Monday, April 07, 2008
Observations from the AACC
After my first full day at the AACC in Philadelphia, a few observations:
The InsideHigherEd crew is fun to have lunch with. They have a winning mix of surface irreverence and substantive seriousness. Also, their cub reporter is a dead ringer for the “I'm a Mac” guy.
Several panels discussed the lack of an administrative pipeline to replace the current generation as it retires. In each case, the discussion treated the lack of a pipeline as a simple fact of nature. Nobody connected the dots of 'lack of tenure-track faculty hiring' leading to 'nobody ready to step up.' I don't know if it's because they think of the two issues as discrete, if they think the connection is too obvious to mention, or if they're more focused on solving the immediate problem than discussing its historical roots. Of course, if you don't underlying issue, the symptom is likely to persist. I'll have to ask the question the next time it comes up.
One speaker mentioned – and I don't know if this is true, but it sounds right – that nationally, community college students pay nearly as much for books as they pay in tuition. We sweat bullets over raising tuition five percent, but publishers just let it fly with abandon. There's something fundamentally wrong here.
When you're innocently wending your way through the exhibitors' area, looking mostly at publications and software, those human-patient-simulator-mannequins can give you quite a start.
I've heard several references to the “community college movement,” and the need for the retiring generation to steep its followers in the true faith. Intriguingly, nobody ever bothers to define the term. One generation's 'common knowledge' has become another generation's 'trivia question.'
The feel of the conference is very different from the League for Innovation. The League had a charming “let's take a flyer on that” attitude. The AACC so far feels much more Establishment. Too many speakers have started with “I remember my first Presidency, back in 1984...” Yawn.
A speaker at a panel on change management was completing his doctoral dissertation on how college Presidents and senior administrators deal with change. He drew a distinction between Presidents, whose most important decision is when to act, and senior administrators, whose most important decision is when not to act. I suspect there's a lot to that, but I need more time to chew on it.
Kay McClenney, of the University of Texas at Austin, is an absolute genius. She led a panel on the “Bridges to Opportunity” initiative of the Ford Foundation that was so well done, so perfectly structured, so spot-on in tone and content, and so full of information that I actually left jealous. My note-taking wasn't fast enough to capture all the good stuff. She knew it cold, but let the panelists fill in the blanks for us. That, ladies and gentlemen, is how it's done. There's something simultaneously gratifying and humbling about watching a master work. (If I can fill in the blanks in my notes, that panel deserves a post unto itself.)
The architect who designed the Philadelphia convention center was apparently influenced by M.C. Escher. The buildings are connected, sort of, except when they aren't. The 100 level rooms are in a different building than the 200 level rooms. And the whole thing is bisected by a sort of postmodern hockey rink with what looks like tinkertoys suspended high above. Call me boring and suburban, but I like when room numbers serve as navigational cues, and I've never thought to myself “you know what this academic conference needs? An ornamental hockey rink!” Maybe that's why I'm not an architect.
Having attended professional association conferences in Philadelphia since the early 1980s, I will have to give a tip o' the hat to city for two huge changes:
- Crime is way, way, down around the city center; or at least it feels a lot safer to walk around at night
- The city center is one heck of a lot cleaner than it ever used to be!
Enjoy your boondoggle err conference!
I teach a lecture course where our tuition and fees add up to the paltry sum of about $280 per semester. The list price of the textbook for this course is only $96 and is good for two semesters (if the student actually opens the book, attends class, does the homework and survives to the 2nd semester). Most other textbooks for this sort of course have a list price of $180 or so. These can be sold, of course, to recover some of the cost, or bought used or discounted on line.
The associated lab, however, has a $100 textbook. The lab class costs less than this. (I'm not sure what we charge for lab fees, but it is probably less than $90.) The book is good for two semesters, if they make it that far. If not, the book costs more than the class and has no resale value.
PS - What artist/architect is credited with that work? I'm too lazy to Google it....
Also, in line with this topic is unions. At one CC I have taught at there is a strong adjunct union with most of the reps being at
retirement. At faculty meetings they regularly try to recruit volunteers from the younger adjuncts, but people are busy teaching from one college to another.
I guess the question is how to older, retiring administrators or union reps. rally younger members that all that responsibility is worth it?
If you want to actually make a legitimate comparison, then either the CC needs to start subsidizing the cost of the books (making them far cheaper, as well) or start passing on the "full freight rate" of having students.
Oh--and please, don't go after the publishers by saying they "let it fly with abandon." I suspect they are exercising the same business practices as everyone else who contributes to the cost of the student attending the CC. Do you accuse the janitorial services, copy center, or utilities, of letting their costs "fly with abandon?"
For me, the hardest part of this is that I generally pay my tuition over the course of the term, so a hundred or so dollars from each paycheck, but you obviously can't do so with the books. Grin & bear it I guess... I wish that the cost of books was included in the registration materials somehow, so that I could take it into account when choosing classes.
[Interesting comment about unions and their desire to increase the supply of labor. I always wondered why Cesar Chavez supported immigration and the unions associated with manufacturing/skilled trades in the northeast and midwest were so welcoming to the migration of minority workers from the south in the 1960s and 1970s. Now I know why! They were interested in increasing the supply of labor, so as to keep the price of labor reasonable!]
Separately, a lot of econ texts simply contain a pile of extraneous material.
I recently had the pleasure of evaluating a text which was much smaller than usual, because it didn't contain either the annoying "example" blurb thingies or the homework problems. Those were on the website, which required a book-specific password. The idea was that the book wasn't resellable, so it should only contain reference material, and that the website is extremely cheap to publish on a marginal basis.
Cost for the book -- $60. Compared to $120 for the average text ($80 used). I thought it was revolutionary.
Inertia is a fact of nature, and it is institutional inertia that keeps your college from developing some kind of professional training program. The assumption that leaders just happen, that a new chair will just step forward, is a poor one. Maybe it worked when some college had lots of young full-time faculty, or maybe you were just lucky and merely thought it was working.
And don't overlook the possibility that a bit of leadership training might lead to better run committees. Improving how they run might even be a good lever to start such a program, with the side benefit of identifying people who can make the place run.
Further, people might be turning down the job simply out of the fear of the unknown. Dean Dad, you might write about what aspects of your job (or that of the people who report to you) make for a pleasant day at work.