The willful illusions at the board meeting

There are many things to say about the vote of no confidence and the following board meeting.

By every account I’ve read and heard, the board meeting today was packed with about two dozen non-faculty who voiced support of the chancellor. This included US Representative Bobby Rush, who claimed that we shouldn’t even be discussing a vote of no confidence, and that the Chancellor has been doing an outstanding job. An international student spoke and claimed he was fine with the enormous tuition hike. The chair of the board voiced his support. And after the vote was dropped off at the mayor’s office, the mayor’s office issued a letter of support for the chancellor.

Look. If you were on the board and you wanted to cling to some evidence that the chancellor is doing a good job, then you clearly found it. But it is the shakiest foundation for evidence. Not to get snarky about it, but I’m one of your logic professors, and this looks really really bad. If a student made a case with the same strength of induction as was demonstrated here, I’d need to talk to him about whether they’ve been doing their exercises…or even paying attention to the basic principles of induction.

Do you understand what the faculty has done to voice their opinion? They did not simply ask a couple dozen people to speak against the chancellor. This time, they brought their big guns. Thanks to the heroic efforts of Phil Vargas and Jeni Meresman in conducting local and district wide surveys, we know where the faculty stand thanks to them, and all the faculty who supported them. In the past week, conducted a thorough vote with 97% participation from the faculty. This way, we know the what the faculty overwhelmingly, and nearly unanimously, are claiming.


The press turns out for the board meeting

Update: A fifth article was published, by “Substance News.” This one comes out clearly on the side of the faculty. Link below.

Since the board meeting this morning, four articles have been published by the Chicago Tribune, Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago’s public radio station WBEZ, and the Chicago Sun-Times.

If you only have time for one, my personal recommendation is WBEZ’s article.

90% of Harold Washington full-time faculty vote “No Confidence” in Chancellor Hyman, 0% claim confidence.

Dear HWC Faculty,


Last week, District Faculty Council (FC4) decided to pursue a vote of no confidence in the City College’s chief executive, Chancellor Hyman. The principle charge is, to paraphrase, the sustained and stubborn lack of shared governance between district administrators and college faculty, and that this has been the primary cause for a host of other problems, including the consolidation and relocation of academic programs, closing of programs, unfair adjunct compensation, and the unjust and uneven increases in student tuition. HW Faculty Council, and HW delegates to District Faculty Council, moved to conduct an official faculty-wide vote of no confidence among full-time faculty. Part-time faculty were not asked to participate in the vote. We did not want part-time faculty placed in awkward positions or pressured to either vote or abstain. Over the past week, HWC faculty council and HWC members of FC4 conducted a vote of no confidence in Chancellor Hyman including all HWC full-time faculty. The vote concluded today, and the results are as follows:


97% of the full-time faculty voted, or 114 of 118.

Of the 114 votes:

106 faculty, or 93%, checked “Yes” for the Vote of No Confidence.

8 faculty, or 7%, checked “Abstain” for the Vote of No Confidence.

0 faculty, or 0% (for the math nerds), checked “No” for the Vote of No Confidence.

This means that a total of 90% of all full-time faculty, including non-voters, claim “No Confidence” in Chancellor Hyman.

Security Procedures

As all voters saw, we had a number of measures in place to check security. Whenever anyone submitted a vote, there needed to be two witnesses. The voting faculty member initialed their name on the primary roster, to ensure that no one voted twice. The ballot was folded, stamped with the date, and then initialed by two faculty observers. The voter then witnessed their ballot submitted into the lockbox.

We received a few proxy votes via e-mail from some faculty on sabbatical. This was always verified by multiple faculty members viewing the e-mail.

Because of the roster, we knew that 114 faculty reported that they voted, and expected 114 ballots. 114 ballots were present in the box.

The lockbox remained sealed until today, February 3, at 12:30pm. At that time we opened the box and counted ballots. Jennifer Armendarez video taped. Erica McCormack recorded the tally. Kristin Bivens and Jeni Meresman observed, while Jeni also placed ballots on their respective stacks. I (Kamran) removed the ballots from the box and read the result, one by one.

