Friday, November 12, 2010


Friday Fragments

Actual dinner conversation:

TW: So-and-so is dumb as a rock.

TG: Rocks aren’t dumb!

TB: Yeah! Rocks tell scientists lots of interesting facts.


A counselor on campus mentioned today that she’s working with several homeless students, including a few who have young children. As she detailed some of the ways they cope -- you really don’t want to know -- I realized again that I could never be a counselor. How anyone could do that job without succumbing to depression is beyond me. And there’s something profoundly, deeply wrong with a country that will spend hundreds of billions on wars of choice while relegating single mothers with young children to sleeping in tents on the edge of town.


This story is sooooo true. To my mind, the obvious medium-term solution to the dilemmas of reallocating within a college is to reallocate beween colleges. Let college A have a healthy theatre program and college B have a healthy engineering program, instead of asking each to sustain both on insufficient resources. It’s politically radioactive, but it’s the truth. Getting there from here is the tricky part. Of course, we could always tap into the aforementioned hundreds of billions, but that doesn’t seem to be working...


The Boy was mad that his copy of the new Diary of a Wimpy Kid book didn’t arrive until Thursday, since some of his friends got it on Tuesday. Apparently, most of the kids in his class read the series, and several brought in their copies on Wednesday to show them off. After his copy arrived, TB devoured it immediately. It pleases me to no end that the hot ticket in the fourth grade is a book.


I read somewhere that one of out every ten undergrads in the US attends a for-profit college or university. IHE noted recently that last year, half of all the new hires in higher education were at for-profits. I’m glad to see them finally drawing some meaningful scrutiny, but I’m concerned that much of the discussion has thus far missed the point. They’re growing because they can; public higher ed is cutting because it has to. As long as those remain true, I can predict with some confidence the direction of the trendline.


What would happen if the “gainful employment” rule were applied to graduate programs in liberal arts fields?

the obvious medium-term solution to the dilemmas of reallocating within a college is to reallocate beween colleges.

This makes perfect sense if students are like prospective faculty members and: a) willing to relocate where-ever, and b) have no strong non-academic preferences about schools. If students choose their schools based on location or the football team, though, or simply don't know what they want to major in, your solution creates a whole new set of problems.

A debate about which set of problems is easier to deal with may eventually favor your solution, of course, but that outcome doesn't seem "obvious" to me.
Something for you to think about DD: What is your plan, both academic and financial, to deal with your future wave of retirements? You see, one aged professor salary can pay for two young whippersnappers, so you can use the first retirement to prepare for the next one. You can also replace the person in one area and add to a different area (either in the long run or just pending another retirement). One of those might be a future chairman or Dean replacement when your triumph leads to the Presidency.

The other thing to consider is how to lobby effectively for a cost structure where you CAN grow under the current economic conditions. Your problems (like those in California's CC system) are not present everywhere in the US.

I share your sympathy for campus counselors, and recommend adding PTSD to your list of problems they deal with.

I agree with your observations about college economics and small majors. Students are more mobile (even in the rural areas around us) than Rubashov suspects, and the college density is probably much higher where you seem to be. Have you discussed this with College B down the road?

The other key, by the way, is strong articulation so a student can move smoothly from University C to University D (or College B to College A) to take up that unusual major.
I wonder if colleges will want to give up their bureaucratic nonsense enough to enable the 'some colleges specialize in A, others in B' model.
When I was attending community college, I was doing so after having been unschooled for a few years. I needed to take O-chem, which wasn't offered at my CC. There were a couple of places in the area to take it- the place most people took it was over an hour drive away (I wasn't even driving myself at this stage). The other was more convenient, but it was at a very odd school- one set up to be the third and fourth year of undergrad + a handful of masters programs. Like the second half of a CC. This school did not want to let me take any classes.
Was it because I hadn't finished the associates? Nope. I could take classes for credit, just not a degree program. Was it because I had no high school diploma? Nope. They had procedures in place for dealing with that. It was because *I had never passed the constitution exam the state required of K-12 students*. WTF???
CCPhysicist wrote:

one aged professor salary can pay for two young whippersnappers, so you can use the first retirement to prepare for the next one.

