Sunday, February 26, 2006

End of productive weekend

I really do need the change of scene and change of pace that even a brief trip to Hume provides. My work, with workdays that begin with my morning AV briefing at about 6AM and often don’t conclude until after ten can leave me quite wrung out by Friday afternoon, with many household chores, like laundry and vacuuming still undone. Sometimes I drive to the country late Friday evening, but for the last two weekends, I have waited until Saturday morning. This weekend there were two reports to write, a Saturday evening ‘Renaissance Dinner’ sponsored by our small congregation and a baptismal church service on Sunday morning. The words of this powerful service are worth sharing, but I don’t have my personal copy of the Book of Common Prayer. I must order one.

This evening was my third faculty-student dinner. 12 students showed up, though there were no sign ups yesterday. We had good discussions about legalizing marijuana and reinstating the draft.

My lids are drooping, so I must conclude. Matter over mind – it happens!
I drifted off with hands on the key board. Tomorrow is another day and a busy one.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

"I am only one..."

The following is quotation from Edward Everett Hale, in a volume entitled 'Masterpieces of Religious Verse' (Thanks to University Librarian Diana Vogelsong for the reference. It has hung over my various desks at AU for more than 30 years. It seems worth quoting as a counterpoint to my two notes on 'drift to low performance' just written.

I am only one,
but still I am one.

I cannot do everything, but I still can do

And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.

'Drift to Low Performance' Part II. A Shorn Tree Trunk on Our Mall

AU’s center-of-campus mall is made more beautiful by two rows of giant, venerable trees that grace the sidewalks on each side. But one day, last August, tragedy struck. A heavy limb fell from one these giants and struck a student.

The authorities’ response was swift and draconian. Within a few hours a chain saw equipped platoon materialized and soon, the tree was shorn of every remaining limb. The remaining limbs did not look rotted, but I lack the professional expertise to judge. I do know that on my own property in the country, one rotted limb does not imply all rotted limbs. It almost seemed as if the tree was being treated like an ill-tempered horse that was dispatched with a bullet to the head after throwing – and perhaps injuring - its rider. It seemed as if the tree was being punished for its transgression.

That is not the point of this note, however. The point is that, after some months, the shorn trunk remains, towering above us, standing in mute testimony to remind us of last August’s events. When I walk by on most mornings, I scarcely notice it. It has become an accepted part of our current reality.

'Drift to Low Performance,' Part I. My five-plus months without a functioning microwave oven

Now that I am teaching systems-analysis computer modeling once again, I often find myself viewing mundane events of everyday life through the lens of systems analysis principles. Last evening I was relaxing in my kitchen, having completed my 8:10 – 10:40 class. I was contemplating my moribund microwave oven, which has been awaiting repairs for more that five months. A systems analysis principle called ‘drift to low performance’ came, unbidden, to mind.

Drift to low performance is a tendency in human beings and human organizations to incrementally downgrade expectations to a current reality, however unsatisfactory, rather than consistently striving to bring current reality up to our expectations.

I like to view myself as someone who can work with others at American University to overcome obstacles and produce needed results. Often this requires working outside of normal channels. But my broken microwave did not seem to merit back channel interventions on my part. Rather I chose to follow ‘normal procedures’. Oneof my goals was to test whether complaints about slow responses to repair requests that I frequently heard from students had any basis. And, truth to tell, I was a bit lazy about following up . Perhaps, subconsiously, I felt a bit guilty about mobilizing my contacts and using my influence for a project that had no goal other than my own personal convenience and comfort.

Instead of taking action, I have accepted a drift to low performance. . As readers can see I have become a good rationalizer. My view of a current reality that once concerned me has shifted.

I am viewing my glass as far more than 'half full'. I recognize that the circumstances of my life are quite good, even without microwave cooking. I could be in Darfor or Baghdad. What right to I have to complain or seek redress? I do most of my cooking from scratch in any case or simply take a quick snack at the end of the day. I know that those responsible for repairs – and their managers too – are good, capable people. Some are my friends. They have other more pressing priorities, no doubt. .

