Thursday, April 26, 2012

Dialoguing CUNY Pathways... Or, at Least, Trying

This came to my email inbox yesterday (my responses are in italics and in green, in case anyone in the CUNY administration is listening). I wish that the CUNY administration really would open itself up to dialogue instead of providing questions of its own devising and providing answers crafted to its own questions. I would love for the administration to really listen to the concerns of an uncomfortable CUNY faculty and respond carefully to those concerns. Right now, many of us on the faculty are feeling a little like the mouse in Lewis Carroll's "The Mouse's Tale," listening to the cat say "I'll be judge, I'll be jury." We'd love it if this could turn into a more open and more participatory process.

From the beginning, we in the CUNY community have been told, basically, that the verdict is in, that Pathways is a done deal. But, in education, nothing need remain in stone; all can change. The faculty is open to being convinced about Pathways (at least, I am--and many others I know are, as well). We only wish that the administration would be open to considering our objections rather than simply barreling ahead. That, after all, is what the century-long tradition of faculty governance requires.

My questions are real, and some of them certainly come from ignorance about a process I was not involved in until quite recently... but they still deserve, I believe, consideration:

CUNY Newswire - April 25, 2012                                            

Six Questions and Answers Regarding Pathways

Dear Colleagues,
Attached is a document with information about the Pathways project, "Six Questions and Answers Regarding Pathways." I hope that this information is useful to you.
Alexandra W. Logue
Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost
The City University of New York

1. What prompted the Pathways initiative?

Pathways was initiated solely to help students. Many students at CUNY start in associate degree programs. Those who want baccalaureate degrees generally transfer to senior colleges. What's more, students transfer in all directions within CUNY (e.g., senior college to community college; senior college to senior college) for a variety of academic and personal reasons. We owe it to students not to put obstacles in the way of their academic progress.
I agree with this goal completely, though I am not sure a major restructuring of the core is the best way to go about reaching it. It seems a bit like trying to kill an ant with a sledgehammer, forgetting what the impact might be on the cement the ant is crossing. If this were the only goal, I think a much more elegant solution could be formulated. Perhaps finding a way to equalize existing courses in terms of requirements, outcomes, and even numbering would do the job more efficiently. Were other options considered by CUNY? If so, why were they rejected?
In the past, CUNY's colleges each developed their own variants of general education, which differed significantly in their course requirements and in their number of credits. This made it difficult for students to transfer within the CUNY system without facing new requirements, delays, and uncertainties as a result of credit evaluation. Too often, credits that met general education or major requirements at the home college were transformed into elective credit at the receiving college. This does students a disservice. Over time, general education requirements have grown and have become more complex, to the point where they have become a major stumbling block for students trying to complete their degrees. In many cases, CUNY colleges' requirements are far more numerous than those at other public university systems.
Yes, and as we both say, this need does need to be addressed... but is it really a "major stumbling block" for a significant number of students? For how many does it become a problem (out of the total student population)? Even if it affects a large number of students, is the problem significant enough to warrant such a major restructuring? Why? And why, then, was it not addressed in the past? Is the problem worse now than in the past? Why the rush to do this so quickly now?

2. What effect will Pathways have on CUNY's standards?

Standards will be strengthened. The new general education requirements will bring CUNY in line with other leading universities. In addition to general education requirements, students will continue to fulfill all major, liberal arts, residency, and GPA requirements to earn their CUNY degrees. Under Pathways, more students will have enhanced opportunities to engage in intellectual exploration, to pursue double majors or minors, and to take additional upper-level courses.
Please explain how the Core areas are "in line with other universities." By defining six new areas for distribution requirements without re-defining the academic disciplines, what Pathways does is increase the complication of requirements--even as you, yourself, say. Yes, students, in some cases, will have fewer hours of common core courses to take, but I am not sure that will provide "enhanced opportunities to engage in intellectual exploration." After all, the number of hours for degrees remain the same. Can you explain exactly how Pathways will enhance opportunities through examples contrasting Pathways with the old system?
In the past, senior colleges have had little influence on the general education courses taken by community college students, many of whom transfer to senior colleges. A 1999 Board of Trustees policy mandates that students who transfer with AA or AS degrees can be required to take only one additional general education course. Under Pathways, all students transferring from a community college to a senior college will be required to take at least six credits of general education as determined by the receiving senior college. And all community-college students-as well as senior-college students-will take general education courses that have been approved by a university-wide committee consisting of senior members of the faculty. 
The requirement of six credits determined by the particular senior college isn't much of an increase. Furthermore, the approval system only allows this "university-wide committee" to see descriptions of the courses tailored to specific learning outcomes. The members of the committee get to see, really, very little of any one course, and only those courses submitted to the area of their particular subcommittees. No one on the committee, and certainly not the whole, will be able to see the breadth or connectivity of the program possibilities. Is anyone going to look over the whole and judge its efficacy? If so, who would that be? Who is going to judge the success or failure of this program? 

3. How will Pathways affect what courses colleges can offer?

The Common Core is very flexible. Colleges have already shown that they can create their own distinctive approaches to the core. For instance, those that want to require four semesters of foreign language for most of their students can do so-as Hunter College plans to do. Those that want to offer-or require-science labs can do so. Those that want to require American history can make this choice, as can those that want to require psychology or any other liberal arts or interdisciplinary field. It is the colleges that decide which courses to submit for each area of the Common Core. Senior colleges also exclusively decide on the content of their 12 College Option credits.
If there is flexibility, it is in the four-year, not the two-year programs. Pathways may well crowd out other requirements for Associate degrees. This is an area outside of my own knowledge, for the most part, so I would like to see examples of how programs could be built around Pathways with the sorts of possibilities you put forward here. Could you provide those?

