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[The Multiversity and Beyond takes a divergence from higher education topics to comment on the US Senate Race in Massachusetts]

Political coverage often has a breathless quality that highlights failure and diminishes success. In most cases, consumers of news would be wise to take any claim with a grain of salt, if not dismisses it entirely. However, if in Massachusetts tonight Martha Coakley loses her bid to replace Ted Kennedy in the US Senate, then there are not enough exclamations or adjectives to describe the magnitude of this defeat.

Considered an almost impossible outcome, a Republican (Scott Brown) seems poised to win today’s special election to replace the Liberal Lion of the Senate, Ted Kennedy. The Democratic challenger Martha Coakley had been the popular state Attorney General when the race began, having boasted a 30-point lead. However, a lack of hustle and some novice mistakes cost Coakley her lead and now a – dare I say – maverick Republican is pushing ahead in the polls.

So why is this bad? Consider a few points:

  • Massachusetts is one of the few states (possibly only) where being a liberal isn’t a badge of shame, but a tradition. This is the state that regularly and loyally sent Ted Kennedy and John Kerry to the US senate.
  • This is Ted Kennedy’s seat. The Kennedy image is deeply entwined with Massachusetts. While the Coakley camp overplayed the state’s loyalty to the Kennedy’s (Paul Wellstone anyone?), it is still hard to believe the Dems couldn’t secure Teddy’s seat.
  • Health care was a major issue in this election. Massachusetts is the only state that has an-almost universal health care policy. Also, it got a sweetheart deal in the current Health Care Bill – one that counts on 60 Democratic Senators to pass. If the voters of this state can’t be counted on to support the Dems, what are the chances anywhere else?

If the Democrats are not successful in Massachusetts tonight, they need to prepare for a bleak mid-term election in November 2010. This race will energize the Republican base, frustrate Democratic dominance of Congress and seriously threaten the Health Care Bill. The result will weaken the Dems seeking reelection and will seriously disrupt the domestic agenda of President Barack Obama.

The news isn’t all bad however. The Massachusetts race will provide the playbook for every election in November 2010. It shows how Republicans can win, but it also shows Democrats how they lost. They have time (thought not much) to analyze the results and develop a new strategy that can ensure a loss in Massachusetts is an isolated event, and not a harbinger.

There is an interesting proposal emanating out of Pittsburgh City Hall. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl is proposing a one-percent surcharge of college tuition for students in his city. The plan hopes to net upwards of $16.2-million for city coffers and will cost students between $20 and $400, depending on their tuition costs.

The tension between town and gown is nothing new. However, this proposal is unprecedented. Students have never been asked to directly pay taxes towards the city their college resides in. Needless to say, many cities are watching to see how Pittsburgh’s proposal proceeds. Cash strapped cities across America (not to mention small college towns), will be eagerly following suit if successful.

Cities currently provide very little services towards their university/college student population. Indeed, many city services are denied to college students. Colleges themselves provide the bulk of services needed by students (garbage collection, health care, education, recreation, etc.). Instead, cities tend to be the net beneficiaries of students, by collecting revenue from the infusion of student dollars, visits/tourism and economic development from technology transfer (spin-offs from research innovations). Colleges don’t displace other industries, but add to them. So cities don’t lose industrial development opportunities.

However, colleges generally don’t pay property tax, which does mean they don’t directly support city revenue. This makes sense for public universities, but for private colleges, it’s harder to understand. Anyone who has visited New Haven, CT can’t help be note the stark contrast between the Yale campus and the city itself. One drips with money, while the other displays abject poverty.

Surely town and gown partnerships are needed. But Ravenstahl has pulled out the nuclear option. What is interesting is that this is being attempted in Pittsburgh, who can credit much of its modern success to being an intellectual hub. Home to Carnegie Mellon University as well as the University of Pittsburgh, the city has thrived as a result of its spin-off start-ups and medical industry. In trying to save his city, the Mayor has decided to bite the hand that has supported its success after the steel industry collapsed.

Hail to UBC

The University of British Columbia, one of my alma maters, has re-tooled its school pep song. Entitled Hail UBC, the original was written by Harold King. While the classic version is a catchy tune (I can be found singing it on occasion), it more closely resembled a Lawrence Welk number than a school cheer. The new tune, crafted by Steve Chatman, more closely resembles the classic cheers of U.S. schools like Michigan or Notre Dame.

Here are two versions for you to listen to: a stinger version and the full version.

The lyrics to the new Hail UBC are:

Hail to the Thunderbirds

Hail to UBC

Thunder and lightning

Onward to Victory

Hail to the Blue and Gold

Hail to UBC

U-B-C forever

Onward to Victory

Amongst Canadian schools, whose cheers tend to be long and windy, (note U of T, Queen’s, and McGill as but three examples), UBC’s brevity and punch are appreciated.

Government Oversight

Ontario’s Ombudsman, André Marin, released a damning report today that was highly critical of Cambrian College in Sudbury, Ontario, and the Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities (MTCU). Let me begin with a brief summary, as presented in the Ombudsman’s Report:

  • Cambrian introduced a new program (a course of study resulting in a diploma) called the Health Information Management Program (HIMP);
  • “In the first years of the program, prospective students were told in promotional materials and through outreach activities about the exciting possibility of entering the ‘high demand’ field of professional health information management, where there was a national shortage and the potential to work in a variety of settings, including acute and chronic care hospitals.” (Marin, p. 1)
  • The program was not accredited by the Canadian Health Information Management Association (CHIMA), which controls entry into the profession through a national certification examination. (ibid.)
  • It was the expectation of prospective students, the College’s Board of Governors and MTCU that the college would seek accreditation.
  • “However, despite the fact that CHIMA encourages programs to apply for recognition six months before admitting students, Cambrian did not apply to CHIMA until it had been operating its program for 18 months, just as its first crop of students was preparing to graduate.” (ibid.)
  • When the college tried in 2007 and again in 2008 to be accredited, it failed.

