Monday, December 17, 2012

One Direction

My younger daughter decided against having a birthday party for her latest birthday and asked instead that I take her to the One Direction concert at Madison Square Garden. I had heard of the group – a very popular English boy band – but really knew nothing about their music. I agreed, however, and then set about getting tickets which had long since gone on sale and were instantly sold out. Fortunately, however, we now have an effective market mechanism that efficiently allows for tickets to be purchased at a fair market price. That mechanism is Stub Hub and I quickly found a pair of very well located first row balcony tickets and purchased them. I was clearly paying for the popularity of the group and the location of the seats…but I still felt this was reasonable since it was instead of a birthday party.

As the event approached, I encountered the first major complication. The University’s NYC alumni holiday party was scheduled the same night as the concert. I always enjoy attending to catch up with the many alums I have known for many years including more than a few of my former students. I wanted to go and also felt I needed to go to the holiday party but what about One Direction and more importantly my relationship with my younger daughter who had talked about little else other than this concert for weeks? One possibility was that my wife could take her instead of me but our marriage works well based on a fair division of responsibilities, which clearly places events like this exclusively in my purview. And besides, I wanted to spend the time with my daughter. I needed to work it out. The solution was at the expense of dinner before the concert. I would go to the holiday party. My younger daughter would wait for me while the party was happening and then we would take a taxi to Madison Square Garden.

We found a taxi very quickly. Actually we found two taxis. The second taxi tried to cut off the first taxi as that taxi was stopping to pick us up. The taxi drivers started arguing—both getting out of their cars—and we were left to look for another taxi which we found within a block. We made it to the Garden just as the warm up act was performing. We got to our seats, I put in my silicone ear plugs and we were both ready. Even with the plugs in, I could hear everything but still felt insulated. After about 30 minutes the warm up act ended, the set was rearranged and shortly thereafter One Direction started performing. And here was the surprise: I enjoyed the performance and enjoyed the music. First of all the staging was very impressive—the lights, the smoke, the flames, the background videos were all visually interesting and effective. The songs had pleasant melodies and the group was not only friendly and charming, but also appreciative of their fan support. They thanked their fans numerous times for making this concert such a wonderful time for them. And from the reaction of the audience, clearly the feeling of a wonderful time was mutual.

I was appreciative as well. First, for the time with my daughter. Second, for her taste in music. And third, that I still have an open enough mind to experience and enjoy what I never thought I would appreciate. I’m glad to still be going in more than one direction.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The $10,000 Degree

I am a huge fan of Consumer Reports and consider them the most objective source of product information available anywhere. Rarely do I ever purchase a product without first checking their evaluation. So when it comes to buying or leasing a car, I look in detail at the ratings of the type of car I am interested in and able to afford. But since I am also a car person, I can’t resist looking at the ratings in general. On a scale of 0-100, there are cars in the 90s, which are top rated, and there are cars in the 30s, which are little more than basic transportation. The cars with the higher ratings often, though not exclusively, are more expensive; the cars with the lower ratings are often, but not exclusively, lower priced. I am tempted to give actual examples but I am certain that Consumer Reports is familiar enough to the Inside Higher Education readership that no specifics are necessary.

A highly ranked car or a poorly ranked car will get you to the same place often at the same time (assuming everyone follows legal speed limits). Likewise, a highly priced car and a low priced car will also get you to the same place at the same time. The same analogy holds for the $10,000 degree and the $30,000 a year tuition charge. Offering a bachelor’s degree for $10,000 is certainly doable and I feel confident that on standardized objective tests, the results could be very similar and possibly identical to higher cost degree programs. But is the product really the same?

What will the $10,000 degree look like? A MOOC tied to recitation sections at another college is one likely alternative. You can get thousands of students into the MOOC and recitation sections could perhaps reach up to a hundred students each. The lead faculty could be a well known expert and a fascinating lecturer. The recitation section could be taught by a person whose qualifications are much less high powered. MOOCs are typically free, at least up to now, so the cost incurred by the credit granting institutions (which may just consist of the recitation leaders’ compensation) could be minimal. Please understand, this is not what I advocate but it is a workable model for a low priced degree.

Large lecture sections provide another alternative for a lower cost degree. Five hundred students in a lecture class certainly moderates the cost equation. But is this the same education that a student receives in a 30 student class? Are the important extras also there? Would there be advisement, counseling, career services, other support services, sports, faculty with sufficient time to meet with students, co-curricular activities, an attractive campus, etc.? Not likely – there is just so much you can do for a very low price.

What is better? The value proposition of a $10,000 degree or the much more personalized education which a $30,000 annual tuition charge is likely to deliver? For some students, it may not matter. Their skill set and their comprehension of the material is such that to a significant degree they can teach themselves. But there are many other students that need guidance and support to succeed. They have the potential to succeed beyond expectations but not without the safety net of individualized attention and support services. As college continues to be the economic ticket to success for so many of our students we need to work to both not lose accessibility while at the same time making sure we meet the diverse and not insubstantial needs of many of our students. As attractive as a $10,000 price tag may be for higher education, it is fairly certain to not meet the needs of many in our society. Think about it; who is likely to gravitate toward this minimal cost degree? Will it be those who don’t have the economic resources to pursue a more enriched education? How will their support service needs be met? And if this minimalist degree doesn’t meet those needs what happens to their chance to succeed?

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cliff time

Notwithstanding the impact of Sandy, I have much to be thankful for, including this year’s very welcome Thanksgiving Day break. But what I am most thankful for is not yet a done deal but rather a new feeling that suggests we will avoid the fiscal cliff. The meeting a week before Thanksgiving between the Congressional leadership and President Obama seemed to end with a sense on all sides that fiscal disaster could be avoided. In my opinion, there is no choice but to do so, but I am a spectator and Congress and the President are the ones who need to make it happen.

What needs to happen is compromise. There need to be revenue increases and there need to be spending cuts, but there is more than one way of accomplishing each of these necessary goals. Tax rates are at the heart of the issue and key to any compromise. The democrats want a tax increase for the wealthy; the Republicans want no increase in tax rates whatsoever. The magic number, where a tax increase will once again be imposed, has been $250,000 but compromise requires not only a different number but also a different solution. There are such solutions readily available and finding them is not by any means rocket science. The solution needs to be crafted through limiting the deductions, exemptions, credits, and favorable tax treatments that are part of the current tax code. By diminishing tax breaks on the very wealthy, we can have the same effect as tax rate increases would have, all without changing the nominal tax rates.

Spending cuts are also part of any compromise and solution but automatic “sequestration” on January 2nd is not the answer. Here too, we can accomplish what is needed while still minimizing the impact on the key safety net legislation which so many of us value so highly. Dismantling Obamacare is not an option. Our citizens deserve a health care safety net; it cannot be bargained away. But not every expenditure needs to be protected or can be protected. Given the magnitude (half a trillion dollars) of the reductions sought, there may not be time between now and January 2nd for all the changes to be identified. Certainly however we need a major reduction in spending identified by the start of 2013.

Being thankful for something that has not yet happened is always a risk. My feeling that a cliff can be avoided may or may not be correct. Hopefully, it is not based on false optimism generated by the return of electricity. The Congressional leaders and the White House need to keep talking and working until the compromise is complete. And this time we need to hold our public officials completely accountable. If a compromise is reached, we need to applaud their efforts. If the country wins by avoiding a fiscal cliff, we all win. And if the compromise doesn’t happen and we are faced with a recession following a weak recovery, here too our public officials must be fully accountable. Voting them out of office is then the only appropriate response.

Monday, November 19, 2012


On Sunday evening, after thirteen days, the electricity came back on.  By the time it returned, my wife, kids, our dog, and I had moved into a neighbor’s den and had adjusted as well as possible.  We consider ourselves to be fortunate that we only lost electricity; Sandy’s impact in this area was devastating and there are many people at the University and in the greater community who have lost homes, cars, furnishings, computers, etc.   I do believe the local utility was not as well prepared as it should have been and I think the multiple investigations that are taking place are thoroughly justified.  There needs to be accountability and there needs to be change; the lessons learned can only serve us well if we are better prepared in the future.

