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Monday, November 14, 2011

It seems clear now that NKU is going to take the road toward reclassification as an NCAA Division I institution. We should learn soon whether our bid for joining a Division I conference has been accepted, and upon receiving an invitation we can then petition the NCAA for reclassification. Here are a few of my reflections on the matter.

I've been watching this process unfold now for several years. It's not a new idea; in fact it was considered and studied and rejected (or postponed) at least twice in recent history. Faculty might express displeasure now over not being part of the process, but it was a multi-year process that was never secretive, with plenty of invitations for input. A concerned, critical, persistent Faculty Senate could have been at the center of this decision making process all along. The Senate should own up to that, not blame the administration.

That's not to say complete and accurate information was easy to come by from the administration. As a member of the Athletic Council I and others had a chance to encourage the President to make the case to faculty and the university community. He took this seriously. I personally wanted to know that if we were going Division I athletically, we would also be aiming at becoming a Division I academic institution. Understanding that could mean lots of things, I wanted us to define what it meant in advance. I didn't just want to hold academic affairs harmless in the new venture, I wanted to see how academic affairs would be strengthened. How would this improve the central mission of the institution to educate? I suggested creating a document, analogous to the documented plan I knew would have to created for Intercollegiate Athletics, that would describe in detail the proposed changes including budgetary commitments and expected benefits for academics. Such a document for athletics is prepared in the application process for a conference invitation and it does include details about the academic integrity and productivity of the institution. But just as we ought to be able to say in detail what we expect the costs and benefits for athletics would be when moving to Division I, we ought to be able to say the same for academic affairs. While the Athletic Council was kept informed about the process all along the way (our relationship with Athletics and the administration is very strong and positive), this level of documentation regarding academics was never available to the Council or the faculty. I personally regret not being more persistent, though it is not too late.

My suggestion for a plan to outline Division I academics was initially met with some interest, which eventuated only in a change in public rhetoric. It seems we already are a Division I academic institution and athletics is lagging behind. So what does it mean to be Division I academically?

1. Excellence. Division I connotes something better than Division II. In athletics it is about skill and athletic ability, a higher level of competition, and so connotes something like a four-star rating; but that is not to say it is intrinsically better. For one division or one conference to be better than another you need to specify the relevant dimensions. Division II or III might be better for certain schools with certain missions or values or objectives. If you are only concerned about the level of competition, that's one thing. But there are other dimensions along which an athletic program can excel. There are outstanding DII and DIII athletic programs. (NKU, for example, has had an outstanding DII program for years.)

What about academics? Specifically, what are those dimensions along which we measure academic excellence? The idea is to point to something like high academic achievement, faculty expertise or quality programs. We need to be able to say more, however, and to say how it is measured. But more specificity here still leaves open the question of how academic excellence is related to athletic excellence. Is it possible for a school to be considered DI academically without being DI athletically? Is DI athletics required for DI academics? Is this the only way to fund quality or inspire a campus and community to academic greatness? I doubt it, but we haven't explored these questions fully as an institution.

2. Profile. Mostly the rhetoric has been that we already do or aspire to resemble other DI schools (in our preferred conference). Resemble how? Publicly the president is pointing to breadth of curriculum, size and quality of student body, stature of faculty, centers for research and creative excellence, community engagement, and our impact on region. This is our "Division I profile." It's not clear why this is not consistent with a Division II profile.

What about academic values like performance? Workload? Expectations? Achievement? We need to look closely at these. And before we rush to become part of the DI academic profile we should remember the other side, which is a less than flattering picture in which academic integrity and performance takes a back seat to athletic success. We currently have a graduation rate of 34%. We would leave the GLVC with its average graduation rate of 54%. Would moving to the OVC, with an average graduation rate of 44%, better fit our own profile, or establish a better aspirational model? So we say we want to fit a Division I academic profile, but we should be careful what we wish for.

Thinking critically, we should be asking whether those DI schools acquired their dreamy academic profiles by being DI athletically? Do we know? Don't some DII and DIII schools also have dreamy academic profiles? I would point out that trying to be like someone else means we are looking backward: they got where they are from past endeavors in past environments. How do we chart our way into the future? How do we anticipate future changes in the higher education landscape? Is Division I athletics (and the branding it brings) the best path to realize our aspirations in today's or tomorrow's economic and educational environment? For example, is the DI branding argument still as viable today as it was yesterday? Even if we grant that in the past going DI has resulting in rich branding opportunities for universities (like ours) and improved retention and recruitment, will this be the case in the future? Increased public and legislative scrutiny on the relationship between education and athletics suggests we should think about this carefully. I think a key question is whether there are ways to become DI academically without becoming DI athletically? Are there alternative branding options that would fit our mission and values but require a different kind of investment? Some schools even move from DII to DIII to better serve their mission.

