Thursday, October 30, 2014

UNC Guilty of Racketeering?

By Professor Doom

     So, after years of stonewalling, denials, and trashing the reputation of whistleblowers, UNC administration finally acknowledges that, yeah, there’s some fraud going on there. Just a tiny bit. Only the fraud that’s been proven beyond all conceivable doubt. And not a drop more.

     Key to administration’s denials was the claim that all the fraud was just one guy in the African studies department. The ol’ “lone nut” theory, if you will.
     Let’s see a key quote again:

     “For five years, UNC has insisted the paper classes were the doing of one rogue professor: the department chair of the African-American studies program, Julius Nyang'oro. Wainstein's report spread the blame much further.”

     Oh well, so much for blaming it all on one professor. Seriously, this was a blatant lie from the start, obvious to anyone in higher education—the entire administrative staff should have spoken out about this obvious lie.

     Let me explain this lie, because it’s important for the gentle reader to understand the epic scale of the fraud going on at UNC, and throughout higher education.

     See, administration knows the enrollments of classes, and has to approve classes every semester. Many years ago, classes could get cancelled if their enrollment was 5 students or less…nowadays, I’ve seen classes of 20 students get cancelled “due to lack of enrollment.” The profit margin for such “small” classes just isn’t high enough for admin, the inconvenience to the students paying $10,000 a semester is irrelevant to admin. Thus I know administrators are lying en masse here:

      These paper classes were independent study courses, and had enrollments of 1 apiece. Yes, 1 student. That’s the kind of number that administrators notice, immediately. The only way admin would approve a single such course (much less approve it over 3,000 times) is if they knew exactly what was going on. There’s no way they’d lose profits otherwise. Legitimate courses with a single student can certainly happen, but an administrator seeing a few dozen such courses is going to, at the bare minimum, ask that they be converted into one class. Even if not, the next administrator up the food chain is going to ask why so many independent study courses, especially at the undergraduate level. It gets past two administrators? Very unlikely, but those approvals had to go all the way up the chain of command without anyone noticing a problem. For 18 years.

     It wasn’t just the department head. It wasn’t just the dean. It wasn’t just the provost, vice-chancellor, vice-president, chancellor or Grand Poo-bah.  Everyone knew, from the department head on up (at the bare minimum!)…everyone had to know, every semester, of the 50+ bogus courses being given each semester over the course of 18 years.

      Since the entire administrative staff has demonstrated their willingness to support a lie like this to facilitate fraud, maybe the Federal government will pursue racketeering charges? One can hope. There is a great deal of student federal loan money being stolen here, after all.

     Since the entire administrative staff tried to tell this lie, maybe the public, or accreditation will insist that the whole lot of them get fired? If sending them to jail like any other organized crime syndicate isn’t an option, is firing just too much, also? There are many hundreds of universities around, surely UNC is not too big to fail? They’re clearly too big to fail any students, I guess.

     The whistleblower who tried to make this scandal public years ago is, of course, out of a job, but I hope she feels vindicated. Seeing as admin called her a liar, many times, she’s certainly entitled. Like so many in higher education who’ve tried to do something about the widespread fraud, she’s taking her former bosses to court:

      Despite all the confirmed allegations of fraud, accreditation has yet to do a single thing about UNC. It would be funny if, to protect the academics of UNC from accrediting problems, the administration threw their athletic programs under a bus. Ok, I’m just dreaming here, everyone knows higher education administrators care nothing about education, and accreditation will never do more than a very light, apologetic, slap on the wrist.

      And now, back to the point of this and the previous blog post. The SAT is legitimate, even though it’s run by a single private company. A *hint* of fraud and immediately the company does something about it. A private company can maintain legitimacy, without having a regulatory agency watching its every move.

     How about the public, and semi-public, institutions of higher education?

      Higher education is legitimized by a number of regulators, accrediting agencies. Even nearly twenty years of scandals and confirmed allegations aren’t enough for an accreditor to notice something is wrong, much less do anything about it. Accreditation simply does not care if UNC is operating fraudulently…accreditation doesn’t care if any institution of higher education is operating fraudulently. Because of this, much—not all, but much—of higher education today is outright fraud.

    “Rocks for Jocks”

--this is the nickname for “Geology of our National Parks”, a course that counts for science credit, although far, far, easier than, say Physics or Biology or the like. I’ll leave it to the reader to guess, from the nickname, the typical student in that course, taught at a different state university than UNC. “Paper Classes” are just one of many fraudulent games played in higher education.

