Additional Post: Work-life-Balance

After our discussion this past week I believe it is a good idea to outline my views on the subject. These views can be summarized by a quote by David O. McKay nearly 3/4 of a century ago. He writes:

“When one puts business or pleasure above his home, he that moment starts on the downgrade to soul-weakness. When the club becomes more attractive to any man than his home, it is time for him to confess in bitter shame that he has failed to measure up to the supreme opportunity of his life and flunked in the final test of true manhood. “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”

And I believe this. It is important to caveat that I believe in long, hard work, but never to the detriment of family. On the contrary, we should work to the benefit of family whether that a be a family of ten or a family of one. A “work culture” can sometimes reward this brand of imbalance, but it isn’t without cost. Working too much takes it toll, though it may be less apparent initially than the larger bank account or notoriety around the office.

In all aspects of life we can be figuratively fit, well, or sick. We should try to achieve and maintain physical, emotional, spiritual, financial, relationship fitness. To the extent that we can we should attempt to strike a balance among these competing priorities. This is what helps avoid polarization to become a “whole”. Synergistically, when a person becomes fit in one of these aspects the others magically improve in tandem. For a simple example, when a person decides to become more financially responsible she often improves her relationship with her spouse. Then then, magically, she choose to eat better and exercise more. Then she takes time to connect emotionally and spiritually on routine basis.

This is not to say that there will be chapters of our lives where we will need to work more. This could be days, weeks, or on occasion even months. We should be aware of the cost of this polarization and do our best to return to balance as soon as we are able.

So, in summary, it is good to work very very very hard, but to never forget that we are more than our pay check, report card, or professional reputation. We should resist glorifying overwork or allow it to become a part of our identity. Instead we should try to be fit, balanced, and whole.

Additional Post: Prosperity

I would like to share a few thoughts about a book,“Disrupting Class” by Clayton M. Christensen, that I reading right now that is relevant to this class . If you haven’t had the chance to read it, I strongly recommend it. The book is well-researched and very insightful on the state of higher education today and offers a few possible directions it might go in the near future.

On page 9 of the introduction the book quotes John Adams. It says:

“I must study politics and war that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history, naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry and porcelain.”

This last group, the group that has the freedom to pursue whatever they find interesting, seems to be a pretty good description of the Millennial Generation, my generation. We live in a prosperous time and should do all that we can to distribute prosperity. We were raised by the Baby Boomers, who were raised by the WWII generation. The WWII generation (if we are speaking in terms of the collective in this period, not individuals) were forced to war and had fewer options at education and career choice. Many of them worked in trade jobs their entire lives because they had little chance to further their education that was disrupted by the political conditions of the time. My great grandfather was one of them. After he came back from WWII he was a painter. Because he was a painter his whole life he made sure that his four sons had the chance to go to college to study engineering, math, science, business, etc. His son, my grandfather, the first of his family to go college studied physics. A little later my father went to college to study engineering. Both physics and engineering are intensely difficult subjects to study. I took one course in statics and one course in introductory physics….and no more. My grandfather and father studied these subjects because these fields provide lucrative employment opportunities, and not necessarily because they are in love with the second law of thermodynamics. Because of their hard work and sacrifice I was recipient of opportunities that my progenitors never had. For possibly the first time in my family history, I had the chance to study WHATEVER I wanted. What a privilege that was! Also, what a responsibility.

I now have two daughters and I will encourage them to study what they are interested in and what they can become gainfully employed in. I want them to be able to pursue prosperity, however they define it, and to pass it on to their children and neighbors, in even greater abundance than they received it.

The Future of the University

If I were able to change one thing about higher education it would be the price. Higher education has been, is, and is projected to be, too expensive. I would like to share a portion of my end-of-term paper for this class that touches on this topic.

State-level policy makers and academic leadership have failed to implement controls or strategies that make higher education affordable. This is true even for the states that have made the most progress in making college affordable and if the current trajectory remains unchanged “opportunity through higher education will be a false promise” for future generations. (Finney, 2016) While the typical family income has done well to stay ahead of average monetary inflation, it is no match for the inflation rate of higher education. (Odland, n.d.) Since the mid-1980s the consumer price index has increased by roughly 115% while the cost of higher education has increased by nearly 500% ( Odland, n.d. ) Even after inflation is accounted for the cost of college is double what it was in in 80s. (Maldonado, n.d.) Digging deeper, the severity of the problem becomes even more apparent. In the past 30 years, since 1989, the cost of higher education rose eight times faster than the wage rate which has effectively remained unchanged over that time period. (Maldonado, n.d. ) Unfortunately, the outlook doesn’t improve by looking at the past decade in isolation. The data shows that since 2009 the cost of an undergraduate education, including tuition, fees, room, and board, rose 34 percent at public institutions and 26 percent for private. (National Center for Education Stasitics, n.d.)

