In EMUTalk news: a holiday break, and seeking more contributions during sitedad’s sabbatical

The last day of finals this term is on December 18 and commencement for Fall is December 20, but I will be pretty much wrapped up with my courses and the semester by the end of the day today. That means will be taking its customary winter break pretty much from this evening until after New Year’s and the start of the winter term. As is usually the case, if something really weird or newsworthy happens over the break, I’ll probably post about it; otherwise, there won’t be anything here until the new year.

Speaking of which: the end of this term marks the beginning of a special time in sitedad’s day-job. I’ll be on sabbatical during the winter term, and because I won’t be teaching in the spring/summer of 2015, I’m stretching this one semester sabbatical to August. Mind you, I’m not going to be completely away. Unlike some of my sabbaticalling colleagues, I’m not leaving the area to a cabin up north or a completely different country, and I still have my fingers in several other various projects that will regularly bring me to campus in the next eight months. But mostly, I’ll be away.

I’ll probably keep blogging about my sabbatical work here, in case you’re wondering. My official project is to work on a book about Massive Online Open Courses (“MOOCs”), which has been the topic of most of my scholarly stuff for the last couple of years. My unofficial project is to unplug and reflect a bit.

It’s hard to describe what it’s like to be a professor to people who are outside of academia, and describing a sabbatical is even worse. When I go home to my family this time of year (my wife and I are the only academic-types on both sides of the family), we inevitably are told how lucky we are to have our summers completely off, and lately, we’re quizzed about why college is so expensive nowadays. So you can imagine how much I’m looking forward to explaining the concept of a sabbatical. My mom has already at least once referred to it as my “vacation.”

The realities of what a sabbatical is all about is a little more complicated, of course. The reason I’ll be on sabbatical is because I wrote a well-received proposal for a research project, so my first plan (obviously) is to work on that research. But the fact of the matter is academic work can be pretty intense both in terms of the hours you’re working and (especially in the last few years of “crisis” in higher education) the stress of the environment. So taking the moment to step back from things like committees and teaching and other service and to unplug (metaphorically) a bit is as important a part of things.

How this all ties in with I plan on continuing editing and posting to the site mainly because it actually doesn’t take that much time, usually 30 minutes a day or less. At the same time, I’m hoping to spend a little less time with the site during my sabbatical, and I’m also thinking it’s time for me to encourage more contributors to step forward again. I don’t want to return to the old days when it was a little more “free-for-all” in terms of other contributions, but I am also thinking that it’s getting a little old for all the posts to be just coming from me. I wouldn’t even mind if I couldn’t get a couple of co-siteparents in the next few months. If you’re interested in getting more involved, let me know.

Enjoy whatever holiday you celebrate this time of the year; see you in 2015

“GUEST POST: EMU faculty honor University President Susan Martin’s courage & leadership and ask for her help re: the EAA”

It’s not a guest post here (though I always welcome such things); rather, it’s at the site eclecta blog, “GUEST POST: EMU faculty honor University President Susan Martin’s courage & leadership and ask for her help re: the EAA.” It’s a letter addressed to President Martin by EMU professor and friend of the site here Steve Wellinski, and I’d definitely encourage anyone and everyone who cares about the whole EAA mess to take a look at it. I’ll just quote from the opening paragraph because I think this is important:

President Martin,

On December 5th, the politically appointed Board of Regents intentionally placed our beloved Eastern Michigan University (EMU) in a merciless stranglehold. I need not remind you of the darkness that engulfed our community with their simpleminded choice. But, it is important to publicly recognize that a beacon of light did appear that afternoon – YOUR courageous step in recommending the severance of the inter-local agreement that establishes the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA).

Amen to that and to the other administrators who have joined the cause here to get EMU out the EAA.


“Responding to Offensive Posts on Yik Yak, Professors Stage Social-Media Takeover”

From The Chronicle of Higher Education from last weekend comes “Responding to Offensive Posts on Yik Yak, Professors Stage Social-Media Takeover.”  Just a very brief primer here: Yik Yak is a smart phone app that allows users to post anonymous messages to an ongoing conversation tied to a particular place. So if you sign up for this at EMU, you get “Yaks” from folks on campus at EMU.