4. How have faculty been involved in the Pathways initiative?

Hundreds of faculty members have participated, and continue to participate, in shaping Pathways. The Board of Trustees has the sole authority under New York State Education Law and its Bylaws to make educational policy at CUNY. In the case of Pathways, the Board of Trustees adopted a resolution that created a basic framework consisting of a Common Core of 30 credits and an additional six to 12 College Option credits for senior colleges. The resolution did not include any provision about the curricular areas within the Common Core; it delegated the power to make recommendations to a committee overwhelmingly made up of faculty. The committee's recommendations were accepted by the chancellor.
The Board of Trustees may have the power, but power wielded without consultation is often power poorly exercised. Rather than starting from the top with a resolution and then delegating power, it would have made more sense to bring the faculty into the first discussions, eventually presenting a resolution that had faculty backing rather than delegating a narrow set of responsibilities to committees the make-up of which you, and not the faculty, control. Is there any willingness on the part of the administration to delay Pathways so that a new look can be taken?
Under Pathways, faculty members at colleges maintain their full authority over the development of courses and will decide which curricular areas to emphasize in the Common Core.
I don't mean to be catty, but this sounds rather paternalistic to me... like asking a child if she wants to see The Lion King or Aladdin without ever considering that she might have something else in mind. Are you willing to bring us into the totality of the conversation and decision-making rather than just offering us choices you have already determined?

5. How will Pathways affect foreign language courses?

Under Pathways, all colleges have the option to require foreign language study, as Hunter College is doing. Senior colleges can require students to take at least four semesters of a language other than English, and community colleges can require two semesters of a language other than English. Colleges may also decide to tie course requirements to proficiency levels, requiring a larger or smaller number of language courses depending on a student's existing language proficiency.
Right now, at City Tech, we require three semesters of a language for the Associates degree in Liberal Arts and Arts. Pathways is forcing this degree to change without City Tech participation (there won't be room for a third language course within the 60-hour requirement under the new system). How many other degrees will find themselves in the same situation?

6. How does Pathways address science courses? Will science courses transfer to other universities?

The teaching of science remains a priority at CUNY through the Pathways initiative. The facts are: 1) students must take at least six credits of science in CUNY's new Common Core; 2) colleges can structure these courses as they wish to include lecture, lab, or both; and 3) to satisfy the Common Core, students can take science courses required for science majors, and these courses can consist of as many credits and contact hours as the college chooses.
Here again, "colleges can structure these courses" but only within severe limitations, limitations requiring an entirely new approach to lab sciences, for six hours does not work in existing frameworks of eight-hour sequences. This is really something that should come from the faculty, and not from administration, so that the teachers themselves can determine the best possible sequence for their students and their programs. Imposing a total from outside does not allow this. Would you be willing to work with science faculty to revise this requirement, if science faculty could convince you that a sequence of two 4-credit courses is necessary? This might require changing the entire structure of Pathways. Would you be willing to do so?
There is a good deal of evidence indicating that students will be able to transfer Common Core science courses to other universities. These courses will have been developed and vetted by their colleges. Some CUNY colleges currently require three-credit/three-contact-hour general education science courses for non-science majors, similar to the requirement at most SUNY campuses, the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, Penn State, and many other colleges and universities.
Could you please show us the evidence? You name a few schools, but there are hundreds that our students may transfer to. How many of those will accept three-credit science courses? What percentage of the whole will do so? Is it really worth making this kind of change in our own science requirements? Why? What other options have been considered?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

The More Things Change, The More They Stay the Same?

In today's New York Times, Stanley Fish writes about Andrew Delbanco's new book College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be. As something of both a traditionalist and an innovator, I appreciate what Fish has to say, and will likely be reading Delbanco's book soon.

Fish describes the book as one that:
seeks to persuade not by driving a stake into the opponent’s position or even paying much attention to it, but by offering us examples of the experience it celebrates. Delbanco’s is not an argument for, but a display of, the value of a liberal arts education.
My purpose in the classroom is to engage students, to get them interested in pursuing a line of thought, of reasoning, of experience. I want them to make the arguments, not me. And that, of course, is what college has traditionally tried to get students to do.

Not everyone feels this is best. In a column the other day, also in the Times, David Brooks wrote:
In their book, “We’re Losing Our Minds,” Richard P. Keeling and Richard H. Hersh argue that many colleges and universities see themselves passively as “a kind of bank with intellectual assets that are available to the students.” It is up to students — 19 and 20 year olds — to provide the motivation, to identify which assets are most important and to figure out how to use them.
Brooks, following Keeling and Hersh, is showing something quite valuable in its worst light: The most important thing a student discovers in college is how to think and learn for herself, for himself. We professors are not, however, a passive bank (shades of Paolo Freire--though I suspect Brooks would be horrified to see that he is following in those footsteps) for students to dip into... which is the point Fish is making about both higher education and the Delbanco book. His last paragraph is key, almost as though written as a response to Brooks:
Delbanco writes as he does — by introducing you to the voices of those who embody the values he would preserve — in the hope that his readers will want some of that and may even be moved to do something about it.
Yes. At the same time, though, and like many in higher education (like Fish and, I am sure, Delbanco), I am always trying to find new ways--not simply by talking or writing--to facilitate student learning, to do more than just present and hope. My newest way is an old one, but one that has been ignored for almost half a century, Fred Keller's Personalized System of Instruction. The heart of this system, though indeed different from what has been seen in college classrooms for the last century, is also the student, and desire for the student to take control of his or her own education.