But I must see=k to remain vigilant, so that the drift to low performance habit does not infect other aspects of my life, especially professional commitments, or become an accepted norm for those who work with me in the Center for Teaching Excellence. And when students tell me how difficult it is to get something repaired in our residence halls I will need to be more sympathetic and empathetic

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Are American's capable of torture? Do human rights matter?

This evening, as I was getting ready to return to my office, a Public Radio special played the testimony of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer the 1964 Democratic Convention. Ms. Hamer’s crime was attempting to register to vote in the state of Missisissippi, USA. Here is what she said.

"On the 10th of September 1962, sixteen bullets was fired into the home of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Tucker for me. That same night two girls were shot in Ruleville, Mississippi. Also Mr. Joe McDonald's house was shot in.
And June the 9th, 1963, I had attended a voter registration workshop; was returning back to Mississippi. Ten of us was traveling by the Continental Trailway bus. When we got to Winona, Mississippi, which is Montgomery County, four of the people got off to use the washroom, and two of the people - to use the restaurant - two of the people wanted to use the washroom.
The four people that had gone in to use the restaurant was ordered out. During this time I was on the bus. But when I looked through the window and saw they had rushed out I got off of the bus to see what had happened. And one of the ladies said, "It was a State Highway Patrolman and a Chief of Police ordered us out."
I got back on the bus and one of the persons had used the washroom got back on the bus, too.
As soon as I was seated on the bus, I saw when they began to get the five people in a highway patrolman's car. I stepped off of the bus to see what was happening and somebody screamed from the car that the five workers was in and said, "Get that one there." When I went to get in the car, when the man told me I was under arrest, he kicked me.
I was carried to the county jail and put in the booking room. They left some of the people in the booking room and began to place us in cells. I was placed in a cell with a young woman called Miss Ivesta Simpson. After I was placed in the cell I began to hear sounds of licks and screams, I could hear the sounds of licks and horrible screams. And I could hear somebody say, "Can you say, 'yes, sir,' nigger? Can you say 'yes, sir'?"
And they would say other horrible names.
She would say, "Yes, I can say 'yes, sir.'"
"So, well, say it."
She said, "I don't know you well enough."
They beat her, I don't know how long. And after a while she began to pray, and asked God to have mercy on those people.

And it wasn't too long before three white men came to my cell. One of these men was a State Highway Patrolman and he asked me where I was from. I told him Ruleville and he said, "We are going to check this."
They left my cell and it wasn't too long before they came back. He said, "You are from Ruleville all right," and he used a curse word. And he said, "We are going to make you wish you was dead."
I was carried out of that cell into another cell where they had two Negro prisoners. The State Highway Patrolmen ordered the first Negro to take the blackjack.
The first Negro prisoner ordered me, by orders from the State Highway Patrolman, for me to lay down on a bunk bed on my face.
I laid on my face and the first Negro began to beat. I was beat by the first Negro until he was exhausted. I was holding my hands behind me at that time on my left side, because I suffered from polio when I was six years old.
After the first Negro had beat until he was exhausted, the State Highway Patrolman ordered the second Negro to take the blackjack.
The second Negro began to beat and I began to work my feet, and the State Highway Patrolman ordered the first Negro who had beat me to sit on my feet - to keep me from working my feet. I began to scream and one white man got up and began to beat me in my head and tell me to hush.
One white man - my dress had worked up high - he walked over and pulled my dress - I pulled my dress down and he pulled my dress back up.
I was in jail when Medgar Evers was murdered.
All of this is on account of we want to register, to become first-class citizens. And if the Freedom Democratic Party is not seated now, I question America. Is this America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where we have to sleep with our telephones off the hooks because our lives be threatened daily, because we want to live as decent human beings, in America?

Thank you."