But while the focus is rightly on what the Long Island Power Authority did and did not do, attention should also be paid to rigidities in our system that at key moments can be totally counterproductive.  The ability of public schools to reopen and remain open provides a clear example.  One of the most challenging side effects of Hurricane Sandy was the momentary gasoline shortage.  Deliveries of gas were limited and many gas stations had lost power and were unable to open even though they had gas on hand.  For school districts in this area, the busing of students is a mainstay that most parents rely on.  But what should happen if there is insufficient gas to power the school buses but the schools are ready in all other aspects to open up and continue educating our kids.  The state laws are clear; the schools need to stay closed if the buses are unavailable.  Now think about the situation we were facing— almost half the community had lost power for more than a few days.  Homes were cold; kids were cold; and the novelty of losing electricity had quickly worn off being replaced by a heightened stress level on the part of kids and adults alike.  Most of the schools had power, were warm, had internet access, and were ready to do their part in educating our children.  The environment was welcoming, the senses of normalcy important, the teachers able to educate and be supportive, but we could only take advantage of these benefits if the fleet of buses were fully operative.

 I know that not having buses would place a strain on parents, especially given the shortage of gasoline for private cars as well as school district buses.  I know that our tax money pays for the bus service and this is an important entitlement.  The law as noted above is clear, no buses even in an emergency situation, no school, but does this make sense?  Having school continue or resume quickly, providing warmth and comfort to our kids even without bus service is better than none of the above.  In an exceptional time and at an exceptional moment, our system and our rules and regulations need to be nimble.  The post Sandy review needs to look at more than how well we are doing on the electric and gas front; it also needs to look—across the board—at the policies that guide us in these critical moments.

Monday, November 12, 2012


Over the years, I have participated in many telephone interviews of potential candidates for positions at Hofstra as well as for not-for-profit boards that I have participated on. Interviewing candidates in this way has always struck me as second best (but certainly better than not participating). Inevitably you miss much of the back and forth that takes place, you miss some of the reaction of the candidate and that of board members, and you seem somewhat out of sync with what is happening. In between interviews, at those times when there are multiple interviews scheduled, there are also typically multiple conversations of the board members present and here too it is very hard to participate in a meaningful way.

I have also participated in board meeting over the phone and have even participated in a few teleconference board meetings a number years ago. Phone board meetings have the same disjointed feel that interviews have, and the early teleconferencing was often somewhat of a blur with resolution that matched my vision when I’m not wearing glasses. And then there were those cases where the video and audio were not quite synchronized, which is just plain annoying. Or those cases where I needed to go to a special facility on campus to participate.

You can imagine how pleased I was when an academic consortium of provosts that the University belongs to, decided to interview three candidates for the executive director position by teleconferencing. The candidates and the present executive director would be at the home school of the consortium with that provost present, and two additional provosts, including me, would participate by teleconference. Of course, there was the alternative of traveling to Virginia but that would turn three hours worth of interviews into at least a full day away from the office.

Everything I needed was on a laptop on my desk and at the appointed hour of 5:15 I connected. There on the screen was the person being interviewed, the “home” provost and the present executive director, the other provost participating and me. All right in front of me, all crystal clear, and each of the three interviews and the conversations in between and at the end worked as well as if we were all there in person. Going forward, I will certainly make use of this capability much more frequently. And now that I think about it, since I have used “facetime” on an iPhone and iPad a number of times with good success, I don’t know why I was so reluctant in this case to take advantage of the benefits of technology. So much of what we do and especially how we do it has changed and overall the advantages clearly outweigh any disadvantages.

Monday, November 5, 2012


It is now Monday morning and we are resuming classes today.  The campus has been very fortunate.  Our loss of power was limited and of short duration and the campus damage was mostly limited to trees with very little other damage.  Long Island’s damage was extensive with reports of 100,000 homes lost and almost 300,000 homes still without power 5 days later.  The devastation on the north shore and south shore of the Island was massive.  Lights are still out at key intersections, gas lines at those few stations that are open are often 100 cars long.  Mass transit is returning but still disrupted and we are now hearing reports of a nor’easter by the middle of this week. Recovery will take a long time.  Adjusting to the return of heat and hot water at home, once it arrives again, will not take a long time. Instantaneous is exactly how long it will take me to adjust and to be thankful for this one important step toward normalcy. For many of my colleagues a return to normalcy, given the significant property devastation, will be much more difficult.

Closing for the week has made sense.  Given everything that members of our community have been through we could not have held classes this week.  Even the commute has become much more difficult and much riskier.  Our president has reached out to all members of the community in an effort to provide and coordinate support for those members of our community with the greatest need.  The outreach is very much needed. And to the credit of the community, we have already had offers of support from all constituencies but more support is needed and coordination is key to having the help available go to those with the greatest need.

We need to make up for the lost time in class and I know we can determine ways to do so effectively so that the learning that should take place in a course does in fact take place.  But there can be no one approach that will meet the needs of all our faculty and all our students and flexibility on all parts is essential.  Some faculty and students (as well as administrators and staff) have lost their homes; some have lost their computers as well as key books and papers; others have no phone or internet access; and with the shortage of gas and the limits of mass transit, some members of our community will not be able to get here.  In some cases, all of the above applies and the hardships are multiple and formidable.

In my role as a school board member, I have already heard from the superintendent that he expects to open schools today after also having been closed for the week.  Many of the kids in our district will be going to school, even though they still have no power at home and their sense of normalcy seems seriously compromised..  Here too we need to be flexible and recognize that many  kids have felt the trauma in their lives that we all work so hard to shield them from.  I know the life lesson is important and so is the message regarding the importance of resuming education ASAP. I fully support the schools reopening quickly  and I am sure that the community feels equally supportive.

In a difficult time, what members of the community do makes all the difference. We can’t waive away the devastation; we can’t just turn the power  on; and we can’t just instantly return to normal.  We can do the best we can to make a positive difference and to cope with adversity. I see more and more instances of members of our community doing what needs to be done and I am thankful for their good work.   And at the end of the day it will be the resilience of people that once again makes the difference (as it has before in so many tragedies around the globe) and allows us to move forward.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pizza Debate

The Presidential Debate at Hofstra went off without a hitch and more importantly will clearly be a significant moment in terms of who will be the next President of the United States. The questions asked reflected well on the Town Hall participants and the passionate answers given shed more light on complex issues that need resolution sooner than later.

Just as individuals are judged at moments like this by the quality of their questions and answers, so are corporations judged by the quality of their products as well as corporate earnings plus their commitment to being good citizens. By the measure of corporations being good citizens, in my opinion, Pizza Hut, the national pizza chain that offered free pizza for life to anyone asking President Obama and Governor Romney the question of “pepperoni or sausage,” deserves a failing grade. And since the corporation also encouraged a follow up question regarding pizza toppings, an additional failing grade is also in order.

I wasn’t surprised that no one asked the pizza question during the debate since it is clear to everyone that there are critical issues we are confronting as a nation and as citizens of this planet. The time for frivolous questions is long gone. Being able to ask a question at the debate represents an opportunity and it is counterproductive for an important corporation to create temptation to squander that opportunity or turn it into a fiasco. This is not a matter of having a sense of humor; rather it represents using common sense.

Our work as educators involves cultivating and recognizing accomplishments. We applaud student accomplishment and the degrees we award are the cumulative acknowledgement of those accomplishments. If Pizza Hut or any corporation would like to have a contest revolving around a Presidential Debate, let the focus be on the best question asked and recognition for the person who asked that question. This could be done by means of a poll or utilizing a panel of experts. Either way, it would assure even more attention and focus on a critical question and a critical issue. Democracies aren’t strengthened by deliberating between “pepperoni or sausage.” The classic economic tradeoff of guns or butter still applies today while the pizza tradeoff is just irrelevant. Democracies are strengthened by asking fundamental questions, having thoughtful discussions, and dealing with issues that require resolution. My pizza preference by the way is plain pizza, prepared by a business that understands its success is grounded in the success of our country and our ability to utilize the best minds to confront the issues that we have no choice but to confront sooner rather than later.

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Debate

In 2008, when Hofstra hosted the third Presidential debate, I received an email from a person I attended high school with, many years earlier. This person was not a close friend and there had been no contact for all the years between high school and early October 2008. In the email, the person indicated that he had been thinking about me for the last 40 years and, by the way, did I have a spare ticket to the debate. I responded (nicely) indicating that all our tickets go to our students who are selected by way of a lottery of all Hofstra students interested in attending the debate. This email was one of many that I received last time and the email requests are starting again now that we are approaching the October 16th debate that will be hosted by Hofstra.

