June 26, 2012, 11:25 pm

Overstepping

Two recent events in higher education have illustrated the tendency of decision makers outside of the university (i.e., not faculty, staff, or administrators) to overstep their mandates in controlling what happens within the university. The first one is the attempt by the Michigan legislators in their state House to legislate standards for students in counseling programs. The second is the unethical actions of the UVa Board to impose their “unique perspective” on the university by basically staging a coup and firing forcing the resignation of the President. Both of these actions miss some fundamental points about the role of each body, as well as the purpose of the public university in American society. Let’s take the actions one at a time.

First, the bill introduced in the Michigan legislature is designed to address an issue raised by Julea Ward, a student from Eastern Michigan…

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May 31, 2012, 10:43 am

Perfecting the Evaluation Process

The end of the year means one thing to everyone in academe: evaluation. Students are turning in papers, completing final exams, and doing presentations for assessment by their instructors. Faculty face two different kinds of evaluations: student evaluations and annual performance evaluations by their department chairs and/or Deans. While I have evaluated students for more than a decade, this year marks my first time evaluating faculty performance.

Like all the other firsts I have faced this year, I talked to peers with more experience, reviewed books about administration and faculty assessment, examined my own yearly evaluations from my prior schools, and looked through faculty files to see examples of written evaluations from the former department chair.

There are two parts to the evaluation process: the formal written document and the conversation between the faculty member and…

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May 16, 2012, 4:28 pm

Classing up the joint

Since I began the new administrative position this past summer, I have had reason to be in the company of several wealthy donors to my university. Whether these interactions are based upon stilted introductions from the Development Office staff, conversations at university receptions, or friendly dinners in town, they make me nervous. I try to put on a good show, being friendly, asking questions, and telling them about my program, but I always feel like I am a little out of step somehow.

As a first generation college student who grew up in a working class neighborhood, it is not a situation for which my life experience prepared me. The only rich person I knew growing up was my dad’s boss. They had a huge house where they hosted parties on July 4th, and their in-ground swimming pool and large wooded lot were amazing to me. We all had to be on our best behavior at the boss’ house,…

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March 31, 2012, 2:41 pm

Distracted (Still) by the Lack of an Arrest (Still)

Those folks who are long time readers know that I cannot limit my blog to matters of administrivia and academe all of the time. Sometimes, the real world calls out for discussion, and I simply have to respond. This is one of those times.

Treyvon Martin

I have been following the story of Trayvon Martin with a sense of despair and anger that makes it difficult to concentrate on other issues. As the anchor says in the ABC news coverage, the story focuses on a black 17-year old boy who was shot to death in “a gated community where his father lives.” The shooter was George Zimmerman, a 28-year old white (or Hispanic) man who was the self-appointed captain of the neighborhood watch. Martin was returning from the store with a pack of skittles and an iced tea, whereupon he was profiled as “up to no good, on…

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March 5, 2012, 3:14 am

Information Brokers

I have been a faculty member and an administrator on several campuses, and each one has its own versions of the “information broker.” These brokers are the people in the know, the ones who are privy to upcoming decisions before anyone else. They usually have a position that puts them into contact with people from across the university, and they have built relationships that sustain the information gathering process. Some brokers are administrative types, some are longtime faculty, and some are support staff. Some brokers pick up information haphazardly, through their many professional and personal relationships, while others are more purposive in their pursuit of inside information. The best information brokers know the institutional history and can help put the current trials and tribulations into perspective. The worst hoard information as a way to amass power, gossip with friends…

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February 26, 2012, 3:17 pm

Making the hard calls: Balancing heart and head

One of the biggest challenges facing any administrator is making the hard calls. Some big decisions can be managed by the faculty, such as curriculum changes, but others reside solely with the person in the administrative role. I originally thought going into this role that these decisions would come along sparingly. Instead, I have found that challenging decisions occur often! They are required throughout the different spheres of academic life: tenure and promotion approvals, hiring and firing decisions, student academic (or non-academic) reviews, budget allocation, personnel management, etc.

The advice books for department chairs, deans, and other administrators all say the same kind of thing about making hard calls… Always base your decision making framework on the following:

  • the good of the unit,
  • the mission of the unit and the larger university,
  • the long-term…

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January 16, 2012, 10:59 am

Ho Hum

So, Elmhurst College added sexual orientation as a demographic category on their application, and the reaction from students is… no big deal. Kind of ho hum, actually.

It turns out that very few students are skipping the optional question. Why would they? Sexual orientation just isn’t the same kind of big deal right now for many of them. An analysis of the 2010 General Social Survey data revealed that the youngest cohort in the US was overwhelmingly supportive of homosexuality, with 50% of those aged 18-29 reporting that they find nothing wrong with homosexuality (as compared to 44-62% of those over 50 that said that homosexuality was always wrong).

Yes, there is still discrimination in the world: LGBT kids get harassed and assaulted in school by teachers and peers, gay clubs get thrown off high school campuses, parents throw their children out of the house for being gay, and the…

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January 12, 2012, 11:52 pm

No more homework

When I was a faculty member, I had no real set schedule other than classes and occasional office hours. (Yeah, I was one of those “office hours by appointment” kind of girls.) I usually worked at home 2-3 days a week, and I worked at night and on the weekend as needed. During the work week, I also sometimes watched “Primetime in the daytime” on TV, went to afternoon movies, had lunch with the gf, and took trips out of town. I worked a lot, producing articles, presentations, class preparations, committee work, etc., but all of that got done around my own schedule. The girlfriend was used to this work style, as she had grown accustomed to it during my grad school years.

In my first faculty/admin job, I spent more time in the office, usually 3-4 days a week, but I didn’t keep 9-5 kind of hours. I would get in between 10-11 and often left by 3 or so. I also felt free to work at home as…

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December 29, 2011, 10:08 pm

This Year in LGBT Higher Education News

I always love to check out the “Top 10 news stories/movies/songs/sports disasters/etc. of 2011″ stories when they hit the national news at this time of year. So, in the same spirit, I give you my top 10 news stories related to LGBT issues in higher education.

1. No professional homophobia allowed. One of the most exciting stories to me, as I am a court geek and a professor in a professional discipline, is the decision by a federal Court of Appeals in Georgia (of all places) that affirmed the right of a professional field to require students to practice competently with LGBT populations. Students in professional fields (in this case, counseling) cannot claim a religious exemption from working with queers. So, if you say, “Oh, I can’t work with gay people without proselytizing, trying to fix or save them, or being hateful,” guess what? You don’t get the counseling/nursing/medical/social…

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December 18, 2011, 11:06 pm

Looking for Emily…

Emily Post, that is. Because when it comes to the holiday traditions, I am clueless. Even though I am a Jew, I know the holidays are a time with a LOT of traditions: decorating, parties, gift-giving, food preparation, card-sending, etc. I have never been especially good at planning or executing any of this in my personal life, so the holiday challenges facing me in my professional life are formidable. Add to this the new perspective of being the administrator of a unit, and I have a minor crisis of confidence on my hands, as I face a bunch of questions about what is appropriate.

>>Where do I stand on holiday decorations in the office? Can I draw a line at something openly religious, require inclusiveness in public spaces, or just let people do as they will and know most of the faculty and students are gone anyway?

>>Should we have a holiday gathering for our unit or not? If so, …

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