Thursday, September 22, 2011

Looking For Common Sense? Don't Look Here

I am on the faculty at one of the two largest state university systems in Texas. I work with people who are intellectually gifted, but who are similar to obama and members of his administration in that they have no real-world experience, massive egos, and miniscule common sense. Three examples:

1. The university president was wandering around campus on a Friday a few months ago and noticed that there were relatively few students around compared to Mondays through Thursdays. That's because, like most universities, our classes are scheduled for 1.5 hour slots on Mondays/Wednesdays and Tuesdays/Thursdays. Total weekly class time is thus 3 hours.

The president's solution to the 'problem' of campus under-utilization is to scrap the Mon./Wed. schedule and instead implement 1 hour classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Total class time is still 3 hours a week, but now students and faculty have to be on campus on Fridays. Needless to say, this has met with a large pushback from both groups. So far the president has stood firm. He has yet to articulate a compelling reason for this change, other than to repeat "The new schedule enables us to utilize the campus buildings more fully." He doesn't seem to understand the math that 2 x 1.5 = 3 x 1.

It should be noted that the president is an English Literature major.

2. Like most campuses, parking is at a premium. Last school year the faculty parking lot was gated, with access controlled by a magnetic card. This safeguarded us from the hordes of students circling through the parking lots like vultures. It also made it possible to use the card in different vehicles, if you happened to use another one for whatever reason.

This year the gates are gone and the cards replaced by a 'special' faculty sticker that is applied on the windshield. If you drive a second car, you have to buy a second sticker - and they ain't cheap. Furthermore, the penalty for parking in the faculty lot without the 'special' sticker is $5 for the first three offenses. Not surprisingly, it didn't take long for the students to figure out that $5 was a small price to pay for a premium parking spot. Now faculty are showing up late for class because our lot is full.

As a form of protest, some of us have begun a rotating schedule of parking in the president's reserved spot.

He is not amused.

3. I'm in the business school. Business schools around the world are accredited by the AACSB,a 'quality control' organization similar in concept to the Good Housekeeping seal of approval or the Underwriters Laboratories label. In general, AACSB accreditation is a good thing. It signifies that the school is devoted to providing a quality education, as set forth in a series of standards and guidelines.

AACSB emphasizes the concept of continuous improvement. A major part of the AACSB accreditation process is a review of the process and metrics used to measure such improvement. Unfortunately, over time the bureaucrats and administrators have taken over the AACSB, and become embedded in the member schools, to such a degree that actual outcomes are practically immaterial. What this means in practice is described below.

In year 1, School A's students are assessed as meeting 50% of the learning outcomes designated by that school. In Year 3, School A's students now meet 55% of the learning outcomes.

In Year 1, School B's students are assessed as meeting 75% of their learning outcomes. In Year 3, that figure remains constant.

In the eyes of AACSB, School A is doing a better job than School B because its results show improvement. AACSB is unconcerned with the actual outcomes. What matters is the process, not the result.

Fortunately, most faculty are truly focused on ensuring that their students leave class knowing more than they did when they came in. We don't need an outside agency to come in and tell us how to do our job. I'm not opposed to being evaluated or assessed. But for goodness sakes do so in a manner that makes sense.

Okay, enough venting for a while. I'm off in search of a cold Shiner to help erase the frustration that's been building since the semester began...

UPDATE: Evidently it's not just my university that lacks common sense.

No-Show College Professor's Excuse: He Died in April
University of Pennsylvania students who were puzzled by a no-show professor later found out why he missed the first day of class: He died months ago.

The students were waiting for Henry Teune to teach a political science class at the Ivy League school in Philadelphia on Sept. 13.

University officials say that about an hour after the class's start time, an administrator notified students by email that Teune had died. The email apologized for not having canceled the class.

Teune died in April at the age of 75.

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