Saturday, September 30, 2017

Attention NFL: Learn From Mizzou

By Professor Doom

     The whole country is a’twitter (see what I did there!) about players kneeling in protest of the national anthem. It’s amazing how quickly people forget…do we not remember Tim Tebow?

      Actually, it’s quite understandable that we’ve forgotten Tebow, since the mainstream media, for some reason, won’t remind us. Anyway, wayyyyyy back in history past, around 2011, there was this football player, a quarterback even, Tim Tebow.

     He knelt at football games. And the media shredded him, poured endless hatred upon him.

Talking Head: “If Trump were an NFL team, he’d be 0-16…”

--I watch Bill Maher’s Left Wing Hate show every week on HBO, and of course they’re losing their mind over this fracas. It’s amazing the bubble they’re in, nobody on the show pointed out possible inaccuracy here, and the audience cheered at the "correct" analogy. My memory isn’t the best, but it really seems like he won something…

     But now the media is praising football players who kneel…I really don’t like the different response here. Tebow knelt in prayer and homage to God, and was destroyed for it, while our football players are kneeling for…what, exactly?  Protesting the flag? I think it’s a protest for Black Lives Matter, or against America, or something. My best guess is they’re protesting police mistreatment of certain citizens. Hey, I think our police are grotesquely overreaching their powers, and concede protests should be made. But those football players are paid $50,000 an hour to play football, not protest. They should do it on their own time.

     Tebow and the other players’ kneelings are protected as free speech even if some disagree with it, and while I make no assertion of approval for one or the other, it’s very striking that media hates Tebow and loves the other kneelers. Free speech is a great ideal, and I’m all for it but…reality is an issue, too.

     Bottom line, your average football fan, you know, the guys who ultimately pay the multimillion dollar contracts of the players, are getting ticked off at making politics a part of what should merely be an ultraviolent game. The fans cheered Tebow, but the media screeched him off the field. The fans are booing the kneelers, but media doesn’t cover that.

     The media ignores the people, and is puzzled that the people are tuning them out.

      Trump is something of a successful businessman, and so he gave the owners a bit of business advice: get rid of employees who insult the customers. The media has twisted his message a bit, but ultimately Trump has a point because infuriating your customer base is bad for business. The media naturally poured hatred on Trump for the unsolicited advice but, I dunno, that seems like a pretty basic idea. Even if Trump was a failed businessman, I’d have to consider this as a decent suggestion.

      The owners of the NFL, the guys who are trying to run their sports business to make a profit, are really puzzling over what to do. For the most part, it looks like they’re going to stick to the media-suggested plan and continue to annoy their fans, but I’d like to think they’re still open to input.

     Their main options here are either a) more appeasement of players or b) realize they’re a business, and no business can survive by insulting and thereby eliminating the customer base. What to do, what to do?

     Even though I honestly don’t care what happens to the NFL, I do care about rational decision making. Ignoring Trump strikes me as a poor idea (ignoring him failed spectacularly during the last presidential election, after all), but I concede that maybe Trump’s words are wrong here.

      Words are one thing, but how about empirical evidence? Well, as luck would have it, I rather follow higher education, so I have some data here the owners of the NFL should consider.

      Mizzou university was one of the first schools where racial incidents were becoming a regular thing, wayyyy back in 2010 . Admin got in on the act in 2011 by forming fiefdoms filled with Vice Presidents of Diversity whose express purpose was to make things worse. Years of work by these highly paid professionals succeeded in keeping racial issues a huge problem on campus.

      The football team rose to prominence in one of the more recent waves of protests, around 2015, when they used extortion to get rid of the Poo Bah there, among other concessions. Now, here’s the thing: as soon as the football team started their shenanigans, the administration there should have recalled the core purposes of the institution: education and research.

      Based on this understanding, rather than appeasement, the administration should have simply gotten rid of the football team. Football teams are as irrelevant to higher education as political protests are to a football game.

     (Digression: those protests should be irrelevant to the game, but what if the protesting players allow their quarterback to become injured because he didn’t join the protest? The mainstream media blackout on this story is predictable.)

     In addition to not following the mission of higher education, there’s also the issue of keeping your customers happy. Mizzou, like the NFL owners, doesn’t seem to get this point. By making their school famous for race riots, the school has basically destroyed its customer base. They’ve closed 7 dorms now because students don’t want to go to a school with race riots and a system of appeasement which can only debase education further is likewise unattractive to potential students.

