complete their studies.

The disappointing outcomes at community colleges are to some extent hard-wired into four aspects of their design. These institutions are proudly and aggressively "open admissions" which means that there are no academic criteria to get in except, in most places, a high school diploma. . . ."
Readers interested in learning the graduation rates (and other vital statistics) of any college in America can find it at

Will financial aid be tied to merit rather than a free lunch for everyone, regardless of performance? The political incentives work against any such reform. After all, the citizens of Entitlement U.S.A. believe it is their unalienable right to a discounted (or free) college education. Furthermore, politicians count votes and "something for nothing" is always popular. On we go . . .