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Jun 28, 2008


By Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev, 1830

Speak not, lie hidden, and conceal
the way you dream, the things you feel.
Deep in your spirit let them rise
akin to stars in crystal skies
that set before the night is blurred:
delight in them and speak no word.

How can a heart expression find?
How should another know your mind?
Will he discern what quickens you?
A thought once uttered is untrue.
Dimmed is the fountainhead when stirred:
drink at the source and speak no word.

Live in your inner self alone
within your soul a world has grown,
the magic of veiled thoughts that might
be blinded by the outer light,
drowned in the noise of day, unheard...
take in their song and speak no word.

/trans. by Vladimir Nabokov/

Молчи, скрывайся и таи
И чувства и мечты свои -
Пускай в душевной глубине
Встают и заходят оне
Безмолвно, как звезды в ночи,-
Любуйся ими - и молчи.

Как сердцу высказать себя?
Другому как понять тебя?
Поймёт ли он, чем ты живёшь?
Мысль изречённая есть ложь.
Взрывая, возмутишь ключи,-
Питайся ими - и молчи.

Лишь жить в себе самом умей -
Есть целый мир в душе твоей
Таинственно-волшебных дум;
Их оглушит наружный шум,
Дневные разгонят лучи,-
Внимай их пенью - и молчи!..

Jun 19, 2008

What is happening to public higher education?

As we are testing waters in various off-campus ventures, I get a sense that some rules of the game are changing. Mainly, it is the kinds of questions potential applicants are asking and the kinds of responses or non-responses we get from people. It is not a secret generally; see for example, Lloyd Armstrong's blog. Basically, higher education is entering the world of competition, something most of other industries have been operating in for a long time. We are not there yet. For example, our recent drop in enrollments did not get anyone worried about our job security, or the imminent bankruptcy. I remember from my days of working for a small company, it was a very different feeling. We knew that if this state contract is not awarded, or that client leaves us, we all lose our jobs, at any time. Or, compare this to American car manufacturers: SUV's and trucks are not selling, so they just closed down a lot of factories, and fired a lot of people. We are not there yet, and hopefully, not even close. But we are definitely on the road to operating in the same situation of competition.

Just a couple of examples: a school district we were trying to talk into opening an off-campus cohort in, invited us and another university to present on the same day. Or another example: a recently admitted student shares that he shopped around, and we won his business because we had someone on the phone to talk to. Our partner schools tell us: you are good, but another university pays more to cooperating teachers. And finally, we seem to be losing the enrollment race to CSU and CU, see the recent Tribune article by Chris Casey.

Of course, the situation is not dire yet; we will always have traditional students, even if in smaller droves; our education programs are first-rate, and we seem to be working on overdrive all the time. So, there is no real sense of losing business; not on personal level. However, I just think we and other similar universities are not ready for the world of competition, and it may come sooner and much more suddenly than we imagine.

We are not prepared because of the outdated organizational structures and culture. We are not flexible, we are slow to react, and we cannot count money. UNC, like any other university, has the commercial arm, the Extended Studies. ES is much more efficient simply because they have more organizational and financial flexibility. Ideally, the rest of the university should operate just like the Extended Studies, constantly monitoring revenues and expenses in each college, school, and individual program. While not every program has to break even, everyone's financial situation must be transparent. I really don't mind subsidizing another program, but I would like to be told about it, and to know that this is done for the good of the whole, not because no one is paying attention. Revenue streams must be traced to their originators, and the patter should have a right to use some of it to experiment, take risks, and invent new educational services.

A part of the problem is that there is a further division within the University, and an invisible wall separates the Academic Affairs and the Extended Studies. While legal rationale for this separation is clear (state funded versus cash funded), ideally, academic units, faculty and students don't have to know or care about the difference between the two. There is no justification for the absurd situation when our new growing Early Childhood program only costs us money, while our off-campus Postbac programs are the main source of our discretionary income. Those are both very good, and both require a lot of work, dedication, and creativity. Much of risk-taking is dampened by the perceived shortage of faculty, and incongruence of ES vs. on-campus policies and procedures. We are caught in the perpetual catch-22: we cannot grow, because we do not have faculty to grow; we do not have faculty, because we do not have funds to hire them. Almost all new initiatives are coming out of someone's hide, and those hides are not inexhaustible.

What would a business person do? Come up with a plan, and then borrow money or find an investor to make it happen. Then hire great people to work on it, and just get the project going. Use of credit is the life-line of all modern economy, and it was invented exactly to get out of the catch-22 situation. But of course, we are not allowed to do what everyone else is doing, because we are a university. We are not about money. Sometimes I think we are about the absence thereof.

Another example: at the end of the calendar year 2008, our School will have taught 51 credits of off-campus credit hours. That is an equivalent of two full-time instructors. However, we cannot hire two new instructors using Extended Studies funds, because such people would need to teach for ES only. But this simply won't work, because no one can teach all of these various courses; one need to be a specialist. We could hire someone on ES funds, but who would teach in both off-, and on-campus. What's the difference, after all? It would not have been cheaper; full-time faculty cost slightly more than either adjunct instruction or overloads to existing FT faculty. However, we can expect a full time faculty to work with us on curriculum, on new programs, take lead in developing new projects, serve of committees, write reports, etc.

