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United Faculty of Florida, Fall 2006

September 7, 2006

Competing with Viagra

There is an old practice on assembly lines called "speed-up", in which the products are moved down the line faster in the hope of producing more goods in the same amount of time (and thus with the same labor costs). It does not work out that way: quality control deteriorates, labor problems grow, equipment malfunctions, and the firm's reputation suffers.

Yet the temptation remains, and it applies to education as well. If a masters program required 36 hours of study, then a graduate student taking three courses a semester could get through in four semesters. Why couldn't that same student take four courses a semester and get through in three semesters? In fact, if the student took five courses a semester ...

On June 30, the Graduate School announced a proposal that to be eligible for a Graduate Assistantship, graduate students must enroll in 12 hours of courses each semester (as opposed to the current 9-hour requirement). The rationale was that "it is the University's expectation that students will be able to graduate sooner and gain an extra edge in the workforce." This was a requirement for all USF-Tampa graduate students except for doctoral candidates and students at the Health Science Center (HSC). (There were a few other technical exceptions.)

The exception for doctoral candidates suggests a reality check. Doctoral candidates are typically spending so much time in research that imposing such a requirement on them would probably divert time and energy away from that research.

Another reality check comes from the fact that the Graduate School offered some lite-looking courses for graduate students needing them, and offered to come up with tuition for most students. It was not at all clear what pedagogical purpose this innovation was intended to accomplish -- assuming that the intended purpose was pedagogical.

(Digression: the exception for regional campuses and HSC was worded interestingly: USF Tampa was described as "the USF Research campus," and HSC was described as a regional campus.)

Like many dubious innovations, this one popped up in midsummer, when people were out of town. And the innovation was slipped in without the sort of vetting process a major innovation should face:

  • New eligibility requirements -- especially new requirements imposing additional burdens on students' time -- clearly affect the terms and conditions of employment and thus, under law, the proposal should have been bargained with the graduate assistant's union, the Graduate Assistants United (GAU), a chapter of the UFF.
  • The principles of shared faculty governance hold that a major change in academic policy, such as this one, should be vetted by the faculty representatives. It is not clear how much of this took place, but the surprise in almost all quarters suggest that few representatives were informed, much less consulted, about the innovation.
  • And presumably, the Graduate School would take the elementary precaution of asking the colleges whether they thought this was a good idea. Again, it is not clear to what extent the colleges were asked, but the colleges' subsequent unhappiness suggests that there was little asking.
On July 17, the Oracle reported that the "New Policy Irks Grad Students," and quoted GAU Organizing Chair Sarah Dykins Callahan saying, "This is going to be a serious blow to graduate student quality of life on campus," while Associate Provost and Dean of the Graduate School Delcie Durham said that, "Twelve hours is becoming the national norm and we really want our students to be up there with the best in terms of being prepared and having advantages."

(Editorial comment: the gentle webmaster was moved by the Dean's remark to check his own alma mater, and after a long look at the policies of that august institution, the webmaster sees changes in how load is computed -- and little change in the actual work load. The webmaster has no idea if this sort of thing is part of a national trend...)

On July 19, the GAU sent a message to graduate students stating that the GAU and the UFF had not even been consulted, and noting that the contract requires more than mere consultation: "Materially changing the conditions of graduate student employment without consultation and negotiation with the GAU (the recognized voice of the GA bargaining unit) is a breach of the 2004-2007 University of South Florida & United Faculty of Florida/ Graduate Assistant United Collective Bargaining Agreement. The GAU is currently discussing legal options regarding this infringement." The GAU also recommended not signing contracts requiring 12 hours enrollment, nor enrolling for 12 hours.

Perhaps the most revealing part of the GAU's letter was the remark that Graduate Dean Delcie Durham said that the Graduate School had imposed this policy without discussing it with the Board of Trustees, and thus that it was not actually a "policy." It is not clear why the Graduate School would announce rules and regulations that are not, by its own understanding, rules and regulations. Problems arise from official announcements that are not actually official, not the least having subsequent announcements simply ignored.

As graduate students complained and faculty groused, various wires got pulled, and before long there appeared a Frequently Asked Question page on the proposal. Now the Graduate School was requesting that colleges and programs adopt the rule. The acceleration of academic progress was still the primary rationale given, although the last paragraph did say, somewhat mysteriously, that "There are certain requisite responsibilities that come with being a Carnegie Research 1 University, and it would be detrimental to our students and our academic endeavors if we did not accomodate these." The FAQ also promised that "The Graduate School will continue to seek the advice of the Graduate Council and the Graduate Assistant Union as we move towards implementing ..." Evidently, the Graduate School still did not acknowledge the administration's legal obligation to actually bargain terms and conditions of employment with the GAU. And evidently, the Faculty Senate was still chopped liver.

Then a memo was circulated this week (but apparently not posted) saying that the 12-hour rule would not be implemented now or "for the immediate future." It is not clear what the status of the proposal is right now.

During all this time, the GAU was -- and is -- working on getting the rule withdrawn, or at least forcing the Administration to put it on the bargaining table. Unions strongly dislike speed-ups, for they are often used (at least in the short term) to squeeze employees, and they often wind up with abuses, if not litigation.

The USF (Faculty & University Professionals) chapter supported our fellow UFF chapter: as Ben Franklin once noted, either we hang together or we hang separately. We regard the unlawful promulgation of a rule affecting the terms and conditions of employment as a dangerous precedent. The chapter voted to publish a letter (now under construction) expressing our support for the GAU in this matter.

What the other stakeholders will do is unclear, especially since the rule seems to be morphing or disappearing. Presumably, since the rule does not apply to doctoral candidates, it will interfere only with faculty research that relies on students in masters programs. In fact, the confusion and uncertainty about what (if anything) this rule does is in itself a powerful argument for why such rules should be debated in public, using the shared governance system -- and collective bargaining, when it affects terms and conditions of employment -- during a period of time when faculty are in town. As the Graduate School FAQ itself says, we are a Carnegie I institution. We should act like one.

Political Junkies

One official very important to the state university system is the governor. Governors have long translated their dreams and whims into university policy, from California Governor Pat Brown's California Master Plan for Higher Education to Florida Governor Jeb Bush's recent reorganization of the State University System. Since the governor has such great power over the administration and the budget of the universities, the university unions pay close attention to the governor's office -- including gubernatorial elections. And the Florida Education Association, the overaching union for Florida teachers, with which UFF is affiliated, often endorses candidates for office.

In Tuesday's primaries for nominations to the gubernatorial races, U.S. Represenative Jim Davis won the Democratic primary while Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist won the Republican primary. For the Democratic primary, the Florida Education Association had endorsed both Davis and his primary opponent, state Senator Rod Smith. Davis won with 47% of the vote in a four-person race. The FEA is thinking about fall now, and may be making some announcements soon. Meanwhile, the FEA talked to some of the candidates for state office, and you can hear what they had to say at the FEA's website .

September 21, 2006

Academic Freedom

The Academic Bill of Rights is a carnival, with hawkers announcing its arrival into town in advance as sympathetic legislators raise the big tents and break out the greasepaint. That was helpful, as we saw it coming. Representative David Rivera's bill concerning "Travel to Terrorist States" was another matter, for it was slipped into Florida's legislative stream a day's notice and approved by the committee in three days with no input from opponents.

