Thursday, February 26, 2015

Game of Thrones Professor Gets Pardon

By Professor Doom

     Some time back I wrote of an amazing abuse by administration. An Art Professor posted a picture of a child doing a yoga pose while wearing a legally licensed Game of Thrones t-shirt. The kangaroo court system convened and UNANIMOUSLY determined that this constituted a threat of violence against the school.

     Yes, unanimously: three adults with graduate degrees sat down, carefully looked at the picture of a child wearing a t-shirt that anyone could buy in a store…and became afraid, very afraid. While the gentle reader might find such idiocy unbelievable, I was at a place where 9 different advanced degree holders demonstrated incapability of making basic arithmetic calculations, even with a calculator (one was an accounting teacher, too). So, I buy the story as the administration presents it…I’ve certainly seen similar incompetence with my own eyes.

      The professor was suspended and forced to undergo psychiatric evaluation, and admin wouldn’t back down from their claim that his picture constituted a legitimate threat of violence against the institution. I’m not kidding.

“Saying that Bergen Community College’s punishment of Francis Schmidt ‘may have lacked basis’ is like saying that King Joffrey may have been a less than ideal ruler,” said Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE helped Schmidt find legal representation.

--King Joffrey, a character from Game of Thrones, is a demented murderous child-king, played with extraordinary creepiness by a talented young actor.

     Well, I’m sure the professor figured out that he was not going to get anything resembling fair treatment within the institution’s laughably bad court system, and got a lawyer to help. Resolution is achieved, but as always, the press release misses the issue:

--click on the link if you want to see the “threatening” picture

      Wait, what? This was a free-speech case? I suppose in some small way it was, but the reality is this was an administrative abuse case. Keep in mind, this guy was tried, convicted, and punished with no chance to defend himself in anything resembling a due process—he didn’t even know he was on trial until he received notice of punishment! I’ve been on the business end of such treatment, myself, and I assure you it’s no fun at all. The administrative stranglehold on higher education really is at the point that a picture of a little girl wearing a t-shirt can be used as justification to get rid of someone.

      There are some larger questions here than free-speech. There really needs to be someone asking “why is administration able to set up kangaroo courts like this where the defendant doesn’t have a slight chance in the system no matter how flimsy and contrived the evidence?” On top of that, we need to start looking into ways to stop the everyday administrative abuse of higher education.

      Please understand, if admin can suspend and force psychological evaluations on an educator at whim, debasing education to the point of complete fraud is no challenge at all. It’s rather why many institutions, especially community colleges (where this took place) and for-profits, are frauds.

      Anyway, the professor got a lawyer and threatened to take things to the public court system. Admin, realizing they wouldn’t be able to contain their abuses to their rigged system, had the community college back down in a fairly humiliating way. They wrote a nice letter to the professor indicating that, yeah, maybe there was a slight overreaction here. Ya think?

      Feel free to give the letter a read, but let me read between the lines a bit.
“By sanctioning you as it did, BCC may have unintentionally erred…”

     Because administration is in absolute power, they never, never, admit wrong, but this line is just pure laughable lies. See, BCC formed a committee for their kangaroo court…that wasn’t unintentional. BCC acknowledged that the committee was unanimous in saying that the child’s t-shirt constituted a reasonable threat. That wasn’t unintentional, either. Then having reviewed the “evidence”, the committee passed judgment of psych evaluations and suspension. That wasn’t unintentional, either.

     The kindliest interpretation of these events is that most of the administrative staff at BCC is wildly incompetent, and now they’ve documented their incompetence thoroughly. The more reasonable interpretation is that admin was just seeking to hurt this guy and found something convenient. Either way, the administrators involved should all be fired…or at least suspended pending psychological evaluations.  It goes both ways, right? Yeah, right.

      That’s not happening, so you can bet the other words in this letter are equally insincere:

“…the incident shall not be considered in any future BCC decisions concerning your employment, including without limitation any decisions relating to promotion…”

      Yeah, that’s crap. Professor, you need to polish up your resume and start sending it out, because the administration at BCC is coming for you. I’ve seen multi-year vendettas by admin against faculty, and it’s not pretty. If the professor goes to the bathroom during his office hours, admin will use that as grounds for termination (I’ve seen it). If a student lodges even an idiotic complaint along the lines of “he didn’t say hello quickly enough”, admin will put that in the file (I’ve seen it), and use that as grounds for termination. If retention rates fall below a certain level, a secret level set by admin, that can and will be used for termination (I’ve seen that, too). Secret committees might form and pass judgment against you based on secret evidence, and you can be sure no administrator will put a name to anyone on the committee (I’ve seen that, too, and so have you, professor, so heed my advice).

