Saturday, August 20, 2011

Cheng on WSIU, Part the First: Logogate

I was feverishly finishing up syllabi yesterday so managed to avoid listening to Chancellor's Cheng special "Morning Conversation" of Friday until today; she was invited to respond to "clear the air" about certain questions raised by the Board of Trustees and yours truly. Plus she'll be back on Monday! Here I'll respond to what she said about the BOT special meeting and the concerns raised about marketing. A second post will follow, probably tomorrow.

Why did the BOT call a special meeting about the logo? The Chancellor really hit this question out of the park: the Board of Trustees has four new members who don't know what the hell they're doing. So she'll spoon feed them next time. That will go over well.

Marketing. The Chancellor started by saying the new logo did not cost $1.5 million. I'm not sure where that figure came from (she just blurted it out during the interview); rather, the spending went for all sorts of marketing efforts. Obviously the logo itself didn't cost $1.5 million (it looks more like about $1.50). The charge she raised is a straw man--perhaps she has learned something from our ace debate team. Then she argued that most spending was facilitated by "reallocating and reallignment" of current spending and staff. She said that almost all of the $1.5 million was covered by via savings, moving SIUC communications staff to other areas, etc.  This is a more substantive response. Is it true?

Friday, August 19, 2011

Grade inflation

After the break, a neat graphic on grade inflation (which I saw on Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish). Nothing specific to SIUC, where, at least in my experience, grade inflation is not particularly rampant. Of course, talk about retention rates can readily shade over into grading pressure, but I didn't find the only administrative effort on this front known to me particularly heinous (their flagging of core courses that gave more than 20% of students Ds, Fs, Ws, or INCs). The one problem was their lumping the withdrawals and incompletes in with the Ds and Fs, as it amounted to an effort to pin faculty with all the responsibility for retaining students.

But that initiative led me to think again about my grading, so was worthwhile in my case. Certainly the distribution curve in my large lecture class looks rather more like 1960 than 2007 on the chart below--in fact, my distribution has sometimes been scarier for students, as I learned when forced to think this through by the administrative initiative. You may need to readjust when you are giving out many more Ds and Fs than your faculty peers are—though I find that almost all Fs and most Ds in my classes go to students who fail to turn in significant assignments. There's not much you can do about that.  At any rate, rather than easy grades, I rely on my charm and outstanding good looks to assure high student evaluations.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Linking the library

[See Julie Arendt's comment below for a couple of corrections.]

Apparently the Morris library staff is a bit irked at how hard the library is to find from our splendid new website.  They are passing out slips of paper encouraging folks to  email the University Web Advisory Group ( to ask why Morris doesn't qualify for a link. So, let's see, as of 3:56 pm on Thursday, Morris library cannot be found under "About SIU".  It's not under "Academics".  It's not under "Research".  It's not under Info For "Current Students" or "Future Students".  You can, however, find it under info for Faculty and Staff (it's the seventh item under "Academics" on that page; "Office of the Provost" is the first). I suppose faculty and staff may care about the library.

I frankly don't see what the library staff are complaining about. You would have thought they'd have seen the writing on the wall when we left the books out past the Poultry Center. Athletics gets a full tab, top center, equal billing with academics and research. What is there to complain about?

Another little thing that some people will find only a triviality, others will find a telling illustration of the way things work around here.  A more serious analysis follows after the break.

Sudden BOT meeting

I know essentially nothing about the suddenly called BOT meeting yesterday other than what has already been reported in the Southern and DE.  Here is the announcement of the meeting, the closest thing to an agenda available, which Kristi linked to over at Unions United.

As the DE story made particularly clear, the chairman of the board was "insulted" not to be consulted about the marketing campaign--or at least the new logo. I wasn't there, but do hope that their questions go somewhat deeper than the logo. The DE story also notes that our outside marketing firm has received a $950,000 budget for this year. The private part of the meeting, closed to the public, may have been the most interesting from our perspective, as there the board wanted to discuss court proceedings against the board (which could allude to the unions' Unfair Labor Practice charge) and "collective negotiating matters".

As our current board has shown at least once before, at least some of its members have an independent streak. This could very well be a good thing.

Four Union Ad

In case you missed it, I embed below the ad the IEA unions have placed in the DE, hoping to reach new students and their parents.

Four Union Ad

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

On Bike Racks

[Note: I've spent too much time in the last couple of days responding to a spirited attack on the FA's position on the tenure debate in the comment stream for the last post.  As usual, much of the value of this blog lies in in the comments.  Do check them out.] 

I bike to campus most days. The DE today ran a story on our new bike racks that has gotten me to scratching my head. It nicely summarizes much of what I'm feeling about campus these days.

My take on the new bike racks when I saw them a few weeks ago was, well, (surprise!)  negative. This for a rather simple reason. In the area I lock up my bike, near the student center end of Faner, the old bike racks were often pretty full. The new bikes have less than one half of the capacity of the old racks. The old racks were efficient and effective. I'm not talking about the gadgety relics near the Museum end of Faner, which were hardly recognizable as bike racks at all and were almost never used, but the humble effective racks at the other end of Faner, and elsewhere on campus.  The new racks are, however, prettier. And they are painted Saluki Maroon, aiding our campus branding. But the story gets more complicated, after the break.  

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday roundup

A couple of--surprise!--troubling news stories.

The Chronicle has a story on a professor of "Justice Studies" at Northeastern Illinois, Loretta Capeheart, who argues that she has been retaliated against for public criticism of the university.  Capeheart is now appealing a lower federal court ruling against her, which held that as her criticism was within her official duties, as the court saw them, the university could discipline her for speaking out. The AAUP has called the lower court decision "chilling", and rightly so, it seems to me.  While the professor wasn't fired or demoted (the retaliation consisted in denying her the chair's position in her department, despite gaining the support of department faculty, and denying her a faculty excellence award she was apparently entitled to), I don't see why the logic employed by the lower court couldn't justify firing. One moral: the courts may well not protect your free speech rights.  That's why contractual tenure protection is so vital.  Perhaps I have been too naive in not fearing retaliation. 

Another chilling story, flagged for me by Jonathan Bean, discusses how a Rhode Island city has to put its bond-holders ahead of its pensioners. That is, when declaring bankruptcy, it gutted pensions for retirees, while guaranteeing payments for bondholders. Plutocracy in a rather naked form, it seems to me. Scary quotes after the break.