Blaise Pascal, Penseé 347: “Man is but a reed, the most feeble thing in nature; but he is a thinking reed. The entire universe need not arm itself to crush him. A vapor, a drop of water suffices to kill him. But, if the universe were to crush him, man would still be more noble than that which killed him, because he knows that he dies and the advantage which the universe has over him; the universe knows nothing of this. All our dignity consists, then, in thought. By it we must elevate ourselves, and not by space and time which we cannot fill. Let us endeavor, then, to think well; this is the principle of morality.”

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Leap Year for Physicists

Red Balloon: What It Is

On October 29, 2010, Dr. George Mehaffy, (Ph.D. in Education from the University of Texas at Austin) and now Vice President for Academic Leadership and Change at American Association of State Colleges and Universities, came to Fresno State for the FSU "Red Balloon Launch Event." Mehaffy is the parent of Red Balloon, and he travels, speaks, and writes to promote it.

Fresno State has bought in. See the Fresno State Red Balloon Project site:

Fresno State Academics: Red Balloon Project

Mehaffy outlines the problems Red Balloon seeks to confront and the solutions it proposes in a short article: Medieval Models, Agrarian Calendars and 21st Century Imperatives

What follows is my summary, with analysis at a minimum, of what Mehaffy's Red Balloon is all about. Readers who have additional information, please feel free to comment, below.

Mehaffy considers three pressures operating on higher education: declining state allocations; greater expectations about what universities can do to educate people (He cites the Lumina Foundation’s goal that 60% of adults should have “high quality” degrees by 2025 and seems to accept it.); and changes in technology that allow us to “find, aggregate, and use information in new, networked, more powerful ways.” Mehaffy offers the third “pressure,” new technology, as at least a partial solution to the problem of lower allocations and a way to achieve the goal of getting so many people “high quality” degrees.
Mehaffy sees the university as we’ve known it since the 1970s as failing. For instance, the percentage of Americans with college degrees has been at the mid-twenty percent range for 40 years, and he believes we can do much better. It is institutions rather than students which are failing:

We currently lose a substantial number of students who enroll in our four-year institutions. Many academics would simply suggest that students who drop out are unprepared for the academic demands of college. That kind of thinking pervades the academy, found equally in classrooms as well as the institution as a whole. Students who fail, in the view of too many, are simply not prepared, not qualified and subtly, not worthy. It is the old idea of college as a sorting machine.

Mehaffy says we are faced with the following question: “How do we educate more students, to higher levels of learning outcomes, with less money?” Mehaffy acknowledges the replacement of full-time faculty with part-timers as a reality, and seems content with it. Now, he says, we need go further in reducing costs, while educating more people more effectively. We can do this by changing  “the model for the delivery of learning.” Although he doesn’t say so in this article, I think he has internet “delivery” in mind.

            Mehaffy’s answer to the problem is to start with collective wisdom. He says, rightly I believe, that the wisdom of a smart group is greater than its smartest member. Most creative work does have a large element of collaboration. Think of the Scottish Enlightenment, the Tribe of Ben, think tanks of various kinds—they all demonstrate the historic truth of this. Minds thrive in connection with other minds. Mehaffy marshals a lot of evidence to prove a truth which I think is obvious. All of us already work in a highly integrated networks, kept together with professional journals and organizations, and now the internet. The poster child for the Red Balloon project was a $40,000 contest conducted by the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, the money awarded to a team that could locate 10 red weather balloons placed around the country in plain view. An MIT team was able to do this in short order. This proves we are all connected, so to speak. Mehaffy sees big implications for education in this.

            What applications does new information technology, mainly the internet, have for creating a new model university? Mehaffey asks the following rhetorical questions:

1. How are our universities going to use these new models of knowledge acquisition and application to change the way teachers teach and students learn?
2. How are we helping prepare students to be creators, disseminators, and strategic users of this new knowledge in what is now a deeply networked environment?
3. At the most important level, how are we beginning to deal with the challenge presented by new technologies to traditional, top-down notions of expertise and authority? How can we use the new technologies, and the ways of knowing embedded in them, to challenge and reshape—even reinvent—universities at every level? What long-held assumptions about teaching, learning, and about the role of the professor still have resonance in this age of the Internet? And which assumptions regarding the academic enterprise must be discarded? [My highlight--this is where Mehaffy begins to move toward policy recommendations.]

For Mehaffy, teaching and learning seem to be mainly about the acquisition of information. The old model university had one expert, the teacher, delivering content to non-experts, students. The professor, in Mahaffey’s view, was a monopolist of information, and students went to him or her for access. But today, since content is everywhere, that model is outmoded. 

Mehaffey is clear that the new job of professors will mainly be to design “learning environments” rather than focusing on delivering content. This will necessitate course redesign. In a “content rich environment,” where information is at the touch of a fingertip, faculty should concentrate on creating learning environments where they may spend the majority of their time outside of classrooms, designers of student work which is mainly independent of faculty, working in a support role.

Here is what is on the Red Balloon Agenda:
1. New Models for Institutional Organization and Design (Academic Affairs-Student - Affairs collaboration, new departmental/college structures, etc.)
2. New Models for Enrollment Management (academic advising, tracking, early warning, predictive modeling, etc.)
3. New Models for Faculty (different kinds of faculty work, the use of part-time faculty, etc.)
4. New Models for Curriculum (degrees limited to 120 hours, interdisciplinary programs, new designs for general education, etc.)
5. New Models for Course Design (reduced seat time, student-centered learning, undergraduate research, project-based learning, etc.)
6. New Models for Instructional Design (new forms of student engagement, use of technology in teaching, distance education, etc.)

This is all vague enough, but to be fair, Red Balloon is an on-going project. The idea is to do the above by collaboration with the campuses involved, over 200, to pool information and come up with ideas that make university professors more effective teachers.

You can get a sense, however, of what Mehaffey means by course redesign, and where this all might be heading, by going to his blog:

Looking at the entry for February 17, 2011,” The Red Balloon Project and Course Redesign,” I got a more explicit sense of where Mehaffey wants to take higher education:

A recent meta-analysis by the U.S. Department of Education found that on-line instruction is marginally better that face-to-face but that blended courses yield the best results.  That’s not surprising when you think about it.  Learning, after all, is a social activity most of the time.  I think the need for human contact is enormous.  Faculty in face-to-face settings get to respond to confusion or errors, encourage and motivate, and put a human face on the enterprise.  Yet web-enabled portions of a course, when designed well, will allow exploration and individualization that is often not found in a classroom.
What’s intriguing to me is if you take the concept of blended one step further.  Let’s say you build a blended learning course with 50% of the time face-to-face, and 50% web-enabled.  Once you remove a portion of the course from the hands-on control of the faculty member, what’s to prevent several faculty, at the same institution or anywhere in the world, from working together to build a much more powerful learning environment for the online portion, and then sharing the result with the other collaborators?  That does several things, it seems to me.  First, it would harness much greater human talent than one faculty member could provide.  It might create a much more robust, engaging collection of materials and activities.  Furthermore, when a faculty member no longer has to do all of the work of designing and collecting materials, they might be freed up to spend more time with students who need assistance.

What could be wrong with this? Faculty working together, pooling resources, creating the best on-line lectures about Shakespeare's work that money can buy, disseminating them to students as 50% of a Shakespeare course, in a learning environment which is student-centered (though I'm not sure what this would be), and then doing the same throughout the curriculum. Physics, Chemistry, Calculus, Latin, History. We might eliminate much of the faculty, cutting that expense, and educate students better. Quality control could be centralized from Long Beach, in the CSU system, at least with regard to on-line lecture components. Why not do this? Wouldn't it be better for students and taxpayers?

I will respond to that question in a few days. But I will say, for now, that I think Red Balloon is based on false assumptions about information, university teaching, and people. Like all utopian educational schemes, whose ambitions are large scale social engineering (60% of adult Americans with high quality degrees!) it is not just unrealistic, but morally obtuse about human malleability and free will. 

Next Post: Red Balloon: Why It Will Fail

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Red Balloon Attempts Liftoff.

Craig Bernthal

Red Balloon apparently is our future. It is going to retool education for the 21st century. I don't know much about it, except that Fresno State is on board, and that after the events of the last several months, we'd better start cramming. 

I found my way to the Red Balloon Site in Academic Affairs, and to Dr. George L. Mehaffy's kick-off 
Red Balloon power point presentation. A short way into the slides, I hit one that proclaimed:

"Technology Changes Everything."

You can see this at:

Deciding that a power point by itself wouldn't be as good as Mehaffy's whole speech, I backtracked on the FSU Academics Site, until I found "View the Video." I mouse-clicked on "Dr. Mehafy Provides and Overview" and was connected to a window that said, "Servor Error in '/' Application. The resource cannot be found." 

Have fun and try it yourself. See if you can find the red balloon:

Yup. Technology, like money, changes everything.

The Practices of Lent

Father Robert Barron on the Practices of Lent:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Eric Metaxas at the National Prayer Breakfast

I was alerted to this video on Kirk Whitney's "Surly Temple" Blog.  Here is Eric Metaxas' speech at the National Prayer Breakfast this year. Metaxas has written two fine biographies recently, one, Amazing Grace, about William Wilberforce, the other, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, about Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

It takes Metaxas a while to settle down, but once he gets into it, his speech becomes interesting;

Judy Collins 1976: Amazing Grace

Friday, February 24, 2012

Budget Question of the Day: Why Did Fresno State Have a $65 Million Carry-Forward Last Year?

Budget books going back to the 2006 to 2007 academic year show carry-forwards for Fresno State that have now reached $65 million or more. Carry-forwards represent money, for the university as a whole, not spent, but passed through to the next academic year. The figures I present below are taken from the General Fund Expenditure Budget Summary charts in the indicated budget books.

If you want to check my numbers, the pdf's for all of the budget books for the 21st century can be found at this link:

Budget Books

Here are the carry-forward figures and the places where they can be found:

06-07: $28,834.038  See the 2007-08 Budget Book, p. 13.

07-08: $30,920,037 See the 2008-09 Budget Book, p. 13.

08-09: $27,314,040 See the 2009-10 Budget Book, p. 13

For the next two entries, no page numbers are available. Look under title "Expenditure Budget Summary" in the referenced Budget Books.

09-10: $44,035,938 See the 2010-11 Budget Book.

10-11: $65,806,057 See the 2011-12 Budget Book.

The administration deserves a round of faculty applause for this immense achievement. In a year of dire budget emergency, we managed to save $65 million, and pass it on to this year! As Senator Phogbound from L'il Abner would say: "Show yo 'preciation!" We didn't do nearly this well before the market crash, and that makes the achievement even more spectacular.

We can only hope that in the future Fresno State, under the far-sighted guidance of President Welty and Provost Covino, will do even better in expanding the carry-forward. I believe that with even more aggressive enrollment management (as per the  Budget Task Force recommendation); average class sizes of 100 students maxing out at, say, 400 or 500; and tuition doubled or tripled, we could carry-forward $100 million--or maybe a lot more--to the next year.

Meanwhile, its up to the faculty to join this crusade. Let's all pitch in, make suggestions about where to cut and keep working on SOAP with no release time.