     The UNC fraud really isn’t a fraud just at UNC. It’s not even a fraud just about college sports. It’s an academic fraud. Many universities offer a “two tier” system of education. You can get a serious degree with real college courses, or you can get a bogus degree, filled with bogus courses. Yes, athletes tend toward the latter (and I am IN NO WAY criticizing the athletes for this), but anyone who wishes can take those bogus courses. Heck, Education departments on campuses are almost entirely bogus, with special “Math for Education Majors”, “Science for Education Majors” and “Art for Education Majors” courses every bit as bogus as “Rocks for Jocks.”

     That’s just the universities. I’ve shown in detail that community colleges have very little college coursework, and that much of their resources go to teaching 6th grade level material. It doesn’t matter that doing so violates Federal law, that doing so is unethical, that doing so violates accreditation on many levels. They just keep doing it, because that student money is so easy to obtain, and the Federal government stupidly thinks accreditation has anything to do with making sure institutions follow the law, act with integrity, or otherwise follow basic principles of accreditation. Accreditation does none of these things, and, even if it did, has no real means of penalizing violations beyond withdrawing accreditation, a process that is miserably slow and happens so rarely, for such strange reasons, that it hardly counts.

    So why should accreditation have anything to do with legitimizing education?



Monday, October 27, 2014

SAT and UNC: The Difference Between Real and Fraud, part 1

By Professor Doom

     Last May, the SAT exams in South Korea were cancelled. Yes, for the whole country, cancelled. Why? Because of allegations of cheating. So, 1600 Korean students are denied the chance to take the test because, possibly a few dozen, maybe even hundreds, might be cheating.

     This is a sad thing because these students take their studies seriously. These students don’t just go to school to do well on the SAT, they go to “cram schools” after school to study even more. I’m not convinced standardized tests really should be taken so seriously, but I still feel bad for the students who worked so hard (and for the parents of those students who paid extra for their children to study).

     “The scores of all 900 students taking a version of the test were cancelled after it was discovered that some had previously seen a portion of the exam…”

      There have been a few cheating scandals in the past, but considering the ridiculously high stakes involved, I can see that happening. What’s interesting here is how seriously ETS (the company responsible for seeing to the legitimacy of the SAT scores) takes allegations of cheating. The whiff of cheating means scores get cancelled.

      So, while I believe standardized tests are wildly overrated, when a student tells me he’s done well on the test, at least I believe him.

      It’s not so in college, where cheating is rampant, students can graduate after 6 years with nothing they didn’t already know from high school, and where degrees are almost all worthless now.

     ETS, of course, has nothing to do with the legitimacy of college coursework, or degrees. At the college level, college administrators and accreditation determine that sort of thing. To be fair, accreditors no longer make any claim about legitimacy. To be truly fair, I should also note that accreditors haven’t told the Federal government that little detail about how they’ve changed. Since the Federal government doesn’t know this (I wish I could get some of them to read my blog…), the Federal government only gives student loan money to schools that have been legitimized by accreditation, accreditation that has nothing to do with college legitimacy.

      The latest academic scandal in college to really hit home about how bad things are in higher education is the “paper classes” scandal at UNC. I’ve written about this before, but a quick summary: apparently, athletes, to boost their grades, would take exceptionally fake courses, and get fake grades.

      Accreditation doesn’t care, of course, but the NCAA did care, since it looked like UNC was giving preferential treatment to athletes. The NCAA would shut down UNC’s athletic programs if these bogus courses really happened. UNC countered by saying it wasn’t any big deal, and, besides, the regular students were also taking these bogus courses. Since the fraud affected all academics, and not just athletics, UNC admin reasoned, the NCAA shouldn’t care. NCAA bought it, at least for a little while. Administrators threw all their academic programs under a bus rather than come clean about these courses.

      Even with UNC administration saying all their academics were bogus, accreditation doesn’t care. Of course.

     “In all, the report estimates, at least 3,100 students took the paper classes, but the figure "very likely falls far short of the true number."

     Anyway, after some investigation, it seems the bogus courses scandal was pretty big after all. To summarize, the fake classes scam had been running for 18 years, and affected a low estimate of over 3,000 students.

“Four employees have been fired…because of their roles…”

     Administration at UNC has, for the last five years, been claiming that the fraud was just a small thing…but it ran for 18 years. Who here thinks only a handful of administrators really knew about the fraud? 18 years is long enough for a career…who thinks any of the fraudsters that retired in the last 18 years will be tracked down? UNC is being pretty vague on who got fired…no list of names or exact infractions. I’m sorry, but I suspect these are minor employees at best—otherwise their names would be in the media (you notice when bigwigs don’t show up for work!)--and I find it quite possible there were no firings at all, and this is a pure lie. Harsh cynicism on my part? Read on…

    “ The report says that athletes in a wide range of sports were involved, and it notes a noticeable spike of enrollment of Olympic-sport athletes between 2003 and 2005….”

