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.