Something, by the way, that standardized and universal assessment (which Brooks argues for) leaves out.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The 'First Sale' Conundrum and Intellectual Property

In its next term, the Supreme Court will take up the case Supap Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons where Kirtsaeng purchased Wiley textbooks at their low price in Thailand, shipped them to the US, and resold them. While I do think that Wiley is overstepping its copyright prerogatives (if they want to stop this sort of thing, they should equalize pricing, not hide behind the skirts of the law), what interests me more about this is the questions it raises about the treatment of so-called "Intellectual Property" as, well, property.

In my chapter on Intellectual Property (IP) in Robert Leston and my Beyond the Blogosphere: Information and Its Children, I write about two instances where the line between physical property and intellectual property is clearly drawn, showing that the two types of property cannot be considered in the same ways. In the first, I quote Sherman Frederick, one of the founders of Righthaven, LLP, a so-called 'copyright troll,' a company dedicated to pursuing online copyright infringement. Frederick tries to argue that copying something without permission is the equivalent of stealing his car:
The Corvette may be his, but you can still take a picture of it and could even, in most cases, replicate it exactly without his having any recourse in law. Furthermore, Frederick didn't design the Corvette in the first place but is displaying the creative work of someone else. Finally, the Corvette would have to be both driven away and still there, if this were a case of copyright theft. (66)
There is a confusion here between what it means to own physical property and intellectual property, a confusion deliberately furthered by Frederick in order to expand the rights over IP that his various companies hold. The car belongs completely to Frederick, just as any book he has bought might. And, in both cases, he has the right to resell the original in any manner or any state he may choose--but the same right does not apply to selling a copy:
The first sale doctrine, codified at 17 U.S.C. § 109, provides that an individual who knowingly purchases a copy of a copyrighted work from the copyright holder receives the right to sell, display or otherwise dispose of that particular copy, notwithstanding the interests of the copyright owner. The right to distribute ends, however, once the owner has sold that particular copy
Just so, someone who buys a Corvette can sell that particular Corvette--and without any consultation with General Motors. But ownership of that particular Corvette "copy" does not include the right to make new Corvettes and offer them for sale, too. Frederick is arguing, in part, that his ownership of the particular Corvette prohibits anyone else from making a new copy of the GM product. It does not, of course, though GM certainly does continue to hold certain IP rights over the design of the car.

Someone can take the particular car, however, and do anything they want with it. If they want to blow it up for a movie, fine. If they want to repaint it, that's OK. They could even chop it down into a drag racer (though I can't imagine why they would do that to a Corvette). The same rights hold for a particular copy of a book: if you want to make origami cranes of the pages, by all means do so. Our rights over the physical property we have bought, be it books or cars, are fairly extensive--but that is something other than IP ownership.

The second example concerns the successful effort by the Directors Guild of America to stop CleanFlicks (and similar companies) from purchasing copies of movies and altering them (removing sex and violence) before renting or reselling them:
The filmmakers, with reason, deplored the alterations of their work, especially as the movies continued to be represented as the movies they had created--which they no longer really were. The filmmakers were further incensed by the attempt to skirt the law by reselling or renting the legally purchased movie coupled with the altered version--as if that made altering the art of someone else legitimate. The film "sanitizers," on the other hand, argued that they paid full price for teach copy before adding the edited version and reselling the two together--therefore never depriving the filmmakers of any profit. (70)
Here, the question gets a little more complex. We are no longer talking about an individual, physical copy, but a range of copies and copying--and ones that claim the status of the original. It is here, of course, that IP rights start to be applicable--rights that have nothing to do with those over the object of 'first sale' rights.

This is the problem with the term "Intellectual Property." It implies rights over physical manifestations of property--or seems to, for the unwary. But it is something else completely. And it leads to problems such as the one Kirtsaeng v. Wiley case.

Kirtsaeng makes no alterations to the books he buys, quite legitimately, in Thailand, so evades the problems of the CleanFlicks case. He also is selling only the 'originals' (that is, copies sold by the copyright owner) and is not making his own copies. If traditional property rights are the only ones involved, he is doing nothing at all wrong--as long as he is conforming to import regulations, etc. 'Buy cheap, sell dear,' after all, is one of the basic tenets of capitalism. So, IP rights must be something else, something distinct from other property rights.

There are implications to this that are, to my mind, both positive and negative. What we have is a distinction between the physical manifestation of a product and its intellectual underpinnings. As 'first sale' rights apply only to the physical product, what are we to do when the sale is of an electronic version? Can there be 'first sale' rights to that? So far, it doesn't seem so... something I am not particularly comfortable with. We are quite limited in what we can do with Kindle versions of books we buy. I'd like to see some of the rights to physical products extended to electronic ones (though I don't believe that will happen anytime soon). On the other hand, this should (though I have no faith in the current Supreme Court) keep Wiley (and Righthaven, and others) from extending IP rights too far into the physical realm. If Wiley doesn't want its books, printed in Thailand, sold at prices undercutting its books printed in the US, it should have only two choices: lower the price asked for its domestic product or produce all of its books in Thailand. Extending IP in the way Wiley seems to want to is, to me, taking things a bit too far.

