Archive for July, 2011

“If we had had true transparency, we would have seen that.”

by on Jul.27, 2011, under Leadership, Policy

That was the assertion attributed to Tom McMillen, long-time University Maryland paladin and today a member of its Board of Regents, commenting in the Chronicle on the unfolding problems with the athletic program, and in particular its finances. (See our earlier note on this topic for context.)

Gosh … no transparency??? You mean … there might have been something to the years of reporting here (and in the Diamondback and …) about the administration erecting walls around awkward practices and trouncing the careers of people who attempt to throw a little light on the subjects?

Wonder what other awkward truths might still be lurking in the shadows, opaque to interested stakeholders?

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UMBC pulls ahead … again

by on Jul.24, 2011, under Leadership

Congrats and a tip of the hat to our colleagues at UMBC, whose campus is highly rated in several categories in the recent survey of “Great Colleges to Work for 2011″ just released by the Chronicle. UMBC was recognized for shared governance, diversity, clarity in the promotion process and more.

College Park? Not on the map that we can see.


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THAT’s all they found?

by on Jul.21, 2011, under Leadership

The Sun article ran under a headline “UM failed to get approval for $4.7M in food expenses, audit finds”

Uhhh … they’re obviously not looking very hard.

For those of you keeping score, the full report is at the Office of Legislative Audits web site.

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Athletic programs briefly pause from spending binge to sing budget blues

by on Jul.21, 2011, under Budget, Leadership

The Post headline announced “Maryland athletic department’s revenue can’t keep pace with spending”. To which we say, “duh.”

Athletic directors and coaches here are already among the state’s highest paid employees – and that’s before you count the matching funds provided by Foundations, all of which are not subject to the same level of public scrutiny. But it isn’t enough to pay that for any one coach. Today we’re paying for several contracts’ worth of coaching per sport, as the campus buys out the contracts of old coaches in order to pay top dollar for new ones. President Loh signed off on such deals only a couple months ago, and now announces a new commission to get to the bottom of our fiscal woes because he is shocked, just shocked, to discover the budget is not stable.

To find the whole recipe for fiscal woes, mix in the expensive facilities renovations – which contrary to PR are not generally available to the whole campus community – and flavor with the ‘special’ division of responsibilities between the state and foundation budgets. (Taxpayers are responsible for paying invoices and the Athletics Foundation is responsible for handling receipts. Sweet deal.)

If Loh needs to burn the time of 17 highly-paid colleagues to find out why his spending decisions ran us into a hole, then we’re sure in for a bumpy ride with him at the wheel. Of course he is a smart man and likely knows the answer already, which means he needs an especially large committee to study the matter for a long time and bury the answer. That means we’re really in for a bumpy ride.

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John Toll, RIP

by on Jul.16, 2011, under Leadership

We’re saddened to learn of the passing of Johnny Toll, who led the effort to unite us all into the University System of Maryland. It was his effort that put Maryland on the national map of academic contenders.

At least at College Park, many craven administrators today feed at the trough of resources that would never have been available if not for the sacrifice of people like Johnny Toll, who believed and invested for the long term growth. It’s a pity that more people do not honor Toll’s legacy by selfless investment in the mission too, rather than picking at the system’s bones like so many hungry crows. In many ways UM’s star is setting, and it will take more hard work – like what Toll did to bring us along in the first place – to put us back on the map, if indeed we can get there at all.

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Purple haze clouds reality of future light rail through campus

by on Jul.10, 2011, under Leadership

Politicians want the new metro Purple line for reasons far different from service to communities it will dissect. Massive amounts of cash in motion represent opportunities today, and never mind impact tomorrow when they’ll be off in some other office leaving locals to deal with the increased crime, congestion and costs. (Show us the first community where neighborhood crime went down after receiving a metro stop, and good luck finding a metro stop where planners don’t argue for increased density and construction near by so as to concentrate investments in infrastructure.)

These same politicians, whose agenda simply does not involve quality at the flagship in College Park, cheerfully proposed cutting the campus in half, right along Campus Drive. This was politely opposed, in such ways as milquetoast academics can muster, until recently. Showing he is eager to play in politics too – which is to say, sell the community’s long-term needs for his short-term needs – President Loh, a man whose resume shows he too fancies a fast professional climb, has rapidly leveraged the wholesale turnover of top administrators here by installing ‘acting’ and ‘interim’ staff who will not complicate his decisions by trying to raise awkward facts. On the Purple line question, they rolled faster than a $3 hooker, and what once was campus concern over unaddressed questions is now obedient acquiescence on implementation. Yes sir, may we have another!

