Friday, January 11, 2013

Ain't Misreportin' Again?

In the course of his recent interview with himself, FAQs on Recent Data Misreporting by Colleges, Robert Morse, director of data research for U.S. News & World Report, hears himself saying that misreporting, by Tulane University, George Washington University, Emory University, and Claremont McKenna College, is no biggie because:

"We have no reason to believe that other schools have misreported data—and we therefore have no reason to believe that the misreporting is widespread."

Mr. Moore, who has worked at U.S. News and World Report since 1976, blogs at the Morse Code: Inside the College Rankings, which forum is intended to provide "deeper insights into the methodologies" of the rankings game.

Found this image of legitimate mischief-making here:'t+misbehavin'

Ok, so how's this for a deep insight: if your only method of checking for accuracy is a voluntary admission of guilt from the institution that misreported data in the first place, you'll never have any other reason to believe that misreporting is widespread.

And, in the four cases at issue, Tulane, George Washington, Emory, and Claremont-McKenna, it seems plain that U.S. News and World Report would have remained forever clueless about the misreporting had not the institutions themselves, after their own internal investigations, reported the mistakes voluntarily. 

I believe there are other ways of practicing journalism.

Whatever: one reason I’m so touchy about this stuff is that, at one of the places I work, Westchester Community College, of the State University of New York system, misreporting on at least one measure has been something of a tradition. 

Westchester’s website, for instance, under "faculty," reports 164 full-time faculty, as of October 2011, and no part-time faculty at all. (In “Westchester Community College at a Glance, Current Year) Various folks, and I myself, have wondered about this for several years, knowing, as part-time adjuncts, that there are divisions at WCC in which 85% of sections are taught by us. 

So, where is us, we cry? Well, we did find us, in the (not on line) Westchester Community College Handbook for Adjunct Faculty, for 2010-2011, in a couple of pie charts stuck in the middle—these charts weren't in the full-timers' handbook, by the way—and in those pies we were the super-plentiful little raisins: 1245.

Where’d they come from? On the inside back cover of that same handbook you can read a figure of just 175 faculty, total, all full-time, as of October 2009. 

How’s that work? Again, where is us?

Now, just lately, I have it on the authority of my local’s union treasurer—an adjunct, and the first adjunct to hold that position—that as of November 2012, there are 768 adjunct faculty on the college payroll.

How does he know? Well, he has to look at the agency fees and union dues, every two weeks, that are collected by WCC and deposited in the Westchester Community College Federation of Teacher’s (WCCFT) union account, in order to calculate how much of that needs to be sent to our state organization, NYSUT.  

Mystery solved. So when will that figure be properly reported?

I don’t think, really—though I don’t know for sure—that the Westchester Community Colleges of the world matter too much to U.S. News and World Report, in its business of marketing annual Big-and-Best Reviews, or Believe-or-Not-in-Higher Education editions, or whatever they do, but it’s worth noticing—isn’t it?—that reporting practices and journalistic standards across various higher education neighborhoods are not all they ought to be. 

In my own neck of the woods, by the way, I have brought up my objections with Judith A. Myers, who is a County Legislator, 7th District, on the Westchester County Board of Legislators. She seemed both surprised, by the numbers and the working conditions of the majority adjunct faculty at Westchester Community College, and sympathetic, when I first spoke to her last year about these problems. But I haven't heard much lately, and the local press doesn't seem too interested. 

So, let’s hang on, I suppose, is the best advice, in regard to not only my local WCC problems, but in regard to the various scandals of higher ed misreporting nationally, on which I have barely touched here.

Hang on, sure, but that’s not enough: keep after them. I’ll be trying to take my own advice in coming months.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The End of Slavery: What Can the NOTTSPASMS Learn?