Here’s a screen shot of what Yik Yak looked like to me this morning:


This is actually kind of a bad example because a lot of the conversation on Yik Yak is some combination of rude, silly, sexist, drunken, etc.– a lot of posts by people who are claiming to be high, people looking for sex, people using naughty words, etc. And Yik Yak has definitely been abused and a problem. As I understand it, there was a bomb threat at MSU this last semester that originated on Yik Yak. I know of at least one quite controversial Yik Yak “event” that did much to derail a class here at EMU. And as this article discusses, a lot of Yik Yak has been a problem for a lot of folks teaching at Colgate University.

However, instead of accusing the “kids today” of being so much worse than the “kids” of yesteryear (and spoiler alert– as far as I can tell, college students today are just as rude/drunken/sexist/silly as they were when I was a college student in the 1980s, and if the movie Animal House is any guide, students have been rude/drunken/sexist/silly for a long long long time) and instead of calling for the ban of the service from campus, the faculty at Colgate had a much more constructive solution. Here’s a quote:

At the end of a semester plagued by offensive social-media posts, professors at Colgate University on Friday started a campaign to bring some positivity to digital communications on the campus.

Using the smartphone application Yik Yak, which allows people to submit anonymous comments visible to other nearby users, professors posted positive messages to students, wishing them luck on their exams, praising their work, and infusing an uplifting tone into the digital discourse. Unlike most users, the professors signed their names to their posts.

“Yik Yak has been a source of aggravation for people in the campus community,” said Geoff Holm, an associate professor of biology who developed the idea to “occupy” the app. “If this is going to be something that is driving campus culture, it’s important for faculty to have a presence.”

And this:

Valerie Morkevicius, an assistant professor of political science, said she hopes that seeing professors use Yik Yak will encourage students to think before posting potentially offensive comments.

“Maybe they would not be so free in saying some of the things they say if they know people whose opinions they care about are reading,” she said. “For me, what’s really great about this idea is it’s a way we can reach out to our students where they are. Our students live in this digital world, and we can help them navigate it more responsibly. We’re using their own media to try to reach them on some different levels.”


So if you care about the Yik Yak (and frankly, I’m not sure if I care about people posting anonymously about whatever rude/sexist/drunken/silly things), go on their and wish everyone a big thumbs up on their finals.

“Who actually funds college football?”

A loyal reader sent me this link from the web site Raw Story, “Who actually funds college football?” The answer to this question is well-known to readers: it’s students, and it’s a result of student fees. One interesting angle in this article though is the author, David Ridpath, is a professor at Ohio University who has done some MAC-specific research on this. Here’s a quote:

I recently completed an empirical research study with co-authors Jeff Smith, of the University of South Carolina-Upstate and two Duke University Graduate Students, Jonathan Robe and Dan Garrett. We researched student perceptions of the athletic fee in the Mid American conference (MAC), one of the most highly-subsidized Division I conferences in the NCAA.

The study, due to come out in the January issue of The Journal of Sport, showed that students were largely unaware of these fee amounts, and how much it was allocated for intercollegiate athletics.

The athletic fee wasn’t obvious (in fact, it wasn’t even itemized) on university bills. Furthermore, getting the exact number from MAC institutions proved exasperating.

Considering the total fees assessed to fund athletics at MAC institutions, it’s clear why schools weren’t exactly transparent about the fee. Once the actual fee amount was detailed to the surveyed population of students, over 90% were either against the athletic fee or wanted it substantially lowered.

I’ll have to wait for my January issue of The Journal of Sport to arrive to get more of the details.

This is kind of cute….

The 2014 Eastern Michigan University “Holiday Card:”

“Snyder makes appointments to Eastern Michigan University board of regents”

Like everyone else at EMU, I received an email a bit ago letting me know “Snyder makes appointments to Eastern Michigan University board of regents,” or, as mLive put it, “Gov. Rick Snyder appoints new EMU regents to replace retiring Clack, Parker.” They are kind of curious appointments to me.

Michelle Crumm was on the board at Western Michigan University, “but she resigned from that post in June 2014 saying she couldn’t adequately serve the post being an Ann Arbor resident and having to commute to Kalamazoo.” Hmm. Crumm seems to have made quite the name for herself as a business person (great! we sure need more of that on the board!), but I don’t think she has any connection to EMU– she has degrees from Purdue and UM. That probably explains the easy move in her mind from WMU to EMU. Same diff.