I think it is terrific that we hosted a Presidential debate four years ago and it is as least as terrific that we are again hosting a debate. Almost all of the students who were here during the last debate have graduated and the students who are here now are as excited and energized as they can be. More and more, when I am attending events on campus or just eating on campus or walking on campus, I hear members of our community—especially our students—talking about the upcoming debate. A number of our courses are tied to debate-related themes and many of our guest speakers are focused on the Presidential election and the issues confronted by our country and our planet. Students have already suggested that Hofstra host a debate every four years and I think there is wisdom in their position. Hosting a debate on campus and all the associated activities clearly demonstrates to the students that this is their world and their issues and that it makes sense for them to be concerned and involved.

I am very positive regarding the quality of a Hofstra education but I also feel strongly that an outstanding education is more than a classroom experience. I recognize how necessary it is for many students pursuing their college degree to also work part-time in addition, so I am especially pleased when a significant number of these students are also involved in civic engagement activities and other volunteer activities. I am convinced that having the debate on campus increases participation in these activities as it also increases voter registration. I am by nature an optimistic economist and I don’t consider that combination to be an oxymoron. But it is clear that the problems we confront are daunting. An educated population is absolutely essential to successfully confronting these problems and I remain a passionate advocate for higher education. But I am more and more convinced that along with the education there needs to be a buy-in that we are all in this together and that we all need to be invested in developing solutions. A Presidential debate on a campus tremendously increases the buy-in to developing solutions among that community. What more can we do so that a wonderful every four year event on the Hofstra campus and/or other campuses is just one of many happenings designed to convince our students that a prosperous future involves their commitment today?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Kids and Cars

I grew up during the time that Detroit’s Big 3 ruled the automobile industry and grew up with an automobile being an important part of my American dream. Since I grew up in New York City with the benefit of a great mass transit system, I’m not really sure why I was so car focused but there is no doubt that I studied every fin, checked every instrument panel, and knew all horsepower figures and 0-60 miles per hour acceleration data. And very much related to the times I grew up in, cars had no apparent flaws even though the mileage and the quality left much to be desired.

To this day, I still read every car magazine and remain focused on cars, now regardless of where they are produced. Crain’s Autoweek is now at the top of my list of must readings regarding automobiles (and just for the record, Consumer Reports is at the top of my list for any and every consumer product). In the September 17th issues of Autoweek, there is an article on “Love of Driving Lost?” subtitled “Gen Y doesn’t share the same lust for wheels as past generations.” The article by Jayne O’Donnell quotes Kit Yarrow, a marketing and psychology professor at Golden Gate University, who makes the point that “young people are not burning for freedom from their parents or the independence they can get from a car,” and that “teenagers are happy with the freedom they get from smartphones and computers” (which Professor Yarrow calls “private brain places”). Yarrow’s final point is that Gen Y is more visually oriented than previous generations and that “brands and products represent who they are,” which “makes driving a clunker just to have wheels less acceptable.’”

The same article discounts the economy as a primary reason why cars are no longer irresistible. “Some say its debt, college or otherwise keeping Gen Y out of the driver’s seat. But consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow says that never stopped previous generations…from getting a nice junker until they could afford better.” I think Kit Yarrow is certainly correct in explaining some Gen Y behavior and noting that the impact of computers, smartphones and the internet cannot be minimized. Absent her analysis, my initial position would certainly have been that it’s the economy that matters most together with the reality that the automobile, though still very desirable, has substantial costs that are much more visible today. I would point to the decline in family wealth, and the uncertain economy making it harder for families to cover all the necessary costs of living as well as a car for their driving age kids. I would also point out that the costs and other requirements associated with automobile ownership are much clearer and more substantial today than for previous generations: Insurance requirements, credit requirements, gas mileage costs, environmental impact. I have no doubts that the economics based answer is at least partially correct, but this is a case where economics alone would not provide a sufficient explanation. Our kids are different and this analysis helps us as educators understand that difference.

Monday, October 1, 2012


A recent online issue of University Business dealt with the topic on stress on college students. From my days in college, the only stress I remember is social stress and the stress of fitting in but that isn’t the stress being talked today. Today’s stress is financial stress and it is clearly manifesting itself on today’s generation of students.

University Business summarizes a study completed by Inceptia which presents the following “key findings:”

One third of respondents said financial stressors have had a negative impact on their academic performance or progress. 
Seventy-four percent of respondents are working during the academic year and 15 percent are working full-time. 
Students who work more than 20 hours per week during the academic year are significantly more likely to report that financial stress has had a negative impact on their academic progress or performance and that they reduced their academic course load due to this stress.
None of these results are surprising; many students have always had to work while in college and a constrained economy inevitably results in this number rising. And the more hours that students need to work the more the stress level is enhanced. Not measured in this study is the fact that the financial strain and the hours worked can diminish the higher education experience in very tangible ways. Every year, I am sure we all hear about students who can’t accept internships (which are often unpaid) because they are dependent on the income earned through working part-time. Every year, I am sure we all hear about students who can’t take advantage of a study abroad experience because there are both extra costs and forgone income involved in taking advantage of such an opportunity. And every year, there are many students who can’t participate in co-curricular activities because the time involved reduces their ability to work. If the average full-time student is working more than 20 hours per week, something has to give.

The impact of financial stress is even more profound than the ramifications noted above. More students and their families are opting for lower priced higher education alternatives. These alternatives involve less personalized education, impacting everything from class size to advisement/counseling services to co-curricular activities. Many students can still do well in such an environment; others struggle and/or do not maximize their potential.

What can we do to help? Certainly government, both at the state level and the federal level, should continue to view higher education as a necessary and worthwhile investment in the economic success of our country. To compete in a global economy requires a sophisticated skill set; it can’t happen without a highly educated work force. And all of us should remember that a more sophisticated work force will likely earn more and pay more in taxes. But we in higher education can also do more to ameliorate the stress level. There should be more fundraising for scholarships that allow students to undertake unpaid internships or participate in study abroad opportunities. Co-curricular activities should be scheduled in such a way that even working students have opportunities to participate. We have known for a long time that the benefits of higher education accrue to society as well as to individuals and, more than ever, we should be guided by that reality today.

Monday, September 24, 2012


The cheating scandal at Harvard which could involve as many as 125 students in a single class has gotten extensive publicity. And the impression given is that this is an unusual event. For example, as quoted in the New York Times, Harvard’s dean of undergraduate education noted that this cheating incident at Harvard “is unprecedented in its scope and magnitude.” This may be correct, given that it involves almost half of the class, but cheating and academic dishonesty are not unusual events and the “scope and magnitude” of what happens nationwide is certainly disturbing.

Mr. Harris, in the same New York Times article notes that “the enabling role of technology is a big part of the picture.” He continues by stating “It’s the ease of sharing. With that has come, I believe a certain cavalier attitude.” True enough but there are two other factors that I believe are an important part of this equation. First, and this was not the case at Harvard, faculty are often reluctant to bring cheating to the attention of their administration preferring instead to administer their own justice for incidents of academic dishonesty. This justice varies widely for the same infraction from faculty member to faculty member. I understand the faculty mentality and respect it, and I also understand the reluctance to follow a cookie cutter approach in determining penalties or grades. But what is lost in this approach is that repeat incidents of cheating need a stronger response but if an incident is not reported to administration, there is no way to ramp up the penalty for the next incident. As a faculty member, I might be lenient on a first infraction on the part of an undergraduate. I certainly wouldn’t be lenient regarding any infraction by a graduate student and I wouldn’t be lenient toward any repeat offense. We need to coordinate our efforts regarding academic dishonesty. Cheating is a nationwide problem. It will not disappear quickly and only a response that is both resolute and yet understanding of faculty prerogatives can work to moderate the problem.

Cheating doesn’t just start in college. It starts much earlier and is equally pervasive in much of middle and high school education. It actually starts earlier in elementary school and unfortunately parents may be playing an enabling role in the cheating that is going on. We all recognize that parents play a critical role in the education of their children and that teachers together with parents are key factors in the success of children. But where should parents draw the line in helping their kids. My wife and I both read to and listened to the reading of both of our kids when they were very young. I hope we helped them read earlier and more fluently. But we have never felt that their homework was our homework and we never hovered over them until their assignments were perfection. And we never have felt that their grades are our grades and that we had to help them in any way possible to get the highest grade possible.

Homework is to be the results of the students’ efforts, not the results of the students’ efforts plus substantial help from your parents or others. Take home exams are the results of the students’ efforts not the result of the students’ efforts plus the help of others. Grades are based on the work done by the student, not (under usual circumstances) by a group. At every grade we need to reinforce the importance of the students’ efforts and at every grade we need to reinforce the penalty that will be paid if that effort turns out to be the result of someone else’s intervention. And the penalties need to be much harsher for any repeat offense.

