Oregonian on UO

9/26/2011: Two recent opinion pieces in the Oregonian. Both with praise for UO’s ambitions and the importance of that ambition for the state. Steve Duin – not exactly a patsy for UO’s public relations department in the past:

What’s not to like about the university’s ambition, in a state where so few institutions have any.

And Jack Roberts:

University of Oregon: Pursuing excellence in a state committed to mediocrity 

… the other is the tension that existed in 1986 between the Oregon University System and UO President Paul Olum, who like current UO President Richard Lariviere valued excellence and independence over getting along and going along.

Paul Olum is still a legend to the faculty who were around then. It ended with the OUS board firing him in 1987. I don’t think that is going to be the outcome this time.

PLC demolition begins!

9/14/2011: Provost Jim Bean announced yesterday that his last official act would be the destruction of the much hated PLC office building – “brick by goddamn brick, if necessary”. Work began this morning:

Celebrating profs down at the faculty club cheered the news that they would be housed in tents on the quad for 5 years while funds are raised for a replacement. “Tents? a poncho would be better than my office.”

Stephen Carter on civil discourse

9/13/2011: The most common thing people say to me about this blog is some variant of “It’s a public service to UO, but do you have to be so rude?”. My usual reaction is some version of “I’m not rude. Rude is wasting ten people’s time in a pointless meeting, then thanking them for their valuable input. Rude is the smile and polite chit-chat from someone who is thinking that they have no use for you at all.”

This Yale law professor’s video talks about “civil discourse”. He does not mean polite talk, he means effective talk that helps get important things done. Though he’s not opposed to polite, if it helps.

Is Civility Important? from Yale Law School on Vimeo. Link from Orin Kerr.

For some reason I’m reminded of “The Oregon Way” from those Huron consultants. UO’s civil discourse has been disfunctional for a long time:

Unethical students pay to take classes

9/12/2011: We make them do it every quarter. It’s where the money for our salaries comes from. But when students start offering to pay other *students* for a seat in a course with an enrollment cap – well at Brown that’s apparently an honor code violation. It’s an economics class. I’m no literature professor, but I think they call that irony. (Thanks to Margaret Soltan for the tip.)

SEIU Pres Burgin on PEBB changes and HEM

9/8/2011: Dennis Thompson of the SJ has a story and a long post on his excellent State Workers Blog:

I am proud of the work our union has done to help make health care more affordable not only for ourselves, but for everyone. In Oregon, we worked hard to get the Oregon Healthy Kids legislation passed, and won a grant to help sign up kids for health insurance.  We have been instrumental in creating the prescription drug bulk purchasing pool, and have been active proponents of the Governor’s health care transformation initiative. Nationally we helped lead the way to the passage of the Affordable Heath Care Act.  Our commitment to improving access to affordable, quality health care has not changed. However, I want to make it clear that our members have VERY SERIOUS CONCERNS over the Health Engagement Model, as it is currently being proposed. …

The additional cost to opt out of HEM (or to have your partner or spouse opt out) combined with other surcharges, fees and deductibles will be staggering! The cost savings to PEBB must be balanced with affordability for PEBB members and, given that we now are facing a monthly premium share, the financial impact of any opt-out is much greater and should be revisited. Preferably, this program would be set up as with an incentive if you opt in, rather than a penalty if you opt out. In my experience as a Mom and a Granny, as a lead worker and as a union president, I always get much better results by rewarding good behavior than by punishing or penalizing bad behavior. 

Register Guard Editors endorse faculty raises!

9/7/2011: From the Register Guard editorial page:

Bottom of the heap: UO rates dead last in faculty salaries

In a time of 12.1 percent unemployment, Oregonians may have a hard time mustering much sympathy for University of Oregon faculty members whose pay averages a mere $73,300 a year. But by national, even regional, standards, faculty pay at the UO is scandalously low. And there is a connection between low faculty pay and high joblessness: Higher education is the engine of the economy, and Oregon is running on low-octane fuel.

Faculty salaries at the University of Oregon and other state universities aren’t just low. By some important measures, they’re the lowest.  …

The market for academic talent is national, even global. From a salary standpoint, Oregon has dropped out of the competition. The state is fortunate in having universities that continue to meet high standards, but Oregon’s advantages — a relatively low cost of living and a high quality of life — can only be relied upon to make up part of the salary deficit.

Richard Lariviere, who will become president of the UO in July, comes to Eugene from the University of Kansas, an AAU university with an average faculty salary of $91,400 — 25 percent higher than at the UO. He’s no doubt aware that higher education claimed 15.1 percent of Oregon’s general fund budget in 1987-89, but received only 6.4 percent in 2007-09. One of Lariviere’s continuing challenges will be to persuade Oregon’s governor and Legislature that underfunding higher education has consequences.