As mentioned in the July 13 Biweekly, we were suddenly faced with a bill that passed and a governor who was clearly going to sign it. The legal effect was clear, even if Rivera himself was less than coherent on the point: faculty may not use funds processed by state agencies -- such as public universities -- to visit officially designated "terrorist states." The point of the bill was that Cuba is an officially designated terrorist state.

So the question was what to do about a law passed and signed? While the American Civil Liberties Union acted at once (see their press release, unions are deliberative organizations and we began with appeals for information for our national affiliates.

As UFF President Tom Auxter reported in the latest UFF Update, the union found evidence of a great deal of disruption. For example:

  • The law shuts down much work on the coral reefs, even though their current decline poses a serious threat to the Gulf's ecosystems and economy.
  • On June 6, Science magazine reported that similar work on climate change, oil spills, and agricultural productivity had to be shut down.
  • Longstanding longitudinal studies of Cuban migrations, conducted by Floridian research centers, were abruptly shut down. Faculty at such centers no longer have access to the source of the migrations.
  • There are several "terrorist states," with valuable archeological sites which are now being abandoned. The abrupt departure leaves some of them more vulnerable to looting.
These were among the many effects of this law. As Auxter noted, one result of denying educators and researchers access to "terrorist states" is that the American public is denied a major source of information about such nations, leaving the government with a tighter grip on what we know about them.

The travel ban was a major topic at the UFF Senate meeting last weekend, where Auxter announced that UFF had distilled the results of its information-gathering into a resolution, which was presented at the annual convention of the National Education Association. The convention overwhelmingly approved our resolution against the travel ban, and with that mandate, we are now exploring legal and political options. Meanwhile, the UFF Senate unanimously passed a similar resolution which will be forwarded to our other national affiliate, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Of course, such resolutions are but mandates for action, and now comes the harder parts. Going through the courts could take years, especially in the current legal climate. The political process might be faster: it would involve persuading the Legislature to revisit the issue, possibly on the grounds that passing legislation that hasn't been properly vetted is an invitation to unintended consequences. Quite possibly we will be proceeding on both fronts in parallel.

So we are back to collecting information: if you know of any consequences of this legislation, please let us know: send details to .

Meanwhile, last week, the UFF Senate had a visitor who reminded us that a quite different battle is being waged outside of Florida. Larry Gold, Director of Higher Education for the American Federation of Teachers, was one of UFF's strongest supporters during our struggle for survival. He visited this Senate meeting, where he told us that David Horowitz's well-funded campaign inspired twenty bills in twenty states, including (as readers will remember) our own Dennis Baxley's bill for Florida, and the more spectacular traveling show in Pennsylvania. The AFT met money with shoe leather, building alliances and making its first use of the blogosphere (see their page on academic freedom. But Horowitz's campaign is likely to continue as long as the cash and media coverage continues; indeed, Larry Gold told us that Horowitz is talking about going after the K-12 teachers next.

The point that Gold was in Orlando to make was one we've heard before: we need to deal more with the Legislature.

Thinking About the Legislature

At the UFF Senate meeting last weekend, we had a reception for two UFF members who are running for State Representative seats.

Bill Heller is a Professor at USF-St. Petersburg, working in special education. He is running for District # 52, and on his web-page, Betty Castor is quoted saying, "There is no one who will serve you better in Tallahassee than Bill Heller."

Keith Fitzgerald is an Associate Professor of political science at New College. He is running for District # 69, and on his web-page, he says of the current statehouse that "after eight years of focus on education, we are worse off than we were before."

This reception was only one way in which the UFF is focusing more on the legislature. For example -- as Auxter reminded us -- the state had been appropriating us the same raises that state employees get, but as a transitional measure. The governor and the legislature had planned to cut us off this year, but after an intense campaign by UFF, the legislature changed its mind. Part of the mind change was a result of argument (Florida universities have a high turnover), but part of it was sheer decibel level: as Aesop observed, the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

But we have a ways to go. Auxter said that during the past twenty years, education's share of the state budget has declined, and higher education's share of the education budget has declined. Here is an area where UFF and the university administrations can help each other. Indeed, Auxter said that the university presidents had wanted the base raise for faculty (the university presidents don't like high turnover, either), but that the union was in a better position to go from door to door in Tallahassee. The salary campaign this year is a sign that we can be successful going directly to the statehouse.

As AFT's Director of Higher Education, Larry Gold has a wider perspective, and he proposed a program of model legislation to package for statehouses across the country. There is, he told us, a national crisis in academic staffing. Fully 70 % of all higher education faculty are "contingent" (non-tenure-track) faculty. While some tenured faculty may not see this as a problem (as long as the best and the brightest get tenure), the political reality is that this will reduce tenured faculty to a politically marginal group.

Editorial comment: tenure in the United States was popularized during the 1920s and 1930s as a mechanism for protecting teachers who spoke indiscretely about economic distribution and biological evolution. As such, it applied to a large population which, organized, wielded considerable clout. If tenure whithers into a perk for star researchers, then the clout of the tenured faculty will whither, too.

Returning to Larry Gold's remarks, he said that the AFT is proceeding on the traditional front of organizing contingent faculty. But the problem appears to be amenable to a legislative solution at the state level. So the AFT is developing a model law, a Faculty & College Excellence Act, which will limit the use of contingent faculty and provide pay and benefits for contingent faculty.

In general, the union is planning to be more visible in the future, including this fall: the Florida Education Association (FEA) -- our statewide affiliate -- has endorsed Jim Davis for governor (FEA President Andy Ford said that Jim Davis has a "common sense approach to public education [that] would be a breath of fresh air"), as well as several candidates for the legislature ... including our two colleagues, Bill Heller of St. Petersburg and Keith Fitzgerald of Sarasota.

October 5, 2006


The Collective Bargaining Agreement (the contract) guarantees UFF two formal consultations with the USF President or her designees each semester to discuss matters of interest and concern to the faculty and professional employees at USF. The first such consultation of the academic year took place Wednesday, October 4. It was generally a calm and focused discussion, with only occasional outbursts of passion. The following items were discussed:

1. UFF spot on the BOT agenda

The contract also guarantees UFF a spot on the agenda of each Board of Trustees meeting that involves matters relating to the terms and conditions of employment for faculty and professional employees at USF (a right that most of our sister chapters at other universities did not get in their contracts). But at the first BOT meeting of the new year, UFF was left off the agenda for the first time since the reorganization of the university system. Chairman Rhea Law said both before and during the meeting that the agenda change was not intended to be directed at the faculty, but was in order to eliminate most reports (such as those from the various campuses, e.g.) in order to have more time for discussion of the issues. At the BOT meeting, she did invite the union to speak, and UFF President Roy Weatherford indicated how strongly the union feels about any attempt to restrict or eliminate the right of faculty representatives to speak on behalf of the faculty. Ms. Law responded by assuring the union that no such attempt was taking place and that the Board would be glad to meet with the union to try to resolve the issue.

