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Links 1 through 10 of 87 by Chad Orzel tagged dean-dad

As a kid, I remember watching Star Trek at 7:00 on Saturday nights with my Mom. At the time, it struck me as the most amazing show ever made, even though I frequently only half-understood what was going on.

Through the miracle of streaming video, I’ve recently introduced my kids to Kirk and Spock. And I’ve been reintroduced with adult eyes.

Seeing again as an adult a show you loved as a kid is a little uncanny. It’s recognizable, of course, but everyone seems so much younger. Now the subtexts aren’t nearly as subtle, and it seems more 60’s than futuristic. But the cheesiness of some of the effects has a charm of its own.

The Wife is duly mortified, of course; to her, Star Trek is of a piece with Renaissance Faires and Hobbitry. Affection for Star Trek, in her mind, is a sort of voluntary cultural exile. I think she’s half expecting that the kids and I will start wearing Vulcan ears around the house and speaking Klingon at the table.

But the kids don’t carry that baggage.

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How Kermit the Frog is the perfect model for an academic administrator.

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In traditional higher ed, there is neither a meaningful bottom line for most individuals, nor a credible threat of exit.  There’s an institutional bottom line, in the sense of a budget that has to be met, but the consequences for, say, an individual professor if the college fails to meet that line are usually independent of that professor’s performance.  A pay freeze hits the productive and the unproductive alike.  If Sanders and Patterson can’t stand the sight of each other, but they both have tenure at the same place, there’s usually neither a bottom line to settle the question nor a credible threat of exit for either.
Life tenure just makes matters that much worse. Neither can deal the other a real death blow, and they both know it. So instead of settling the question, they just get crabbier and crabbier, poisoning the working environment for their colleagues and the learning environment for their students.

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Over the past decade or so, though, Republicans -- as opposed to conservatives, which they are not any more in any meaningful sense -- have shifted their position.  Now they’re openly hostile to higher education, except in for-profit form.  Rick Santorum’s “what a snob!” comment, for all of its artlessness, pretty much encapsulated the id of the party in its current form.  (The same could be said of Santorum generally.)  Some of that is the lingering residue of hippie-bashing, but the recent surge in stridency can’t be explained that way.  (I don’t recall a hippie resurgence in 2010.)  I think it goes a little deeper than that.

The higher education landscape in its current form represents a direct disproof of the core of Republican ideology.  That’s why they hate it so much.  It reminds them of the conservatism they left behind.

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How is it that a multimillion dollar grant offered to an underfunded community college system can make a minimal difference on the ground?  The answer is in the math.

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The paradox of conflict aversion is that it doesn’t actually avoid conflict.  It hides it, distorts it, and allows it to fester.  If the squeaky wheel always gets the grease, over time, you should expect a hell of a lot of squeaking.  And when Prof. Jones finds out that Prof. Smith got a better deal than he did, as a result of one backdoor deal or another, you can expect that Prof. Jones will be righteously pissed.  Pissed-off people talk to each other, sometimes embellishing as they go.  Others listen and fill in the gaps with whatever resentments they already had.  Before long, you have another, much bigger, problem.

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The general idea isn’t new, of course, but the numbers are.  The story notes a threefold increase just from 2007 to 2010 in the number of people affected.

I have to admit that my first response was “there but for the grace of God.”  Anyone who clings to the myth of the academic meritocracy is invited to explain the speed of the increase in people in this position.  Yes, I work hard at my job, but so do plenty of other people; denying the role of luck is just ungracious.

That said, though, I wonder if this article – and others like it – will reach the audience it should reach.  The target audience should be talented and ambitious undergraduates.

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But when the colleges are running on empty at the outset, the prospect of any meaningful loss is simply intolerable.  Instead of spurring innovation, this will heighten the already-strong culture of loss aversion.  Taking a flyer on a strategy that would take years to pay off isn’t an option when the years in between could require layoffs.

Worse, any kind of statewide collaboration -- exactly the sort of thing that would “move the needle” on educational attainment, workforce development, or any social good you care to name -- would be entirely out of the question.  Why would I share my breakthrough innovation with Nearby State, when it would erode my competitive advantage?  

And just how long, exactly, do you think it would take before the quick fix of grade inflation starts to look attractive?

This is nuts.  It’s self-defeating, internally contradictory, and doomed to fail.  And it has political momentum.

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In my darker moments, I sometimes wonder if the root of the problem with public higher education in America is that it was designed to create and support a massive middle class.  And we’ve tacitly decided as a society that a massive middle class is not a priority.  We’re trying to fulfill a mission that the country has largely abandoned.  When the goal of a prosperous middle class was tacitly dismissed, dominos started to fall.  

The meme making the rounds last week was the announcement that outstanding student loan debt in America reached a trillion dollars.  That’s not a function of community college tuition, obviously, but it indicates that what we’re preparing students for, and what the economy wants them for, don’t align.

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So the interwebs were abuzz this weekend with discussions of an editorial in the Washington Post arguing that professors are vastly overpaid relative to their work, and that their relative laziness is a primary driver of the higher ed cost spiral.

The usual suspects responded with the usual flurry of attacks.  Several pointed out that the Post is owned by the Kaplan company, which also owns a host of for-profit colleges.  Predictably, there were plenty of “not me!” statements, assertions of superhuman workweeks, and ritualistic denunciations of “administrative” costs.  

As is usually the case in straw man conflicts, neither side really got to the heart of the matter.  The op-ed completely whiffed on causality, and the major objections whiffed on relevance.

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