Friday, February 17, 2006


Utopia, Version 1.2

Yesterday’s discussion about the ideal community college was wonderful – thanks to my readers for being so thoughtful and generous in your comments!

Reading all of those comments prompted me to think a little about what I’d do.

First, the obvious: as so many of you pointed out, small classes, reasonable teaching loads, onsite childcare (both day and evening), good public transportation, strong transfer programs, and locally-relevant vocational programs are simply essential.

Given all of that, I’d do some curricular and organizational tweaking.

First, I’d mandate at least one course in public speaking for every degree program. For the transfer oriented programs, I’d probably follow that with a course in debate or interpersonal communication. Educated people should be at least reasonably articulate, and I’m concerned that the ipod and IM generation isn’t getting that. Employers constantly complain about the communication skills of recent college graduates, and they aren’t only referring to writing. Composition is pretty much a ubiquitous requirement; I say Speech should be, too.

Second, when there’s room in the curriculum, I’d love to see mandatory courses in American Government and something like Personal Finance. Equip the students to defend themselves in the real world. Teach the math of insurance, the sociology of consumer credit, and the basic structure of the government. (Maybe this could be developed into an interdisciplinary course on contemporary reality? But who would teach it?...) In fact, something like “the logic of organizations” might make a nice unifying rubric. A boy can dream...

Organizationally, it’s time to look seriously at long-term renewable contracts for faculty. I'm working on a longer piece on this topic that I hope will be done shortly.

Politically, I’d hope to gain support from across the political spectrum for giving people with drive a chance to become more economically productive. How to translate that into sufficient, sustainable funding is a major question. I’d also love to see the Age Discrimination in Employment Act revised in a few ways. Bring back a mandatory retirement age of 70, and allow hiring for diversity to include age. Without the occasional younger faculty role model, I think we really miss opportunities to reach students.

Technologically, I strongly believe that podcasting offers possibilities we have only begun to imagine. I’d also recognize serious academic blogging as a form of professional development; to my mind, the kind of work that Bardiac or Bitch, Ph.D. posts is clearly professionally relevant, even if it’s different from the traditional article-that-three-people-read.

Finally, I’d institute a serious goose control program. The damn things poop all over the place.

Thanks, everyone, for the ideas! I don’t know what I’ll be able to use, but it’s good to be reminded from time to time that we are capable of far more than we’ve done.

You could get funding for goose-control under the heading of "avian-flu-prevention"!
"Politically, I’d hope to gain support from across the political spectrum for giving people with drive a chance to become more economically productive. How to translate that into sufficient, sustainable funding is a major question."

You might think about making the CC about education instead of politics. With higher ed faculties so heavilty skewed liberal to left, falling so far outside of the American mainstream, it's unrealistic for you to expect the mainstream to kick in your funding.

Instead of the your current politically correct speech codes, you might think about toning down or eliminating the rampant anti-Americanism coming from our college campuses.

Instead of defending the Ward Churchills of the world under a dubious theory of academic freedom, you might consider a serious housecleaning of the academic frauds who are working so hard to burn the bridges you need to the mainstream.

"Critical thinking" has a nice ring to it, but we all know that it's code for "attack capitalism, conservatives and Western values." So that would be hard to get funding for.

You have a looming issue that will dwarf the problems and improvements you've been discussing-the current demographics will not support the current size of the higher ed infrastructure. What's the role of the CC in a downsizing environment?

My suggestion: separate yourself from those institutions who cling to political correctness and start building meaningful bridges to the center and, yes, even to conservatives.
Right on with the Communication requirement, especially the debate and critical thinking courses. Interpersonal com courses also help the socially inept come out of their shells
Every survey I've seen of alleged faculty political bias has focused entirely on selected departments at elite institutions. I've never seen a survey that even covered community colleges. To simply lump every cc in America in with the Berkeley English department is sloppy thinking.

It's also sloppy thinking to assume that students pick up on their professors' politics. If they did, and if professors lean as far left as Fox News likes to believe, then the left should be the dominant force in American politics by now. It isn't.

Professors' politics is a red herring. The real issue is how to meet the educational needs of a new generation of students, given limited resources.
I think Equality needs to apply a little critical thinking of her/his own to the "analysis" presented, otherwise it is as hard to stomach as any hard-core left-wing polemic.