Ms. Law has in fact followed through on her promise and such a meeting is scheduled for week after next. Nevertheless, the union explained at the consultation, the issue is so serious that it is filing a grievance to make sure that all the timelines are met and the paperwork is in order in case a peaceful resolution is not possible and the matter has to go to binding arbitration. But Weatherford pointed out that the issue is not merely one of contractual obligation. During the unhappy period when the BOT tried to break the union and unilaterally declared that the union had lost its bargaining rights and faculty had lost all contractual protections, UFF nevertheless continued to have a place on the agenda for unrestricted discussion of faculty concerns. Any attempt now to eliminate or restrict the presentation by the elected representative of the faculty must be taken as a serious attack on shared governance. Both sides agreed to take no further action on the grievance while waiting for the meeting or meetings to take place.

2. Professional Development leaves

UFF has negotiated a contract that not only guarantees sabbaticals for tenure track faculty (a perquisite that did not exist before collective bargaining and is still only guaranteed by the contract), it also guarantees a parallel type of Professional Development Leaves for non-tenure track faculty and other professional employees in the bargaining unit, whose continued employment is not guaranteed by the tenure system.

At the consultation UFF reported that it has some anecdotal evidence that the professional leaves are not generally being used nearly as much as the sabbaticals. Some evidence suggests that eligible employees are not well-informed about the program, that administrators are reluctant to grant such leaves, that some eligible employees are afraid to apply, and even that in one case it appears that a union activist who applied for and was awarded such a leave then did not have her contract renewed (despite a merit pay raise last year) and will therefore not be granted the leave.

The administration responded that it had taken steps to inform departmental chairs and unit administrators and would do so again; that it knew of no cases where leaves were inappropriately denied; that intimidation does not exist at USF; and that it has never heard of anyone losing their job because of applying for a leave. The union requested statistics on (a) the number of leaves applied for, (b) the number granted, (c) the number actually taken, and (d) the number of applicants who were subsequently non-renewed. The university replied that we could have the data on (a), (b), and (c), but that it would not respond to (d) because it keeps no such data and does not intend to become the research arm of UFF. The union responded that if the administration would provide the individual reports, the union would do the correlations itself.

3. Fingerprinting of employees.

This item had been brought by the union to the previous consultation. The union complained that faculty in the College of Nursing were being required to pay for the fingerprinting that was legally mandated for those who enter the public schools, even though they were required by their jobs to do so.

The administration took the issue on advisement and returned with a report this week. The report said that it was the position of the College of Nursing that no faculty are required to go into public schools as part of their assigned duties, and if they chose to do so it was their responsibility to pay the fees.

The union replied that supervising our own students as they interact with others is part of our job description, and the public schools are, in our professional judgment, an essential locus for some of our community engagement and public health programs. The administration responded that the faculty are nevertheless not specifically ordered to go into the public schools and therefore it is not part of their assigned duties to do so.

There ensued a general and unsatisfying discussion of how specific individual activities become part of one’s job assignment. The union pointed out that anything on which we are evaluated must, according to the contract, be part of our assigned duties because we cannot be held responsible for doing unassigned work.

The administration said that didn’t mean that we could make something become part of our assigned duties by listing it in our vitae, for example.

The union said that even if the university could sustain its position that it did not have to pay the fees, it is still not good for faculty morale to treat us this way. As in the case of parking fees, the administration seems headed towards the Florida Legislature’s strategy of giving us a raise (or a tax cut) with one hand, then taking it back with fees by the other hand, and having us pay income tax as it passes through our lives from one administrative hand to the other.

Finally, the union pointed out that, as discussed during the Faculty Senate meeting last month, there appears to be some possibility that fingerprinting might become a part of a required background check for any employment at USF. In that case, it will clearly be a term or condition of employment and therefore subject to collective bargaining.

The issue was left unresolved from the union perspective, closed from the administration’s perspective.

4. Information on Classification from HR.

This report was on technical details in the personnel system. Also, the Health Science Center’s representative reported on an issue raised by the union at the previous consultation. A faculty member had discovered and reported to the union a lack of security in the procedure for online student evaluations in the College of Nursing. After the union presented the issue at a consultation, the administration looked into the matter. They subsequently agreed that the problem is real, and are taking steps to correct it. UFF President Roy Weatherford pointed out that this item exemplifies the value of genuine consultation and shared governance, because we had identified and fixed the problem before it caused any serious damage to anyone’s professional life. As with peacefully resolved grievances, successes like this don’t get noticed by the media or even by other employees who are not involved, but they significantly improve our collective work environment.

5. Progress Report on Instructor Career Tracks.

The administration presented a draft of the guidelines for the new Career Track for Instructors that was agreed to during the last round of bargaining. The union identified a passage that seemed to disadvantage a significant minority of Instructors and explained its concerns. The administration agreed to take the document back and see if it could rework that part. Otherwise, the draft guidelines seemed to be a reasonable starting point, and both sides remain committed to the general idea.

The meeting adjourned collegially.

October 19, 2006

The Spellings Report

On Tuesday, September 26, the Department of Education released a report, A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education. In her prepared remarks, U. S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said of higher education in America, "a lot of people will tell you things are going just fine," but continued, "Is it 'fine' that college tuition has outpaced inflation, family income, even doubling the cost of health care? Is it 'fine' that only half of our students graduate on-time? Is it 'fine' that students often graduate so saddled with debt they can't buy a home or start a family? None of this seems 'fine' to me."

So last fall, she launched a commission consisting of four business executives (three in high-technology firms and one in for-profit education), five academic administrators, six education activists (some from Non-Government Organizations), and two faculty members. There were also ten ex officio members, including four cabinet officers (including a "designee" for U. S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield). It would be fair to say that the committee consisted more of stakeholders and players than of experts, scholars, and teachers. And the Chronicle of Higher Education reported there were problems in composing the report, the two biggest squabbles concerning:

  • The sequence of preliminary "Commission Reports" composed by the commission chair, Charles Miller, former chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents and now a "private investor" (often in for-profit education) (see the April 20 Biweekly article, and
  • Complaints that the staff was usurping the role of the commission and composing the report. (It should be noted that said staff were employees of the U.S. Department of Education and thus ultimately answerable to Spellings.)
In the end, all but one of the members signed the report.

The report (big PDF document), has two major groups of findings and recommendations, one having to do with pedagogy, and one with access and finances. The preamble hints at the direction the report will go, with its blithe presumption that students can be treated as consumers while concentrating on the need for greater "accountability."

Lets look at the pedagogy first. The report begins its findings section with a conclusion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress that only 17 % of high school seniors are "proficient" in mathematics, while 36 % are "proficient" in reading. According to the report, the problem is a disarticulation between high school graduation requirements and college expectations. The result is that 40 % of college students take remedial courses, at a cost of a billion dollars a year, and only 66 % of all students graduate within six years. (And incidentally, the report says employers are complaining about how ill-prepared their new employees are.) In addition, there are too few students going into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects, and that America is falling behind other nations.

The difficulty, suggests the report, is that higher education is too conservative, too unwilling to employ the latest technology, much less new teaching techniques derived from recent discoveries in cognitive science. In addition, colleges are not held accountable for their performance. New teaching techniques are mentioned in a perfunctory fashion, but the report goes into accountability with enthusiasm. It is proposed that a database or some databases containing academic information about all individual students be constructed and used for evaluating performance of academic institutions. To persuade states to have their universities institute such systems (and to similarly persuade private institutions to participate), government funding will be made at least partially contingent on participation.