Then there’s Dennis Beagen, a familiar name for folks at EMU. I do have some slight quibbles with the bio from the press release and the mLive article:

Beagen, of Northville, is a communications professor at EMU and previously served as acting associate provost, interim dean of continuing education, professor of communication, head of the Department of Communication, and executive associate to provost for advancement.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from EMU, a master’s degree from the University of Michigan, and an ABD from Wayne State University.

First off, Beagen is professor emeritus–that is, retired– and for most of his long career at EMU, he was the department head in Communications and/or some other kind of suit. I’m not sure how much “professing” he did. Second, “ABD” is not a degree that one is awarded. It stands for “All But Dissertation” and it sometimes is used to designate someone who did doctoral coursework but didn’t actually finish. Beagen holds a Master’s degree and that’s it. Perhaps I’m being petty here, but as someone who actually did what it takes to finish my dissertation and my PhD, it matters to me.

Anyway, it’ll be interesting to see if Beagen has any influence on the board and how that influence manifests itself. Because he was here for a long time– over 30 years, I’m pretty sure– Beagen left EMU with both friends and enemies and with a ton of inside information on all things administrative.


One more post about EMU vs. UM in basketball

Still basking in the glow of EMU’s victory in basketball over UM. I brought it up in a class I was teaching yesterday and a number of students (ones who don’t follow sports at all) thought I was kidding that EMU won in basketball against U of M. And even these students who never otherwise care about sports were happy about it all.

But for further reading, I’d recommend some of what’s in The Eastern Echo, particularly the column “Can a win over U of M improve fan attendance?” I think there are lots of reasons for the bad attendance numbers at home games– the average crowd this year so far is 840– but I think perceptions of the quality of this year’s team is just part of it. I also think a lot of it has to do with the kinds of students we have, commuting/working/returning students who just don’t have the extra time and lifestyle of students at a place like U of M or MSU. But I would agree if EMU started having a decent team that got to the NCAA tourney on a regular basis, the attendance numbers would climb.

I’ll say this: after seeing Tuesday’s game in person, I’m a lot more inspired to see some games at the Convocation Center this year. It’s a nice facility, tickets are pretty cheap (free for students!), you can pretty much sit wherever you want, etc., etc.

There are lots of pieces over at our friends Eagle Totem, including “Don’t get ahead of yourself just yet,” which is basically a cautionary piece about what the victory against U of M means. No need to be a “Debbie Downer” in response to what has to be described as a historic win (I mean, the last time this happened was 1997, which is the year my son– who is getting ready to graduate from high school– was born). But I do agree that the game against MSU will be a much better test for the Emus and a better indication about this team being “real” or not.

Finally, the other side of the “buy game” phenomenon in mLive, “Michigan’s loss to EMU includes $80K payment; total non-conference home tab comes to $387K.” Here’s a quote:

Four days after handing a program-defining victory and a check for $92,000 to New Jersey Institute of Technology, Michigan basketball cut two more losses on Tuesday night.

Along with a 45-42 defeat, U-M paid neighboring Eastern Michigan a contracted $80,000 as the guarantee for what would be the Wolverines second straight stunning loss in non-conference play.

The payouts, typically between $80,000-$100,000 for non-league “buy games,” are standard in college basketball.

Losing the games is not, let alone back-to-back.

I don’t know this for sure, but I assume that EMU does the same thing with some of the teams it beat up on at the beginning of the term. It’s just that you’re not supposed to lose games against teams you pay to play.

By the way, one of the comments on this mLive piece: “Can the church team I coach play Michigan next year?” Indeed. If my department could get together a team to lose against UM, I think we’d be happy to take a meager $40K.



“Eagles 45: Wolverines 42: Michigan stunned again in loss to Eastern Michigan”


As mLive put it, “Eagles 45: Wolverines 42: Michigan stunned again in loss to Eastern Michigan.” I haven’t read the article yet, but I was actually at the game, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts.

I went with some friends and colleagues because we were able to get tickets on StubHub for $12, and I’d never been in Crisler Arena (nice facility), so we thought “what the hell?” One of these friends was a little dubious of the value of going to see EMU be blown out by U of M. Then they lost to New Jersey Tech.

On the one hand, it was a pretty sloppy and low-scoring affair all around. I didn’t think EMU looked super-great, meaning that a lot of this game was U of M looked really REALY inexplicably bad. On the other hand, EMU did ultimately hold it together, made the stops, and (obviously) won the game. Oh, and it wasn’t some kind of game where EMU had a fluke come-back at the end; they were neck and neck the whole way.