Fresno State, like the USA, is in the very best of hands:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Why Ashes?

This morning I went to the 6:45 a.m. Ash Wednesday mass at St. Anthony's of Padua, Fresno. After mass, a lay eucharistic minister crossed my forehead with ashes and said, "Repent and believe in the Gospel." She said it very, very quietly, and I might have missed the command, except that Monsignor Rob was booming it out so everyone in St. Anthony's could hear. I enjoyed that loud proclamation. My ash cross did not come out looking as neat as the one in the photograph. It was a smudge, really, and disappeared after I went on a 20-mile bike ride and took off my helmet.

Ash Wednesday has a mysterious attraction. People who are not Catholic come. Although they cannot receive communion, they do get ashes, and they want them. St. John's Cathedral, downtown, moves big crowds through continuous services all day long. Monsignor Rob said that the ashes were "an outward sign of an inner intention for conversion." People understand that. They have a hunger for God, which rises to the surface on special days. They want to be better than they are. The Church's mission is to help all of us to be better, by conforming ourselves to Christ, through a process of constant conversion.

But why ashes? Why not some other pregnant symbol? There is no doubt a history behind the use of ashes. In the Old Testament, people repented in sack cloth and ashes. But perhaps the use of ashes ultimately comes down to what we are: "Ashes to ashes and dust to dust." Ash is a symbol of death. The cross is a symbol of Christ's victory over death. Put together, on Ash Wednesday, the cross and ash proclaim two stark alternatives. On Ash Wednesday, we choose to die to our sins, and we choose victory over death by means of the cross. We go through ashes to life.

The Fresno State "Audit" We Do Have

Craig Bernthal

Somewhere in the dark corners of the Henry Madden Library, there is a pdf version of an Independent Auditor's Report of June 30, 2011. Chris Henson tracked this down, not without effort, and tells me that she was told by the librarian who finally found it that several hard copies are to be distributed around the campus, though this has not occurred yet. The report, done by KMPG, LLP, is interesting. I'd like to copy and share whole pages, but the pdf will not allow me to copy any portion of it. When I try, I get a little box that tells me:

"Without the owner password, you do not have permission to copy portions of this document." Then it gives me the chance to enter the "owner password." Thus, being a mere professor and taxpayer, I am somewhat thwarted. But not entirely, since if you got notice of this blog through email, you also received the audit as an attachment.

I did find two pages of particular interest, and I will share some of the information on those.

On page 7, there is a "Condensed Summary of Revenues, Expenses, and Changes in Net Assets" for the years ended June 30, 2010 and 2011. After the operating revenues (mostly student tuition), operating expenses, and non-operating revenues are toted up, Fresno State is in the black by $861,007 for 2010. But for 2011 Fresno State is in the red by $20,093,656. I don't know that there is a problem with running in the hole by $20 million in 2011, but this is the kind of figure that makes me want to know more. Why did we run a deficit last year? How does that deficit affect budgeting at Fresno State?  For full consultation to take place, the faculty not only needs this information, but it needs explanation.

Page 12 also has interesting data. It provides an account of "Long-Term Debt Obligations" of Fresno State. Our total long-term debt at the end of 2011 was $94,964,876. This debt was apparently floated mainly through "Systemwide Revenue Bonds."

The bond issues show the following loan amounts:

Series 2004A Union:            $3,325,000
Series 2005A Union:           $15,950,000
Series 2005A Aux Org       $68,835,000

Then there is the Swimming Pool Loan:   $3,881,250
The Koch Financial--Parking Lot-- Photo Voltaic Project:  $3,403,412.

I don't want to imply that there is anything fishy about the loans, or that Fresno State ought not to have some debt. I do want to say, the faculty ought to understand what the loans are for and how they affect budgeting on the academic side. For instance, is the $68,835,000 for the library? It's my best guess, but I can only guess. Another question: what is the interest rate on the bonds?

If you want to know more about the auditors, KMPG, here is a link:


I should add that the KMPG audit is based on other audits which KMPG did not do, but which were provided to it by the FSU administration. See the opening paragraph of KMPG's letter to Dr. John Welty:

"We have audited the accompanying financial statements of California State University, Fresno (the University) . . . which collectively comprise the University's financial statements as listed in the table of contents. These financial statements are the responsibility of the University's management. Our responsibility is to express opinions on these financial statements based on our audit. We did not audit the financial statements of the aggregate discretely presented component units of the University. Those financial statements were audited by other auditors whose reports thereon have been furnished to us, and our opinion, insofar as it related to the amounts included for the discretely presented component units, is based solely on the reports of the other auditors." (my italics)

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What is Lent?

"Man is a hungry being. But he is hungry for God. Behind all the hunger of our life is God. All desire is finally a desire for him." Alexander Schmemann, The Life of the World

Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which poses the question: What is Lent?

One answer is that Lent is a section of time in the perpetual round of sacred time that organizes the life of the church. In this picture it appears in purple at the top right of the circle. Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday, February 22, 2012. It ends on Holy Saturday, April 7. There are 40 days in Lent, though if you counted from Ash Wednesday to Easter, you'd find 46. That is because there are six Sundays, and Sundays, as days of celebration, are not included in the season. 

The purpose of Lent is to prepare for the great feast of Easter through penance, prayer and fasting. "What are you giving up for Lent?" is a typical Catholic question. Whatever it is, you don't have to give it up on Sunday.

As is the case, even in science, definitions pressed hard enough dissolve in mystery. What is gravity? The name we give to a set of physical relations. What is electricity? The same thing. But try to say what the essence of gravity is, what is this thing that keeps the earth spinning around the sun without falling into it? what is this thing that curves space and time? We finally can't answer those questions. We might as well called it "the Gravity Angel." Lent presents the same problem. Like most Christian concepts, it floats on mystery.