      “…we ask simply that you abide by the rules, policies, and procedures that are generally applicable…”

      Hmm. How’d that work out for him this time? The rules, policies, and procedures of the kangaroo court system found him talking to a psychiatrist while he was suspended without pay. On the other hand, threatening to take things to the (real) courts nullified the kangaroo campus court rulings instantly.

     And, even in this, he’s in trouble. Next time around he finds himself victimized by the kangaroo campus court system, he’s naturally going to say “screw this, I’m getting a lawyer again…”, and the wording of this letter will be used to terminate him.
      I’m not saying the US legal system is great shakes, mind you, but compared to the totally rigged system of the campus courts? It’s practically Nirvana, and most faculty, being minimally paid, just don’t have the resources to take things to the courts.

      Enjoy your success, professor, and I hope you find someplace legitimate to go; from personal experience and much direct evidence, I recommend avoiding community colleges.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The Effect of Social Promotion in College

By Professor Doom

     A few posts back I mentioned that Florida has removed remedial education from college. Now, absolutely, remedial education is a scam that fails over 90% of students, so the honest thing to do there is to eliminate college remediation, or at least change it dramatically. The easiest change would be to put it back to where it was before the student loan scam: a small program that focuses on a few otherwise good students, helping them gain critical skills, rather than the massive scam it is today, accounting for most of college coursework at many campuses.

      So, Florida got rid of the remediation scam, good for them, there were way too many students on campus that had no business being there. Well, no, there won’t be a reduction in students, since administrators aren’t going to turn loose of that sweet, sweet, student loan money which flows into their pockets (and not even remotely into education). Instead, the students go right on into college classes…it’s social promotion on college campus.

     Let’s take a look at the initial results of this social promotion program.

     Yeah, no kidding: get rid of remediation, and the remediation rate plummets. You’d almost think I was linking CNN, above, for such a feckless look at what’s happening.

“…the college offers a new statistics math class where students can get elective credit…”

      What a shell game. One of the many problems with the remediation scam is that the remedial courses, despite charging as though they’re college credit, didn’t actually count as college credit (as well they shouldn’t, since much of it is taught at the 6th grade level or lower). Administration doubtless was catching grief for offering so much (openly) fake college coursework.

      So, they got rid of non-college credit remedial courses and replaced them with…a college credit remedial math course, where students “can get elective credit.” This is what I predicted would happen when I first wrote of the weird idea. On paper, the course looks like college credit, but community college is unhinged, as I and studies have shown, with fraudulent syllabi covering up what really goes on in the courses. This elective course is really just a remedial course with a new name, and won’t transfer; the victim rate of community college students will only increase from an already large 80%.

    The semester-long classroom lectures have been replaced with accelerated “boot camps” and computer programs that allow students work at their own pace and focus on their deficiencies. The school also developed a “Massive Open Online Course” or MOOC, where students can learn skills on their own time.

      Not only are administrators unwilling to turn loose of those student loan checks, they’re also not going to get rid of the remedial administrative fiefdoms. Note the plan above: faculty are removed from the institution, and instead there will just be administrative overseers that won’t have a clue. On the one hand, I do approve of those “work at your own pace” programs. 

     On the other? They already exist. Don’t Florida colleges know about the internet? Between Khan Academy, the public library, and half a dozen other places, a student ALREADY can “do it on his own time.” Most students willing to learn 6th grade math on their own already did so…in the 6th grade. I doubt these new programs will get much beyond a trickle of students, as opposed to the thousands that were in remediation.

      But hey, at least those huge administrative fiefdoms are safe. Whew. Whatever would we do without huge redundant programs staffed with massively overpaid administrators that will be completely unaccountable since the programs expect students to “do it on their own”? Oh yeah, higher education would become much cheaper.

“Unfortunately, if they don’t know the basics, they probably won’t have a lot of success, and that makes me nervous,” said Juliet Carl, a math professor at Broward.
     --That’s pretty bold to put your own name next to even a vague criticism, professor. 

     Back to the point, what is the obvious result of this social promotion program going to be? Well, since students that can’t read and write much past the 8th grade level will now be flowing into college courses, the professors of those courses will have to choose: water down those courses to the 9th grade level at best, or be fired and replaced by someone that will do so. Either way, college coursework will be debased further.

      This “no remediation” idea has only been going for a year so the insidious effects of what’s going on here aren’t immediately apparent, but, I promise you, in 3 to 6 more years, you’ll be able to find Florida college graduates that can’t read, write, or do ‘rithmetic, even with a college degree.