      Mizzou killed their customer base…are you paying attention, NFL owners? Now, maybe the owners aren’t really businessmen, and are instead football purists. This would explain their reluctance to get rid of the employees angering their customers: the owners want great football players, and are willing to sacrifice the NFL for it. I again point out that letting the players have their way might lead to them throwing games as they escalate their protests…the “sport” will definitely die then.

       A ridiculous thought? Perhaps, but Mizzou also has a football team they were unwilling to eliminate, at the expense of their customer base. How’s football at Mizzou working out?

     Again, I don’t particularly care for college football, but “dumpster fire” should be a pretty strong indication that whatever Mizzou is doing, the NFL owners should do the opposite.

As for the football team, which saw millions in donations disappear overnight, well, it's now a full-fledged dumpster fire.

     Part of the customer base in Mizzou is the donors…making them angry is just bad business. You don’t need Trump to tell you that. The Mizzou “leadership” doesn’t know the basics of how to run a business despite all those (bogus) Ph.D.s in Leadership and Leadership Awards it grants itself. Nevertheless, admin is trying to make some lemonade from the lemons it gave itself, and it bears comment:

Meanwhile, the seven dorms the university can no longer fill with students are now being converted into makeshift hotel rooms for the fans still willing to show up to the games. “We had a total loss of about $5 million, so you’re talking zero (dollars) if we do nothing versus $60,000 (three games in) …

     Now, absolutely, Mizzou should try to get some money off all those abandoned (and in some cases, never been used) dorms, but I want to point out how infuriating this is. The administrators responsible for building those useless dorms? They received all sorts of money for their “leadership” and “vision” even as they’ve stuck the taxpayers with millions in unpayable bills leading the university down a path any chucklehead could have seen would fail. Yes, getting $60,000 from hotel fees helps a little, but realize the fiefdom of administrators who came up with that brilliant idea will receive several hundred thousand in pay raises and bonuses for their cleverness.

     We really, really, need to re-think how we run our institutions.

      In addition to losing students and losing donations, the football team is losing games. Appeasement really is a lose/lose/lose decision. We now have empirical evidence for the wrong thing to do in the face of these inappropriate protests.

    Will the NFL owners heed empirical evidence? Seeing as one NFL player was actually forced to apologize for respecting the national anthem, even though his actions made the customers happy…I suspect not.

     Now, I won’t be broken up if the NFL owners’ irrational behavior leads to great harm, possibly even the annihilation, of the NFL. But it is curious that there is no widespread pointing and laughing by the media at their strange decisions…even as the media has no trouble laughing at the idea that “don’t enrage your customers” is good business advice.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Waitress With A Ph.D.

By Professor Doom

     Employer: “Kid, everyone has a high school diploma. What else you got?”
---over a century ago, a high school diploma meant something, but this is what it’s worth today.

     Part of what made a college degree valuable was scarcity—not everyone had one. Once government made high school “free” for everyone, our kids left high school to go get a college degree, and we opened up our campuses to everyone. A natural consequence of sending everyone to college is degrees are commonplace now.

     So now we have a bunch of college graduates going out in the world, being told their degrees are worthless…and heading back to school to get a more advanced degree—this lets them delay payments on the student loans, if nothing else. Alternatively, they could flee the country or become prostitutes, but for the sake of argument let’s assume these aren’t good options for everyone.

     The same irresponsible leaders who bloated out our undergraduate degree programs have irresponsibly bloated out the graduate degree programs. How’s that working out?

Today, I applied extra lipgloss, perfect eyeliner, and blow-dried my hair. I went to ask a restaurant manager for a waitressing job. You see, the stakes are high – I’m desperate for even a minimum wage job…

…I have degrees in economics, sociology and politics, research skills in qualitative and quantitative methods, teaching experience at universities, a decent publication record, and a significant conference list of presentations. But now I need lipgloss and cafe connections to get a job.

     All those years in school, paying for that precious, precious, education, and it amounts to no more than a high school diploma at the end. A Ph.D. is a research degree. It has some usefulness in “the real world,” but mostly it’s for places which only care about research, i.e., universities. Thus, the “real world” isn’t going to pay for it:

Employers external to the university don’t want a PhD, they want five years of industry experience. Other employers consider me overqualified for basic research tasks. They don’t want to pay the higher rate of employing a PhD.

