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    Entries in Higher Ed (4)

    Friday
    Apr132018

    No more philosophy majors?

    For a 'I can't believe it's mid-April and my flight is probably going to get canceled because it is STILL snowing Friday', an interesting piece of news from a couple of weeks ago on how one university is seeking to re-align many of its programs of study with its assessment of labor market changes and trends.

    The TL;DR version?

    No one wants to hire History, English, or Philosophy majors. (I am not sure that this is actually true by the way, but that seems to be the conclusion). Here's some details from a recent piece in Fortune on what the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point is proposing:

    One university doesn’t think its students need to pursue English as a major anymore. Or philosophy, history, or Spanish.

    The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point has proposed dropping more than a dozen majors currently offered through its humanities and social sciences departments. The university would instead offer programs with “clear career pathways.".

    Included in the list of majors to be dropped are the above mentioned history, English, and philosophy as well as programs in geography, (who needs that when we have GPS?), political science, (that seems like it would be in demand these days), and American studies, (that actually sounds really interesting to me).

    Other programs to be expanded or created in this effort to better align the University's programs with what is or at least seems to be happening in the job market include chemical engineering, finance, marketing, (Is there really a shortage of marketers?), and geographic information science, (sounds like geography).

    While this is not really a remarkable or surprising bit of news, I do find it interesting when thinking about what many smart folks seem to say about how work is changing, how automation and AI are replacing (or augmenting), many kinds of labor and roles, and what are the true skills all workers will need to be successful and employable in the robot future.

    And by that I am talking about the kinds of human skills and traits that can't easily or perhaps shouldn't be replaced by machines or algorithms - creativity, empathy, emotional understanding, appreciation of (yes I am saying it), history and philosophy. Sure, the kinds of 'hard skills' and technical programs that this university wants to emphasize are currently in demand, but like many (or all) kinds of technology and science roles, the likelihood of automation and more advanced AI tools replacing them (or at least reducing the need for some human labor) in them is pretty high.

    I am not totally sure what 'Geographic information science' is, but I would be willing to bet that technology will be able to perform lots of what that role requires much sooner than any kind of technology would be able to think, reason, assess, and communicate like a talented philosophy graduate.

    And by the way, if I was looking for new marketing talent, I might prefer a philosophy major or a sociology major anyway.

    Figuring out what kinds of skills are going to be needed and in demand in a changing and dynamic labor market is certainly not easy, and I understand that universities also have practical challenges and have to produce and offer programs that will attract students, (and parents).

    But while there is a lot of data and science that shows where the (current) jobs are there is also some art to producing the kinds of talent that will best be able to help the economy thrive.

    And we probably can't do art, at least not well,  if we stop teaching art.

    Have a great weekend!

    Friday
    Nov052010

    Whistle Blowing vs. Blowing Whistles

    I love a nice juicy workplace drama story.  And when the workplace drama also includes a sports angle then I am in the happy zone.

    Submitted for your consideration - from the State University of New York at Binghamton - (courtesy of Inside Higher Ed), Coach's Exit vs. Whistle Blower's Exit.

    The important details from the Inside Higher Ed piece:

    The State University of New York at Binghamton announced last week that it had agreed to a $1.2 million settlement that will lead to the departure of its suspended men's basketball coach, Kevin Broadus. Under Broadus, the basketball program achieved athletic success but found itself in the middle of a controversy over the admission of academically unprepared athletes and numerous arrests of players.

    One of those who blew the whistle on the basketball program, however, faces a future much less financially secure than Broadus does. Sally Dear, an adjunct since 1998 and a key source for a New York Times article last year on the scandal, received a letter Monday telling her not to expect a renewal of her teaching duties for the next semester. She currently teaches two courses and is paid $5,000 for each one. In the Times article, which angered many supporters of the Binghamton athletic program, Dear was quoted about how basketball players arrived late, left early, and disrupted class in other ways.

    Nice.  The school more or less looks the other way on some questionable and possibly illegal activities associated with the basketball program in order to see some success and get some notoriety for the program.  After some time, the behaviors and violations become too egregious and well-known that eventually it all comes crashing down.  The coach, who has at least some, if not most of the blame for the mess will walk with a cool $1.2M, while one of the whistle blowers gets casually shown the door. Interesting how Binghamton can find seven figures for the coach but can't free up $10,000 for Ms. Dear to continue teaching her two courses. 

    I don't know much more about the tale than the few details in the piece, but the bit that is concerning is how colleges in particular, and corporate organizations in general can come to view and value the service, contributions, and expandability of temporary or contract staff.  

    Colleges use adjuncts for lots of reasons - sometimes to fill slots to teach unique or specialized courses, to backfill permanent faculty doing research or on sabbatical, or often to cut costs and improve incremental profit margins.  Kind of the same reasons that organizations engage temporary or contract staff in the corporate world. Many adjuncts will tell you that while they enjoy their work, and are committed to their discipline and their students, they fully realize their (low) place on the institutional pecking order.  