I have confidence that the key people involved in implementing our move to Division I have the desire and competence to get it done right. We are fortunate to have an administration and an athletic staff with a lot of integrity, a strong work ethic, and a wealth of competence. Still, it would be a shame if faculty sat back and watched, only to look up once in a while, and just long enough, to complain.

I've raised lots of questions and I'm not ready to argue that we should not go Division I. Perhaps we should. I would argue that we--as a faculty, as an institution--should define what it means to be DI academically before others, or unforeseen circumstances, define it for us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Computer science exposed two generations of young people to the rigors of logic and rhetoric that have disappeared from far too many curricula in the humanities. Those students learned to speak to the machines with which the future of humanity will be increasingly intertwined. They discovered the virtue of understanding the instructions that lie at the heart of things, of realizing the danger of misplaced semicolons, of learning to labor until what you have built is good enough to do what it is supposed to do.

I like the idea of learning to "speak to the machine" as a call to not only learn to write code but to also consider carefully how we interact (communicate) with technologies generally.

Carey, K. (2010, November 7). Decoding the Value of Computer Science. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

Sunday, August 29, 2010

VOTRUBRIX™ now comes in chewable tablets that are no less easy to swallow. Newly discovered side effects include scurvy, loss of vision and constipation. Ask your doctor if VOTRUBRIX™ is right for you.

This year's Convocation speech is available online and below is the Wordle word cloud.

Wordle: NKU 2010 Convocation

What I should like about this talk is the obvious emphasis on "students". Of course, word clouds are primarily about words and only indirectly about the things the words refer to. So, what about students? Votruba does acknowledge our mission to provide for "our students and their education" and the importance of enhancing the student experience. But it's mostly about numbers now: graduation rates, credit hour generation, pricing.

In this Convocation speech references to quantity far out-strip any references to quality. Part of that is a sign of dire economic stress. Part of it is exhaustion and a lack of new ideas.

I welcomed the reference to a "New Era," though it is really a look back to how bad things have gotten. Higher education is a mess. It looks be to an even worse mess in the new era. American higher education is not so much unrivaled as it is unraveling. Votruba's response I found to be completely uninspiring: lacking any new strategies for attack, we are retreating, though the retreat is not quite back to ideal or even safe ground.

Thirteen years ago we aspired to be "learner-centered." This went beyond the activity of learning to a broader concern for the individuals who engaged in education and its activities. It went beyond students to include faculty, staff and community members who were also learners engaged in multi-faceted, lifelong pursuits of improvement. It was always people engaged in learning who were foregrounded. You don't hear much about being learner-centered anymore. The unwelcome turn came about five years ago, IMHO, when the rhetoric shifted to "talent development," which can lead to only one driving, mission-critical question, "Who stole my cheese?"

Now what? We are back to a narrow reading of "learner" (though the word "learner" doesn't even appear in this Convocation speech) and, though students are presumed to have experiences we will hire consultants to care about, they're quantified. Faculty are back to being teachers, members of the production line, grant winners, managers, where professional development and the pursuit of new knowledge barely deserve mention. It's not about the life of the mind; it's about life in the mine.

Harsh realities. Yes. Sweet Dreams? Not so much.

This Convocation message is about an administration on its death bed. Even President Boothe is praying for them. There is no light at the end of the tunnel and we're down to counting the heartbeats. Votruba would like us to look ahead but all he can do is reminisce about the thirteen years that led him to be the university's longest serving president.

F*cking awesome.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

That learning is predominantly informal and social is something I need to keep in mind as I prepare courses and syllabi for the fall. I need to leave more time for play and discussion. Found this over at Jane Knight's web site.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

The new tool, Anthologize, is a free, open-source WordPress plug-in that lets users organize and edit work from one blog or from many. Users can then export the content as a printer-friendly PDF or in other digital formats. The tool's creators have proposed several potential uses for Anthologize. For example, instructors might compile work from student blogs, or scholars could collect pieces on related topics and edit them into a digital publication similar to a journal.

From the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

From Tomorrow's Professor (Msg. #1023). Article by Michelle Beld, professor of political science and director of evaluation and assessment, St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. The article is from the Winter, 2010 issue of Peer Review, Volume 12, Number 1.