IP and physical property are not the same thing, and should not be so considered.  Wiley has considerable means of countering Kirtsaeng without resorting to taking IP far beyond where it was ever meant to go. I don't like the argument Frederick makes, and am not even comfortable with the Directors Guild position (though I do understand it, and sympathize). An object is not an idea, but a malleable manifestation or presentation of the idea. We need to keep the two separate both in law and, culturally, in how we view both "ownership" and "property."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

CUNY Pathways and Faculty Governance

Last Tuesday, the City Tech College Council, the faculty governance body for the college, passed the following resolution relating to CUNY Pathways (which I have blogged about here and here):

We in United States colleges and universities have, for the most part, a century of successful tradition behind the concept of faculty governance in the area of curriculum (in others as well, but I want to stick to the case at hand). Why? There are a number of reasons, including these:
  • It is only the faculty as a whole, not its leaders or representatives and certainly not those who handle the administration of the college or university, that sees the needs of education broadly enough to make useful and possible curricular policies. As both content experts and the front line of interaction with students, only the faculty is situated to effectively integrate these two critical areas.
  • Though the faculty has to operate within financial guidelines established by the administration, it is not beholden to funding sources the way the administration is. In fact, one of the reasons for faculty self-governance is that it allows the administration to distance itself from faculty curricular decisions, keeping funding sources aware of the necessity for independence. When it reaches into curricular debate, it narrows that distance, threatening the independence of education as a whole.
  • Faculty self-governance is in keeping with American ideals of participatory democracy, as opposed to systems of dictate from the top.
  • In contemporary America, education is coming to be a political topic, its agendas set far outside of our colleges and universities--far away from our elementary schools and high schools. Education itself becomes secondary to the political motivations surrounding it. Each time we allow forces from beyond the faculty to make decisions, any decisions, we weaken the strength of educators in deciding questions of education.
Pathways may be an attempt to meet a perceived need of bringing consistency to the various CUNY campuses, and it may be that the central administration believes that it is best situated to address that need, for it stands away from the individual schools. That, though, could be an opening for the administration to take on other tasks that have been left to the faculty in the past. Maybe the CUNY administration does not mean it to be that, but a door left slightly ajar can easily blow open--much more easily than one firmly shut. And the door against administrative involvement in curricular development should be kept bolted (it has not been, but that, again, is a broader concern than I am addressing here).

The City Tech College Council is not saying that the needs Pathways is meant to meet are not worthy, simply that the method is inappropriate--for all of the reasons I put forward above and for others... not the least being that Pathways is poorly designed and is being poorly executed.

As the College Council says, it would be best, at this point, to abandon Pathways and start over. The central administration, by backing down on this, would take an important step towards re-establishing trust between itself and the faculty--and would probably be able to set in motion a process toward curricular modification that would better meet student needs than the current Pathways ever will.

There's no force to the College Council resolution, which is itself unfortunate. But it does add to the voices of CUNY faculty rising up in response to Pathways, joining the Baruch College Faculty Senate, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences faculty of City College, the Brooklyn College Faculty Council, the Bronx Community College pathways committee and more in expressing concern over the process of creation and implementation of Pathways.

Will the central administration respond to the concerns raised in a positive way? I hope so. It would be in the best interest of all of us involved in CUNY for it to do so.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Naivete of Objectivism

When I left Munich at the end of July, 1968, I was already in the midst of one of the roughest periods of my life. Societal violence was at a peak, not only back home in the US, but there in Europe and, of course, over in Vietnam. The war attracted daily attention, but assassinations and riots were becoming the staples of our news--and parts of all of them trickled down to a personal level.

Prior to leaving DC a month or so earlier, I had been attacked in a luncheonette at 14th and U Streets--just before the police sealed off the area and started lobbing in tear gas. The only other white person in the area and I were rescued and escorted out by a group of Southern Christian Leadership Council members from the south, who formed a cordon around us and deposited us on the other side of the police barrier. All of us had marched that morning from the Capitol to the SCLC headquarters with Rev. Ralph David Abernathy as part of one of the events surrounding the Poor People's Campaign.

My summer job in France became one in Switzerland as a result of the May riots in Paris. I lasted only three weeks of the 14-hour, 6-1/2 day-a-week job, but I did learn to enjoy cigarettes and beer--addictions that would plague me for the next twenty years. I was sixteen, and wanted to see something of Europe besides the inside of a resort hotel high in the mountains. When I fled, I had five weeks to spend before my flight would take me from Brussels to New York and almost exactly $100.

Quite quickly, I learned how to stretch my money, sleeping rough when I could, only paying for a bed in a youth hostel when there was no other option or I needed to bathe. In Germany, the GIs, not much older than I, were always looking for new companions as they cruised through whatever bars would let them in. They were generally good for drinks, smokes, and even food. When I had to, I would buy a loaf of bread, a hunk of cheese, and maybe some yoghurt, making it do for a day or so. A train ride was a luxury; hitch-hiking was the way to get around.

Sometimes, things got sticky--or much worse. One of those times was that last night in Munich at the end of July. I snuck into a youth hostel in the morning and stood under a shower for close to an hour, soaping myself over and over again.

Finally feeling a little less disgusting and sick, I dried myself, dressed and sat outside with a number of others, talking about where each of us might go from there. I met a woman who wanted to go to Prague, to experience the exuberance resulting from the Czech Spring--but she didn't want to hitch-hike alone. I agreed to go with her--anything was better than staying in Munich--and traded the books in my bag for a couple I hadn't read.

