I was in Burlington, VT at the Institute on General Education and Assessment sponsored by the Association of American Colleges and Universities last week. Believe it or not, there were some fascinating talks and discussions. I am rethinking how to assess my classes and the music program, as well as some changes in my pedagogy. Yes, there was lots of jargon (my only complaint, actually), but it was an eye-opening experience (especially as I will be serving on the campus’s Assessment of Student Learning Committee next year).

Also, I had the chance to break bread with the legendary NTodd Pritsky, so there’s that. He’s a mensch among men.


(nothing like a golden-age Simpsons reference…I really didn’t mean for this blog to become All Higher Ed, All The Time, but if it works…)

Matt Reed, the confessing community college dean, has a great post up today about the differences between mere competency and those skills which require the investment of time. The model is music lessons, and I believe this to be an outstanding metaphor for why education – at all levels, but especially higher education – cannot be broken down into standardized tests, MOOCs, and credit for life experience.

To be sure, I have no trouble with well-articulated, critically- and curricularly-thought-out plans to give credit for life experience (I hear good things about Thomas Edison State College and Empire State College), but I am skeptical that the true college/university experience (critical thinking, citizenship, breadth of knowledge, high level of expertise in a chosen area) can be reduced to a series of check-off boxes.

Of some concern is Coursera’s plan to offer MOOCs to “non-elite” institutions; I refuse to accept that because I don’t teach at Harvard I am less of a professor, which is the clear implication of this plan. (See Matt Reed’s Three Dollar People blog entry for a similar thought.)

What say you, Gentle Reader?


Three things on topics academic this morning:

(1) A note to The Chronicle of Higher Education: Putting up an op-ed from an attorney for the Competitive Enterprise Institute (a “free-market” “think” tank so right-wing that it makes AEI look like the Comintern) does not help your credibility.

(2) Colorado College in (not surprisingly) Colorado is offering a new major in Education that operates a little differently. Good on them.

(3) If you read only one of these, read this one from Matt Reed at Inside Higher Ed. The destruction of public education is not limited to K-12. Public education (from pre-K to PhD) remains the greatest potential creator of *true* equality, and as such it’s a threat to the oligarchs. That’s why we have the funding inequalities described here. That’s why we have MOOCs and for-profit “schools” pushed – and pushed hard – by people who would *never* send their own children to one.


Sorry for the many delays. I haven’t had time to write blog posts about being an administrator because, well, I’ve been too busy being an administrator. My time as Discipline Coordinator is coming to an end, and I wish to reflect upon this time.

This past semester has given me a much different perspective on academia, and after 15 years in this field I didn’t think that was possible. For one thing, I read even more articles in the Chronicle of Higher Education, and I can talk about assessment, MOOCs, budgets, and town-gown relations with much more precision and understanding than before. For another, I see the behind-the-scenes battles and have a much better perspective on the struggles between faculty and administrators, administrators and staff, students and faculty, and music programs and everyone else. (Just kidding – sort of – on that last one.)

I truly get the concept of “shared governance” for the first time. Here at UMM, we have what is known as Campus Assembly. Instead of a Faculty Senate (though we do send a few representatives to the main UM Faculty Senate in the Twin Cities), our governance body consists of the entire faculty, a good hunk of the staff, members of Student Government, and the upper echelons of administration. In some ways it’s frustrating (we’re academics, so we love to hear ourselves talk), but it really does place ownership of the governance process in everyone’s hands. It’s not perfect, and there are some changes I’d like to see, but it has opened my eyes.

Finally, I believe this experience has improved my own teaching and research/creative work. Now that I have a better perspective on what the tenure process here is like, I can take what I do and fine-tune it to better fit that particular process. Again, after 15 years I did not think I really could change all that much, but now I know I can.

I have been fortunate to work with great colleagues in the UMM Music Discipline, as well as a grand mentor in Mike Korth, Associate Professor of Physics, a solid Division of Humanities chair in Pieranna Garavaso, Professor of Philosophy, and a Dean who has given me many wonderful opportunities in Bart Finzel. I thank everyone who helped – especially my long-suffering wife – and I thank you for coming along with me on this journey. Stay tuned for the sequel.

So one of the things I have to do is approve exceptions to graduation plans. We do a pretty good job of advising here at UMM, but now and then you get one. In this case, it was a small but important requirement.

We’re trying to make everything a little more standard here without resorting to standardization, as (a) philosophically I have a real problem with turning education into a checklist and (b) that would be antithetical to a liberal arts program. So here and there, sometimes exceptions are on the table. My question for all of you is this: How far do you go in exceptions for things like concert attendance, etc.?


Today was the deadline for a couple of scholarships/auditions, so I stayed late at the office to get any last-minute forms. Historically, I’ve been…oh, let’s go with “flexible” in my punctuality (I have often said that I was born 29 days premature and it was the last time I was early for anything), but I find myself trying to stay right on top, if not ahead of, major deadlines.

