VPAA Doug Blandy pulls off daring $1M student credit hour heist

UO VPAA Doug Blandy:

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3/4/2013: Basically it’s another version of Michael Moffit’s CnC scam – but 5x bigger, thanks to the miracle of online education. And while the instructors in those CnC courses kept to pretty much the same curve as the rest of UO, 60% of the students in Doug Blandy’s courses got A’s – more than twice the normal percentage. It’s a long story, sorry:

Arts and Administration, a.k.a. AAD, is a longstanding MA program for arts administrators. Totally legit – but not very lucrative. For years they’ve also offered a few UO undergrad courses – AAD 250, 251, 252:

Starting somewhere around 2006, when Doug Blandy took over as AAD Director, the program started adding many new online versions of these classes, taught with underpaid adjuncts.

Let’s do some math: For 2011-12 they taught about 2100 students, 4 credits each. Under the Shelton/Bean budget model, AAA gets ~$112 per credit, maybe a bit more given all the “self-supporting” online and summer courses. Let’s call it $1,200,000 or so.  Gotta pay the adjuncts though. For the first one I checked, pay was $15,000, for 0.49 FTE. Slick – no benefits to worry about. Assume that’s for 4 courses, so labor costs are about $4000 a course. 44 courses or so a year, that’s $200,000 for labor, tops. So it looks like AAA and Blandy’s AAD program have been pulling down close to $1,000,000 a year, net, from this scheme.

But why would our undergrads go for these AAD courses? Wouldn’t they take art appreciation courses in the Art History department, from a professor with a respected research program, like, say, this one, or this one, or this one?

Well, no. The AAD courses satisfy both Arts and Letters *and* multicultural requirements. The legendary twofer. And even better, you can do the AAD courses online and get a friend to take the exams for you. And regular Art History courses are hard. The average grade is 2.9. Less than a 3% chance of an A+.

But in the AAD courses, as of Fall 2011, the average undergraduate grade was 3.4. This is almost the highest for any UO department, outside the Education school and Military Science. 19% of students got an A+.  60% of the students got an A:

Last year, when Russ Tomlin’s job opened up, the faculty wanted Barbara Altmann. Instead Interim Provost Lorraine Davis and Interim President Bob Berdahl handed it off Doug Blandy.

Yes, the man behind this online grade inflation scheme is now UO’s Vice Provost for Academic Affairs. Strange – but quite rewarding for Mr. Blandy, whose pay has gone from $78K in 2008 to $180K last year:

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38 Responses to VPAA Doug Blandy pulls off daring $1M student credit hour heist

  1. Anonymous says:

    How did you get those grade percentages? I’d like to do some additional research.

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  2. UO Matters says:

    I think I got it from the ir website, here’s a version with a few extra calcs: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/971644/uomatters/Grades/2011F%20by%20dept.xls

    Be nice to see that broken out by lower/upper division, if anyone has that let me know.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    Grades shouldn’t follow a normal curve they should be based on demonstration of skills. Old guard of failing half a class and worry about number of A’s rather than the quality of demonstrated skills is outdated.

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    • UO Matters says:

      Nice try friend, but AAD is only giving 3% D’s and F’s. 97% pass. 60% get A’s.

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    • Anonymous says:

      “Outdated”? What you are presuming is current, non-outdated practice the rest of us call “grade inflation.”

      Since the first sentence of your post is a run-on, I’d suggest that’s how you earned your A in WR 121.

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    • Anonymous says:

      WTF??? I served on the distinguished teaching awards committee several years ago, and the smartest thing we did was ask for course grade distributions. Guess what – we found out that a strong contender after our initial screen was a person who gave out on average 81% As, 18% Bs and 1% Cs in his course. No wonder he had stellar student evaluations! Did this person get an award? Hell no!

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    • Anonymous says:

      Grades currently mean very little. Grades aren’t tied to specific skills which is what is needed. How many times do you have a student in a course who lacks fundamental skill and shouldn’t be in the course? Do you let them stay in and fail? How many times do you pass a kid who eeks it out on the last test? Did they really “learn” what was needed to be successful? If the goal of education is to educate then it’s our responsibility to worry about teaching skills we can measure NOT worry about grade distributions. It’s silly to even consider distributions.

