NYS Governor Cuomo’s Proposal to Create a New Inspector General Position Called a “Scheme”!

Dear Commons Community,

Governor Andrew Cuomo is floating a proposal to create a new inspector general position that would have broad powers to investigate state procurement processes.  The positon would answer directly to the governor.  Legislators and other government officials are referring to this proposal as “a scheme’ that would be used by Cuomo for questionable political reasons.  Here is an excerpt from a New York Times article:

“For its part, the Cuomo administration recently floated proposals to create a new inspector general with oversight of state issues at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and a new special prosecutor with broad investigative powers over the state procurement process. For their part, legislative leaders continue to have their hopes set on a raise for their members.

While the administration appears to have backed off part of the Port Authority proposal — saying bill language that would have enhanced the governor’s powers over appointees reflected earlier thinking on the subject — the idea of an inspector general for the authority is still alive. The new procurement prosecutor, controlled by the governor, would be empowered to investigate complaints, policies and procedures in vast array of agencies, employees and contracts.

The prosecutor proposal has set off another skirmish between Mr. Cuomo and the state attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, a fellow Democrat.

Mr. Schneiderman expressed his displeasure over the proposal in a letter to Mr. Cuomo and legislative leaders on Wednesday, calling the idea of an executive branch prosecutor “likely unconstitutional” and “a scheme.”

“It does not establish the independence required of a procurement watchdog,” Mr. Schneiderman wrote, “and therefore will not achieve the real accountability and reform our state desperately needs.”

The governor first floated the concept of such executive oversight in a statement last month, just before Joseph Percoco, one of his closest aides and a former confidant, was indicted in a corruption scandal involving hundreds of millions of dollars in state contracts.

Also indicted was Alain Kaloyeros, who resigned as president of the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute, which has been central to the governor’s upstate economic policies and would also be subject to the powers of the proposed procurement prosecutor…

The attorney general was not alone in reacting negatively to the governor’s idea. On Thursday, a collection of government watchdog groups condemned the proposal, saying in a letter it would “effectively weaken the independent oversight authority of the state comptroller and the attorney general.”

Last week, Thomas P. DiNapoli, the comptroller, asked the governor to restore his powers to monitor the state and city university systems’ spending and state contracts. He said his authority in those areas had been substantially reduced by executive and legislative actions during Mr. Cuomo’s time in office.

The possibility of a special session has been percolating since last month, when a commission formed to evaluate a raise for lawmakers and members of the executive branch disbanded after Mr. Cuomo’s appointees helped block approval of a raise proposal.

Mr. Cuomo, who has a reputation for wielding a heavy hand in all things Albany, then offered up the basics of a possible deal: supporting a salary increase in exchange for action on ethics and other policy proposals.

The governor’s overt quid pro quo irked legislative leaders and members, but did not stop negotiations: Talks were continuing on Thursday, with lawmakers being contacted about their holiday-season availability. A special session could be convened as early as Tuesday.”

Cuomo sinks Albany deeper and deeper into the political muck!


NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña Announce New Teacher Evaluation System!

Dear Commons Community,

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced a new policy yesterday changing how teachers and principals are evaluated, and relying more on the work students do every day in the classroom.  As reported in the New York Times:

“The most contentious issue in the debate over New York’s teacher evaluations is whether they should consider how students perform on state standardized tests for third through eighth graders. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo once proposed tying 50 percent of a teacher’s rating to students’ scores on such tests. But that fed into a revolt against the tests, which roughly 20 percent of students have declined to take in each of the last two years.

So the state decided last December that the test scores could not affect the ratings of principals or teachers, until at least the 2019-20 school year.

In the absence of those test scores, the agreement between the city and the unions representing teachers and principals offers several options for what to use, including compilations of student work. Officials said these measures will mean looking at children’s output throughout the year to see how they progress, rather than forming a judgment based on one test.

“The best evaluation tool is the work that students do day to day in the classroom,” Carmen Fariña, the schools chancellor, said at a news conference on Wednesday. “One test is important on some levels, but nothing is more important than seeing what a student’s work looks like in September, what does it look like in December? Assess it, analyze it — is it improving, is it going forward, is it going backward? So what do we need to do in January and February?”

The deal contains two other primary changes. Teachers will still be rated “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing” or “ineffective,” but the weights applied to the factors that go into those ratings, like observations by their principal, will change.”

This is a move in the right direction!




Video: Bill O’Reilly Sparks Media Firestorm by Affirming the “White Establishment”!





Dear Commons Community,

Bill O’Reilly sparked outrage on Fox News on Tuesday night for what he described as the “hidden reason” behind calls to abolish the Electoral College.  Above is a video clip (O’Reilly comes in at the 30 second mark).

O’Reilly declares “This is all about race,” the conservative commentator said on his Fox News show. “The left sees white privilege in America as an oppressive force that must be done away with. Therefore white working class voters must be marginalized.”

He later added that liberals believe “white men have set up a system of oppression and that system must be destroyed … The left wants power taken away from the white establishment and they want a profound change in the way America is run.”

O’Reilly’s admission of “white privilege” and the “white establishment” have been likened to a sort of American apartheid on twitter.  Joan Walsh, political correspondent for MSNBC tweeted:

“So @DavidCornDC says what we all must: Bill O’Reilly has passed into Afrikaner territory. We are becoming South Africa.”


What’s Out and What’s In for Higher Education in a Trump Presidency!

Dear Commons Community,

Goldie Blumenstyk, a writer for The Chronicle of Higher Education, has an article this morning speculating on “what’s out and what’s in” for higher education policy during Donald Trump’s presidency.  Below is a synopsis. 

Ms. Blumenstyk is on target with some of her speculations.

We will have to wait and see!




Title IX enforcement on sexual assault. 

It won’t go away completely, of course. But it’s hard to imagine the next administration adopting the same aggressive posture taken by the current Office for Civil Rights, considering the way many Republicans, would-be Trump insiders, and even some colleges feel about the office’s approach over the past several years. Ditto for protecting the rights of gay and transgender people.

Free college. 

The idea was championed during the 2016 campaign by Sen. Bernie Sanders and then by the party’s nominee, Hillary R. Clinton, so ’nuff said about that. Meanwhile, however, groups like the Campaign for Free College Tuition continue to promote it as a policy states and communities should embrace.

Graduate PLUS Loans. 

Or at least the high levels of borrowing currently allowed under this program. Such loans are considered by many Republicans (and some Democrats) as the kind of easy-money source of funding that does little to encourage colleges to curtail their prices, especially when the borrowers can later roll their obligations into loan-forgiveness programs.

Loan forgiveness. 

Student-loan reformers had targeted such programs for curtailment even before the release last month of an attention-grabbing report from the Government Accountability Office.

Center for American Progress. 

Of all of the advocacy groups focused on higher education, this one was the most visibly tied to Democrats — a Hillary Clinton administration in waiting, as some saw it. It won’t be at the policy helm now, but it’s already begun to embrace its outsider status with a new “Resist” campaign that is opposing expected policies of the Trump administration, including the nomination of Betsy DeVos.

Heightened federal enforcement of for-profit colleges. 

The Education Department’s internal “student-aid enforcement unit” and an interagency task force were created in response to concerns about abusive recruiting practices at for-profit institutions and other poor-performing colleges. They could fall victim to changing priorities. The fate of the internal enforcement unit could be hard to track from outside the department, but the interagency task force, which involves the Education Department, the Federal Trade Commission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the U.S. Departments of Defense, Labor, and the Treasury, has already made one high-profile enemy in Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who last week called for its immediate abolition after criticizing the agencies for their treatment of the University of Phoenix.

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. 

This body, created in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008, has sued several of the major for-profit-college companies over their student-loan programs. The bureau is disliked by many Republicans, who may now feel even more emboldened — and have the votes in the Senate — to dismantle or weaken it.

“State authorization” rules for distance education and “borrower defense” rules governing when students are entitled to have their loans discharged. 

Welcomed by many student groups and consumer advocates, both have been criticized by college leaders as examples of regulatory overreach. Both regulations were issued within the past few months, which could make them particularly easy to repeal under the Congressional Review Act. Ditto for newly issued rules on teacher education.

The “gainful employment” rule. 