Monday, September 17, 2012


I’m watching our students, especially our 1st year students, walk around campus from class to class- with backpacks filled with books. And I know from looking at course outlines that textbooks in paper format continue to dominate higher education classes as they did when I went to college. There is even a feeling, still prevalent, that regardless of all the technological advances, textbooks, as we have always known them, will continue their dominance for at least another decade. I don’t think that will happen.

Up to a few years ago, as part of preparing for any vacation, I would identify the books I wanted to read (usually escapist fiction), purchase them (in paperback if at all possible) and place them in my carry on. My Kindle serves that purpose now and I have no regrets having made the change. Any office paperwork I now bring along on vacation is via Dropbox and the convenience without the weight is a real plus.

My kids who are entering middle school and high school are not being issued textbooks. Instead they will be issued educational materials loaded on iPads, and the costs are comparable to using standard paper textbooks (even factoring the cost of the iPad). Over time, education on the middle school through high school levels will become more and reliant on iPads and eBooks. Textbooks will be relegated to an occasional use basis for specialized circumstances.

We already see the transformation of libraries that has and still is taking place. Where 15 years ago, we had a main library building as well as a large satellite library building, we now are able to build in significantly more student individual and group study space in our main library building and we no longer have a satellite building. And our reference librarians are spending less time at the reference desk and instead spending more time teaching students to be sophisticated users of information technology.

Now I know firsthand there are still some disadvantages with the iPad/eBook technology. Highlighting and making notes in the margin are still not as convenient as with a paper version textbook. I often highlighted simply because it allowed me, in reviewing the material, to focus on what was most important or to highlight material which I needed to spend more time studying. EBooks on the other hand have the benefit of including more dynamic illustrations and/or video clips that can illustrate and enhance the material being studied. The ship has sailed on the issue of iPads, tablet computers and eBooks. We need to adjust and get on board so as to maximize the benefits from this imminent change.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Dutch Treat

I just returned from a family vacation week in the Netherlands spending time at the Floriade (which is the once every ten years flower show) as well as time in Amsterdam and the surrounding areas. I thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Certain observations and comparisons are inevitable and these observations may help us and our county in the years ahead.

First is the observation regarding scale. Everything seems smaller. Not the people but the cars, the homes, the stores etc. And yet it is clear that smaller works very well. The largest cars I saw during the entire week, with very rare exception, were no larger than our mid size cars and SUVs were few and far between. (Under the heading of full disclosure, I did see one Chrysler 300 and 2 Bentleys. Interesting, I thought the Chrysler stood out in a more distinctive way.) Now back to smaller cars: think about the savings in gas if we can adjust to a smaller scale. We have been slowly moving in that direction and I don’t think we are any the worse for that movement. We should continue this effort; it would be a great way to counter rising energy costs.

Housing, even in very upscale areas, also seems noticeably smaller. The square footage is much more limited and attached housing is much more prevalent, even in the suburbs. Many of the apartments and houses also came with roll down window shutters that provide extra weatherproofing and storm protection. And stores and restaurants are noticeably smaller. Now I happen to like large stores and huge malls in our country because of the selection that is available, but once again are we using our resources as efficiently as possible? I had no trouble finding anything I wanted even though the stores were often, by my definition, cramped.

Having done significant driving and also traveling on buses and public trams, I can also tell you that the infrastructure seems much better maintained. Bad roads were few and far between, though the roads were often too narrow for my comfort level. Highways had fewer lanes but Amsterdam did have traffic that rivaled downtown Manhattan. Therefore, the car was returned the day we arrived in Amsterdam. The trams in Amsterdam were clean and modern and the rail system throughout Europe is first rate. Now, infrastructure needs as we know are usually financed by government and here the Netherlands scale (tax rates) may be larger rather than smaller than that of the United States.

A comprehensive comparison of the Netherlands and the US requires more than a few observations and facts. Education, health care, a safety net, defense expenditures etc. are all part of the equation. And the reality is we want it all and we want it on the largest scale possible. We should as a people be able to do some downsizing (cars, homes etc.) on our own initiative and with miniscule impact on the quality of life. For the rest we need to confront the choices that we have been reluctant to confront. We know we can’t provide more with fewer resources. Government needs to cut back on spending, or increase taxes, or do both. Having all of the above is not an option. I look forward to the Presidential candidates giving us the necessary facts that will allow us to make these necessary decisions regarding who to vote for and what direction our country will follow.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Less Choice

With much of high education in a constrained situation, there are more and more discussions regarding how to operate in an ongoing environment of greater than historical constraints for much of higher education. I have talked about a number of possible alternatives to deal with these constraints in a relatively recent blog including larger class size, more adjuncts, etc. Another important part of this equation are the choices that are provided and how extensive those choices are. And here, I am writing about the choice of courses within a major as well as areas of major.

Earlier today, I had a discussion with a department chair from a well- run department that has for many years laid out a grid so that a student could plan ahead and help make sure they will graduate at the appropriate time. Included in the grid was a provision for all key courses for the major to be offered every semester. This is clearly a great convenience. However, student enrollment needs could certainly be satisfied with the majority of these courses being offered on a once a year basis and ultimately this is not, in my opinion, a difficult decision to make.

A much more difficult decision for an institution to make is whether to continue offering every major, every program both graduate and undergraduate, the institution presently provides. I, for one, appreciate a breadth of offerings especially on the undergraduate level so that students can choose or change a major—without leaving their present institution—from a wide array of alternatives. But here too, if there is not a critical mass of students, the decision to continue offering that particular major or majors or programs should be reexamined. I am not talking here about service courses but only about majors where the enrollment just isn’t there.

Two important caveats must be factored in. First, there are a significant number of courses that are pivotal to more than one major or more than one graduate program. In those cases where there is this commonality, it is important to look at the combined enrollments when determining whether a critical mass exists. On the other hand there are certain courses, statistics courses and research courses being prime example, where a department would like to have their own individual course though the methodology studied cuts across a number of distinct disciplines. On one level, I understand it. I would prefer that all the examples in these courses focus on economics. But on a more important level , since the methodology of the social sciences and business, or education, or in the sciences are virtually identical within these categories, this should be seen as an area where meaningful savings can be realized without a diminution of statistical and research sophistication.

In confronting economic constraints, everything should be on the table with the goal of meaningful savings with the least adverse impact on the education we provide.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Last Chance

As I have noted before I am a car person and so last night I took advantage of an opportunity from a local dealer to take a preview firsthand look at the new 2013 Cadillac ATS.  The ATS is aimed at the Mercedes C class and BMW 3 class competition, a competition that BMW has dominated for a number of years.   The luxury entry level cars are key bread and butter cars for the upscale brands and Cadillac has been absent from this market for many years.  I actually remember when Cadillac first entered this market—the vehicle was the Cadillac Cimarron, a mediocre leather trimmed version of the Chevrolet Cavalier. Since my brother had one of the first Cimarrons delivered, I know up front and personal how mediocre feels, drives, rides, and lasts.  Cadillac’s last attempt prior to the ATS was the Catera, a decent car that was based on an Opel that coupled anonymous style that never conveyed luxury, with a respectable road manners.  But nothing special doesn’t compete effectively with BMW, Mercedes, Lexus and Infiniti.

The ATS is very impressive inside and out. It has style but doesn’t in anyway copy either the BMW or the Mercedes. Instead the style is distinctly American, slightly more brash with somewhat more flashy trim than either of the European leaders of this market.  And the inside is also very classy and elegant. Once again a little more styled and brash than the corresponding European cars but in a very positive way.  The car also comes with almost anything you could possible want in a luxury car including all wheel drive.

Lincoln is in a similar situation with the new MKZ entry level luxury vehicle.  Here too, this is a critical effort on the part of Ford.  Previous MKZs were simply slightly more styled (but not necessarily more attractive) Ford Fusions.  And here too the new car seems to be up to the challenge with a contemporary look and flowing lines that denote class and luxury.