I agree with the communication, life-skills ideas and I'd like to see them in Universities as well. It is all very well and good to ask students to make presentations and the like, but public speaking is actually something you should be trained in, and not many people are. I count my lucky stars that I had a job that trained me in public speaking, it makes professoring so much easier.
I'm wondering what courses a right-wing CC would have . . . "Poli Sci 101 -- Why Americans Who Don't Vote For Your Guy Hate America," "Economics 102 -- If It's Tuesday, We Must Be Keynesians," "Sociology 300 -- Your Professor Is A Moron For Working As An Educator For These Salaries," "Philosophy 101 -- The Seven Major Fallacies And How To Disguise Committing Them," "Management 104 -- Maintaining Ideological Purity In The Face of Inconvenient Facts," and, of course, "Biology 200 -- Don't Think About Antibiotics."

Anyways, keep up the good work, and don't let folks who fundamentally disagree with the idea of an educated, empowered populace tell you your business.
Oh, I believe in the idea of an educated and empowered populace.

And you shouldn't be surprised to learn that I agree wholeheartedly with much that Dean Dad writes about education and deaning. I find his posts to be refreshingly free of bureaucratese and jargon. There's a ton of practical wisdom and common sense freely handed out on this site, which is why I enjoy reading it regularly.

But the question I tried to address was, how can political support be increased for more higher ed funding? You may think that the politics of the faculty is a red herring, but from where I sit, down here among the taxpayers, it is not. Maybe the professors aren't all on the left side of the spectrum, maybe it's just that the lefties get all the pubicity.

Doesn't really matter, the perception is there. Colleges are dominated by left-wing elitists bent on advancing their social agendas. Why do I want more of my tax dollars to go to people who not only don't share my values but are determined to attack them?

It's not that I'm afraid students will pick up their professors politics--on the contrary, the college students I know are fed up with speech codes and political correctness and the other nonsense that undermines education.

Is it unfair to lump CCs in with more notorious schools? Probably. I don't see how that affects the political dynamics.

I respect your professional abilities. If you want more of my tax dollars, you'll need to convince me that you (the education establishment) respect my values, even if you don't share them. I don't really have that feeling now, I haven't had it for years.

I don't think I'm on the fringe in this, I know plenty of people who feel this way. This is a reality you should not ignore.
I think the mandatory public speaking class would be a Good Thing.

I had to take a mandatory American Government class in my public high school -- is that not true in states outside of Michigan? If it is true, then are such courses really so inadequate that a repeat of the material is needed at the college level? Or would the material be substantially higher level?

The Personal Finance course sounds interesting -- mostly stuff I've picked up from my parents and reading the financial columns in Newsweek, I think... although I suppose not everyone's dad is an actuary. But should it really be mandatory? What if your students already have sufficient knowledge / common sense to deal with the personal finance issues in their lives?
I appreciate the sentiment, but as my post tried to imply, I'm not entirely certain how it can be handled. While you personally may be very much in favor of an educated populace, the conservative movement as a whole has a very strong "know-nothing" component which is inimical to the very concept of education. That is, there may be no middle ground to strive for; the concept of a place where ideas can compete and unpopular ideas can be explored is itself in many ways anticonservative.
First --- thanks for the support for debate... your Utopia CC should have a competitive team (speaking as a CC debate coach) -- with scholarships...

Second -- for those of you who think that "Critical Thinking" = political inculcation... think again. Critical thinking is a sub-field of philosophical logic. It deals in construction of arguments and avoiding logical fallacies.
Now for something completely different... (or at least, not overtly about national politics...)

I haven't seen any comments about expectations of faculty, other than how they will "treat" the students.

Perhaps faculty should be expected to participate in their community, with their discipline. If they are math, science, and the like, they should seek to engage with businesses and research insitutions that could use their services. Business faculty should consult as well. English faculty could find ways to infuse themselves in various language related businesses.

Several people mentioned that we often bring in adjuncts with "real-world" experience--but why? Perhaps it is because the faculty get too "comfortable" and fail to make the contacts with the "real world."

Perhaps we could then expect the faculty to publish something about what they did. I am not suggesting that they all get "A" journal hits--it is, after all, "just" a community college. I am suggesting though that faculty should be working to not only stay current in their discipline, but stay effectual, and share their experience with a broader segment of the populace than just those fortunate few that enter their classrooms.

Perhaps faculty need to look less at how we are slighted by the administration, or how students are not getting "Treated" fairly, and focus instead on the mission of faculty.

Do you not notice the stereotyping and bias you yourself introduce? By writing "the conservative movement as a whole has a very strong "know-nothing" component which is inimical to the very concept of education." you judge a whole group based on a pre-conception (and I doubt you can show research to support your view--besides anecdote.) Given this, you dismiss as "the exception" the few conservatives who point out they are in favor of critical thinking.