One of the signature policies of the Obama administration, the regulation has been a key tool for cracking down on career-focused programs that saddle students with unmanageable debt relative to their earnings. Some colleges have cited the rule as a reason for their closure. It won’t be easy to repeal the regulation in full, but portions of it will be prime targets for Congress, if not the new Education Department, to eliminate.


Income-share agreements. 

These financing tools, in which investors help finance students’ educations in return for a percentage of their earnings, are a trendy idea among the innovation crowd. They are especially popular in conservative circles.

Risk sharing. 

The idea that colleges should bear some of the cost when their students default on federal loans has been gaining fans in Congress. Many policy makers even see it as better than looking at default rates to determine eligibility for federal student aid. As the debates over this approach proceed, expect to see many lawmakers and others draw from eight new papers on risk sharing, published on Monday, that outline various issues and options.

Private lending. 

Not a return to the bank-based student-loan system that was fully phased out under President Obama  — even student-loan experts like Beth Akers, a senior fellow at the free-market Manhattan Institute, says that was a “a terrible way to bring in market forces” to student lending. But with so many conservatives arguing for a greater role for “private capital” in student loans, some form of new federally sanctioned option could be on the table, perhaps even to fill the gap if PLUS Loans for graduate students are curtailed.

Competency-based education. 

Of all the ideas promoted by the “disruptive innovation” crowd, this is the one that seems to have the most bipartisan support. But a cloud now hangs over such programs because the Education Department’s Office of Inspector General, an independent arm of the agency, has questioned whether such programs run afoul of rules requiring substantial interaction between faculty members and students for programs to receive federal student aid.

The Republican congressional staff. 

The aides who work for committees and individual members do much of the heavy lifting when it comes to forging federal laws, and with the policy locus expected to shift to Capitol Hill, the aides will be the ones in the best position to sweat — and decide — the details. (Higher-education issues aren’t always partisan, so look for some aides on the Democratic side to be key players too.)

American Enterprise Institute, Heritage Foundation, Hoover Institution, Manhattan Institute. 

Policy wonks at each of those right-leaning groups have already begun talking with the transition team, and their ideas are likely to be even more welcome with Republicans in charge of policy.

Federal student aid for education providers that bypass traditional accreditation. 

The Obama administration took steps in that direction with a program known as Equip, but many policy advocates and political leaders around the country are keen to see a lot more of the approach.

Skills training. 

Employer groups continue to decry the five to six million jobs going unfilled in the country because of the so-called skills gap. That alone should kick up the demand for programs that can help young people and adults get more skills.

Jeb Bush. 

Mr. Trump famously mocked the former Florida governor during the campaign as “low energy” before defeating him in the primaries. But as Michael B. Horn, a writer, consultant, and education-company investor notes, Mr. Bush also has close connections to Ms. DeVos through the Foundation for Excellence in Education, which he founded and on whose board she has served.



Rob Whittaker (1940-2016):  CUNY Colleague Passes on!


Dear Commons Community,

It is with sadness that we learned last week that Rob Whittaker, a colleague of ours here are City University of New York had passed on.  George Otte was good enough to notify those of us affiliated with the CUNY School of Professional Studies and to forward the notice below from Lehman College Provost Niki Fayne. Rob was a  professor and administrator at Lehman College for forty-four years.  I had the pleasure of working with Rob with the founding faculty of the CUNY School of Professional Studies in 2006.  Rob was the leader in developing our general education requirements.  As I said when first learning of his passing, I never heard anyone speak so clearly and with so much focus on the types of courses needed for a well-rounded general education as Rob.  I also had the privelege of doing presentations with him on student assessment.  The message below from Provost Fayne captures Rob and his contributions well.



In Memoriam

Dr. Robert T. Whittaker, Jr.

October 21, 1940 – December 13, 2016

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. Robert T. Whittaker, Jr. on Tuesday, December 13, 2016. Dr. Whittaker, affectionately known as “Rob,” retired as Vice Provost for Academic Programs in February 2015 after a 44-year tenure at Lehman College.