      As an undergrad many moon’s ago, I had a professor who used mastery based testing. He said “I don’t care when students learn this, I just care that they learn it.” He was devoted to his students and worked with them to make sure they learned. Students could retake tests, rework homework, etc. He was teaching and testing skills. He spent 10x more time with his students. Guess what, great evaluations and most people got A’s and B’s but his courses were legendary for the amount of work and difficulty. His students also walked off with a very solid skill set.

      Here’s a little experiment for you. Are students memorizing for tests or learning skills? If they are learning skills make up two versions of a test, counter balance, and give them unannounced randomly during the semester and see how they do.

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      • charlie says:

        This was why Oregon State re-vamped their physics curriculum. Many years ago, they began to give students non-graded tests at the beginning of the term, in order to find out what they knew of the material. Pretty soon, they came to realize, their undergrads knew little or nothing, ‘total confusion” was how it was described to me. Had no understanding of first principles, didn’t know appropriate formulas for the subject matter, couldn’t apply either math/physics concepts to particular problems. It became apparent, and it would have been to any experienced teacher, the students had memorized what was needed to pass, and if their memories were good enough, to achieve high grades. Unfortunately, as test results manifested, it had nothing to do with mastery of the subject. OSU was, for the most part, bestowing BS Physics to people who didn’t know much about physics.

        Given all that, the department instituted a Capstone-Paradigm model curriculum, in order to fulfill what supposedly a uni is supposed to do. Teach. Not jack students for higher tuition, nor make admins pay escalate…..

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    • UO Matters says:

      I agree completely with the comment above. Grades mean very little. What matters is how much money with can extract from our students without challenging them. Only 19% of these online AAD students got A+’s? Surely we could increase tuition even more is we raised that to, say, 25%. Or is that still too low?

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    • Porcupine says:

      1) Grades are not “meaningless”; they are a means to communicate with students about their mastery of the course material and their progress toward that goal–not the only means, but sometimes the most direct, and the one students are most likely to heed.

      2) When I see a grade distribution like this one, I immediately think: those students are probably not writing much. UO undergraduates usually come to college poorly prepared by high school to write persuasive, grammatically correct and logically argued papers in any subject. In more than a decade here, I can count on one hand the number of genuinely A+ papers I have received; and it’s rare for even a good student to do consistently A, much less A+, written work. The norm is B- and C-range writing.

      3) As for skills other than writing: I haven’t seen a syllabus, of course, but it’s hard to imagine what “specific skills” a course in “Art and Human Values” imparts—and which the students so successfully master. With the exception of foreign language courses, classes with lots of high grades often engage in fuzzy “talking about how you feel” or, the opposite, evaluate students via easy multiple-choice exams (like the CnC football final). Neither approach teaches students mastery of a meaningful skill.

      4) Thus, students leave courses like this unprepared to succeed in other, more rigorous courses, that is, with no transferable skill set. The anti-grade crowd uses lots of feel-good language but ultimately does students a profound disservice. To succeed in today’s world, they need a degree in more than self-esteem.

      Imagine: if your kid graduated college with all A+ grades, would you honestly feel she’d received an education?

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  4. Anonymous says:

    Not strange at all. This kind of “business” acumen is what gets rewarded around here. No wonder he’s on the admin bargaining team – paying people a decent wage and making sure they get benefits and longer contracts would be bad for this business.

    Undergrad council is taking a look at the proliferation of online courses and the practice of getting cheap adjuncts to teach them.

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    • UO Matters says:

      I’m an economist, and I think the preferred nomenclature is “underpaid”, dude.

      Otherwise, right on.

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    • Anonymous says:

      An important distinction – I stand corrected.

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  5. Anas clypeata says:

    Let’s just all repeat that together: “19% of students got an A+.”

    Damn.

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  6. Awesome0 says:

    If only he and the admin would give 19 % of an A+ (for TTF I think that would be an endowed chair).

    How about some grade (wage) inflation for us profs as well?

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  7. Anonymous says:

    What is this about “Self Support”? Where does the money go? I was looking at the catalog the other day and saw a class that was “self support” but it had a flat fee instead of tuition, and the fee was a lot more than my resident tuition and I think even more than non-resident.