The definition of Lent that appears in the Catholic Catechism contains at least 4 important elements: penance, fasting, prayer, and time. Each one leads to mystery.

For this entry, with a lot of help from Alexander Schmemann's wonderful book, For the Life of the World, I want to talk about food.

Lent sharpens our appetites for God. It encourages us to reform our disordered appetites.

"In the biblical story of creation man is presented, first of all, as a hungry being, and the whole world is his food." (Everything in quotation marks is from Schmemann unless otherwise identified; like a good English professor, I'll give the page numbers. Here it's p. 11.)

"Man must eat in order to live; he must take the world into his body and transform it into himself, into flesh and blood. He is indeed that which he eats, and the whole world is presented as one all-embracing banquet table for man. And this image of the banquet remains, throughout the whole Bible, the central image of life. It is the image of life at its creation and also the image of life at its end and fulfillment:
 '. . . that you eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom.'" (p. 11)

"All that exists is God's gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man's life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and, in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: 'O taste and see that the Lord is good.'" (p. 14)

Schmemann here lays out one of the foundational principles of Christianity, but one that his church, the Greek Orthodox, has kept a firmer grip upon, through time, than even the Roman Catholic Church: the material world is an all-embracing eucharist, a cosmic sacrament. The cosmos itself is a vehicle of God's grace and points to Him. We tend to lose sight of this. Our lives are split between the secular and religous, and even our religious lives tend to split between a "spirituality," which wants to leave the material world behind, and a social gospel, which leaves the spiritual behind. The point is that the material world is spiritual. The point is that we don't expect to continue life after death as disembodied spirits floating in the ether, but as the fully embodied creatures we were intended to be, citizens of a new heaven and a new earth.

Schmemann describes what mankind lost in the Fall as follows: "He does not know that breathing can be communion with God. He does not realize that to eat can be to receive life from God in more than its physical sense. He forgets that the world, its air or its food cannot by themselves bring life, but only as they are received and accepted for God's sake, in God and as bearer of the divine gift of life. By themselves they can produce only the appearance of life." (p. 17)

So what is the fasting part of Lent about? In not only sharpens our appetite for a specific day, the great feast of Easter, but redirects our appetite, through food, toward God. We step back from consumption for a period of 40 days, to taste the true goodness of food that we are hungry for, and to connect that goodness to the ultimate Source of life's blessings. We rest from that practice on the Sundays of Lent to taste the goodness of food and therefore, the goodness of God.

"In our perspective . . . the 'original sin' is not primarily that man has 'disobeyed' God; the sin is that he ceased to be hungry for Him and for Him alone, ceased to see his whole life depending on the whole world as a sacrament of communion with God." (p.18)

When I visited Oban, Scotland, a few years ago, I went on a tour through the Oban scotch distillery, and was surprised to find out how much scotch they lost through evaporation. "That's for the angels over Oban," the guide said. On Sundays, this Lent, I want to drink with those tipsy angels.

How to do Fat Tuesday

I recommend:

Pancakes at the Rodeo Cafe, Clovis, CA.,

Then, walking to New Orleans.

and ending the day with Jambalaya

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Westminster Abbey: Oh God Our Help in Ages Past


No one does hymns and choral music like the Brits:

A Reply to John Welty: Why I Signed "A Letter from the Fresno State Faculty"

Craig Bernthal

At the Provost's Forum on Thursday, February 16, not long after I had taken a seat, John Welty got up from his, came over to me, and asked, in so many words, the following questions: Why did you sign that statement in the Bee? What did you hope to accomplish that would be constructive? Don't you understand that it will just make it harder for me to raise funds?

Those are serious questions, and I've been thinking about them ever since, especially since my off-the-cuff reply could have been more coherent. Dr. Welty, here is my better answer:

1. You haven't leveled with us. 

My first blog entry claimed, "the information that the faculty needs to participate in a discussion about the budget crisis has been so slow in coming, so deliberately slow in being supplied, so sketchy, so opaque, that now, in the eleventh hour of decision making, we [the faculty] have really been denied a voice."

I hold to that. In forum after forum, we have asked questions and been given the most minimal answers. Budget information is divulged only under the pressure of a direct and exact question, and as we keep asking questions, we keep getting surprises, and sometimes big ones.

For instance, at the February 16 Provost's Forum, we were informed that over 6 million dollars was available in carry-forward funds to plug this year's budget gap. Who knew this last November?

We are said to have a 10.1 million dollar budget gap looming for next year, if Governor Brown's tax initiatives don't pass. Do we have the reserves to close that gap? Is there money in central funding available for that? From other sources? I suspect the answer is yes, but we haven't been told. (And by the way, please give us a public and definitive answer to those questions.) 

In November, at the last Provost's Forum of the semester, when I asked for the the budget information for Academic Affairs that had been supplied to the Budget Task Force, Michael Caldwell said we wouldn't find any "smoking guns." Let's just call $16 million in reserves a nice surprise.

2. You haven't consulted with us.

I have blogged about this ad tedium. Once more unto the breach.

Creating a Task Force was an end run around the only consultative body elected by the faculty, the University Budget Committee, which since the dawn of time has represented the faculty on budgetary issues. The UBC was completely cut out of the loop. Please do not tell me that John Constable was responsible for passing information from the Task Force to the UBC, and that this solves the consultation problem. No one told him that was his responsibility. He did not pass any information along, and had that been his duty, Dennis Nef, who sat on both the UBC and the Task Force, would have seen he was not doing his job and told him to do it. The UBC was out of budget consultation all the way.