     I got the “overqualified” line too when I tried to get a full time job in the real world, endless government harping about the value of a mathematics degree notwithstanding.  Now, don’t get me wrong, studying mathematics as an end was fine for me, I’m ok with being “trapped” in higher education, and I can still get contracts even if I’m overqualified for real work.

     The problem here is bigger than just the huge glut of Ph.D.’s we’ve created with our inflated education system. I’ve mentioned before about how our academics are being exploited in the massive teaching system, where they bring in millions of dollars via tuition for classes…while getting paid pennies.

      They also get exploited in a different way:

The truth of it is what the university doesn’t tell you. You learn along the way that research, including that produced by PhDs, brings in cash for universities. More PhDs are beneficial for an institution reliant on government funding. But they compete on graduation for fewer jobs in what was an already competitive field. The time spent on producing our PhD effectively renders our previous degrees useless – no graduate employer wants a degree from four years ago.

      All those graduating Ph.D.s generate research which the (state) school uses to get more government money, but that too goes to admin, only a few percent of the tax loot trickles down to the people doing the actual work.

In Australia, where I study, the emphasis on research production increased….
Those wishing to retain an academic job were required to conduct their research in their own time, without a funding budget to support it. 

     The incredible emphasis on research production is why we have massive frauds in research publishing now, with very clear evidence that wide swaths of research in medicine and psychology are quite fake, and it’s almost certain any field which uses (easily fabricated) statistics also has a huge fraud problem. I assure the gentle reader the reason for this is admin determines the validity of research now, and not academics…and we honestly don’t care about lying to an administration which lies to us at every turn. They don’t know anything about research, and so have no means to determine frauds.

      Since the author has given up on academia, she’ll confess to things every other academic who’s had enough of higher ed confesses to:

The pursuit of more funding is also evident in the way universities chase more student enrolments, perpetuating the notion that a degree will guarantee a good job in spite of the oversupply of education. Students are encouraged to select specific majors which will benefit the university. I’ve been requested from the higher ups to grade on a curve since easy grades encourage retention, and I have been prevented from failing students.

--is anyone else concerned that everyone in higher ed makes these complaints, complaints that can only occur in institutions without integrity?

     We really, really, need to reconsider having higher education run by pseudo-academics, self-proclaimed titans of industry who only concern themselves with growth at all costs, who view our kids as mere sources of revenue, and who view the academics as even more sources of revenue.

      It’s truly fascinating watching our institutions turn into Marxist utopias. First the lowest level workers get exploited as much as possible…but as the money runs out, the system moves further up the ladder looting as much as possible for the people at the very top of the system. Always, however, these systems collapse as they destroy their own base.

      The hardworking Ph.D. finishes her essay with a rant:

More perniciously, my mentor also considered that all academics are already aware of the failures of the system, the exploitation that occurs, and the mental health crisis that accompanies it. Aware, and yet so embroiled in the system that action is not only not taken, but actively discouraged in favour of adhering to the status quo.

So, here I sit, a disgruntled graduate of the system. A PhD turned waitress.

     Naturally, the waitress makes her complaints and observations anonymously, because that’s another feature of Marxist utopias: you can’t speak out, lest you be considered an enemy, and be destroyed.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

The College Cargo Cult

By Professor Doom

     As the student loan debt is now getting closer to 2 trillion dollars than 1 trillion dollars1, it’s time to consider how it happened.

     “Cargo Cult” refers to religious splinter groups that kept forming among the stone-age tribes in the Pacific as they encountered modern civilization, during the 20th century. The best book to discuss it is Road Belong Cargo, which has a great account and many fascinating insights into why these cults kept finding followers. The basic idea of the cult was that material possessions were acquired not by manufacturing them or by hard work, but as gifts from the gods as a reward for the “right” prayers and rituals.

     These rituals were imitations of what the indigenous people were seeing. For example, they’d see a massive cargo plane land, and dispense boxes and boxes of goods. Then the natives would go back to the jungle, carve out a “runway,” weave a “radio” from leaves, and chant into the radio lines like “You’re cleared for a landing. Over.” They’d do this for days, trying to get a plane to land. “Road Belong Cargo” is basically pidgin (and the book has many examples of this mishmash trade language) for “Which road has cargo?” or, more clearly, “What do I have to do to get those things?”

