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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
September 5, 2013 - 8:21pm

The Boy and The Girl returned to school yesterday.  The Girl -- who is starting the fourth grade -- reported that her teacher had every student do a “Facebook page” (on paper) about themselves.  Apparently, it’s fair to assume now that fourth graders know how Facebook pages work.  One of the questions was “favorite things,” and they were supposed to list four.  As TG put it, she listed “kittens, puppies, chocolate, and books.  You know, the essentials.”

That’s my girl.

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Free idea for the League for Innovation: could we put together some sort of League-ish conference entirely online?  Community college travel budgets have really been beaten down over the last few years, so it’s getting harder to send people to conferences, but we need the cross-fertilization of ideas more than ever.  Twitter is great, but sometimes the longer form is necessary.  I’m thinking something “live,” with a schedule and a roster.  

It seems like the technology is getting good enough that some sort of serious online convention might actually not suck.  And it would be far more inclusive than onsite conferences have become.  

I’m not suggesting doing away with the in-person conference at this point, but a supplemental online one -- maybe in the Fall, since both the AACC and the League have the traditional conferences in the Spring -- could broaden the conversation in helpful ways.

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In my book, I argued for a new appreciation of the fruits of specialization among community colleges. Apparently, I’m not the only one to pick up on the idea.

It makes sense. As options for students multiply, the likelihood of any given institution winning by default diminishes. Each institution needs its own answer to the question of why a student should go there, as opposed to somewhere else.  In areas with flat population growth and plenty of colleges, a murky value proposition may not be sustainable. Better to be very good at some things than mediocre at everything.

Readers of a certain age will remember variety shows on the major television networks.  When there were only three or four channels to watch, a network could win a timeslot by pairing uninteresting music with lame-but-inoffensive comedy and packaging it all in rhinestone-studded jumpsuits.  (Younger readers are invited to look up the Brady Bunch Variety Hour on YouTube to see what I mean.)  If the other networks were showing, say, crime dramas, then the variety hour could win by default.

As viewing options have multiplied, the variety show died an unlamented death.  Now, at any given time, you can find pure examples of whatever genre you have in mind. I’m thinking we’re heading toward a similar point in higher ed.  Institutions based on the variety show model -- especially expensive ones without name-brand prestige -- are in for a rough haul.  

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This one’s for my fellow grammar nerds.  Number 15 is my favorite, but the Oxford comma cartoon is pretty great, too.  

In grad school, I briefly had a roommate who was a linguist.  He used to argue that grammar rules are merely descriptive, as opposed to prescriptive, and that we should not take them too seriously.  As long as something was “sayable,” as he put it, it was fine.

I try not to get dogmatic on the blog too often, but he was just wrong.  I’m very much on Team Oxford Comma.  The cartoon here is as good an illustration why as I’ve seen.

 

 

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