There are other institutional barriers; I won't mention them all. It is probably too boring already. I am just worried about what is coming next. We might not see that bus closing in on us. As we can see, the economy experiences wide swings, and dramatic changes. Who knew five years ago people will be dumping their SUV's and your house would lose value? How do we know what the landscape of higher education will look like 5 years from now? Will there be enough for everyone? Which other players will enter the field and open their brick and mortar or virtual campuses next door? I think public universities like ours should start to transform themselves into more flexible organizations now while we still have time. There is other one legal mandate or a fiscal rule or another to stop us from changing. But then again, Colorado is a smaller state, with a smaller, friendlier government, and we can change all these rules if we really wanted. In 2006, Colorado ranked fifth in the nation on the "Best States for Business" rankings by Forbes. And I am confident we can do it, because we have the most educated and creative workforce among all industries. Another option is to wait and see.

Jun 13, 2008

Fall Offense Planning

I have written here before, that I divide all work into defense and offence. Defense is reacting to things that are coming my way: reports, requests for information, trouble students and trouble faculty, personnel issues, routine office management issues, things to sign, and things to check on, schedules, workloads, staffing, contracts, finances, responses to student inquiries, teaching. This actually adds to quite a bit, especially in Fall and Summer.

Offense is new projects, such as grant applications (we just submitted one), program revisions, attempts to expand out off-campus empire, thinking about where we want to be in the future, developing some efficiency tools (for example, the SIMS database, and I started on a new scheduling database), considering changes in policy (such as a new system of payments for consultants), looking for ways to save money, developing a plan of action or the year. Just lie a military offense, each academic year needs to have some preliminary planning work done: what should be accomplished, and then, narrow it down to what can be accomplished.

In the next academic year, we have a number of biggies. NCATE comes in November for a site visit. In October (tentatively, 10-17), the Russians are coming for the First International Teacher Education conference (See the Nomadic Conference blog for the original idea). If that happened, then we are to travel to Russia in May for a visit. If we like the whole thing, we can start planning another one, with a different country. If the Jordan Early Childhood grant is funded, Jordanians will come for a visit sometime in the Fall as well. Now, we absolutely must start another off-campus cohort in MAT/LDE next year, expand Secondary Postbac, reignite the Bridge Postbac program, and plant seeds for perhaps three more programs, hoping at least one of them will work (I am thinking, we can take MAT/Elementary off-campus to Denver, start an Early Childhood PTEP cohort in one of community colleges, and begin developing a quality Ed.D. on-line). The Elementary PTEP and Postbac assessment system overhaul needs to be completed next year; Secondary and K-12 also moved forward considerably. We need to keep ironing out the kinks of our PTEP tracking system (the checkpoint courses), and keep debugging curriculum (that seems to never end). Elementary transition should complete by the end of the year, so we need to see what bugs are there. Early Childhood program will mature to adulthood (it's a pun), so we need to review the lessons and adjust. We need to take a hard look at our annual budget, estimate PT costs, and see how much money we can really invest in professional development and curriculum development. I am also going to teach a new doctoral class in the Fall, and am still quite unsure about it.

Now, these are too many projects to just keep working on them at the same time, so we need a plan, with some timeline, and specific tasks in each project. In other words, we need a script for the year. There is not a slightest chance for me to do most of it, so the play needs a cast, with specific roles assigned. Wait, I am mixing my metaphors here: started with military and ended with theater. But I guess it is the same idea; both involve what they call project management in business. In the last two years, I have tried to be more or less systematic about each individual project, but not about all of them. So, that's my Summer project, to spell out the big plan, and try to see how different parts interact with each other. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

Jun 6, 2008

The tasks of improvement

Some of the units at our university, which shall remain unnamed, cannot improve. They run into the same problems semester after semester, and heroically overcome those, every time. The people there work just as hard as anyone else, if not harder. They are always friendly, helpful, and get things done. And we end up talking to them quite a bit, because, well, there are problems; the same ones again and again.

How does t happen that people are so busy working, they don't have the time to figure out a way of doing their work better, more efficiently, with fewer errors? Not that I don't know how, for our little operation at STE has its own backlog of unsolved issues. We simply don't have time to get to them. But it bothers me when serious, chronic problems, all of which are solvable, get put off again and again. What bothers me is a day-to-day mentality, where things are done for the day, as if they are done for the last time. Next day brings the same exact problems, but we are just waiting for the day to end.

I don't want our School be among those units that will remain unnamed. We need to keep improving things, small and big, even just to keep ourselves moving. So, let's take a look at what we do, and make sure we spend our time and energy on doing more complex, more interesting work, and don't waste our lives stepping on the same rake every day. Here is my set of adages to help:

  • If you work too hard, it probably means you don't work too smart.
  • The best use of time is in thinking where all your time goes.
  • Thinking is noticing patterns, and everyone notices if you work without thinking.
  • The most interesting work is getting rid of uninteresting work.
  • When we try to ignore how stupid something is, we say "it's always been done that way."