     Absolutely, athletes were the primary beneficiary of the extensive institutional fraud at UNC, but the numbers involved do make it clear that quite a few students benefited from these exceptionally bogus courses. A few coaches have admitted they knew what was going on in the fake classes. The coaches didn’t say why they didn’t speak up, but I give them a pass: coaches are hired to win games, not oversee academic legitimacy. Coaches aren’t educators, and I can forgive a coach refusing to engage in behavior that runs counter to his or her job description.

     On the other hand, administrators are supposedly hired to help the institution. That, instead, administrators have only the goal of achieving growth, and can destroy academic and professional integrity to do so, and in fact will be praised for such destruction if they achieve growth. I cannot give a pass to them.

"The depth and breadth of the scheme -- involving counselors, coaches, academic administrators, faculty, athletic administrators, etc. -- eclipses any previous case," Gurney said.

      On the other hand, who is supposed to oversee academic legitimacy? I’ve shown many times that faculty are helpless against the whims of administration, so it can’t be faculty. That leaves administration, and accreditation. Administration has long since abandoned any pretense of being about integrity.

    What does SACs, the accrediting body for UNC say? Here we go:

     I remind the gentle reader that almost everything a school does to get accreditation is done through self-verification. UNC gets to say if they’re acting with integrity, and only the most egregious acts of fraud ever catch the notice of accreditation. I clarify: accreditation does not in any way say a school is legitimate. The school itself says it’s legitimate…but with administrative foxes watching the henhouse of the school, there’s simply no reason to believe the school.

    As I’ve shown many times on this blog, accreditation is a complete joke. UNC will get a sanction, will have to say they won’t do it anymore. Because accreditation enforces nothing, doesn’t really have any means to enforce anything, can the gentle reader guess what will happen “if” UNC goes right back to offering paper classes?

     Well, nothing. Maybe, after another 5 year investigation, accreditation will be forced to acknowledge, again, that UNC doesn’t have integrity, and send them another letter about it…and UNC can promise, again, to stop. 

     But UNC can just keep on doing it. Accreditation is a joke. There is no level of thievery, to lack of integrity, that is particularly relevant to accreditation.

      There is no penalty, either. The administrators that ran the fraud for the last 18 years will get to keep their huge pensions, will get to keep their massive salaries, will get to keep their jobs, except, maybe, for the 4 that UNC claims were fired, not that UNC will say who got fired or for why.  Why am I the only one that is unwilling to blindly trust UNC on this? But, anyway, the penalty for this outrageous violating of accreditation is the same penalty for all other violations of accreditation: nothing.

     “For five years, UNC has insisted the paper classes were the doing of one rogue professor: the department chair of the African-American studies program, Julius Nyang'oro. Wainstein's report spread the blame much further…”

     What? You mean UNC administration has been lying? Really? I’m shocked, shocked. Anyone want to bet that the Poo-Bah, Chancellors, Viceroys, and other high muckety-mucks will pay much of a price for this chicanery? Not much chance we can hope administration will oversee academic integrity when they behave like this.

     We’ll talk more about the incredible, obvious, lies of administration next time.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Should Classrooms Be Arcades?

By Professor Doom
     Ah, the tippy-tap of electronics…it’s more representative of the sound of a classroom than chalk on the board, at least nowadays. When I started teaching, a “cell phone” was the size of a tool chest, and all it did was allow phone calls. Now, my students carry tiny devices of such power that calling them “phones” is about as accurate as referring to cars as “seats”.

      Students love their devices, and it’s quite common to have 10% or more of the class texting away (if not outright playing games) during class. Yes, one can put “no cell phones” on the syllabus, but try to toss a student from a class he’s paying thousands of dollars to take and you get a visit from the Dean in short order. It can be done, but it’s a risk most faculty are, quite reasonably, unwilling to take.

     I’m a firm believer in verbal abuse and sarcasm as learning tools, and I use them to reduce the use of electronics in my courses, rather than the “draconian” method of kicking students out of class. 

     I see a student on a laptop tapping away, and I chide him for checking for updates on…the laptop closes quickly, I promise you.

      A student texting as I prove a theorem? I applaud the student for wanting to share the information with his friend in such a timely manner. The texting stops in short order (often to start up again in a few minutes, but I do what I can).

     Yet another cell phone ringing, interrupting what I have to say? I dance to the music, again chastising the student for exploiting my UDD—“Uncontrollable Dancing Disorder.”

