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  • Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Friday Fragments
July 19, 2012 - 9:21pm

The Girl brought a hardcover copy of my dissertation to me as I was typing.

TG: Daddy, did you write this?

DD: Yes.

TG: So you just wrote your second book?

DD: Well, no.  That’s my dissertation, not a book.

TG: What’s a dissertation?

DD: It’s like a really, really long paper that you have to write to get your Ph.D.

TG: Who are the characters?

DD: It doesn’t really have characters.  It’s more like an article.

TG: That’s a long article.  It has a cover like a book.

DD: Yes, it does.

TG: But it’s not a book?

DD: No.

TG: That’s silly.

Smart girl.

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Last week, we spent a few days in Burlington, Vermont.  (If you were there, you might have seen me.  I was the white guy.)  Gotta say, we were all impressed.  It’s a very walkable town -- even if it has “too much uphillness,” as The Girl put it -- and the food is amazing.  Lots of “locally grown,” organic, and vegetarian offerings to be had.

Lake Champlain was a treat, too.  TG was hopeful that we’d see Champ, the local answer to the Loch Ness Monster.  We didn’t, but the beach was fun and the water warm.  

We also made the ceremonial trips to the Ben and Jerry’s factory and the Vermont Teddy Bear factory for TG’s birthday.  Ben and Jerry’s was smaller than I had pictured it, but it put on a good show.  The Teddy Bear factory looked more factory-ish, but was still fun.

If you haven’t been there, Vermont looks different.  Part of that is the complete absence of billboards, which makes more of a difference than you’d think.  And part of it is a certain economy of language.  I laughed out loud when I saw signs on the highway that just said “Moose.”  Not “Moose Xing” or “Moose, Five Miles,” just “Moose.”  You had to fill in the rest.  Navigational cues there are generally, well, understated, but “Moose” really captured it.


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I read with interest that the City College of San Francisco may need “special” trustees to come in and right the ship.  Folks who’ve been following the development of “emergency fiscal managers” in Michigan, or even the municipal bankruptcies in California, will have a sense of deja vu.  

It’s not entirely clear just what powers the emergency trustees would have.  Given the issues faced by CCSF, they’d have to be pretty drastic.  In the absence of a funding model in which growth more than pays for itself, I’m guessing that some forced programmatic shrinkage is on the horizon.  Since “shared governance’ models are historically unsuccessful at dealing with shrinkage, it will probably have to be done top-down.  

If they’re smart, they’ll tie the decisions of which programs to keep, at least in part, to the willingness of the faculty in those programs to get with the assessment program.  (Obviously, employability, transferability, and graduation rates should matter, too.) That way, faculty in the various departments will have some ability to control their own fates.  That won’t solve every issue -- departments with strong ged ed presence, like English and math, aren’t going anywhere -- it should at least generate enough progress on key indicators to get the accreditors to back off for a while.  Done right, it might even set the stage for eventual improvement, which is kind of the point.

Either way, though, this is the (admittedly large) canary in the coal mine of California’s public higher education system.  You can’t run a college like the Paris Commune in an anti-tax state forever.  This is one of those cases in which both sides are wrong, and the likeliest outcome is unlikely to address the real problem.  But if the emergency can get some drastic structural changes enacted -- including a complete re-do of the funding system -- then it’s at least possible to have hope.  

For now, I have hope.  And if someone in authority in California is looking for a thoughtful out-of-state observer with actual community college administrative experience and a long history of writing on higher ed issues to provide input, well, I check my inbox frequently...

 

 

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