Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Give Faculty a Break on Technology

UT Systems bought land on Second Life for all the UT colleges. SL is the largest of the virtual worlds. We have been getting ready to have faculty use it for teaching however we are having challenges. (We don't say problems in PC educational writing. We are challenged; not defeated.)

"what are the challenges?" You ask. There are plenty. However some of us veteran folks could easily just rerun the conversations of the mid 1990's about the Internet.

1. The pornographers are on with a vengeance.
2. Computers are too slow.
3. The learning curve is high but zooms down.
4. Students don't have the right computers.
5. People over 30 won't get on.

Sound familiar? I remember interviewing a librarian in 2000 who said most of her time was spent making sure students were not accessing porno sights. She was exhausted running around in a computer room of 50 computers.

But you know, we figured it all out.

But lets look at what we learned from the introduction of the Internet that will help us as new technologies come in.

1. The pornographers need to be put in their own section. Check.
2. Some computers are too slow, but in a year or so they will begin to match each other...better software and computers better designed for virtual worlds.
3. Develop patience and organize the early adopters to become mentors to the next group.
4. Make sure open labs have some computers students can use that have the software. And, no matter what, the industry will be like hot dog buns and hot dogs; made so you always have to buy more to try and even things out.
5. That is a laugh.

At UTB/TSC we are building a support system for new adopters in technology and those that want to experiment (do research) with new methodologies and tools for learning. SL is just one product that shows promise for learning.

I also remember the bets that were if Amazon could make it. "Who would buy a book on line over going to the neighborhood book store?" And E-bay. "Who would buy something on line when they could go to their local store and see it before they purchased it?" Soothsayers obviously never tried to get a copy of SL Scripts or Cincinnati Chili at their neighborhood shops.

Now for those that say Second Life will never catch on should remember what was said about talkies. "Who would ever want to watch a movie and hear the talk at the same time?

Meanwhile here is an interesting article. Let Faculty Off the Hook

Monday, March 8, 2010

Lower salaries for faculty

According to an article in Higher Education today, nationwide we are experiencing a decline in faculty salaries.

This is not good.

We struggle with 'market value' of hiring new faculty. Universities would like to keep faculty salaries in line across the board because getting a Ph.D. in any field is a challenge. Lots of hard work, long hours, and competition, but that is a Pollyanna point of view.

For example, the market value of English professors, a discipline that has an overwhelming number of talented folks with Ph.D.'s, continues to produce many more graduate than can possibly be hired in academics. Hence, over the last ten years, salaries have dropped.

Market value can cause salaries to drastically raise and fall within a short period of time. At the start of the Human Genome Project, salaries were high for graduate students, post-docs, and faculty. At that time, the millions of experiments that had to be done were all done manually. Labs were huge, often with 20 or more grad students. As a result of the successful project, experiments were automated and didn't require an army of students and faculty to run them. Lots of graduates hit the job market to discover there were no jobs. Thus the starting salaries dramatically shrank.

Market value allows salaries of faculty who are in engineering, pre-med, physics, computer science, and economics very high. However market value keeps salaries of faculty with masters degrees and those with Ph.D.'s in humanities low. This article shows around a minimum of $25,000 difference in starting salaries.

Because of the poor economy, colleges are growing. Austin Community College showed a 26% increase in students Fall semester. Does this keep salaries high with more demand?


College administrators are very cautious about this increase. Bean counters know, that the minute the economy begins to recover and extra money for college stops, most of those students-in-waiting will take off, probably degree-less, and return to work; maybe even their old job.

Therefore, the new faculty positions opening up right now, are for adjuncts; not full time faculty. Colleges will not invest in full time faculty until they are positive that they can sustain them by consistent and sustainable enrollment.

This is a time faculty need to focus on keeping salaries high. Otherwise we will come out of this recession, salary wise, deep in the red.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Rethinking Tenure

The President of The Ohio State University is opening conversations about the qualifications for tenure. His point questions if the most qualified are the biggest researchers? Should a research profile be the benchmark?

For those of you who have not attended The Ohio State, this statement there will probably be considered by most, blasphemy or at least crazy thinking. Is this going to get attention with lots of backlash? For sure. However the source is Gorden Gee. In higher education nationally everyone loves him; administrators, deans, chairs, faculty, students, dogs, cats, and probably a space alien or two. I bet Limbaugh would fear to criticize him.

