• 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

An excellent speaker, eight-week semesters and adventures in car shopping.

February 19, 2021

Day three of the Dream 2021 conference brought joy and productive frustration.

The joy came from David Treuer’s keynote. Treuer spoke of being Native American and the struggles for cultural memory in a larger country that tries to forget. His manner was thoughtful, humane and funny, and the way he spoke to the students during Q&A exemplified supportive teaching. I was particularly taken with his line about the way that the larger culture characterizes Native Americans: “We have a great future behind us.”

Books could be written just unpacking that line.

The productive frustration came from a panel on eight-week (or seven-week) semesters. It featured Brad Piazza from Waukesha County Technical College, Kathryn Rogalski from Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and Tamara Clunis from Amarillo College. Laurie Fladd, the moderator, used to work at Trident Technical Community College, which also made the switch. NWTC and Amarillo have already moved to the eight-week model, and Waukesha County is in the midst of the move now. (They also mentioned Grayson College and Chief Dull Knife College as having made the switch, as well as Odessa.)

In the seven- or eight-week model, students take half as many courses at a time as they normally would. So instead of taking four courses over four months, they’d take two for two months, followed by two more for the next two months.

Their reports were consistent with what happened at Odessa College a few years ago: double-digit increases in course success rates, dramatic increases in graduation rates (Amarillo’s jumped from 25 percent to slightly over 50 percent) and positive impact on achievement gaps. I was struck, too, that part-time students’ progression toward degrees sped up. A student who can only manage one course at a time could now move twice as fast, and apparently, that’s exactly what happened. One of the speakers mentioned, too, that when COVID hit, students who left halfway through the semester left with credits in their pockets from the first half.

I was thrilled at the results but frustrated at the focus on before and after, as opposed to during. The transition is the hard part. I smiled ruefully when Piazza, from Waukesha, mentioned that it works best if you’re “all in.” I have annoyed people by saying that, but it’s true, and it was nice to get confirmation. It works best at scale, rather than as a pilot. As if to twist the knife, Piazza mentioned that WCTC saw an enrollment decline of less than 2 percent this year, thanks mostly to dramatically improved retention. Compared to the national or regional average, that’s extraordinary.

The moderator, Fladd, mentioned that ATD would soon issue a guide to making that transition. Rarely have I been so eager to get my paws on a report.


With summer job season just around the corner, the time has come for The Boy to take our 12-year-old Honda (bought new in 2009) to college with him. That meant it was time to go car shopping.

TW mostly drives the Honda, so she’ll mostly be the person to drive the new purchase. She has approximately zero patience for cars, salespeople and car shopping, though, so the preshopping research fell to me.

Never let a trained academic do your car research.

I had no idea how much the world of car research had grown since last I had checked. YouTube alone has a wealth of resources, though the quality varies. (For whatever reason, if you look for research on electric cars or plug-in hybrids, most of the videos are British, Australian or Canadian. They sometimes calculate mileage in “liters per 100 kilometers,” which sounds like the beginning of a word problem.) Through it all, I came away with two lessons. From Scotty Kilmer, I learned that all else being equal, turbocharged engines don’t last as long as non-turbo (or “naturally aspirated”) ones. If you don’t enjoy expensive engine repairs -- we do not -- then avoid turbos. And from Your Auto Advocate, I learned the term “out-the-door price,” which is the one that includes taxes and fees.

I refuse even to admit how much time I spent learning those.

With tuition payments happening, and more to come, a brand-new car was out of the question. But we could go with something more recent than 2009.

I mention all this because when we finally went out for test drives, the limits of research quickly became clear. We had narrowed it down to a Honda and a Mazda, and on paper, it was a coin toss.

Then she drove them. No contest. The Mazda won by a country mile. Nothing in the research prepared either of us for just how different the two would feel. Sometimes you just have to put down the laptop and see what happens.

So farewell, faithful Honda. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the relative warmth of Virginia more than the relative cold of New Jersey. And TW is hoping it’ll be at least another decade before she has to go through that again.


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