They made a strange pair, I found, when eventually I read them: Ayn Rand's Anthem and Erich Fromm's The Sane Society.

The next weeks saw me through a rather harrowing exit from Czechoslovakia some days before the Russian invasion and a night in Bonn when German students stoned the Russian embassy, breaking as many windows as they could. I made it to Brussels three days before my flight and stone broke. After two days, people in a hostel where I'd asked to be allowed to rest (in the courtyard) took pity on me, fed me, and gave me a bed--in exchange for work in the kitchen.

Those experiences, even while they were happening, even as I was reading, made me hate the Rand book and all of the ideas of "selfishness" that I would find she stood for. I was learning the humility of luck and coming to understand the vagaries of chance. None of us makes our own way in the world, purely on our own abilities. Each of us relies on others, on the relics of the past, and on the randomness of the turning wheel. The world is beyond our control, for the most part, and beggars our understanding.

My shock and revulsion from the encounter with Rand threw me right into Fromm's arms, when I started his book. It truly did seem like a vision of a sane world, a welcome distraction from the craziness then surrounding me and from the insanity of Rand.

Now, almost 44 years later, I see it was also the naivete of Rand. And I am continually shocked by just how many influential Americans are drawn into that purposeful naivete, that willingness to ignore what really goes on in the world to create justifications for one's own selfishness. Alan Greenspan, Clarence Thomas, Ron Paul, and Paul Ryan, just to name a few.

All of us experience loss, violence, pain, and disturbance of many different sorts. To actually imagine that anyone can come through those in any one individual life still believing in Rand's "objectivism" boggles my mind. That some of our leaders actually have the arrogance to imagine that they really do know--and can control--the world through their individual self-reliance is even beyond that.

Do they not see their limits? Even their own objectivism should teach them that it is a flawed conception of the world, that none of us can possibly know enough to be a confident, solo actor. All we ever really learn is how little we can know and how wrong we usually are. Any philosophy arguing otherwise is more self-deception than philosophy.

Monday, April 16, 2012

When Did "Worker" Become a Dirty Word?

And when did "protest" and "demonstration" become the equal of "coercion"?

In Michigan, the proposed appropriations bill for state colleges and universities includes this sub-section:
Sec. 273a. It is the intent of the legislature that a public university that receives funds in section 236 shall not collaborate in any manner with a nonprofit worker center whose documented activities include coercion through protest, demonstration, or organization against a Michigan business.
Whatever the genesis of this restriction (it has something to do with banning an organization advocating for restaurant workers), it is dangerous, biased, mean-spirited and, yes, un-American. It assumes that "workers" are somehow suspicious and a "business" good--categorically.

The Intercollegiate Community Engagement Working Group has prepared the following letter in response:
Dear Legislator,
The undersigned individuals and organizations write to draw your attention to proposed language in Michigan House Bill 5370 that would curtail academic freedom at any publicly funded university.
Language proposed by the House appropriations committee would prevent universities that receive public funds from collaborating with any non-profit organization that publicly criticizes any Michigan business. The language is a ham-fisted response to the concerns of one business in Southeastern Michigan whose practices were criticized by a non-profit organization while a student was serving as an intern at that non-profit.
Sec. 273a. It is the intent of the legislature that a public university that receives funds in section 236 shall not collaborate in any manner with a nonprofit worker center whose documented activities include coercion through protest, demonstration, or organization against a Michigan business.
The proposed language is so broad that it could potentially prevent public universities from forming partnerships or placing students with virtually any civic, religious, or other non-profit organization that engages in public outreach. It represents direct interference by the legislature in the university curriculum, and thereby curtails the academic freedom of the universities, their faculty members, and students.
Academic freedom is essential to the mission of the academy, and at times this can lead to ideas that can be uncomfortable for interest groups with differing viewpoints. The mission of the academy must remain independent of any particular interest group. We are concerned that the current proposal would have a broad impact and may lead to further efforts to undermine academic freedom. We hope you will join us in seeking to preserve the independence of Michigan's public university system. We ask that you strike Sec. 273a from House Bill 5370 when it comes to the Senate.
If you are interested in signing this letter, contact Ian Robinson ( or Michelle Kaminski ( two members of the committee who are academic professionals. They ask that academics provide their affiliation. If you want to contact legislators direction, here are the email addresses:

House Appropriations Emails:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Senate Appropriations Emails:,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Few Pictures of Mali

On the Niger River near Gao, Mali, 1989
The mud mosque at Djenne, Mali, 1986
A Tuareg woman setting up house near Tombouctou, Mali, 1986
On in Niger River Near Gao, Mali, 1989

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Reed Elsevier: Making Corporations Responsible

On Thursday, Reed Elsevier dropped its involvement with the American Legislative Council (ALEC), probably in response to the outcry against corporate support for ALEC as ALEC-designed laws have been showing up more and more often across the country. Joan McCarter on Daily Kos writes about the movement of corporate sponsors away from ALEC in light of unfavorable publicity concerning 'Stand Your Ground' and 'Voter-ID' laws that have had considerable ALEC backing. It's impressive to see what a little pressure can do. (Go here for 'ALEC Exposed.')

At the same time, we college professors (at least) should be a more than a bit embarrassed. Reed Elsevier makes millions off of our work and, for the most part (and until recently), we have done nothing about it, have made no attempt to influence a corporation that is dependent upon us.

In the latest issue of Clarion, one of the Professional Staff Congress (my union) publications, Peter Hogness and Jake Blumgart outline what all of us in academia should already have known, that Reed Elsevier's profits have been used "to promote denial of climate change and block action against global warming," among other things. Had we been paying attention, rather than simply tending our own small gardens, we could have put a stop to this long ago.

