Friday, August 26, 2016

Welcome to the Tea-Partying Party

So we're going to have an all-college "summit" on enrollment this fall, a full day of required meetings for all faculty and staff.  Full day as in 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  On a Friday. 

I know that the way we manage our classrooms can affect the reputation (and enrollment) of the college.  I also know that my fellow full-time faculty are really, really good; they have to be good in the classroom, given the nature of our particular college. 

I also know that I am not a retention specialist, an advisor, a counselor, or an enrollment expert.  I also know that our administration will do practically nothing that the faculty suggests that may positively impact enrollment.  At LD3C, we faculty have very, very little input on scheduling -- and scheduling is big problem affecting enrollment -- and history has taught us that whenever we're asked to contribute in these summits, our suggestions are often ignored. 

At one such summit a year ago -- something about general issues at the college -- the administration invited us to speak openly ... and then roundly and loudly put down anyone who did so.  It got quiet in a hurry ... and we were chastised for that, too. 

We've been promised lunch, though.  I hope there's coffee.  It goes well with whiskey.

I used to love my job.  I used to respect my profession. 

- Great Lakes Greta


  1. Right? Survey after survey shows that our students have issues with parking, transportation, financial aid, housing, dining, and campus life. The solution? Professional development for the teaching faculty.

  2. My apologies to all for not signing the above missive (prompting our beloved mod to use "Greta?" as a signature). Yes, it's my rant. My real tea-partying rant.

    God, I hate the end of summer.

    1. I am running the page from my phone today and I am not quite as sharp with tiny interface!

    2. If "tiny interface" can be a euphemism for my brain, I'm right there with you today. There is simply not enough coffee.

  3. If Batshit U. were a real business it would go bust before I could post this comment. This doesn’t stop president Gol Dintalead from thinking he is Warren Buffet, however. He loves the kind of summit mentioned here, but pays outside consultants to plan and conduct them. It’s apparent that he thinks he is getting a unique product from them, when in fact it’s some kind of template-y cookie-cutter thing.

    Batshit U. and its students have all the enrollment & scheduling issues Greta mentioned, plus an increasing amount of the types of problem Frankie highlighted.

    Solutions so far have included admin flash mobs dancing on Youtube, making use of whatever Facebook’s font is an apparent bid to look cool, and creating a working group in each department that had to go through a half-day workshop on how to reduce stationery costs (facilitated, of course, by an outside consultant).

    It’s amazing to us faculty that these ideas (if that’s the right word) are something that a) he thought would help, and b) cost a fortune in consultants’ fees.

    To slightly paraphrase Greta, I used to respect my institution.

    1. It’s apparent that he thinks he is getting a unique product from them, when in fact it’s some kind of template-y cookie-cutter thing.

      This is one of the things that really worries me about the whole run-it-like-a-business/pay-outside-consultants-for-stuff-faculty-used-to-decide trend. It's not just the administrators pay outrageous sums to outside consultants (though of course that rankles), or that we have to do it all over again every time one of those administrators moves "up" ( a school with a larger budget, because apparently that's how you measure quality, or at least prestige, or maybe just the likelihood that you'll earn an outrageous salary yourself without becoming a consultant), so that the new incumbent can make his (it's usually his) mark. It's that they all apparently pay for, and then follow, the same advice at the same time, with no sense that they're getting a mass-produced product with their logo machine-embroidered on it rather than a bespoke garment.

      This is bad enough when we're talking about retention of students in groups already being served (or at least attending) the institution, but it gets really dangerous when in one 3-5 year period large numbers of universities are putting large amounts of resources into attracting online students who will pay full price (but not take up too many resources) from hither and yon, then in the next 3-5 year period they're all rushing to attract international students (and contracting with the same 2 or 3 firms to do it), and so on. While I'm not convinced that U.S. higher ed is a sinking ship (I certainly hope not), the image that comes to mind is everybody rushing to one side of the deck, then the other, then the prow. At the very least, that's not going to help the stability of the boat.

      But administrators don't seem to see that this is happening. I really don't think they're dumb (or, for that matter, that CEOs who do similar dumb stuff are dumb). So why?

