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."