Thursday, February 21, 2019

Friday Fragments

This piece is written about research universities, but it mostly applies to community colleges as well. 

Good Trustees matter.  In their way, bad Trustees do, too.

Trustees select, direct, evaluate, and sometimes fire presidents.  They also serve as ambassadors of the college to influential circles of the community.  

Good ones understand the boundaries of the role.  But that can’t always be assumed.

Trustee dysfunction can take different forms.  The article focuses, for obvious reasons, on Trustees who are asleep at the switch and who let presidents run hog-wild.  That can lead to all sorts of abuses. That’s a real danger, but there’s a real danger in the other direction, too, in which Boards attempt to substitute their own judgment for that of presidents in day-to-day operational matters.  Given that most college Trustees don’t come from within higher education, that can amount to flying blind. And of course, they can fail as ambassadors by saying stupid or offensive things in public, poisoning the atmosphere both on campus and off campus.  

Ideally, Trustees protect the long-term interest of the institution and serve its mission.  But in many cases, their introduction to Board service is a matter of learning once they get there.  Given how serious their role is, that’s a major flaw. The article’s proposal for state certification of Board members, with some sort of substantive training, makes a world of sense.  

It won’t solve every problem, of course.  Some people use these roles to grandstand, to pursue political agendas, or to position themselves for higher office; no certification test will catch that.  But at least we’d have a chance to ensure that folks have a bare minimum of knowledge at the start, and the process of developing something like that could force clarification of just what everyone expects of Trustees.  I really don’t see a downside to trying.


Did you know that over 12 percent of associate degree grads already had other degrees?  

We usually talk about “two-year” and “four-year” schools as if the progression of students runs only in one direction.  But it doesn’t. And that doesn’t even count the ones who started at four-year schools and then switched, which is a larger share than we generally discuss.   They often come back for family or financial reasons, but having started elsewhere, they vanish from the “first-time, full-time” numbers here.

My guess is that when the next recession kicks into gear, the percentage of previous-degree holders here will increase.  They’re often career-changers, and recessions tend to force the issue. The long economic expansion has depleted their ranks, but as the saying goes, economic expansions don’t die of old age.

As an instructor, I always enjoyed having adult students.  They had an “I’m on a mission” quality to them, and they had no patience for other students’ static.  I’m not rooting for a recession, by any means, but a return of large numbers of adult students would certainly be welcome.


One of the joys of being a parent of teenagers is getting random glimpses into current slang.  According to The Girl, for example, a catchy song is a “bop,” and a long-running dispute between two people is a “tea.”  (As in, spilling tea.) She offered me this memorable bit of word salad: “Ariana Grande’s new song is a bop, but it made her tea with Victoria Justice even worse.”  So, yeah.

I like both words.  “Bop” connotes both bebop and hip-hop, so that’s easy.  And “tea” offers the prospect of, say, a ring announcer at an extreme fighting match declaring “IT”S TEA TIME!” before the fight.  It fits the Boston Tea Party just fine.

The Girl demurred.  But if a fifty-year-old Dad can’t mortify his teenage daughter by mutilating teenage slang, well, who can?   At least I don’t offer renditions of her favorite bops.