• 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

Moments of clarity, condolences to Cazenovia and a need for a name.

December 9, 2022

Thanks to the readers who wrote in response to the post about sudden blasts of clarity. A few highlights:

“Finding and learning about comparable dynamics in a totally different field” is a way to generate breakthroughs. Yes. Say what you will about the internet, but it has made reading across fields dramatically easier. It isn’t just about reading, either. One of my favorite career tips came from watching a Mets game on tv in the 90’s: Tim McCarver was providing commentary. In describing the approach a particular pitcher used, he offered the following: “If you’re a fastball pitcher, throw fastballs. If you’re a knuckleball pitcher, throw knuckleballs.” Exactly.

Related: “discovering the work of someone who flipped the lens.” Again, yes. Stephanie Kelton probably gets tired of being praised here, but her book The Deficit Myth simply blew my mind. I saw the world differently after reading it. Children are also great for this, since they can’t help but see the world from a different angle. The Boy fired off a great one when he was about 11. He was on an in-town baseball team that lost most of its games. One day he mostly rode the bench while his team lost. On the way home, he seemed unusually downcast. I asked what was wrong. Spontaneously, he coined what I think of as TB’s Law: “It’s hard to just sit there and watch other people suck.” Indeed it is.

“If you can imagine how the world looks to someone else, or how it feels to be that person, you are much more likely to be able to work with them.” Yup. The key is remembering that other people don’t always want what you would think they would want. Listening helps a lot, but sometimes you have to seek out those perspectives actively. As a cishet straight white guy who grew up in the suburbs, for instance, I found feminist analyses of modern America eye-opening. Paying attention to what people in different social locations notice can bring those jarring moments of clarity if you can avoid getting defensive.

Keep those breakthroughs coming, folks!

My condolences to everyone at Cazenovia College. It’s a small college near Syracuse, N.Y., and it has announced its closure as of the end of this academic year.

In the Northeast, we’ve seen several colleges collapse over the last few years. I suspect we’ll see more, though I have to add that I’m just extrapolating from trends on that; I have no inside information about any.

It’s tough for the students, though they should be able to find other academic homes. The most senior faculty can probably retire. But the early and midcareer folks—both faculty and administration—may have a hard time finding comparable jobs elsewhere, given the market. That’s rough.

I have to double down on my kudos to Bloomfield College for sending a distress signal while there was still time and then engineering a merger with Montclair State. That couldn’t have been easy, but it likely saved many careers and kept students on track. Whether Cazenovia would have had that option, I don’t know. I hope leaders of colleges in similar straits learn from the contrast, though.

On Thursday I was able to catch the webinar version of New America’s convening on “Getting Non-Degree Community College Programs Right.” It was terrific all around, though for me, the standout comment came early, from Antonio Delgado of Miami Dade College. He noted that calling nondegree programs “nondegree” only makes sense to academics. As he put it, “nobody wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I need to sign up for a nondegree program.’”

That’s exactly right, though it does raise the question of what to call them. I don’t like calling them “workforce programs” because that implies that degree programs aren’t workforce programs. For something like nursing, that’s just false. And most transfer programs are also workforce programs, even if there’s a delay. “Certificate” programs is better, but some certificates are offered on the credit side, too. (Auto tech, IT and culinary leap to mind.)

Wise and worldly readers, is there an accurate and understandable way to define these programs, other than by what they are not?

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