Thursday, April 30, 2015

Millenials: It's Not Your Fault

It's tough being a millennial. It seems that the group that's now between 18 and 34 doesn't get a break. Having taught a lot of them, and liking a lot of them, I hate to bring more bad news. The problem is it's easy to blame a generation, if one refuses to look at the teachers union and how they failed to teach that generation.
The Educational Testing Service took a look at the Programme for the International Assessments of Adult Competencies. This showed that the millennials badly lag those in other countries in numeracy, literacy and problem solving skills.
In fact the scariest figure is that out of 22 countries, the United States was 21st in numeracy. In other words they don't know crap about how to use numbers to solve problems.
The Democratic Party has an Achilles' heel. While there's so many things you can blame  the Republicans for, the Democratic Party loves teachers unions. Teachers unions pay for the Democratic Party to compete against Republicans in elections. If you want me to feel glad about that, I refuse. I never vote for Republicans but the teachers unions have so dumbed down education in America as to make K-12 a pointless exercise.
Only the Spanish (in Spain) had lower numeracy rates than Americans. As a college professor I would find seniors who had trouble reading. I had to cancel an exercise in a journalism class, because no one knew how to do a percentage.
How are you supposed to compete with students from Shanghai, Singapore, Korea and all the other 17 countries that got a better education than you did. The simple fact is, you can't. Blaming a generation for being cheated by the teachers union seems disingenuous. Millennials, you could only deal with the material you were being taught. So let's stop kicking a generation, and make sure this degradation of pedagogy stops immediately

Friday, April 24, 2015

Some Necessary, if Unwanted, Advice

(This advice is not for the true entrepreneur or those exceptional change agents who come along  infrequently in our lifetime. These rules apply to the rest of us, the competent, hard-working individuals who will never streak across the sky like a meteor shower. If you don't know if you fit in that first category, then there's a good chance you don't. These rules are for the rest of us).
Number one: never leave a well regarded operation for a less well regarded institution because the weather is better; you're madly in love and can't live without her; or you think you're not appreciated where you are. You can only leave a quality operation once, and climbing out of a lesser quality organization is going to be much more difficult than you think.
Number two: never assume that you alone are capable of changing an organization. There are so many different components which make an organization the way it is perceived, your hubris alone won't fix things.
I realize this sounds like an argument for safety. It is. There are too many complicated reasons why a place is well regarded and others are not. Moving back up the ladder may sound like an easy move when you're 25, but when you're 40, it may look like climbing Everest.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

How to be a University President

I believe some of these insights may work outside of academia, but because I spent my life in academic administration (when I wasn't a professor) I'm not sure how many of them will transfer.
My mentor, and the man I most respect, was Jim G. Carleton, who taught my citizenship class freshman year and helped shape my life. He eventually became Vice Chancellor of Syracuse University and prospered under Chancellor  John Corbally. He constantly fell on his sword so Corbally could make crucial changes to Syracuse (a place I love). When he left to become president of the University of Illinois, the people who had been resisting change took it out on my friend, Jim Carleton. He went back to the faculty. Later however, Corbally helped make Carleton VP of Northwestern (a step up in anybody's book).
Because I'd grown up without a father, I looked for individuals to model myself after, and Carleton was the guy I chose.
A wonderful man named Jack Brownell hired me to run a division at a Cal State school. He was in  an acting position, and they brought in a president who I found really likable. The only flaw in my attempt to model myself after Carleton was that this man (The President) had left home at 12 and had accomplished everything on his own. He was an impressive guy but someone who could never conceive that someone would fall on their sword for him. I soon found myself being called into meetings with angry faculty at which the president would tell me how I screwed up. I certainly could've played this better, but I believed that you had to do what was best. The fact I wasn't being supported only angered me instead of warning me. Finally, I went back to my faculty position and lowered my visibility.
I don't know how many presidents there are like Corbally. I've met some, but I think you need to have his vision, and understand what you owe those who put themselves on the line for you, to be a great university president.
Unfortunately, the president I worked for in that last assignment, was forced to resign. That was not inevitable, and he had so many attractive qualities, it truly saddened me.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Ninety Per Cent of Life

What looks good in history, often is unpleasant, and probably, avoidable. At 15, I ran away to Florida from upstate New York for 1 million different reasons. One day on my journey I was in Columbus, Georgia. I apparently had walked into a  "colored" bathroom and all the African-Americans were laughing at me. This was the first time I realized there were real problems in the America I loved.
So in 1962, I stood up in my high school fraternity and said we should have African-American members. Since the Boys Club where we met was full of black kids it seemed like a reasonable request. However it seems that the kid with ADHD had mouthed off too often and finally pissed too many people off.
A few days later, after my outrageous behavior had crystallized attitudes, I was invited to duke it out with a guy who was 6 foot four in the public park in front of the school.
I couldn't not show up, so I went out there and kept standing up until everybody was disappointed. With his arm span I had never gotten close to landing a good one. It probably looked pathetic. But I learned one thing that day, which  later became a cliché: 90% of life is just showing up.
By the time I got to my doctoral dissertation, my ADHD was really a problem. I solved that by getting a carrel in the library and writing for 20 minutes then walking around the library for 40 minutes and talking to people. I got my doctoral dissertation published in a Journal, and took enough shit for 30+ years to become a professor emeritus with good health care. Ninety per cent was just about showing up.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Why the Chinese Must Keep WWII alive

The United States and China have taken a very different view of the Second World War. For China it appears on television every day in serials recently made in Chinese studios. In these videos the Japanese are always evil and the prettiest girl is always the Communist spy within the Kuomintang organization.
In America we made movies and TV shows from the 40s into the 60s about the war and then people grew tired of them and the country moved on. In many ways that was a good thing. In the late 60s German youth took a whole new look at the Nazi period and no longer let their parents hide behind obfuscation and half-truths about what happened during that period. When I lived in Germany in the 90s all the evil was out there for everyone to see. Germany had truly changed.
In Japan that wasn't true. While we were looking the other way the Japanese were changing their schoolbooks to eliminate references to the comfort women used as prostitutes for the Japanese army. They  eliminated  references to the Bataan death March, the Rape of Nanjing and all the other atrocities committed against the Chinese people. They sanitized their history. I once had a discussion with a student who'd gone to high school in Japan. She denounced all the facts we knew about World War II as lies. A basically good human being, she found it impossible to believe what history had shown happened under the Japanese Empire.
This is one of the reasons why the Chinese churn out new shows about the great patriotic war day after day. The Japanese, especially under Abe, deny their own history, and expect all of us to join them in their collective amnesia.

Monday, April 6, 2015

All American

I have two different Mayflower pilgrims in my background. My daughter's great-grandmother died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. My other daughter was born in Nanjing. We all are flourishing in the land of the free and the brave.