In recent days, by which I mean for years and years and years, I've been reading about a recent trend—forty years or so—in higher education, recently: reliance on low-paid, low-or-no benefit "adjuncts" or "contingents" or just "non-traditional-tenure-stream, part-time, sort-of, mostly sorts," or NOTTSPASMS as they are known to the cognoscenti. (You are now among their number, congratulations!) 

Women in the Seraglio thought it was all Cool, No Problem, until Recently

And so, I thought I'd have a look today at a similar problem, and the social movement that formed around it, and how it was realized, first off, that there was actually a problem—super important first step—and how the problem was solved by rigorous historical analysis, better marketing, and the heroic actions of a great man.

It's slavery I have in mind, sure!

Now, as you know, in the beginning, when slavery first came into the new world with brave English people who were fleeing religious oppression, slavery was pretty much ok, because many of the slaves were only part-time for the colonists anyway, and had, as their main full-time slave positions the task of staying alive.

But, when one of the recently established great newspapers of that time, The Wall Street Liberator, reported that most of the part-time slaves were becoming full-time slaves, and would soon be clamoring for ruinously expensive health care, Abraham Lincoln stepped in, "freed" the slaves—which technically made them ineligible for unemployment benefits—and then gave them all forty acres and two mules and sent them back to Africa.

And in Africa, of course, they were able to challenge and destroy the feeble inroads made by European imperialists there, and establish robust market-based democratic states: yes, those very same plucky little nations that came to our aid so effectively, recently, in both World Wars and, sort of more recently, during our campaign to free Grenada from communist aggression.

The very same. 

So, that's a happy ending, of course, very much, and it's the sort of thing that should inspire us all. It didn't take much more than 250 years, tops, and it couldn't have gone more smoothly. But what about more recent social movements, like the fight for women's rights and gender-equality?

Let's have a look.

As every schoolchild knows, there was no gender inequity at all, in the beginning, because as hunter-gatherers we didn't have things like real estate and automobiles and blended whiskey and refrigerators, and without those things, what's the point?

However, after the plow was discovered—silly, there it was all along!—that changed, because we could grow and store lots of food and that allowed some men, if they killed off enough of the other men, to build tastefully furnished seraglios in which great numbers of attractive women could be housed and entertained.

And, entertained they were!

The women were taken care of and just generally fussed over by the loyal eunuchs, who provided them with delicious foods and snazzy pajama sets—gifts from the big man, the Khan, the Chief, the Boss, the Chairman of the Board, who didn't bother the girls a whole lot, by the way, because, first, there were so many of them, and, second, because he was naturally gone a lot, doing some maintenance slaying or other vital governance chore. So that worked very, very well. 

Until recently.

Incredibly, and recently too, a major newspaper, The Ball Street Journal, has discovered a mysterious new recent trend. Many of these women, just yesterday so pleased with the seraglio and its plush attractions? They have left these nests of luxury. And they're working!

Yes, I said working, and for cash money or the equivalent, at jobs of real work! Laying track, adjuncting, slaying the foe, buying and selling things. And what's more, they're doing all this for about a dime on the dollar of what men are getting to do these exact same jobs of work!

What does this mean? Do they want to be doing that? Do they like it that much? Why? Don't they want to go back where they came from? What the hell's going on? Can we get the men to work for a dime on the dollar too? Are the women negatively impacting the ratio of this to that, where "this" means what I think's good for civilization and where "that" means do-as-you're-told-and-shut-up?

Who knows? And yet, although these are important questions, we just don't have the answers. 

We need data. And that, I think, should help us in thinking about how we should deal with this sudden NOTTSPASMs "problem." Maybe it's not a problem at all. Maybe there's somewhere we should send them all off to, who knows?

Maybe you don't see the connection here? Well, again, see, we need to study it. 

You don't want to run off all half-cocked into this kind of business, do you? Like they did, say, at a recent MLA conference in Boston, or as they do routinely over at New Faculty Majority, or on their blog, or at The Adjunct Project, or at the Delphi Project, or COCAL. Try to know something before you open your mouth, ok? Better for everybody