Assessment helps us figure out whether our students are learning what we think we're teaching.- Chemistry faculty member

Discussing how to go about assessing the intended learning outcomes of our major led to some of the best-and longest!-conversations we've ever had about pedagogy.-Romance languages faculty member

Assessment played a key role in being awarded an NSF grant for curriculum and pedagogical innovation, and now that the grant is completed, we're able to show convincingly that it had great results. -Psychology faculty member

Assessment can be useful in the classroom insofar as it helps make our expectations more transparent to our students. -Political science faculty member.

Assessment at the department level is a bit like living in Minnesota-it's not always easy, but in the long run, it's worth it. To be sure, gathering credible evidence of student learning in a major, minor, or concentration takes commitment, creativity, and, occasionally, some courage. But as a growing number of faculty are finding, there can be real payoffs to the work, particularly at the department level.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

From Inside Higher Ed, a discussion with an author about a new book on the shift in higher education to corporate values and its impact on the professorship.
Two much-discussed trends in academe — the adoption of corporate values and the decline in the percentage of faculty jobs that are on the tenure track — are closely linked and require joint examination. That is the thesis of a new book, The Last Professors: The Corporate University and the Fate of the Humanities, just published by Fordham University Press.
The trends expressed in the article are certainly reflected at my own university. We've even stopped talking about our vision for liberal education and now refer to the "business plan." We dropped the expression "learner-centered" and now strive to "develop talent." And non-tenured faculty dramatically outnumber tenured/tenure-track faculty.

'The Last Professors' :: Inside Higher Ed :: Higher Education's Source for News, Views and Jobs

Saturday, May 31, 2008

Stephen Downes defines "edupunk" as "student-centered, resourceful, teacher- or community-created rather than corporate-sourced, and underwritten by a progressive political stance. ... Edupunk, it seems, takes old-school Progressive educational tactics--hands-on learning that starts with the learner's interests--and makes them relevant to today's digital age, sometimes by forgoing digital technologies entirely." I guess I'm one of the new "Edupunk" professors he's talking about. I'm getting pretty frustrated with vendor-centered learning, where the vendor controls what students see and how they interact with it. The situation spirals downward since institutions that buy into a proprietary software package or application tend not to explore alternatives.  The discussion begins with Jim Grooms' blog post at bavatuesdays.

Frustrated With Corporate Course-Management Systems, Some Professors Go 'Edupunk'

"Punk rock was a rebellion against the clean, predictable sound of popular music and it also encouraged a do-it-yourself attitude. Edupunk seems to be a reaction against the rise of course-managements systems, which offer cookie-cutter tools that can make every course Web site look the same." (Wired Campus)

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

I don't think my Philosophy of Mind class has quite the same reputation, though the Onion would find plenty to write about.
CHAPEL HILL, NC -- University of North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough told reporters yesterday that his decision to forgo the NBA Draft and return for his senior year stems from a desire to "take this one awesome philosophy class that is, like, only offered in the fall [semester], I think." The class, PHIL 740: Philosophy of the Mind, is reportedly taught by Professor David Hartz, who Hansbrough described as "like the coolest guy in the world especially because the only grade is just this one big paper at the end [of the term], and he doesn't even take attendance." "He's like super smart and he makes you think completely differently about your perspectives on stuff, which is awesome," said Hansbrough, adding that he is going to read all the books and everything. "And my girlfriend is taking it too, so it should be pretty sweet." Hansbrough denied allegations that he is staying in school because his socio-economic background allows himself the freedom to have fun and not worry about the welfare of his family.

Tyler Hansbrough Staying In School To Take This One Awesome Philosophy Class | The Onion - America's Finest News Source

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Some professors threaten to confiscate students' cell phones if they go off during class. Laurence Thomas has his own approach to classroom distractions. If the philosopher at Syracuse University catches a student sending text messages or reading a newspaper in class, he'll end the class on the spot and walk out. It doesn't matter if there is but one texter in a large lecture of hundreds of students. If you text, he will leave.
W.W.S.D.? (What would Socrates do?)

I find myself sometimes treating a class as though it were a single agent, an individual learner who is ether getting it or not, engaged or not, attentive or not. Of course, what I'm doing is informally sampling the class. "The class" is doing well if enough are doing well, attending, learning. It's a nice heuristic, allowing me to move forward or attend to a problem as my informal measure dictates. It means, however, that I sometimes ignore individual achievement and particular problems. I need to use the heuristic carefully. I try to balance its use with specific attention to individuals who are especially quiet or who are not doing well. I try to call on individuals by name or look into the eyes of students who aren't active discussants.

