Think, Know, Prove: Reading

Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

I’ve been looking at my bookshelf with a wolfish lust of late (I think I might even involuntarily growl at it now and again), looking forward to guiltless and unfettered summer reading time–lining up a top ten in the order I want to read them and then rearranging them the next day, saying “I can’t wait” at least four times a week. (Current Top Ten(ish): Moneyball, Infinite Jest, The City of Dreaming Books, Neverwhere, Walden, The Mind’s Eye, All the Devils Are Here, Frontiers of Justice, The Black Swan, Chaos, Elements of Positional Evaluation, Luka and The Fire of Life.)

Then, early this week, one reader sent me this–a list of statistics about book reading, and then I stumbled on this–an article about how intellectuals have been lamenting the good old days when people knew stuff and actually read for as long as there have been books. It made for an interesting pairing, and all of that happened during a week when I was semi-frustrated because I could not remember where I had read this–an article about different approaches to reading (spiritual seeker versus philosophical seeker) and the week after I’d pulled a book off my shelf that I hadn’t looked at in probably six years (Chu Hsi’s Learning to Be a Sage) and ran into a few of his ideas about reading:

In 13th century China, Chu Hsi writes, “Nowadays in reading a text, people have yet to read to this point here, and their minds are already on some later passage. And as soon as they do read what’s here, they wish to put it aside [and move on]. This sort of reading doesn’t aim for a personal understanding of the text. We must linger over what we read, longing to understand it. Only if we don’t wish to put it aside will we come to a personal appreciation of it. He also said: Reading a text is like looking at this house here. If you view the house from the outside, then say that you have finished seeing it, there’ll be no way to understand it. You must go inside and look around at each and every thing. What’s the size and layout of the structure? What’s the extent of the latticework? Look through the house once, then again and again. Remember everything, and you’ll have understood it.”

In another passage, he writes, “Someone asked: In reading, what do you do when you become confused by a multitude of views? The Master replied: You have to opne your mind and read through each and every view. Read one view, then another. Read them over and over again, and then right and wrong, the good and the bad, will all naturally become clear. This can be compared to a person wanting to know if a certain man is good or bad. He should keep his eye on him wherever he goes, following him here and there, observing his words and deeds, and then he’ll know whether he’s good or bad. He also said: you must simply open your mind. He also said: Wash away the old opinions to bring forth a new understanding.”

Anyway, all of that, along with the recent grading I’ve been doing (of philosophical critical reading skills), have me thinking about reading this week. Take it where you will. You may want to discuss what you’ll be reading this summer. You may want to say something about something in one of the articles linked above. You may want to say something about the library and the wonders of it (not to mention the goofy things going on all over with respect to them). You may want to talk about something else altogether. Great. It’s all good. The topic is reading.

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Think, Know, Prove–Morale

I got an email today from a colleague at another college who said that morale is in the pits–that there’s a palpable feeling of despondency among the faculty in the halls. He asked what the morale was like at HW, if the same kind of feeling is present at our college. Thinking about it, I didn’t quite know what to answer.

So, what’s it like out there?

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Think, Know, Prove–Academic Freedom

Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

In light of the discussion that broke out last weekend in one of the comment threads and Carrie’s post from Thursday, not to mention the goofy stuff going on in Wisconsin and Michigan, I thought I’d put the hot lights on “Academic Freedom” today.

If you could write your own statement on Academic Freedom–a statement in which that elusive term is defined and one for which you’d be welcome, even encouraged, to build from any and all sources on the topic you can muster from specific court cases to famous incidents to quirky and thought-provoking sources of information or other points of light (somewhere in my office, I have a GREAT opinion piece on Academic Freedom; I will post it if I can find it) that you find inspiring–what would it say?

What is Academic Freedom from where you sit?

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Think, Know, Prove–Ad Hominem Discomfort

The Ad Hominem fallacy is well defined as occurring when debaters introduce “irrelevant personal premisses about [their] opponent. Such red herrings may successfully distract the opponent or the audience from the topic of the debate.” While I am not displeased by the media attention on the activities of our district administration, I’ve grown steadily more discomfited by the easy slips into fallacious argument, usually personal attack, that it has fostered.

A read-through of the comments that follow the CBS-2 story is enough to trouble anyone not indifferent to the boundaries of reasonable argumentation. Toss in some additional suggestions of contemporary social theory (ideas like the possibility that complaints about subject-verb agreement and misspoken words are really overt markers of social punishments for class and/or race transgression  (the odious underlying assumption being something like the easily-disproved-yet-difficult-to-dislodge-completely belief that the use of “standard English grammar is a sign of intelligence and the absence of the former is a signal of the absence of the latter)) and a semi-hysterical furor and we’ve got the makings of what one sober commenter called something that feels increasingly like a witch hunt.

