President's Blog

 

One of the classic stereotypes in all of education relates to the tension between faculty and administrators. Like all stereotypes, there is certainly some truth to this. Having worked in both K-12 and higher education for decades as both a teacher and an administrator I have experienced cases where faculty thought their voices were not being heard and administrators thought they were not receiving the support they deserved. This stereotype is enforced when the media pays much closer attention to votes of no confidence and denials of tenure, but rarely covers a story about harmony and cooperation on campus.

But a recent survey conducted by The Chronicle of Higher Education tells a different story. Last August and September, The Chronicle conducted an online survey with 431 public and private, non-profit four-year colleges throughout the country. The survey was directed to the chief academic officers on each campus (provost or vice president for academic affairs) and the faculty in leadership positions (heads of faculty senates, faculty representatives on governing boards). The Chronicle received responses from 325 institutions including 254 faculty leaders and 175 academic leaders.

Despite the fact that faculty leaders were typically less positive than administrators in their assessment, a majority of both groups rated relations on campus as good or very good. Even more, a vast majority of respondents rated relations between faculty and administrators as improving on their campuses. Finally, almost 75% of the faculty who responded said that they trusted their administration to look out for the best interests of their institution.

Clearly, there are still areas of disagreement and tension. Faculty are more concerned about the trend to use an increased number of part-time faculty and adjuncts to provide instruction. Faculty also continue to desire greater involvement in decision making about budgets and expenditures. And 10% of the faculty respondents rated relations on their campuses as poor or very poor.

Especially interesting to me was the repeated observation that any significant problems in relations between faculty and administrators were caused more by the behaviors of specific individuals rather than a pervasive level of distrust or disrespect. This certainly correlates with my experience.

A small group of faculty or a single administrator can often ignite a level of tension and acrimony. But the overwhelming majority of faculty and administrators are collegial and share a commitment to the best interests of their institutions. They may disagree from time to time as to how best to reach the goal, but they overwhelmingly agree on the goal.

The fact is that a degree of tension between faculty and administrators is both normal and healthy. By definition, faculty advocate for academic programs, student quality and resources to support teaching, learning, scholarship and professional development. This is their job. This is their professional responsibility. These issues are critical to the academic integrity that they hold dear.

While administrators share these values, they must balance academic and faculty needs with broader institutional demands. No institution I know has the resources to support fully every program and every need. These complementary needs and demands create levels of dialogue and discussion that are central to a vibrant college.

Life on a college campus is rarely perfect. But faculty and administrators work side by side every day in the best interests of our students. Maybe someday you will see a story about this!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

I have been teaching for over forty years. In some ways, my approach to the teaching-learning process has not changed. I still try to engage every student, present information in ways that challenge their thinking, and encourage active learning.

But in other ways, things are different. I have finally given up my piece of chalk (although I have some in my desk just in case a blackboard suddenly reappears). I use PowerPoints, videos and assign electronic databases. I post assignments, grades and receive assignments online.

I made a decision a few years ago that I would not allow cell phones or computers in my class. I put this on the top of my syllabus and go over it on the first day. Unless students have an emergency where they might need to be contacted, phones and computers are off and out of sight.

A recent study conducted by the University of Nebraska was published in The Journal of Media Education. The study provided the results of a survey with 777 students (mostly undergraduate) at six colleges and universities regarding their use of digital devices in class for non-class purposes. The results should come as no surprise in a world where so many people have their cell phones out 24 hours a day emailing, texting, and even waking up during the middle of the night just to answer a message.

Ninety-two percent of the respondents indicated that they used their devices for non-class purposes in class. On average, undergraduates said they used these devices at least 11 times per day in class. Here is the breakdown:

Frequency of Student Device Use in Class for Non-Class Purposes, Per Day

Never

8%

1-3 times

35%

4-10 times

27%

11-30 times

16%

More than 30 times

15%

Types of Uses

Texting

86%

Checking the Time

79%

Email

68%

Social Networking

66%

Web Surfing

38%

Games

8%

When asked why they used their devices in class, even though they admitted that it was a distraction to them and classmates, they identified these “advantages:”

-staying connected (70%)

-avoiding boredom (55%)

-doing related classwork (49%)

Needless to say, most professors expressed frustration about this phenomenon. But what I found particularly interesting were some of the comments from professors who were less concerned about the use of devices.