So, as you can see, I have done a very good job being a problem identifier without risking being a problem solver. Nevertheless, awareness is the first step. My estimation that any real and meaningful solutions to higher education will be uncomfortably disruptive.

References:

Finney, J. E. (n.d.). 2016 College Affordability Diagnosis: National Report, 41. Retrieved from https://repository.upenn.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1481&context=gse_pubs

National Cetner for Education Statistics (n.d.). The NCES Fast Facts Tool provides quick answers to many education questions Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=76

Maldonado, C. (n.d.). Price Of College Increasing Almost 8 Times Faster Than Wages. Retrieved February 15, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/camilomaldonado/2018/07/24/price-of-college-increasing-almost-8-times-faster-than-wages/

Odland, S. (n.d.). College Costs Out Of Control. Retrieved February 18, 2019, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/steveodland/2012/03/24/college-costs-are-soaring/


Tech & innovation in Higher Education: Professors & Online Learning

My comments in this post come from the Quartz article posted below titled US professors aren’t getting any more accepting of online learning—but students definitely are published in February 2016 by Amy X. Wang.

https://qz.com/612592/us-professors-arent-getting-any-more-accepting-of-online-learning-but-students-definitely-are/

https://www.theatlas.com/charts/E1mBYbG5e

The article speaks about the reaction that faculty in higher education has to online learning. It makes the argument that faculty have, over time, clearly
expressed that they simply don’t want the new technology. This could because they believe it “diminishes the quality of teaching or even their paychecks [but either way] they aren’t getting much of a say.” The article goes on to use this example to criticize that universities are being run like businesses from the top down.

I am somewhat skeptical of these explanations. There is a natural conflict asking professors to judge the automization of their own jobs. It is like asking truckers if they want self-driving trucks. Also, the “administrators” in the “top-down” decision making structure are often professors themselves. The article doesn’t disclose this making it seem like “administrators” are exclusively the back-office money people, with little interest in faculty input. This is almost never the case.

Regardless of the analysis provided by the author of this popular media piece, the research is clear that online learning has remained flat over the 13 years observed. As a final thought, I wonder if other technologies like Powerpoint, learning management systems, web-conferencing, etc. had similar trouble launching in the same university environment.

Safe Spaces & Brave Spaces – Home & School

In light of the recent free speech executive order, the topic of safe spaces on college campuses has become more prevalent in popular and news media sources. What I have read has inspired a few thoughts that I would like to share. I believe that college should generally be a relatively uncomfortable place, not because discomfort is the objective in itself, rather because it is the natural result of growth and progress. In the college environment I should be challenged to think in new and different ways. I should be exposed to a diversity of thought that is foreign to my own. I should be presented new ideas that enrich my perspective and broaden my view. In summary, the classroom should be the arena, not the spa.

I also believe it is important to have a controlled environment, call it a “safe space”, to consider in my own way what I have learned in the classroom. This safe space should be my home, a familiar place where I am can close the door and be left to mentally digest what I have learned.

I have two daughters, one of which will be going to kindergarten in the coming months. I know school will be a place where she is confronted with new ideas that may be uncomfortable. I am glad this the case. It is for her good. Also, I am glad that she has a safe and familiar home to return to at the end of each school day. It is my responsibility to provide her with both places and support and guide her as best that I can.

Higher Education

The scandals in higher education have brought to the forefront a topic that affects all of us who are looking at a career in higher education. This is the value and purpose of going to college, and for the topic of inclusive pedagogy, it highlights the accessibility problems that currently plague higher education overall. An NBC poll from 2017 says show that 47 percent of respondents believe that a college degree is not worth the cost “because people often graduate without specific job skills and with a large amount of debt to pay off”. This is an increase from 40 percent in 2013 who said that college is not worth it. Zooming in further, this number jumps to 57 percent when the responses are narrowed to the 18-34 age category.