As with other information-collection schemes being proposed by the current Washington administration, there will be suitable privacy protections for the students whose information is gathered and maintained. (It is not clear who will have full access to this information.) At any rate, the public will be able to access processed data to get assessments of institutions, particularly of "value-added" performance measures (how does student performance improve at different institutions over time?), and thus be able to make consumer decisions based on institutional performance. The report implies that colleges and universities should and will respond in entrepreneurial fashion, competing to develop pedagogical techniques that maximize their performance measures. Apparently, new pedagogical techniques grow on trees, and all academia has to do is pick them.

Having solved all the pedagogical problems, the report then proceeds to solve access and financial problems. The report identifies access problems -- lack of preparation, lack of information about college requirements and opportunities, and lack of financial aid (or disorganization of financial aid). There are also many complaints about obstacles faced by transfer students. The report recommends fixing high schools (to deal with the lack of preparation), consolidating the current panoply of financial aid programs (which the report says contribute to the confusion) while increasing the amount of need-based aid. It is not clear how the authors of the report would deal with the lack of information about college requirements and opportunities (there is no mention of high school counselors): perhaps students could visit the proposed database to track institutional performance.

Money is a major issue in the report. States are reducing their support to the universities, and according to the report, will probably continue to do so. (There is little mention of how the federal government supports universities, directly or indirectly.) So universities will have to more rigorously control costs. Indeed, there is much discussion of profligant spending, especially in student services and administration ... and salaries. Institutions can also save money with new technology. There are several complaints about opaque, incoherent, or irrational accounting practices, and comments that colleges and universities are (inappropriately?) insulated from the effects of their excessive spending.

In accepting the report on Sept. 26, after enumerating the problems that are not "fine" with her, Spellings announced her "immediate plans to address the issues of: accessibility, affordability and accountability raised by the Commission," relying on the principles of the No Child Left Behind legislation, "And let me assure you—-NCLB is going strong." She listed four "action" steps:

  • "ACTION ONE under my plan is to build on this by expanding the effective principles of No Child Left Behind and holding high schools accountable for results."
  • "ACTION TWO under my plan is for my Department to streamline the process, cut the application time in half, and notify students of their aid eligibility earlier than Spring of their senior year to help families plan."
  • "ACTION THREE under my plan will work to pull together the same kind of privacy-protected student-level data we already have for K through 12 students. And use that data to create a higher education information system."
  • "ACTION FOUR under my plan will provide matching funds to colleges, universities, and states that collect and publicly report student learning outcomes."
Readers may observe that Spellings' action items more directly deal with her concerns about accountability and assessment, and do not directly address the financial burdens on students and parents, i.e., two of the three cost problems that she was not "fine" about. Oh well. And critics were a bit concerned about this "higher education information system" (David L. Warren of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities called the proposal "Orwellian"), to which Spellings responded in an interview with the Chronicle: "Why are people opposed to that? Why aren't we for this kind of empowerment and information?"

The Chronicle of Higher Education said, "Secretary of Education Will Propose More U.S. Aid for Students and a Database to Track Their Progress in College," while James B. Hunt, former governor of North Carolina and a member of the commission, said the report was "one of the most important reports in the educational and economic history of our country, if we act on it." Not all members of the commission were as enthusiastic. Robert M. Zemsky, another education activist, said, "There are a lot of people out there who no longer believe in us," and David Ward used his office as president of the American Council of Education as an excuse not to sign, and complained, among other things, about the "false sense of crisis" in the report, along with the report's tendency to blame academia for problems extending beyond academia, as well as the report's fondness for simple and Procrustean solutions.

Many people -- including us (see the July 13 Biweekly article) had been watching the situation very carefully, and now that the final report is out, there is some sound and fury from the various parties in the ongoing controversy over higher education in America. And what might that signify?

The most striking thing about the document is that its content could have been predicted -- and indeed, was predicted -- practically upon the appointment of the commission. All the relief expressed was about the "tone" (earlier drafts were somewhat sharper); this draft said roughly what people expected it to say. And it said nothing new, or surprising. It did say some silly things, like this gem from the summary: "Higher education institutions should improve institutional cost management through the development of new performance benchmarks, while also lowering per-student educational costs by reducing barriers for transfer students." (These are the two most significant steps institutions can take in cost management?) But this is merely symptomatic of the real difficulty suggested by David Ward: the commission's unwillingness to come to grips with the really deep problems. Let's look at two examples.

First, the report blithely enumerates the desiderata of students, employers (and presumably they also thought about parents, the government, and the community at large) without noting that all these groups are pulling academia ... in different directions. For example, employers want students with the ability to concentrate on a task, which is an important study skill. Many students (and most producers of standardized exams) want students to be taught how to plug correct answers into little questions, a quite different skill of little interest to high-tech employers. Meanwhile, parents would like their children to get individual attention, while governments would like to save money by having huge classes. The failure to recognize that different stakeholders have different desires is a major deficiency of the report. This omission is especially serious when treating students as consumers, for in many cases, student needs and student desires are very different things. This is a situation that higher education has to navigate, and is part of the problem (e.g., the report complains about fancy new student centers universities build, without noting that the universities are not building these centers out of sheer stupidity, but to market themselves to consumer-students -- and thus the report glides past the awkward question of what the success of such marketing schemes says about the student-as-consumer model). All academia hears from the Spellings report is ... the demands of yet another interest group.

For the other example, let's begin with the statement that it is highly unlikely that this report will have as great an impact on the skills of American students as J. K. Rowling has had. Suppose that it is "true" that 36 % of high school graduates are "proficient" in reading. Surveys show that most Americans are willing to tell complete strangers that (a) they haven't read a book in over a year and (b) they don't read newspapers. Learning, in the view of most students, is something one does in school. So the high school students don't read much, they come to college, and professors complain that the students don't read the texts. But some faculty observe that the literacy skills of many students are not up to the textbooks we've assigned. How are high schools supposed to fix this if students will not read on their own? Only, it seems, with the help of books that students WANT to read. And yet, on this point -- what happens OUTSIDE of the classroom -- the report is deafeningly, negligently, and suspiciously silent.

So if the content of this report was largely predictable, and if it avoided the big problems while swatting at those gnats that were high on certain political agendas, what is this report other than a move in a political game of chess? Perhaps not much, but the stakes in this particular chess game are high. First of all, this report really does represent a serious move to force colleges and universities to supply vast amounts of confidential information to government agencies. Since much information extracted will be used for marketing and appropriation purposes, it will turn out that in higher education, what is examined will be what is rewarded; and the choices about what to examine will not be made in academia. Inevitably, despite the report's complaints about micromanagement of academia, the result of implementing its recommendations would be the decline the independence of higher education in America.

November 2, 2006

Danger and Opportunity

This is a moment when the scales could tip either way. The electoral offices most important to the university system are practically up for grabs, and the polls are so volatile that the outcome is too close to call. Meanwhile, both the Florida legislature and the U.S. Congress plan to put education at the top of their agendas next year, and this election will determine who will be in those chambers. Every district counts: an incremental change in the membership can improve our ability to snatch compromise from the jaws of disaster.

The question is whether the educational system in general, and the universities in particular, will have the resources that they need for their mission. The question is whether accountability measures will be designed to identify and assist troubled institutions -- or to identify and dispatch them. The question is whether the content of our syllabi and scholarship will be subject to political micromanagement.