     You want to know why a high school diploma isn’t worth much anymore? Because social promotion means kids can get their diplomas without necessarily knowing anything. Hmm, wonder what’ll happen now that social promotion is in college?

      College degrees are sold, expensively, because children are raised in the school system to believe that you’ll be able to get a high paying job with one. In the real world, of course, I predict employers will quickly learn that a Florida college degree is basically worthless, although, much like other social promotion programs, I bet the kids felt proud to get that piece of paper all the same.

      It truly is ridiculous. The student that couldn’t function at the 5th grade level was socially promoted to the 6th grade. He failed then, too, and was socially promoted to the 7th grade. He failed then, too, and was socially promoted to the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th grade, and finally should be allowed to escape the system that is, clearly, doing him no good. Instead, he’s now going to go to college, for more pointless social promotion, identical to what was done before, and somehow the result will be different? This is madness.

      I can’t emphasize strongly enough how bizarre it is to think that someone who can’t function at the 6th, or even 9th grade level can honestly do well in college level; it’s as rational as believing someone who can’t lift 100 lbs will be quite capable of lifting 200 lbs.

      The reality is, of course, that “200 lbs” will just be defined down to “100 lbs”…though this could cause real problems when people try to use their “strength” in the real world.  It truly is amazing that our rulers in higher education have no qualms about the possibility that this new plan will do far more harm than good. As always, data is being collected on this goofy experiment that will hurt millions of kids in Florida. 

--“developmental” is the administration’s word for “remedial”, but I’m tired of changing the word for this type of coursework every few years, so I’ll just keep calling it remedial.

      This is the scariest thing about the new plan. The research will be conducted, and it will totally show that getting rid of remediation improves graduation rates. The research won’t even be theoretically capable of showing the reality that college graduation will have been defined down from “high school graduate” (what the most advanced coursework in community college is now) to “9th grade” (what the most advanced coursework in community college will be with remediation removed).

      Administrators will look at the research, see it improves graduation rates and across the country, and will adopt the new plan: graduate people that still can’t perform at the 9th grade level.

     Seriously, this is what social promotion brought to the public schools: high school graduates that never really passed the 6th grade. Now we’re moving this bizarre idea to college, and the public can’t even guess what will happen?



Friday, February 20, 2015

Higher Education as Boiler Room, Part 2

By Professor Doom

    So, last time around, I was examining the vision of the modern university, as presented by a highly paid Poo Bah, who despite his complex job justifying (supposedly) $900,000 a year plus extraordinary benefits, had plenty of time to write a book.

     First part of his vision was to turn mathematics into a boiler room, where students play with some software for a while, certify that they eventually did ok with the software, and move on.

Posting at Dojo:  To achieve the ranks past Black Belt, the student must take individualized instruction…

--in martial arts, you can learn basic skills in rooms filled with other basic students, but as you move up to advanced skills, you really need a personal teacher. You know, like every other skill human beings learn: the more refined the skill, the less possible it is to mass produce. The US Military doesn’t have 3,000,000 Navy Seals for a reason, after all.

     A few posts back, I wrote what the Poo Bah wants to do with English education: make the courses larger, with less instruction, far less than what any expert in the field says is necessary to actually help a student improve. The Poo Bah also has the brilliant idea of having the instructors of these courses do 25% more work with no more pay. I can visualize the Pooh Bah twirling his mustache as he came up with that nefarious plan. I grant that it must have been hard to find a Poo Bah that thinks like a comic book villain, but I’m not sure this level of respect for education and educators is worth the money he gets.

--the bogus “PowerPoint and Scantron Test” college course is the model in higher education now, because it’s all you can do with class sizes in the hundreds. English departments have tried to keep it away from their courses, but are failing, across the country.

    So, the vision for our universities is destroy math education, destroy English education. Reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic are no longer to be part of education. Any other clever ideas? Oh yes.

     See, it’s no secret that graduation rates in, say, computer science are much lower than graduation rates in, say, Women’s Studies. ASU, like every other institution, doesn’t give a damn about helping students pay for the loans they took out for tuition, but absolutely cares about getting better graduation rates.

    So, what do to do about all those pesky students that keep trying to get into majors that give jobs (because not everyone can do them), instead of going into majors that anyone can pass (but there are no jobs for, so that the loans will never be repaid)? Again, ASU is “ahead of the pack”, with an e-advisor (more computers!) to steer students into degree programs that make the Poo Bah happy, even if they ultimately screw the student.

     What exactly does the e-advisor do? Well, here goes:
advising programs such as ASU’s eAdvisor which creates a “personalized” degree path for students based on identifying majors where they can “succeed and graduate on time.”

     On the one hand, I approve of not screwing students by putting them into programs where they absolutely cannot succeed…but it’s only a coincidence that the e-advisor does this. The e-advisor takes students out of “hard” degree programs, and puts them into easy ones where they’ll likely graduate…and then fail to repay their loans because, yeah, stuff that everyone can do just doesn’t have a high market value. Realize this puts immense pressure on the departments on campus: they now compete amongst themselves to offer the easiest programs, lest the e-adviser steer students away from them.

     Seriously, let’s think about this: ASU’s e-advisor would totally send every student to UNC’s bogus paper courses in the African Studies department—those courses gave GREAT grades, after all, and everyone “succeeded” in them. 

But when people say that these pathways are “personalized,” they gloss over the ways in which they’re “personalized,” which is by making use of socioeconomic and demographic data in order to draw conclusions about the individual. This is the “science” of predictive analytics. Depending on one’s race or gender or any number of other factors entirely outside of the individual’s control, different students finding themselves in similar academic standing may be shown different paths.

      An education at ASU is clearly being set up to have all the legitimacy of any boiler room operation.

     So far, then, the Poo Bah’s clever ideas for higher education is to get rid of educators, get rid of more educators, and shove students into “social advancement” degree programs  that might do well for graduation rates, but do absolutely nothing for the students (or for jobs, or for the economy, or for education, or for the prestige of ASU).

     The Poo Bah wants a lean caste of extremely hard working educators trapped in dead end jobs, but maybe he’ll trim down the immense administrative bloat? HAhahahah. I present to you (via the linked article) ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development, which as you can tell from the title, has…oh wait, you probably can’t tell what this department does from the title. Heck, nobody can guess from the title what that “office” does. It’s a typical title of a fiefdom.

     I’ve written before the administrative fiefdoms that overwhelm many campuses. These fiefdoms are huge money-sinks for institutions, packed with grotesquely overpaid administrators doing nothing at all but getting huge checks. Go to that link and click on the organization chart to see what I mean: 14 executives with spiffy titles like “Senior Economic Development Advisor” and “Senior Vice President” (and many Vice Presidents) each pulling down well over $100,000 a year, doing nothing at all that any student or educator on campus can tell you, much less doing anything meriting such ridiculous pay.

    Every institution has such fiefdoms, but ASU is swarming with fiefdoms like this with corporatespeak names like Decision Theatre Network and Global Institute of Sustainability, or whatever. Seriously, legitimate education could be possible, and much, much cheaper if we’d just get rid of all these mystery fiefdoms sucking up student dollars in exchange for…nothing.

     So, to summarize the vision of ASU: no education, minimal faculty, lots of highly paid administrative jobs, run with no more integrity or decency than any other boiler room operation. I want to point out, again, just how far administration is from understanding education: in his book the Poo Bah here is, quite literally, crowing about his achievements in destroying higher education, while our elite cheer him on.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

American Universities Turning Into Boiler Rooms

By Professor Doom

     A few times I’ve ranted that the Poo Bahs of higher education, despite their huge salaries, have never done anything for education. I must concede that I’m wrong: the Poo Bahs have done much to make higher education worse, to turn our institutions of learning and research into, in many cases, pits for the exploitation of children, young adults, and the workers.

      A recent article points out the achievements of the Poo Bah at Arizona State University. I’ve mentioned this guy before, for his recent 20% pay raise to $900,000 a year (plus benefits enough to support an Afghan village in relative luxury forever). The Poo Bah has a new book coming out detailing his successes at ASU (gee, his job gives him time to write books?  Why is he paid so much, again?).

     The book is already getting praise from the mainstream:

“The book has glowing blurbs from both Bill Clinton and Jeb Bush.”
--and Carnegie too. Having these guys praise a book gives me a cold feeling inside, comparable to hearing Jeffrey Dahmer praise a particular brand of barbecue sauce.

      The book is “interesting” stuff, so let’s look at the vision for the new American University as practiced by the Poo Bah at ASU:

First, college math is turned into a “guaranteed to pass” course, via computer software.

--note the implied praise for growth, the key to the Poo Bah’s “success”.

     I totally grant that, in theory, a computer course could quite possibly allow for learning, although realistically it’s better for certification of basic skills than education. I have more than a little experience with computer courses (having created an internet/computer course for a state university in 1998), so let me talk about the reality here.