After the vote, all ballots were placed back inside the box, and the box was locked. The box is currently located in my office, room 311a. If anyone (including administrators) would like to perform a recount, inspect the ballots, and/or review our roster and signatures, please contact me at or

New FC4 Page at the Harold Lounge

For the faculty across the seven City Colleges:

Note that the Harold Lounge now has a page devoted to the district-wide Faculty Council, commonly known as “FC4.” If you look at the tabs above, you’ll see it among the other pages. From there, you may either click on the button or select an option on the pop-up menu. You can read board reports from the FC4 president, the FC constitution, short biographies of our FC4 officers, and pdfs of the excellent faculty-wide surveys conducted in the Fall 2015 semester by HWC’s Phil Vargas and Jeni Meresman.

You will also see an option on the drop-down menu titled “open survey.” You can use the survey to voice your opinions to the FC4 leadership.

Tuesday Teaching Topic: T-Minus 1 Day Edition

Classes begin tomorrow. How do you spend your first day of course? Share your ideas in the comments. My resolution for the first day:

1. Focus the first day’s discussion on the big ideas of the course. What will we be thinking about? What sorts of intellectual problems will we tackle? How will our knowledge grow over the duration of the course?

2. Talk about best practices. What will it take to be successful in this course?

3. Do NOT talk about grades. The motivation toward grades is different than the motivation toward knowledge. Grades are an external reward, whereas knowledge is an internal reward. Research has shown that those students who focus on external rewards have a “bulimic” nature in their pursuit of knowledge: they strive to absorb it quickly for the exam, but it is quickly lost after the evaluation.

4. Do NOT talk about the syllabus, beyond best practices and objectives. Tell them where they can read it, and perhaps a statement about what is included. But the majority of the syllabus is not interesting, and we don’t want to frame the class in terms of rules that have nothing to do with the ideas of the course. This is especially true at the City Colleges, where we are required to include more and more policies and directions that are identical to each course and not relevant to the course material.

All CCC Faculty Potluck, this Saturday in Humboldt Park

You’ve received e-mails for this, but another notice can’t hurt!

The Harold Washington Faculty Council is hosting a potluck mixer one week from today, and they’ve asked me to invite you! The potluck is open to all CCC Faculty (full and part time) as well as partners.

“All CCC faculty” is not an oversight. We are indeed inviting faculty from across the seven colleges.

Here are the details:

When: Saturday, November 21, 4p.m.

Where: The home of Maria Ortiz. Check your CCC e-mail for the address.

Potluck: Please bring a favorite dish or beverage, or bring some money to chip in.

For more information, contact Maria Ortiz. Her e-mail can be found in the invitation e-mail.

We look forward to seeing you there!

Non-Measurable Mondays: Social Contract Theory

Non-Measurable Mondays is a weekly series for the Fall 2015 semester, featuring stories and essays on modes of student success that cannot be grasped by data. We are seeking submissions for the full semester, which can be sent to me at For more details, see the original post here.

A Harold Washington faculty member, who wished to remain anonymous, sent me this letter she or he received from a student. The only thing I will add is that the course referenced is not IAI approved.

Dear Prof.

Not sure if you remember me, but I took your [xxxx] course at Harold Washington in the Spring of 2012. At the time I was an aspiring engineering student but have since changed tracks to the field of International Relations. So far it has been an excellent decision. I have since finished my BA from Roosevelt University, worked in Brussels and DC, and am now pursuing my MA at the Department of War Studies at Kings College London.

At this moment I am reading about Social Contract Theory for a course on insurgency, and it reminded me of my time in your class. Just wanted to say thanks for the enthusiasm and a great class. Hope all is well.



FC4 Survey

Fellow faculty,

Please take some time today to fill out the Faculty Council of the City Colleges of Chicago (FC4) survey. Today is the deadline, and FC4 is looking for 50 more people to poll. The survey helps us paint a data-centered picture on the opinions of faculty about our leadership at both the local and district level.

An e-mail was sent out this morning to your ccc account at 9:30am from FC4 with a link to the survey. Thank you for your help.

Non-Measurable Mondays: The Promise of Measurables and the Illusion of Competence

Non-Measurable Mondays is a weekly feature for the Fall 2015 semester, featuring stories and essays on modes of student success that cannot be grasped by data. We are seeking submissions for the full semester, which can be sent to me at For more details, see the original post here.