Rob earned a B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Indiana University and was first appointed as an assistant professor in the then department of Germanic and Slavic Languages (currently Languages and Literatures) in 1971. His teaching interests included Russian language, literature and culture as well as comparative literature. His research interests were focused on Russian culture and literature, American Russian cultural relations, Russian literary criticism, and Leo Tolstoy. He was instrumental in the development of the City and The Humanities Program in the mid-1970’s as well as numerous other forward-looking academic initiatives over the years. Rob was a dedicated teacher, revered by his students, with a constant eye on rigor motivated by his desire to develop their spectrum of knowledge and intellect.

Over the course of his academic career, Rob rose through the professoriate and served in many academic leadership positions from Department Chair to Assistant Vice President for Undergraduate Studies, Assistant Vice President for Undergraduate Studies and Online Education, and finally, Vice Provost for Academic Programs. He was a dynamic, energetic, and adroit administrator who distinguished himself among all with whom he worked as an accomplished collaborative problem solver.

Condolences and anecdotes are pouring in from Rob’s colleagues and close friends across the college. I would like to share some of these with you in honor and remembrance of Rob:

“We who knew him and worked for him through the years will always cherish his professionalism, his knowledge, his scholarship, and his kindness.”

“He treated all with a gentleness, consideration, and patience that will always be remembered.”

“He cared so much about us, our mission and our students. He was extraordinary.”

Rob is survived by his wife, Katia, and his daughter Sasha. They have requested privacy during this time of grief.

Requiescat in pace!

Dr. Niki Fayne Interim Provost & Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs

Lehman College, 250 Bedford Park Blvd. West Bronx, NY 10468

President Obama Interview on NPR: Why Democrats Lost the Presidential Election!

Dear Commons Community,

There have been an endless number of analyses as to why Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election to Donald Trump.  Yesterday, President Obama weighed in with his opinion.  As reported by Business Insider:

“President Barack Obama on Monday offered one of the most blunt assessments of the Democratic party’s failure to win the White House in 2016, arguing that the party needs to reframe its debates for suburban and rural voters.

In an interview on NPR posted Monday morning, the outgoing president chalked up Hillary Clinton’s popular vote win, but failure to woo voters in more rural states like Wisconsin, Iowa, and Michigan, to structural hurdles based on where Democrats live, as well as the party’s failure to frame the debate for voters.

“We have a scrambled political landscape right now. There are some things that we know are a challenge for Democrats — structural problems. For example, population distribution, oftentimes younger voters, minority voters, Democratic voters, are clustered in urban areas,” Obama said.

The president continued: “As a consequence, you’ve got a situation where there are not only entire states but also big chunks of states where, if we’re not showing up, if we’re not in there making an argument, then we’re going to lose. And we can lose badly, and that’s what happened in this election.”

While he denied that there was anything wrong with the “core argument” of the Democratic message around issues like raising the minimum wage, he admitted that there were “failures on our part to give people in rural areas or in exurban areas, a sense day-to-day that we’re fighting for them or connected to them.”

“Some of it is the prism through which they’re seeing the political debate take place. They may know less about the work that my administration did on trying to promote collective bargaining or overtime rules. But they know a lot about the controversy around transgender bathrooms because it’s more controversial, it attracts more attention,” Obama said.

“I think that on something like the Affordable Care Act, you have people who are benefiting right now from Obamacare who either don’t know it’s Obamacare or consider that as a given and then end up voting on Second Amendment rights. So part of the reason it’s important to show up, and when I say show up, I don’t just mean during election time, but to be in there engaging and listening and being with people, is because it then builds trust and it gives you a better sense of how should you talk about issues in a way that feel salient and feel meaningful to people.”

Obama reflected on his own path to the presidency, noting that he embarked on a conscious effort to connect with suburban and rural voters starting during his election to the US Senate in 2004.

“Even during my low points in the presidency, when, you know, poll numbers were bad and news cycle was critical, people always felt as if I still cared about them — which meant that in 2012, I might still lose the overall vote and some of these counties or some of these voting districts, but I might lose 55-45 or 60-40 rather than 80-20,” Obama said.

The president added: “That’s as a consequence of not only them seeing me in these places but it’s also a consequence of me actually being there and hearing them.”

Obama’s comments on Monday came as Democrats and many on the left continue their autopsy of Clinton’s upset loss to President-elect Donald Trump.”

