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"Pull My Strings And . . ."

Thursday, July 16, 2009
In one of the more thought-provoking articles I've come across lately, Time Magazine's Steven Gray discusses a nascent trend in academic circles: the selling of sponsorships to support classes for which sufficient funding does not exist. As an academic myself, I have seen first-hand the ways in which dwindling enrollment and budget restrictions can adversely affect both students and instructors, so I was not quite as appalled by the prospect of "TD Waterhouse Marketing 101" as I feel I should have been when I first heard the suggestion. I mean, libraries are often named after donors and sports stadiums frequently bear the names of various corporate sponsors, right?

Then again . . .

Any such move brings with it the threat of sponsors affecting the content of the courses on which their names appear. After all, if Daddy Warbucks knows his coffers keep a particular course breathing, he has a certain degree of power over what is covered (or covered up) in that class. Likewise, instructors may feel pressure not to rock the boat or otherwise upset a sponsor for fear of losing a coveted sponsorship for his or her department, which could result in detrimental self-censorship and other equally negative behaviors.

This is not to say that instructors are not already aware of how their conduct in a classroom may affect their job security or their standing within their respective departments, but it does add another, potentially sinister layer of possibilities. One need look no further than our elected officials whose campaigns were financed by special interests to see the reality of the threat. Few gifts are truly free and money almost always comes with strings attached. . .

In the most ideal scenario, naming rights could be a boon to schools, enabling them to keep intellectually valuable courses in their catalogues without much compromise. I mean, ironists could potentially have a field day with naming rights, too: having Frito-Lay sponsor a nutrition class or Halliburton sponsor a course in Middle Eastern studies, for instance. In most other scenarios, however, a sense of humor will not be enough to undo the potential threat to academic integrity.

So, here's a suggestion: sentence corporate criminals to pay for classes as part of their punishments. Drop the whole sponsorship thing and earmark fines for education. That could help a bit, no?

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McPhD?

Thursday, May 14, 2009
From News.com.au:
FAST food giant McDonald's is hoping to offer PhDs, after receiving approval to award its own nationally recognised qualifications in Britain, the company's "chief people officer" said...He cautioned, however, that the company wanted to perfect its current training regimen, which includes courses in shift management that are equivalent in level to high school courses, before putting together a post-graduate qualification...The company has long sought to challenge the perception that it only creates low-level, poorly-paid "McJobs".

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Good Cop/Bad Cop - Good Cop = Dexter Yarbrough

Thursday, January 22, 2009
According to the Rocky Mountain Collegian, after having been accused of "improprieties ranging from falsifying police documents, to mandating the special treatment of student athletes, to teaching students illegal police tactics," Colorado State University Police Chief Dexter Yarbrough has finally been suspended. Despite claims by several of Yarbrough's fellow officers that "the President's Office had plenty of alarming evidence to take action long ago," the school administration "turned a blind eye" to the man's gross abuses of power and, "[d]espite a consistent flow of complaints of harassment, fraud and threatening behavior to the school's Office of Equal Opportunity and Diversity (OEOD) and to former CSU President Larry Penley, Yarbrough was promoted last year to vice president of public safety in addition to being chief of police," a position "with a $156,000-a-year salary, easily making him the highest paid law enforcement officer in the state" of Colorado.

Bolstered by damning audio recordings of Yarbrough's lectures to aspiring law enforcement officers, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation alleges that the Chief supports such questionable tactics as paying police informants for their help with rocks of crack cocaine, lying, and "bending" the law to accommodate excessive force. After Yarbrough allegedly "condoned rape," a disgusted graduate student began recording lectures for a complaint he intended to lodge against an officer whose colleagues had long claimed "established a culture of oppression, fear and intimidation within his ranks."

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Ratemyprofessors.com Rates Your University

Saturday, November 8, 2008
Ratemyprofessors.com, a website on which students may anonymously leave comments on a given professor's relative strengths and weaknesses, has recently released a list of the fifty highest ranked colleges based on student assessments of each institution's respective faculty. "Selecting only schools with a minimum of at least 30 rated professors," the website informs us, they "computed the average professor rating for each school (only professors with 30 ratings or higher)" before they were "ranked from high to low according to their average rating."

