Friday, July 22, 2011

Library commons open 24 hours

Here I was thinking I would have to post a good news story (horribile dictu) about the library staying open overnight during the fall semester. But upon reading the fine print (usually a mistake), I learned that no library services will be available during the extended hours overnight. This produces a somewhat comical combination of quotes. 
“This is a research institution … students should have access to university resources at all times,” Chancellor Rita Cheng said.  . . . .
“The idea was for less focus on library services and more on having a safe study environment on campus,” [library affairs Dean] Carlson said. “A large portion of library services are digital resources and student will have access to those.”
That is, a couple of study lounges and a computer lab will be open on the first floor. Students will be able to access all library resources they could access . . . from any computer terminal in the world. No books. 

Now this may be a reasonable decision for overnight hours, as it won't require any library staff, or policing the upper floors. And even I will grant that one function of the library is to provide a safe place to study. And I suspect that rather few research libraries allow stack access 24/7. But the symbolism is, shall we say, unfortunate. I would say not that the library is open, but that the library commons will be open overnight. 

Letters opposing the Southern's editorial

The usual suspects (yours truly and Kristi Brownfield & Natasha Zaretsky) rushed off letters to the editor opposing the Southern's editorial praising our Chancellor for alienating faculty (already discussed on this blog here & here), and the Southern has now duly published them. You'll need to scroll down just a bit in the rather low-tech manner the Southern has of posting letters online.

My letter contains a stray comma the Southern managed to insert (in the first sentence of the penultimate paragraph). And when I tried to sign it Dr. David M. Johnson, the better to make a medical analogy, they asked me, when confirming my identity over the phone, whether I had a MD or PhD and thus demoted me to the latter. While I'm entirely capable of inserting a stray comma myself, I don't think I've ever tacked Ph.D. on to my name, save on the covers of my line of self-help books.

Poshard's Granddaughter to Attend Xavier

The final stage, one assumes, in the Maddie Poshard saga: she goes to Xavier.  The Southern cites the young Poshard as saying that "my desire for my accomplishments to be recognized as my own is very strong." That would indeed be harder at SIUC, but hardly impossible. Surely the faculty here have shown a certain willingness to buck administrators. If she would have stuck to unionized faculty and GAs, she could have expected no special treatment. Yet another argument for unionized faculty . . . 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Good editorials play above the fields of messy sentences

Our View: It’s no time to say “Mission accomplished!” but there are encouraging signs coming out of the Southern Illinoisan.
It is not an easy task writing editorials. Arguments must be made in a timely manner based on all available facts. Those arguments about complex organizations, including human resources, labor negotiations, budgetary goals, organizational plans, administrative restructuring, economic growth, governmental regulation, strategic initiatives, and leadership styles, much less education, are certain to please some followers—or … ehh … readers—and ruffle the feathers of others.
For editorial writers, it is essential to place the cogency of an argument above all other considerations, including personal desires, monetary goals, and status. It requires a vision for excellence, specific rhetorical goals and a clear-eyed resolve that plays above the fields of messy emotions, empty buzzwords, and basic grammatical errors.
These characteristics are true for all opinion leaders, but the complexity of an argument almost infinitely complicates writing tasks. The bigger the claim, the greater the complexities.
The Southern Illinoisan’s Sunday, 17 July 2011 editorial is a good example. Because Gary Metro has essentially been composing the same editorial for four and a half years, the page essentially became a rudderless ship, steaming along at full power and frequently launching maladroit metaphors at moving targets. There was sound and fury, signifying something, but diminishing impact over time, because, you see, the missiles missed, or the ship didn’t have a rudder, or both.

Southern at 142

An anonymous comment brought my attention to a rather insightful analysis of the Strategic Plan racket from the new book Fall of the Faculty, by Benjamin Ginsberg, printed in the Chronicle. It notes Walter Wendler's demise was tied to his reuse of Texas A & M planning materials in the Southern at 150 plan. One of the sides of this process I wasn't aware of was the input of accreditation groups: I believe that SIUC has been required to revise our Southern at 150 plan by our accreditors. The accreditation process, together with the big push for assessment, is part of what is driving the growth of administration across universities. Here's hoping that faculty who are participating in our current strategic planning exercise take a look at Ginsberg's analysis of how that process tends to work.

When such plans set out concrete goals and realistic means to achieve these goals, they can be real planning documents, Ginsberg concedes, but for the most part the process, rather than the glossy vague document at the end, is the real goal, and the purpose of the process is to promote the administrators leading the strategic planning and co-opt the faculty who are invited to take part. Administrators appear to be leading the institution toward a brave new future, while involving faculty and staff in their work. But the end result is often no more than a bloated mission statement, written by administrative staff. Yet faculty given a seat at the planning table are less likely to question decisions that are sourced to the plan, however vague it may be.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Corporate Model

One of the main problems with academia these days, as I see it, is what I've taken to calling the corporate model. It's the notion that a university is essentially a sort of company and should be run accordingly. The major problem with this, of course, is that the university isn't a capitalist enterprise that exists to maximize monetary profit.

Another problem is that the people pushing this model often have an antediluvian understanding of how good companies work.  I don't know much about business, but anyone who's ever dipped into the business pages knows that good managers these days don't simply expect to give orders and have them unthinkingly obeyed. Promoters of the "corporate model" on campus too often seem to have an industrial age factory in mind, rather than the more flexible, transparent, and even democratic corporate culture in the most successful companies today. That is, some promoters of the corporate model don't only fail to understand universities: they fail to understand companies. For more on corporate flexibility, check out this recent article, "Fostering a Culture of Dissent", from the NY Times business section.

Okay, enough for today: too much caffeine meant too much blogging.

Let Us Praise Strong Leaders

The indefatigable Kristi Brown over at Unions United brought my attention to a truly amazing editorial in the Southern on Sunday, which cites faculty and staff resistance as the main reason for supporting Chancellor Cheng. You read that right.  We're dealing with a cult of strong leadership: a leader who incites opposition is strong and therefore good. Follow the corporate recipe, avoid any reference to evidence--including that printed by your own paper (see the last post)--and you can cook up this gruel.  But as I have dashed off a letter to the editor attacking the editorial already, I will not give the Southern a reason to not publish it by commenting more here.  They had the integrity to run a story on athletic spending: let's see if they will also publish a letter damning their editorial stance. I suspect mine will not be the only one.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Athletics Spending in the Southern

A short story in the Southern has picked up the athletics spending story, which originated in the Chronicle and was covered earlier here.  The only news to readers of this blog will be the administrative responses, which ranged from irrelevant through unpersuasive to incoherent (though, to be fair, one can't fairly evaluate a response once it's filtered through a third party).

Cheng noted that the athletics program makes up only 3% of the total SIUC budget, and that combining cuts last year and those planned for next, the athletics program will have taken a 7.5% cut.  That means their funding will have gone up by only 114.1%--a truly staggering blow to our spending on sports.  This unless, as seems likely, the 7.5% cuts she mentions came in budgets that were already slated to rise.  The final paragraph wasn't fully intelligible to me, but I think the claim was that ticket sales and donations were up--though, as the story itself indicates, they still form a small minority of total athletics spending.