The Cadillac advertising campaign as noted in Automotive News is “dubbed Cadillac ATS vs. the World.”  The characterization is correct.  The US automobile industry has come back in a very impressive way.  The government bailout in my opinion has served us well and US firms have demonstrated we can be fully competitive across a wide range of cars.  But ATS and MKZ are aimed at the market that seems to date to have eluded even a respectable showing for American cars.  If the quality and durability are there, if the ride and handling are there, if the quietness is there, if the service is there, we can make a significant impact not only on American markets but also in Europe and elsewhere.   We are challenging the world leaders in this critical market segment.  From what I have seen, I’m optimistic about the result, and the ripple effect of these cars being successful can impact our overall economy.  It would be gratifying if the last chance showed how well we can compete just when it mattered most.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Take Your Time

Part of my non-work identity is defined by three interests – Broadway musicals, chocolate and cars.  In the cars category, I read virtually every car magazine and look at virtually all car related websites.  I don’t claim this is in any way intellectual but growing up at the time that cars helped define the national and individual identity, and personified progress, made a tremendous impact.

At the end of last week, I was reading a newspaper review of a 2013 top of the line but still popularly priced imported car.  As part of the review, the writer commented unfavorably on the restyled grill and front end of the car.  I completely disagree and think the restyled car is noticeably better looking. In looking at most car magazine or newspaper reviews including this one, and especially car comparison tests, the end results are usually very close with “fun to drive” or some other subjective factor being the ultimate determinant of which car is ranked first.  I often disagree because subjective factors are just that, factors the depend on one person’s (or one magazine’s) priorities, which clearly differ from individual to individual.  For some reviewers, being able to go from 0 to 60 miles almost instantly helps determine the fun factor; it just isn’t that kind of priority for me.

I sometimes think that for too many parents and too many soon to be college students, there is too much reliance on the opinions of others, especially when those others are making determinations based on subjective factors. And here I am talking not only about college guide books but often also about family, friends, and teachers. How often over the years have I heard parents say that their son or daughter should go to and graduate from the same institution they graduated from?  How often, over the years, have I heard one soon to be college student saying to another that the other student should attend the same institution so that they can continue going to school together?  Or a teacher or a counselor stating that many of his or her students have loved institution X and this student will as well. All of these opinions and all of these reasons could be completely on target but there needs to be on the part of many families a more comprehensive effort to find the best match, not for someone else but the best match for the person who is about to enter college.

Within any quality band in higher education, there are many choices. These choices are limited for many by financial considerations, but even with those considerations, there are often multiple choices.  What matters most – possible majors, class size, living options, support services, internships, civic engagement, a religious framework, career services, etc?   These factors all enter into a student’s success.  All of us talk about what we, as colleges and universities, do well, and we deliver that message in a very convincing and comprehensive manner.  But for the college selection process to work as well as it can, there needs to be, on the part of many of those embarked on selecting a college or university, more of an effort to find the best fit.  Making the best use of scarce resources by graduating in the least time possible is only possible if the right choice is made regarding a college before day 1 of that undergraduate experience. 

We all know that informed decision making is key to the wise use of resources. But for individuals and families, we need to-do more to make this happen. In this time of constrained resources, how do we make sure up front the resources are there to ensure the best educational decision making?  No question, it will cost us more now but the savings over time will more than compensate.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Laughing at Economics

I always enjoy a good laugh bit it rarely happens when I am reading economics.  I’ve never thought of economics as the “dismal science” but likewise, it never seems to be a barrel of laughs.  Two weeks ago, while reading one of the Sunday newspapers, I came across an interview by Mary Ann Gwinn of The Seattle Times with Yoram Bauman, Ph.D. who describes himself as “the world’s first and only stand-up economist.” In addition to a Ph.D., according to the interview, Yoram has a background doing “stand-up routines at Seattle’s Comedy Underground.  The interview also mentioned that Yoram is the co-author of the recently published “The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume Two: Macroeconomics,” which I immediately ordered after reading the interview.

The book is fun to read and funny as well.  More importantly the economics is solid and the book does a good job explaining important economic concepts in common sense ways with very helpful illustrations by the co-author and cartoonist Grady Klein.  For example, in the discussion on inflation, and specifically how prices change in real as opposed to nominal terms, the discussion goes as follows:

        To avoid suffering from money illusion, economists study how prices change in real terms.

        Real prices are adjusted for inflation.  They show us how the price of something has      changed relative to the overall price level.

        For example compare the price of milk in 1920.

                        That’ll be $0.72 per gallon.

        With the price in 2010.

                        That’ll be $3.00 per gallon.

        Based on this comparison of nominal prices, it looks as if milk has gotten a lot more        expensive.

                        $3.00 per gallon!? When I was a kid, milk was only $0.72 per gallon!
        But if we adjust for inflation between 1920 and 2010

                        In 1920 milk was $0.72 per gallon.  But the CPI says that average prices in 2010                    were  10 times higher …  …So in today’s dollars the price of milk was about                                   $7.20 per gallon!

        ...we see that the real price of milk has actually fallen.

        What this means is that the prices of most other things have gone up more than the      price of milk.
The discussion of GDP is another example of a good discussion of economic principles accompanied by helpful yet funny cartoons

        However you measure it, GDP gives macroeconomists a way to tell a story about the     entire economy.

                        Mommy tell me a story. $5.8 trillion… $8.4 trillion…$10.2 trillion…
        GDP sheds light on everything from Health Care…

                        Health care spending in 2008 was only 8% of GDP in Finland... …but was  16% of                                GDP in the United States… … and it’s growing fast everywhere.

        …to the size of government

                        Federal, state and local governments in the U.S. make up about 35% of GDP.
        …to the National Debt

                        During World War II, the U.S. national Debt soared to over 100% of GDP.

                        Then it was pretty steady at 30-60% of GDP for fifty years. And after the 2008                            financial crisis, it’s heading back up toward 100%.

        No wonder GDP is the most important statistic in macroeconomics!

I have left out the cartoons from my review of this book on purpose. The text clearly and simply provides the key economic concepts that define macroeconomics. It comes together as a superior overview. The cartoons interject the lightness and humor.  And not surprisingly even critical economic concepts benefit from humor, and likely the learning process is the greatest winner of all with a book like this.  Congratulations to Klein and Bauman on a job well done.  We need more books like this.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The American Dream

For many years, beginning when I was in college, I went to a dentist whose office was within two blocks of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Whenever the opportunity presented itself, I would also stop at Chock full o'Nuts next door for a brownie. (For those of you who have never heard of this chain, consider it a more vanilla Starbucks.) And if I had extra time, I would spend some time at the MOMA. I won't say that this made visiting a dentist pleasurable but I always enjoyed the time spent at the MOMA.

Many years later, I still enjoy spending time at the MOMA. Yesterday was such an opportunity. My younger daughter and I were in New York City for the day and after lunch we stopped by the museum. In all the previous visits to the museum, rarely have modern art and economics crossed paths (unless you consider the $ value of some of the art) but yesterday we saw a very dynamic exhibit entitled "Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream." As you enter this exhibit, you pass by a map of the United States that shows foreclosures by state with different colors representing the different percentages of foreclosure. Clearly, as is visible and as we all know, we have a serious foreclosure problem prompted by a serious recession (and lackluster recovery) with housing and mortgages as a cause and also a victim.

As noted on the museum website:
Foreclosed: Rehousing the American Dream is an exploration of new architectural possibilities for cities and suburbs in the aftermath of the recent foreclosure crisis. During the summer of 2011, five interdisciplinary teams of architects, urban planners, ecologists, engineers, and landscape designers worked in public workshops at MOMA PS 1 to envision new housing and transportation infrastructures that could catalyze urban transportation, particularly in the country's suburbs.
This effort was in response to a report prepared by the Buell Center at Columbia University and the end products were a series of inventive solutions to the issues confronting our suburbs with specific recommendations for five important suburbs across the country. Now why did this exhibit fascinate my 11 year old daughter? The answer is not that she has studied these issues in 5th grade nor is it that I have spent time with her talking about foreclosures. The answer is that the exhibit included "a wide array of models, renderings, animations, and analytical materials" that captured her attention and her interest.

Very often disciplines divide serious issues, which are then studied in one silo when the problem and the solution transcend many silos and disciplines. As the exhibit clearly demonstrates, we can "rehouse the American dream" but certainly not by doing the same old things in the same old ways. See the exhibit before it closes on August 13th or pick up the book which has the same title. Economics and architecture never looked better together.

Monday, July 23, 2012

“Flipped Classroom”

I am optimistic that the “Flipped Classroom” learning strategy has the potential to enhance learning.  The actual class material is presented on-line and then the classroom becomes a setting for questions and in-depth analysis and discussion that builds on the on-line lesson.  I know that this learning strategy is presented as the newest approach to learning.  It may be very effective but in reality it builds on what has been in place for many many years.  When I was an undergraduate and also when I was a doctoral student, it wasn’t that unusual for a faculty member to assign material to be covered and then assume, when the class next met, that the students had done their homework and were prepared to move on from that point.  And moving on often took the form of questions followed by an in-depth analysis and discussion.  There was no online education at that time and in fact there was no online but flipping was already in place.