There is a lot of wisdom and practical advice in the President’s words.  The Democrats took for granted too many suburban and rural voters especially in battleground states.


AAUP:  Reflecting on 2016!

Dear Commons Community,

Rudy Fichtenbaum, President of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), sent the letter below to its membership asking that it be shared with colleagues.



Dear Anthony:

As 2016 draws to a close, we in the AAUP are reflecting on our accomplishments over the past year, as well as on what lies ahead in 2017. Take a look at the work we’ve done and share this video with colleagues on social media.

In 2016, we organized! We added 31 new advocacy and collective bargaining chapters. We vigorously defended academic freedom and shared governance, investigating mass layoffs and program elimination at the College of Saint Rose and due process violations at University of Missouri, Columbia.

Throughout the year, the AAUP opposed attacks on unions and fought to strengthen and expand collective bargaining rights by filing amicus briefs with the courts and the National Labor Relations Board. The NLRB’s ruling allowing graduate student employees to organize was a significant victory and a major step forward for the academic freedom and shared governance rights of graduate employees. With the makeup of the court set to change, however, challenges lie ahead.

As we look to 2017, we keep our core values at the center of our work. We will continue to oppose privatization of our public higher education system and fight for education as a common good, accessible and affordable to all. We will stand against discrimination and fight for an equitable and welcoming educational environment, including working with allies to support  sanctuary campuses.

Best wishes in the new year. We’re glad to have you as part of the AAUP, and look forward to a strong, united 2017.

Rudy Fichtenbaum 
AAUP President

From Doctoral Study to College Administration!

Dear Commons Community,

Jennifer S. Furlong, director of the office of career planning and professional development at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York,  and Julie Miller Vick, retired senior associate director of career services at the University of Pennsylvania, have an advisement piece in today’s Chronicle of Higher Education, for doctoral students considering a career in higher education administration.  Here is an excerpt:

…Julie: Next, start to reorganize your CV into a résumé. You’ll want to both shorten your CV, and reorganize it so that the experience most relevant to the job opening is at the top. (Take a look at our 2013 column, “From CV to One-Page Résumé.”)

Jenny: In recent decades, more degree programs have been created in various aspects of higher-education administration. Some of your competition for administrative jobs will be candidates with master’s degrees in education with a focus on higher education. So it’s not as easy as it used to be for a Ph.D. with little work experience to obtain an administrative position. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be a strong candidate for an administrative job if you have framed your work experience specifically to the opening, so the employer can see and understand how you might fit the job.

Julie: This is also where networking helps. As we say so often, talk with people who are doing the administrative work that interests you. Learn what they or their supervisors look for when they hire. Think about both the work experience and skills you have, and be able to talk about them in relation to the kind of job you want.

There are a wide variety of administrative positions in academe, and as they require different skills and backgrounds, not all of those jobs will be right for you. But you won’t find out which are without exploring and networking…. 

Good practical advice. 



‘Jeopardy’ Champion, Cindy Stowell, Dies Before She Could See Her Triumph on TV!


Dear Commons Community,

As many of my family, friends and colleagues know, the TV shows I watch are news, sports, and Turner Classic movies.  However, I have also been a Jeopardy fan for decades.  My wife and I watch the show regularly and spar with each other over the answers.  So it was a great surprise to read this morning that one of the recent champions, Cindy Stowell, had been appearing on the show knowing she was dying of cancer.  Furthermore, she never was able to see her appearances because she died on December 5, 2016, and her segments aired the following week.  She won four matches and donated her winnings to cancer research.  Here is the New York Times article describing this woman’s incredible story:

“There can’t be many “Jeopardy!” champions easier to root for than Cindy Stowell.

Ms. Stowell has won four times in a row on taped episodes of the quiz show that began broadcasting on Tuesday.

Ms. Stowell has developed a fan base like few other contestants. But she is unable to enjoy her performance on TV, or the outpouring of love from “Jeopardy!” watchers.

That’s because she died on Dec. 5, just over a week before her episodes began showing. She was 41.

When the science content developer from Austin, Tex., began recording her episodes on Aug. 31, she had Stage 4 colon cancer, a fact known by only a few of the show’s staff members and the host, Alex Trebek. Her competitors were unaware.

