Tuesday, December 19, 2006
Offense and Defense
(That's not to address larger issues of learning styles, etc.)
From a liability standpoint, this was a clean win. But I was disturbed and annoyed to hear that all of the exams were multiple-choice. The best strategy for avoiding a lawsuit was not the best strategy for actually tracking (or motivating, or provoking) student performance.
The logics behind lawsuit-avoidance and good teaching are different. Good teaching challenges students, including challenging their deeply-held beliefs, and it frequently treats different students differently. (Some students need to be encouraged to come out of their shells; others need to settle down and focus. Some respond to praise, some to challenge, and some to butt-kicking. Calibrating the right approach to each student is part of the challenge of teaching.) Lawsuit avoidance is about treating everyone identically, avoiding ambiguity and/or subjective judgment, and following set procedures. I like to think of the basics of lawsuit avoidance as the minima of good teaching – be fair to everybody, base grades on valid considerations, etc. -- but there's no denying that it's easier to defend a scantron grade than, say, an essay grade, even though an essay is often a better gauge of student performance than a multiple-choice test.
It's the difference between trying to win and trying not to lose, between offense and defense.
The stereotype of administrators is that we're always playing defense, and thereby always giving offense. There's a lot of truth to that – more than I'd care to admit, actually – but it's not like there's always another option at hand. The world at large doesn't defer to professional opinion in all things, and getting huffy and offended about it won't change that. Part of my job is to mediate between the academic aspirations of faculty and the actual legal and political climates of the outside world. That's why I press for things like very specific syllabi and actual use of due process for accused cheaters, which both strike many faculty as absurd. To them, I'm focusing on the wrong things, and I don't mind that they think so; I want them to play offense, not defense. If they indulge me a few obsessions, like including their grading policy for late work on their syllabi, then I can leave alone the real meat of what they're doing, confident that I can defend it if need be.
This issue has come up again in the context of outcomes assessment. Some departments are taking umbrage to the very idea of quantifying student performance independent of grades, making the argument that this is just one step towards expanding No Child Left Behind to higher education. My view, which isn't original to me, is that if we don't do something internally, something will be done to us externally; better that we come up with measures that actually make sense. If we can show that we're taking care of business, we have a shot at being left alone to do exactly that.
A centrally-defined test will look to the minimum. I don't want to focus on the minimum. I want to push students as far as they can go. If we can cover our bases enough that we can avoid national exams, then by all means, let's do it. The counterargument – that once the camel's nose is in the tent, all is lost – strikes me as a nonstarter. With college tuitions rising and the credential of a degree necessary even for jobs where you might not expect it, the public is less inclined to extend the benefit of the doubt than it once was. In the absence of internally-generated measures or procedures, we even have a hard time responding to ignorant wingnuts like David Horowitz, who claim that the scandal of higher education is too many Democrats in it. (In six years of deaning, I've never heard a student complain about political bias. I've heard a lot of student complaints, but never that. David Horowitz's total years of deaning are...let's see, carry the three...zero.) If we respond to popular discontent with “trust us,” we lose. We earn trust by marshalling facts, based on actual processes and records, and by actually addressing problems when we find them. We can't just assume trust anymore, if we ever could.
The danger, of course, is in conveying the message too well, and getting faculty thinking too much about defense. If they aren't challenging students, nothing I do matters anyway. They need to feel safe to push students, knowing I've got their back. We're getting there – trust has to be earned here, too – but it's a matter of fits and starts, rather than a smooth progression. To me, there's a world of difference between spelling out a grading policy in a syllabus and basing an entire grade on scantron tests. It's the difference between 'wearing a seatbelt' and 'never leaving the house.' Indulge me the seatbelt, and take the students as far as they will go.
"David Horowitz's total years of deaning are...let's see, carry the three...zero."
Looks like this is an... umm... what did you call it? Oh.. ad hominem attack. Or perhaps you are simply pointing out that no one who is not now, or has ever been, a dean can comment on what is or isn't bias in academia?
I agree with the previous commenter. As a right-winger with at least as many years of experience as you in academia, I think it is fair to say that Horowitz is quite correct about most institutions of higher education being packed with leftists and secular-progressive types who value diversity of everything except ideas. It's beyond dispute. I think Thomas Sowell nailed it when he observed: "The most fundamental fact about the ideas of the political left is that they do not work. Therefore we should not be surprised to find the left concentrated in institutions where ideas do not have to work in order to survive."
But I digress, just as you did in your post. "Eerily familiar," indeed.