3. You haven't listened to our cries of alarm.

Many attempts were made to convey the breadth and depth of faculty alarm before 141 faculty members signed "The Letter."

After the Budget Task Force recommendations were published in October, the cry from the College of Science and Mathematics and from the College of Arts & Humanities must have been loud enough to reach the fourth floor of the library. CSM countered with a motion in the Academic Senate. A&H formed an ad hoc committee, which sent a formal reply. The faculty of these two schools were stunned, and this certainly must have registered at the last Provost's Forum of the fall semester.

In November, I was wondering what I could possibly do to add to the wake up call. The night that the provost announced he was thinking of taking the faculty responses to the Budget Task Force, which had been emailed to the Senate, off-line, and then did briefly take them off-line, I began to seriously consider that academic freedom was under attack at Fresno State. I did two things in response. I taught two classes in the Free Speech area during the first week of the semester, discussing issues of free speech and faculty consultation in the context of John Milton's Areopagitica. And, I started this blog.

Meanwhile, a faculty emeriti group composed of Joyce Aiken, Linnea Alexander, Phyllis Irwin, Jerry McMenamin, and former Fresno State provost and university president Judith Kuipers was meeting with you, trying to get budget information--not getting much--and trying to convey the breadth and depth of faculty alarm over lack of consultation and other issues. I'm afraid they achieved nothing.

So what does all of this amount to? We lost our forum on campus. We lacked a zealous Senate Chair as an advocate. In former years, with men like Lyman Heine or Bob Fasse, things might have gone differently. We had no choice but to go to the public--no one on this campus was listening.

4. Non-essential parts of the university have been retained while essentials have been cut.

We have had several years of budget crisis. Our classes get bigger. Sections are cut. I do not have to list to you all the ways this university is under pressure.

Under these circumstances, CSALT's very existence was an insult. The creation of a new associate VP last semester, to people who are teaching GE courses with writing components to 300 students is, frankly, an insult that sinks deeply into the faculty. Spending money on a new faculty assessment package from IDEA, one which performs its task less well and more expensively than what was in place, has been an occasion for faculty derision. In short, I am mystified by the spending choices the university is making, as are 140 of my colleagues, people you have worked with closely and who you respect, like Joe Penberra and Jim Highsmith. Doesn't this have to be taken seriously?

5. A pernicious School of Education model of instruction is being imposed on us, of which CSALT, aspects of TILT, Red Balloon, the Idea faculty assessment instrument, student outcomes assessment, and the RTP process give evidence.

Here we probably just have philosophical differences. Where I see a bureaucratization of teaching that I'm afraid will kill good teaching, you may see conformity to a set of responsible guidelines. I think the faculty is being diverted from its two main tasks of teaching and research into committee work and community work, and workshop work, which is in most instances a waste of time and a distraction. I see new tenure track faculty being socialized into a system that forces them to spend immense amounts of their most productive years on trivia. I see all of this couched in a language of educationese, which I and my mentor, George Orwell, find appalling and damaging. Let's take some of the air out of the language. Faculty research is research--we don't have to call it "faculty transformative research" to make it important.

6. Concentration of power in the provost displaces the expertise of departments and schools in creating curricula. See my blog entry on that issue, "No Confidence in Fresno State Administration, Part 4: The Provost Creates His Own Faculty."

I will just finish with one last thought. I always have believed that you had the welfare of Fresno State at heart and cared deeply about the students here and the quality of their education. You have done a lot of good during your years as our president. But what has happened over the last several years has created a deep divide between the faculty, you, and the rest of your administration. If there is anything, during the rest of this semester, that you need it address in constructive ways, it is that rift. You cannot leave that job to the provost--you are the only one who can do something about it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Budget Task Force Confidentiality

I would like to print a partial retraction and apology to Provost Bill Covino and to Michael Caldwell, based on a previous blog about the Academic Senate meeting of February 13, 2012. At the end of that entry, I quoted Provost Covino verbatim as giving this charge to the Budget Task Force:

"At the first meeting of the Task Force I informed the Task Force that this was not a confidential committee, and said further, or we had a discussion in the course of which I said further, that they would be dealing with information and deliberations that were evolving in the course of their discussions, and that while their deliberations were not confidential, and I had no reason to think that that should be the case, that they should, as we all should, exercise their best professional judgment and discretion relative to seeking input or reporting out. That was my instruction paraphrase to the Task Force."

After talking with a member of the Task Force, I believe that this was the charge the Task Force got, no more and no less. So any implication by me that what Provost Covino said was not a full disclosure of the truth is inaccurate, wrong, and I regret it. 

I believe what happened was this: The members of the Task Force heard that charge, and given the sensitivity of the issues they were dealing with, and their desire to have candid discussions about budget cuts, they decided all of the information they were given and all of their discussions had to be kept confidential. That was not an unreasonable decision. Such a committee has to have enough confidentiality to be able to function. Given this, however, I'm not sure what the Provost meant when he said, "this was not a confidential committee," since everyone on the committee seems to have thought it was precisely that. 

My objection, all along, has been cutting the University Budget Committee out of the process. It was cut out, and I do not believe there was any mechanism in place or any person charged with connecting the UBC to the Task Force.  What would be the point of having a liaison? If you were going to link to the UBC, why not just make the UBC part of the Task Force and have done with it? (Here, I have to say, I think that Michael Caldwell was honestly mistaken, and perhaps this will be clarified in the future.)

The UBC should have been part of the Task Force. It will need to address the possible $10.1 million shortfall in the coming year, and the faculty needs the best, most experienced people it can get on that committee.

