Thursday, March 24, 2011

Double Guest Exchange

Hello, darlings! Molly here, guest blogger, with my guest scribe Bardiac.

I took pity on Bardiac today, and took her for two walks in the snow.

You know if you've walked a human in the snow that they're pitiable about it. They miss every scent worth a snootful, and they can't keep up. And Bardiac was no better than most.

To be honest, with things going the way they are in politics around here, it's practically a miracle some humans even bother coming outside. Now the governor wants to
scrap recycling mandates. We've had the law since the mid-90s, longer than I've been alive. (And here you thought the things in the special bin were just "stuff not worth rooting through just in case there were scraps accidentally put in.") But this law has reduced landfill pretty significantly in our area. Alas, I've heard that certain people who own paper mills might not like having to compete with recycled paper.

Despite the beautiful snow in these pictures,
our lakes and rivers may suffer from excess fertilizer run-off if Walker's proposal goes through. (We'd even be in violation of the Clean Water Act, and you know labs love clean water!) Do you think someone who owns a chemical company might have something to do with this?

Walker's already put education funding in jeopardy and attacked state workers as the "haves" in the economy, because he's pretty sure that snowplow drivers and kindergarten teachers pushed the economy into the dumps, not bankers playing unethical games with derivitives and bad loans.

I'm sure you understand why I felt it was imperitive to take Bardiac out for a walk. At one point, I saw a deer, and it was most exciting. I bounded up to alert my walking companion, pogoing in place so she'd see and be ready to give chase with me. But by the time she'd figured it out (and, dears, let's face it, humans are among the least capable creatures when it comes to figuring anything out), the deer had disappeared to be replaced by a bush. I gave chase for a bit, but the bush refused to run, and I didn't see the point in pursuing it further.

I think I tired her out a bit, anyway. It's better than that boring old grading (which, by the way, I offered to chew on a bit to help, but nooooo.)

Keep your nose to the wind and tails up, my dears! And don't forget to take your human friends out for a walk. What with all the mess some of them are making of things, they need a break!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Ask the Administrator: Student voice

A longtime correspondent writes:
The department where I work has great respect for the idea of making sure students  give input into our decision making and agenda-setting. We have multiple students on every major departmental committee (hiring, degree program, and the like), where they actually have a voice and a vote. Students in the department also have their own student group, who sometimes advocates for program and policy changes. There are also student representatives who attend our faculty meetings, which gives them insights into the larger contexts that shape how we make decisions and has the added benefit of keeping faculty a little more civil in our discussions. I am concerned, though, that our new Dean has also created a student advisory committee for the School that is meeting monthly with him. No other program directors or department chairs are invited to this meeting. I am finding that now, instead of going through the program committees, the students are taking everything straight to the Dean. Worse yet, the Dean wants to then become involved in every issue or make changes based on little (student-supplied) information. What can we do to address these concerns? Is this kind of Dean's student advisory committee standard practice everywhere?  

While I have not used a Dean's advisory committee comprised solely of students in any of my positions, I am familiar with the approach. The idea, as you note, is to give students a way to provide feedback to the administration. Of course, it sounds like there are already structures in place that allow students to provide feedback and input on lower levels, so this is likely not the sole reason for the committee.

I am against the creation of these kinds of committees if they are really just pro forma, with their sole purpose to appear to give students a voice.  If you are asking students to spend their time in these meetings, they should really serve a purpose for the department and the students. I am also against these kinds of student advisory committees that are little more than places to complain about faculty or narc on staff to the senior management. Of course, some of that is sure to occur whenever there are program committees, but there should be a clear, defined purpose for these advisory committees. 

I wonder if your Dean is struggling with feeling disconnected from students. This sense of isolation from students (and faculty) can be a problem for many in administrative positions, especially when they first take on a new role. One of the problems in a bureaucracy is that those who are higher up the ladder become very removed from the people they serve. I find that the only students I usually encounter are the ones in trouble, which gives me a very skewed perspective on the current student body. So, I understand the desire to be more connected to students and hear their concerns and challenges.

If I were to create such a committee, I would want to be certain that it didn't overlap with or undermine the work of other departmental committees. I can't imagine a need for the Dean to meet with students every month; that just seems excessive. (And I can't imagine that any Dean needs to add more committee meetings!) Meeting once or twice a semester to explore student challenges or concerns would be more than enough to give your Dean some insights into the students in your college.

It sounds like the Program Directors or Department Chairs will need to explain their concerns to the Dean, ask him to cut back on meeting frequency, and simply pass along any issues identified by students to the right person. Of course, if the Dean is encroaching on the purview of these other administrators, the issue is larger than the existence of a student committee.

Worldly readers, what experience do you have with these kinds of student advisory committees? What makes them most successful?

Dean Dad as channeled by Lesboprof

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Foundations of Excellence without Money

It seems like just yesterday that hard times hit the Moms at Roxie's World, inspiring the first of many posts on "Excellence without Money," not only at Queer the Turtle U but also at a university near you! Dog knows, kids, the moms weren't alone in noticing the trend: Historiann even designed a nifty logo for the Excellence without Money initiative.

This may be hard to believe, but more than two years have passed - that's 14 dog years, and in the meantime I died - and yet here I am, and here all of you are, still hearing about how we have to do more with less.   The latest and greatest version of this to come across my typist's desk is an initiative from the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.  Here's a little taste of the Institute's mission: "By focusing its expertise on the development of assessment-based action plans with measurable outcomes, the Institute fosters institutional change by enhancing accountability, coordination, and the delivery of efforts associated with student learning, success, and retention during the undergraduate experience. While the Institute undertakes activities to strengthen all of undergraduate education, it places particular emphasis on special efforts to improve the success of beginning college students."

The initiative is called Foundations of Excellence, and it's coming (or has already been) to a community college or four-year university near you!  Institutions compete to pay the Gardner Institute thousands of dollars for the privilege of their guidance through a self-study process aimed at enhanced assessment practices and improved retention of first-year and transfer students: "Now more than ever in challenging economic times, your campus needs an action plan for the critical beginning college experience." 

You may be wondering why my typist keeps linking to the Gardner Institutes's websites.  Funnily enough, there is pretty much no external reportage to be found about the Foundations of Excellence initiative - not even over at the The Chronicle of Higher Education or at Inside Higher Ed.  You will find, if you do a search of the Inside Higher Ed site, this nifty opinion piece by John N. Gardner and Andrew K. Koch from January of this year, which basically outlines all of the reasons why institutions need the Gardner Institute.  Note: the authors of the piece are John N. Gardner himself and the vice president for new strategies, development, and policy initiatives of the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.

Can I see a show of paws from those of you who feel like you're chasing your tails?  I know they say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, and I suspect that it's even more difficult to teach a dead dog new tricks, but it does seem to this here wire-haired fox terrier, from where she sits in the great dog park in the sky, that this "initiative" is more of the same - more burden on faculty to focus their attention away from the classroom, away from research, and even away from their home institutions, more edicts to accomplish their work without adequate resources, and more emphasis on documentation rather than on education.  Tenure won't save you from this, my pretties, nor will unionization, even if you take my advice from this comparatively hopeful post from just a few months ago.  It's already happening.

I don't know about you, but I think we could all use a little something to cheer us up.  Since my typist doesn't like to drown her sorrows this early in the day, how about an uplifting little ditty about the godliness of dogs?  It is Sunday, after all.

Roxie as channeled by Dr. Crazy