Regarding the idea that students should be pushed, I agree completely. There is more than one way to do this effectively. And you're correct that a one-size-fits-all approach is not always effective.
But you're wrong about some things, too. For example, you mention learning styles in passing, in a way that suggests you might accept this as being valid. One of my coworkers, a Ph.D. in psychology, has assured me that the theory of learning styles, widely embraced in edu-circles, is utter boolsheet, and is rejected as such by anyone with even a modicum of familiarity with mainstream research in that subject.
Similarly, I don't agree that multiple-choice tests are inherently evil. They are a tool, just like computers, cars, and guns. They can be used effectively, too, and their use does not necessarily entail bad teaching.
In a perfect world, every student would appreciate how truly blessed they are to be attending an institute of higher learning in America, the richest, and arguably, best place to live in the world. And their approach to their studies would reflect this. But in reality, that is often the opposite of the attitude that most students embrace.
It is also true that in a perfect world, faculty would be consistenly passionate about teaching their subject and would have infinite patience when it comes to reading and correcting the drivel that many students submit. But in reality, faculty are human beings, and there are limits to their energy, passion, and compassion.
As an aside, I pity the community college instructor who makes a living teaching five three-hour sections of the same class semester after semester after semester.
But teaching effectively and using multiple-choice tests are not mutually exclusive propositions.
"Sure they can. They just need evidence. He has provided none. Moreover, those of us with access to evidence have seen none to corroborate his claims."
I don't know about Horowitz's evidence, but I can offer my own experiential evidence and there are various studies as well that demonstrate student concerns about the political views of their faculty.
I have had many students complain about political bias, from both the left and the right. I have had faculty complain that "these students today are too liberal/conservative." I have heard very few (but vocal) faculty complain that as a political and/or social conservative they are woefully under represented in the academy. See Robert George from Princeton, for example. There are many studies that have shown this to be true as well, most recently the study by the Institute for Jewish and Community Research, titled "A Profile of American College Faculty: Volume 1: Political Beliefs & Behavior."
I admit that I am very surprised that in 6 years of "deaning" you have never heard a complaint about political bias. Could this have to do more with your experience and type of institution of employment rather than an indicator of national trends? Admittedly I have been a dean for only under a year, but I have been in administration for over 3 and a faculty member for a decade (and a student for decades before that). But my experience is quite the opposite.
(And not to be pedantic, but referring to someone as an "ignorant wingnut" is an adhominem.)
I've never heard conservative types advocating for any kind of affirmative action for marginalized groups so I think it supremely ironic that they would argue that they themselves are a marginalized group and deserve special treatment. If some of you can make it on your own merits that the rest of you ought to take notes and succeed following the same strategies. Isn't that what traditionally underrepresented minorities and women are expected to do?
Some departments are taking umbrage to the very idea of quantifying student performance independent of grades.... My view...is that if we don't do something internally, something will be done to us externally; better that we come up with measures that actually make sense.
I wholeheartedly agree with this but there are two problems we have run into in defining what "good outcomes" are. The first is a total lack of agreement on what a good outcome would be. The second is a total lack of agreement about how to assess those outcomes. We had long arguments about how to collect data that would be valid.
The root problem is the expectation on the part of many faculty that they are king/queen of their domain whenever they step into the classroom. The idea that someone else would have some ideas about how things should be is anathema / heresy. Thus the whole effort is fraught with difficulty from the beginning. And I'm not sure there's a good alternative to this since the "kingdom" model of teaching does tend to promote pride in one's work. But I wish we were better about sharing our expertise because as a newbie, I would love to hear what other people think about quality teaching and what works with our particular group of undergrads.
I also think our students would benefit from a more coherent approach - we teach about how to use a microscope in many of our classes but we never compare notes about how we're doing it and there is no coherent expectation that students having taken class "A" should enter class "B" with certain skills. This leads to frustration when students reach their senior year not knowing how to do things they "ought" to have learned before - but without a clear curriculum or consistent objectives that we all agree on, expected that students have learned anything in their previous classes is sketchy.
So multinational corporate capitalism is working? Nationalism is working? The war in Iraq/Afghanistan?
Sorry, Dean Dad, but sometimes the most interesting/provocative things in blogs like yours are the digressions.
Liberals heavily outnumber conservatives by 8-10:1 at two major left-coast universities.