      The natives had an exceptionally hard time truly understanding what was happening. Christian missionaries would come in, for example, and put up schools, and the schools would quickly fill with natives, who were diligent and did everything asked of them. The schools were very successful…but after over a decade of faithful study of scripture and sitting in rows in a disciplined manner, there were still no planes landing to dispense cargo to the native tribes. The natives finally realized that “going to school” was not a road that would get them cargo, and they all walked away from the schools overnight, completely mystifying the missionaries who now stood in abandoned classrooms, teaching nobody (or perhaps I should say "teaching as many as they were when the rooms were full").

     The reasons for the fundamental problem the natives had with understanding how the modern world works are varied, but, one of the most interesting was how this stone age culture actually had Intellectual Property laws.

     I’m serious.

      If you had a prayer which (you thought) caused your crops to grow better, your neighbor couldn’t use that prayer unless he first paid you the rights to it. Intellectual property really is insane, and the gentle reader should realize that huge, huge, quantities of knowledge are now buried forever, owned (for example) by state governments that don’t know what to do with the knowledge…and terrified of releasing the knowledge to the public for free as that would lead to a theoretical loss of money. The cure for cancer could easily be locked away in a vault somewhere, guarded by a minimum wage security guard who has no idea what he’s doing to humanity.

      Intellectual property (more accurately, government enforcement of it) is a big factor in why health care is insanely expensive now—I was recently hospitalized for a few hours. My only treatment was a morphine IV, and yet the bill was nearly $2,000…your typical insulin shot costs a few pennies to produce, and yet costs hundreds of dollars, because of intellectual property rules that prevent anyone who wishes to make their own insulin shots to compete with the “official” version.

      Anyway, the evil, savage, barbaric idea of intellectual property, that ideas can be owned, and such is more important than actually creating physical property, is core to how cargo cults came to exist. The indigenous people were raised from birth to believe that every material thing comes from having the Official Sanction, the paid-for approval so that the Powers Above would rain down their boons. With this belief cemented into place, the only thing that mattered to these people was learning the correct magic ritual, which is why even natives taken back to the modern world and shown the actual factories producing the goods still kept wanting to know what ritual would get them the cargo.

     Perhaps I’m wrong about the evils of intellectual property, but it’s clear that for many of our children, higher education today is a Cargo Cult. Much like the stone age people of the Pacific, our kids are raised from birth to believe a certain thing which is very detrimental to their well-being.

       This belief? A “college education” is the secret ritual which will get them the good life. Our country now has a Cargo Cult consisting of millions of current and former college students who honestly believe, thanks to their abusive upbringing, that debts don’t matter, that the only thing that is important is to get that magic seal of approval, the “College Degree” and then the cargo shall come.


--a guest on Bill Maher told Mr. Maher how he wasn’t funny, and that any moron could do Maher’s job. The guest, who doesn’t care much one way or the other about Trump, then shouted the above at the audience, who cheered wildly…just like they do when Maher says it. Some magic words are powerful, to the gullible.

     How else to explain students who devote the majority of their education to taking courses on Gender Studies? Spending 4, 8, or even 12 hours a week patiently sitting in a classroom while some nutbar professor spews misandric hatred is no longer reserved for half a dozen students on campus. Now these types of classes are taught in auditoriums with hundreds of students, several times a day, and it’s hardly the only “subject” taught like this.

      Any rational person looking at these courses would realize it’s madness to think anything beneficial will come of it, any more than chanting into a “radio” made out of palm fronds.

      But our students are engaging in this behavior for years on end, because they’ve been told that a degree is the only thing that counts.

     What’s been done to our children is evil, and it’s time to point the finger.
     In the Pacific, the Cargo Cults were eventually squelched by the “adults,” the conquering modern civilizations who, while pretty vicious to the natives, were at least correct in stomping these cults out every time they’d spring up.

      On the other hand, in higher education, the “adults,” the administrators who run higher education, are forever strutting around like royalty on campus, are every bit as vicious to the kids as the modern conquerors of the Pacific isles…and do nothing to stop the College Cargo Cult.

      Instead, administrators actually assist the kids in their own self-destruction, pushing to offer more bogus coursework, to make even the “legitimate” courses have less and less material in them which could be helpful, to constantly debase education; after only a handful of years, administrators rake in more money than their victims will ever see in their lives.