USF in particular has a great future in a growing state, in a metropolitan area that serves as a gateway to Central and South America. And we can see this in our expanding scholarship and external funding. But to BUILD a great university requires a proactive government partner that will do more than tell us to raise tuition and find corporate partners. It requires a vision beyond bribing high-tech companies to plant their back offices in the state. It requires an understanding that, as Thomas Jefferson said, to "establish & improve the law for educating the common people" is the best bulwark against the tyranny of ignorance, for the "people alone can protect us against these evils, and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests & nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance."

So this is not just a midterm election; this is a critical moment. We are, as Senator Bill Nelson told the FEA, "in the cusp of change," and depending on us, we could go either way. In politics, timing is crucial. Timing can be everything. And the time is now. Please remember to vote on Tuesday.

Thank you.

FEA Delegate Assembly, Part I

The United Faculty of Florida is a "local" affiliated with the Florida Education Association (FEA), which represents educators and support personnel throughout Florida. With about 130,000 members, it is the largest union in the state. It is jointly affiliated with both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT, which in turn is affiliated with the AFL-CIO). These are the organizations that provided the resources UFF needed to survive Jeb Bush's attempt to eliminate the UFF.

The FEA's legislative body is the Delegate Assembly, which meets once a year to set policy and deal with current events. Each union local is represented by a number of delegates (how many depends on how many members that local has); typically, just under a thousand delegates (and up to two hundred guests) meet in a ballroom for a day and a half (all day Friday, October 27, and the morning of Saturday, October 28). This time, we had many political guests, for the primary topic was November 7.

Union Views

Friday morning, three guests from FEA's affiliates spoke about the election and about the No Child Left Behind Act -- which is due for revision next year, by whatever Congress is elected next week. American Federation of Teachers Executive Vice President Toni Cortese described the NCLB program as essentially punitive, and noting that only 70 % of all schools had made "Adequate Yearly Progress" under the act, said that public schools were being undermined by the new policy. The Act is due for revision next year, and thus, she said, the upcoming election offers an opportunity to make a difference in happens in that revision.

NEA Executive Committee Member Rebecca (Becky) Pringle noted that the NCLB Act had authorized additional spending for implementing the Act and for additional support for education, but that the promised funds were not being appropriated: in Florida alone, the deficit was $ 674 million. The NEA is lobbying Congress and has filed a lawsuit, but Pringle, also stressed the election: paraphrasing Plato, she said, "Anyone who thinks that they are too good or too smart for politics will be ruled by those who are not good and not smart."

Florida AFL-CIO President Cindy Hall said that while the unions do not have big warchests, we do have manpower. She said that the unions cannot effect much change without changing state governments and Congress -- and that this was our opportunity. She added that protecting the integrity of the vote (ahem!) depended on vigilance and turnout.

(More on the NCLB in a later issue of the UFF Biweekly. In the meantime, see the NEA site, and the UFF Biweekly's prior article on the NCLB Act.)

Then FEA President Andy Ford said that in Tallahassee, there was sincere belief that the rich need to be richer, and that employees should be interchangeable commodities. He enumerated some of the union's legislative victories, and said that electoral victory is within reach, but only if we fight for it.

As an example, Ford described the primary battle over the Republican nomination for Florida Senate District 38 (essentially Miami-Dade). J. Alex Villalobos had served since 2000, and became the Republican Majority Leader in 2004. But he opposed an initiative to weaken the class-size amendment and another initiative to protect vouchers. He was forced out of the leadership in the midst of the session, and then Frank Bolanos, chairman of the Miami-Dade school board, ran against Villalobos in the primary with the support of Jeb Bush.

While a few brave Republicans supported Villalobos -- Nancy Argenziano, R-Leon County, complained about "an unusually public gubernatorial tantrum occasioned because he couldn't intimidate a member of the Senate," most kept a safe distance or joined Bush's posse. According to the Miami Herald (a source for this account), "third party" groups spent $ 6 million attacking Villalobos, a million in the last week before the primary. As many old friends abandoned him, the United Teachers of Dade (backed by the FEA) supported him during the primary, and Villalobos won 10,637 votes against 10,059.

Without our support, Frank Bolanos would be the Republican nominee in a race with only token opposition, a point that should be remembered next year, for Ford went on to describe an initiative for the next session. This is the "I pledge" campaign, for "A Commitment to Public Schools." The pledge calls for:

  • "Smaller class sizes for Florida's Children,"
  • "Better funding for our public schools,"
  • "Support for schools in need -- not private school vouchers," and
  • "Competitive wages for teachers and support professionals."
Already, volunteers are collecting signatures, and some plan to be asking voters to sign on November 7. The goal is a million signatures (but more would be nice) to present as a petition to a hopefully more receptive or at least chastened legislature. We already have support from school boards, superintendents, chambers of commerce, county commissions, and our AFL-CIO brothers, the NFL Jacksonville Jaguars. For more information, see the pledge page.


On Friday morning, Senator Bill Nelson arrived to thank us, asserting that, "your profession should be the most respected profession in America." Saying that he had been inspired by John F Kennedy, and quoting Kennedy ("A child mis-educated is a child lost"), he outlined the history of the NCLB Act. It was originally worked out between the White House and Senator Edward Kennedy, and the White House had committed $ 18 billion a year for it; but Bush reneged, and the average appropriation was between $ 11 and $ 12 billion per year. Nevertheless, without providing the necessary funds, the White House still holds schools to the mandates. "Under these mandates," said Nelson, "nothing seems to matter as much as this one-time test score." He said that Congress would revisit the program next year and advised us, "Elections do change government policy; know what I mean?"

After lunch, Congressman Jim Davis came to give a forceful speech beginning with: "The heart and soul of our state are our schools, and you are the heart and soul of our schools." Davis is running for the office that matters most to Florida educators -- including us, for the governor appoints university governors and trustees. Perhaps to contrast himself with the current governor, Davis promised, "as the next governor of the state of Florida, I will always treat you with respect." NCLB being the hot topic, he turned to Florida's miniature version of NCLB, promising "we ... are going to end the FCAT as we know it," but warned, "this is not going to come without a big fight." With that, he turned on his opponent, Attorney General Charlie Crist, who, Davis suggested, was not up to speed on FCAT: according to Davis, Crist had not known when the FCAT was taking place (next year, February 26 - March 9 for most students), and when asked by a reporter what he thought of temporary workers grading FCAT worksheets, Crist responded with "What's the problem?" Then responding to a $ 30 million ad campaign featuring an empty chair, Davis said he had a 93 % attendance record in Congress. He concluded with: "This race boils down to how badly we want it."

After a lot of cheering, Bill McBride came up to give a low-key and somewhat homestyle talk thanking FEA for supporting him in 2002 ("I ... regret I was unable to win for you because you deserve it"), and asking us to support his wife, Alex Sink, for the second most powerful office in the state government. He described the new office of Chief Financial Officer as roughly the combined comptroller, insurance commissioner, and treasurer. McBride described Sink, a Phi Beta Kappa math major who worked her way up the banking industry to become Florida President of Bank of America, as a problem-solver. He noted a philosophical difference between Sink and her opponent, former President of the Senate Tom Lee (whose majority leader was ... Alex Villalobos): Lee regards the office of CFO as political, and thus does not regard his lack of financial experience as a handicap. Sink, on the other hand, regards the office as a public service, and McBride promised, "my wife will always be faithful to you."