Today, the “Flipped Classroom” is looked at with favor for three reasons.  First, the potential to enhance learning.  For serious students, it presents the opportunity to sit through the lesson more than once, or sit through parts of the lesson more than once, or skip parts of the lesson where the material is already familiar to them.  As a result of this, class time becomes more valuable.  Second it is a high tech blended approach to education which may be a best practice for online learning.   And third, and perhaps this is the elephant in the room, there is the promise of cost savings at a time when virtually all of higher education is constrained and cost savings are enormously helpful.

But the cost savings may be more imaginary than real depending on what you are looking for the education to accomplish.  The more you expect education to accomplish and the more personal the educational experience, the lower the actual savings (if any) will be. For example, if the faculty member involved in preparing the class material and the faculty member meeting with the class for questions, projects, analysis and discussion is one and the same and if the class size remains unchanged, there will be no savings in moving from in-person to blended. There are still variables that can result in savings: an adjunct faculty member in place of a full-time faculty member, or a larger class in place of a smaller class.  At the other cost extreme, you can have students take the free online courses now offered by a number of Ivy League schools and couple that experience which would count as the lesson with a classroom experience that covers questions, analysis, greater depth, etc., taught by graduate students or adjuncts at a significantly reduced cost.  Smaller class size and greater use of full-time faculty will increase the cost of this experience.

Finding savings in higher education is not that hard to do.  Showing consistency in test scores across these various options is also not that hard to demonstrate but test scores are not the full measure of the education received.  As we work to reduce costs, and I am not suggesting there is necessarily a choice, we pay a price.  Technology may help mitigate that price but, at least in the short run, will not be the magic bullet.  In life, in educational quality, and in dollars, we are always dealing with tradeoffs and as a result compromises.  What choices will we make?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Graduation Insights

In a typical year, I attend one Hofstra commencement ceremony in December and four during May.  The May commencement exercises have individual ceremonies for undergraduate, graduate, Law, and an Honors Convocation while the December ceremony has all of the above for midyear graduates.  Only one of our May ceremonies, the undergraduate ceremony, has been held outdoors regularly and for this year’s ceremony, the weather was perfect.  Not too hot, not too cold, nice breeze, not raining, no thunder and lightning.  For an outdoor ceremony, you could not have had better weather. And yet, within two weeks of this year’s ceremony we made a decision that going forward the undergraduate ceremony would be divided by colleges and schools into two separate ceremonies and would be held indoors in our comfortable air-conditioned arena. Why the change?  We were not satisfied with our rain plan which would have moved the entire undergraduate ceremony into our arena with very limited seating available for family members and friends of the graduates. For an occasion as important as graduation, limited seating, even only under adverse outdoor weather conditions, was not OK with us, and so the decision was made.

At this time of year, typically after attending  commencements, there is always a period of time when all of us tend to reflect on what worked well, what didn’t work well but still worked, and what didn’t work period.  This year, I attended not only the Hofstra commencements but also one elementary school, one middle school, and one high school commencement for my local school district.  What always works well and for me is an essential part of any meaningful commencement is that each graduate has his or her name read aloud, and each graduate has a chance to shake hands with the appropriate official from that school or college.  I know that this may not be possible in schools with very large graduating classes but in those cases there should be alternatives provided that include recognition by name and a meaningful handshake from the institution involved. 

Speeches being short also works well.  It is very rare for a graduate or that person’s friend or family to focus on much more than the graduate’s actual rite of passage.  For the most part, speeches seem to be some variation of I did it; see what I did and you too can do it; even if it is a lousy economy you can do it; while you do it, remember your loved ones; remember those less fortunate than you are; remember the importance of education; and by the way, you and your generation should save the world; as well as, in very rare cases, see what I did and don’t do it.   All important and meaningful messages but here especially the guideline of “be brief, be sincere, and be seated” serves the speaker and the audience very well.

Going back to outdoor ceremonies, be sure to provide drinking water to graduates and to the audience as well if at all possible.  Equally essential is that outdoor ceremonies, especially late in June, should be held early in the day. Late in the day on a hot humid day outdoors or in an unair-conditioned venue indoors, should be avoided if at all possible.

And going back to names at graduation for a moment, having sat through a total of eight ceremonies, I am compelled to report that of all the names that were read at all these ceremonies for all these graduates, there was not one Herman mentioned.  Almost any other first name you can think of was mentioned at least once.  Either I have a dinosaur of first names or I need to be invited to a commencement in Germany to truly see how vibrant a first name I have.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The June Unemployment Rate

The June unemployment rate staying at 8.2% is really not a surprise.  The economy is lackluster and the 80,000 jobs added, a number well below what would be necessary to reduce the unemployment rate, is all the economy is capable of generating.  Of greater concern and regardless of the November presidential /congressional election results, the economy will not quickly spring to life with a major decline in the unemployment rate. 

As I have noted previously, if you look at the economy at the state and local level, part of the reason for the lackluster economy becomes clear.  States and localities are still in the process of cutting back.  Whether it is caused by escalating pension and health care costs or by tax caps, the number of positions is declining and the concern about still more positions being eliminated is escalating. The immediate impact plus the natural caution regarding the future that accompanies situations like this are clearly a brake on economic recovery.
A much more interconnected economic world is also a brake at this moment on the US economy.  The economic situation in Greece and other European countries must lead to greater austerity measures in those countries and that certainly won’t help our exports.  Plus the continuing political instability in the Middle East also is potentially counterproductive to economic recovery.

And I haven’t even mentioned the tax increases that are already programmed to take effect on January 1. 2013.  If Congress and the White House don’t get their act together and resolve the tax increase and spending issues, we are headed with certainty for a much more serious economic crisis and a new recession; a recession that will take place long before we have fully recovered from the last recession.

For all of us in higher education, we clearly know the impact the economy has.  From endowment earnings, to fundraising, to the ability and willingness of our students and their families to pay tuition or take out loans, to government support, to placement statistics, we are vulnerable.  Since the recession of 2008, higher education has dealt with greater resource constraints.  I don’t think that we should expect any change in the short term in this constrained environment and I consider myself to be an economic optimist.

An out of the area colleague noted that he welcomed these difficult times because he is able to do more with less.  If that is the case, other than at the margin, this colleague is running an inefficient operation.  For almost all of us, fewer resources means we are able to do less.  That doesn’t mean we aren’t able to maintain quality in what we do.  But no one should underestimate how difficult this is, and everyone should remember that maintaining quality works best if there is continuing faculty and administration cooperation and collaboration.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Look in the Mirror

Over the years, I have served on many not-for-profit boards.  My first such experience was shortly after I graduated from the CUNY Graduate School.  I joined the alumni association and ultimately served a term as President.  Most members of this board were recent graduates which I don’t think is unusual. Many of us thoroughly enjoyed our graduate experience and joining the alumni association was both an opportunity to stay in touch and to give back.  Subsequent to that experience I joined a number of other boards, most of which relate to schools and education in general.  I also interact with boards in community, business, government, religious, and educational settings.  For the most part I am very impressed with those individuals who serve on boards.  The pro bono work involved is much needed and much appreciated.

Board members often get reviewed at the end of their term prior to an assessment being made as to whether the person should be reappointed to another term. The criteria of work, wisdom and wealth are very much alive and the proportions vary greatly among not-for-profit organizations.

What I have seen less often is a board reviewing itself and its overall record of accomplishment and assessment of what works, what doesn’t work, and what should happen next. And yet this assessment and this conversation can be particularly invaluable.

Why am I writing about this now? In my role as Vice President of my local school board, I have spent much of today reviewing and collating the individual assessments of my fellow board member and my assessment as well.  The Board does such an evaluation every year and I have now completed three such evaluations (including this one) and this is my first opportunity to collate the responses.  The extensive list of topics in this evaluation covers Board Relations, Superintendent Relations, Community Relations, Staff and Personnel Relations, the Instructional Program, Fiscal, and Goals.  Within those heading there are a significant number of specific topics covering all aspects of the Board’s responsibility.  Board members are requested to check the appropriate box and rate the Board on a scale of 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest).  Questions include “Board members are prepared for meetings,” “Board members always demonstrate the educational well being of children as the top priority,” “Board members arrive at meetings on time,” “Board members respect the confidentiality off executive sessions,”  “The Board provides an effective orientation program for new board members,” “All board members demonstrate an understanding of the existing body of policy,” “The board works and plans with the superintendent in a spirit of mutual respect, trust, confidence and cooperation,” “The board encourages community assistance at meetings,” “The board uses established procedures for staff complaints and suggestions to the board,” “The Board provides sufficient resources for independent evaluation of programs,” “The Board employs clear policies on sound fiscal management,” and “The board establishes clearly defined annual goals.”  I have probably listed only ten percent of the actual questions but it does give a clear idea of how in-depth this self-analysis is. And what follows the tabulations of the results is a board conversation, at our annual retreat, on our performance.