The new president might begin by asking whether it’s a coincidence that the unemployment rate in Kansas is 6.1 percent.

Oh wait, they wrote that editorial back in June, 2009. Now they are saying this. Never mind.

Western Governors University

9/7/2011: WGU comes up a lot these days as a new model for higher education. Website here. Fully accredited, started by western states to provide 4 year online degrees. Mostly licensure fields, like teaching, nursing, accounting. Tuition is $2890 for a 6 month term. From their website:

  • Your degree requirements are carefully developed to give you high-level competence in accounting and other business subject areas.
  • You must pass or complete rigorous assessments (tests, papers, assignments) which will require you to demonstrate your competence in each subject area.
  • You will work with your assigned mentor on your personalized Graduation Plan that establishes the pace at which you prepare for and tackle the required assessments in your course of study.
  • Each term is a full six months in length. During each term, you can complete as much of your degree as possible.
  • Progress is measured through Competency Units (CUs), which are credit equivalents that track your completion of the required assessments. To maintain full-time status, you are expected to complete at least 12 CUs in a term; more are possible.
  • You and your mentor will determine the learning resources (online courses, textbooks, tutorials, etc.) that will best serve you in your competency development.
  • With few exceptions, you will be able to choose when and where you study, and together with your mentor, you’ll schedule your assessments.

Growing at about 40% a year, current revenues $110,000,000. As usual, non-profit doesn’t mean nobody profits. The president, Robert Mendenhall, was paid $732,273 last year. IRS 990 here. The rest of the administrative structure looks really flat though. I wonder who their faculty are? Anyone moonlighting, please put up an anonymous comment.

Kitzhaber education speech in Springfield

9/6/2011: This was billed as a major policy speech for his education plans. From Harry Esteve in the Oregonian:

“The state does not run the schools. The state invests in schools,” Kitzhaber says. “As long as students are progressing and succeeding, why shouldn’t we let go of some of the cumbersome and wearying regulation the state hands down?” 

It was the first time I’ve heard him talk, and it was a well delivered speech. The message was generally consistent with the new partnership plan – invest, shared responsibility, measure outcomes, more independence – but a lot of the focus was on the importance of K-3 outcomes.

"No EmX" signs (off topic)

9/6/2011: I’ve got no ideas about the EmX vs “more buses everywhere” vs bikes vs electric nuclear-friendly cars debate. But who could oppose people posting signs protesting the EmX expansion, on their own property?

The city of Eugene, of course. Mark Baker of the RG has a great story on this. Your property taxes are already going to pay Jerry Lidz, the attorney the city has hired to defend their policy. Go here to offset them with a contribution to the Oregon ACLU’s efforts to keep political speech free.

match students and instructors by race

9/6/2011: Here’s a new carefully done study on the effects of matching the races of instructors and students. By three NBER economists with data from a CA community college. As paraphrased by Scott Jaschik at Insidehighered.com:

Among all nonwhite groups, the study found a gain of 2.9 percentage points in the proportion of students completing courses taught by instructors of the same race as students — cutting in half the gaps in minority vs. white course completion rates. (Among all students in all non-recreational courses, 24 percent of white students drop out, compared to 26 percent of Asian students, 28 percent of Latino students, 30 percent of black students and 28 percent of other, nonwhite students.)

Among students who don’t drop out, there are also gaps between the performance of white and Asian students and that of other groups, especially black students. For instance, of those students who don’t drop out, 89 percent of white and Asian students pass, compared to 82 percent of black students; and 68 percent of white and Asian students who complete courses earn at least a B, while only 53 percent of black students do. For black students taught by a black instructor, there was a gain of 13 percentage points — among those who completed the course — in the proportion earning a B or higher.

At the same time, the authors note that there were declines in various performance measures for white students taught by non-white instructors.

The logical policy conclusion is for more matching of students and instructors by race, i.e. more segregation. Or we could try to figure out what drives this effect, and help students and teachers offset it. Presumably both groups are already making some efforts to do this – but not entirely successfully. Or we could cry racism, bury our heads in the sand, and continue our current policies.

A 4-year degree for $10,000 total?

9/5/2011: Back in the day, that was about what I paid for tuition in real dollars, if you forget about that year in the ivy league, which I mostly have. This was not because college was cheap, it was because of heavy subsidies from the taxpayers. Those subsidies are gone forever, and Texas Governor Rick Perry is proposing to respond by lowering the cost of production of college degrees. The NYT has a long debate. The snarkiest professor award? “I hope the governor does not have plans for a $10,000 medical degree.”

Some people hope that computer based improvements in teaching technology will make Perry’s plan possible. As it happens, the NYT also recently had a long story on that (in K-12). Upshot? It’s not working. Schools have spent large amounts of money on technology, and have nothing to show for it.