Raising College Loan Costs: It's more than a bad policy

Truth in advertising must come first. I am in the education business. But in the sometimes murky, contentious business of social economic research, surely one relationship stands as fact. Expenditures on education benefit society and expenditures on educating those who cannot afford an education benefit society most of all. Rather than marshalling statistics, which I could most certainly do, I rather wish to point to two uniquely American success stories: the Land Grant Colleges and the GI Bill of Rights.

The Land Grant College Program, established by the Morill Act provided the foundation for the USA’s system of state universities. It underwrote an ethic of community-service oriented university education that was unique in the world and remains so today. Hundreds of thousands of Americans have received educations from these institutions, changing their lives and American society. The GI bill made it possible for thousands of veterans, returning home after World War II, to receive and education, transforming their lives and fueling the post World War economic expansion that established American Economic preeminence.

Recently it was announced that as part of the ‘deficit reduction act’ student loan charges would increase from about 4.5 per-cent to more than 7 per-cent. This is yet another facet of declining educational opportunities for those least able to pay, that begins with substandard public schools in our cities and continues through a system of university education that disproportionately favors those with high income levels.

More truth in advertising: I have been a beneficiary of the commitment to good education for all that is being destroyed by today’s misplaced priorities. My undergraduate studies at Dartmouth College was largely funded by the Holloway Plan, which financed the education of prospective US Navy career officers. My graduate education at a great Land Grant College, the University of Minnesota, was largely funded by the National Defense Education Act. (Am I an educational product of the military industrial complex?)

I know I will see the impact of rising loan costs on some of the young women and men with whom my life is deeply intermingled: the residents of AU’s Anderson Hall.

Raising college loan costs in the name of deficit reduction is not only bad policy, it is un American

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Reflections on my Honda's 20th year

I was filling out my personal property tax earlier today and noted the model year of my Honda Civic: 1986. This is my car’s 20th year, though it has only been with me since the spring of 1989. This considerable feat of longevity speaks well of Honda engineering and of the service provided by Brown Arlington Honda service consultant Jeffrey Deemer, who has been my contact throughout.

At a time when one of America’s “big three” is now owned by a German company and the other two are flirting with bankruptcy, it is worth reflecting on the attention to detail and reliability that this durable car embodies.

I never owned a Ford but had several GM vehicles. Every one had quality control and reliability problems. Sometimes, GM was forthcoming in remedying defects, but in many instances, the response fell somewhere on a continuum between indifference and outright duplicity. With one notable exception, my experience with Honda service has been entirely different.

In my opinion the problems Ford and GM are facing have everything to do with quality control, customer service and a failure to unflinchingly adhere to high ethical standards. They have little to do with the high wages and health care costs of their employees.

My 20 year old Honda has lessons to offer GM and Ford senior executives. But I have no expectations at all that they will be willing to learn them.

And when, not without sadness, I must buy a new car, it will be a Honda.

The Big One

We rarely escape winter in DC without at least one major snowstorm. Some years ago, when I was between marriages, my son and I (he was an AU junior and senior) shared an apartment in the Berkshire’s sixth floor, overlooking Mass Avenue. Warm and cozy, possibly with a drink in hand, we would look out our window and watch commuters attempting to slide their way home with a certain air of smug superiority. Possibly, we would take a short walk together. Our footfalls might be the first to imprint the new snow.

I could have spent a cozy weekend in Anderson Hall, but there were obligations in Hume, despite my wife’s periodic reminders that I am a ‘city person.’ I wrapped up work about 8, took a brief nap, stopped to buy groceries for Sunday night’s chicken curry dinner (with vegetarian option) and arrived in Hume about 1AM, exhausted, but glad of the break. The first flakes were just beginning to fall. Saturday morning, there was shopping and now I am catching up on such mundane chores as bill paying and tax preparation.