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    • Anonymous says:

      As I understand it, self-support means the class is outside the normal tuition structure and the “fees” go to the department. This all started as a way to offer non-degree seeking students (e.g. community members) opportunities to take classes. Of course, with the new budget model, and maybe even before that, units have figured out that this system might work better for them.

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  8. Anonymous says:

    Like any news program “exposure,” this merits investigation by an authorized entity, beginning with the Senate. Doug Blandy deserves fair process just like everyone else, regardless of UO-M’s bias.

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Self-support classes are a bad set-up for many students. GTF tuition waivers and faculty/staff discounts don’t work on these classes.

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  10. Anonymous says:

    s

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  11. Anonymous says:

    Most everyone has figured out the budget model and self-support class game by now, but if not, here are some basics:

    1. the smaller your dept. or college, the more any new course will draw students away from elsewhere on campus, not your own unit.
    2. offer new, gen-ed courses with appealing titles,cheaply taught with few prequisites and loose grading.
    3. make courses self support. The money bypasses the regular budget model with lower overhead. $s go straight to the unit,even the individual instructor, after a lower overhead tax.
    4. and yes, keep it ‘under the radar.’
    5. As it stands, the model puts a price on everything but quality.doesn’t take a genius to predict the results. Blandy, Moffit,and others are responding to the incentives and vision set out by JH.

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  12. Autonomous says:

    The Vice-Provost for Undergraduate Studies should look into this.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Agreed. The easy solution, or a part of it, is to close down the self-support track, which is being abused. That can be done administratively, while Senate committees (Undergrad Council, Committee on Courses) work on grade inflation, on-line standards, specific syllabi for these courses, etc.

      But review your org-chart: The Vice-Provost for Undergradate Studies (the recently fired Karen Sprague) reports to the provost (the recently resigned Jim Bean) and is subordinate to the Senior Vice-Provost for Academic Affairs (Doug Blandy). This, not any desire to deny Blandy due process, seems to be UOMatters’ point. The likelihood that the appropriate administrative actions will be taken at the university level are slim–especially if Sprague’s replacement, like Tomlin’s, comes out of one of the colleges gaming the budget model.

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  13. Kassia says:

    UO Matters continues to provide inflammatory information that parallels the national Enquirer and discredits the basic foundation of a research institution that provides information well vetted. Yet it certainly highlights the desperate position higher education is in – on a precipice of extinction – where all participants cling to old paradigms and fight for territory that is quickly evaporating. Can’t we use our brilliance to find new paths? UO Matters could be a venue, but not in it’s current iteration. “us against them” is not a functional frame for moving into a sustainable future. I risk sharing my name as I see so many anonymous posts. I stand by my call. Let us re-think our approach and claim our voices as a community committed to education! Administration, staff, faculty and ….don’t forget, students!

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    • UO Matters says:

      Sorry we’ve got multiple threads going, lets keep the online grad inflation one here.

      We’re on the precipice of extinction, and we’re going to be saved by online art appreciation courses where we give students an A, in exchange for a 500% profit on their tuition dollars?

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    • Anonymous says:

      Your post wasn’t clever enough to justify showing up on two threads, Kassia. You should have at least made your point with a Henry V clip.

      I’m wondering, though, what you think “the basic foundation of a research institution” is. “That provides” is poor grammar, but if I have a crack at it nonetheless, I’m guessing you meant to say “which provides information well vetted?” By that, you proposing that blogs be edited? Refereed, maybe? (I also get a kick out of your “our brilliance” line. Do you really think that everyone around here is brilliant?) You sound like a cheerleader and value everyone getting along more than justice. I do hope you don’t withhold your cheers when you benefit from UOM’s small victories.

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    • Anonymous says:

      This level of pettiness is better suited to juvenile online forums. Operating under the assumption that we are all adults working for the betterment of higher education, I feel that it would be more productive to channel our energies towards collaboration than towards trivial disputes amongst one another. In this way, I am in accordance with Kassia’s stated opinion.