It is widely anticipated that Nelson will defeat former Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, but the races for governor and CFO are too volatile to call and considering early voting, will probably remain so until after polls close. The FEA has endorsed Nelson, Davis, and Sink, and strongly urges everyone to vote in the November 7 election.

November 16, 2006

Election Kudos

Congratulations to all the winners in the recent elections, and to all the citizens who contributed time and money to their campaigns.

It appears that some things will change significantly in Washington, as the Democrats reorganize both houses of Congress. While former USF student body president Les Miller lost his Congressional race, the person to whom he lost is Kathy Castor, daughter of former USF President Betty Castor and friend of UFF and the university.

Florida will experience less change than Washington, but most insiders expect a toning down of the confrontational partisanship that marked the Bush years. Charlie Crist is by nature less domineering than Jeb and more willing to listen to what others have to say. Much of his success as Attorney General can be attributed to his willingness to keep experienced staff from Bob Butterworth's tenure rather than engaging in a draconian partisan housecleaning.

In the legislature, the balance of power remains unchanged, but the fact that Alex Villalobos was re-elected to a Republican Senate seat despite the full force of Governor Bush's wrath and the massive funding for his primary opponent is expected to encourage a little more independence among Republican senators. Villalobos had angered Bush by opposing some controversial education bills (opposed by UFF and the FEA), so Senate President Tom Lee removed him from the Senate leadership and the line of succession, and the Bush machine recruited and funded his opponent in retribution -- but Villalobos, with union help, prevailed. The political hot-stove league is titillated by theories about a possible coalition of Democrats and dissident Republicans restoring Villalobos to his original selection to be the next Senate President in 2008.

Also in the Senate, USF advisor Charlie Justice has moved up from the House and can be expected to continue his strong support for education in general and USF in particular. Les Miller will be replaced by Arthenia Joyner, a neighbor and friend of the union and the university.

The United Faculty of Florida now has more members in the Florida Legislature than any other union. USF/St Petersburg professor (and former dean) Bill Heller, and New College Professor Keith Fitzgerald are both newly elected to the House. We are thinking of forming a UFF caucus in the Florida Legislature.

Alex Sink, of course, is our new Chief Financial Officer and the only Democrat on the formerly entirely Republican Florida Cabinet. She lives just down the road in Thonotosassa and has many friends at USF.

All in all, both the union and the university could have done a lot worse.

FEA Delegate Assembly, Part II

The United Faculty of Florida is a "local" affiliated with the Florida Education Association (FEA), which represents educators and support personnel throughout Florida. It is jointly affiliated with both the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT, which in turn is affiliated with the AFL-CIO). The FEA's legislative body is the Delegate Assembly, which meets annually. Each union local is represented by a number of delegates; this year just under a thousand delegates (and about two hundred guests) met in a ballroom for a day and a half in late October. The big issue was the upcoming reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The previous reauthorization, passed in 2002, was entitled "An Act To close the gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice, so that no child is left behind"; that law is posted on-line. This is the celebrated NCLB Act, and the next reauthorization is due in 2007.

At the FEA Assembly, after the initial introductions, technicalities, and announcements, American Federation of Teachers Executive Vice President Toni Cortese talked about the NCLB. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act was first passed in 1965 as part of Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, and there is some concern that with NCLB, some of the original intent has been left behind.

Cortese noted that the AFT supports the principles officially underlying NCLB -- high standards, good teachers, helping weak students -- but she said that what teachers tell AFT is that the curriculum is narrowing as teachers are required to teach what is tested, that special education students are penalized, that vast amounts of time and effort is put into testing itself, and that many teachers do not believe that the tests adequately measure academic progress.

When the AFT studied the NCLB, they found a mess. States have a jumble of assessment schemes, not necessarily based on the actual tests: eleven states match their tests with assessment. Sometimes the authors of the assessment schemes were asleep: one state uses the same standards for the second and eighth grades. [The previous Biweekly erroneously said that 70 % of the schools did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, when in fact it was 30 % that failed to do so.] When Paul Pederson of Harvard (he is the Henry Lee Shattuck Professor of Government and Director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance -- and Cortese described him as "NOT a friend of ours") looked at the NCLB, he concluded that Adequate Yearly Progress was an inaccurate school measure -- and in fact, Florida's results were indistinguishable from random.

Cortese concluded with a discussion of accountability. Schools that "fail" have two years to recover or face sanctions. Cortese did not go into the problem that "failure" might be a random event [readers may recall that some Florida schools got quite different evaluations at the state and federal levels], but instead proposed that schools in trouble should get assistance. Then she turned on the government, saying that if politicians provide inadequate resources, they should be held accountable. As an example, she said many urban districts lack texts and try to hoard them in strange ways (largely by keeping them out of the hands of students).

NEA Executive Committee Member Becky Pringle also addressed the effects of the NCLB Act. At present, no state is in compliance, which may be understandable as the federal government isn't either: as mentioned in the last Biweekly, the federal government has not fully funded the NCLB. Even more alarming, the mean deficit is increasing:
spacer For fiscal year 2002, $ 4.2 billion
spacer For fiscal year 2003, $ 5.4 billion
spacer For fiscal year 2004, $ 7.6 billion
spacer For fiscal year 2005, $ 9.8 billion
spacer For fiscal year 2006, $ 13.4 billion
Pringle then outlined outlined seven classes of criteria for accountability that the NEA would be pursuing:

  1. Experience beyond the school, from Pre-K to after school, including counseling and health.
  2. High expectations and standards in a rich and comprehensive curriculum that includes music, social studies, etc.
  3. Physical and work conditions, from supplies and infrastructure to time for planning.
  4. A qualified, stable, caring and dedicated workforce.
  5. Shared responsibility and accountability for all participants -- including the politicians.
  6. Parental, family, and community involvement and engagement.
  7. The necessary funding to make all this work, equitably appropriated.
Pringle then went on to the NEA's priorities, beginning with accountability (using broader measures than those proposed by the NCLB), class size, and attracting qualified personnel with better compensation and work conditions.

The issue affects higher education in at least two ways. First, freshmen are increasingly students who have been taught courses designed to prepare them for particular standardized tests -- not for the next course or any other such distant goal. Second, testing enthusiasts are touting standardized exams for higher education, which would result in pressure on us to teach to such exams.

The Long Range Plan

One of the primary duties of the leadership of a university is to plan for the future. Such plans should not be too rigid -- the Duke of Wellington once ascribed his victory at Waterloo to his own habit of making plans out of string while Napoleon made plans out of wire -- but it should at least be descriptive enough to keep us honest and to keep our eyes on the ball.

That brings us to USF's plan. Like many institutions, USF has a Strategic Plan. This plan describes USF's goals for five years, at the end of which one would expect an assessment of progress made, and the development of a new plan. The period of the 2002 - 2007 plan is coming to an end, and the 2007 - 2012 plan is being formulated. The old plan is on-line, as is a UFF commentary on it.

We are now in the midst of a comment period: the Administration has posted a draft, and has requested comments by November 24. UFF does not have an official role here -- although we do retain the right to submit comments -- but we do have some unsolicited advice.

