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The Weekly Blab

Volume 6, Issue 10—October 16, 2011


Weather is Improving…

Not a bad weekend in the Premier League.  Chelsea beat Everton away for the first time in six years, 3-1.  Everton played well, but Chelsea dominated throughout.  To add to the pleasure, Manchester United only tied Liverpool, so the standings are now Manchester City at the top, Manchester United 2 points down, and Chelsea 3 points down.  Not too bad.


Perfect Weather in Atlanta…

This just in!  At 4:30 PM today, SPSU’s student team won first place at the Social Business and Microcredit Forum sponsored by the University System of Georgia, held at Georgia Tech.  SPSU’s team won out over 37 other competitors from 36 universities across the state.  I’ll give a full account with pictures in next week’s BLAB, but for now, congratulations to our student team and to their faculty advisors Don Ariail, Joyce McGriff, Greg Quinet, and Sandra Vasa Sideris (all from the Business Administration Dept., of course).


Pleasant Breeze in Athens…

Congratulations to SPSU in general and Architecture in particular for the results of this year’s American Institute of Architecture (AIA) Awards. 

I had the pleasure of attending the Georgia AIA award dinner on Saturday night, along with Ameen Farooq, the Architecture chair.  The award dinner was in Athens, at the Classic Center’s Foundry Building, a very nice venue.  The day couldn’t have been more beautiful, and we purposefully got there a bit early just to be able to sit outside and take in the Athens vibe.

At the awards ceremony, there were SPSU faculty, students, and friends galore.  The 2011 Georgia AIA chapter president is Ed Bernard, who is an SPSU graduate.  The winning student charette team had an SPSU student on it, receiving the award.  The architectural Firm of the Year had an SPSU alum in the group receiving the award.  Our faculty members William Carpenter and Ed Akins, who are prominent within AIA, were there as was one of our emeritus faculty, Jim Fausett (who I also know from Rotary).  Jim is also a former president of AIA, and a recipient of their highest award, which he had around his neck along with his SPSU medallion. 

Coolest yet, our own Building I-2 (Design II Studio Building) won not one, but two awards—the only building to be so honored.  Earlier in the evening during the social hour, the folks from Cooper Cary, Ameen, and I were reminiscing about how we had worked together in designing the building, its site on the hill, and on the Savannah Walk alongside it.  They gave a lot of credit to Dean Bill Barnes (well deserved!), our architecture faculty, and even me, for contributing to the design.

First was an AIA Merit Award  (“Given at the jury’s discretion for meritorious projects deserving of recognition, demonstrating the architects’ design abilities.  Recognizes achievement in design and awarded to projects that display a high standard of architectural quality and design.”), given to the architect (Cooper Cary, Inc.) and the owner (us!).  Second was the President’s Award from the Brick Industry Association, given to the architect, brick manufacturer (Endicott Clay Products), and owner.   The President’s Award also came with a $2,000 check, to be given to the architectural program of the architect’s choice.  I was very proud as the folks from Cooper Cary handed it to Ameen and me.  A picture of us all at the ceremony is below (L-R: Richard Fredlund, William Collier, Tara Henderson, Zvi Szafran, Ameen Farooq).


Monsoon from India

Bernice Nuhfer-Halten (SIS) shared an article with me entitled “U.S., India and Higher Ed” that appeared in Inside Higher Education.  The article begins with a statement of the number of new institutions of higher learning India must establish, if it is to meet its ambition of doubling the number of students in higher education:  1,000 new universities and 50,000 new colleges.  Good grief!  Is this the raving of a lunatic?  No—the statement was made by Kapil Sibal, the Indian Human Resources Minister.  So, it looks like there will be lots of academic jobs, but you’ll have to go to India to get ‘em.

The article goes on to describe various collaborations between Indian and U.S. universities, and then goes on to describe some of the more “ambitious ideas” put forward by Sam Pitroda, an advisor on public information to the Indian prime minister.  “Connectivity allows us to think big,” he said.  He went as far as to suggest a world of higher education where professors exist as mentors while the bulk of the learning is done online and unassisted by an individual instructor.

Hmm…where have I seen that before?  This is a slightly more extreme version of an argument put forward at AASCU’s national meeting this past summer, as reported in the August 22 Weekly Blab (“The New Normal”), and it’s clearly being discussed at the highest governmental levels. 


Storm Front Coming From Florida

Another news item comes from Florida, where the governor of the state, Rick Scott, said that the Florida universities are training too many anthropologists and not enough people in STEM disciplines.  He was quoted as saying “I want … money to go to degrees where people can get jobs in this state.” 

