AAUP Accuses Louisiana State U. Leaders of Stampeding the Faculty in a Reorganization Effort!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has a piece today (subscription required) in its online edition commenting on the reorganization of public higher education in the state of Louisiana.  Essentially the article commented that

“The American Association of University Professors has cautioned top officials of the Louisiana State University system that they appear to be trampling the rights of faculty members as they move to reorganize the system’s governance and fill a new leadership post.

The warning came in a letter the AAUP issued on Tuesday in response to pleas for its assistance from Louisiana State faculty leaders, who have complained of being shut out of a reorganization process that seeks to combine the multicampus system into a single university led by the chief executive of its flagship campus, in Baton Rouge.

Many suspect that the reorganization represents an attempt by the state’s Republican governor, Bobby Jindal, to assert more control over the system’s leadership and affairs, and they worry that the governor’s political considerations will drive the selection of Louisiana State’s new president.

The AAUP letter says the association was responding to complaints from faculty leaders that Louisiana State’s Board of Supervisors “has bypassed the elected faculty governance bodies at various levels throughout the university system” as part of a “hasty and erratic” reorganization effort.”

This development should be followed closely by anyone interested in shared governance.



Regulating Higher Education: Roles and Responsibilities!

Dear Commons Community,

I was recently ask to write a short article on regulating higher education paying particularly attention to the issues related to online programs.  It was published this morning by evoluTTTion, an online journal dedicated to providing a forum for “the lifelong learning community to provoke ideas, re-imagine education, inspire collaboration and create action to lead the transformative change in higher education.”

In this article, I specifically look at the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, local, and professional regulating and accreditation bodies.  My main thrust is:

“…no organizations welcome oversight and regulation but, given the importance of the higher education sector for the success of our society and way of life, they are necessary. No single agency has the wherewithal or expertise to do this alone. Federal, state and local governmental agencies can provide the leadership, but they have to be careful of political influences and well-financed lobbying campaigns that distort sound practice for other purposes and financial gain. The colleges and universities themselves, through peer accreditation as well as their own internal reviews, need to continually evaluate the quality of their programs to provide a balance to government oversight. Ultimately, by working together, all can maintain American higher education as a model for the rest of the world.”

Take a look!



Jon Meacham’s: “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power”

Dear Commons Community,

I just finished reading Jon Meacham’s:   Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power , which has been on the  best seller list for about nine weeks.  A review appeared in the New York Times on November 20, 2012.

Meacham’s book will satisfy any reader who likes biography.  It goes well into the details about Jefferson’s rise to political power with enough background on family and personal life.  It mentions and acknowledges his long relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings, but does not dwell on it.   Meacham’s most significant contribution is that he shows Jefferson as both a philosopher and a politician.  He could think great ideas and write about them in a way to move others.  By the same token, Jefferson was a skillful politician who learned how to maneuver the ins and outs of Washington.  His relationships with George Washington, John Adams and Alexander Hamilton are well covered. There is also much about Jefferson the Renaissance man, who was interested in science, agriculture, philosophy and architecture.

A the end of the book, Meacham comments:

“The three achievements he ordered carved on his tombstone – as author of the Declaration of Independence and of the Virginia Statute for Religious Liberty, and as founder of the University of Virginia- speak to his love of the liberty of the mind  and of the heart, and to his faith in the future”.


Boy Scouts of America to Consider Dropping Ban on Gay Membership!

Boy Scouts

Dear Commons Community,

NBC and other news media are reporting that just days after a Maryland-based Cub Scout pack was forced to back down on a non-discriminatory pledge because of a reference to sexual orientation, the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) might be changing its national stance toward the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community.

NBC cites a number of “scouting officials and outsiders familiar with internal discussions” who say a revised BSA policy would not only lift the ban on gay participants from the national youth organization’s rules, but also allow local sponsoring organizations to decide for themselves whether or not to admit gay scouts.

“The chartered organizations that oversee and deliver scouting would accept membership and select leaders consistent with their organization’s mission, principles or religious beliefs,” BSA Director of Public Relations Deron Smith tells the site, adding that individual sponsors and parents “would be able to choose a local unit which best meets the needs of their families.”

Discussions are reportedly nearing their final stages and if approved, the policy change could be announced as early as next week.

Among those to praise the possible change was Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) President Herndon Graddick, who noted the shift “will only strengthen its core principles of fairness and respect” in an email statement.

Most interesting and long overdue!



Paul Krugman on the Republican Party: It only Wants to Change it Sales Pitch Not its Substance!

Dear Commons Community,

There has been a good deal of media attention since the presidential election in November 2012, on the future of the Republican Party.  Over the past several weeks, there have been calls by various prominent members of the Republican Party on what it must do to appeal to more voters especially minorities, women, immigrants, and gays.  Paul Krugman examines this issue in his column today in terms of the poor and middle class.