Students (or parents) who do any minimal amount of legwork usually know exactly what they're getting in terms of political environment on a campus. And, as Dean Dad has previously pointed out, higher education continues to be commodified (i.e. student as consumer). If this is case, and the student is unhappy, he/she doesn't have to make the purchase. My political leanings have no bearing on the way I grade my students, but my work ethic and morality as a human being does, which means I will not tolerate students who create a hostile environment for others in a classroom. I have a very specific statement in my syllabus about this, yet I've still had to call a student into my office for a conference because he couldn't understand why saying "fuck the Irish" would be offensive to the fair-skinned, red-haired girl sitting next to him. In fact, while conferencing, he accused me of playing "identity politics." However, I don't consider such a policy to be about identity, to be leftist or liberal or any other politically affiliated term. I consider it to be common sense.
And if students are offended by *that* bias, then they can sign up for a class with someone else.
Now in this case, I do believe CB has not only shared anecdotal evidence that the pseudonymous dean's assertion that there is NO evidence of bias is incorrect, but he even pointed to studies that go beyond simple anecdote.
So, in the words of Jamie and Adam, the Dean's Myth is BUSTED.
I offered "A Profile of American College Faculty: Volume 1: Political Beliefs & Behavior." You may not agree with conclusions, but do you have reason and evidence to refute them?
I offered anecdotal evidence merely because that is what DD offered. The difference between our posts is that he seems to be extrapolating from his experience to state that Horowitz's view (and my own experience) is false.
To be honest, I am not bothered. This is such a tiresome debate that it is not worth it. I just found it hard to believe that DD had never encountered students with such complaints.
Exactly. Do conservatives think being under-represented is prima facie evidence of discrimination? Or don't they? Why does self-selection apply to, say, women but not conservatives?
"I've never heard conservative types advocating for any kind of affirmative action for marginalized groups so I think it supremely ironic that they would argue that they themselves are a marginalized group and deserve special treatment."
Actually, I have never heard them argue for "special treatment." What I have heard them argue for is balance, equal treatment, or in academia, more specifically, for academics to truly be open minded to ideas, even when they come from a conservative and not a liberal.
Although perhaps you can point me to an instance of a conservative calling for some sort of "affirmative action" program for hiring conservatives?
Interestingly, this does highlight the difference between conservatives in academia and liberals in academia. The conservatives seek diversity of opinions, of ideas, and open debate. The liberals seek diversity in gender, skin color, and orientation, but homogeneity of ideology and thought.
Are you suggesting that a study based on the faculty at Stanford and Berkeley isn't widely applicable to academia as a whole?!
Exactly. Do conservatives think being under-represented is prima facie evidence of discrimination? Or don't they? Why does self-selection apply to, say, women but not conservatives?
Does the academic left think that, if they have created what in their eyes is a fair process for determining qualifications, the fact that certain sorts of people are significantly under-represented compared to their numbers in the general population that this is therefore NOT prima facie evidence of discrimination? Does the academic left think that perhaps some disparities in representation in certain sorts of jobs might actually result from the choices that individuals make about which careers and interests to pursue, or the sets of skills, attitudes, and dispositions they have, rather than structural discrimination?
If so, then I don't want to hear any more about the gender wage gap or the need to diversify the race/ethnicity of the faculty.
The beauty of this topic is watching both right and left shamelessly use the other side's arguments without batting an eye.
Could it be that the issue is just more complex than all of this?
And, FWIW, DD shot at DH was an unnecessary ad hominem. DH is plenty wrong about enough things that just dealing with his arguments is sufficient enough. Why give him more ammo?
It's one or the other. Either 'the academy' is waaayyy too broad a category, or my colleges aren't part of 'the academy.'
One commenter even challenged the veracity of my autobiographical comment, doubting that I've never heard students complain about political bias. If we're going to start calling each other liars, there's really no point in continuing the dialogue. In six years of deaning, I've never heard a student complain about political bias. I've heard LOTS of other complaints -- excessive work, unfair deadlines, lack of 'flexibility,' instructor accents, name it -- but not that one. Either accept that as true or go away. It's simply true, and not open to debate. I'm not a liar, and shame on whomever suggested I am.
Finally, somebody makes a logical leap -- and it's a biggie -- from saying that Dems outnumber Reps on some campuses to saying that therefore Reps are being abused. The logical fallacy alone is staggering. In teaching, the subject matter of the course is what gets taught, along with the characteristic modes of inquiry of that field. Teachers are not the subject matter of their own courses. I won't deny that people occasionally use anecdotes from everyday life to add humor or clarity to presentations, but that's a far cry from saying that the fact that somebody is a Democrat makes her ill-suited to teach History of Modern Europe, or Euclidean Geometry, or anything else. I have no idea what the politics of most of my faculty are, nor do I care. Neither should anybody else.
