Coffee heat rising

Higher Ed in Arizona: Soon to get even BETTER!

What can one say?

Having closed academic programs and laid off several thousand employees, shucked off almost all graduate student support, and inflicted six months’ of furloughing on faculty and  staff, the powers that be in Arizona higher education have decided it’s time to “improve” the universities.

Their idea of improvement? Privatize entire colleges. Bloat enrollments still further. Eliminate small and politically unpopular programs. Expand online course offerings by a factor of nine. Graduate still more students who can barely spell their own names.

No joke.

Noting that, at 25.3 percent, Arizona’s ratio of college graduates among adults 25 and older compares dismally with the nationwide figure of 27.5 percent, the Board of Regents proposes to tie university funding to each institution’s number of bachelor’s degree graduates. The more ignoramuses you turn out, the greater your share of state funding!

Remember, we’re already graduating seniors who don’t know what a preposition is, who think Wisconsin is a Rocky Mountain state, and who believe that World War I happened in the 19th century. Not that these minor shortcomings should affect your ability to flip burgers and stock the shelves at Walmart…

Arizona State University, with almost 70,500 students, is a hectic, overcrowded zoo. Some young Arizonans choose to attend the community colleges as long as they can specifically because they perceive such an environment is counterproductive to real learning. ASU proposes to increase its brick-and-mortar enrollment by 15,000, create a three-year “college lite” program with a limited choice of majors and lower tuition, and to add 27,000 students to its online programs.

Think of that. We’re talking about 112,000 students plus an unknown number in the college lite program, all riding the conveyer belt through a single learning factory’s assembly line.

You know, there’s a reason Arizona’s graduation rate is so low. Actually, one can readily find two reasons.

First, the poverty rate in this state is sky-high. Overall, 24.2 percent of Arizona children lack access to enough safe and nutritious food to ensure an active, healthy life. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 21.2 percent of Arizonans live in poverty, compared to 14.3 percent nationwide. Poverty levels are even more extreme on the reservations: in Apache County, 29.8 percent of the population lives in “critical” poverty; in Graham County, the rate is 22.3 percent; in Navajo County, 23.7 percent. When you’re wondering where your next meal is coming from, matters like literacy and education don’t rate very high among your concerns.

And second, thanks to a long history of neglect, legislative short-sightedness, and underfunding, Arizona’s educational system ranks at the bottom in terms of quality, nationwide. Depending on how you look at it, our K-12 system is either 46th in the nation or 50th.

Now the Board of Regents proposes that our colleges and universities be funded according the number of ill-prepared kids they can push through four years of education lite: i.e., by the number of bogus bachelor’s degrees they can hand out.

They propose to privatize the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, one of the very few facets of our higher education system that has managed to achieve a decent reputation, 38th among the nation’s law schools. Its tuition is already $19,225 a year for in-state students and $32,619 a year for out-of state students, exclusive of an estimated $10,660 for room and board. This will cut off professional training in the law to even more of our impoverished citizens, as tuition will rise into the stratosphere. Phoenix already has a proprietary law school, proudly ensconced in its artificially gentrified downtown, and so the new owners will have to compete with an outfit that provides night-school and online law degrees. We’ve already seen the quality of education in proprietary schools; this strategy will bring that level of excellence to the Sandra Day O’Connor school.

Thirty thousand students will float through online programs (the university already has 3,000 people in online programs). I’ve been teaching courses online for a long time; after several years of online teaching at ASU, last summer the community college district certified me as an instructor of its online courses. Lemme tell you something: a good online course can’t hold a candle to a good face-to-face course.

Good  learning requires good mentoring. It is based in discourse. That would mean conversation, observation, discussion, understanding. These things exist only in altered form in the online environment.

An online course is to learning as Facebook is to friendship.

Online courses are correspondence courses, barely adequate to the task of reading a textbook and taking a test on it. They do not suffice for studies that require lab experiences or field research, for learning that requires people to develop the ability to reason and argue on their feet, for thoughtful give-and-take.

Certain academic disciplines are, not surprisingly given the atavistic climate, politically toxic. Ethnic studies and women’s studies rank high among these. State Superintendent of Education Tom Horne, a crass pol of the demagogic kind, wrote a legislative bill that his fellow fruitcakes passed, banning ethnic studies classes in Arizona high schools because, said he, they promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.

I just know you think I’m kidding. Who would believe such a story if they were sober?

At any rate, the result of this performance—designed to pander to the widespread bigotry in the mob mentality here—ethnic and women’s studies faculty in the universities watched their programs run right down the drain. The sociology department at ASU, which had already been all but shut down (full of socialists, you understand…you can tell by the “socio” part, and because it’s housed in the school of “liberal” arts), has no place for these idled tenure-track and tenured faculty. So…quite a few junior and even senior faculty are wondering how much longer they’ll have jobs in the New American University.

You think I’m kidding about that socialist business, don’t you?

No. Not at all. It’s our version of reality.

Words fail me.

Bombs Away: Academic trench warfare revisited

A query from one of my honored students:

I am wondering why the rough draft for the proposals are being graded on grammar content. I was always under the impression rough drafts do not worry about grammar content and areforgathering your thoughts together for the final draft.