One of the many stories of Socrates involved the notion that he claimed he “knew nothing” while the gods claimed he was “the wisest person in the world.” “But how could this be,” he asked, “since wisdom is a sort of knowledge?” He took this as a riddle, and if the gods give you a riddle, by gum, you’d better solve it. Perhaps you know the story (Plato’s Apology, sections 20d-23b), but the great lesson he learned was that wisdom is a special sort of knowledge: it is knowing what one knows, and knowing what one doesn’t know. It is understanding the shore between one’s knowledge and one’s ignorance, and recognizing that all too often, that which appears to be sure, confident, complete knowledge, is but the illusion of knowledge: a competence in some things, but an incomplete competence.

Before I go on, I would like to start my first Non-Measurable Monday to thank our previous authors: Phil, Dave, Erica, Kristen, and Jennifer, NMM has been more successful and beautiful than I had dared hope. Indeed, what we’ve seen are just the smallest of samplings of that which goes “unmeasured.” The deep and complex lives of our students, their successes, challenges, and failures, and the relationship between professor and student, and student and student, is our subject matter. Data can paint a picture: it can create a model that allows for a rational analysis of what education and success are. But these models are, thus far, fantastically thin in comparison to the richness and depth of the world they strive to model. For the next few Non-Measurable Monday posts, we’re going to look at the notion of data itself: its promise, its hope, and its limitations.

Today’s post is a meta post. It may seem excessively academic or pretentious, but I believe that a look at the history of science, its successes, hopes, and severe limitations, can teach us something valuable about how we deal with data.

For me, one of the most astonishing and captivating stories has been the story of the history of science, because it is the story of the best forms of knowledge, confidently advancing and growing, facing the limitations of their measurements without ever knowing it.


“I believe it is [fair.]” -Laurent Pernot, on the new contract proposed for the adjunct union. The Vice Chancellor Round-table, Part 1: Adjunct Compensation.

If Executive Vice Chancellor Pernot or anyone else in attendance believes I have misrepresented the events of the Monday meeting here, I will include disputes or contrary reports in this post. You may e-mail me at, or I will strive for fairness, truth, and the free-flow of information and opinions. 

“We offered the adjunct union our ‘Last, Best’ contract proposal a while ago, and the adjunct union will be voting on it soon,” stated Laurent Pernot, in response to a question on adjunct compensation. [These words are likely not exact, but I am making my best fair effort to represent his words and meaning accurately.]

“I hope it is a fair one,” I replied.

“I believe it is,” he returned.

On Monday, nine Vice Chancellors and other senior administrators hosted two round-table discussions, first with students, and second with faculty. Twelve faculty were invited, including myself. Many of you have attended similar discussions in the past. Invitations were selected, I am told, based on randomly choosing some of the faculty who are not scheduled for class at the scheduled time. All attending faculty were asked to bring one positive and one “challenge” that they would like to address.


Non-Measurable Mondays: “I Wronged a Student and I Learned a Lesson,” by Jennifer Asimow

Non-Measurable Mondays is a weekly series for the Fall 2015 semester, featuring stories and essays on modes of student success that cannot be grasped by data. We are seeking submissions for the full semester, which can be sent to me at For more details, see the original post here.

The 10-day period that begins with Rosh Hashanah and ends on Yom Kippur is commonly called the “Days of Awe” and is the time of year when the Jewish people the world over consider their actions over the past year and plan to make amends for wrongdoing.  We ask for forgiveness from those we have wronged, and to forgive others for wronging us.  This period of atonement asks us to take a reflective moment and consider our trespasses as well as those who have trespassed against us.  We must repent our sins against other people before Yom Kippur and repent our sins against G-d on Yom Kippur through fasting and prayer. Traditionally we ask for forgiveness three times as required by Jewish law, however forgiveness is a not a given.  We cannot expect forgiveness.  We can only ask for it.

This brings me to my story of forgiveness, and my story of lessons learned.