This year has seen, of course, the start of a "Boycott Elsevier" movement that I support and have written about here and here and here, a boycott that was probably instrumental in getting Reed Elsevier to drop support for the regressive Research Works Act and that now has almost 10,000 academic signatories. But even we who support the boycott have been too narrow in our focus, looking only to Elsevier in relation to the publishing of our own scholarly work--when we should have been pushing the corporation in many more ways.

It's well past time that academics start moving from the defensive mode we have taken on over the past few decades, something we dropped into in response to attacks by the likes of David Horowitz, who vilifies us all as unrepentant leftists. We have responsibilities to the world beyond the walls of our colleges and universities, but have been satisfied to focus our attention on internal problems, leaving the rest of the world to fend for itself.

Even the "Boycott Elsevier" movement, we are seeing now, is too narrowly focused. We who support it should have been looking beyond our own needs from the start, seeing the whole of the parent corporation and its relationships far beyond academic publishing. I hope that the Clarion article is a sign that we are waking to our responsibilities to a world sorely in need of educated voices, a world where prejudices of all sorts have been ruling for far too long.

If change is happening, we should be a part of it. The fact that Reed Elsevier felt pressured enough to drop ALEC without academia being part of that pressure should shame all of us on the faculties. It certainly shames me.

Friday, April 13, 2012

From the Voice of Experience?

Oh, I know, you don't have to be able to do something--or to have done it--to comment upon it. But there is certainly value to experience. Those of us who are Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, for example, can tell much more about the lives and systems of our host countries than can those journalists who passed through on the way to a story.

Those of us who have been involved in alternatives to traditional business models can, too. As can those who have spent time involved in any sort of movement to change people's ideas. Doing any of these things, you learn about both the best and the worst of humans. You may come out of it focused on what is best--and on what is possible--but you also know something of what is worst.

David Brooks who, as far as I can determine, has done none of these things (I've done all three), sets out to give advice to young people engaged in any one of them today. He writes that "many of these social entrepreneurs think they can evade politics. They have little faith in the political process and believe that real change happens on the ground beneath it." As someone who has never worked on that ground, I suspect he has very little idea of what really goes on there. From reading his piece, I am sure of it.

Brooks makes the bizarre argument that young idealists could learn from the hard-boiled detectives of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. He writes:
A noir hero is a moral realist. He assumes that everybody is dappled with virtue and vice, especially himself. He makes no social-class distinction and only provisional moral distinctions between the private eyes like himself and the criminals he pursues.
That's an odd depiction of Sam Spade or Philip Marlowe, both of whom (in movies as well as in the original books and stories) see everyone as fundamentally flawed--even themselves. They have little interest in virtue. They certainly do make social-class distinctions, and their 'moral distinctions' between themselves and criminals are fundamental to their characters. Brooks should read a little more, and a little more carefully--and might want to watch a few more noir movies. Sam Spade sends his love up the river to save himself--he makes a practical decision, not a moral one. That's the case in almost all noir books and movies.

That aside, Brooks' real argument is a classic top-down one, the model that can be traced back to Alexander Hamilton and further (and that also can be found in Lenin and Hitler--but we needn't get into that), that a stable political structure must be imposed for real change to happen, for things at the bottom to get better. He writes: "Most poverty and suffering — whether in a country, a family or a person — flows from disorganization." Starting at the bottom, in his view, is doomed to failure (he is no Jeffersonian and no Jacobite, that's for sure).

To me, though, his most interesting statement (and most perplexing, considering who it is coming from) is this: "if the ruling class is predatory then your achievements won’t add up to much." From someone who is a tireless promoter of the predatory ruling class of America, this is an odd statement, to say the least--unless he means it to apply only elsewhere, and not at home.

Soon after we returned from Peace Corps, Bronwyn Hughes and I wrote a piece on community-level development that was eventually published in a couple of places, most recently by ePluribus Media. We were writing from experience, having helped guide a business from creation through success--including through the thickets of corruption and political instability. Fifteen years later, the business was still going--in fact, it had become a major force in the region. It had survived all sorts of problems--in part, because we imposed nothing, but supported use of cultural structures that were already in place (and there are such structures everywhere, and they can be found--if you know how and where to look).

David Brooks: Take it from those of us with real experience in the areas you write about. Only starting from the bottom really works, dealing with structures that were not imposed from the top but that build from the communities involved. Yes, today's young idealists "have little faith in the political process and believe that real change happens on the ground beneath it" Why? Because your way (in Africa, most certainly--and that's the ground of my own experience in development) has consistently led to failure--while ground up has managed successes that survive even the periods of political chaos (which come, as you know, most always from the top).

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Azawad, Mali and?

In Niafunke, Mali, after purchasing my first turban, which
a Tamachek man had just taught me to wrap. 1986.
Though I haven't spent all that much time in Mali (perhaps three weeks, in total), the country has been important to me. When I first tried to go there, crossing from Ouahigouya in Burkina Faso to get to Bankass on the way to Mopti, a war started and I spent a couple of rather peculiar days trying to get back home to Ouagadougou. The next time, I actually made it to Mali, and rode in the back of a mail truck from Mopti up to Tombouctou. The third time, I took a flight from Niamey in Niger to Gao, then a riverboat down to Mopti and route taxi from there to Bobo-Dioulasso back in Burkina Faso.