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  14. Anonymous says:

    You’re right, our undergrads tuition dollars would be better spent on these courses:

    11/19/10
    ec201

    Poor Quality

    Easiness3

    Helpfulness1

    Clarity2

    Rater Interest2

    worst professor. boring, hand writing is not legible. just terrible. gtfs are awful too.
    Report this rating

    6/12/10
    ec428

    Poor Quality

    Easiness4

    Helpfulness2

    Clarity2

    Rater Interest3

    Games were fun, and the class was pretty cake, but the course didnt teach any useful info. Also, the teacher was extremly disorganized. always posted homeworks late and didnt have answer keys
    Report this rating

    2/1/10
    EC428

    Poor Quality

    Easiness2

    Helpfulness2

    Clarity1

    Rater Interest5

    The experimental games can be fun and you have the opportunity to make money, but Prof Harbaugh seemed to care more about bragging about his research. Didn’t get much out of this class. Take a class with a professor who actually cares (Thoma, Gray, Duy, Stone, etc)
    Report this rating

    2/1/10
    EC428

    Poor Quality

    Easiness2

    Helpfulness2

    Clarity2

    Rater Interest5

    I had heard great things about this class, but it ended up being a total waste of time. behavioral economics is a growing field and this class had so much potential.Bill wasted the first 4 weeks of class showing us his research slides and then crammed in a bunch of homework.There are parts of the class that are fun ($),but overall a waste of time.
    Report this rating

    1/3/10
    EC201

    Poor Quality

    Easiness1

    Helpfulness1

    Clarity1

    Rater Interest1

    This is the worst class i hv ever taken.Attending his class is such a waste of time. Never prepare for class
    Report this rating

    12/18/09
    EC201

    Poor Quality

    Easiness4

    Helpfulness1

    Clarity1

    Rater Interest2

    Extremely boring lecture. His lecture material is not very relevant to the class, goes on random tangents. Test curves are strong, but all in all I don’t recommend this professor.

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    • UO Matters says:

      I think I do a pretty good job teaching microeconomics, given that I’m no economist. Should I try giving all A’s?

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    • Anonymous says:

      … and we should hire on how many chili peppers people have. What a dumbass.

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    • Anonymous says:

      Folks, it’s obviously all about the “fun”. Let’s just replace all our “boring” classes with ones that are “fun.” And, yes, the fun-factor goes up with the grades.

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  15. Anonymous says:

    http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=1291532

    Whew, I was worried for a minute.

    You know, if someone could mine the data in there, link it back to faculty rank, salary, grade distributions, number of courses in a term, and grade distributions? Just looking at one Department I know, there are more GTF on there than ranked faculty. O

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    • Anonymous says:

      A choice comment regarding a 400 level econ course:

      This was the only class I ever had to drop. The tests were ridiculously hard. She provided very few practice problems but the tests were ridiculously long. Grad students and undergrad students had almost identical tests. This resulted in both grad and undergrads having mean and medians around 55%. Condescending and unhelpful.

      Decode; I failed. The tests were rigorous and she did not give out the answer key before the test. It was at a correct level for a Senior level econ class. Both the grads and undergrads medians were right in the middle of the scale, a great way to test the depth of knowledge and really stretch that long tail, there were a couple of people who got A+ but they were freaks. To the rest of us she did not understand why we were in the class, but she bit her tongue and tried but there just was not enough time in these short ass quarters.

      In my university a 400 level econ would have differential equations.

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  16. Delta says:

    Someone needs to clue the frat boys in on these AAD courses.

    http://dailyemerald.com/2014/01/31/university-of-oregon-greek-life-grade-rankings-show-alpha-kappa-alpha-alpha-epsilon-pi-at-the-top/

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  17. Oreg says:

    Oh hi, I’m the kid who posted that reddit comment about getting an A. According to the syllabus, the prof didn’t give out A+’s for the online class.

    But yeah, absolute joke of a course. I knew it was going to be easy when I registered, but I didn’t know it was going to be that ridiculous!

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    • uomatters says:

      Thanks for commenting about this. You sound like the sort of student who cares about getting an education. Since the administration is unwilling to do anything about this – unsurprising given who pushed this scam in the first place – maybe the Senate will have to.

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  18. honest Uncle Bernie says:

    So he gave 82% A+, A, A-. Our program is outperforming even Harvard. What’s not to like?

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  19. Andy says:

    At least when the Ivies grade inflate, they have the excuse of most of their undergraduates being top-flight valedictorian types.

    What’s the UO’s excuse?

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