A few years back I wronged one of my students.  Asa (not her real name) was one of those students who arrived early on the first day of class, notebook and textbook in hand, ready and waiting to get the learning started.  Each week, she was the first to arrive, participated like a champ, and was an exemplary student in all ways but one.  She never turned in any assignments.

I handled this by the Applied Sciences book; I communicated my concerns via face-to-face conversations. I emailed her my concerns after first focusing on her accomplishments in terms of participation, attendance and support of her classmates.  I asked her if there was anything I could do to further support her.  She apologized and told me she would get it together.

At midterm she was still failing and another serious conversation took place.  At week 13 I sent her yet another email telling her that if she did not get her work in she would not pass the course.

During week 16, I met with each student individually to discuss their final grades.  I sat at the large desk in the front of the room and students sat toward the back near the classroom laboratory.  I pulled names out of a hat and called each student up one-by-one.  Asa was 3rd to last.  She came up to my desk with a big, expectant smile on her face and sat down facing me.  I pulled out her grade report and proceeded to tell her that she did not pass the class.

She fell apart.

My initial reaction was shock.  Why didn’t she know that she failed the course?  I thought I was clear.  I told her several times that she was not going to pass. I thought she understood.  I fumbled around, not sure what to say or how to handle her tears.  The students who were still waiting to meet with me were staring at us. I said something like, “Well, good luck to you,” and dismissed her haphazardly as it was dawning on me that this was perhaps the lowest point in my teaching career. I knew that what had happened was akin to a public shaming and I was destroyed by it.

I thought about calling or emailing her, but one day turned into two, a week turned into a month, a month turned into a semester and before I knew it, 2 years had passed.  I never stopped thinking about that interaction, how humiliated Asa was and how I made it so much worse.

Fast forward 2 years.

This summer I received an email from Asa.  She wanted to talk about school and her career and could we make an appointment to meet?  I replied immediately and we scheduled a time for 2 days hence.  I thought long and hard about what I wanted to say to her and how I wanted to make things right.  I planned a big speech, complete with excuses for my behavior and a whole lot of nonsense about my reaction to her reaction.

When she walked into my office, I was so happy to see her looking well and happy.  She gave me a big hug and we sat down.  Right away, I told her that I wanted to apologize to her for my behavior on the last day of our class, and especially for speaking to her about her final grade with other students in the room.  I said I was sorry, and I asked for forgiveness.  She in turn, apologized to me for not doing her part to improve her grade, for not paying attention to my efforts at communicating with her, and for generally just messing up an entire semester of college.

All this time, I knew I owed her an apology and all this time, she thought she owed me one.

I told her that I learned a valuable lesson on that day.  I learned that privacy is a right, not a luxury.  I learned that students might say they understand when you are telling them something very important, but they don’t always.  I learned that letting someone walk away from me when they are upset because of something I have done is unacceptable.  I learned that after 18 years of college teaching, I can still learn valuable lessons about my teaching practice, students, and human interactions that will make me a better practitioner and a more humane person.

Asa had forgiven me two years prior to my request.  She had let it go when she left the building while I carried it until this past summer.  The most important lesson I learned on that day and during the months that followed is that waiting to apologize and ask for forgiveness only adds to one’s burden. So in the spirit of the “Days of Awe” apologize sooner rather than later and forgive somebody who has wronged you. The weight of both will slip right off of your shoulders.

Jennifer Asimow is a Professor of Child Development at Harold Washington College.

Tuesday Teaching Topic: Teaching Ignorance

“Tuesday Teaching Topic,” or TTT, is a regular series featuring some question or discussion topic related to teaching, often at the meta level. If you have suggestions for a TTT or would like to write one yourself, please write to Kamran Swanson at, or 

“The larger the island of knowledge grows, the longer the shoreline — where knowledge meets ignorance — extends. The more we know, the more we can ask. Questions don’t give way to answers so much as the two proliferate together. Answers breed questions. Curiosity isn’t merely a static disposition but rather a passion of the mind that is ceaselessly earned and nurtured.” (a paraphrase of an analogy by Michael Smithson, social scientist at Australian National University)

Many of us, and certainly many of our students, believe we are in the business of expanding knowledge in its various forms: facts, data, skills, perspectives, analysis, argument, etc. But how often do we talk about dealing with ignorance?

