• 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.

Title

Friday Fragments

Responses on basic needs, an enigmatic webinar, the junior prom and a program note.

March 26, 2021
 
 

My wise and worldly readers came through again!

The post about basic needs during the pandemic drew some characteristically thoughtful responses.

When campus food pantries had to close, grocery gift cards became popular alternatives. Loaner laptops are somewhat more complicated. As one reader put it,

“We've been issuing loaner laptops and hot spots to students -- the kids in my classes that have the laptops are happy with them, but I don't know about the hot spots. I'll poll them and see. Speaking of laptops, I have had dual enrollment students tell me their high-school-issued Chromebook won't open a rich text file (.rtf), which used to be an almost universal format. Others have reported that their high school Chromebook won't let them search a term like "marijuana" -- we were looking at unusual sources the other day, and I recommended to one student who's advocating for legalizing recreational MJ in Missouri that he read Marijuana Business Daily, the Wall Street Journal of the pot world -- some students were locked out of their browser when they typed in the site. Who knew?”

Information access is a basic need.

Another reader asked whether campus food pantries are open to adjunct faculty and hourly employees. Given the mismatch between adjunct pay and the cost of living in many areas, it’s a fair question.

A reader from Washington State sent this article detailing a program that provides free dorm rooms to students who are otherwise housing-insecure or homeless. It’s an expensive program, obviously, and some legislators are balking at expanding it, but it works. Study requires a level of remove from the struggle for basic survival. Virginia Woolf was right about a room with a lock on the door.

Although some of the stories are harrowing, I was glad to see that folks are stepping up, even if they have to find new ways to do it. The students are worth it.

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On Wednesday I caught a webinar on college admissions featuring Sara Goldrick-Rab and Ron Lieber. They approach the issue from very different angles: Goldrick-Rab is a champion of open-access public colleges, four year and two year; Lieber’s beat is what he called the “food chain” of selective institutions.

I was hoping for a bit of a debate, or a compare-and-contrast, but Goldrick-Rab was a gracious host and Lieber the honored guest. She pressed him a bit on community colleges, but for the most part the floor was his.

He described the system of “merit aid” at selective institutions as a “racket” that’s “built to be hacked, legally.” The approach was resolutely pragmatic, much like his book.

As the parent of one student at a selective institution and another who’s likely to be one soon, I can’t deny finding value in some of the tips. (For example, he noted that many of these schools note how quickly a student opens a text or email from them. As with dating, the key is to convey interest without conveying too much interest, so he advised letting some time lapse before opening them.) But I still left with the queasy feeling that if the best response to a racket is an improvised counterracket, something has gone terribly wrong.

The people most able to game the system, as we well know, are the people who least need to.

The solution to the college scramble is on the supply side. If we had consistently excellent, affordable, well-funded public institutions large enough and numerous enough to handle demand, much of the scramble would go away. The U.S. did that, decades ago -- the mad scramble didn’t start in earnest until the 1980s -- and I’m told Canada still does. It’s entirely doable; we just need to choose to do it. Or we can hack away, hoping to be one iota more clever than the amoral hustler who’s fighting for the same seat. I’m on team inclusion.

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The Girl’s prom is coming up in a few weeks, assuming all goes well. She found a dress she likes, and she’s going with a group of friends.

I had to sign the longest permission slip I have ever seen.

It ran to six pages. Among other things, I had to list our health insurance provider and policy number. I don’t remember doing that even for her brother, just three years ago.

The permission slip indicated that the school “cannot guarantee social distancing at all times,” which I thought was an artful bit of euphemism. It also indicated that the prom will not include a dance floor, which makes it a bit hard to picture.

Tickets are refundable, should the prom be canceled, but dresses are not. If you’ve recently bought a prom dress, you have some idea of what that means. The tickets are the least of it.

I’m not entirely convinced the prom will actually happen, but I admire the school’s spirit in trying. Junior proms are rites of passage. TG and her friends deserve that, even if it looks different from proms before. Fingers crossed!

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Next week I have some major personal events happening, so I’ll pause the blog for the week, returning on April 5. See you then!

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