This really does sound as offensive to me as "well, you may be a smart woman, but most women..." or perhaps some other stereotype.

It is perhaps in our desire to descriminate, and stereotype, based on differences, that conservatives and liberals, pin-heads and enlightened, find their true common ground.

This is why my preference for "diversity" in education is not race or gender, or even age based--it's *idea* based. I want to encourage a diverse idea base, so that ideas can be freely exchanged, and debate encouraged, without stereotyping and dismissing from any group.

Just a thought.
Well, I put in my vote for a history requirement where it doesn't already exist. Providing that the history classes are like the ones I teach, of course! Not really a joke -- one of my older colleagues is a retired HS teacher -- I don't know that he's ever given an essay test. But in a good history class, students learn to write well, they acquire critical thinking skills (historians are trained to read things differently than others), they learn to use the library, and they get the background so necessary to understanding the present.

As for indoctrination by the left? I'm a serious lefty outside of class. But my own discipline doesn't really allow for my political beliefs to enter the classroom, even if I wanted them there. Now, I should say that this is probably much more difficult for colleagues who specialize in US or modern history. But I much more frequently find myself acting as an apologist for people and value systems I don't personally agree with, because I have to help students understand context and remove their own biases in order to think critically and objectively.

THe real problem, as I see it, is that funding is so often tied to the immediate utility of a degree -- the "will this person be able to get a job immediately" approach. This may be good for the immediate needs of the workforce, the student, and the local employers who help put together special programs, but that's ultimately tied to the market. The result is often massive need for worker retraining when an industry suffers. CCs also have a duty to their transfer students. And this is one of the real funding problems I see, and see especially as coming from a more conservative political agenda. THe leaders of our society have Arts and Sciences educations. A solid A&S degree gives a person more overall tools for being a good citizen and to being a versatile, easily trainable employee with much better long-term job prospects (unless we're talking about people who go into the trades, which are both well-paying and appropriate for huge numbers of people -- but not usually tied to the CC system). Most CCs began with a mission that included giving those people who couldn't take the traditional path to a 4-year A&S degree an alternate path. But especially in the conservative camp, this leg up, the idea of helping to even the playing field for people whose socio-economic status often means they had crappy K-12 educations and really need extra prep for the Uni, is seen as a kind of evil welfare entitlement. What we need to do is get people to see that, long-term, this is a much better investment -- that we need active, adaptable, well-educated citizens more than we need narrowly trained workers.

I'm not saying everybody needs a 4-year degree. I'm just saying a solid A&S background is hugely undervalued, and that there is a political aspect to that.
As a college student at one of the top 50 universities in the U.S, I feel that these are all great ideas. I also feel that it's horrible how most college students (including me) have horrible grammar and spelling skills.

Also, it would be nice to have a class requirement, or at least a workshop, against racism. Most people don't realize that even subtle acts of racism can hurt people.
The Professor:

I'm not sure what evidence you would find compelling, but I have to think that the fact that conservative Creationists are regularly elected to school boards and attempt to implement their views is strong support for my opinion.

In terms of idea-based diversity, I absolutely agree. But one idea which would be difficult to accomodate would be the idea that it is inappropriate to have a place where idea-based diversity should exist. Let's keep in mind that equality 7-2521's initial thesis is that we should eliminate "rampant anti-Americanism." and engage in a "housecleaning." That's not an argument in favor of diversity of opinion (e.g. get the conservative viewpoint represented), it's an argument in favor of policing faculty opinion. Very different.

equality 7-2521's point was that colleges appear to be attacking conservative values. My response is that there may be no middle ground for many of these folks; the existence of colleges as a forum for unpopular opinion is itself an attack on certain conservative values. We may have to finesse the problem, instead of pretending that it can be readily addressed.
Why are colleges a forum for any opinion; popular, unpopular or otherwise?
It has to be, at least in the non-technical fields. Take history, for example. How do you approach it?

Say you break it down by centuries, or even decades or years. Say you're teaching a course on the year 1920. What you choose to teach and what you choose to leave out, decisions made necessary by time constraints, reflect personal opinions. There's no way to teach "neutral history," because time is finite.

Do you study the Great Men of 1920? Or the Great Women? How about the everyday life of an American industrial worker. Or the everyday life of a Chinese farmer. Each choice within the curriculum requires a decision on what's important and what isn't. It is, at a basic level, political and rooted in opinion. It has to be.
I suppose it all depends on how you spin those facts that you're teaching, and which facts are culled to prove a certain biased point.
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