The show has not announced how long Ms. Stowell’s streak of victories will continue. A “Jeopardy!” champion continues playing until unseated by a contestant. On Friday, she won again, bringing her total prize money to $62,001.

Her boyfriend, Jason Hess, and her relatives Greg Stowell and Carole Stowell said in a statement, “Cindy came on ‘Jeopardy!’ to play the game she loved, and in doing so, she was able to make a contribution to cancer research in the hopes that no one else would have to go through what she did.”

The money will go to the Cancer Research Institute, according to KXAN, a TV station in Austin.

“She knew she wasn’t going to be around, and so she felt like the best thing she could do was try to help do what she could to help get us to a cure faster,” Mr. Hess told the station.

After passing an online contestant test early this year, Ms. Stowell was invited to an audition in Oklahoma City. At that point, she reached out to a producer. “Do you have any idea how long it typically takes between an in-person interview and the taping date? I ask because I just found out that I don’t have too much longer to live,” she wrote, according to the show’s website.

 “The doctor’s best guess is about six months,” she continued. “If there is the chance that I’d be able to still tape episodes of ‘Jeopardy!’ if I were selected, I’d like to do that and donate any winnings to … charities involved in cancer research. If it is unlikely that the turnaround time would be that quick, then I’d like to give up my tryout spot to someone else.”

A producer told her to go to Oklahoma City for the interview, and if she qualified she would be booked three weeks later, the fastest turnaround possible. She competed on painkillers while fighting a blood infection, according to Mr. Hess.

“Competing on ‘Jeopardy!’ was a lifelong dream for Cindy, and we’re glad she was able to do so,” Mr. Trebek said in a statement.

In her first performance, she won $22,801, defeating an editor from Vermilion, Ohio, who had won $107,499 over seven days. She won $8,199 in her second episode, and on Thursday she came from behind, adding $8,600 to her three-day total.

While it’s not unusual for the show to establish back stories for the contestants, the viewers’ knowledge of Ms. Stowell’s condition “is to share a sad secret with her,” Seth Rosenthal wrote at SB Nation.

“I sit in awe of a brilliant woman earning every last dollar she can for the causes dearest to her; building a sum of infinite potential in the face of her own finality,” he said. “I have never rooted harder for anyone to win anything.”



Donald Trump’s Tweet Insulting Vanity Fair Backfires!

Dear Commons Community,

Donald Trump’s tweet insulting Vanity Fair initially seemed like the ordinary example of the president-elect lashing out when he’s displeased by one of the media but this time it appears to have backfired.   As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Trump tweeted Thursday that Vanity Fair was in “big trouble” with “really poor numbers.” (Actually, the circulation has increased in recent years.)

The outburst, likely provoked by a devastating review of Trump’s New York City steakhouse, sparked a surge in subscriptions 100-fold above a usual day, according to Poynter. That set a record for parent company Condé Nast for the most subscriptions any of its magazines has ever sold in a single day, a spokesperson told Poynter.

Vanity Fair routinely publishes stories critical of the president-elect, and publisher Graydon Carter has traded insults with Trump for decades.

But it appears an article by Tina Nguyen, titled “Trump Grill Could Be the Worst Restaurant in America,” rubbed him the wrong way this time. Apart from the unappetizing food, Nguyen mercilessly picks apart the restaurant’s décor, bathrooms, menus, wait staff, and the overall “cheap version of rich” aesthetic. It’s a thoroughly damning critique almost guaranteed to irritate the notoriously thin-skinned president-elect, or as Nguyen calls him, a “shallow, mediocre man.” 

Vanity Fair capitalized on Trump’s attack with tongue-in-cheek ads on its website to subscribe to “the magazine Trump doesn’t want you to read.”  

After Trump tweeted about the magazine, the steakhouse review received 1 million unique views, Vanity Fair told Folio Friday. Other Trump stories on the magazine’s website brought in more than 330,000 visitors, and Vanity Fair gained almost 10,000 new Twitter followers.”  

I was suppose to go Trump’s Grill tonight with my wife but we have decided to cancel our reservation. :))