First of all, while some of the plan is actually carried out by the Administration and the Board (e.g., obtaining and allocating funds), much of it is either the direct (amount of research done) or indirect (number of external honors awarded) result of faculty activity. That means that the new plan needs more than faculty comments. It needs faculty involvement. There are two reasons for this.

First, there is a common bureaucratic delusion that confuses action and activity. Just because some body composes a plan doesn't mean that it will happen -- not even if (by some miracle) necessary funding appears. The planners need to know what faculty are doing and where they are going in order to build on success rather than on thin air.

Second, a plan presented from on high with much pomp and condescension has only the Powers That Be committed to it: if faculty had no part in actually developing it, why should we be committed to it? The same goes for the community, and the Board should not make the mistake that it is the community incarnate (any more than that the Administration is the university incarnate), and a plan produced behind closed doors does not have any community commitment.

But if faculty were to be involved in the plan (rather than just queried for comments), faculty would be getting information on how the previous plan worked. There is some information -- largely a stack of weakly prioritized numbers. Presumably we will have some kind of clear and public account of how USF did in meeting its goals -- and a discussion of where to go from here. Considering that it is the faculty that do the work, and that it is the community that pays the bills, such a public discussion should take place, and be more than just a formality.

And there are a number of issues that have appeared over the last few years that it might be a good idea for the plan to address. A number of these have to do with an entire subject ignored by the previous plan: leadership. A number of leadership issues have become pressing, from shared governance to the stresses of creating an administration capable of managing a Research I university. And the Board and the Administration have been largely reactive, leading to a collage of patchwork, promises, and rationalizations. After half a century of business experts telling us about the importance of proper organization -- and the problems with pyramid-type hierarchies -- it might be a good time for USF to, ahem, leave the 19th century. We could begin with a more open assessment of USF's past performance and development of the next plan.

November 30, 2006

Speaking to the Board of Trustees

Once again the agenda of the BOT meeting does not include UFF, despite the contractual provision quoted above.

This first happened at Chair Rhea Law's first meeting, in September. When the agenda was posted without including UFF, the union called the Board office to ask what was going on. We were told that this was not an attempt to restrict or eliminate the union's participation, but was part of a general change cutting out most of the reports in favor of more discussion. As we don't think this is an acceptable change, we asked the staff to make sure that Chair Law knew that UFF objected to the change. Then we had some exchanges with a staff attorney. Then we got a call saying that we would be on the agenda. Then Chair Law called President Weatherford to discuss the issue, apparently unaware of the last call from the administration. So President Weatherford told her not to worry, it was all worked out. Then both were surprised the next morning -- he because we were not, in fact, on the agenda, she because she thought we were no longer going to be angry.

The staff told us that Chair Law would call on us for comments at the appropriate time. She did so, and Weatherford expressed concern at this apparent diminution of faculty input and violation of the contract. Chair Law said she wanted to continue the discussion later.

In fact, the two of them did discuss it again. Once in her office and once by phone. She asked for more time to think about it. As the meeting approached we reminded staff that we needed to know pretty soon in order to decide how to respond. Then, without comment, they posted the next agenda -- again without UFF being on it.

At tomorrow's membership meeting the UFF chapter will discuss and decide on the appropriate response to this situation. If you will not be there, but would like to send comments, please send them from a non-USF account to President Weatherford.

Ending with a Whimper?

Charles Fair has commented that some battles are so obscured by the fog of war that it is not even clear who won. One way to find out, Fair suggests, is to look at what happens afterward.

There was something of a campaign in the Pennsylvania House Select Committee's investigation of academic -- i.e., liberal -- bias in academia. The divisions within the committee ran along partisan lines, with Republican members warning of professorial oppression of conservative students, and Democratic members grumping about how the whole enterprise was a waste of the taxpayers' money. Overarching the whole affair was the division of the Pennsylvania House -- 109 Republicans versus 94 Democrats -- in a populous state that both parties see as being in national play.

House Resolution 177 created the Select Committee, which investigated the University of Pittsburg (see our Dec. 1, 2005 report), Temple University (see our January 26, 2006 report), Millersville University (see our April 6, 2006 report), and finally at Harrisburg Area Community College (see our June 15 report). The hearings featured visitors from out of state deploring rampant academic bias in Pennsylvania colleges and universities, local administrators contending that there were no problems, local students complaining about other issues (e.g., college costs) not on the agenda, and local faculty in pro and con camps. The report was supposed to come out this fall. And indeed it finally is, piece by piece.

The overarching reality, 109 Republicans versus 94 Democrats, shifted on November 7, and is shifting still, now standing at 101 Republicans, 101 Democrats, and election officials, party observers, lawyers and reporters watching poor Chester County dither over what ballots to count a very close race. (In the latest count, the Democrats were ahead, but the snarling continues.) Meanwhile, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum, one of the major radical -- sorry, arch conservative -- figures in the Republican party, was fired by his constituents. Amidst all this, the Select Committee's report ... still wasn't finished.

A week after the election, the committee met and composed a report that was soon released to the media. ( has very kindly posted this report on their website). Much of the report consisted of a somewhat disorganized summary listing various complaints made against biassed academics. A careful reader may notice a certain bias in the material selected for inclusion in the summary. (Free Exchange On Campus, a coalition of the AAUP, the ACLU, the AFT and the NEA, etc., etc., posted an analysis of the testimony presented at the hearings, see , their analysis and compare with the Summary.) Nevertheless, despite the muddle, the primary theoretician for the Committee,'s David Horowitz, was delighted: "Pennsylvania Committee Finds Students Have No Rights," he wrote on Nov. 15 (see his column.) Noting that the Select Committee had "determined that a significant number of institutions had adopted faculty academic freedom policies, but not student academic freedom policies," Horowitz quoted himself saying, "We have been trying to draw attention to this deficiency in university policies for three years. Now our pleas have been heard." And he vowed to take his campaign to other states.

This view of the report was not universal, for the Associated Press reported on Nov. 15 that "Academic bill of rights flunked: Statewide rules for public colleges are unnecessary, because bias is rare, a legislative panel has found." The disagreement arose because while the Summary of the report was alarming, the Findings section found little to be alarmed about. Indeed, Pennsylvania State University's Michael Berube, one of the 101 most dangerous professors (according to David Horowitz), told Inside Higher Ed that he had no problem with the committee's recommendations (which were largely to encourage colleges and universities to institute their own reforms). More to the point, the Select Committee had met without a quorum (!), so the report that everyone was talking about wasn't the real report, anyway.

The Select Committee had a quorum a week after that, and there the Committee simply chopped out the Summary, tweaked a few other items, and plopped what Horowitz called "the eviscerated report" before the public, which also posted. Horowitz blamed teachers' unions for the evisceration; he is clearly planning on continuing the fight. Meanwhile, Free Exchange on Campus announced that "Pennsylvania Purges Horowitz Taint From Report," and suggested that Horowitz had had a hand in drafting the deleted Summary. Free Exchange on Campus also said that "we hope that the legislature will turn to the real problems students face in Pennsylvania, such as paying for their education."

