Wednesday, August 31, 2011

REMINDER: Do Not Use .EDU Email for Anything Political

I've blogged about this before but never, ever use your .edu email address to say anything blatantly partisan. If you work for the state, you lose some (much?) of your freedom to express yourself. Remember those Ethics Exams we take each year with their ridiculous scenarios of terminating employees for relatively innocuous infractions?

Read this article from  This fellow used his state email to make a political statement and got a reprimand. It could have been worse.

Just get yourself a Gmail account or private blog and then rant 'n rave to your heart's delight.

Further reading:

Facebook and U: The Dangers of University Email

Big Brother and U, Part II: Is Your University Reading Your Email?

Big Brother and U, Part II: Is Your University Reading Your Email?

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Coming Student Loan Crisis: Crony Capitalism + Egalitarian Liberalism

Take the notion that every child deserves to attend college (egalitarian liberalism) and add crony capitalism (banks with the power to squeeze you despite bankruptcy (i.e., kind of like the IRS!). The result is the warning of several commentators recently of a coming student loan crisis. In today's Wall Street Journal, Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus are quoted from an story they wrote:
As this semester begins, college loans are nearing the $1 trillion mark, more than what all households owe on their credit cards. Fully two-thirds of our undergraduates have gone into debt, many from middle class families, who in the past paid for much of college from savings. . . .
If you want to get a name as an economic seer, try this one. The next subprime crisis will come from defaults on student debts, starting with for-profit colleges and rising to the Ivy League. . . .
Still, there's a difference. With mortgage defaults, banks seize and resell the home. But if a degree can't be sold, that doesn't deter the banks. They essentially wrote the student loan law, in which the fine-print says they aren't "dischargable." So even if you file for bankruptcy, the payments continue due.
Hence these stern words from Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of College Registrars and Admissions Officers. "You will be hounded for life," he warns. "They will garnish your wages. They will intercept your tax refunds. You become ineligible for federal employment." He adds that any professional license can be revoked and Social Security checks docked when you retire.
Read the full article because it is worth the read.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

J'accuse! Feds "Discourage" Due Process

Cross-examine witnesses and accuser? That is so 20th century. The Office of Civil Rights (Department of Education) "discourages" it. Colleges have already thrown out old-fashioned notions of civil liberties, as we well know at SIUC, so they are all too happy to presume guilt. The Wall Street Journal has a followup on this topic, which I blogged about yesterday.

(Look for any advice to those accused in our sexual harassment code and compare it to the apparatus offered up to accusers. Or just click on the "sexual harassment" label for this site).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Feds Gut Due Process in "Sexual Harassment" Cases

The Office of Civil Rights for the Department of Education has retreated from its firm stance in favor of due process and put forth a new standard for enforcing campus sexual harassment codes based on "the preponderance of evidence" (rather than "clear and convincing" evidence). AAUP and FIRE are concerned that this lower bar deprives faculty, staff and students accused of the due process they need and deserve.

Keep in mind that "sexual harassment" codes extend to a wide range of behavior that is not sexual: namely, creating a "hostile environment." The "hostile environment" category embraces speech and makes this an academic freedom concern, according to both AAUP and FIRE.

How low does this bar go? Pretty darn low. Consider a case from North Dakota where a male student (Caleb Warner) was suspended for three years after a female student accused him of rape. The police later found evidence that this woman had made a false accusation (they never happen, right?) and "lodged criminal charges [against her] . . . for filing a false police report."

So the male student was let back on campus, right? No. Based on the "preponderance of evidence" letter just issued by OCR, North Dakota State still refused to re-consider the case. In the administration's opinion, there was no "substantial new information" (bold for emphasis) and "Warner's three-year suspension 'was not a legal process but an educational one.'"

It's a bad turn of events because in 2003 the same Office of Civil Rights was concerned with the "convict first and fast" attitude of harassment officers in areas of speech. In 2003, the Office of Civil Rights issued a statement clarifying that enforcement did not require campuses to abandon the First Amendment. Today's OCR seems to think its lower standard is just fine, thank you. It will apply not only in cases of alleged rape but also "expressive activities" (speech).

This gutting of due process will leave administrations with the power to blur the difference between rape (a crime that must be proved, except on campuses) and innocent speech, however controversial. In either case, due process is there to prevent Star Chambers from walling themselves off from the rest of the world and declaring their authority Supreme on campus. So now places like North Dakota will stonewall and say: we don't deal with legal processes, only educational ones.

AAUP and FIRE have fought so many of these cases that they have lost their shock value.  Indifference breeds the arrogance of power. Fortunately, faculty/staff/students can organize or speak out. In some cases, they can bring in the AAUP and FIREs of the world and "sue the bastards." Perhaps that is the only thing that Power understands. 

For more, read this FIRE FAQ on the new OCR mandates

HT: Adam Kissel

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

23% of High School Graduates Ready for College (Illinois)

From (August 17th):
"More than three-quarters of Illinois high school graduates aren’t completely ready for college, based on their ACT scores, state results of the college-admission test released Wednesday show.
Only 23 percent of Illinois’ 2011 high school graduating class — public and private — met college readiness standards in all four ACT subjects tested: English, reading, math and science.

The biggest drag on preparedness, data showed, was college-readiness in science. There, only 28 percent of the 2011 Illinois graduating class scored high enough to predict they will probably land a C or better in the typical college freshmen science course in biology, the ACT report indicated.

Among the state’s African-American students, only 6 percent met that same college-ready science bar."

And although Illinois is one of only four states that require all public high school students to take the ACT, its composite is not that far from the national average of 21.1, noted Mary Fergus, spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education."

Friday, August 12, 2011

FORUM: "The Future of Faculty Unions"

Each week, the Chronicle of Higher Education sends me links to its feature stories. This week's email included many individuals active in labor relations "gathering" online to discuss "The Future of Faculty of Unions."

If this passes for a wide-open discussion in academia, God help us. Notice that there are many individuals offering their views but they are all pro-union. If you are pro-union, that is fine and dandy, but you aren't going to learn much. Even if the forum was explicitly, rather than tacitly, pro-union they could have discussed strategies, methods of pressuring administrations that face pressures from other sides, etc.

On my campus, for example, there is talk of a strike which is a classic union "tool." I haven't seen reference to strikes in any higher ed journals that circulate widely. Do you lose health benefits? (No, but you must pay the full premium and that might alert you to how lucky we are to have our health plans so heavily subsidized). Are you eligible for unemployment compensation? Does the union provide an financial assistance? Short of a strike, what else can unions do (other than file complaints)? The list goes on and on. This discuss has begun on a local blog devoted to faculty issues at my university but you have to burrow through the long threads of comments.

Until putatively pro-union writers put their chips on the table, it sure looks like they have nothing to shoot. No wonder administrations don't take these associations seriously.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Ninite: One-Click Batch Install and Update Your Programs!

Over at my eHistory blog I posted the first of several tips for cutting down the time you spend on installing (and updating) programs. The profiled program is Ninite. Check it out!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Court Victory for Health Insurance Carriers

NOTE: Hat tip to SUAA, one of the finest sources of real-time information on issues pertaining to state employee benefits. And membership is only $20 per year!

The State of Illinois lost its case in a unanimous ruling favoring Health Alliance and other carriers who protested the policy change by Quinn's administration. Read the State Journal-Register story.