Nowhere in the course materials does the slightest suggestion appear that any of the six writing assignments are “rough drafts.” Could there be a reason that I wrote and posted not one, not two, not three, but four reviews of basic grammar and style matters, and that I gave not one, not two, but three exams on that material? Might there be some reason that I posted rubrics explaining how papers would be graded on basic grammar and style, among several standards? Could there be a reason that I posted an example of copy graded in that way and told students to look at it so they would know what was expected? And might I have had some motive for putting this passage into the syllabus?

For writing assignments, writers start with 100 points; points are subtracted for various crimes and misdemeanors. For example, each Basics Review error, redundancy, or verbosity costs 2 points; logical lapses and organizational flaws, 4 points; citation errors, 6 points; and so forth. See the document titled “Essay Scoring List,” posted in Course Documents on our BlackBoard site, for a full description of deductible errors.

Or this, in the assignments handout?

Writing projects start at 100 points and challenge writers to maintain the highest possible score by creating papers that are well written, logically argued, and free of basic grammar, punctuation, and style errors. Points are deducted for specific kinds of errors, described in the Essay Scoring List, posted in “Course Information.”

Naaaahhhh. I must’ve done that just to hear my brains rattle.
. . . the rough draft are being graded . . .”
“grammar content”
“. . . drafts do not worry about . . .”

What? Me, worry?

Stand by, all you entrepreneurs! This young fellow will soon graduate and show up at your door asking for a job. Awe-inspiring, isn’t it?

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

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1 Comment

Mrs. Micah

Dear student: Why are you turning in rough drafts?

Micah sometimes runs into that when he assigns a paper and then an expanded version of the same paper. He does it so they will have a better chance of learning from their mistakes…but yeah.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 – 09:15 AM

Life in the Academic Trenches

Today I’ve GOT to read student papers, having put it off way too long. Friday I finished the last raft at midnight, as new papers were pouring in. Yesterday I had the temerity to invite friends over, which required me to clean the shack as well as fixing an actual meal. And I made doing the proposed new client’s editing test a priority. This left a half-hour to read papers, sandwiched between the time all the work was done and the time my guests showed up…not long enough to read even one magnum opus.

Next week’s set of papers is the last of the semester. Thank God. Let’s hope it’s the last of my career. Reading incoherent, barely literate copy generated by university juniors and seniors is actually painful.

Here are some examples from the fourth iteration of the same assignment, a proposal that a local company establish an on-site child-care center:

Children learn best when they are actively involved in group activities and also encourages socialization to prepare them for elementary school and set them on a path of life-long learning.

Research has established that women, on average, do miss more work days than men and unscheduled absenteeism has nothing to do with illness as it has to do with family issues or personal needs.

Having sufficient child care will be helpful when the company has high volume periods and employees will be able to work overtime. This problem is evident with employees having to take personal time from their work to either pick up their children, or find sufficient care. Most child care facilities charge late fees for picking up their children late, and employees would have to leave early from their work to pick up their child at a certain time. This problem is caused by not having sufficient space to build a facility. Most corporations that are already built are surrounded by other buildings, and there is no space to build another place of business. No provision of child care for employees has been a known problem and has played a role in not meeting deadlines for projects.

A member of the same group recently posted a paper titled “Sumary.”

In about three weeks, the Great Desert University will confer the bachelor’s degree on authors of this C-minus material. Why are they passing? For the same reason my young plagiarists are passing: check it out. Add to that situation the fact that a very fine colleague short-listed for a position at a California university failed to get the job because of defamatory remarks posted on Rate My Professors, and you get the picture, eh? When hiring, promotion, and tenure decisions are made on the basis of popularity contests, one does what one can to keep the customers happy.

Interestingly, one of last night’s guests is a sociologist. She doesn’t even teach writing, yet she also used the word “painful” to describe the work of reading our marginally educated students’ efforts. It is painfully sad to see how badly America—or at least Arizona—has done by the last generation or two of its young people. Really, there’s no excuse for it.

Well, I’m glad I’m not waiting tables, soliciting people over the phone, cleaning house, or digging ditches. And I’m thankful I don’t have to risk my life fighting fires, even though a friend makes a very good living at that. But if I had to advise a young person about a future career, I’d tell her to stay away from university teaching unless she has a heart of steel. The problems in our educational system are so vast, there’s nothing a single person can do about them. If altruism is your life’s goal, there has to be someplace where you can make a difference.

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How terribly depressing.

While part of me wants to call you on not standing alone in the drift, I can’t and won’t because I can see that the power of the current would knock you down before the first objection left your lips.

I wonder, though, what change could be implemented with an organized effort of educators who are like-minded.I’m not saying that you should throw caution to the wind and lead the charge yourself, but I’d like to see someone do it.

Preferably before Son starts school.Anyone want to take the reins sometime in the next sixteen months?Thanks.

Sunday, April 27, 2008 – 03:49 PM


IMHO, parents today have three choices:

Buy or rent in a decent school district and ride herd, every minute of every day, on the kids’ progress and on what goes on in their classrooms; also add plenty of extra educational enrichment at home in the form of books, magazines, field trips, and travel; or

Put your kids in private school and ride herd, every minute of every day, on the kids’ progress and on what goes on in their classrooms; also add plenty of extra educational enrichment at home in the form of books, magazines, field trips, and travel; or

Home-school your kids and ride herd, every minute of every day, on the kids’ progress; also add plenty of extra educational enrichment at home in the form of books, magazines, field trips, and travel.

At this point, it looks like educating your kids is largely up to you. Possibly it’s ever been thus.

Sunday, April 27, 2008 – 04:32 PM

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