I spent Wednesday and Thursday of this week at the Middle States conference in DC. In the course of two days, I had several “you are THIS old” moments.
- Needing to use the flashlight on my phone to read a menu
- Being greeted by the daughter of someone I used to work with
- Sharing memories of Gary Hart’s presidential campaigns
It sneaks up on you.
The conference itself was more useful than I remember previous years’ being. It’s the only major higher ed conference I attend regularly that isn’t devoted specifically to community colleges, so there aren’t as many familiar faces at this one. And some issues sound different across sectors. (“That’s worth spending some endowment money.” “&*(%$&#^”)
Still, as with the dog that didn’t bark, I was struck by some of the things I didn’t hear. For all of the talk of student success, for instance, I didn’t hear a single mention from the stage of achievement gaps. Admittedly, I only attended one panel at a time, but still. There was plenty of talk of graduation rates, but none at all of achievement gaps or student basic needs. That wouldn’t have been true at a gathering of community college folk.
I’m convinced that panels at conferences like these should either include examples of failure, or at the very least, include a designated critic. That’s not nearly as radical as it may sound. At APSA conferences, for instance, it was common practice to include a “discussant” on each panel. That person’s job was to get the discussion going, often by bringing up a polite but relevant challenge. Practitioner conferences generally don’t do that, but they should; the discussions could become both more nuanced and more useful. There’s an art to doing the discussant role well, but it can add needed context to the discussion. Without one, you’re just left to hope that people in the audience will ask the right questions. Someone whose job it is to enable a deeper dive could add real value.
No matter how much pressure is applied, I will not admit how much time it took me to master the MetroCard machine at Union Station. I’ll just say that it was enough that I don’t want to admit it, and that I owe some flustered commuters behind me an apology. In my defense, you’d think “buy new card” would be an option. I’m just sayin’.
Friday will be the celebration of life for Rich Sorrell. It’s one of the best reasons I’ve ever seen to cut a conference short...