The route from Ouahigouya through Bankass and on to Mopti is pretty much on the line Frank Jacobs draws "for convenience’s sake" between the rebel-declared new country of Azawad and the rest of Mali.

The Tuareg leadership of the rebel group "has iterated that it will respect the colonial borders with the neighboring state," according to Jacobs. This is an interesting statement, but I doubt it has much meaning. The Tuaregs are desert nomads who have never been comfortable with the European-imposed national boundaries crossing "their" Sahara, and it is unlikely that they will start respecting them now. Tuareg insurgencies have been a problem in Niger for a long time already... and I could easily see parts of Mauritania, Niger, and even Algeria coming under Azawad sway--if the nation does manage to establish itself.

Bankass, on Jacobs' tentative dividing line, is on the southern edge of Dogon country, a hilly area south of the desert, a place where one sees few Tuaregs. Mopti, on the Niger River, is also south of the territory one would expect Azawad's new rulers to covet--though these areas could both be important economically, Dogon for tourism and Mopti for trade.

No matter what happens, and no matter who the ruler of Mali turns out to be in the wake of the current rebellion in the north and coup in the south, I can't see any Bamako regime allowing Mopti or the Dogon country to go without a fight. The war that barred my first entrance into the country, after all, was over a small bit of disputed border with Burkina Faso. I doubt that Malians today are any more willing to give up any land, especially land as valuable as that Mopti sits on, or that makes up the Dogon heights.

Though I have no idea what will happen in Mali, I doubt there is going to be an easy solution.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Articles I Never Should Have Read, #1093

Someone sent me a link to an article from The Washington Post by David Levy called "Do College Professors Work Hard Enough?" Levy writes:
Though faculty salaries now mirror those of most upper-middle-class Americans working 40 hours for 50 weeks, they continue to pay for teaching time of nine to 15 hours per week for 30 weeks, making possible a month-long winter break, a week off in the spring and a summer vacation from mid-May until September.
He says this may be fine for research institutions, but at teaching institutions? Nah. He goes on:
Critics may argue that teaching faculty members require long hours for preparation, grading and advising. Therefore they would have us believe that despite teaching only 12 to 15 hours a week, their workloads do approximate those of other upper-middle-class professionals. While time outside of class can vary substantially by discipline and by the academic cycle (for instance, more papers and tests to grade at the end of a semester), the notion that faculty in teaching institutions work a 40-hour week is a myth.
A myth, huh?

I don't teach for a research institution, but in one where the teaching load is called "4-4" (four three-hour courses each semester). This is my sixth year there. During that time, I have written, edited, or co-authored five books and have seen seven of my essays appear as book chapters. In addition, I have presented seventeen conference papers. Oh, and have had a variety of other publications appear and have done other speaking. At the same time, I have developed a number of courses, worked with programs concerned with the transition from high school to college, and am spending time trying to improve developmental-writing courses. Beyond that, I serve on a number of committees, including our hiring committee, all of which take a great deal of work. Over the next week, "spring break," I will be completing two new book chapters, developing a new Call For Papers for a volume I am editing, preparing a presentation for May, and getting moving on my current book project. And, of course, I have to prepare for my classes.

Now, it may be true that I do a bit more that shows than do most professors, but that is only because I have been extremely lucky with my writing. I have a publisher, Praeger, that likes my work and gives me an extraordinary amount of freedom to cross disciplinary boundaries (which is the reason I stay with Praeger). But the amount of work I do is not that different from my colleagues in the City Tech English Department.

Though it may be true that certain members of the generation before mine in college teaching often did take something of a free ride, this generation (by that, I mean those who entered the academic profession in this century) certainly does not. At least, in my experience it does not. Of course, in any field, in any business, one can find people content to slide by, but what I see in most of my younger colleagues is, instead, exhaustion. Each of them is doing too much, working far too many hours.

It's true, though, that when I returned to academia in 2004, I had something of a snotty attitude towards professors and the easy workloads they seemed to have. After all, I had spent the previous decade running a business, working seven days a week, generally twelve hours a day. I thought things would certainly get easier once I got off that treadmill.

They did not. If anything, I work as much now as I did then. And so do many of the professors I know. We research, we write, we teach, we deal with students on all sorts of issues, we take on administrative tasks, we work with colleagues to improve teaching and research skills and assist each other with projects. We don't count the hours we work--and certainly don't stop working once we are done with class and class preparation.

Levy's article is wrong-headed in ways beyond his simplistic misrepresentation of what we professors do with our time. A post by Laurie Essig at The Chronicle of Higher Education does a better job than I can in taking the rest of it apart.

Enough. I'm tired of the sort of nonsense Levy spouts... and I do have to get back to my work.

Friday, April 06, 2012

CUNY Pathways: "Reform & Rigor"?

Yesterday, a slick 8-1/2x11 brochure arrived, Pathways Ahead: Reform & Rigor. With lots of pictures, testimonials, and white space, it devotes little room to the details of its putative content--but it is worth responding to here, given the continuing controversy over the new CUNY Pathways initiative.

The brochure was accompanied by a letter from Alexandra Logue, the Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost who, last month, convened the meeting of the Pathways committee I am serving on. She opens the letter, dated March 29, "Dear Colleague," though neither the letter, the brochure, nor the committee meeting made me feel that Logue and I are on any sort of collegial level. That would have required real faculty involvement in development of Pathways and in its implementation, something I see nowhere.