What is he respected for? Candid opinions and well though out discussion topics. For years there has been talk about what constitutes a valuable faculty member to colleges. The benchmark is how close a faculty member is to being a researcher that brings in lots of grant money for big, big research.

The closer someone is to this profile, the better are his or her chances for tenure.

This emphasis on research sharpened and escalated after WWII when we were very aware of the importance of our being scientific ready. Not a bad move. But other factors are here to play now.

In 1949, only 25% of people in high school made it to graduation.(This figure did not include minorities and lower socioeconomic students when they dropped out or were unable to attend high school) Over 75% (educated guess estimate)of students graduate, there are many more students now, and 60% of them continue on to college.

What we are experiencing now is more people than ever are in college; more students than ever under-prepared and under-mature. We have all experienced the wide eyed student in our classes staring as us incoherently and a bit frightened, not quite understanding where they are.

College has changed from underneath us. The challenge is that college is the most economical and easiest way to do original research, something that is needed to keep commercial and government influences out. so we have to keep that intact. The next statistic is very important for how we have to change our thinking. That is only 50% of students nationally graduate. Not all are lost because they are not capable of graduating and we don't know how they will contribute.

What is needed? A core of people that want to teach and mentor students. This is not a new idea at all. Higher education faculty have been talking about this for years. The part that is interesting is now that Gordon Gee, the most popular person on earth, is publicly agreeing with this, will things change? This change will be not to eliminate researchers (no matter how annoying they may be), but to look at a broader rubric for assessing faculty for tenure.

And, will this bring back more tenure professors? With such a narrow benchmark, tenure had to shrink. Broadening the qualifications may allow more tenured faculty because they are not going to eliminate researchers.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tuition Raise Again

This week the University of Texas system Coordinating Board has agreed to raise tuition for most of its colleges according to the Brownsville Herald. For our students here at UTB/TSC, the raise will mean an additional $164 per semester hour beginning in Fall of 2011. (This doesn't sound bad until you calculate for a full time student that is $1,680.00 additional each semester.)

What do we do about this? Encourage students to NOT take out loans! Sorry you were probably thinking I was going to give old 60's advice to take over the ivory tower.

Students that take out excessive loans in anticipation of a great paying job, don't always realize what that "great paying" job really may pay. To a student surviving on $10,000 a year, $35,000 starting pay sounds like a lot. We, of course, chuckle at this. The next mistake is thinking that the interest is "really low" on a college loan so it is ok to borrow a lot. They say this until they have to start making payments and not see the principal go down.

Their college payoff is often shockingly close to the amount of money they would pay for their first house. Add a new car to get to the job, a couple business suits, and they are over their head at the starting gate of a new career.

So, encourage the students to consider these things:

  • Economize now to make the college financial investment work.

  • Visit the career center to calculate what jobs in their field really pay. Are they in the right major?

  • Fine tune their bilingual skills and head north after graduation.

  • Remind them that most job applications require a college transcript. Grades are one of the factors employers use to pick the top candidate.

I look at the tuition now and wonder how I would have made it today!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Texas Can Take You Higher!

A report in the San Antonio Express News relays that Texas is actively recruiting faculty from the battled California colleges.

Texas colleges are predicting that the uncertain state of financial affairs in California has top researchers nervous about their future in California. A HUGE ad has been placed in the the Chrony stating the good health of Texas schools and economy.

So, here at UTB/TSC we are facing a 4 million dollar shortfall and a hiring slow down as we look at our financial outlook for next year.

The article states where Texas has channeled additional funding to higher education. Most of it has gone to create more Tier 1 colleges in their efforts to boost research. This is what is we call "revenue generating faculty".

But there is also another type of "revenue generating faculty" those are teaching faculty that nurture students to graduation through excellent teaching by connecting with students with through clubs, undergraduate research, seminars, publishing, service learning, research fairs, and other activities that get students involved beyond the textbook.

When I was at Westminster College, they called themselves a teaching college, but that didn't mean there was no research; there was tons. Because of the research they did in Biology, 5 out of 5 students that applied for medical school got in. Because of the connections with faculty outside of the classroom 96% of the freshman made it to graduation. (Top rated on exit surveys)

The top Texas college administrators said that this is the economic time for states to invest in higher education. To be a teaching college, we also need labs, student gathering places, clubs, and other activities. These cost money. UTB/TSC is also a great investment.