      And, yes, I still got complaints from the Dean about my “poor treatment” of students. I’m really not a monster—I don’t particularly penalize students that don’t come to class in the first place, after all, so if they really want to play games, they can do so…just not in my class. I don’t want these types of students teaching the other students not to pay attention to what’s going on, is all.

      Education is so different today. Decades ago, it was understood that students were young, and that institutions of higher education were responsible for at least trying to keep them from hurting themselves through the foolish behavior that the young are most susceptible to. There were curfews, (enforced) morality codes, dress codes, behavior codes, (enforced) study times…education was not such a joke.

     Today of course, the “customer as student” paradigm means that administrators, rather than feel responsible to the young, instead do what they can to fleece the young, and that absolutely involves encouraging the students to hurt themselves so that future student loan checks may flow in. So, it’s very, very, hard to remove a student paying $10,000 a semester from the classroom—“he’s paying for it, he has a right to be there” sayeth the Dean. The other students take note, of course, and that’s why there are always students clicking away in class now.

      But decades ago, when the Dean was an educator instead of a money-sucking bureaucrat? The student would be punted, at least for a day, and would figure out not to bring his toys to class (and the other students, too, would get the idea). The argument would go “the student is paying $10,000? It’s wrong to let him throw away that money by not paying attention in class, and it sends a bad message to the other students. Remove him, so that both he and the other students get the message for how to behave in class.” It was a simpler time back then, I guess.

     Telltale fast clicks of laptop arrow keys gave away my distracted student from 30 feet off.

     A recent article where a professor caught a student outright playing a computer game in class, and getting only the mildest of chastisement for such ostentatious misbehavior, really brings the point home in how much higher education has changed.

We need a culture change to manage our use of technology, to connect when we want to and not because we psychologically depend on it. Enough is enough. We need strategies for unplugging when appropriate to create a culture of listening and of dialogue.

---hmm, we need a whole “culture change” to fix this problem? It really seems like there’s an easier way…

      The professor in the article presents a huge stream of psychological woo to rationalize the student’s inappropriate behavior, justifying, as much as possible, why such behavior is now de rigueur in today’s classrooms of higher education. 

      Now, maybe, the solution to all the texting and game-playing in the classroom is to give each student years of psychotherapy to reduce their dependency upon technology.

      But, honest, there really was a time when there was enough common sense in higher education to enforce just a little discipline. If there was a way to bring this type of common sense back, these types of goofy problems would just go away.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Destroying Higher Education a Conspiracy?

By Professor Doom

     Let’s look at the third fact as part of the supposed conspiracy to destroy higher education:

Step III: Move in a managerial/administrative class that takes over governance of the university.

     Again, this is totally a true fact, but the article neglects to mention the huge salaries those people get (paid for by the student loan scam). Even more importantly, to destroy higher education, this is all you need. The other parts of the “conspiracy” in the article are not necessary.

     The de-funding of higher education wouldn’t be that big a problem by itself and is totally not a problem for non-state schools that never got the tax loot anyway. Unfortunately, the chokehold has given administrators the ability to award themselves pay raises (and bogus advanced degrees, and tenure)…and it’s this huge drain of resources that is a problem for current higher education, not the lack of tax support.

     There’s a glut of Ph.D.’s, because the people running the universities tell graduate programs to reduce their standards and increase the number of students, so that getting graduate degrees is pretty easy (if you’re willing to pay); I demonstrated this earlier when I’ve examined what’s going on in Education and Administration graduate programs, even to the point of taking advanced graduate courses in those dubious programs.

     Since the administrative class cares nothing for education, then, again, it sees no need to treat the faculty with any decency, much less respect. It’s also even more motivated to generate that glut of Ph.Ds. It’s so sad to the new doctorates awarded at my institution come back and apply for, well, those minimal jobs, because there’s nothing else out there. The administrative caste all by itself explains the Ph.D. glut and the horrid treatment of adjuncts.

 Admin announcement: “Congratulations to our new Poo-Bah. He comes from [a thousand miles away].”
--a typical announcement. Maybe not poo-bah, but provost, chancellor, or other fancy title, always it’s someone with no loyalty to the institution.

      So, the moving in of mercenary administrators is a true fact…but not necessarily a conspiracy, just the usual abuses by those in power. In times past, administration was drawn from faculty at the institution. Administration, years ago, wasn’t a stupid-high paying job where you were serviced by a platoon of supporting staff. Instead, you got a few extra bucks, a few extra duties, taught one less course…and returned to a faculty position after a few years. Because administrators returned to faculty, they didn’t treat faculty like garbage, and worked to maintain the integrity of the institution.

