Sunday, July 31, 2005

Revitalizing the GI Bill for those on active military service: what priorities could be more important?

This evening as I drove home from the country, WETA was broadcasting a program on the GI bill, which helped many World War II veterans to complete a college education and helped some with professional degrees as well. According to the program/s researcher/script writers, the GI not only transformed the lives of many veterans, it transformed the American economy as well. The return on the GI investment, simply in terms of tax revenues, was eight to one.

Among other things, this reminded me that I, too, was the benefit of government scholarships. Much of my undergraduate education at Dartmouth was financed by a “Holloway Plan,” NROTC scholarship, which was followed by five years of military service as an officer in the regular navy. When I left the Navy, I was fortunate to receive a three year National Defense Education Act scholarship, providing tuition and stipend than enabled me to (modestly) support my young family and complete my Ph.D. in political science at the University of Minnesota. Then I received a postdoctoral fellowship from the Social Science Research Council to study mathematics – I think government money was involved in this as well.

What I wanted to express in this blog however, was not biographical information, but a concern about the declining priority that is being given to education at all levels and especially at the University level. If as data on the GI bill seems to attest, higher education is a great investment, why are tuition charges, not only at private universities like AU but at our great state universities like my alma mater, the University of Minnesota creeping inexorably upward? I can assure you it is not because professorial salaries are going through the roof, I can assure you. And why have educational benefits steadily been eroded due to “budgetary pressures.” What provisions of the current energy, transportation and defense bills could possibly be more important?

I will air my views on the egregious problems facing public primary and secondary education in a subsequent blog, but I don’t want to obscure the point of this one.

The GI bill proved that investment in higher education is one of the best investments our country can make. So why have educational benefits – for veterans especially – eroded when, as our President periodically emphasizes, we are at war. Could be because it is mostly poor people, with little political clout are now doing the fighting in America’s “volunteer” army. Could it be that our sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen and women cannot afford to retain high salaried lobbyists who sustain our present culture of legal-institutionalized bribery, targeted political campaign contributions? Could it be that so few of our current crop of political leaders have any serious military experience? (One of my personal heroes, Senator John McCain is a notable exception.) Are there any sons or daughters of Congresspersons and Senators who are presently serving on active duty in Iraq? I’ll bet there isn’t one.

The GI bill has demonstrated that providing inexpensive higher education to all who can use it responsibly is a positive sum investment for our nation. We should begin by making that investment on behalf of the young men and women who are fighting and dying for us on active military service.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Teachers should listen to their students – they might learn something

This morning I had the good fortune to spend an hour with students participating in the STEP program. STEP is an acronym for summer transition program. The program is organized by AU’s office of multicultural affairs.

In organizing an delivering my talk, I did something I never would have done, even five years ago. I spent about half the time connecting with this group of about 40 young men and women by simply asking them about themselves and then listening. I found out that virtually all of them hoped to be married and have children, though there were a couple of strong dissenters. A sizable number – the largest group – hoped to become lawyers. (They were surprised when I told them that in my experience, lawyers were the most dissatisfied with their professional life in mid career). They hated the statistics course they had been compelled to take even though they found the teacher congenial. They simply could not understand him. There was much more.

Then I shared myself – briefly – both my personal and professional life.

When we had finished these interactions we were ready to communicate. They could ask me questions in areas where they know I was interested and I could respond substantively. Questions ranged from my thoughts on the Kashmir conflict in India/Pakistan, to whether it was safe to travel in the Punjab, to my children’s professional lives, to my wife’s interests, to life in the “dorms”. It was a great discussion.

I often participate in discussions about “what students are feeling” and “what students are thinking” and “what students want”. Often no students have been invited to participate in the conversation.

Finding out what students feel, think and want is a foundation of good teaching, which requires communication, connection, empathy and mutual respect.

How does one find out what students feel, think and want? You simply have to ask them and, then, be willing to listen.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Faculty Resident .... who???

The ground floor of Anderson Hall is often populated with groups of parents and students visiting the university. They are being guided by AU students, called Ambassadors, who do a great job of introducing them to our campus from a students perspective. Except for one thing. They almost never mention to parents and students that AU has a full time faculty resident - even when they are only a few yards from my bulletin board and apartement - and the Center for Teaching Excellence, AU's commitment to make excellent teaching a priority is not discussed.

Obviously I have done a less good job than I thought at publicizing these two important university functions for which I am supposed to be providing leadership. Both might help attract students to AU, and appeal to parents, as well.

I need to do something about this!!

Why is blogging harder in the summer?

I'm not exactly sure why finding time to blog in the summer is harder, but it seems to be. There is plenty to write about - most recently a family reunion in New Hampshire - but seems to be less time to write. Possibly it is because I am trying to end the workday earlier, getting out of the office by 9 PM,

Here is a tribute I wrote to AU Professor Lyn Stallings, who recently concluded a three year tenure as Associate Director for Teaching Learning Services of the Center for Teaching Excellence. As my comments suggest, she is the math teacher every student would love to have.