Budget Task Force, RIP

On February 16, 2012, at a forum in the Student Satellite Union, Provost Covino announced his response to the recommendations of the Budget Task Force. I breathed a sigh of relief when, in response to a question by Prof. David Engle, of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, Covino made it crystal clear that the plan to merge the College of Arts & Humanities and the College of Social Science had been shelved. "Scrapped" is probably the better word; I don't believe we'll ever hear of it again.

I am not going to give a blow by blow presentation of this entire meeting. The Provost provided a link, via email, which provides a video presentation of his remarks:

Provost's Forum, February 16, 2012

After the Provost spoke, two questions were asked which are very pertinent to issues of the budget and to faculty consultation.

First, Dean Vida Samiaan, Dean of Arts & Humanities, asked whether the move of the Economics Department to the School of Business wasn't likely to cost money rather than save it. She did not get a definitive answer, so here's mine: yes, it will cost more money. The funding allocation within the School of Business is richer than with Social Science, and the Economics Dept. will be the beneficiary.

Second, Jacinta Amaral, of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures, asked whether there was any faculty consultation involved in Provost Covino's decision to keep a carry forward amount, within Academic Affairs, of $6.5 million. I don't think she got a direct answer to that question. This decision may have been wise, but it appears to have been the Provost's decision alone. This raises the most important issue for me: where is faculty consultation?

For all its hours spent and all the consternation caused by its recommendations, the Budget Task Force accomplished nothing of budgetary significance. I'm sure the members of the Task Force did their best, but I bet even they would admit the futility of the exercise. The two big recommendations, the disbursement of the College of Science and Mathematics and the amalgamation of the Colleges of Arts and Humanities and Social Sciences, did not occur. Those mergers were supposed to save $500,000, but I'm doubtful. They would have severely wounded the culture of Fresno State and had a negative effect on donors. The Provost's decision not to follow the advice of the Task Force on these matters was correct.

The rest of the Task Force recommendations have no budgetary significance: Don't keep low enrolled classes. Don't keep courses in the catalog if you don't need them. These items are attended to by chairs and deans every semester.

Train department chairs about how important it is to not keep low-enrolled classes, etc.? Deans do this already. I hope such training sessions are not instituted. They will be a waste of faculty time.

So where do we go from here, as we face a $10.1 million budget gap in the coming year? This is the Academic Senate's opportunity to craft a consultation process, the core of which ought to the the University Budget Committee. This committee must be prepared to make deep vertical cuts everywhere it sees programs or institutes which are not central to the mission of the university. Our mission, above all,  is to teach students and to give them the kinds of educational experiences appropriate to their disciplines. Any program or institute not directly related to that mission should be ranked according to its importance in supporting effective teaching, and then painful decisions will have to be made.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Academic Senate Meeting, February 13, 2012: Part 2: Budget Task Force Formation and Directions on Confidentiality

Two important discussions occurred in the Academic Senate on Monday, February 13. One pertained to the motion presented by Chris Henson, English, arguing that the Senate request a state audit of Fresno State. The other, embedded within the discussion of the state audit proposal, addressed the formation of the the Budget Task Force and its lines of communication with the rest of the university.

I now have the written history of how the Task Force was formed, which was prepared and read by Michael Caldwell, and I also have a digital recording of the Senate meeting. With these aids to accuracy, I will continue a series of columns on the Senate meeting. My aim in this column and the next is to set forth what was said at the meeting as accurately as I can, but I will have some explanation of why I have been asking questions pertaining to Task Force confidentiality. Here's the line up for this blog and the next:

1. What was said in the Senate about the formation of the Budget Task Force and whether it was directed to keep any of its deliberations confidential;

2. What senators said in response to the proposal for a state audit.

The Formation of the Budget Task Force and Whether It was Told to Keep Its Proceedings Confidential

For the last four weeks, colleagues at Fresno State have been telling me that the Budget Task Force was forbidden to discuss its deliberations with the rest of the university, including the University Budget Committee. Some of this was hearsay and some of it was not, but as lawyers say, there's hearsay and there's hearsay--I believed, and still believe, that what I was told is reliable. So, at the Senate meetings of February 6 and February 13, I have repeatedly asked about communication between the Task Force, the University Budget Committee, and the rest of the university. 

My involvement in this Senate meeting was prompted by the following exchange, begun by 

Otto Schweizer (Criminology): I just have a question regarding the Task Force, the Budget Task Force. Were any of the members of the Budget Task Force also on the University Budget Committee? So if there were, then that would of course be privy and involved in the process.

Michael Caldwell: Yes. The Chair of the Budget Committee, John Constable, was requested to serve by the provost on the committee [the Task Force] to facilitate communication between the Senate, also and between the Task Force and the Budget Committee. In addition, it was determined that his expertise as a result of serving on the budget committee would be especially valuable to the Task Force.

Craig Bernthal: I think this a very important point about John Constable's responsibility to share information from the Budget Task Force. I think it really needs to be cleared up. What -- was he told to share everything? All the business of the Task Force? Was he given that as a responsibility? Was he told that he was restricted in terms of what information he was to convey? Was there any charge to the Budget Task Force to not share any of the information or proceedings within the Task Force with the faculty at large or the University Budget Committee? I think we really need specific information on that communication line. 

Michael Caldwell said he thought that was a great question, and in reply read the following prepared statement about context, which I reproduce in its entirety:

Chronological History of the
Academic Affairs Budget Advisory Task Force Formation

On March 21, 2011, Provost Covino shared his intention to form a budget advisory Task Force at the Academic Senate Executive Committee meeting, a suggestion for which no member found fault or voiced an objection. One committee member asked if the budget committee would be involved, and Provost Covino shared that he was appointing the Chair of the Budget Committee to the Task Force and there was no further concern voiced.