Looking at the individual responses from my colleagues on the board and compiling them into a summary gives me even greater respect for this process and for this school board. All of us serving on a not-for-profit board need to take the time to review the work and the effectiveness of the board.  This is especially important in this era of outcomes assessment; our outcomes also need to be assessed.  I am certain that the end result of this process if taken seriously is an even more effective board, which of course was the purpose to begin with.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Weather and Politics

Two weeks ago we traveled to Colorado for a family wedding.  The wedding was beautiful and I also appreciated the fact that this was an academic love story in every way.  The bride (my niece) who holds a Master’s in Math and the groom who has a Ph.D. in Math fell in love in graduate school and their love of math was an important catalyst.  What a beautiful story and it all added up to a wedding to be followed now by an increasing number of anniversaries.

While the wedding was beautiful, the weather was memorable. After we arrived, picked up our rental car, and began the journey from Denver to Greeley, lightening appeared in the distant sky.  Relatively muted at first, it quickly evolved into very prominent cloud to cloud and cloud to ground lightening.  The effect was highlighted by a series of unlit roads and dark open fields.  And then it happened.  The lightening continued but now was accompanied by heavy hail.  Yes, summertime hail, which became noisier and noisier and heavier and heavier. In those few times in the past when I was driving in a winter hail storm in the New York area, I never remember any storm that had the intensity of this one.  My older daughter was sitting next to me in the front seat following the navigation system which was clearly our lifeline since the visibility for almost 30 minutes was at most a few feet. And all of us in the car were very tense and apprehensive as we drove to our destination and we did keep driving since there were very few and very far between places on these rural roads where you could safely stop.  Even when we got to the hotel, we still stayed in the car for an additional 15 minutes just to give the lightening time to move away and then allow us to safely enter the hotel.

The next day, Friday, there was a rehearsal and a dinner and on Saturday the wedding took place.  The weather was clear, hot and very dry.  Not comfortable but nothing to worry about.  Except we could see from the wedding site, what appeared to be a fire far in the distance. On Sunday, our last day in the Denver area, we decided to drive to Fort Collins to spend time in a nice college town.  As we drove closer to Fort Collins, we could see the fire more clearly and the smoke and smell were now permeating the entire area. When I was able to see the flames first hand, I could see the enormity of the event and get a clear sense of the toll it was enacting on the area. The fire was caused, according to the news reports by lightening that struck during the Thursday night storm.

Today, a little over a week since the fire began, it continues and the devastation it causes continues as well.  On the news this morning, a story on the fire noted that more than 180 homes were lost and also noted, unfortunately, that the fire was continuing.

As I think about the hail storm and the resulting fire, I also think about the November elections which are now less than 5 months away. So many candidates are talking about cutting spending and cutting taxes.  The candidates seem very specific on how and they would cut taxes for everyone and much less specific on how spending would be cut. There is no question that some government inefficiency exists, but not nearly enough to compensate for the tax cuts being proposed by some office seekers.  Let the candidates talk openly about how they will cut costs—will it be a reduction in spending for weather related research, for fire prevention and firefighting, for national defense, for education, for cancer research etc. And let them talk precisely about why taxes need to be cut for everyone.  Give the public the specifics and let’s see whether they think the math adds up to what best serves our country.

Monday, June 18, 2012


I have already stated on multiple occasions that I am a musicals fan, preferably Broadway but I’m also passionate about college theater, middle and high school theater, not-for-profit theater, and off-Broadway theater. Hopefully I have covered all the applicable venues. But for me theater has always been more than just entertainment. Studying theater, working on a theater production, and watching/listening to theater all serve to enhance learning and accomplish this in a very dynamic way. Yesterday provided me with another excellent example of learning while watching and listening. I took my younger daughter plus a friend of hers as well as a daughter of a friend to Newsies. Since this production was announced, I have been looking forward to seeing it. For me it was much more than just an opportunity to take the younger generation to a show. Everything about the show worked well, the cast, the score, the story, and the music all combined to tell an important story. And different from many of the Disney musicals (which I typically enjoy), this was a true story and an important story. Newsies is the story of the newsboys’ strike of 1899. This was a successful strike that forced Joseph Pulitzer to change how newsboys (newsies) were treated as they sold newspapers. Often homeless children, the newsies worked long hours for miniscule pay and even had to pay for papers they were unable to sell. The importance of organizing to stand up for what was right and the importance of unions in the history of our country all came across loud and clear. The kids loved Newsies and they learned from it. One day before the 2008 Presidential debate on the Hofstra campus (and once again one day prior to the upcoming 2012 Presidential Debate), we had (and will again have) a day of “Democracy in Performance.” Three outstanding faculty members organized (and are again organizing) a day where historical figures roam the campus and vignettes on key issues and key moments are performed. These vignettes, performed as historical re-enactments (in costume), come alive thanks to the “living history performers” as well as our talented student performers. It is a moment to learn and to reflect and we share the moment, not only with our own community, but also with the local schools in the area. A great time is had by all and the learning is continuous. In this time of constrained budgets, when many schools are looking at arts budgets as potential areas to cut first, careful attention should be paid to consider all the benefits of the arts. We all have to live with these financial constraints but living with the arts needs to be considered a priority with wide ranging learning benefits. My headline is very clear: Support the Arts.

Monday, June 11, 2012


Serving on a school board has increased my exposure to acronyms. I started my board service already understanding STEM, and have now gained a familiarity with (but not a respect for) the APPR evaluation system. I am also familiar with ELA, especially when it involves an added emphasis on testing, and have now added LOTE to my acronym assortment. LOTE stands for Languages Other Than English, which for me is a very important part of the education a student should receive before entering college. At my local school board meeting this week, we dealt with the elementary school language experience and it was one of the best discussions we have had as a board. In addition, it was enriched (in the public comment section of the meeting) by both the participation of language teachers and members of the public. At the present time, my district’s elementary school students receive exposure to Latin beginning in grade 4 and continuing in grade 5. Everyone is in agreement that this exposure to Latin is a positive factor in the education of our students with benefits that extend beyond Latin language and culture. The discussion on the agenda was precipitated by a proposal by the superintendent to begin language at the kindergarten level and to specifically choose Mandarin as the language that would be taught. Part of the impetus for this change was the added testing at the 4th and 5th grade levels and the added preparation that helps our students do well on these tests. With this testing being concentrated at the same time as the Latin language exposure, it resulted in an overly pressured situation both for the students and for teachers. Another part of the impetus was that the earlier you start foreign language training, the greater the potential for mastery of the language. And here the goal is clearly fluency, rather than exposure. A student beginning Mandarin in elementary school will hopefully have the option of taking Mandarin through 12th grade.  Why the change to Mandarin? Understandable given the superpower status that China has achieved especially in its economy. I regularly see the Chinese students who are studying on Hofstra’s campus. Their motivation is clear as is their desire to enhance their second language skills, first learned by these Chinese students taking English starting in elementary school. U.S. students, on the other hand, have much more limited 2nd language skills and often seem to lack the motivation to achieve sophisticated second language skills. In an ever more competitive world economy where not everyone is willing to use English, language skills matter and as we strive to educate our students to succeed, mastery of Mandarin will clearly help. In the course of the board discussion, I endorsed the early start of second language education but suggested that the case could also convincingly be made for Spanish, the most used language on our planet. What I really wanted was to offer both languages from kindergarten on, but the funding just isn’t there to make that happen. Ultimately what we perhaps should consider is to start Spanish in 3rd grade (now it starts in 6th grade) while at the same time consolidating some of the language options presently available beginning in 6th grade. As part of the overall discussion there were advocates for continuing and perhaps expanding Latin, advocates for Mandarin from kindergarten on, advocates for Mandarin and Spanish from kindergarten on, and also advocates for a FLEX approach, with a one or two year exposure to one language, followed by another language, and even perhaps a third language. When it came time to vote, I voted in favor of Mandarin feeling that given the complexity of the language, an early start was essential and feeling also that this was an important language that would become more important in the years ahead. But what I also realized is that there is no one right answer to what the language should be and how much exposure there should be. Any of the proposals being considered had the potential to provide our students with outstanding language preparation. Voting for Mandarin was actually easier when I realized we were choosing what we thought was the best option from among a series of options that would all serve our kids well. It’s always better when no alternative available to you represents a bad choice. In summary, we need more language skills as part of an excellent k-12 education (and I also wouldn’t mind fewer acronyms as part of the education vocabulary).

Monday, June 4, 2012

School Board Reelection

Three years ago, when I first ran for the local school board, I was one of two people running for two seats.  The campaign was easy and winning was never in question. My total expenses for that campaign consisted of one first class postage stamp. Three years later, I debated long and hard whether I should run for another term.  What finally convinced me to run for reelection was that we are in a critical time for public education and I felt I could make a positive difference.  A property tax cap, increasing unfunded government mandates, an overemphasis on testing, a flawed evaluation system for teachers all come together to create an environment where public education is under attack and I’m not willing to sit on the sidelines and just watch it happen.  I need to be involved.  I have very strong qualifications and I want to make sure that the enormous benefits of education receive at least as much attention as the cost of education.

This election was very different for me from the initial stages to the conclusion.  The summary is easy to give: there were three qualified individuals running for two seats and I was reelected and received more votes than either of the other two candidates.  At the initial stage of the campaign I was advised that having lawn signs was a key part of the outreach for a local election.  I have never been a fan of lawn signs or signs stapled to utility poles.  I find them to be visual pollution.  So before I made my decision on having or not having lawn signs, I asked a very knowledgeable journalist, who had covered school boards for a major newspaper for a decade, what she thought.  Her response was very immediate, direct and clear.  If you want to win, you will distribute lawn signs.  I immediately ordered the signs.  What happened next surprised me.  A comment was made by a member of the community at a subsequent school board meeting that I was unable to attend, that lawn signs could be construed as bullying.  It took me a moment to think about the comment after I heard it second hand but my reaction at that time, and my reaction today is identical.  Bullying is a very serious matter and to compare a lawn sign to bullying is to trivialize what is an important concern in many, many schools.

I loved Meet the Candidates night. It provided an excellent opportunity to address all the key issues and all the candidates focused their articulate remarks on these issues.  I felt completely comfortable throughout the evening:  I was not only aware of all the issues raised but more importantly I had given a significant amount of thought to each of these issues.  When I wrapped up my remarks, I also endorsed one of the two other candidates and asked the audience to vote for her in addition to voting for me.  I felt this candidate was not only qualified (as was the other candidate) but that her views were more closely aligned to mine in regard to significant issues such tracking (which I oppose), over testing (which I oppose) etc. There were some interesting subsequent reactions – first and foremost that a sitting board member shouldn’t endorse another candidate for an open position.  And here I strenuously disagree.  Being a member on a school board does not and should not require me to give up my first amendment rights of free speech.  It is common practice and expected that elected officials (with very limited and very specific exceptions such as judges) endorse other candidates.  The school board should not, as a body, endorse any candidate just as Congress shouldn’t endorse any candidate and just as the local or state legislature shouldn’t endorse a candidate. But individuals can and do and the grounds are typically what I mentioned above; the person being endorsed is more aligned and in sync with the philosophy of the person doing the endorsement.

My last comment is a concern that the cost of being a candidate, even a school board candidate, where the costs are very modest (lawn signs, banners, ads in local papers), will likely be significant enough to discourage very qualified candidates from running, especially in a difficult economic time such as this when so many individuals and families are hurting.  In more and more elections, the money you have and the money you are able to raise become key factors in the result.  In my opinion to get the best pool of candidates requires a much more level playing field when it comes to expenditures.  I still believe that candidates should be elected based on the merits and not the money.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Extreme Testing

My older daughter came home last week, after taking a New York State ELA (English Language Arts) statewide exam.  Normally after she takes a test, she mentions whether the test was easy or hard and what, if any, were the areas that give her difficulty.  This time it was different.  She complained about a reading passage concerning a race between a pineapple (that did not move) and a hare.  She indicated that the passage made little sense and that the questions/answers made even less sense.  I actually thought she was overreacting until I saw a copy of the passage and the questions in the newspapers and on the internet. The paragraph was inane and the questions had no logical answers.  Ultimately New York State agreed, and will not count this question in the scoring of the exam.

My younger daughter’s elementary school New York State ELA took place over three days with a ninety minute exam each day.  The exam also started the day the spring vacation ended.  Not even a school day in between for the kids to adjust to being back in school.  Why does an exam like this need three days and a ninety minute exam time each day?  There was also a question on the math assessment for 4th graders that had two correct answers as well as an 8th grade math assessment question that had no correct answers.  Not good on any count.

Exams are necessary.  Evaluating students is necessary. We need to be able to measure a student’s learning on a regular basis and use the results to continuously enhance the education that is provided. But there are very substantial costs if the exam is nonsensical in part or if the exam is overly stress inducing.  The first and most obvious cost is the loss of confidence by both parents and educators in the government entity that oversees the exam process. Can bad questions really measure learning? Can questions without correct answers or with multiple correct answers really measure learning? Or instead, when a student is told to select the correct answer, will this just serve to confuse the student?  And will three days of testing of 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders measure learning or, even more, seriously stress out the students?  How many of us, when we were in third grade, would have the sitting power, patience and perseverance to handle an exam that long for that many days?

But the real cost is a potential loss of the love for learning on the part of our kids.  What we all want from education is not only a knowledge base but also a respect for the importance of lifetime learning. If the questions and answers make little sense, if the exam stresses out young kids, and if the end result is a dislike for school and for education we have done a huge disservice.  This is a time for corrective action.  We need to rethink some of our exams and even more importantly some of our exam philosophies.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Lessons Learned

On the same day a few weeks ago, I happened to be looking at a Hofstra Alumni newsletter and an article that I had clipped from The New York Times.  To digress for a moment, “clipped” is the right expression since I was reading the actual newspaper, not the online version.  I only read the paper version on weekends.  During the week, I read my paper online and am very efficient in reading only those articles that I identify as of great interest.  On the weekends, and at a more leisurely pace, I look through the entire paper and just by skimming find additional interesting articles to read.  There is clearly a role for both, though it will be interesting to see if the economics of printing a paper, in an online world, is viable. 

In his alumni update, the Dean of our Honors College notes the criticism of higher education, most specifically the allegation in Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses, that some students in some colleges finish their education with minimal learning taking place.  The Dean does this as a prelude to talking about how a liberal arts education supports “genuine learning,” because students spend “a significant amount of time studying exemplary works in literature, history, philosophy, religion, art, music, drama and the rest of the natural and social sciences, … [and thereby] come to see shadings and complexities in a world that previously seemed black and white.”  I am in total agreement with this position and the concomitant position that writing across the college curriculum also enhances the learning that is taking place.

The New York Times article on “Trying to Find a Measure of How Well Colleges Do,” takes the question of learning or not learning and couples it with outcomes assessment measures of value added.  More testing as the article notes already permeates k-12 education, and now “Pieces of such a system may be taking shape, however, with several kinds of national assessments—including, most controversially, standardized tests….”  We should be able to demonstrate that learning is taking place and we should be able to document value added.  But nevertheless there are serious concerns that must be taken into consideration.

On the k-12 level, the curriculum is becoming more standardized with the “Common Core,” which stresses revising existing educational norms by including for example, more nonfiction reading and more practical math.  But is this really the only viable road to be followed to strengthen the k-12 educational experience?  Enhanced student testing will then have to be in place to measure the value added.  This testing will in turn impact the evaluation of many teachers.  Schools in response, to ensure that their students test as well as possible (as early as third grade), may well shed some of the diversity and richness of the curriculum to stay focused on the test materials. 

As higher education gathers evidence of student learning (which we are all more and more required to do) and  strives to place that evidence in a context of other students in the same college and other students in colleges across the country, standardized test will provide a convenient yardstick for what we are trying to measure.  I understand the value of a yardstick but I also recognize the tremendous expertise that faculty bring and have brought to the design and implementation of the curriculum.  Rather than see us move to a Common Core college curriculum, we need to involve our faculty in the development of overall degree assessment instruments that effectively measure that learning/value added is taking place but preserve our right to design a curriculum that best serves the learning goals of our students.