Wednesday, May 2, 2007

A Less Than Enthusiastic Response to BigU’s Becoming GreatBigU?

Mr. B. has commented before on the lack of faculty enthusiasm concerning the ambitious aspirations of OurLeader for BigU to become one of the top three public research universities in the world [sic]...

A recent Daily article indicates that a large percentage of the faculty are not drinking the Kool-Aid. The reaction of the Daily and of the university’s spokesperson are quite instructive. See the quotes below in red font. This University spinmeister clearly has what it takes to move on to a place where his extraordinary skills would have an even greater impact. Since there has been such a rapid turnover of spinmeisters lately in the White House, how about a job there?

Note also the enthusiastic rate of participation in this survey: “for an overall survey response rate of 17.35 percent.” This number is telling because the overwhelming majority of people apparently don’t even feel strongly enough about what is going on (or are simply too disgusted) to even bother to respond.

From the Daily:

May 2, 2007

Survey denotes divided campus
A Daily poll showed mixed opinions on the University's strategic positioning progress.

By Conrad Wilson, Tiff Clements

Two years after the Board of Regents unanimously approved a revamp of the University, students and faculty say they are skeptical of the progress made.

The University administration's goal to be one of the top-three public research institutions in the world has divided support, according to a poll conducted by The Minnesota Daily.

Overall, students were more confident than faculty about the likelihood of the administration to implement the strategic plan in the next decade. Where nearly 50 percent of students polled said they were certain the goal would be met, calling it extremely or very likely, only 36 percent of faculty responded with such optimism.

University spokesman Dan Wolter said he sees the numbers as positive, grouping together respondents who said it was extremely, very and somewhat likely the University would reach its goal in 10 years.

"I think having more than 70 percent think this top-three goal is realistic and doable is a very positive sign," he said.

Hmm, and the US is winning the war in Iraq. There MUST be a place in the White House for this creative spinmeister.

Support from faculty, staff and students will be crucial to achieving this goal, Wolter said.

"Continued engagement and interest in this is going to be very critical."

Regent Patricia Simmons said faculty skepticism might stem from variables outside the University's control, like state funding and competition with other universities.

"I don't think this reflects support as much as caution," she said. "The faculty would and should respect the fact that this is an aspirational goal and there are a lot of factors involved that all have to come together."

Once again Mr. B. implores a member of the Board of Regents to understand that some faculty consider this top three business to be an insult to anyone at BigU who actually knows what a "top three university" is. Some of us have been educated at such an institution or done sabbaticals there. Crying that it is just "aspirational" doesn't help matters. Please stop doing this. The old Ken Keller phrase "commitment to focus" comes to mind and OurLeader and the Board of Regents should start thinking about it. Please fix what is broken, then let's talk.

Minnesota Student Association President Max Page said strategic positioning isn't a huge priority for the organization.

"I know the administration has been working on implementing some of the strategies," Page said. "It's harder to fit students into what they are doing."

Opinion is divided over whether faculty's focus on teaching would change under the plan, according to the Daily poll. Although 25 percent of respondents anticipate no change, 38 percent said they expect faculty focus on teaching to decrease, while 36 percent indicated an increase. Ninety-six percent expect faculty focus on research to increase.

The quality of undergraduate education was also divided. Forty-seven percent said the quality of undergraduate education would increase, while 28 percent predicted a decrease, according to the poll. Twenty-five percent said there would be no change.

The University Futures Survey was conducted from Feb. 23 to Feb. 27, 2007. 347 students, faculty and staff responded to the surveys for an overall survey response rate of 17.35 percent. The margin of error associated with this sample is plus or minus 4.78 percent with a 95 percent confidence interval (reported as 5 percent for simplicity).

Communication studies associate professor Kirt Wilson, who sits on the strategic positioning Academic Task Force for Faculty Culture, said as the University moves forward with its process, it will need to make sure it hires faculty with strong research and teaching potential.

"People always seem to think that to focus more on research means to take away from teaching," he said. "I think that is a false dichotomy."

As a mere 'umble scientist, let me try to communicate this way:

There is a finite amount of time that faculty can work per day. Let us call this 1 for simplicity. Let T be the fraction devoted to teaching and R be the fraction devoted to research:
R + T = 1

Therefore, if R increases, then T decreases. At least on the planets in my universe.

"When people say (University of California) Berkeley, University of Michigan," he said, "will the University of Minnesota be the next thing that comes out of people's mouths?"

I assume this is a rhetorical question. Here's another one. Where are Cambridge and Oxford in this list of three, since we are talking about "the whole world?"




Unknown said...

When I saw the article I thought 17% might be high for faculty at BigU who consider this campaign to be even potentially fruitful. To me it seems mostly PR and maybe a bit of a help when directed to our paymasters at the legislature. Your comment about those who have personal experience at actual Top 3 public research universities is very much on point.

Mr. B. said...

Thanks for your comment, Philip.

I keep wondering who these faculty are who think that the administration's goal (becoming "one of the top three public reseaarch universities in the world") is realistic.

I don't know any faculty members who believe this, but I am just an 'umble scientist.

Mr. B.