     Sooner or later, much like the natives in the missionary schools, our kids will figure out that there’s no cargo to come from higher education, and there’s just no reason to take on tens of thousands of dollars of debt trying to get a magical diploma which, ultimately, is worth nothing. They’re going to walk away, and our massively overbuilt and over-administrated schools will be every bit as empty as those old missionary schools.

       I wish there was something I could do to hasten that day, to end the evil being wrought here…


  1.    Hey, remember when it was considered horrible that the entire national debt was a trillion dollars? I do, though I guess Reagan was a long time ago.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

College Student as Serf

By Professor Doom

            Confessions of a College Dean is a surprisingly popular blog, as he never really confesses to anything. I’ve known a few Deans that were downright criminal. I’ve shown many an upper level administrator engaging in morally reprehensible acts that, even if the Dean didn’t perform the acts as well, at least looked the other way. There really should be a thing or two he could confess to.    
            Granted, he’s still working in higher ed, and posting under his real name, so I don’t expect him to expose much right now…but someday when he gets that golden parachute he’ll finally start talking. I hope.

            Nevertheless, a relatively recent post came close to revealing what higher education is turning into:

            Already many of our college kids are stuck in debt slavery, with student loans too great to be realistically paid off before death, but there’s a movement to place an even greater burden on our students: residency requirements.

Now, capital is more mobile than ever, but we’re building barriers to keep people in place. Both New York and Rhode Island have passed “free college” programs that come with post-graduation in-state residency requirements. Rhode Island is all of two counties; that’s pretty restrictive. At this point, states are starting to look not only at institutions as tools to accomplish policy goals, but at citizenry the same way. Why educate them, the argument goes, if they’ll just up and leave?

            I’ve written before that a surprisingly easy way to escape student debt is to flee the country, and it’s sad that our former Land of Opportunity is turning in a country people now escape. I can respect the Federal government shutting down this way of escaping crushingly unfair student debt, but now the state governments are getting involved.        

            We’ve had similar restrictions for a while. For example, it’s common for state schools to have scholarship programs in Education, offering free tuition in exchange for a guarantee of the student to teach in the local schools for at least 2 years, or the like. I’m not wild about indentured servitude, but, for a student dedicated to becoming a teacher, this is an excellent way to avoid the debt, and at least the student ends up with a degree that directly leads to some sort of job. State money for state employees had a balance to it I can’t deny.

            But now the deal is changing, extending the deal to all sorts of degrees. So how do you justify enslaving the serfs, forcing them to stay in-state even for cheapo community college degrees? The Dean sees that the justifications will be coming soon enough:

The dangers of both policies are clear. At a really basic level, they invite -- sometimes almost compel -- reciprocation. If New York keeps its “human capital” but New Jersey doesn’t, at some point, someone in NJ will notice the imbalance and try to right it. That may trigger Pennsylvania. Then Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia. Then…

            I’ve certainly heard people complaining about “brain drain” where college graduates in one state leave to head for greener pastures. A state government that cared about its citizens could solve this problem, or at least attempt to do so, by simply observing those greener pastures in other states and changing things so their state is every bit as fertile.

      That’s a hard field to plow, I know, and certainly difficult work. The easy thing is just to erect walls and force the serfs to stay on the state lands.  
            Can the gentle reader imagine what our country will look like once these policies are adopted in general? We’ll have “serf-catchers” grabbing people who escaped into another state, seeking freedom. Eventually we’ll see history repeat itself with Dredd Scott-like court cases.

            The Dean likewise has little trouble shredding the madness of residency requirements:

Residency requirements, if they spread, would also greatly shift the balance of power when companies play states off against each other in bidding wars for relocations. As hard as it is to move for a job -- something I know personally -- it’s that much harder to see the job move away and know that you don’t have the option to follow it. That already happens between countries, but moves between states are much more common.  Allow capital to move but tie workers to places, and I’d expect to see ever more public funding get diverted -- whether directly, as through subsidies, or indirectly, as through tax credits or abatements -- to owners, even as wages go down.

            Please now stand and applause as the Dean says something the likes of which I’ve never heard an administrator say convincingly:

And at a really basic level, the idea confuses means with ends. People aren’t supposed to be tools to realize goals of the state. The state is supposed to be a tool to realize the goals of people.