The Senate Executive Committee routinely serves the campus by administering calls for a wide variety of committee appointments and task forces, along with making recommendations for appointments.

From the Academic Senate Bylaws, Article XII.1.A.15:
15.The Executive Committee shall make recommendations concerning the appointments to committees, task forces, ad hoc committees, and other groups as required.

The actions of the Provost in forming the Task Force were in accordance with the by-laws of the Academic Senate, and he was aided by the Senate Executive Committee in soliciting and selecting members. There are no actual or implied statements in the Bylaws of the Academic Senate or Executive Committee requiring the Executive Committee to consult the full Academic Senate on these matters. In fact, the Bylaws clearly delegate this duty and authority to the Executive Committee; therefore, by the provisions stated in the Bylaws of both the Academic Senate and the Executive Committee, the Senate has delegated this authority and responsibility to the Executive Committee.

Regardless, on March 21, 2011, Provost Covino announced to the full Academic Senate that a task force was being comprised. There were no concerns raised by the Senate following the announcement.

From the March 21, 2011, minutes of the Academic Senate:

D. Provost Covino discussed the enrollment targets for 2011-2012. Dr. Covino announced a task force is being comprised to develop
recommendations to Academic Affairs with regard to budget reductions and cost savings.

A campus-wide call for membership went out to the entire faculty, including all Academic Senators, for four (4) tenured/tenure-track faculty to serve on the Task Force. Again, there were no concerns raised by the Academic Senate following the announcement.

Following the campus-wide call, on March 28, 2011, the Executive Committee discussed the appointments in closed session--a particularly important practice when discussing personnel matters--which included Provost Covino (as he is an ex-officio member of the Executive Committee). The Executive Committee worked with the Provost on selecting members of the Task Force, and there were no objections or concerns raised about forming a Task Force of this kind. The members present for this discussion (according to the minutes) were:

Chair Michael Caldwell, Jacinta Amaral, Thomas Holyoke, Pedro Ramirez (student member), O. Harald Schweizer, President John Welty, Provost William Covino, Lynn Williams and Michael Botwin (ex-officio)

From the minutes:

9. Executive Session.

MSC to move into Executive Session. (3:45 p.m.–4:00 p.m.) to discuss the nominations for the Academic Affairs Budget Advisory Task Force.

10. Return to open session. (4:00 p.m.)

MSC to present a list of eight candidates to Provost Covino for the selection of four task force members.

This decision was reported out and there were no objections noted. Three Deans, the Co-Chairs (Chair of the Academic Senate and Associate Vice President/Dean of Undergraduate Studies) and the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee were appointed by the Provost. The Provost was present for the justifications made for the eight faculty candidates, and the Executive Committee, exercising the responsibility to act in accordance with the Bylaws, made the decision to present the candidates to the Provost. Therefore, the actions regarding selection were not only executed by—but also authorized by—the Executive Committee of the Senate, who is delegated with the responsibility to:

"make recommendations concerning the appointments to committees, task forces, ad hoc committees, and other groups as required."

Since none of the members of the Executive Committee ever objected to the formation of the Task Force after the function of the Task Force was clearly explained, it is clear that this was a lawful, open and direct example of consultation and shared governance.

Following the initial campus call for membership, a member of the Budget Committee and past Chair of the Academic Senate, James Kus, made an inquiry to Senate Chair Caldwell regarding the formation of the Task Force versus the use of the Senate Budget Committee. Since Provost Covino made the request, Chair Caldwell referred Dr. Kus to Provost Covino. Provost Covino responded with the following to Kus, via email:

The Task Force I am assembling will potentially address a wide range of possibilities, ranging from curricular change to reorganization to accreditation to the support of strategic priorities for the Schools/Colleges. Therefore, a broadly-based ad hoc committee of both faculty and administrators is necessary to represent a broad range of perspectives on the programmatic, structural, and strategic elements of the academic operation that may have fiscal impact. The Budget Committee is very welcome to contribute through its representative to this discussion.

Kus (a long standing member of the Budget Committee), after receiving this response regarding the formation of the committee stated, via email:

My email to Michael Caldwell was in response to his call to the faculty for people to serve on the task force -- no mention was made in his original email that the task force was other than a Senate body (corrected today with another call). Thus my confusion. In the 1992-93 budget crisis, the Senate created a committee (if I recall correctly, also called a task force) to review priorities and make recommendations as to what departments/programs might be cut. I thought that Caldwell's first message was to set up a similar Senate group -- once I talked to John Constable, who had more information, and after yesterday's UBC meeting, it is clear that the group you are setting up is not in conflict with the mission of the UBC (or the work of URPAC) -- but that was not my impression based on Mike's first message to the faculty.

It is clear that the Budget Committee, including the Chair of the committee (Constable) and one of the committee’s long term members (Kus), had no concerns or reservations regarding the formation and potential work of the Task Force. To claim so, eight months after the fact, is false.

Throughout the Summer months, the Task Force met with every Dean, including the Deans of the Library and Continuing and Global Education. At no time did any Dean voice any concerns or objections to the work of the Task Force. The co-chairs of the Task Force also met with every Dean individually and at no time were there any concerns raised about the Task Force.

The Task Force was formed utilizing standard Senate procedures, did not garner any objections from any party—including the Budget Committee— for over six months, until the recommendations were published.

Although I never received a request from the Budget Committee to meet or discuss the work of the Task Force, Dr. Nef, who regularly attends Budget Committee meetings, offered to share the Academic Affairs budget information (previously shared with all of the Deans) that was the basis for the task force deliberations. This has not yet taken place. Dr. Constable has indicated to Dr. Nef that it will likely be on this week’s Budget Committee meeting agenda.

