Thursday, March 16, 2017

Friday Fragments

I don’t know when they started naming winter storms, but Stella was an odd duck.  We got about two inches of snow and a full day of rain, which meant a bumper crop of slush.  But towns just a few miles away either got nothing but rain, or lots of snow.  

The kids and I had a snow day, which was lovely.  At The Girl’s suggestion, we watched one of the Hunger Games movies.  It’s not really my style, but seeing Philip Seymour Hoffman in action made me sad.  He was Fairport High School’s best known alum.  (I saw him as Willy Loman in the FHS production in 1985.  Even then, you could see the talent.)  If he were around today, he would be a _devastating_ Steve Bannon.  Don’t pretend you don’t see it…


I’ve got my fingers crossed for my colleagues in the Pennsylvania public four-year university system PASSHE.  Apparently they’re the objects of a forthcoming study from NCHEMS that is likely to result in closings and/or mergers.  

In this market, folks who lose their jobs will have a hell of a time finding new ones.  And systemic failures don’t distinguish between good employees and bad.  When the demographics and the state politics are aligned against you, it can be hard even to tread water.

Still, I’m hopeful that they won’t only focus on cuts.  When the status quo has become clearly unsustainable, it’s time to try something different.  A system like PASSHE, with 14 institutions in it, could -- if it chose to -- run some experiments.  Let one campus do CBE, and another run on a quarter system.  Allow programmatic specialization.  Within the confines of geographic reality, let each develop its own niche.  See what works.

Given local politics, I’m skeptical of any great savings to be had from consolidations.  But budgets balance on two sides; if you can fix the revenue side, the cost side isn’t quite so scary.  In ordinary times, the internal politics on each campus might have resisted that sort of centralized direction, but this could be a chance to use a crisis as an opportunity.  It wouldn’t be painless, but it could lead to a much stronger, and more sustainable, system.  They aren’t going to cut their way to greatness.


And then there’s Illinois.  Ouch.  

At least Pennsylvania seems to be trying.  Illinois seems to have adopted nihilism as state higher education policy.

As I understand it, what started as a political standoff between a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature has become a Kafkaesque nightmare.  New Jersey also has a Republican governor and a Democratic legislature, and while nobody has accused it of being the land of milk and honey, it hasn’t come close to doing what Illinois has done.  Political standoffs don’t have to be like that.  

This Sun-Times story quotes a Republican state senator, Tom Rooney, worrying -- correctly -- that higher education is a reputational business.  Reputations are lagging indicators.  That may hide damage on the way down, but it’s dead weight when you’re trying to build back up. As universities cut programs and students can’t get classes, it’ll get harder to bring in talented young people from out of state.  Over time, that doesn’t bode well for Illinois’ economy.

New Jersey has its quirks, but at least it hasn’t held higher education hostage in a political standoff.  That sort of thing doesn’t end well.


Like everyone else with internet access, I loved the BBC Dad video.  As a working parent who writes at home, when I saw each kid come bounding in, all I could do was smile and shrug.  

Been there, just not on camera.  Kudos to both parents for being good sports.