Or not. At my university, salary compression has gone on for so long that in some fields, assistant professors fresh out of grad school are routinely brought in at higher salaries than some full professors make.

As for DD's original post, I still don't see how this is supposed to work. A student at SUNY-Albany wants to study French, but can't because the French department was eliminated. So that student... drives to Stony Brook, or takes classes from there online? A professor from Stony Brook drives to Albany to teach French classes 5 days a week as part of some consortium arrangement? The student remains monolingual because he/she chose to attend a school with the wrong "specialization"? None of these seem like good solutions to me. And what about universities outside the northeast, where a school might be the only institution of higher education for hundreds of miles around?
And what about universities outside the northeast, where a school might be the only institution of higher education for hundreds of miles around?

This is a very real problem for CA's CC colleges in rural areas - how to be all things to all people over geographic areas of 500-1000 square miles. They have solved the problem (sort of) by having regional centers for the more expensive programs and having strong basic programs everywhere. People have to move to get what they need.

As a taxpayer, my question is, how many French majors do we really need? I'm not a fan of the "liberal education preps people to think" school of thought. If someone's true passion and interest is French, the should be willing/able to move to go to that specialized program. Otherwise, they can specialize in Italian or English or some other language that is locally available.

Part of what makes eliminating programs hard is that faculty can't switch gears midstream. A college that got into the habit of dropping programs and all of their faculty would eventually have a difficult time recruiting - everyone would be wondering if their program was next.
Wars vs. single moms in tents? I can tell you what too many people would (and do) say:

"If you can't afford kids, don't have them. Birth control is available and so is abortion. No one asked you to get pregnant, don't expect me to pay for your poor decision-making skills. Why are single women having sex anyway? Whore."

"Hey, THEY attacked US!!! What are we supposed to do, just sit here and take it?"
@Vicki: Some people just get off on others' suffering. Some call them sadists. Those with experience call them conservatives.
My niece got tired of Wimpy Kid after a few books (apparently they stopped being as funny) & LOOVES the How to Train Your Dragon books (which seem to have maintained their humor at least through the first five). Are you reading those?
I see no one has even mentioned the "Gainful Employment" comment. It does raise a small question: As a graduate student are you, legally, a student or employee? Or can you be both? If your supervisor "just doesn't think you're quite ready" for several years while getting cheap labour, what can a grad student do about it?
@JMG: Get a new supervisor, which is what people can always do. Don't engage the sunk cost fallacy.

The system is deeply exploitative, but the people in it are perfectly intelligent people with the ability to master multiple fields. Pick one that pays, seriously.
Shane - You give just one example of the huge gulf between CC and university management, not to mention between reality and the expectations that sometimes doom a job search by someone who deigns to apply to one of the many job openings at a CC.
I don't think Albany is planning to stop teaching French, they are just planning to get rid of a major in French. And, yes, I'd expect that one of the many universities in NY (maybe even a small one) could create an on-line niche program to serve students who don't want to move.

PS to Ivory: I know what you mean, but 1000 square miles is a circle with a radius of only 18 miles. Our CC has students who commute 50 miles each way rather than attend a closer (but limited) CC. I don't think there was ever any conscious decision to create regional CCs, but it is probably self-reinforcing once the process starts. For example, as big as we are, we have students who transfer to a niche program at a smaller "nearby" CC.
=) CCP - I didn't do the math on the mileage - how about this. There's a CC in CA in the middle of the southern desert. The nearest CC of similar size is over 100 miles away. Let's not even talk about the eastern side of the Sierra - schools in Nevada and Arizona are closer than CA CCs. It's common in the Central Valley for people to drive several hours to attend classes. Hope that clarifies things more than my geometrically challenged comment....
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