by AndrewMc | 11/20/2009 12:01:00 PM
It's Friday. Ramble on!

Whew. What a week. Follow me on below . . .

A decades-long shift in university governance away from faculty toward administrators means that faculty have a much weaker voice than ever. With budget cuts and shrinking lines, it is critically important for university faculty to organize, organize, organize.

Along those lines:

Last year, Willamette University took a step toward reducing tensions surrounding the budget. As we planned for the current year, we faced the high degree of uncertainty that the financial crisis has forced on many universities. We dealt with this situation by shifting from planning a fixed budget to planning a flexible one. The process required to design this more elaborate plan resulted in unusually deep discussion between faculty members and administrators about which high-priority items needed to be included in the “base” budget and which could be deferred pending receipt of the revenue that might be generated by higher enrollment. Contingency plans were thus devised and discussed before we incorporated them into the budget.

This is a good idea, and one that I hope spreads to other institutions. Faculty have a wealth of experience in a variety of disciplines. Use it.

On the "let's ruin education" front:


In the past decade or so, the practice of faculty governance has become increasingly vexed by the proliferation of special interest research and teaching centers sponsored by outside benefactors who expect to be involved in the content and management of programs they pay for. University administrations, strapped for resources and hungry for fame, have found it difficult to turn down any offer of support for teaching and research, even if it comes with ideological mandates.

It spans disciplines:

In the new audit, the inspector general [for the Department of Health and Human Services] reviewed data from the federal government's 2006 fiscal year and found universities almost always trust scientists to judge whether their stock holdings or payments from outside medical companies pose any conflict of interest.

At my own school we have the "BB&T Professor for the Study of Capitalism." The money for it came from a bank, and one of the conditions is that the professor assign Ayn Rand in his classes. That seems crazy to me, but I'm told that "we need the money."

Meanwhile, out in the "heartland," the University of Nebraska is setting the stage for allowing a political agenda to interfere with the educational process in their own system:

In an unusual pushback against President Obama’s expansion of federal financing of human embryonic stem cell research, the University of Nebraska is considering restricting its stem cell experiments to cell lines approved by President George W. Bush.

That sound you hear, and the smell you notice, is the slow decay of American higher education.

Each year the AHA publishes the latest misery in job numbers, and cautions (explicitly or implicitly) that there are too many PhDs out there competing for jobs. OK, OK, sometimes the news is cautiously optimistic, but the job market is very difficult.

The University of California system just approved a 32% tuition increase. I understand that California has its own unique set of problems, but these things are happening everywhere, and the tuition increases are coming on top of layoffs.

As we head into the interview season in San Diego, we should keep asking ourselves if doctoral programs are doing the right thing by continuing to crank out new PhDs each year. Numbers might have been decent last year, but the recession virtually guarantees that in the next few years the job numbers are going to be awful. Universities will be lucky if all they do is not hire for a few years. Many will be cutting faculty, not just letting lines expire.

I don't use Twitter, but I like the concept, and think it's kind of cool. In fact we're talking about setting up a system here on my campus where the various television monitors around campus [which are used for announcements of various kinds] would display a wiffiti screen that would be full of tweets. Students could then respond to an issues-oriented question by tweeting their answers in, which would then be displayed around campus. The idea is to get students civicly engaged.

Still, I'm not sure it's great for discourse--it's more like modern graffiti, I think. But just so you know, they're passing high-tech notes about you while you're talking.

But then again, some people encourage it.

Cole W. Camplese, director of education-technology services at Pennsylvania State University at University Park, prefers to teach in classrooms with two screens — one to project his slides, and another to project a Twitter stream of notes from students. He knows he is inviting distraction — after all, he’s essentially asking students to pass notes during class. But he argues that the additional layer of communication will make for richer class discussions.

I'm not sure that's such a great idea, but whatever. The person is an IT guy who doesn't regularly teach. So this seems experimental, at best.

Beer of the week? Anchor Steam. First brewed in California in the 1880s, "steam" beer (also known as "California Common") is a patented style, although the process is pretty easy.

There are two main types of yeast for brewing: lager yeast (Saccharomyces uvarum) and ale yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae). Lager yeast ferments at a low temperature--under 55 degrees Fahrenheit--and at the bottom of the tank. Ale yeast ferments at warmer temperatures--usually between 55 and 75--and at the top of the tank. If the beer is allowed to ferment at higher temperatures, the yeast will produce fusel alcohol in addition to the normal ethyl alcohol. Fusel alcohol is good for some things, but not to drink. It gives beer a solvent-like flavor that is awful.

Steam beer was developed in California, and uses a lager yeast but ferments the sugars at temperatures normally reserved for ale yeasts. In most cases this would give the beer a strong, hot, spicy, solvent flavor. The folks at anchor use a patented strain of yeast, and carefully control the flavor profile with specialty malts and hops.

The result is a strongly-flavored beer that has characteristics of both ale and lager. Yummy.

Why the name "steam?" Nobody's sure, even the people at Anchor.

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