     Now, for online courses, computer work is meaningless. Cheating is over the top extreme, and employers already know that online degrees are worthless, for good reason. I’ve shown before that college administrators rather encourage cheating, or anything else that will help with growth of the institution.

     But how about if real measures are taken to avoid cheating? Even in this case, it’s a simple matter to manipulate the course. First, you cut out the material that students have trouble with—this is particularly easy in computer courses, which naturally record all data. Semester after semester, take out “the hardest material”—as you remove the hardest material, then something else becomes the most difficult. It doesn’t take long to get a “course” that anyone can do well in.

      Failing that, of course, you can use the “retest” method: the student is allowed to simply take, and retake, and retake, the test until he passes. A typical test is multiple choice, has 10 questions…even a toaster will pass eventually, and by “eventually” I mean with a few hours of effort.

     Failing that, you can use “the curve” method. Just say the top 85% of students automatically pass. Again, this is easy to do with computerized tests. This is not rocket science here, it’s trivial to set things up so that anyone or anything can pass, and there aren’t any actual experts around that can say otherwise. What little, if any, faculty that are running (not “teaching”) these courses are in no position to criticize what’s going on. Again, I’ve been at state institutions where similar things go on with no chance of faculty doing anything about it.

     Key in all of this is administrative control—you don’t need to be an expert in a subject to “remove questions too many students miss”, to let students just retake the test repeatedly, or to define passing to whatever you want it to be. Which order from above is more likely to have been given: “Set up these computer courses so that 85% of students pass” or “Set up these computer courses so that 50% of students pass?” I said “50%” in that last option because that is a more realistic estimate of how well students do in traditional courses…it’s way too low a percentage in administrative eyes. It’s not a bad thing that only 50% of students can achieve college education in an introductory course—that means the material is more than just the stuff any child can learn.

     Now, I’m not trying to be a jerk by saying 50% of students should pass, but I do want to point out: there’s supposed to be prestige in having a college education. There’s no prestige to tying your shoelaces, because everyone can do it. College education isn’t supposed to be an “everyone can do it” thing, and if I am wrong about that, why should it cost $20,000 a year to learn things that everyone can learn anyway? Administrators want it both ways: common skills for a very rare price.

      Seriously, how can you call this education or justify the price? This might be certification, and I’m ok with that, but these are actually considered college courses—students are paying THOUSANDS of dollars to run a mostly text computer program that probably cost $50,000 or less to develop (and reused by thousands of students—talk about a nice rate of return!). Gee whiz, I can buy computer games with millions of dollars of development costs, with high quality artwork and animation, and voice acting by major movie stars…for $50 or less, and I can play such games for hundreds of hours, for the rest of my life, if I want. But it costs thousands of bucks to “play” this ASU software for a few months?

    Again, I point out that when computer courses are tried at the high school level, it’s a complete disaster, everywhere in the nation it has been tried…I’d look real, real, close at the “success” at ASU, as I very much suspect independent analysis would show these computer courses to be highly questionable.

“Arizona State is one of the earliest, most aggressive adopters of data-driven, personalized learning…”

      I don’t see this is as much of a future for education, not with administrators in control of the entire process. Don’t get me wrong, for a tiny sum of money (eg, the $50 one might pay for a computer game), I suppose it’d be harmless enough, but not for the prices clueless kids are paying.  To be in debt for the rest of your life, in exchange for the right to play with some computer software for a few months? Seriously, this is the glorious future of higher education?

ASU is pretty clearly set up as a factory of credentialing, and any lip-service to educational excellence, particularly in the undergraduate sphere, is exactly that. I’m certain there are legions of non-tenurable faculty laboring heroically to do the best they can, but it is impossible to look at the available evidence and see quality undergraduate instruction as any kind of institutional priority.
They are increasing enrollment and cutting deals with Starbucks in an effort to hoover up “market share,” which to my knowledge is not a recognized trait of quality education.
They are a corporation where non-tenurable labor functions as engines of surplus in order to support a corporate hierarchy.
Arizona State is indistinguishable from Amazon.

      So, converting education of math into a simple (and ridiculously profitable) computer course is the first big achievement of the Poo Bah at ASU, to justify his $900,000 salary. As hinted at above, there are quite a few other amazing achievements here, showing how wrong I was to say that the overpriced Poo Bahs are doing nothing for education. 

      I’m obviously quite wrong, Pooh Bahs are working very, very, hard to debase education as much as possible. Turning much of the coursework into a boiler room operation, with classrooms packed with computers instead of telephones, is but the start of it. 

     More next time.