Monday, February 25, 2013


The one very minor positive for me in the current economic cliffhanger is that my vocabulary has expanded to include sequestration and I even find myself unfortunately using this word on a regular basis. In the next few weeks, I may even get to the point of asking friends and acquaintances how they are and how they will be after sequestration. The reality is I would be happier if I never needed to use this word again. More importantly, as I have indicated in previous blogs, failure of the democrats and republicans to agree on budget cuts would be extremely harmful for the economy. And especially since the signs of recovery are stronger, the downside of aborting that recovery and having a mandated sequestration becomes more devastating. Just so we are all on the same page, by sequestration I am referring to mandated, virtually across the board, reductions in most federal expenditures. Rather than making the decision in terms of priorities, these are autopilot decisions.

The mandated cuts in education, where we know upfront that education is an investment in our future, are particularly harmful. Between cuts in the work study program and cuts in the supplemental opportunity grants program, approximately 100,000 students will be adversely impacted by sequestration. Support for special needs students and students with disabilities would also be significantly reduced. No one can argue that the need for these programs will disappear or argue that there will not be significant consequences; what we will be left with are consequences, many of which will have their greatest impact on those who are economically disadvantaged.

We have no choice at this point in time other than cutting spending and limiting the increase in future spending. And since taxes were dealt with already, short term this is not an area that we can turn to help resolve the current situation. Even more importantly, I am not at all supportive of increasing the burden on taxpayers while not realistically confronting the expenditure part of the financial equation.

We know there need to be cuts in spending. For me, reducing spending in education should not be a significant source of savings. These would be short term savings with long term negative and counterproductive consequences. Passions are high on all sides of the spending/sequestration issue; many of us have specific priorities in one or more areas where we feel that spending cuts should be a last resort and perhaps a never resort. Those of us in education should do all that we can to passionately make the case for education. We can be sure that each area has it advocates. The case for education is very strong; our advocacy should be at least as strong.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Snow Job

The New York blizzard of 2013 really made an impact. With a range of snow falls that increased from about 6 inches in Manhattan, to 21 inches in my backyard on Long Island, to 30 inches in the eastern part of Long Island, there were areas even two days after the last flake hit the ground that were still impassable.

On Friday, the University closed at 2 PM. Up to that point in time there had been a dusting of snow followed by heavy rain. At closing time, the rain was transitioning to snow. To the credit of the University community, even with a dire weather forecast as of late Friday, Friday classes up to 2 PM were very well staffed and very well attended. It was a regular Friday in terms of participation; not even a phone call asking why we didn’t close earlier in anticipation of blizzard Nemo.

On Saturday night, however, just twelve hours after the snow stopped, my kids and I decided to venture into Manhattan to see a show which, I had learned earlier in the day would be performed as scheduled. My first inclination was to make use of mass transit and go into Manhattan via the Long Island Railroad since my local station was less than a mile from my house. Great idea but there was only one problem: the railroad had suspended operations on the branch that services my area. Mass transit, especially by rail, should be among the most reliable inclement weather providers of transportation. I understand the challenges but if mass transit is to make inroads against using a car, it needs to work that way.

The trip to and from Manhattan was effortless. Less traffic than usual and the famous Long Island Expressway, on the stretch of road from the western part of Long Island to the Queens Mid-town Tunnel to Manhattan was snow free and dry. Manhattan had a moderate amount of snow. The roads were fine and parking on the street was still easy to do. The next morning I drove my older daughter to a play date at a friend’s house and was shocked at the condition of a number of neighborhood roads. I’m not sure that the snow removal crews plowed these roads, and if they did, they certainly didn’t get the level of attention provided to many other neighborhood roads.

If there was quality control for the snow removal, it just didn’t work as it should have. Adjoining roads should not have the variability that these roads had. In thinking about education, K- 12 as well as higher education, we have some of the same variability problems. With differences in the results on standardized tests for the different sections/teachers, or differences in preparation for subsequent classes that impact how a student does in those classes, we know that the cause is often the teacher/faculty member teaching the class. What we don’t know, especially in the first example, is whether the cause of better student performance is teaching to the test or better teaching. As complex as the issue is, quality control and the consistency inherent in good quality control are essential. We should all redouble our quality control efforts, and we should all embrace the outcomes assessment that helps validate the outcome.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Honor Code

We are getting close to implementing our Honor Code and Honor Board and I am very excited by the our progress in this critical area. It is not that our campus is any different from most other campuses. We know that there is academic dishonesty taking place on virtually every college or university campus. We have just, however, made a commitment to push for a measurable decrease in such behavior. Students will sign an Honor Code that will serve as both a commitment as well as a reminder of the values we ascribe to and an Honor Board will work to promote activities in support of academic honesty and also ensure that there is fair and consistent treatment when there is a violation of the Honor Code.

Our Honor Code and Honor Board is an outgrowth of an extended campus wide discussion and debate regarding academic honesty. This debate was sponsored by a Task Force that had been established to review our existing policies on academic honesty and recommend possible changes. The discussion and the resulting recommendation then went through our campus shared governance, first passing scrutiny by the University Senate followed by the full faculty reviewing and recommending these policies. Our Senate is our shared governance organization that includes representation from the faculty, the students—both undergraduate and graduate – academic and non-academic administrators and a staff member. We are fortunate to have such a strong and vibrant facilitator of shared governance. After the action by the full faculty, I was pleased to endorse these recommendations and the President was pleased to approve them. The campus conversation and the campus governance process provided the greatest buy-in possible for this new initiative.

In selecting the Honor Board student members, I worked closely with our Vice President for Student Affairs to assure the best possible student representation (which includes serving as one of the three co-chairs of the board with the other two co chairs coming from the faculty and the academic administration). The faculty and administrators who have been chosen are clearly highly regarded opinion leaders widely respected by their colleagues and other members of our community. So far, so good.

And yet, to be realistic, there are two concerns that I have. First, a number of faculty, here and elsewhere, want to make whatever decision there is to be made in response to academic dishonesty themselves. Sometimes these actions are very lenient and other times very drastic but regardless these faculty don’t want to fit any framework or adhere to any standard other than their own. To this day, there are incidents of academic dishonesty that are never reported and are known only to the faculty member and the student or students involved. I believe that faculty should have wide latitude in resolving incidents of academic dishonesty but I also believe there needs to be full disclosure and reporting. Not to second guess the faculty member but to make sure that repeat offenses by the same students are dealt with sternly. My other concern relates to a number of students who have been so accustomed to cheating that it is both second nature and not recognized for what it is—unethical behavior, presenting someone else’s work as your own. I have even heard a story from a colleague about a student in a very good university who tweeted matter of factly about cheating. One comment noted that if this person had a smart phone in high school, Harvard would have been within reach while another tweet noted incredulously that that the cheating had only resulted in a C and how could that be. It will take considerable time, even with a heightened awareness of the importance of academic honesty for individuals like this to clean up their acts.

Our Honor Code and Honor Board are one major step forward for academic integrity. And now we have to work together that regardless of the school, and whether we are talking about higher education or K-12 education, students always receive a consistent message regarding the importance of academic honesty.

Monday, February 4, 2013


My older daughter and her best friend were going to an ice skating birthday party and I was the designated driver to the rink. We were ready to leave and my daughter texts her friend to let her know we will pick her up in a few minutes. But there was no imminent response. So what were we to do? Head to her house though there was no response from her or wait until she responds.

We ultimately decided to go to her house and we are waiting outside on the driveway but even now there is no response. My daughter sends another text and I just innocently say to her “why not just call?” The response comes instantly and puts me in my place: “calling is sooooo yesterday.” Yikes, what a comment and what an effort to put me in my ancient place.

Two minutes later, just as I was getting ready to call the parents, the response came in the form of my daughter’s friend leaving her house and heading to my car. We were on our way, though I wasn’t ready to forget about the “yesterday” comment.

I am significantly older than my kids but I’m not a “yesterday” kind of person. I was an earlier convert to email, to online shopping, to texting, to ebooks, and even to writing a blog. I also have a strong attraction to new technologies even though my wife feels it is more an attraction to gimmicks. But there is no convincing your kids and I remember feeling the same way toward my parents.

Technology has made an enormous difference in the education we deliver and in the life we lead. The information I can access and the transactions I can complete enhance my sophistication and improve the quality of my life. I’m not interested in going back and living in a world of less robust technology or less life saving health care. But I’m also old enough to realize that with technology you may pay a price; inter-personal skills now seem less sophisticated; social situations somewhat more stained; the pace of activities more speeded up. Having lived in yesterday’s world, I recognize its benefits and its limitations. Kids seem only to see the limitations of what existed before. What can we do to make sure education makes clear not only what has been gained over time, but also what has been lost. And also makes clear, that when choices need to be made, the newest technology is not necessarily always the best technology.