Some are trying to integrate the use of electronic devices into classroom instruction … encouraging students to find relevant research or commentary at the same time that the professor is leading a discussion. Others put the burden on the faculty. While it may be a more realistic comment at institutions where class size is small, one professor said if students are bored or more interested in connecting with friends, maybe that’s an assessment of teaching style.

I plan to teach again in the Spring semester. I am rethinking my policy on electronic devices.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

There are very few things in the world that are irrefutable. Two plus two will always equal four; the sun will always rise in the east and set in the west; and even when they win, the Red Sox will cause us “agita!”

But it is rarely surprising to find research that seems to contradict or at least provide an alternative perspective about educational issues. There are multiple theories and applications and there are always varying opinions and interpretations.

A little over a month ago, I wrote a blog entitled, “The Value of an Online Degree” (September 8, 2013). Referencing highly reliable research, this study indicated extremely positive views towards online degrees … views comparable to perceptions of traditional degree programs. But a recent Gallup Poll provides a significantly different perspective.

Gallup recently polled two groups of 1000 adults asking them if they thought “online education was better” in a number of categories. The results were mixed at best.

In terms of overall quality, only 34% of respondents rated online programs as “excellent” or good” compared to 68% rating traditional four-year programs as “excellent” or “good.” Online programs only received highly favorable ratings in terms of the “wide range of options for curriculum” (72% say online better) and providing “good value for the money” (67% say online better).

However, respondents believe that online programs provide “less rigorous testing and grading,” less qualified instructors, and, in direct contrast with the previous study I reported, “less credence with employers compared with traditional, classroom-based education.”

As I reflect upon this data, I think the reader has to retain a clear perspective. These results are likely an accurate reflection of the general public. The 2000+ respondents in the two samples in Gallup’s study were picked in a way to insure randomness and conformity to national demographic trends. They were all 18 years old or older.

But they were not disproportionately college educated. We know that fewer than 30% of Americans earn a college degree. So what did these respondents know about online programs or traditional programs? Only 5% had any experience with online education in any form. So how were they sufficiently informed to assess?

Public perceptions tell us a great deal about how we communicate the value and quality of online education to the general public. The previous study focused on the assessment of employers and recruitment professionals, who may not have taken an online course or program, but have a database of candidates and employees who come to them with varied educational backgrounds.

From my experience, the best way to understand and appreciate online education is to try it. I have been amazed to see faculty and students wary of the comparability of online programs in terms of quality and personal attention go through a conversion experience once they teach or take a class.

There will always be traditional on-ground programs. But the reality is that online education is growing because of the demands of today’s and tomorrow’s students. There is still a lot of educating to do about online education, but it is worth it.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

Last week as I was scanning the higher ed trade journals, an article caught my eye entitled, “Corruption in Higher Education Appears to Be on the Rise Globally.” In reading the article, I was introduced to an organization new to me … Transparency International.

Transparency International was founded in 1993 and now has 100 national chapters worldwide. This organization describes itself as “independent and accountable” ... stating that they “are politically non-partisan and place great importance on our independence. We alone determine our programmes and activities – no donor has any input into Transparency International’s policies. Our sources of funding are made transparent as is our spending.”

The organization was founded for a simple but challenging purpose … to address corruption in the world in areas of government, business, society and individual lives. The organization takes public positions, conducts research, and is active in many projects throughout the world. One of their recent studies focused on education.

The lengthy study provided two interesting and important perspectives. First, there is a delineation of corrupt practices. In the United States, the most challenging concern is plagiarism. This finding comes as no surprise to those of us who teach college students. We continue to find evidence of students using someone else’s work as their own or more commonly, using the “cut and paste” feature on their computers without appropriate citation and reference.

The corruption problems in other parts of the world are more pervasive. The report cites entire systems of education that are totally corrupt. Unethical practices include widespread falsification of grades, payoffs to faculty and administrations prior to completion of degrees, requirements to purchase professors’ books in order to receive a passing grade, sexual exploitation of students by faculty and administrators and falsification of applications.