     Now, administrators are drawn from outside the institution. It’s called the “Seagull School of Management”. These administrators fly in from far away, crap on everything, consume all they can, act aggressively towards everyone, and then leave to do it all over again elsewhere while the folks left behind clean up the mess. That’s a metaphor, of course, but the fact is, administrators are now a professional caste, do not come from the institution they rule, and have no loyalty to it. Instead, their only loyalty is to whoever hired them (i.e., an administrator further up the food chain)…and so have no qualms about doing whatever it takes, no matter how vile, to get more growth, and then get promoted to go somewhere else.

      The massive sex scandal at Penn State was no fluke…dozens of administrators over the course of a decade independently covered up what was going on in the showers there. Why do I stress the word independent? Because nobody told them to cover up those crimes even though it would lead to an ever devastating scandal for Penn State…they didn’t care what happened to Penn State, they cared about growth and retention, and then moving on to another institution. Those administrators could have been at any other institution, and will do it again cheerfully (many of those Penn State administrators have moved on to other schools…people should really consider the administration at the schools they send their children to. Just sayin’).

    With leaders like this, you need nothing more to destroy higher education.

    Let’s take a look at the 4th step:

Step IV: Move in corporate culture and corporate money.

     This is another true fact; administrators talk in corporate-speak that is laughably stupid, spend stupid-amount of times on retreats and trips, and advanced the “student as customer” paradigm that has done much harm to higher education. But, this came in with the tide of administrators; flush them out, and the corporatism will drop off just as quickly.

Step V: Destroy the students.

     This too simply follows from the influx of administration; they don’t just sacrifice faculty for personal gain, they sacrifice students as well. But I don’t see how this can be part of a plan to destroy higher education—the other steps are ongoing, but if you destroy the students, you’ll just get another crop the next year. That said, the article tries to tie it all together:

Our students have been denied full-time available faculty, the ability to develop mentors and advisors, faculty-designed syllabi which changes each semester, a wide variety of courses and options. Instead, more and more universities have core curriculum which dictates a large portion of the course of study, in which the majority of classes are administrative-designed “common syllabi” courses, taught by an army of underpaid, part-time faculty in a model that more closely resembles a factory or the industrial kitchen of a fast-food restaurant than an institution of higher learning.

     All of the above, while true and very destructive to students, requires no secret cabal running a conspiracy to destroy higher education…just the administrative caste that controls it all doing what it takes to solidify their power and feather their nests. That line about no syllabi that change every semester, incidentally, is wrong, as many courses cover far less material than in years past…administratively designed, after all.

      The article ends by asking how higher education can be fixed, and providing no answers. I’ve addressed this before, but it’s pretty simple to say (if not to do):

      Fire most every administrator and support staffer over the rank of registrar. Fill only the actually useful positions with faculty, but only faculty that have worked at that institution a few years…and change the laws and accreditation so that only faculty that have taught at the institution can be an administrator, and that only active teachers can be administrators. Change the laws so that accredited institutions must have more faculty than administrators/staff (how it used to be, unlike today where faculty are a minority). Then, reduce administrative pay to, at most, twice the average faculty pay at the institution (and that includes the Poo-Bah, who now typically makes 50 times an adjunct’s pay), and restrict administrative tenure to two years or so, at which point the administrator must return to faculty for a few years before serving again (it used to be, administration was “service” not “chance to feather your nest and establish a fiefdom”).

     Just like that, the massive drop in pay to administrators will offset the lack of public funding the article says matters. The professors will be professionals again, the ruling caste of loutish administrators will vanish, corporate culture will disappear, and destroying students will no longer be common in higher education, since no administrator/faculty will want to go back to having to deal with angry, abused, ripped-off students in the classroom that don’t even want to be there anyway.

     My fix is easy on paper, but I admit it has an important weakness: the administrators will have to let go of power. Accreditation will have to become legitimate before that can happen, and refuse to accredit institutions that are unwilling to do what it takes to become legitimate again, but I digress.

     It takes no grand conspiracy to destroy higher education, just a mistake. In this case, faculty allowed for the hiring of mercenaries to control what happens at our colleges and universities. Faculty screwed up. Mercenaries are only in it for the money, which the Federal government supplies in huge quantity. There are numerous historical precedents for mercenaries taking over, or at least trying to…most of which are every bit as disastrous as what’s happening in higher education today.

     That’s a light overview of how to fix things, of course…but it’s an obvious start. Maybe it’s a conspiracy that no institution is making these obvious fixes? Well, University of the People comes close, which is probably why you can get an accredited degree there for $4,000, instead of the $100,000 that is typical elsewhere...and they never had any state funding. Any other places?