Amidst all this fog, it is not clear who won, if anyone. Much of the media is giving this round to Academia, but that may be precipitate; after all, the officially official report still isn't out yet (!). Still, the fizz started going out of the effort once the lead legislator, Gib Armstrong, lost his primary just before the fourth set of hearings. Facing uncertainty about the next year, the Select Committee may have decided to punt: certainly, the half-baked appearance of the report suggests a committee that wanted to get it out of their hair. But if Charles Fair is right, we will not see who won by examining the current noises emanating from the blogs, but by seeing what happens next, once Chester County's ballots are counted, and the House starts its new session.

December 14, 2006

Neglecting Euterpe

One of the perks of membership in the United Faculty of Florida is a set of free subscriptions to publications of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA). One of these is the AFT's American Educator, a quarterly that covers issues in education. In the Fall 2006 issue, there were two articles on music education.

Thanks to the electronic revolution, music has become ubiquitous. In a Zen-like fashion, we often do not notice it simply because it is everywhere. But many societies took music very seriously -- it is one of the original seven liberal arts -- and it may arise from deep in our minds. The journalist/ naturalist David Attenborough proposed that music is the source of much of what makes us "human." In his PBS production Song of the Earth, he describes troops of social primates that delimit their territories by getting together and vocalizing. The ... songs? ... are complex and seem to help bond the group as well as intimidate outsiders (two uses of music we see in ourselves today). Attenborough describes our ancestors singing in groups, and suggests that it is here that we see some of the origin of language. Certainly there is a connection between language on the one hand and rhythm and rhyme on the other, for oral historians have long known that humans can memorize vast amounts of material (the Iliad and the Odyssey, for example) if it is set to music.

Peter Kalkavage is a tutor at Saint John's College in Maryland, and Director of their Chorus. He wrote the cover article of the Fall 2006 AFT American Educator, on The Neglected Muse: Why Music is an Essential Liberal Art. Kalkavage begins by saying that "Music has a central place in the lives of young people. For many, music is their life." Therefore, "Teaching music to the young is ... more than conveying ... information and ... facts, or ... [to] develop their talent ... [or] make them ... refined." Instead, teaching music gives "them an opportunity to know themselves better by ... [showing them] the amazing power that music has over them."

Kalkavage says that students must learn to listen, and to play, but most of his article is about listening. First of all, there are the nuts and bolts of harmony, based on Pythagoras's observation that successful chords were composed of notes with special relationships to each other. For example, Kalkavage describes a stringed device called a sonometer, which consists of two taut strings over a soundboard, with a moveable bridge under one of them: the bridge allows the user to pluck the bridged string as if it were a string of any selected length. A student will discover that when the bridge is in the middle, the bridged string will produce a note an octave higher than the other; other chordal relationships can be worked out by experimenting with the bridge. Students soon discover a compelling motive for understanding fractions.

Kalkavage goes on to how we are influenced by music. He seems greatly influenced by Greek notions of beauty; contrasting beauty and pleasure, he writes that "We can take pleasure in something ugly and base." Beauty requires education to recognize, and that is one motive behind his article. Once students are taught to recognize and appreciate beauty, they can experiment intelligently with beauty; for example, they can learn how a melody holds together by seeing what happens if they change one of the notes. "In music, the question of beauty comes down largely to ... how musical forces combine to form a whole."

At this point, the gentle webmaster notes that Kalkavage's proposal is to start with "great music in the classical tradition" -- he lists Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven -- and the classical tradition remains at the center of his view. But when we speak of the POWER of music, we are often speaking not of beauty, but of what Eighteenth Century critics called the "sublime," which is often associated with the Romantics from Beethoven and Chopin to Wagner and Brahms. Classicists (who were fond of gentle fields and elegant fountains) complained from the start that the Romantics were abandoning beauty, to which the Romantics (who were fond of craggy mountains and stormy seas) replied that they had other priorities. Beauty may not be the only thing students should learn about.

But compared to Kalkavage's primary complaint -- that music is an orphan that schools are abandoning -- the focus on beauty is a quibble. Moving away from both the Classical and the Romantic, the American Educator also ran an interview with jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who said that "Music, in its purest form, encompasses the very ideals that we want to impart to our children." In the interview, he describes a jazz performance as a cooperative effort in which individual musicians must work together for the piece to succeed. Like Kalkavage, Marsalis regards much popular music as accoustical soda pop, saying that bands should play classical band music (he mentions Sousa, Joplin, Bernstein, and Ellington); when the interviewer suggested that high school bands tend to play the music students like, Marsalis said that students have not heard the great music, and had only heard "the latest commercial musical ventures."

Music education was sidelined in America long before the current fashion in standardized testing marginalized it by not testing it. Music education is regarded as a frill, often living off the crumbs of that most basic of necessities, the high school football team. And this raises the question that these articles did not address: how is it that music is a luxury and football a necessity? It is this riddle that we may have to answer if we are to bring something more than musical soda pop into our schools.

Happy Holidays

Isaac Newton, Jr., was born in Woolsthorpe manor, in Lincolnshire, on what contemporary Englishmen called December 25, 1642 (this was before England, um, "corrected" its calendar). Isaac Sr. had died two months earlier, and young Isaac was raised by his grandmother at the manor. He was "idle" and "inattentive" at school, so his mother (with whom he had ... issues) set him to managing the family estate, where he was idle and inattentive, until an exasperated uncle sent him to Trinity College at Cambridge University in 1661. As the story goes, he was supposed to study law, but found an astrology book at a fair with some interesting mathematics in it, and got hooked.

It is not clear what Newton's relationship was with his teacher and mentor, Isaac Barrow, who arrived at Cambridge in 1663. Barrow came up with the earliest version of what we now call "the fundamental theorem of the calculus," and in many ways Newton followed in Barrow's footsteps. Barrow helped him repeatedly (when Barrow resigned as Lucasian Professor, he lobbied successfully to get Newton to take his place). Still, it was a long time before Newton's work on calculus -- and its applications to the physics of motion and gravity -- was published, and only then because the astronomer Edmund Halley (of comet fame) badgered him into it.

Newton is also remembered for inventing the reflecting telescope, proving that white light is composed of many colors (an idea originally proposed by Roger Bacon), and cleaning up Her Majesty's coinage (and making life unpleasant for counterfeiters). He was the first English person knighted for scientific work.

It is often denied that Newton got the idea for gravity by being bonked by an apple falling off a tree at Woolsthorpe manor: Cambridge was closed because of the plague in the mid-1660s, so Newton went home and thought about optics, calculus, and physics (he would compute logarithms to fifty places as recreation). Nevertheless, the tree is still there, so who knows.

Much as been made of Newton's genius, so here is what he said about it. First, "I keep the subject of my inquiry constantly before me, and wait till the first dawning opens gradually, by little and little, into a full and clear light." Second, "If I have ever made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention, than to any other talent." Most famously, he wrote to Robert Hooke that "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants," a quote even more telling when one remembers that centuries before, St. Bernard of Clairvaux (allegedly) said that we are but dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants. Try these quotes on your students and see what happens.

So make some cider and have a Happy Isaac Newton's birthday! (And also Alban Arthuan, Chanukkah, Christmas / Epiphany, Dong Zhi, (and Eid al-Adha this year), Kwanzaa, New Year's, Winter Solstice, and all other holidays in between.) This is the last Biweekly of the year, but we will return in January.