As with historical witch hunts, the portrayals of those involved are demonizing, hyperbolic, and paranoid, and the effect is often spread around, poisoning the entire environment. An example of this would be the criticisms (present in the CBS comment threads and both of the recent anonymous blogs) of our new President on the basis of his previous employer, previous boss, spouses’ job, and more.

Before I started teaching as an adjunct, my professional experience consisted of working in a Marketing department, where my most impactful job was probably proofreading the first bus and last bus times times on the system map of the CTA; I only had that job in the first place (hello…philosophy major) thanks to the efforts of my chinaman (as in the Royko usage; or as here, third definition intended, definitely NOT the first), a regular from the bar I was working in while in grad school who, truth be told, probably did more work for the 11th Ward than he did for the CTA. Speaking of previous employment, at the time I was hired to teach full time, my primary source of income was still slinging whiskey in a bar on Division Street. When I got out of college, my first job was testing the air quality of and managing asbestos abatement projects. My boss at that company is now serving time in the Federal Penitentiary in Michigan.

What does any of that have to do with my ability to do those jobs and do them well? Nothing.

What does any of the above have to do with the “criticisms” aimed at either our Chancellor or new President? Well, at the risk of appearing to be a bit of a suck up, I’d say that their situation is similar. I am sure that we could all name ten academics whom we’d NEVER want to be Chancellor or President, right off the top of our heads and immediately. I’m equally sure that, if we looked, we could find ten educational leaders who were impressive in their effectiveness without previous experience as academics. In the comments of the CBS stories and in the blogs , the Chancellor has been criticized for being mean, scared, unpolished, and unprofessional while masterminding (or at least facilitating for some nefarious lever pulling cabal of greedy executives) the secret corporate takeover in plain sight of a huge institution.

Do you see the tensions there?

She is criticized consistently for a personal bankruptcy. Harold Washington, the man after whom our college is named, served 36 days in the county lock up for an income tax problem. Which is worse? If the first one is grounds for suggesting that Cheryl Hyman shouldn’t be Chancellor then the latter would suggest that, if he were alive, HW wouldn’t qualify to be the President of the College that is named after him, much less the Chancellor of the system.

She has certainly made some terrible decisions along the way–I truly can’t believe that she didn’t go around to all of the campuses to meet the faculty, set up and then canceled all of the meetings with local faculty councils over the summer, including the district wide faculty/administration retreat, all of which meant that the first interactions most faculty had with her was at the DWFDW fiasco (another terrible decision); no doubt, there have been some doozies, but a lot of the criticism I’ve seen seems rooted in deep personal dislike, and criticism rooted in “taste” is always deserving of suspicion. I have grown to appreciate many people whom I did not personally like.

(Related, mildly digressive, possibly offensive story (please skip to the next paragraph if you have delicate sensibilities): I once had a boss who liked to say, on his happy days, “Well, you’ll never have a meaner boss than me,” as a kind of consolation and half apology for his other days. My first week on the job, he called me out, screaming in front of the staff and customers, “Richardson! You ASSHOLE! What the fuck are you DOING with that? If you screw as slow as you work, you’d be the best piece of ass in Chicago!!” It went downhill from there. Ten minutes later, a bit shaken up, one of my colleagues sidled up to me and said, “Don’t worry about it. Asshole is a term of endearment for him. If he calls you a motherfucker, though, that means you’re fired.” He fired me twice. He was probably the best boss I’ve ever had in the sense of the one from whom I learned the most.)

With respect to our new President and his previous (and ongoing) associations with CCA and the rest, I would urge everyone reading this to remember that while he was “found” and vetted by an expensive national search executive consultant, he was ALSO interviewed and recommended by a committee that included the current FC4 President (Ellen), the current local FC President (Rosie), at least two highly respected and fabulous faculty members (Marite Fregoso and Brian Nix), an adjunct (Floyd Bednarz, also President of CCCLOC), a member of 1708, and at least one student.

I had a 90 minute conversation with him myself and came out of it thinking that if it had been an interview, he’d have gotten a “highly recommended” rating from me. I was very impressed with his approach and his assumptions about what he needed to do; I was also both pleased and impressed by his sense of purpose, his motivation, his description of how his previous experiences will translate into our environment (all covered in his letter), and his candor. He seems like a person who is grounded in moral commitments and principles that are consistent with our mission, and one who takes an approach that is best described as academic–thoughtful inquiry grounded in prior knowledge aimed at testing and reformulating hypotheses, pursued out of enthusiasm for the subject matter–even if he is not himself marked by that particular label (yet).