            Of course, that’s where it ends. The Dean realizes residency requirements are wrong, but doesn’t understand what happened to create such a draconian rule: insanely high tuition forces students into serfdom. Similarly, he doesn’t mention why tuition got so high: the Federal student loan program. And so, the Dean won’t say what would obviously be self-destructive to his eventual golden parachute plans. Being mere faculty, I have no hope of retirement, and so I’m not corrupted by the student loan money, and can say the obvious here:

End the Federal Student Loan Scam

            The comments section has posters suggesting we should just make community college free. While certainly not as harmful as turning our college students into serfs for nothing (which in turn is arguably better than making them debt slaves for nothing), it’s still a terrible idea, as I’ve shown in detail how most community colleges are pure scams serving no benefit whatsoever to the community. Honest, we just need to get government out of higher education at all levels…but that option never seems to come up, even as literally every piece of information you can find in community college is available, for free, online and in most public libraries, and 90% of community college is already in the “free” public schools as well.

Monday, September 18, 2017

The Pick Your Own Grade Scandal…What Media Missed

By Professor Doom

     A few weeks back, another odd story from higher ed made the rounds. A professor decided on a new grading policy:

     Hey, grades are stressful, even assigning them isn’t fun.As a student I hated getting grades…I particularly hated bad grades, which is why I generally studied hard enough not to get those.

      Let me share some personal anecdotes here before moving on.

      The worst grade I ever got in college was a ‘C.’ It was in an undergraduate mathematics course, and, for newcomers to the blog, I teach college level mathematics today. In terms of numbers, the professor was generous to give me a C; I failed every test, spectacularly. Actually, almost every student in the class failed every test spectacularly. The professor was a great lecturer but his tests were ridiculous. After I failed his first test, I studied very hard for the second test…and failed it, too. For the third test, I walked into class with literally the previous month of material memorized verbatim…still failed. I imagine I failed the final (can’t even remember), it wasn’t until years later I learned that he was teaching from a different book than what the students had (because I took another course and noticed that the book would been great to have for his class…I aced that other course, and it was a course many other students failed).

      Despite all this, it never once occurred to me to beg him for a different grade.

      The only time in my entire college education that I asked for a better grade was with my Physics professor. My average from homework and tests was a 89.6. I’d scored A’s on 2 tests and the final, but he was giving me a B because the cutoff for A was right at 90. He did this because so many students had perfect 100’s on all the tests that he didn’t see any reason to give me a break. He had a point, but I do wish he’d believed me when I told him the reason for all the perfect scores was the fraternities had the tests and answers in advance1.   

      Times have changed, and now we have a new idea: just pick your grade:

The “Stress reduction policy” is outlined in the online syllabi for two of Richard Watson’s fall business courses, “Data Management” and “Energy Informatics.”

“If you feel unduly stressed by a grade for any assessable material or the overall course, you can email the instructor indicating what grade you think is appropriate, and it will be so changed,” the policy reads. “No explanation is required,

     Now this story made the rounds, and people with some understanding of education realize this is idiocy, chastising the professor for making this silliness official by putting it in a syllabus, making grades utterly, and officially, irrelevant.

      Did I mention that the worst grade that I, a mathematics professor, ever received was in mathematics? Did I mention that it motivated me to study harder? That’s the point of grades, you see, to give students something to work for. Yes, they’re goofy and not really worth anything when it comes down to it but they are, indeed, a motivational tool, a tool that we’ve been using for a century or more because it works so well, especially relative to the cost (zero) of a grading system.

     It’d be nice to have kids study for the sake of pure knowledge but…they’re kids. Sometimes you have to manipulate them a bit while training them to do the right thing. Grades, like Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny, aren’t necessarily real things to worry about…but they are useful in the hands of responsible adults.

      But this professor is apparently going to irresponsibly toss them from his business courses. People reading about the professor’s actions are understandably outraged, but there’s more to the story, by far:

Richard Watson is the J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Chair for Internet Strategy at the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.

     So, Professor Watson is the J. Rex Fuqua Distinguished Chair For Internet Strategy. Hmm, that’s quite the title. Lots of departments have Distinguished Chairs for something-or-other, it’s a good use of donated money: use that money to hire a professor, hopefully one who espouses the beliefs or practices of the donor. He’s also received a Regent’s award, giving him a $10,000 a year bonus for his very successful scholarship (the gentle reader should note carefully how awards for scholarship are roughly 1% of the awards Poo Bahs get for anti-scholarship activities…we should probably ask questions about this being the right way to run a scholarly system).