“You’re ignorant” is a common insult nowadays. I hear students every so often describe other people as ignorant in a demeaning way. I once went on a date where the woman proudly proclaimed she was not ignorant, and hated people who were. “But we’re all ignorant about most things,” I said. “What am I possibly ignorant about?” she replied. I then moved the conversation to a number of topics on which she was totally ignorant: not just stuff that I know about, but mostly stuff I don’t know about. She became irritated, and I learned that I know very little about how to behave on a date.

Ignorance is a dirty word. But should it be? Is it our responsibility to elevate the our concept of ignorance, not as an evil, but rather as a natural and necessary yang to knowledge’s yin?


Non-Measurable Mondays: “The Summer School Method,” by Kristin Bivens

Non-Measurable Mondays is a weekly feature for the Fall 2015 semester, featuring stories and essays on modes of student success that cannot be grasped by data. We are seeking submissions for the full semester, which can be sent to me at For more details, see the original post here.

As an elementary school student, one of my favorite films was Summer School. In the movie, Mark Harmon, the resident high school physical education teacher, gets snagged to teach summer school in the moments immediately after the regular school year ends. Threatened because he is pre-tenure, he acquiesces and teaches a classroom full of students at the oceanfront during the summer.

An Internet Movie Database (imdb) contributor summarizes the plot like this:

A high-school gym teacher has big plans for the summer, but is forced to cancel them to teach a “bonehead” English class for misfit goof-off students. Fortunately, his unconventional brand of teaching fun field trips begins to connect with them, and even inspires ardor in some.

In the YouTube clip, you can see the title, “Now That’s Teaching.” Instead of the final grades, based on pre- and post-test assessments, Harmon’s character, the affable Mr. Shoop, argues for what I have dubbed, “The Summer School Method.” Instead of the result, Mr. Shoop argues on behalf of his students for the progress they have made, not the final grade or score.

In other words, Mr. Shoop advocates for the journey of learning, not the destination. The learning that isn’t measured as the mark (pun intended) of learning. I overheard a colleague explain, in a different way, The Summer School Method. She expertly used pre-tests and quizzes to show a student to not be dejected because they weren’t going to pass the class.

She took the time to show the student how the destination (a grade) can’t represent the learning and improvement they had made in an ENG 98 classroom. If you want to encourage our students, who need developmental education at exasperating rates, use The Summer School Method: measure student success on improvement, not just final grades.  

And, for Shoop’s sake, recognize you can’t measure learning with the methods we deploy. If you want learning wrapped up in a scantron and scored in a machine, you might not be as interested in facilitating learning in your classroom as you think. And, please think.

Gauging learning isn’t just about tests and post-tests or mid-term and final grades.

Some things are immeasurable.

Some processes are tacit and cannot be articulated.

It is shortsighted to think we can measure all that we know. It is a mistake to think everything we teach can be measured. It is a disservice to our students to demean the learning process into something that privileges a dysfunctional system.

I would advocate using The Summer School Method to gauge student learning as a method that recognizes that learning is a complex, dynamic process that cannot be easily distilled into a letter grade, as Dave’s, Phil’s, and Erica’s posts have shown.

The lives our students live are complex and dynamic, too. Using The Summer School Method recognizes this–it privileges the process and not just the outcome. In the end, our students still need to meet the requirements to pass a class, and I’m not arguing that they shouldn’t.

However, by using a different framework to assess student learning, we might be able to make better use of the measurements that we do take.

Kristin Bivens is a Professor of English at Harold Washington College.

Non-Measurable Mondays (Wednesday Edition): “Owning Her Education,” by Erica McCormack

Non-Measurable Mondays is a weekly feature for the Fall 2015 semester, featuring stories and essays on modes of student success that cannot be grasped by data. We are seeking submissions for the full semester, which can be sent to me at For more details, see the original post here.

As one of the vice-chairs of the Assessment Committee, I believe in assessing the student learning outcomes that are measurable to help us better understand student learning, but I am grateful to have an opportunity to reflect on the non-measurable yet vital lessons that our students learn and that we learn from them.