And yes, I know that actions will speak louder than words, and consultants are trained to be good listeners and leave the people they’re about to disembowel smiling and looking forward to it and blah, blah, blah. Still, I do not think I am particularly naive (or, at least, I am not often accused of that unexpectedly). I also do not think that people who work in Corporate America are inherently evil. The best advice I got as a chair came from a guy who did financial services consulting (and I got plenty of bad advice from academics, come to think of it).

I think I am somewhat unusually willing to live in a state of suspended judgment–in an extended state of, “Well let’s see what happens.” I suggest that is, at the least, the proper attitude to have toward our new President, if not to be downright optimistic on the basis of how he’s approaching the job. The same ought to be said about the Reinvention recommendations. Let’s see what they are, rather than engage in poisoning of the well. That is after all, what academics do (or should, anyway), and where we see anything else–from peers, from students, from reporters, etc., we ought to oppose it.

It is not my suggestion that all of the criticisms regarding the Chancellor, the President, and Reinvention are fallacious, but it did start to feel a little hysterical this week, and as things ramp up in the lead up to the next board meeting and the release of the task force recommendations, I think it is important to have a little discussion about the rules of engagement and the standards of reasoning we are going to employ and allow. I know that there are some who will say that it is folly to declare any tools of rhetoric or persuasion as off limits, if not downright derelict given the motivations of the “opposition” and potential impact of their actions. (I knew a guy, once upon a time, who thought it an important matter of principle to announce the following to anyone with whom he was in conflict: “Sir, should this situation come to blows, you should know that the Marquess of Queensbury rules will not apply.” A mutual friend of ours spent many hours on one slow Sunday night trying to persuade the guy that to announce such a thing was to fritter away an important advantage, and if he was going to fight “dirty” anyway, there was no need to announce it. No one was persuaded, and it did not come to blows.). I understand that position, but I am unconvinced.

We may be tempted at times to take the kitchen sink approach (more is better–throw it all) and watch in silent approval while someone uses a bad argument to make a point because we happen to agree with the conclusion being asserted. There might even be temptation to endorse the speaker, despite knowing that the argument given was a dubious one, because of our belief that the situation is dire. To do so, though, is to engage in bad faith. Such actions lessen the strength and impact of the good arguments we may have in our pockets, and so ultimately undermine the cause we’re trying to support, if not right away then in retrospect.

So, the question is, how are we going to do this in a way that is both reasonable and responsible? Or should we even worry about standards of reasonability and responsibility?

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Think, Know, Prove: Data Fest

Back in 2006 or so, I distinctly remember a presentation that Keenan did to the Chairs about the percentage of HW and CCC students who “achieved a positive outcome.” Students were asked more specific questions than PeopleSoft does about their intent, and then they were tracked for six years, I think. I remember being astonished by the research and amazed that it wasn’t being hyped–in my fuzzy memory, I thought the report  close to 80% of the students who came in, left with a positive outcome (and I thought I remembered categories like completion, transfer, retention/still going, and those who “got what they came for” if they came for personal interest. I also thought there was a category for those who left or stopped out, but were in good academic standing at the time, after completing a successful semester (the idea being that their personal circumstances posed some kind of obstacle to their continuing), and a category for those who left after an unsuccessful semester (which would have been the ones who did not achieve a positive outcome).

I’ve been combing my files on and off, in 8 minute bursts here and there, looking for the handout that Keenan gave us, but to no avail. I haven’t been up to ask Keenan for it, because, well, I don’t want to put her in a bind and my description would be so vague that it probably wouldn’t be helpful. And then somebody struck gold.

A friend of mine was poking around the Intranet and ended up in corners that I have not yet visited (please note: that link will only work while you are on campus, connected to the network). She wandered into this and this, and then she sent them to me.

They have some great stuff in there. For example:

Community college student outcomes should not be reported in a fragmented manner. Due to the multiple educational and career goals of these students, the use of multiple and comprehensive measures is essential to document the achievement of these goals.

And then there’s this:

Total Positive               DA               HW             KK                MX               OH           TR             WR                CCC
Outcomes                      65.0%         71.3%         54.9%        55.0%         61.7%     71.1%       73.8%            66.7%

And there’s more, too. And, please note, this is all available (and more!) on the CCC Intranet. Their own research and data shows that the reinvention numbers are but one look at how successful we are at serving students. It is undeniably true, as I’ve said before, that they can and should be improved, but they clearly do not tell the whole story.

So, take a look at this stuff and then tell me: What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?


Think, Know, Prove: Zero Based Budgeting

Zero Based Budgeting: it’s the new rage, only it’s not so very new.

Two things that are consistent across most of the different sources linked above and most of what I’ve read about ZBB over the last 36 hours suggests that it can be a powerful source of budgeting reform and that, if rushed or not well understood when implemented, it can be worse than whatever method it replaces.

You may be thinking–“Why is he talking about Zero Based Budgeting?” Good question. Perhaps you saw the summary of the HW Chairs meeting so graciously provided by Ivan Tejeda (thanks, Ivan!) yesterday and took particular notice of #2 on the list. Or maybe your chair has called you in the last few days looking for some info, half frantic, half sobbing, half coherent or all three. If not (or if so), neither of those is how it landed on my radar; here’s how I heard about it:

On Thursday night, I received a personal email from a friend who works at another college about the Chairs there having been informed that they had to come up with a list of expenditures for next year, along with associated justifications that tie those expenditures to the strategic goals of CCC (see the four goals of reinvention) and/or other institutional goals (excellence in teaching, improved customer service, student and staff security, etc.), and with performance measures (which should include baseline data and new targets); they were to compile and submit all of that within 72 hours or so in order for the local administration to compile and review them, all in order to meet a swiftly approaching district deadline of March 15th. So I wrote to a couple of HW chairs and found out that they’d received the same marching orders.

Among the documents they received from District, via our V.P., was included a time line for the ZBB implementation, which said that from February 16th to March 11th, Chairs and Deans would build their annual plan and budget proposal, which would be reviewed by the college and forwarded to the district office by March 15th.

An interesting associated problem was that the document itself was dated February 24th. Another issue is that the chairs received it on February 28th.

In other words, the explanation of ZBB and the forms required to do it–the former of which, according to multiple sources (see above) being utterly crucial to effective implementation of this powerful, but time consuming process–was 1) created a full week into the four week working period; 2) not delivered to the parties responsible until two weeks in; 3) dropped on the Chairs’ door steps just in time for midterms (which is not only the due date, but also a particularly busy time for chairs’ own teaching as well as their faculty, not to mention a period of crucial feedback for students that can have significant impact on their success and/or persistence in the course).

The upshot is that the Chairs are left with about a week to gather info from faculty and compile their planning for next year, as well as predicted expenditures–including numbers of adjuncts (despite the fact that information about sabbaticals, reinvention task force members, reinvention recommendations (which may affect programs), etc., are completely unavailable at the moment–and their justifications, and about half a week for local admins to compile it all, assuming that everyone is working for the weekend.

One of the chairs I spoke with about this whole thing put it this way:

Can it really be a good and useful thing to enact such a major change in the budgeting process within a ridiculously short time frame?  We have to ask what will ultimately be accomplished, overlooked, or harmed by an unfamiliar process that is rushed through for the sake of change.  Or, is there a sinister agenda at work here as well?

I have no answer for that Chair, but in the meantime, I can make two suggestions:

1. Plan on talking to your department chair, and doing so sooner rather than later, with your list of planned expenditures, needs, and plans for next year (description, $ amount, and a performance objective, along with a baseline and target measurement). If you don’t, there is a risk that in the rush (and not through malice), your project or need won’t make it into your department budget next year, and so may not happen. Help yourself by helping your Chair get some information about your plans and needs for next year, as best as you can cobble them together in the next few days.

2. Help us all understand a little more about Zero Based Budgeting by answering three crucial questions for us about this subject. What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

    Think, Know, Prove–Credentials of Economic Value

    Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

    Walking out of the State of the College Address two weeks and a day ago, I was approached by our fabulous English faculty member, Sarah Liston with a request: “Can you put up a post about what the phrase “credential of economic value” means?

    Anita Kelley had uttered the phrase during her presentation on Program Portfolio Review Task Force, and it immediately drew some quizzical looks and a little muttering from the crowd around me, leading me to believe, when she asked, that it would make a great TKP forum.

    So, this is it. Just what is a “credential of economic value,” anyway? How would you define that term? Do you think that it is a necessary condition for an educational program to have value? Is it a sufficient condition to call a learning path valuable? Is the money that students make from the educational credential a correlate of the value of the education, or a serendipitous but not correlated effect of the value of the education, or is it (the money) the cause and definition of the value of any academic credential?

    Feel free to answer any, all or none of the above.

    When it comes to “credentials of economic value,” what do you Think? What do you Know? What can you Prove?

    Think, Know, Prove: Local Strengths Contest

    Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

    Imagine that you have the power to wave a magic wand and, by doing so, put a spell of perpetual protection over whatever you deemed fit, to ensure that it would never be changed. What would you protect?