Gonna give y’all a little hint, and I never would have believed it myself until I’d seen it with my own eyes: The deadlines exist for a reason. I always believed it was just so the folks farther up the food chain could have plenty of time to fart around before doing whatever needed to be done. I won’t make that mistake again.


The title is accurate for the meetings I’ve been running, as I make sure everyone has their own agenda before we start. (I send them out via email.)

Today’s topic is everyone’s least favorite part of their job: meetings. I had two this morning back-to-back, and had to “lead” the second one. No one ever seems to enjoy this part of the job, but I have found that making sure everyone is well-prepared and no personalities try to dominate make for happy, quick meetings. We disposed of six little things in 15 minutes, and could spend the remaining time getting inside a particularly thorny issue. I am pleased to report we came away with some fine plans that are easily implementable and will have a positive impact on the program.

Academic administrators at any level – even my “Temporary Honorary Colonel” referenced above – should have the following as their primary goal:

What can I do to make sure our faculty can engage in their teaching, research, and service to the best of their abilities? If the faculty can do their jobs, the students benefit by having engaged, professionally-satisfied teachers and mentors. I know there are those who might disagree with me, but the faculty have to be at the center of any academic enterprise. Maybe that’ll change when and if I move up the ranks, but for right now, that’s how I feel.

Oh, and concerning students: I refuse to think of the students as “consumers.” Rather, they are students. A university has no customers.


One of the things about being an administrator, even one with as little power as I (I have essentially the same rank as Henry Drummond in Inherit the Wind, and believe you me, I’m milking Temporary Honorary Colonel for all it’s worth), is that I have to deal with personnel issues. No, I don’t have the power of hiring and firing, but I do have to listen to people and work through interpersonal conflicts. This is no mean feat sometimes, for as anyone knows when you put two faculty in a room you’ll end up with three opinions.

Fortunately, I am blessed with colleagues that are collegial. We all want what is best for the students and for the program. Most of the issues have been around adjunct faculty concerns, and this is something I have wrestled with for some time. Adjunct faculty are, in some institutions, the largest group of faculty, but they have very little (if any) input in governance. They are paid horribly, usually have no benefits, and are often subject to being fired on a whim. In some places, they are expected to exhibit loyalty to an institution that will not return that loyalty, and actively looking for full-time work can be grounds for dismissal. On top of it, adjunct too long, and you may make it impossible to ever land that full-time job.

I was an adjunct for a good bit (1998-2004) and have been a visiting full-timer twice (2004-05 and 2007-08). I consider myself darn lucky to be on the tenure track. What should we be doing to help our adjuncts?


So I had a meeting with the kind person who handles the budget for the Humanities Division.

Back up: Amanda handles most of the books here, and the last official budgetary responsibilities I’ve had were as Treasurer of the Theta Pi chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia in 1992-93. I can and do balance checkbooks, etc., but I was completely unfamiliar with the budgeting and reconciliation process here in Minnesota.

That has changed.

The associate took an hour out of her time to talk me through the process and show me just what all those numbers meant, where they came from, etc. It was eye-opening, and I have decided to pursue some further lines within this overall field (putting in for certain committees, getting more data, etc.).

Next up: How are we using our space?


My first post about being a quasi-administrator in a faculty world consists of this quote from Gerald R. Ford, who was Minority Leader in the US House before being appointed Vice President and later ascending to the Presidency. It seems appropriate.

I was in the House of Representatives for 25 1/2 years, and when I disagreed with the occupant of the White House, whether it was Democrat or Republican, I used to say, “How can he be so autocratic, so dictatorial, why doesn’t he understand that the Congress is doing the right thing?” Well, when I moved from one end of Pennsylvania Avenue to the other end and occupied the Oval Office, my perspective changed significantly. And then I would look down at the Congress and say, “What are those people doing over there? How can they be so irresponsible?”

While it is a bit over-the-top to suggest that taking on some small administrative duties is akin to becoming President of the United States, I think I get what Ford is saying here. What has struck me the most is how much even this very, very minor (yet very important) role has changed my perspective on How Things Work In A University.

I don’t know how regular this series will be, but I’m hoping it turns into something.


Since I’ve been taking on an administrative role this semester, I find my perception of how academia works shifting. Subtly, to be sure, but this is a noticeable shift.

To that end, I’ve decided to spend some time learning about the budget process at UMM. More on that later. I’ve also started reading some books and blogs; if I get the chance, once the semester clears I’ll start talking about that as well.

Thank you for your patience. It’s been a busy semester (a faculty search, the extra admin duties, trying to get some stuff published/out there), but a good one. Spring Break is next week. I am ready.