“…prominent Republicans have begun acknowledging that their party needs to improve its image. But here’s the thing: Their proposals for a makeover all involve changing the sales pitch rather than the product. When it comes to substance, the G.O.P. is more committed than ever to policies that take from most Americans and give to a wealthy handful…

…In the past, Republicans would justify tax cuts for the rich either by claiming that they would pay for themselves or by claiming that they could make up for lost revenue by cutting wasteful spending. But what we’re seeing now is open, explicit reverse Robin Hoodism: taking from ordinary families and giving to the rich. That is, even as Republicans look for a way to sound more sympathetic and less extreme, their actual policies are taking another sharp right turn.

Why is this happening? In particular, why is it happening now, just after an election in which the G.O.P. paid a price for its anti-populist stand?

Well, I don’t have a full answer, but I think it’s important to understand the extent to which leading Republicans live in an intellectual bubble. They get their news from Fox and other captive media, they get their policy analysis from billionaire-financed right-wing think tanks, and they’re often blissfully unaware both of contrary evidence and of how their positions sound to outsiders.”

As part of his analysis, Krugman specifically examines the “need to reform” rhetoric of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal versus his anti-poor/middle class policies in his home state.

Krugman has it right on all fronts.


Big Data Meet the Humanities!

Dear Commons Community,

The New York Times has an article today describing the use of big data approaches to support research in the humanities and the social sciences.  It specifically describes the use of big data to do large-scale literary analysis.   The article opens by posing the question of who are the leading (English language) novelists of the 19th century. Would they be Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Herman Melville, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Mark Twain. The article then goes to describe a study by Matthew Jockers using big data technques.

“… a recent study has found, Jane Austen, author of “Pride and Prejudice, “ and Sir Walter Scott, the creator of “Ivanhoe,” had the greatest effect on other authors, in terms of writing style and themes.

These two were “the literary equivalent of Homo erectus, or, if you prefer, Adam and Eve,” Matthew L. Jockers wrote in research published last year. He based his conclusion on an analysis of 3,592 works published from 1780 to 1900. It was a lot of digging, and a computer did it.

The study, which involved statistical parsing and aggregation of thousands of novels, made other striking observations. For example, Austen’s works cluster tightly together in style and theme, while those of George Eliot (a k a Mary Ann Evans) range more broadly, and more closely resemble the patterns of male writers. Using similar criteria, Harriet Beecher Stowe was 20 years ahead of her time, said Mr. Jockers, whose research will soon be published in a book, “Macroanalysis: Digital Methods and Literary History” (University of Illinois Press).

… At this stage, this kind of digital analysis is mostly an intriguing sign that Big Data technology is steadily pushing beyond the Internet industry and scientific research into seemingly foreign fields like the social sciences and the humanities. The new tools of discovery provide a fresh look at culture, much as the microscope gave us a closer look at the subtleties of life and the telescope opened the way to faraway galaxies.

Traditionally, literary history was done by studying a relative handful of texts,” says Mr. Jockers, an assistant professor of English and a researcher at the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities at the University of Nebraska. “What this technology does is let you see the big picture — the context in which a writer worked — on a scale we’ve never seen before.”

Interesting and worth a read!!



Republicans: Need to Avoid “Stupid”!

Dear Commons Community,

Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) said yesterday that Republicans need to consider more carefully what they’re saying in order to avoid “stupid” and “offensive” comments that take a toll on the entire party.

“When you consider what two Senate candidates … the comments that they made were stupid comments, offensive comments, and in today’s world, when a candidate says something, the negative effect of that can spill over to lots of other candidates,” Barbour said on CBS’ “This Morning.”

Barbour was referencing controversial remarks made by GOP Senate candidates Todd Akin in Missouri and Richard Mourdock of Indiana, which drew widespread condemnation last election season for being insensitive and inaccurate on the issue of rape. Both candidates lost in November, after being propped up by Republican fundraising groups.

Critical reflections about the GOP’s shortcomings have been commonplace in the wake of the 2012 elections. Barbour’s comments followed up on a speech by Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) this week, in which he urged the GOP to stop being the “stupid party” and to abstain from making “offensive and bizarre comments.”

While Republican deliberations have been harshly worded at times, they have focused almost entirely the party’s unpopular tone and unsuccessful messaging, rather than the actual ideas being promoted by the GOP.

During his recent address, Jindal argued that the GOP doesn’t need to change its values, but “might need to change just about everything else we are doing.”

In other words, the Republicans have to have the courage to uncouple themselves from the extremists in the Tea Party.


David Brooks: The Meritocracy Overwhelms Everything Else!