Prepared by Michael Caldwell 02.12.2012 

I did not feel this addressed my question, so I restated it as follows:

Craig Bernthal: My question was: Was John Constable or anyone else on the Task Force told to keep information considered by or any deliberations of the Task Force confidential to any degree? That's my question.

At this point Provost Bill Covino spoke: I charged the Task Force, so I should probably answer that. At the first meeting of the Task Force I informed the Task Force that this was not a confidential committee, and said further, or we had a discussion in the course of which I said further, that they would be dealing with information and deliberations that were evolving in the course of their discussions, and that while their deliberations were not confidential, and I had no reason to think that that should be the case, that they should, as we all should, exercise their best professional judgment and discretion relative to seeking input or reporting out. That was my instruction paraphrase to the Task Force.

Michael Caldwell added: I'm sorry that you [Craig Bernthal] don't feel I answered your question, but the communication between myself and Jim Kus and Provost Covino and Jim Kus reflected the fact that John Constable's role on the committee was made clear from the beginning and that he was to communicate directly with the Task Force. Whether that became blurry at some point, I can't speak for John Constable, he's not here right now.

Craig Bernthal: Yeah, it would actually be quite helpful to have him here at another meeting. I don't know if that can be arranged . . .

Michael Caldwell: Absolutely. We can invite any guests . . .

This finishes my report of this part of the Senate meeting. I will only add how important it is to have this information on the record, and especially Provost Covino's and Michael Caldwell's answers to my question about confidentiality. 

The history presented by Michael Caldwell presents many issues about the breadth of the charge to the Task Force, what the Executive Committee understood about the charge to the Task Force, and how much power can be delegated to a task force. But for me, the paramount issue is whether the Task Force was used in such a way as to evade faculty consultation.

If there was any kind of gag order to the Task Force, that is clearly a serious issue. If people have not told the truth about it, that is an even more serious issue. 

[Quotations in this column are from the Senate audio recording. I have cleared up a few verbal stumbles and "ah's" or "um's," but this is nearly verbatim.]

A Letter from the Fresno State Faculty to the Central Valley

The following letter appeared on a full page of the Fresno Bee this morning. I was happy to be one of its signers:

We, the undersigned, believe that California State University, Fresno needs to regain its focus on education and research. For too long, university administrators have shown a disregard for quality education and the advancement of research. Over the course of years, California State University, Fresno has expanded non-academic activities. University administrators have spent funds freely to create unnecessary offices with marginal or even adverse effects on the primary mission of the university: teaching and research. With expanded budgets, the university became a center for commercial public work projects that require continuous inflows of state funds to overcome shortfalls in revenue.

As state funds become scarce, the cost of education for students skyrockets, classes are cut, and existing classes packed. Faculty positions are lost, research facilities strained, and support for research declines while expensive administrative and staff positions and projects, not crucial to the educational mission of the university, remain relatively untouched by the budget cuts. The budget crisis is used as an opportunity to concentrate power over what is taught and how we teach by career administrators who have scant knowledge about the subjects we teach or how to teach well. Current proposals call for additional cuts to the academic functions of the university, including the elimination of Colleges, departments, and programs. All of these cuts to academics directly harm students and severely impact teaching, research, and faculty morale. The diminishing portion of the university budget devoted to academics cannot sustain further cuts in funding.

We insist that any future cuts must come from the non-academic and administrative side of the campus, beginning with the Chancellor’s Office in Long Beach and on the individual campuses. Specifically, at California State University, Fresno, cuts should come from the portion of the budget not allocated to academics. Expensive and non-crucial administrative programs and activities should be suspended or eliminated. Commercial projects which drain university resources should be ended. Efforts to further devalue academics by eliminating academic Colleges, departments, and programs should cease. It is time to rebalance the scales in favor of students, teaching and research and to deflate the bloated administrative and non-academic divisions of the university.

We strongly urge our students, the parents of our students, our elected officials, and the general public to support our call to return the focus at California State University, Fresno to academic achievement and to channel increasingly scarce state budget resources to teaching and research.

Signed by 141 Fresno State Faculty:

Dr. Yishaiya Aboach, Political Science
Dr. Katherine Adams, Communications
Dr. Linnea Alexander, English
Dr. Jacinta Amaral, Modern and Classical Languages
Dr. Pedro Amaral, Philosophy
Dr. Tim Anderson, Kinesiology
Dr. Michael Becker, Political Science
Dr. Craig Bernthal, English
Dr. John Beynon, English
Dr. Diane Blair, Communications
Dr. Daniel Carrion, Theatre Arts
Dr. Paul Crosbie, Biology
Dr. Henry Delcore, Anthropology
Dr. Kathryn Forbes, Women's Studies
Dr. Sasan Fayazmanesh, Economics
Dr. John Hales, English
Dr. Kenneth Hansen, Political Science
Dr. Chris Henson, English
Dr. James Highsmith, Finance and Business Law
Dr. Timothy Kubal, Sociology
Dr. Gerardo Munoz, Physics
Dr. Joseph J. Penbera, Business Management
Dr. Paul Price, Psychology
Dr. Frederick Ringwald, Physics
Dr. Douglas Singleton, Physics
Dr. Mark Somma, Political Science
Dr. C. John Suen, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Dr. Bruce Thornton, Modern and Classical Languages
Dr. Agnes Tuska, Mathematics
Dr. John Wakahayashi, Earth and Environmental Sciences
Dr. Lisa Weston, English
Dr. Tom Wielicki, Business
Steven Yarbrough, English, MFA
Dr. Eugene Zumwalt, English