Beyond the surveys, the College Learning Assessment (CLA) corroborates the NBC poll. In 2017, the CLA reported that “only minimal learning gains are derived from the college experience,” and when detectable, these gains were considered to be “statistically modest” Expressly, the CLA results showed that 45 percent of students failed to demonstrate any statistically significant improvement in assessment performance over the first two years of college. Further, 36 percent of students failed to show statistically significant improvements over all four years of college

These perceptions, displayed by the survey, and the quality, demonstrated by recent CLA data justify the failing trust that the public has in higher education. Nevertheless, it is well-established that, in general, higher education continues to be a good financial investment. The question is, for how long?

Let me know your thoughts. Thanks.

NBC Report: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/first-read/americans-split-whether-4-year-college-degree-worth-cost-n799336

CLA Report: https://www.aacu.org/liberaleducation/2017/winter/neuman

Open Access

The open access journal that I have found is the Construction Science. It is a peer-reviewed, journal established with the Riga Technical University in Latvia. The journal is published in English and it

“aims at publishing results of research concerning topical issues in development of advanced materials, constructions and technologies, recycled product application, ecological (“green”) and energy efficient materials in civil engineering. It provides information on recent research in various branches of civil engineering carried out by researchers at Riga Technical University and in collaboration with partners abroad. The journal covers the following sectors of Construction science:

Building Materials and Building Technology;

Building Mechanics;

Building Constructions;

Heat, Gas and Water Engineering Systems;

Composite Materials in Civil Engineering.”

The journal didn’t mention anything specific about being dedicated to open access; however, it did mention that it is part of “a growing community of Similarity Check System’s users in order to ensure that the content published is original and trustworthy. Similarity Check is a medium that allows for comprehensive manuscripts screening, aimed to eliminate plagiarism and provide a high standard and quality peer-review process.” So it seems that it is part of the information reform movement generally, but on a different front than explicitly open access.

I have noticed that many of the journals that are included in the open access category are foreign. If I am right, that a disproportionate amount of the journals are foreign, rather than Domestic United States journals, I wonder why this is the case. If anybody has insight or additional knowledge please let me know your thoughts.

Thoughts About Tenure

A good portion of the last class session focused on the subject of tenure in higher education. I have mixed feelings about tenure. I will first explain the benefits of tenure as I understand them and then the drawbacks. I am sure there is more to the story than I know, so feel free to point out the parts that I am missing.

Benefits: The greatest benefit of tenure is that it allows professors to pursue knowledge without the fear of committing “heresy” (i.e. carrying a belief that is contrary to the norm). Academics are supposed to think differently. They are supposed to propose plausible alternatives to the way things are done. Alternatives can be threatening to individuals or institutions that are benefiting from the way things are. Often, in academics these individuals are your peers and the institution is your employer. Tenure is supposed to grant a level of enmity between you and them if your ideas are determined to be disruptive. Also, tenure will help professors stay in place at a university long enough to build the program. It helps avoid creating “franchise scholars” that follow the money from the highest bidder. Professors often win large sums of grant money, produce influential research, make powerful connections, and build excellent reputations. Bidding wars could begin to entice professors to come work at other universities bringing their reputation and connections with them. It is difficult to build strong programs if professors are moving to new places after every grant runs out.

Drawbacks: Professors get comfortable. I imagine that anybody who has looked closely at higher education knows, or knows of, a tenured professor that loses ambition. I have had classes where I sit in front of a professor who is dishing the class a PowerPoint presentation from 2003 and isn’t at all interested in this batch of students. Also, tenure gives higher education a bad public perception. The public already feels that higher education is far too expensive (and I agree with them), and the idea that professors are nearly immune from termination doesn’t help. I read last week that a few years ago nearly half of Harvard’s 48 History professors were on paid sabbatical for the entire year. This doesn’t help public perception of higher education. Lastly, and most importantly, I plan on being a college professor someday and I don’t like the idea that if one of my peers is consistently under-performing that the department isn’t able to swiftly take action to replace that individual. Higher education seems to be unique in this regard. When I was working in the construction industry for a general contractor, if a member of the staff wasn’t measuring up repeatedly and warned repeatedly, they were removed and replaced. This is how it should be. It wasn’t doing that person any favor to allow him or her to remain in an environment where they weren’t interested in their work or doing a good job. Its a bummer when somebody is fired, but it becomes necessary for the good of the organization, the people in it, and, arguably, the person that is being removed.

Ethics Cases, How Disappointing to Read.