      There’s more on the syllabus than just the “free grade” policy. The syllabus specifies all assignments are open book, open notes, even open laptap, that the tests will only assess very basic understanding of course material, and so on.

      Is he serious?

     This guy’s a real academic, why would he engage in such a ridiculous policy? His university received considerable (and justified) bad press for it, and had to step in:

UGA says no to prof’s plan to let students grade themselves

     This important correction didn’t make the rounds like the first reports, but hey, not everyone can follow these things so closely. Allow me to quote from the above:

“A recent online report published a syllabus that a Terry College of Business professor had placed on his website. The syllabus stated that his grading policy would allow students inappropriate input into the assignment of their own grades. I want you to know that the syllabus did not conform with the University’s rigorous expectations and policy regarding academic standards for grading…Rest assured that this ill-advised proposal will not be implemented in any Terry classroom.”

      Wow! Admin is now formally stepping in and setting grading policy. This is a big reach for admin, as they’ve lost such attempts in the courts, and like most everything admin does, is wrong. The gentle reader is probably wondering why I’m not cheering admin’s decision here. It’s because there’s so much going on behind the scenes in higher ed, and I’m sure some of it’s happening at this university as well.

“All tests and exams are designed to be completed in half the allotted time…”

--from the original syllabus.

     I’ll be using conjecture here, but my years in higher ed put me in a pretty good position to fill in the blanks. Reading the original syllabus more carefully (he changed it, but you can find the original here, it’s loaded with deliberate idiocy) it’s very clear there’s more here than what we saw at first glance. He’s daring admin to do something about it.

     Our professor here is a legitimate scholar and academic, with decades of experience, and tenure. He’s been teaching real courses for years, but has noticed that in his advanced courses, he’s getting students that, simply, should not be there. It’s starting to happen often now, and some professors respond by failing the whole class (with admin again stepping in to overrule the faculty). These fake students are going to admin and complaining that they just can’t handle the stress of a real college course. Admin has been pressuring the professor to change his course into a fake course. He’s refused to do so, and even uses real grades.

     In this case, our professor didn’t fail the whole class, but he did fail students…and even failing a few students is something admin will not tolerate, no matter if they have it coming. Our professor is at the top of his game, however, admin can’t threaten him with denying a promotion or anything like that.

     Still admin has these complaining students coming to them, asking for better grades. Admin asks the professor nicely, but he won’t do it and admin doesn’t have control over him like they do with your typical adjunct (which is the reason why adjuncts are so common on campus, and why we’re seeing “advanced” students who have degrees but can’t read or write now). So, admin just stepped in and changed student grades. The professor knows it’s happening…he dared admin to make it written policy that admin controls grading. They fell for it.

      My blog has documented administrators doing the like before, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes as well (at a community college). Please understand, at a large school a professor can easily not notice when a student’s grades are being changed surreptitiously…it wouldn’t surprise me to find it’s far more widespread than one might guess from the rare reports in the media.

      So, now let’s put that joke of a syllabus in perspective. The professor knows that admin was changing student grades, and doesn’t like the fraud turning his school into a joke. Since he can’t change admin, he turns his syllabus into a joke, because he knows this is what admin wants him to do: run fake courses.

     And admin has now declared that, yes, they control grades now. He’s going to want that well documented, for later. Let’s give it a semester or two to see if admin’s actions come back to haunt them.

      At the risk of making Paul Harvey roll over in his grave…”And now you (probably) know…the rest of the story.”

1)  To be perfectly honest, the reason why one of my test grades was a 90 was because one of the frat boys had inadvertently shown me a page of the test we were about to take, and one of the questions I saw was one I would have missed otherwise…so I was a little conflicted arguing for a better grade as my “true average” should have been closer to 86.

Friday, September 15, 2017

Using Faculty As Muscle

By Professor Doom

     In times past, faculty interacted with (undergraduate) students in two ways. The most common way was in the classroom, and we still have that.

      The other way has rather disappeared, although it used to be the very first significant interaction between students and faculty: advisors. Before a student could register for classes, he had to go to a faculty advisor, who would review what classes the student had already taken, what the student needed to graduate, and then advise the student what classes to take next. The student couldn’t even register for classes until he had a signature from the advisor approving the schedule. Faculty served well in this capacity—we’ve all gone through higher education, have devoted our lives to education, and so we know quite well what needs to be done to get through the system. Nowadays professional administrators with weird, non-academic Ph.D.s “advise” students, quite often to their detriment.