Although the authority of the list is no doubt limited by its having been based upon the voluntarily offered rankings of individual instructors by students who have sought out the website (clearly, a student could submit multiple ratings for the same instructor and those that visit the website are not necessarily representative of a school's entire student body), it does provide us with some food for thought. For instance, schools most often ranked highest by US News & World Report, say, or the Princeton Review, are conspicuously absent from the Ratemyprofessors list (a single Ivy League institution -- Cornell University -- clings on to the last spot, for instance). One possible interpretation of this fact is that research-oriented universities tend to hire faculty less for their ability to teach then for their ability to produce journal articles or conduct research. The problem with such a scenario, of course, is that while students are drawn to certain institutions for the quality of education its reputation seems to promise, they are often met with indifferent or ineffectual scholars wholly uninterested in teaching. Naturally, this is but one possible way of interpreting a thoroughly unscientific body of data. . .

The rankings, as determined by the website's users (italics denote schools likely to appear very high in other rankings):

1. Brigham Young University
2. Southeastern Louisiana University
3. Christopher Newport University
4. Stephen F. Austin State University
5. University of Houston
6. Texas Christian University
7. Augusta State University
8. University of Central Oklahoma
9. College of William and Mary
10. Grove City College
11. James Madison University
12. Grand Valley State University
13. Florida International University
14. University of Texas at San Antonio
15. University of Virginia
16. Florida State University
17. Louisiana Tech University
18. Liberty University
19. University of North Florida
20. George Mason University
21. West Virginia University
22. University of Delaware
23. University of Central Florida
24. Utah Valley State College
25. University of Northern Iowa
26. York College of Pennsylvania
27. Marist College
28. College of Charleston
29. University of South Florida
30. Jacksonville State University
31. Oakland University
32. American University
33. San Francisco State University
34. Appalachian State University
35. Indiana University of Pennsylvania
36. Northeastern University
37. Radford University
38. Towson University
39. Bradley University
40. University of Tennessee at Martin
41. Virginia Commonwealth University
42. Old Dominion University
43. Nicholls State University
44. Oregon State University
45. Boston University
46. Northwest Missouri State University
47. University of Florida
48. Edinboro University of Pennsylvania
49. Kutztown University of Pennsylvania
50. Cornell University

Among the "elite" schools missing from the list are Duke, Harvard, Brown, Penn, Dartmouth, Columbia, Princeton, Johns Hopkins, Emory, University of California-Berkeley, University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Chicago, Stanford, UNC-Chapel Hill, and the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.

Interesting.

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Student Loans No Longer For Everyone

Sunday, June 8, 2008
From the New York Times:

"Some of the nation's biggest banks have closed their doors to students at community colleges, for-profit universities and other less competitive institutions, even as they continue to extend federally backed loans to students at the nation's top universities."

"The practice suggests that if the credit crisis and the ensuing turmoil in the student loan business persist, some of the nation's neediest students will be hurt the most. The difficulty borrowing may deter them from attending school or prompt them to take a semester off. When they get student loans, they will wind up with less attractive terms and may run a greater risk of default if they have to switch lenders in the middle of their college years."

"Some loan companies have exited the student loan business entirely, viewing it as unprofitable in the current environment. By splitting out community colleges and less-selective four-year institutions, some remaining lenders seem to be breaking the marketplace into tiers. Students attending elite, expensive, public and private four-year universities can expect loans to remain plentiful. The banks generally say these loans are bigger, more profitable and less risky, in part perhaps because the banks expect the universities' graduates to earn more."

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SDSU Appears to Be a Normal School, Sadly

Tuesday, May 6, 2008
From CNN.com:

"Among those arrested were 75 students, some of them working toward criminal justice or homeland security degrees. One criminal justice major was charged with possession of guns and cocaine, authorities said."

"Authorities say they infiltrated seven campus fraternities and found that in some, most of the students were aware of drug dealing by fraternity brothers."