So hey, go Emus!

“What is going on at EMU with the EAA?”

From Michigan Radio comes “What is going on at EMU with the EAA?” I think the story is a little simplistic because while a part of this whole thing is about the unions– a lot of teachers’ unions in K-12 schools are refusing to take on student teachers because of the EAA’s lack of a union and a lot of relatively untrained “Teach for America” teachers– I think there are lots of other ways that the EAA is doing indirect damage to EMU students.

But there are two other things I thought I’d mention about this. First, both the radio blurb I heard and the article quotes EMU VP for Communications Walter Kraft, and on the radio, Kraft said that while there were some challenges in getting students into student teaching spots, all of those students did find a student teaching gig. Is that actually true?

The other thing is the article quotes Regent James Webb, one of the Snyder appointees who voted to keep EMU in this arrangement. He sounds pretty defensive to me here:

“I’ve met Governor Snyder to shake hands I think three times, he wouldn’t know me from Joe Blow. I did it because it’s the right thing to do,” says regent James Webb, who was appointed by Snyder in 2012 and says he wasn’t on the board when the EAA contract was first written.

“You can’t leave those schools like they are right now, and the only way the [EAA] students have any hope of moving on is to get an education. If we don’t fix this, I don’t know what their future is. They don’t have much of one. If we don’t do this, we go back to the system we had before. I won’t quibble that we haven’t seen the results we want coming out of this, but we’ve got a new chancellor in there and high hopes from our perspective,” Webb said.

Webb says the resolution passed by the Regents on Friday is just an agreement to give the EAA one more year to turn things around.

“If we don’t see progress, then we’ll have to revisit our thoughts.”

As for what EMU education students are dealing with, Webb says: “It makes it inconvenient. All students were placed, maybe not in the district they wanted. But that wasn’t our decision, that was the teacher’s decision. They took it out on the kids. You talk about bullying, and I wonder if that doesn’t qualifying as bullying.”

So, let me get this straight:

You’re one of the regents who completely ignored the institution’s students, faculty, and president in the sense that all of these folks were saying EMU ought to get out of the EAA. There has been absolutely zero evidence that the EAA has made anything even remotely like “progress,” and there is no indication that things are getting better. And even though you are in a position where you could have done something to get us out of this EAA mess, you vote for it and you blame the problems students in the College of Ed are having not on the board’s determination to stay on this sinking ship but on other school districts, other teacher’s decisions?

That’s weak sauce, my friend.

“EAA Battle is a Fight for the Soul of EMU”

Friend of the site/friend of EMU, Jeremy Rosenberg over at Eagle Totem, has a long and interesting post here, “EAA Battle is a Fight for the Soul of EMU.” As he says:

Make no mistake, fellow EMU enthusiasts, what is taking place is a battle of political patronage versus the will of the students, faculty, alumni, and anyone who cares about this institution. The battle of the EAA has taken place on many fronts. More knowledgable voices than mine have articulated the reasons why this affiliation has to end.

He goes on to talk about the incoming (I presume?) chair of the Board of Regents, Michael Morris.  (As the Echo reported, current BoR chair Francine Parker, along with Floyd Clack, are done with the Board– though I don’t know if it is so much about retirement as it is term limits.) Rosenberg goes into some detail about Morris, who seems to be the definition of a rich guy who got his appointment as a political favor from Snyder. Rosenberg goes so far as to compare him to Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, though to be fair, Morris had been on the Board before.

And I like his impassioned plea at the end here:

What can we do? We can continue to do what we have been doing. We can let the Board know, in the clearest language possible, that we do not accept their rule by fiat. We do not accept that we are to bend to the whims of this oligarchic junta. These six people, these lickspittles of Governor Snyder and his anti-education cabal. Teaching is sacred at EMU.

The oligarchs and the Board of Regents would like us to believe that we have no power, that we are to sit on our hands for a year while education at EMU exsanguinates right before our eyes.

But we do have power, EMU Nation. Maybe together, with a University President determined to fight for the interests of her citizens, a charismatic Student Body President, a faculty already knee deep in the battle themselves, a motivated and active student body, and one handsome blogger, we can unite to hold the Regents accountable.

The Board of Regents will slither into their holiday holes and ignore the outrage, certain it will die down, certain it will go away. But we will not let this go. We will think on what needs to be done over the winter break. We will come back in January.

This isn’t over.