While most of these systemic problems were found to a greater extent in other parts of the world, falsification of application materials is also an issue in this country. This study found this problem to be more common with international students seeking to study in this country who submit personal statements written by someone else and falsified Toefl and other language proficiency scores.

But a large part of this study may be even more important than exposing corrupt practices. The report reflects the organization’s priority to “ensure that the next generation is prepared to say no to corruption.” It describes a number of specific actions and strategies to combat corruption, and address the abuse of power, bribery and secret dealings that are “corroding the educational experience.” The report challenges governments, international organizations, businesses, educational systems, and civil society to “ensure good governance is promoted in education policy all over the world.”

In reading this report, I was simultaneously depressed and enthusiastic. It is sad to see the continued evidence of corruption and the erosion of integrity in the educational systems throughout the world. Teaching and learning are noble professions and I always want to believe that those who choose to teach and lead educational institutions do so with a commitment to truth, fairness and quality.

But this report also embraces the value of shaping both minds and hearts. While we have a responsibility to provide students with knowledge, we must also help them to develop wisdom. We are responsible to help them develop values that will serve their personal goals and the Common Good.

I encourage you to visit the website of Transparency International. The battle to overcome corruption may be daunting, but this organization is fighting the good fight!

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)

Posted by on in President's Blog

Typically, I change the topic of my blog from week to week. The exception is when I am commenting on a large study where the data and findings seem better shared over several weeks. I had a new topic in mind for this week, but then the reactions to last week’s blog came pouring in.

From week to week, I receive 20-30 responses to my blog. Last week’s blog on “What Would Pope Francis Say?” generated over 70 responses. About half agreed with my perspective. The rest were critical and followed two lines of thought.

Some argued that the Pope didn’t mean that issues related to life and contraception were not paramount in the Church. For these responders, this is the first and primary issue about which the Church should speak and advocate.

Others argued against big government and social service programs. If I ever see a picture of Pope Francis reading Dr. Seuss, perhaps these responders are correct that the Pope’s position is similar in some way to that of Senator Ted Cruz. But I really don’t think so.

First, none of us can really speak for Pope Francis. It is a rhetorical question. But what is clear after six months of his papacy is that this Pope is still an enigma. His every word and action is interpreted and used to advocate for a position. But we all need to listen more, read more, pray more, reflect more … and over time, we will come to understand his vision and his leadership for the Church and for the world.

My major concern, however, is with those who argue for a narrow agenda for the Church and a singular definition. If one agrees that the dignity of human life is paramount in the teachings of the Church, why is this the only issue about which the Church could, should, must speak? There are many Gospel values that we share with fellow Christians and people of all faiths and traditions. Shouldn’t the Church also speak out about injustice throughout culture and the world? Shouldn’t Church leaders speak out often and loudly?

More important, I find it difficult to accept the most narrow interpretation of the dignity of life. I share the belief in the sanctity of life and the need to protect unborn children. But the dignity of life that I read about in the Gospels and I hear preached about by Pope Francis has equal concern for the sick and the poor; the young and the old; the able and the disabled.

As passionate as the Church is about abortion and life issues, should we not also be as concerned that all people have health insurance and access to medical care; that all people have enough food and are paid a livable wage; that all people live free of war, violence and abuse; that all people are treated with respect and dignity; that all people experience the love of God if only through each of us?

Last week, the students of Anna Maria College, assisted by our Campus Ministry Department, sponsored a Homelessness Awareness Week. Every day, these dedicated students learned about issues related to homelessness, engaged in community service to directly help and support the homeless in our region, and even slept outside overnight with little comfort to experience if only briefly what it is like to be homeless. I was honored and humbled to address these students at their closing prayer service. Words can not describe how proud I am of their commitment to gospel values and their response to a call to action.

Homelessness Awareness Week is an expression of dignity of life. Social service programs are an expression of dignity of life. I cannot wait to hear what else Pope Francis helps us to better understand as we walk our journey of faith and service.

(As always, your comments and questions are welcome.)