  4. Yes. I sat through hours (ours are two days of meetings) and hours about retention. Apparently, we professors need to identify students who are struggling and ask them to come to our office hours and the learning center. We sat there, at a predominately teaching institution, and heard this over, and over, and over. At one point someone said "But -- you raised course caps this semester -- " and was shouted over. Someone else also pointed out that they lowered entrance requirements -- and was shouted over. Nope, nope, none of that is a problem. The only problem is that we faculty don't care enough.

    Tea party them right up the Trump. That's what I say.

    1. That is what I object to the most, the notion that the professors are the only factor that affects student outcomes. It's trickle-up bullshit from NCLB. I knew it was coming. I was hoping it wouldn't arrive until I retired.

      I'm at least ten years away from retirement, and it's become my unhealthy obsession.

    2. I, too, really worry about that trickle up, and find myself plotting plans B,C,and above sometimes when I really should be doing the job I've got (and hope to have for another 18 years or so, though I might be able to shave a few off that and not starve).

      Unfortunately, one of the alternatives I can think of is to become one of those tea-partying outside consultants. Or some sort of administrator (and I do know and respect plenty of responsible ones, but those waters look pretty perilous).

    3. I just found out that this phenomenon has a name: The Streetlight Effect. 

      We know that the drivers of retention are:
      1) the students themselves (UCLA's Higher Ed Research Institute even has a calculator), and
      2) Expensive things like smaller class sizes and copious financial aid.

      But you know what's free, fun, and never goes out of fashion? Blaming the teachers.

  5. Our all-faculty orientation meeting for the new academic year (a) was scheduled an hour longer than usual, (b) was somehow turned into an all-faculty-and-all-staff meeting, (c) included exactly nothing of interest to the staff before the intermission so all the staff when back to work during the intermission, (d) had nearly an hour of stuff intended only for the staff after the intermission, but that's OK, there must have been three of them still in the room, and the greatest sin (e) featured a "carpool karaoke" segment staring administration members pushing the latest business-self-help-book inspired initiative to fix all our woes.


  6. At one such summit a year ago -- something about general issues at the college -- the administration invited us to speak openly ... and then roundly and loudly put down anyone who did so. It got quiet in a hurry ... and we were chastised for that, too.

    I would have been very tempted to purchase and snail-mail copies of Crucial Conversations, with appropriate passages marked with post-it notes, to the relevant administrators after that (the book talks about just this sort of situation; unfortunately, though it has some good suggestions for the sort of approaches and attitudes that up the odds of defusing rather than escalating tricky situations, I strongly suspect that, as with most self-help books, following the prescription wouldn't result in quite the sort of near-miraculous improvements portrayed in the book). Of course it might be a good idea to wear latex gloves while preparing the packages (and winter ones while mailing them), and to use a large post office, just in case.

    The other alternative would be to sprinkle copies around where faculty could find them (as long as their are no surveillance cameras).

    Of course, you'd need the budget to buy the books in the first place, which you probably couldn't (or at least shouldn't) request from the administrators in the first place. Or maybe you could? I suppose the professional thing would be to say something like "I noticed that we had some difficulty communicating on both sides last year; maybe we should all read and discuss this book about talking about difficult subjects?"

    But something about the current workplace climate (not necessarily at my place, or at least not yet) has me imagining less direct,and less professional, approaches. Funny how that works.

  7. We had an annoying little shit of a Dean, who also made a big show of soliciting faculty opinion, except when it disagreed with his. Since I have tenure, I continued to give him my unvarnished opinions, and when he'd call them "uncollegial" or "unprofessional," I'd make sure all the other faculty could hear me say, "Hey, you DID ask." This had the noticeable effect of encouraging the other faculty, so I didn't let up.

    It got so bad, once when I was called into his office, I actually did prepare by feasting on baked beans, cabbage, and cauliflower, and did indeed let him HAVE IT. That was the last time I was ever called into his office, before he left to become dean at some other university, and God help them, but at least it is far from here.

  8. By the way, it takes some doing to shout me down. It's one of many benefits of having spent my younger days in a rock 'n' roll band.