The view from my second floor ‘silo’ study bears little resemblance to Mass. Avenue. Surrounding paddocks are an unblemished white. My neighbor, ‘Mike’ who revels in opportunities to drive his tractor is plowing the ‘private’ road we share with our few neighbors. No city services here! Last night our priest called to say that there would me no morning services at Leeds Chruch. Personal service! Foresightedly, I did park my car close to Leeds Manor road, which should be plowed. The snowfall is dwindling and the sky brightening, as forecasters predicted.

after mid-day I will hike up to my car, dig it out and (hopefully) join other weekend commuters, slipping and sliding back to city life.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Center for Teaching Excellence Management Group Agenda

Four assistant and associate directors report to me as Director, Center for Teachng Excellece. As some readers will know, CTE is responsible for much of 'academic computing,' for facilitating and celelbrating good teaching and for audiovisual support services of all classes and university events. In addition to regular duties, each manager has a regular professional development project, which is what we will be discussing tomorrow.

Here is the agenda for tomorrow's meeting.

Management Group Agenda
February 8, 2007
Review of Professional Development Activities

[there is also a weekly quotation, but it didn't copy]

Good News
Updates for the CTE Calendar
Report from the University Library
Urgent items and announcements
Reports on professional development activities (4 min, with 2-3 minutes for questions)
[NOTE: The goal of these reports is to share what would be useful to other Management Group members. In planning your presentation, consider the following questions – I am not suggesting that you need to answer any or all of them specifically.]
• Since our last professional development meeting, what has been the focus of my professional development activities and why?
• Where do these activities fall on my professional development trajectory?
• What did I learn and accomplish?
• How will it make a difference, and to whom?
• What is its relationship to the work of CTE?

CTE Priority Projects (No reports – this is a partial list).
Fund raising; external support
Expanding the New Media Center
Envisioning and implementing CTE’s role in distance education at AU
Strengthening CTE’s Performance Management and Assessment Data Base by expanding its coverage, strengthening benchmarking and assessment and making it more user friendly
Creating, funding and institutionalizing a CTE customer relationship data base
Creating and funding a CTE Endowment Account
Strengthening and institutionalizing CTE’s role in videoconferencing
Institutionalizing the Teaching with Technology Award as a CTE responsibility – to be discussed

Upcoming Events and Dates
• 02 09 Provost’s Council
• 02 09 JR Dinner with ......
• 02 13 IT Security Task Force Meeting
• 02 15 Noontime Conversation: Teaching Our Best Students
• 02 22 Luncheon for Tenure Track Faculty – teaching evaluations
• 02 23 Provost’s Council
• 02 23 JR monthly meeting with Interim Provost Broder
• Spring Board of Trustees Meetings Feb 23, 24 ; May 18, 19
• 02 24 SSRL Seminar
• 02 27 Facilities Task Force meeting
• 03 24 SSRL Seminar

My full day

My day
Once a week is not enough to write – but writing something that even attempts to be profound takes time. At 12:30 PM, I haven’t the energy. So here is a typical dormgrandpop Tuesday.
7 AM - Tennis and meeting on AU issues with SIS Dean
11 AM – Meeting with Sri Lankan attorney and Hubert Humphrey fellow on her year project. She has been at AU since August, researching conflict in Sri Lanka, and it took her this long to find out that I was year as a resource to help with her work. Interesting.
12 PM Brief meeting with staff members; answer emails
1:35 PM Bike to AU Wisconsin Avenue Annex for OIT Director’s meeting.
4:00 PM Private meeting with OIT Executive Director
4:45 Meet with staff and try to catch up on accumulated emails, without much success
5:40 Anderson Hall ‘Office Hours’ - Meeting with Honors student on final project which I am advising. Subject is a film on perceptions of terrorists. Meeting with graduate students on a computer modeling projects studying the impact of CO2 emissions control policies in Portland Oregon and the surrounding county.
8:30 Dinner. Prepare for systems analysis course; review student projects
9:30 Floor program in Letts Hall on dealing with differences in political attitudes.
10:30 Try to catch up on a pile of unanswered emails
11:00 Anderson Hall Resident Assistant Staff Meeting
12:15. Start writing this Blog
It was cold but a beautiful day for biking from main campus to the annex. No need to put the bike aside in cold weather.
Good night!