I know that in Georgia, the HOPE scholarship (which started with the best of intentions) has actually led to the lowering of academic standards, since it looks good for a high school to get more kids into the HOPE program.

College needs to be more affordable as well, and between increased administrative costs, a reduction in state support, and various other causes, that’s a challenge.

So, thinking outside the box…

I propose that a state – perhaps a smaller one to start, or one that is flush with cash right now, like North Dakota right next door – offer *every* student one free year of higher education/training. No grade requirements, just graduate high school. This would be redeemable at any state institution of higher education or vocational training.

By removing the grade requirements, you presumably avoid grade inflation in the K-12 area (and possibly do something about the standardized testing junta as well). By making it applicable for both academic and technical education, you don’t shove people into programs for which they have no aptitude or desire just to get the numbers up. You also help create skilled laborers, which could be tied to an increase in local manufacturing.

Yes, this is just one year…so perhaps a public-private partnership could be created to provide scholarships for the next years of training/education. It would be made very clear to the students that colleges are not in the business of sympathy, so you’d have to maintain your college grades to be considered for the upperclass scholarships. We in higher education would have to be resolute in maintaining our academic standards.

Yes, the cost would be high – but it could be paid for by reworking the current scholarship programs. I am open to other funding mechanisms as well.



Here’s an interesting story about credential inflation, and I believe it highlights a disturbing (but sadly not new) trend from the Socialism For Corporations, A Hobbesian Dystopia For The Rest Of Us brigades.

Back in the proverbial day, when we had tax rates on the highest earners even I think were too high but somehow had unprecedented economic growth, companies used to hire people right out of high school and then train them in the ways of the company. Sometimes, they would seek out graduates of vo-tech programs, then give them a few months training themselves – with pay – and put them out on the line.

Of course, that’s not the case now. Why? Easier to outsource to higher education, looks better to the big shareholders (bigger dividend, don’tcha know). Meanwhile, as a college professor, I deal with kids who are not prepared for college-level work (none recently, for the record) but who feel compelled to go because jobs that shouldn’t require the BA/BS now do.

Because the article featured the field of dental hygiene, I sent the link to a dear friend who is a dentist. Here is a quote from his reply:

As you are no doubt aware, in response to the rapid rise in healthcare costs, there is considerable shift from the physician or dentist down to lesser trained individuals, such as the nurse practitioner, etc.

I believe this goes right to the heart of the matter. Someone – and it certainly isn’t the faculty, I can tell you – is making money on this, and thus has a vested interest in keeping it this way. Until you solve that particular issue, I fear this will not change.

On an ancillary topic, I sure wish that aforementioned dentist would blog. His interests are wide-ranging and fascinating.


I’ll admit up front that this may seem a little hypocritical, as I remain convinced there is a very real chance that, had this mindset been in place when I applied for my PhD, I probably would not have been admitted. So it is easy for me to say “there are too many of us!” when I have already gotten across the finish line.

Having said that, I do think perhaps we turn out too many PhDs for the academic world.

However…perhaps we need to do a better job convincing folks outside of the ivory tower – and potential PhD students – that a PhD is more than just a path to an academic career. Further, we need to be serious about that. We cannot shake our heads and withdraw support when a PhD student decides to pursue a career that is not exactly like his/her adviser. We cannot shirk our duties to the world at large. (This also ties into my belief that we need more public intellectuals, not fewer ones.) We need to offer a PhD program that both trains the future faculty and leadership of the academy as well as the future business, political and economic leadership of our state, our nation, our world.


I have submitted – and am optimistic that it will come to pass – a proposal for a new course. This will be an undergraduate music theory seminar. First topic: 20th century analysis. I recognize this is an involved topic, so I’m trying to think of ways to narrow it slightly.

By way of background, our students get a rudimentary knowledge of atonality and 12-tone music in the second half of Theory IV. I also add a little bit of minimalism into the mix, and the year always ends with an in-class performance of In C.

These are what I’d like you, Gentle Reader, to think about:

(1) Given a seminar for undergraduates, what topics do you think are appropriate? An overview of techniques that would help them with the totality of 20th/21st century music, or paring it down to one to three ideas and working the heck out of them?

(2) The class will meet twice a week for 100 minutes at a time. I am thinking that, say, Tuesday meetings will feature discussion of the readings and Thursday meetings will feature analysis projects. Thoughts?

(3) Any recommended books/articles? I do like Miguel Roig-Francolí’s Understanding Post-Tonal Music, but I will admit to a certain bias: Miguel was and is a faculty member at CCM, and was both on my dissertation committee (and always helpful and appreciated) as well as a colleague for a year.

(4) I remember taking Danny Mathers’s Copland seminar at CCM back in 2000, and the seminar included a performance component (though added after the fact and at the instigation of the students in the seminar). Do you think a seminar such as this would benefit from a performance component?

I look forward to the discussion.