In the end, Marin concludes that the college failed to provide the path to accreditation that students had thought they would enjoy.

Marin’s report is critical of the college for its apparent shortcomings. However, he also states, “When it comes to Ministry oversight of the College, the Ministry is not immune from censure.” (ibid. P. 3) Underlying Marin’s report is the view that the Ministry’s role should be to act as the consumer advocate for “education consumers.”

A major conclusion of Marin’s is for greater government oversight of program development and approval. He states, “Colleges are on the honour system when it comes to program development. While the Ministry sets broad policy directives, it has no effective mechanisms in place to ensure that colleges comply.” (ibid.)

There is a traditional plank of higher education theory that would be quoted at this point: the academics should control the academy and academic freedom should trump all. However, in the development of Ontario’s community college sector, traditional notions of higher education were removed from the deliberation. The colleges were established as children of the province with the purpose of training the Province’s workforce, not necessarily educating them. This is an important distinction that would normally render mute calls for greater academic freedom.

However, Ontario’s colleges are in a time of transition. They are being called upon to offer more than training. Some colleges offer degrees, they are entering into agreements with universities and are expected to support student transfer to university (even if universities are not always so obliging). Also, colleges are engaging in applied research. These advances serve to blur the line between colleges and universities. They also serve to blur the line between government control and autonomy – or at least should.

What stands out for me is Marin’s continual reference to students as consumers. Yes, students pay for their education. It is a fragment of the total actual costs, but a cost none the less. Yet, they are not engaged in the purchasing of credentials. They are engaged in an educational process that will lead to credentials. This may sound like a small difference, but it is fundamental, especially in the context of Marin’s recommendations.

I don’t believe government should have a role in determining the appropriate educational process for people. That is a role for the academy, ruled by academics, to govern. The problem with Cambrian was that it was left to government and the government-appointed Board of Governors to approve the Health Information Management Program. Instead, a panel of external academic peers should have been convened to advise and approve this new program.

Clearly, Cambrian failed in its obligations to its HIMP students. That they failed their students, as opposed to their consumers, should be of far greater concern to Mr. Marin. However, this failure is not evidence for greater government oversight, but greater academic oversight. Rather than placing colleges on the “honour code,” MTCU should ensure that colleges adhere to the academic code.

[See Cambrian College’s response to the Ombudsman’s Report here.]

Little Boxes

I just came upon this song, which is decades old but has found a resurgence of popularity as the theme song for the Showcase series “Weeds.” However, it speaks to an important recurring issue in higher education. Are universities simply institutions that enforce social norms and package people into boxes, or a forum that encourages students to think critically about society and develop individuality?

This version is sung by Pete Seeger, but the song itself is by Malvina Reynolds. They lyrics are provided below. Like most songs sung by Seeger, feel free to sing along.

1. Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

2. And the people in the houses
All go to the university,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

3. And they all play on the golf-course,
And drink their Martini dry,
And they all have pretty children,
And the children go to school.
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
And they all get put in boxes
And they all come out the same.

4. And the boys go into business,
And marry, and raise a family,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

1. Little boxes on the hillside,
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
Little boxes, little boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

2. And the people in the houses
All go to the university,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers
And business executives,
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

3. And they all play on the golf-course,
And drink their Martini dry,
And they all have pretty children,
And the children go to school.
And the children go to summer camp
And then to the university,
And they all get put in boxes
And they all come out the same.

4. And the boys go into business,
And marry, and raise a family,
And they all get put in boxes,
Little boxes, all the same.
There’s a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same.

What UCLA missed as a result of James Franco’s last minute exit… stage left…

James Franco’s Rejected UCLA Commencement Speech

Shared via AddThis

When to say no

University of Saskatchewan Stamp

University of Saskatchewan Stamp

CBC News reports the following (original article):

The University of Saskatchewan has turned down a $500,000 offer to endow a scholarship because the donor wants the money to be spent only on non-aboriginal students.

According to the university, a 57-year-old graduate of the Saskatoon-based university offered the money, with the stipulation linked to race.

Heather Magotiaux, vice-president of advancement for the university, told CBC News that setting up such a scholarship would violate human rights legislation.

“We do make exceptions where those exceptions have been identified by the human rights legislation,” Magotiaux said about other scholarships that target minorities such as aboriginal students and students with disabilities. Outside of those categories, she said, “our core position is that scholarships should be made available to students regardless of race.”

Magotiaux said the university would take the money if the race-related clause was dropped

She said, however, that the potential donor was adamant.

“It became evident that that was a criterion that the donor insisted on, and therefore, we had to decline the gift,” Magotiaux said.

Universities routinely accept donations that seek to serve under-represented populations. Can the reverse be justified?

First, universities aren’t just institutions of learning, but corporate entities that have to adhere to legal obligations. Indeed, U of Sask. would face considerable difficulty if it tried to offer a scholarship that was denied to one specific racial/ethnic group.

However, were the University free of such obligations, could an institution that values academic freedom accept such a donation? No. Academic freedom comes with the responsibility to base your argument on legitimate research and based upon a methodology. It’s not the right to think and say any foolish thing you wish.

Support for under-represented groups is based upon a desire to expand participation in higher education amongst all citizens. Aboriginals have the lowest participation rate in higher education of any group in Canada. Therefore, to offer support to all but aboriginal students, would be to offer assistance to all but those who need it most. Academic freedom cannot abide this and an institution of higher education could not accept such an offer.