    What do you Think? What do you Know? What can you Prove?

    (The person whose response draws the most “Likes” by next Wednesday will be named “Commenter Of the Week,” or COW, a most prestigious honor.)

    Think, Know, Prove–New Version of Blackboard

    Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

    We have a new version of Blackboard, you know. My students seem to be navigating it without difficulty, so far; mostly the same is true for me, in no small part thanks to Ephrem’s screencast videos. Issues remain, though.

    I have heard that there is an issue with the email function; don’t know if that has been fixed yet. My three biggest problems so far have been 1) student difficulties opening and printing .pdfs; 2) the fact that when I post an External Link to specific YouTube video, it initially goes to the video, but then redirects to the home site before the video loads; and 3) when I tried to solve that problem by posting the video under the “Mashup” column (in a strange use of that word, it seems), I get only an error message.

    The first one is solved easily enough with a link to Adobe Reader and a brief explanation (and demonstration) that students should print from the .pdf frame rather than the browser. The second and third is resolved by having students right click on the link and open it in a new window. Still, something about that isn’t right.

    Mathissexy likes the new Gradebook much better than the old one, and I agree except for the fact that the frame is so tiny that I can only see 8 or so names at a time and the thing scrolls like walking zombie (as in not smooth).I like the Journal function, too, and suggested that students use it as a place to record their learning as we go (I might even require that next semester; not sure, though), but I haven’t made use of the Blog or some of the other new tools.

    Surely that is not all anyone has to say about it. What do you like? What do you despise? What should they fix?

    What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

    Think, Know, Prove–Prerequisite Fulfillment

    Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

    So, I’d go along with The Realist’s observation that the lack of a printed course catalog did not seem to affect students much during registration (although I met a couple in November who were rather annoyed by it–anecdotal evidence though, I admit), certainly not as much as I expected it to affect them.

    It did affect me, though, at least for the first day or two until I received a printout version from Mr. Brown (thank you, by the way, Mr. Brown for those!), particularly with respect to pre-requisites, which were not uniformly noted in PeopleSoft. Lots of them I knew, but there are plenty that I don’t.

    In our Humanities Department assessment survey a few years back, we discovered that just under 10% of our students did not meet the pre-reqs that we required for our courses, and that has stayed pretty steady (in my own experience, though it was much worse last semester for the Music people), despite our efforts to spread the word. Once I got the printed course catalog, I used it primarily for checking our local pre-reqs, and it saved me from making advising mistakes more than once.

    So, I’m wondering how many students enrolled by looking for available classes on myccc (rather than looking through the catalog) and in some cases meeting district wide pre-reqs, but not the local ones (which are not enforced in PeopleSoft) without ever becoming aware of the HW instructor/department expectations for their preparation until they walked into the first day of class. So this post is aimed at an informal (or formal) survey of classes and students and what percentage of them do not meet the pre-req for the course (if you happened to check/survey/have students confess/etc.).

    For example, the locally enforced pre-req for all five of my classes is “Completion or concurrent enrollment in English 101,” and the (self-reported, unverified) numbers for the students who came to the first class and filled out my survey look like this:

    Phil 105D: 1/33 (said s/he did not meet the pre-req)
    Phil 105K: 2/34
    Phil 106EY: 0/33
    Phil 106FY: 2/36
    Phil 110G: 2/31

    So that makes 7 out of 167 (or 4.2%, which is rather low relative to past semesters).

    What about you? And, while we’re at it, what about Pre-requisites? Anything?
    What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

    Think, Know, Prove–What Have You Got?

    Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

    I couldn’t think of a topic this week, and since one thing I know for sure is that you all know a lot, think a lot, and sometimes, even prove one or both of those statements to be true, I decided to just leave it wide open.

    So, what do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

    Think, Know, Prove–Focus Group Questions

    OOPS! I accidentally scheduled this to go up Sunday morning at 4am, rather than THIS morning. Sorry about the delay!

    At Thursday’s Reinvention Conversation, Scott Martyn brought along a few questions to help provoke some discussion if we weren’t forthcoming with opinions. As it happened, we never really got to the questions. As we were walking out, someone (I think it was Rosie, but it might have been Chris) suggested that they might make an interesting post for the Lounge. I completely agreed.

    The questions he intended to ask were:

    1. Why are you at City Colleges?
    2. What can we do to help our students achieve better?
    3. What practices have the most effective impact on students?
    4. How do you share information and ideas with your colleagues and access professional development info?
    5. What key issues have not been discussed in the Reinvention process?

    What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?