    But as we heard last night on the HR Happy Hour interview with Dan Roddy of IBM, the trend towards more flexible and fluid workforces, with more representation of contract and temporary staff is not only continuing, but likely is accelerating. 

    My guess is Ms. Dear has not been (effectively) dismissed because she was a whistle blower, but more likely since she was merely 'contract' staff, and therefore much more expendable. Not a big deal you might think, part of the reason that any organization employs temporary or contract staff is the ability to adapt and react to changing conditions and new opportunities much more rapidly than in the past.  In many organizations there has always been a bit of a stigma attached to the 'temps'. But I wonder in a world that seems to be barreling towards an even greater use of temporary and contract staff if we really need to think more consciously about how we have traditionally viewed these contributors.

    I don't think we can continue to view and treat them as mere commodity purchases.  I don't think we can continue to cast them off for acting in a manner that is consistent with what we would expect and demand from the 'real' employees.

    At SUNY Binghamton, the 'real' employee that blew a whistle for a living is walking away with a sweet exit package.  The 'fake' employee, one of the whistle blowers, now has to scramble to find a way to replace the $10,000 she won't earn this semester.

    Hopefully she can land another temp gig somewhere else, and soon.

    Thursday
    Oct072010

    Disappearing Languages

    Earlier this week I read a piece on Inside Higher Ed about the likely elimination of several language studies programs at the State University of New York at Albany.  Along with the elimination of the programs of study, it seems also quite likely that several tenured faculty and long time staff positions will be eliminated as well. As in the case of many institutional and corporate restructuring efforts and corresponding staffing adjustments and downsizings that eventually follow, there are the expected calls of 'How can we eliminate these programs?', and 'These programs are unique, they can't really beFlickr - swanksalot modified or adapted to reflect a changing set of budgetary and practical realities.'

    I certainly don't know all the details of the decision to eliminate, or potentially eliminate, programs like Italian and Russian at SUNY Albany.  But at least on the surface it does seem kind of intuitive that the college student of today, staring at a ridiculously difficult job market for the foreseeable future, is not rushing to major in Italian at SUNY Albany, (at least if Mom and Dad are footing the bill).  How many folks reading this post were convinced/cajoled/forced to major in Business for the very same reasons.  My hand is up. Sadly, professors that have been carrying the flag of Russian and French studies to legions of undergrads in Central New York, some for over 20 years, will soon find themselves having to find a new way of making a living.  That stinks.

    I suppose the lesson in all this, and there has to be some kind of lesson, is that even the most secure, protected, and established occupations and positions are not immune to the inevitable shifts in markets, tastes, and organizational challenges. Ok, so that is not revelatory I know.  

    How about this one then?

    Ask yourself if what you are doing, and what you are bringing to the organization could be seen as the equivalent of teaching Russian to a bunch of 19 year olds.  At SUNY Albany it turns out that most of them are not all that interested in learning Russian, see no benefit in learning Russian, and no matter how great you are at teaching Russian, the market for your services has dried up. 

    I confess when I read the piece I thought to myself, 'Why are these professors so surprised? No one in their right mind would think that teaching Italian and French to SUNY students still is relevant in 2010'.

    But then I thought, most people don't see their passions and their expertise in the same way the outside world sees them.  In fact, I will bet many of us are safe and comfortable in what we are doing every day, and with the unique perspective and skills we offer to our employer and to society, while secretly, quietly, someone is looking at us like we are really teaching Russian.

    Tuesday
    Aug112009

    T-Pain for President

    In early June, the President of Florida State University (FSU), T.K. Wetherell,  unexpectedly announced his intention to step down from his post. The FSU Board of Trustees sprung into action, by convening a blue ribbon Presidential Search Planning Committee.

    Great, a committee was needed to 'plan' the search.  I wonder what kind of august body FSU will need to actually conduct the search and hire a new President?

    But I digress.

    After all the planning and searching and committee meetings and open forums on campus I wonder if the next President will look a lot like this guy:

    FSU outgoing President T.K. Wetherell

    or this guy, (who is in charge of the search)?

    Jim Smith - FSU Board of Trustees Chairman

    Meanwhile, some FSU students have seized the opportunity to put forward their preferred candidate, the Rapper T-Pain.  They have set up a T-Pain for President Facebook Group where they lay out some key platform positions, among them are:From T-Pain for President Facebook group

    • Widespread collaboration among the faculty of different departments: Guest spots on each other's papers and projects. (Sounds like a good idea)
    • Annual Ice Cream Social to take place On A Boat (All right, way to go!)
    • Replacing the water in all campus fountains and water fountains with Cham-Pain (a little unorthodox, but I can support it)


    Ok, so I know that T-Pain is not going to become the next President of FSU.  But the students behind this campaign for T-Pain are customers of FSU. Their time, money, and in many cases continued support as alumni are largely what keep institutions like FSU going. They should have some input into the process.

    I look at the T-Pain campaign as more a statement of 'please don't install another gray-haired white dude'.

    What do you think?  Do students or customers have a right to have input to executive searches?

    Take us out of here T-Pain: