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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
March 7, 2013 - 10:22pm

Bruce Leslie, the Chancellor of Alamo Colleges, has a provocative piece on the Huffington Post in which he foretells the end of community colleges.  While it’s easy to argue with this particular or that one, the point that resonates is that we need to move beyond the “mini-university” model.  

As I get older, I’m increasingly convinced that much of what gets explained, after the fact, as intentional was actually either accidental or the product of unthinking habit.  Community colleges were mostly established within a fairly narrow span of years, which coincided with the halcyon days of state universities.  Much of what we now assume to be “normal” dates from that period.  

The problem with unexamined assumptions is that when they get called into question, it feels like a rude shock.  People don’t always do their best work when recovering from a rude shock.

I’d venture to say that the future of community colleges hinges on the ability to recover from the shock and adapt to the new world.  The real threat is misguided reverence for the past.  The past was just as improvised as the present; we’ve just forgotten.

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The Boy did us proud this week.  For purposes of this story, I’ll call his friend Sarah, because that is not her name.  He was at Sarah’s house -- our families are friendly -- when Sarah let slip that a boy in her school had texted her to ask her out.  She didn’t have any particular feeling about the boy, but she was thinking about saying yes just because she could.

TB responded thusly: “No class.  If a boy wants to ask you out, he should ask you to your face.”  

Sarah agreed, and dropped the idea.  Now Sarah’s Mom is TB’s biggest fan, and I’m fairly bursting with pride.  He encouraged Sarah to have higher standards, sending the message that she deserved to be treated with respect.  And he did it without coaching.  Go, TB!

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This is both brilliant and preposterous.  In response to the terrible job market for new lawyers, Arizona State’s law school is establishing its own firm to hire its own graduates.  In a sense, it’s a sort of postdoc for lawyers.  The schools are trying to sell the idea as a legal analog to a teaching hospital.

In the very short term, it’s a way for a school to goose its own placement rates.  And on a pragmatic level, for a new graduate, so-so work is better than no work at all.  But I can’t help but read it as a sort of admission of defeat.  Teaching hospitals and lab science postdoc positions have economic models that make sense.  These don’t.  Anything is possible, but this just looks like a holding action, or a way to manage decline.  Is there something I’m missing?

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My sympathies to everyone at Manchester Community College in Connecticut.  It had quite a scare this week.   

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Finally some good news.  Yes, many new college grads are underemployed, but relatively few of them are actually unemployed.  And they’re still far better off in the job market with a degree than without one.

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This weekend I’m heading to Dallas for the League for Innovation conference.  Any wise and worldly readers who’ll be there are invited to my panel on Sunday morning (!), or to drop me a line at deandad (at) gmail (dot) com to meet.  Never having been to Dallas, I’m open to any culinary suggestions...

 

 

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