       Now, I grant this was long before computers were everywhere, and the “old days” also involved long, long, lines of students waiting to sign up for their classes, unlike today where everyone just signs in online and gets their courses in a few seconds. Not all change is bad.

     Faculty advising is absent from many campuses now, so there’s no guidance towards getting a degree. Students just sign up for whatever—it’s another factor in why we can have average course grades of A-, while still only a minute minority of students graduate on time.

      I can’t help but suspect getting rid of faculty advising was approved by admin because it helps so much with keeping students on campus. The whole business model of college, especially the fake community colleges littering the educational landscape, is to trap students on campus until the money runs out, then toss them…give ‘em good grades all you want, just don’t let them graduate.

      I digress, but the fact remains Admin doesn’t want faculty helping students. Admin sure doesn’t mind using faculty for something requiring very little knowledge of education: move-in day.

     Move-in day is a nasty day on a university campus, it’s when the students (freshmen, mostly) all move into their dorms. Again, in times past, this meant a few hundred, a thousand perhaps, students would show up on the same day, flooding the local streets. Now that many of our campuses have grown to ridiculous size, ten thousand or more students might show up on the same hour, causing traffic jams miles away from campus.

     We have tons of administrators but…they could always use more help. So they ask faculty to show up on move-in day and help carry boxes. I see I’m not the only one who wonders if carrying boxes is really the best way academics can help out students:

     Now, don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against volunteering, and I’ve even done my share of this (because, even though it’s an inferior way to do it, it’s still helping students). Of course, back then I was seeing a significant number of the incoming students on move-in day, so my help was relevant, even if I had some doubts. Now with swarms of students, it’s mostly pack-mule work, there’s no time for interaction, the odds are 1000 to 1 any student I help will ever take a class with me, and so (along with advancing age) I have reason to generally pass on what administration tries to sell me as an “opportunity.”

      The above author points out some other reasons why we should reconsider what we’re using our scholars for:

“It’s not just that the heat index is 112 in the shade here in South Carolina, or that I get the occasional twinge in my lower back at age 47, or that I recently had surgery…”
“…this ain’t summer camp. And faculty members aren’t managing a bed-and-breakfast, where the responsibility is to help new guests shlep in their worldly possessions. Oh, but maybe that’s what this is turning into, since, after all, come April, we’ll get the emails asking us to come cook and serve pancakes at 9 p.m. to hungry and stressed students before finals week…”

     Noting that higher education is devoting ever more time to student as customer initiatives, the author points out how much the dynamic on campus has changed. We no longer attract students primarily interested in education. Instead our typical incoming freshman is here for the checks, is here for the “place to go after high school,” and is far more likely to take these gestures of aid by faculty as no different than a waiter bringing you water in a restaurant, or the bellhop taking your baggage at a hotel.

      Like me, the author reminisces of what higher education used to be and wonders at the difference between student’s first interaction with faculty then and now:

Twenty-nine years ago, my parents helped me move into a dorm at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Some resident assistants and upperclassmen were helping to direct the flow of traffic -- the cars, the people and the dollies of stuff. Back then, class registration happened in person -- you had to run around that enormous campus to get signatures and scramble for desired classes and professors. When I got a seat in an extremely popular class, I felt like I had gotten backstage passes to hear a rock star…

     Bottom line, students are supposed to be coming to campus to learn from the finest minds, and instead see those minds lugging boxes around…it does take a bit off the magic of higher education. Showing students, on their very first day on campus, that even the faculty are there to serve at their beck and call is probably not the way to inspire them to study and learn what we have to offer.

      Heck, I don’t even blame students for getting the wrong impression; if I went to a 5 star restaurant and saw the head chef scrubbing toilets (honorable work, to be sure), I might have doubts about the eating there and probably wouldn’t be in the best frame of mind for some fancy food.

      One comment had me laugh out loud, because something very similar happened at a campus I was at, years ago:

And then the President drives up in a golf cart, carries in a single box, poses for seven PR photos, and drives off waving at parents and students alike.

     The other comments are not so one-sided, so  I can see I’m not alone in my ambivalence about faculty being used in this manner, and I can understand admin not really wanting to hire extra help for what is admittedly one busy day.

      On other hand, I still think we should bring back that advising, because, honest, if admin thinks academics are good at hauling boxes, they should see us when it comes to academics.