Instead, we faculty members continue merely to be told what the initiative is. Rarely have we even been consulted and certainly we were not involved in the conception. Now, we are simply instructed on our role as cogs in its wheels. We are condescended to, given "a brochure that outlines the initiative in greater detail and explains how our faculty have shaped and are implementing its components" when we have done nothing of the sort.

The truth is that we, on the faculty, are being shaped by the administrators for the Pathways initiative, becoming nothing more than tools of implementation.

Because, as a member of the CUNY faculty, I feel it is my responsibility to try to cooperate with system-wide initiatives, I will continue to serve on, as the brochure describes it, the "University-wide committee of approximately 130 faculty [which] will evaluate each course proposed for the Common Core to ensure that it meets the standards of the new core." I will do what I am told. But I will not pretend that we on the faculty have developed this program, have devised ways of implementing it, or support it. I am doing my best as an employee, though I know I should be seen as more of an independent (though contributing) member of a somewhat more autonomous faculty with real governance powers.

The brochure claims that the initiative was "developed by a task force... composed of 47 distinguished faculty from college and disciplines across the University." That may be so, but that committee was selected by the provosts at the behest of the central administration and acted on instructions from the administration. It had nothing to do with the vast majority of faculty members and reflects little of the day-to-day realities of CUNY teaching or even of individual college administration. This is a top-down initiative showing little understanding of realities of instruction on most CUNY campuses.

It is much the same in the committee I serve on: We've been instructed that we are to evaluate courses to see if they meet 'learning outcomes' for the particular Flexible Core area of our particular subcommittees. Another committee created those 'learning outcomes,' and we have no input on that, on what is presented to us, or on how it is presented. Even our means of responding have been designed for us. We are expected, simply, to see if what we get from the colleges matches what we were given by the administration. We see a syllabus and entries on a data form. Beyond that, we have no real knowledge of the course we are considering for inclusion in our Core area. We don't even know if similar courses from other colleges are being presented in the same way. So, an introductory Economics course from one college might end up in Core one area while the same course from another college might be in a different one, depending on how the particular colleges decide to present their courses. In other words, there is no broad vision, at this point, simply a pigeon-holing of course descriptions that already have been tailored to the particular Core area.

The point of the administration is that it doesn't want the Core areas defined by discipline. The result, again, will be that the same course will end up in different places, depending on how the particular college wants to present it. The brochure claims that Pathways will clear up "the transfer maze," but I suspect the Registrars of the colleges are cowering in their offices. If the faculty had designed Pathways, as should have happened, we would not have created this odd situation of circumvention of disciplines while leaving them in place. We know better.

Clearing a maze? What we have now in this initiative is a maze masquerading as multiple pathways. The example of the Economics course is but one of many confusions now appearing.

Perhaps this is why, though the brochure claims to provide detail, it gives almost none. It speaks of the Flexible Core, for example, but doesn't define it.

Only by ignoring the details and the possible consequences can this initiative be imagined as a clear pathway to anything. I am reminded of a road on a map, where it seems straight and clear, the map itself the pride of those who designed it. But the road itself? Well, the map-makers have never visited it, have never seen the potholes, the washed out bridges, the washboard where the pavement long ago disappeared, the sandy shoulders. But they don't care. Their responsibility is the vision. Let others take care of the road.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Happy 90th, Doris Day

Today being Doris Day's 90th birthday, Turner Classic Movies has dedicated the week to her. By Saturday, almost thirty of her nearly forty movies will have been shown.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, Day was a prominent part of my early exposure to movies. A few years later, I learned to dislike her--but that was primarily because of her television show, which I now know she hated almost as much as I.

Only over the past few years have I re-learned to enjoy her movies. They are not great films, but they sure are a lot of fun. The one that brought me back was The Pajama Game. I was attracted back to it, at first, by Carol Haney and Bob Fosse--and "Steam Heat." At that time, I was finally beginning to learn something about the Hollywood musical, and had been smitten by Fosse's bit of choreography in Kiss Me Kate, a short dance number with Haney--a number that contained almost everything that would eventually become signature Fosse.

Though I had come for Fosse, I stayed for Day (and, to some degree, for John Raitt). Though I loathed (and still do) "There Once Was a Man," I found the rest of the movie delightful, and Day a comfortable, even comforting presence. Once, just a few years later, I even used lines from "Hernando's Hideaway" in a conference keynote talk (I just can't keep movies out of anything I do).

Since then, I have eagerly watched movies of Day's with James Stewart, Cary Grant and, of course, Rock Hudson. At no point have I been impressed with direction (not even when it was Alfred Hitchcock, in that remake of his own The Man Who Knew Too Much, which was much better in his earlier version with Peter Lorre) or writing, but I grow more and more fond of her. She liked making movies, and that comes through on the screen.

The only of her movies that I watched last night was Lullaby of Broadway, where she dances more energetically than in any other movie (bad knees had kept her from becoming a dancer in the first place). Her co-star, Gene Nelson, is not someone I've been really familiar with, but I watched him with interest. In some ways, he seemed to be trying to be a younger and taller Fred Astaire, but there was also a hint of Gene Kelly's athleticism. He didn't seem to be a dancer who could define himself.

Maybe that, for dancers, now that Astaire and Kelly were somewhat old hat, would have to wait a couple more years--until Fosse donned his new one and changed Broadway and film dance for the fifties as much as Astaire had done in the twenties (for Broadway) and thirties (for film).

Anyway... Happy birthday, Doris Mary Ann Kappelhoff. You delighted me back when movies were a constant astonishment... and you delight me today.