Unaddressed questions? Well, for one, what will be the impact of running light rail through a pedestrian mall populated by academics who walk around, well, like we live here? Officials blithely say gosh no, we won’t need fences or barriers for safety. And we won’t make that much noise. And we’re real sure about all this even though Metro has no other at-grade exposure of this type, hence no experience dealing with it. (They might as well say “here, toke on what we’re smoking and you can believe too.”)

Our latest reminder of this folly came in this morning’s Phoenix offers lessons for Purple Line article. The report of that city’s experience with tighter integration of rail with just vehicle traffic is something of an eye opener. Be sure to catch the part about 52 collisions in the first year (without the same level of pedestrian interaction as will be seen here) and the “frequent bells” that are heard a couple blocks away. (Looks like Anne Arundel, Dorchester and St Mary’s halls will cease being prime real estate for those interested in on-campus living.)

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Terps tweet for tuition

by on Jul.07, 2011, under Budget, Leadership

Interim Provost Ann Wylie just rolled out the Blended Learning Initiative, one of the last of the ideas initiated by the bean counters in her predecessor’s operation (and itself a sign that she has not yet flushed all the non-academic bean counters from her own administration.) It is another academic disaster in the making.

First, just what the heck is “blended learning” and why is it here? From the web site, we don’t actually learn what it is, but we find it “involves a combination of face-to-face and online interactions, built on a rich collaboration environment that includes a variety of information sources such as multimedia data, social technologies (such as blogs, Wikis, Twitter), simulations, and visualization for individual and collaborative learning and for team projects.”

Whew! That all sounds cutting edge and zesty, but let’s cut to what is really going on: reducing expense of content delivery in courses, and by that we mean, spreading the biggest expense – faculty time and attention, as it should be – across more students. Engagement – quality time shared between top students and top scholars at the flagship – will be reduced as students interact more with software created by those scholars (or more likely staff that is less costly) and teams (which is to say, students will lead each other through experiences that once involved a faculty member.)

It used to be that parents, paying top dollar for what should be top experiences, became agitated upon learning that content delivery was a job for not the faculty but the faculty’s teaching assistants and graduate students. We think they won’t be any happier to learn their tuition checks will soon buy only a virtual faculty member and tweets. (We’re eager to know how junior English fares when conducted in 140 character chunks.) In the long run, why pay top dollar for College Park when you can get the same on-line experience for less at UMUC?

Okay, so there really are some innovative educational approaches apart from traditional methods that could be tried in some classes, and we look forward to seeing if campus can bring some of them along. Unfortunately – and this is the real basis for our cynicism – none of this scales, and all of it is today driven by the bean counters.

We know of several cutting-edge practices being pioneered here (interestingly, none of them represented in this Blended Learning albatross) that have the effect of giving students more value out of each unit of professor time – but that is because of the professor, not the technology! These are gifted scholars who can materialize a mesmerizing presentation out of thin air, and do more with a simple piece of chalk and stone slate. Let these faculty pour themselves into crafting superior lab experiences and it all becomes better. But what percentage of our faculty are in this league?

Provost Wylie just rolled out an initiative that was demanded (and launched internally) by her predecessor’s bean counters, under the banner of excellence promised by a few gifted scholars, but without any consideration of how this can’t scale to implementation by the rest of us in College Park, who will be spread even more thinly. Its like pointing to a high-end concept car as evidence that super performance is possible, and then using this evidence as justification to ration gas to the rest of the aging delivery fleet.

There is a pattern. Farvardin’s Gen Ed program featured several cost-saving (even if shallower) measures that don’t scale. Mandated volunteerism, for example – students garnering credits for work as interns, appropriate to their discipline, are thought to be a way to cash a tuition check where some bureaucrat elsewhere (instead of an expensive faculty member here) delivers the content (if there is any.) That should take a small percentage off the top of our Gen Ed load, they thought. And I-series – another advertising program that was patterned on the work product of a handful of gifted scholars, but based on a business model which can’t be sustained – is in the process of showing us that inspired courses once offered to only a handful of students can become pretty pedestrian once you need an army of ordinary faculty to offer it to huge sections open to the masses.

Bean counters want more with less, and like all the temp staff occupying offices over in Central these days, Wylie accommodated administrative and political over academics. Sadly, get past the advertising hype and you’ll see that we will do less with less.

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