Dear Commons Community,

David Brooks has a column today analyzing the prevalence of the American meritocracy and its tendency to overwhelm government programs designed to promote equality.   His major supposition is that the American meritocracy is so strong that inequality of resources is inevitable even with government programs such as though being initiated by President Obama.  He uses higher education as an example:

“…our system of higher education, which is like a giant vacuum cleaner that sucks up some of the smartest people from across the country and concentrates them in a few privileged places.

Smart high school students from rural Nebraska, small-town Ohio and urban Newark get to go to good universities. When they get there they often find a culture shock.

They’ve been raised in an atmosphere of social equality and now find themselves in a culture that emphasizes the relentless quest for distinction — to be more accomplished, more enlightened and more cutting edge. They may have been raised in a culture that emphasizes roots, but they go into a culture that emphasizes mobility — a multicultural cosmopolitanism that encourages you to go anywhere on your quest for self-fulfillment. They may have been raised among people who enter the rooms of the mighty with the nerves of a stranger, but they are now around people who enter the highest places with the confident sense they belong.

But the system works. In the dorms, classrooms, summer internships and early jobs they learn how to behave the way successful people do in the highly educated hubs. There’s no economic reason to return home, and maybe it’s not even socially possible anymore.

The highly educated cluster around a few small nodes. Decade after decade, smart and educated people flock away from Merced, Calif., Yuma, Ariz., Flint, Mich., and Vineland, N.J. In those places, less than 15 percent of the residents have college degrees. They flock to Washington, Boston, San Jose, Raleigh-Durham and San Francisco. In those places, nearly 50 percent of the residents have college degrees.

As Enrico Moretti writes in “The New Geography of Jobs,” the magnet places have positive ecologies that multiply innovation, creativity and wealth. The abandoned places have negative ecologies and fall further behind.”

His conclusion is that neither Democrats nor Republicans have a solution.  In my opinion, the Democrats have their hearts in the right place but do not have the wherewithal to develop the policies that will change what Brooks calls “The Great Migration”.  The Republicans on the other hand, believe deeply in the meritocracy and promote the social survival of the fittest.   In sum, the meritocracy wins.





Women Win Right to Serve on the Front Lines in the U.S. Military!

Women iin Combat

Dear Commons Community,

Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta is lifting the military ban on women in combat, allowing them to officially serve on the front lines for the first time in the history of U.S. armed forces.

The policy change, to be announced later today at the Pentagon, “will initiate a process whereby the services will develop plans to implement this decision, which was made by the Secretary of Defense upon the recommendation of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,” a senior Defense Department official said Wednesday in a statement to The Huffington Post.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, lauded the change. “After a decade of critical military service in hostile environments, women have demonstrated a wide range of capabilities in combat operations and we welcome this review,” McKeon said in a statement Wednesday.

The Department of Defense notified members of Congress of the change on Wednesday afternoon.  Following today’s announcement, Congress will have 30 days to weigh in on the decision. The military services will have until May 15 to inform Panetta of implementation plans, and until January 2016 to seek exemptions.



Senate Foreign Relations Committee Gets Heated with Hillary Clinton over Benghazi!!

Dear Commons Community,

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is testifying at a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the circumstances involving the attack on the American Embassy in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012, that killed four Americans.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had an emotional moment speaking in front of the Committee about the attack:

“For me, this is not just a matter of policy, it’s personal. I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters, and the wives left alone to raise their children,” she said, her voice breaking.

“It has been one of the great honors of my life to lead the men and women of the State Department and USAID,” she continued. “They get up and get to work every day, often in difficult dangerous circumstances, because they believe, as we believe, the United States is the most extraordinary force for peace and progress the world has ever known.”

In response to her  comment that as Secretary she was  responsible, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a member of the Senate Committee, was highly critical:

“I’m glad that you’re accepting responsibility,” said Paul. “I think ultimately with your leaving that you accept the culpability for the worst tragedy since 9/11. And I really mean that.”

“Had I been president and found you did not read the cables from Benghazi and from Ambassador Stevens, I would have relieved you of your post. I think it’s inexcusable,” he said, referencing Clinton’s comments that she had not read all of the documentation surrounding the attack.

“I think we can understand you’re not reading every cable,” Paul said. He added that he didn’t suspect Clinton of “bad motives” but said that it was a “failure of leadership.”

Clinton responded, “I am the Secretary of State. And the [Accountability Review Board] made very clear that the level of responsibility for the failures that they outlined was set at the Assistant Secretary level and below.”

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) rebuked Paul in the next exchange. “If some people on this committee want to call this tragedy the worst since 9/11, it misunderstands the nature of 4000 plus Americans lost in the War in Iraq under false pretenses.”

Tough going for Hillary!