You may think that this is just another in a long line of attacks on the liberal arts (and it is), but he is also in favor of other reforms, and has linked them to a set of ideas being proposed in Texas.   These reforms may be found on the website of texashighered.com, the online arm of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a think tank associated with Texas Governor Perry.  In its own words, “It attempts to dispel the many myths that prevent our institutions of higher education from becoming the student-focused centers of learning that we should all demand.

Student-focused centers of learning?  That doesn’t sound too bad, does it?  Well, let’s look a bit further.  What are the 7 Solutions that are being proposed?  You can see them for yourself here, but I’ll give you a summary. 

The first solution is “Measure Teaching Efficiency and Effectiveness”.   How?  By dividing the salary and benefits cost for each faculty member, and dividing by the number of students taught for the last 12 months.  Also, by collecting the average student satisfaction rating, and the percentage of A’s and B’s awarded.  The results should be publicly posted in several prominent locations.  In case you were thinking that tenure faculty committee evaluations might be substituted for the student satisfaction ratings—wrong!  “Research shows that student satisfaction ratings remain one of the best measures of teaching effectiveness…”  What research?  The website doesn’t say.

Second, “Publicly Recognize and Reward Extraordinary Teachers”.  How can this be bad?  Teachers will receive bonuses up to $10,000 per class, based on (you guessed it) the aforementioned student satisfaction ratings.  Teachers in the top 3% of the ratings will receive up to $10,000, depending on the number of students taught.  Teachers from the top 3% to 10% will get up to $5,000, and from the top 10% to 25% will get $2,500.  The bonuses will encourage the best teachers to teach more students.  Faculty who object don’t have to take the bonuses.  If you think you’ve spotted the fatal flaw, that this will cause grade inflation—wrong!  “If the faculty is concerned that relying on customer (student) satisfaction ratings would result in a “popularity contest,” voluntary maximum limits on the number of A’s and B’s awarded in each class could be included in the bonus plan, which would have the added benefit of curbing grade inflation.” It goes on to say that the program would pay for itself through efficiency gains, which is a nice way of saying that no additional money needs to be allocated to pay for the bonuses.

Third, “Split Teaching and Research Budgets to Encourage Excellence”.   The teaching faculty should be paid based on the number of students taught, with the bonuses above.  The research faculty will be paid based on the research dollars they bring in.  Tenured faculty can shift to the “new, more lucrative reward system but would not be required to do so”. 

Fourth, “Require Evidence of Teaching Skill for Tenure”.  Don’t we already do that?  Apparently, not well enough.  “The majority of new tenure appointments (say 75%) will be granted to professors who have proven that they can teach well by having taught on average three classes per semester and thirty students per class for the seven or more years that a teacher is on the tenure track…Average teaching ratings must be a minimum of 4.5 on a 5.0 scale.  Limits may be placed on the number of A’s and B’s awarded if the efficacy of customer (student) satisfaction ratings are questioned.”  The other 25% of tenure appointments will go for research faculty.

Fifth, “Use “Results-based” Contracts with Students to Measure Quality".  It’s actually two contracts—one from the university to the student disclosing graduation rates, placement rates, average starting salaries, and how educational value added will be measured; and one from the teacher to the student, disclosing the skills to be imparted, the grading policy, and the method that will be used by the student to evaluate whether the “learning promise was met”.

Sixth, “Put State Funding Directly in the Hands of Students”.  Instead of state funding for universities, each student would get a voucher that they could spend where they wished.  Including outside the state university system.  The claim is that Colorado already does this.

Finally, in case you think that no accreditation body would possibly buy into this, the final solution is to “Create Results-Based Accrediting Alternatives.”

I’m sure we can (ahem) all agree that the only possible outcome of these seven solutions is that universities will become the student-focused centers of learning we all should demand.


Trivia Contest

Last Week’s  Contest

Last week’s trivia contest focused on The Dick Van Dyke Show, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary!  It drew lots of entries.  Our winner was Jennie Rogers, who only took 10 minutes to do it, and tells me that the Dick Van Dyke Show is one of her favorites.

  1. What was Rob and Laura’s last name?  Petrie
  2. In what city did Rob and Laura live?  New Rochelle, NY
  3. What musical instrument did Buddy Sorrell play?  Cello
  4. What was Sally Roger’s cat’s name?  Mr. Henderson
  5. What was Richie’s middle name, and how was it chosen?  Rosebud.  It’s an amalgamation of the various names all the relatives suggested for the new baby: Robert, Oscar, Sam, etc.

This Week’s Challenge

This week’s challenge focuses on musical nicknames.  As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking things up now!

  1. The King of Swing
  2. Chairman of the Board
  3. The Hardest Working Man in Show Business
  4. Queen of the Blues
  5. High Priestess of Soul