• 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

Talking about the Stanford rape survivor's letter with a 15-year-old boy, a Promise program, community college students with degrees, and more.

June 10, 2016

The letter from the Stanford rape survivor to her rapist became a teachable moment at home. TW suggested that we have The Boy read it, and that I talk to him about it afterwards. I agreed.

When the kids were little, there was plenty of guidance on potty training, introduction of new foods, and the benefits of reading to them. But there isn’t much guidance on talking to a fifteen year old boy about rape.  

I know I’m biased, but he’s a good kid on his way to becoming a good man. From what I remember of fifteen, it’s easy to cross the line from perceived support to perceived critique. I got a couple of “DAAAAADs” from him, which is to be expected, but I think I stayed on the “support” side of the line.

Even if not, maybe the sheer mortification of the memory of the time his Dad talked to him about rape will make it memorable. The discomfort of it may emphasize how important it is.  

I ended with telling him to “be the Swede.”  He smiled.

I don’t know if I did it “right,” but I did it. Sometimes, as a parent, that’s all you can do.


Brookdale has joined the “College Promise” movement with an agreement with Asbury Park High School. Thanks to funding from the Plangere Foundation, eligible students who complete a college readiness program can get up to 64 credits at Brookdale for free. (It’s a “last dollar” program, so it covers what Pell won’t.)  

The announcement was held at Asbury Park High School on Thursday. The students who attended were glowing with excitement. That never gets old.

The policy-wonk side of me can go back and forth on funding models, the meaning of “free,” and the merits of targeted philanthropy as opposed to universal programs, and that’s all fine. But in the matchup between “plausible hope” and “pointlessness,” I’ll pick plausible hope every single time. The students saw plausible hope at that announcement, and they responded the way that young people do. They saw the point of trying. That’s huge.

Promise programs are still new. I hope that as they move into the assessment phases, we’re smart enough as a sector not to define success too narrowly. Telling students they matter is one thing; showing them by paying for them is something else entirely.  A vote of confidence at the right time has to have positive effects over time.  

I think of it as playing the long game.


About ten percent of Associate degree earners in America already have an associate’s or higher, according to recent data from the AACC.

Not a single one of them counted in the headline graduation rate.  


A life lesson learned the hard way this week.

Let’s say, just for fun, that you’ve been invited to address a women’s leadership group including rising stars from community colleges around the country. Let’s say that the session is held in a room with windows for walls on a beautiful, sunny day. Let’s say that the group has been described as “lively,” and is coming off a participatory exercise and several days of bonding.

And let’s say that your prepared talk includes phrases like “the high-water mark of midcentury managerial capitalism.”

You might want to make an adjustment on the fly.

Trust me on this one.

I’m just glad they were good sports...


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