"One student allegedly dealing cocaine was a month short of obtaining a master's degree in Homeland Security and worked with campus police as a student community service officer."
[Full story]

Is it bad that I am wholly unsurprised by the idea of cops-to-be breaking laws and frat brothers selling drugs?

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Stupid Teacher and a Stupid Tattoo

Tuesday, April 22, 2008
Unfortunately, this looks all-too-familiar:

Fortunately, this doesn't look all that familiar:

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For All The English Majors Out There...

Friday, April 18, 2008
From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

"In literary studies, M.H. Abrams is an iconic name. It appeared as 'general editor' for 40 years on nearly nine million copies of The Norton Anthology of English Literature, and has also, in a detail that only scholars would know, led the indexes of many a critical book for a half-century. (In fact, one scholar I know cited 'Aarlef' just to avoid that custom.) In addition, Abrams, now 95, stamped the study of Romantic literature: His book The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition (Oxford University Press, 1953) was ranked 25th in the Modern Library's list of the 100 most important nonfiction books of the 20th century, and he was a prime participant in debates over literary theory, especially deconstruction, during the 1970s and 80s."

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A Breath of Fresh Air. Seriously.

Sunday, April 6, 2008
From the New York Times:

"Once scoffed at as a luxury major, philosophy is being embraced at Rutgers and other universities by a new generation of college students who are drawing modern-day lessons from the age-old discipline as they try to make sense of their world, from the morality of the war in Iraq to the latest political scandal. The economic downturn has done little, if anything, to dampen this enthusiasm among students, who say that what they learn in class can translate into practical skills and careers. On many campuses, debate over modern issues like war and technology is emphasized over the study of classic ancient texts."

It's nice to read this. Really, really nice.

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Scheisse

From Reuters:

"A court in Germany sentenced a law professor to three years in prison for giving students better marks in exchange for sex and money.

The 53-year-old from the central city of Hanover admitted accepting 156,000 euros ($244,000) in total for awarding doctorates to students who failed to make the grade."

And here I am working for my degree...sheesh.

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University Courts Promising Recruits With Insane Ad Campaign

From the Philadelphia Inquirer:

"Justin Chung knew Wilkes University wanted him when he got one of its first acceptance letters in February. But he didn't know how badly until he saw the mall kiosk with his name on it.
And the pizza boxes.

And the commercial on MTV and VH1."

Ah, but it's not as creepy as it seems...Wilkes University asked if it could use students in their ads.

Still...what a sad reminder of what higher education has become...

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Fewer Kids Admitted to Big-Name Universities

Wednesday, April 2, 2008
From the New York Times:

On gaining admission to elite colleges: "'I know why it matters so much, and I also don't understand why it matters so much,' said William M. Shain, dean of admissions and financial aid at Bowdoin. 'Where we went to college does not set us up for success or keep us away from it.''
[Full Story]

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One Reason to Root for Western Kentucky

Monday, March 17, 2008
From the Associated Press via ESPN.com:
"North Carolina was the only school among the four No. 1 seeds in the NCAA men's tournament to graduate at least 50 percent of its players."

"Two of the No. 2 seeds, Tennessee and Texas, graduated only 33 percent of their players for the period studied. The other second seeds, Georgetown and Duke, had success rates of 82 percent and 67 percent, respectively."

"If the Final Four were determined academically, it would be Western Kentucky (100 percent graduation success), Butler (92 percent), Notre Dame (91 percent) and Purdue (91 percent). Xavier, a No. 3 seed, was close behind with a 90 percent success rate."
[Full story]

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Well Said, Ms. Costello, Well Said

Saturday, October 6, 2007
An exchange from J.M. Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello in which a professor censures Costello's sister for criticizing contemporary studies in the humanities:

"'This is a secular age,'" replies Godwin. 'You cannot turn back the clock. You cannot condemn an institution for moving with the times.'

'By an institution you mean the university?'

'Yes, universities, but specifically faculties of the humanities, which remain the core of any university.'

The humanities the core of the university. She may be an outsider, but if she were asked to name the core of the university today, its core discipline, she would say it was moneymaking. That is how it looks from Melbourne, Victoria; and she would not be surprised if the same were the case in Johannesburg, South Africa."

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