Here are the two things that can and do happen that I think are legit grounds for complaint.
1. Faculty who grade students according to the degree to which they agree with the faculty member's politics. Since the academy is disproportionately left, when this does happen, it tends to happen to righty students by lefty faculty. The question, however, is *how often this really happens.* As DD notes, and I tend to agree, it happens very infrequently.
Then what is the right complaining about? I think it's the fact that righty students don't like being challenged to defend their views, because, in my experience, many can't, often because they are non- or anti-intellectual. When the faculty member challenges them, they scream "attack" even though it's almost always legit pedagogy. The one real problem here is the question of whether lefty faculty challenge students who *agree with them* as aggressively as they do those who do not. Even if you are being legitimately challenged, seeing your classmates who agree with the prof get a pat on the head with no devil's advocacy or Socratic challenge from the prof can sure feel *unfair* if not an attack.
2. The absence of conservative and libertarian thought in the social sciences (my field of economics excluded) and humanities. No one says the curriculum or reading lists need to be balanced, but opportunities for students to confront *primary sources* from people like Hayek, Friedman, Oakeshott, Nozick, etc. are sorely lacking. Too many students in relevant disciplines can get through an undergraduate education without ever reading any of those, or others I could name. That's a problem.
And assigning readings *critical* of those thinkers as a way to expose your students to them won't cut it. If libertarians and conservatives are so wrong, students should be able to figure that out for themselves by reading them, and faculty should be able to prompt the critical assessment. But at least respect students enough to let them read the real deal and to, even if they disagree, know the other sides.
Part of this problem, of course, is that many faculty have no clue about the conservative/libertarian intellectual movement, or simply deny that such a thing is even logically possible (after all, we're just tools of the corporate capitalists, right? :) ).
These problems are real. They do happen. They reflect political bias in the academy, though not of the sort Horowitz talks about, and not very frequently of an intentional sort. I would think that my friends on the left would be more understanding of the ways biases can creep in through subtle and complex processes, rather than overt and obvious ones.
That's more than enough for now.
Yes, well, reality's liberal bias has been strongly documented.
You presented your experience as evidence that Horowitz was wrong. You then challenged those who challenged you by saying that he did not present "evidence." The point is that you elevated your experience to the status of valid evidence while dismissing those who disagree with you as lacking evidence.
What I did was challenge your "evidence" (not the veracity of your experience) as being representative of the academy as a whole in the United States. I hope all will note (as did Ivory) that I was only offering my experience, although I did reference studies that provide data that support my own experience.
I further suggested that your experience is simply that, your own experience, different than my own. Neither yours nor mine is better than the others. They are simply different. Your error, I was pointing out, is in elevating your experience to "evidence" more valid than that of others, "ignorant wignuts" or otherwise.
So I accepted your experience as "true" but I was suggesting it was simply limited. Now, I may go away because I find your ability to discuss an issue with equanimity (let alone respect) is significantly lacking. You tell people to "Go away?" Are we on a playground? You did not even read my comment carefully or you would have realized what I have just stated above. If you truly want to engage in a dialog that will lead to furthering our knowledge and helping others in the academy or the world at large, you will have to learn to recognize the limits of your own knowledge and experience and begin to value that of others.
We now know who *one* dean is. Will the second Dean step up, come out of the closet, and reveal himself?
First, NO ONE said he was a liar. I believe CB admitted it as surprising, but didn't question it as fact, that you have never received a complaint about bias. Nope. Not calling you a liar there. It seems, he was simply saying it was perhaps more a reflection of your experience rather than a fact that could be extended to the statement "those of us with access to evidence have seen none to corroborate his claims."
In fact, since CB (Heck, I will call him Dean Brady) has acknowledged that he is in a position to "know" these things, and has seen them and can corroborate that students have perceived bias, then the myth of no bias created by the blanket statement made by the Dean is (as I later wrote) "Busted." (for those spending more time watching Family Guy rather than educational TV, I am referring to Mythbusters)
All this said, I find another "factual issue" to be quite interesting. A simple "word search" in the various comments leads me to conclude that, despite the Dean's protestations to the contrary, no one has made any logical leaps about republicans and democrats on campus. The only leap of logic made was his assertion that his experience was truth for all.
The record has been set straight.
Until he chooses to misquote me again.