When the time came to appoint a faculty administrator as Associate CTE Director, three years ago, there was one obvious choice, Lyn Stallings. She was, very simply, the best mathematics teacher I had ever encountered, and remains so. Her skills as an administrator were respected throughout the university. She was beginning to stake out a position of national leadership in the field of assessment, which was at the heart of new initiatives in accreditation standards and the measurement of teaching-learning performance.

Lyn brought a wealth of experience, maturity and wisdom, plus ‘outside the box’ creativity to our three year CTE partnership. She organized CTE’s Teaching and Learning Resources Group. She created a context of faculty ownership that revitalized the Ann Ferren Teaching Conference and the Greenberg Seminar Program. She oversaw the growth in Blackboard utilization from 25 per-cent to more than 80 per-cent. She deftly orchestrated a year-long collegial process that produced a new Student Evaluation of Teaching instrument and won Faculty Senate approval for its pilot testing. She helped manage the nearly seamless upgrade from Blackboard version 5.7 to version 6.2. She ensured that faculty points of view were always fully represented in CTE decision making. She effectively presented CTE and her own scholarly research to a wide scholarly community outside of AU.

Throughout her tenure, however, Lyn remained a quintessential faculty-administrator. While actively participating in CTE and its agendas, she continued to sustain an active role in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, the College of Arts and Sciences and University-wide activities. She played a key leadership role in an important University priority, the Task Force on Assessment. She remained a forceful advocate not only for her department but for the College of Arts and Sciences, reminding me periodically of its centrality to AU, when my professional school background appeared to be leading me astray.

I always knew that at some point, Lyn would return to her first love: full-time teaching and scholarly research. Her deep understanding of what it means to be a teacher-scholar and her commitment to that role as a lifetime calling provided the rock-solid foundation for her contributions as CTE Associate Director. And they meant that our partnership would be, alas, too short.

We celebrate Lyn’s return to a full time faculty role, but the customary “Lyn will be missed” falls far short of conveying how much her CTE colleagues will miss her.


Monday, July 11, 2005

Three weeks on the road in Sri Lanka

Sri Lankan Airlines has a new Business Class Lounge, which provides a standard against which the ron-down ness of the old one can be measured. There is a great view the runways - the sun should be coming up soon - and eight computers, with internet connections that work, contrasted with two that often didn't.

This has been a very successful trip. Paradise Poisoned, my book, is a great hit in Sri Lanka a satisfying backlog of orders, two NGOs interested in using the book in their programs and other positive feedback. I gave two lectures, both of which seemed to be well received and there was a newspaper interview that should appear shortly. There was time to visit friends - they are also helping to promote the book and the schedule was not too frantic - mostly. The home where I stay was welcoming as always and I got to know my hostess a bit better.

Publicizing a book in Sri Lanka is a challenge. There is no tradition of doing this and any form of publicizing is viewed with a bit of a jaundiced eye - a tradition inherited from England, though England has now abandoned it.

There is construction at the airport, but check in was very smooth. Later today, Tuesday and Wednesday I will be in London. This is one of my favorite cities. I always stay in the Kensington district which is alive with excellent restaurants and markets, as well as some traditional Pubs, which I like. Of course this is a sad time in London but the Brits are soldiering on. The Lord Mayor said - as reported in Sri Lankan newspapers - that he would be taking the tube to work on Monday morning, just as always. I will be joining him.

There are some advantages to having conflict as a field of study and having some personal experience with civil war and terrorism. Events like the recent London bombings are a bit less daunting, though no less sad. My book has things to say about such events. Getting those who could make a difference to pay attention is the present challenge.

Learning from London

South Kensington, London - 12:15 PM
There is a lot to be learnned from how London is coping with last week's terrorist attacks. It is business as usual, with characteristic stiff upper lips being exhibited by the British. Prime Minister Blair's hour-long presentation in Parliament, widely convered in the papers, was mature, nuanced and articulate. It contrasted, I thought, with the more bellicose, simplistic response given by President Bush in a carefully selected venue, an FBI training institue, chosen to, is is customary, ensure that only supporters would be present in the audience.

Another contrast was the British decision, after 9/11 to support President Bush's declaration that America as 'open for business' with the decision of the US military to prohibit its personnel from traveling within the London Beltway (the A-25 ring road) for 'safety reasons'. This contrast has been widely reported in the British papers, reinforcing perceptions of American unilaterialism and unreliability as a foreign policy ally. Happly the decision is being reconsidered - but after the immediate damage has been done. America's soldiers can learn from the experience of traveling to London - and the lessons are worth learning.

It is a lovely cool day here, constrasting with Colombo's sulty temperatures - though I enjoy those too. I shall take a walk in Hyde Park this afternoon, one of my favorite London passtimes. And I shall certainly join Londoners traveling by tube and bus, when it seems convenient to do so.