I investigated the case of Smart, Eric J.

https://ori.hhs.gov/index.php/case-summary-smart-eric-j

The background of the case is that Eric J. Smart at the University of Kentucky “engaged in research misconduct by falsifying and/or fabricating data that were included in ten (10) published papers, one (1) submitted manuscript, seven (7) grant applications, and three (3) progress reports over a period of ten (10) years. Respondent reported experimental data for knockout mice that did not exist in five (5) grant applications and three (3) progress reports and also falsified and/or fabricated images in 45 figures”.

In response Dr. Smart has agreed to a voluntary exclusion agreement for the period of seven years starting in October 2012. In other words, he is admitting to wrong doing and is facing negotiated consequences. The details of the agreement can be read about on the site, but in summary he has agreed to withdraw from receiving any public funding for work, has removed himself from any leadership positions within the professional community, and is retracting much of his work that has already been published fraudulently.

After briefly reading through a few other ethics cases I have learned that this one involving Dr. Smart at the University of Kentucky isn’t unique, which is quite a shocking discovery for me. I had always assumed that researchers would be more compelled by persevering their character, morality and ethical inquiry than by professional ambition or reputation. I guess that reveals my naivety. Furthermore, after reading the case, I assumed that because Dr. Smart’s work involved health research, he would be much more inclined to be honest. Seems that I assumed wrong.

This all reminds me of the importance of creating a work environment that make it difficult or impossible to misbehave (commit fraud in this case) in. For example, I learned in my college accounting class the importance of putting in place good “controls” that make it very difficult for anyone in an organization from mishandling money. These controls aren’t intended to create a work environment where everyone is suspicious of each other, rather it is to watch out and care for each other. No one is perfectly immune poor decision making and in some circumstances even the best people can tempted above that which they are able to resist. You never know the pressure on a persons life that might make him or her do something stupid. It seems that Dr. Smart has done many good things in his professional life to land him a top spot at a great university, but it also seems that he wasn’t provided the necessary controls and oversight to help him make the right decisions every time. Its a lesson to me to place these controls for myself and for the people that I am responsible for caring about.

Mission Statements

Brigham Young University (BYU) Mission Statement

to assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life. That assistance should provide a period of intensive learning in a stimulating setting where a commitment to excellence is expected and the full realization of human potential is pursued.”

BYU is where I completed my undergraduate degree. I love the university and had a wonderful experience attending there. Though imperfect, as all institution are, BYU gets many things right where others fall short. I have never been around a group of good-willed, focused, and inspiring young adults as I have at BYU. BYU is a Christian university, being owned and operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s mission statement is focused on ensuring that the university’s culture remains focused on the character development of the student body. Admittedly, this can feel cumbersome at times, but all students are aware of the requirements before enrolling.

Above all, I appreciate how BYU’s mission statement centers on a purpose-focused life. In a time where the emerging generations seem less connected with a sense of purpose, this mission statement reminds the student body that they, like all others in the world, have a divine identity as children of God. Nothing instills enduring self-worth like the acknowledgement of this important truth. It shifts focus from the short-lived and short-sighted, pleasure-based ROIs, towards eternal pursuits like family, faith, and secular and religious education.

In summary, because of my faith I know who I am now, and who I eventually want to become. I am grateful for the time spent at BYU that allowed me the space and grace to fail enough times to realize this.

Virginia Tech Mission Statement

“Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) is a public land-grant university serving the Commonwealth of Virginia, the nation, and the world community. The discovery and dissemination of new knowledge are central to its mission. Through its focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement, the university creates, conveys, and applies knowledge to expand personal growth and opportunity, advance social and community development, foster economic competitiveness, and improve the quality of life. “

I have only been at Virginia Tech for a few short months. So far, I am impressed with the University. Mostly I am impressed by the faculty. I am impressed by their commitment to their work and I am convinced that in some small and indirect way is a result of the mission statement posted above.

I particularly am impressed by how the mission statement focuses on the individual. The phrase ” Through its focus on teaching and learning, research and discovery, and outreach and engagement, the university creates, conveys, and applies knowledge to expand personal growth and opportunity…” I believe in this, that the individual must remain at the center of efforts. It is my observation that institution that lose sight of the individual are on the path to losing its soul. This is true for universities, businesses, governments, and religious institutions. It is good to see that this focus on the individual is enshrined in the missions statement of the university.