A couple years ago, I had an international student in one of my interdisciplinary Humanities courses (I won’t specify the country or her name). She had been a medical doctor before moving to the US and was working hard to complete an AS degree at HWC and planning to apply to a physician assistant program or something similar. She struggled with her English, but it was always an active struggle. She was incredibly diligent, using the Writing Lab and other campus resources to submit impeccable work throughout the semester.

Months after our class ended, I received an email from her stating “I have learned a lot of interesting things from the course,” and “I am applying what I have learned to my life.” Those kinds of comments are always nice to receive; however, this was no generic thank-you email. Specifically, she went on to explain how our class discussion of a particular poem made her realize “I have the right to be happy, loved and respected.” I could not ask for a better outcome for each of my students than to truly learn that lesson, but it’s certainly not something I would want to try and measure.

The poem that inspired this insight was “I Cannot Remember All the Times” by Jo Carson (you can read it here, pages 51-52: My student shared with me, in that email, that the poem detailed “exactly what happened” to her. When I read that, I was devastated and felt horrible that I didn’t suspect at all what she was enduring at home when she left our class each day that semester.

She explained that after her husband brought her to the US, he discouraged her from pursuing her educational goals (telling her to work in a nail salon instead of pursuing her medical education) and became physically abusive. When she called the police, she said they didn’t do anything. She said that after her husband choked her, she moved out but was “unsure about the divorce” until she read and contemplated the Carson poem in the context of our class discussion.

She expressed gratitude for the thoughtful comments she heard from her classmates about the poem and said that for the first time, instead of worrying that she would be judged for “betraying” her husband, she felt supported by her community, even though her classmates had no idea that when they were speaking about the poem, she felt that they were speaking to her. She said, “Now I understand that he is not going to change his behavior. Everything will happen the same if I come back…I want a better life for myself. I think I have the right to be happy, loved and respected. I want to go to school and finish my education.”

That phrase “my education” means so much to me because I can only imagine the strength that it took for her to assert power over her education and her life simultaneously. For most of us in Education, it is natural to link these together, but we sometimes overlook how much it takes for our students to achieve this self-determination and how powerfully the classroom environment can contribute to these efforts.

She concluded, “What I have learned from your class and the poems make me stronger.” I know that the strength came entirely from her, but I am grateful that our curriculum could provide her with an impetus to make a decision that she had considered in different ways for some time.

As an aside…This just reinforces for me that each of our students deserves to pursue their education, not a one-size-fits-all prescription. I’m beyond proud and gratified to work with colleagues and students who are committed to helping one another do this every day, and I hope that our larger institutional administration does not force us into the role of abusive spouse, dictating to our diverse communities which jobs their residents are allowed to pursue by denying them access to the full array of college programs within their community. Instead, I hope we can be true to our mission and support every student as they define and pursue whatever constitutes their version of “my education.”

Erica McCormack is a Professor of Fine Arts and Humanities at Harold Washington College

Tuesday Teaching Topic: Effective Ways to deal with Late Assignment Submissions

We all receive our first graded homework submissions at different times, but I’d guess that for many of us, week 2 brings in the first batch. We know what’s coming. Despite our good advice and warnings, there will be students who do not submit their work. There will be students who do the work poorly. There will be students who have excuses about why they do not have their work to submit. There will be students who turn in something, but which does not fit the assignment requirements.

How do you respond to this? How should we respond? As an undergraduate, the majority of my professors didn’t say anything. They did not lecture us with the importance of turning in our assignments. They did not berate us. They did not try to teach us that it was important to submit assignments. I think our professors believed that we students knew the score: we knew what we were supposed to do and why we were supposed to do it. If we didn’t turn in our work, we knew the consequences.

Maybe that was right: maybe we students did know the score. Maybe we accepted the necessity and value in submitting work on time. Perhaps we had been trained properly.

But I wonder: are all students properly educated in behavior like submitting homework on time? Should they be? If a student doesn’t turn in their work, should this be interpreted as a lack of knowledge, rather than a sign of poor practice? Maybe the “knowledge” is deeper than simply accepting a fact about a world, but having the belief about a due date and responsibility to be deeply connected and rooted into a much larger social framework. But it is that larger social framework that needs addressing. Do we address it?