Second, several of us have challenged your
The survey that I directed folks to, "A Profile of American College Faculty: Volume 1: Political Beliefs & Behavior" was a national survey. The pdf is here.
Absolutely! Let's see, that study looked at two universities. Two down...how many thousands to go?
Lost amongst all of the rhetoric was an insightful comment by Ivory about coherence and prerequisites, etc, that I will comment on in the following thread.
You are aware of the monumental irony of this sentence, aren't you, "Anonymous?"
C'mon, that's funny.
The military high command is rife with conservatives, wildly out of proportion to their presence in America!
What the hell is that? A powerful institution that shapes the hearts and minds of millions of young Americans, wholly in the grip of one ideology? This is insane and blatantly unfair to the soldiers!
Such imbalance does not match the balance found in the American public!
I myself am conversant with complaints about the raging, blinkered conservatism of the officer corps. There's even been a recent public stink about evangelical Christian officers forcing their views on their recruits!
This must not stand!
(If you think this is nonsense, ask yourself why. Come up with some good reasons. Then see if those same answers might, just maybe, make sense when applied to academia. A lot of 'em do.)
"You are aware of the monumental irony of this sentence, aren't you, 'Anonymous?'"
Yup. Actually this goes back to the other thread, where I was challenged for being anonymous, by the Dean who is simply "pseudonymous." I checked, the definition of a pseudonym is a name one assumes to... wait for it...
Yup... Irony. The Dean Dad is good at those unintended Ironies. Thankfully, all mine are intended.
Oh, if you want to read the thread, then check it out:
"(If you think this is nonsense, ask yourself why. Come up with some good reasons. Then see if those same answers might, just maybe, make sense when applied to academia. A lot of 'em do.)"
Nope. I won't argue this one way or the other. I would seriously engage in the same debate, however, with someone who might argue "In six years of (military service), I've never heard a conservative in leadership" and then proceed to argue that based on that there must be "none" in the military.
Now we have the appropriate parallel.
What was the student complaining about? The grading or the nature or formation of the questions? I am thinking about the arguments that the SATs (and standardized tests as a whole) are biased against African-Americans. I assume from the Dean's comments that she thought the grading was biased, but I could see how the questions themselves could be biased.
First, the irony in lambasting someone for using a pseudonym when using a pseudonym, is not clever. It's just weak. Either accept the use of pseudonyms by everyone or use your real name, ace.
Criticize a man for wearing a cowboy hat in church when you're in a pew wearing a big ol' Stetson doesn't make you look witty or cutting. It just makes you look foolish.
Second, you won't debate the military idea because it's asinine. Which is my point. The academia debate is asinine in the same way.
Third, Dean Dad related his personal experience, and using that as the basis for his opinion, that the conservative talking head furor over higher education is hot air. Notice he doesn't say it doesn't exist, just that he's never had any complaints addressed to him about it, and as a result, he thinks the pundit class's complaints are overblown.
That's it. That's the big shocking revelation.
Now, you could extrapolate out that he's denying the existence of political bias in the entire university system based upon that passage, but you'd have to add a few sentences into the text that he never wrote.
So, your suggested parallel "In six years of (military service), I've never heard a conservative in leadership" and then proceed to argue that based on that there must be "none" in the military. is a willful misinterpretation. In short, it's wrong. Base the parallel on the original text before exulting in it.
The proper parallel would be "In six years as an Army officer, I've never heard of any enlisted men complaining about officers mouthing off on their political views." Which a reader would take as the writer's anecdotal evidence that such a problem is overstated.
1. You wrote:
"the irony in lambasting someone for using a pseudonym when using a pseudonym, is not clever. It's just weak."
Thanks. I happen to agree with you. In fact, it's how this whole thing started in the first place. DD belittled my comment on the post I referenced by pointing out that it came from someone who was "anonymous." Weak, and as you pointed out "looks foolish."
I for one am glad someone else agrees with me.
2. Original text you say? Okay, DD wrote "those of us with access to evidence have seen none to corroborate his claims."
So... the extrapolation was his, not mine. It was, in fact, this assertion that so much of the later comments addressed.
The progression was:
1. DD Critiqued for making an ad hominem attack (and as later pointed out, an abusive ad hominem as well) after having recently critiqued me for using the same argument against himself.
2. In response, he argued that his position was right because "those of us with access to evidence have seen none." That extension from his experience to the leap that he can now speak for "those that have seen" was (to quote DD again, referring to others) "a logical leap."