Rarely have I punished a class on the basis of a single student's behavior. When a student was disruptive, I've occasionally ended class early. First, it's is sometimes impossible to make progress; second, the attention placed on the disruptive students can be a form of punishment; and third, the class can sometimes punish better than I can. On one occasion I made a few copies of a paper available for all to read (taking turns over a few weeks). When all of the copies failed to be returned (affecting members of the class who couldn't read the article in time for class), I punished the entire class. I didn't know who the culprit was, but the individuals did eventually return the paper.

Punishing the group for the behavior of individuals sometimes works to control behavior, but we're forced to violate our sense of fairness in the process. Larry Thomas values respect (for himself at least) over fairness in this incident. Indeed, he has very specific demands on how one shows respect--don't text while I'm talking. (He probably has other expectations, but they aren't revealed in this story.) I'd be curious to learn more of his pedagogical style. Does he make each person in a class of 400 feel like an individual learner? An autonomous agent who is both expected to deliver respect as well as receive respect from others. What does he do to show respect to each of these students as individuals in a classroom? And might they all walk out if he fails to show proper respect to even one of them?

Respect is a two-way street. I'd like to know more about how Larry handles that.

If You Text in Class, This Prof Will Leave :: Inside Higher Ed

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

David Hawpe has written a very interesting article in the Louisville Courier-Journal about NKU's proposed business plan, which promotes NKU's role in facilitating regional economic growth and developing a talented workforce. He cynically comments:
So, NKU wants to be a combination vocational school and economic development office, staffed by PhDs?
The problem, however, is that we're not hiring PhDs to drive these initiatives. Though the plan calls for more tenurable faculty, we're instead paying top salaries to leaders with little or no experience in academia and who operate with little regard for educational mission of the university. Hawpes' fears that we are following a business plan at the expense of the integrity of a good liberal arts education are worth some serious attention. Look at the initiatives and how they are managed and you can see that the "talent-driven workforce" coming out of NKU in the future is unlikely to be either philosophical or poetic.

David Hawpe: Do we want business plans or education plans?

Monday, November 26, 2007

The liberal academic elite, what with their multiculturalism, environmentalism, feminism, atheism, and political correctness, are ruining everything! This is the subtle analysis of Todd J. Zywicki, the Dartmouth trustee and a law professor at George Mason University, captured on YouTube. The academic left in the modern university is compared to the Spanish Inquisition, an orthodoxy that stifled opposing (in this case right-wing) opinion. Zwicki's speech rant displays some pretty angry, hateful and yes, vicious stuff. According to an Inside Higher Ed report, he says some of his comments were taken out of context, he was speaking from notes, and he was unduly casual and informal. Perhaps, but then what does he really think?

And the Spanish Inquisition? Didn't they introduce waterboarding?

Inside Higher Ed :: Speech Hits a Sore Spot at Dartmouth

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

"The left has a stranglehold on our universities. Professors are forcing our kids to submit to their pro-glacier agenda." -Colbert Report
Colbert reports the amazing story in which a college student is forced to think about something other than what he believes in.

Comedy Central : Motherload
As part of my work with the NKU faculty development center (POD: Professional and Organizational Development) I created and manage a site I'm calling Technologies for Teaching and Learning.
Welcome to Technologies for Teaching and Learning. The links below will take you to further discussions of new software, tutorials, strategies and issues of interest to those who want to use technology to enhance teaching effectiveness and facilitate learning.
I'm updating the site almost daily, so check in regularly---or better yet, add the feed to your newsreader.

Technologies for Teaching and Learning

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The local paper places me on the vanguard. I'd rather be in the vanguard and on the cutting edge, but I'm pleased to see the article turn out so well.
HIGHLAND HEIGHTS - Universities across the country tout themselves as leaders in technology. At Northern Kentucky University, philosophy professor Rudy Garns is on the vanguard. Garns has allowed three of his classes to submit the three required papers in the form of a podcast. A podcast is an oral presentation that is recorded digitally. It is posted on a Web site where people can download the files and listen to them from their computers or transfer them to their digital media players - such as an iPod - for listening later. "These are mostly honors students, so it is not surprising they are creative and adventurous," Garns said.
Of course, we're not really podcasting until we can produce a regular series of episodes and syndicate the feeds. Stay tuned....

The Enquirer - At NKU, students turn in podcasts