In my previous post, I asked what could be done.

I think you’re looking at one path.

Blogging with commentary has the potential to help reshape scholarship. We are already seeing some experimentation with this, and in an age when publication can be instantaneous it is patently absurd that major journals in most fields take anywhere from 18 months to 3 years in the submission-to-publication process.

Further, blogging allows for ideas to be “workshopped,” with input during the whole process, rather than a big hit of commentary after submission but before publication (assuming the work is even allowed a “revise-and-resubmit”). In this way, authors can work out issues and problems in a timely but not rushed manner instead of trying to do a large amount of revision in a short amount of time.

Further still, a more transparent process means people are able to see different intellectual trends and major players thereof develop in real time. Instead of “anonymous” responses, people put their name – or a reasonable pseudonym, let’s be honest – on the line. If it’s a question of making sure that only actual scholars in a field will have a chance to take part in the commentary, there are ways to maximize security. I actually like the idea of enlightened amateurs taking part, but I can see how it could be problematic.

Finally, it can conceivably cost nothing (or, at worst, the price of webhosting and DNS registration). I am using a free blogging platform. The material can be put out, reviewed, and accessed for no financial outlay (beyond the cost of Internet access).

I am told the SMT Conference this year will feature a session on peer-review. If I don’t end up doing a research trip in October, maybe I’ll go there and check it out.

WF

This article came to my attention this morning. While number 3 doesn’t apply to me (and is very impressive), numbers 1 and 2 do to a certain extent, and number 4 really applies.

I have written before about the problems inherent in our discipline; I am still working on formulating part 2 of that particular discussion. So, consider this part 1.5 – You Are Not Alone. This discipline of music theory is wider than you would know from examining our journals (which showcase a fairly wide discipline to begin with).

WF

So I’ve been thinking about this article, and I’ve come to a few conclusions:

(1) We don’t have actual evidence to say this is limited to music or that being in music makes things more likely to happen, just anecdotes;

(2) On the flip side, every one in this discipline has a story or two (or seven or thirty-five);

(3) In a court of law, the operating premise is “innocent until proven guilty” (note: “innocent” and “not guilty” are two different things, as recent court cases have shown), but that premise does not necessarily apply in an academic misconduct hearing;

(4) There are bad people who have chosen a career in music, just as there are good people who have chosen a career in music, and sometimes those bad people are in a position of power – or in a position to make false accusations (though, unlike some, I will never assume an accusation is false until I see evidence to the contrary); and

(5) The best thing we can do is arm students and faculty with knowledge, tools, and courage.

Knowledge: What is and is not appropriate?

Tools: How do we report? What kind of systems are in place?

Courage: Whoever the wronged party is, s/he shall be supported and need not back down or be ashamed.

There are various suggestions, including the videotaping of lessons. I would actually be in favor of lessons being recorded, but primarily as a pedagogical tool. (I had great teachers, but I was not great at remembering what they said in lessons unless I took the time to write it down. I didn’t write enough stuff down. It would be nice as I’m trying to rebuild my chops to review what they had to say. But I digress.) Both parties would be informed of the recording, and under normal circumstances no one but professor and student would have access to the material unless both parties agreed to it. (This would be to prevent appearances on YouTube, etc.) In the case of allegations, the university’s or conservatory’s officer in charge of such things would have access to the recordings.

This wouldn’t prevent everything, and of course there’s FERPA and the like with which you’d have to work, but I see nothing wrong with recording lessons if both parties agree. Now as far as non-lesson events, well, following Wheaton’s Law seems to be the best advice.

WF

Since I’m getting ready to start my second year at UMM, and since I haven’t yet broken the publication drought (couple of near-misses, got two rejections on Memorial Day, and let me tell you that stung), I’ve been trying to get my publication record back on track. I do have a book chapter which I should be finishing within the next couple of months, but I haven’t gotten anything into a peer-reviewed journal in…oh, let’s just go with “a while.”

In my field, there simply aren’t very many journals. We have Music Theory Spectrum, Music Theory Online, Journal of Music Theory, and maybe 8 – 10 other online and print journals. (There are more music theory journals than that, but they often have a narrow focus like computing in music or Schenkerian theory – or they’re specifically designed for graduate students or people in a certain country.) The process is, as is standard, blind peer review. I would like to make the case that (1) peer review is likely not so blind, and (2) as it is currently constituted, peer review as currently constituted may not be an ideal gatekeeper. I would further like to make the case that this is ultimately bad for the discipline, as it leads to narrow foci and intellectual insularity.

As I mentioned above, this discipline is not particularly large, especially when compared to other disciplines in the Humanities. There’s a general kinship with each other. We’re Facebook friends. We get everyone’s Twitter feed. We hang out at conferences and when it’s time to read the AP exams. Many of us went to grad school together – more on this in a moment. We know, at least generally, on what subjects people are working. So when a paper crosses an editor’s or reader’s desk, it’s likely not all that blind. “Oh, this sounds like what so-and-so was doing.” As a friend further points out, if you write a paper on topic X there’s a pretty good chance you know exactly who is going to be reading it, even if the review is officially blind, because there are only so many people in the world qualified to read said paper. I do believe that blind peer review can be a good way to examine a paper, but I further believe nothing is truly blind.

The second point is a little darker. I mentioned above that “many of us went to grad school together,” and that may be the problem. There are a handful of schools that produce the lion’s share of theorists. These schools – good as they are, and they are very good – do have specific ideological and philosophical approaches to this discipline. They may have a decent variety of approaches, but they’re certainly not pan-philosophical. I am not saying the approaches are ill-formed or irrelevant, because they are not; I am simply saying that these approaches tend to dominate the rest of the field, to the exclusion of different ideas. When a discipline is limited to a handful of approaches, then no matter how well-developed or how reverberant those approaches are, the discipline’s ability to develop further is stifled. Format becomes formula. New – or potentially effective but not yet fully-formed – approaches are dismissed out of hand. With so few outlets for publication, and with those dominated by the handful of approaches above, it becomes more and more difficult for scholars who don’t easily fit into molds to get a fair hearing for their ideas. We hear people talk about what a friend who is on the editorial board of an academic journal calls the “fit” of the paper, but if the number of journals is limited, then there aren’t very many places where something might “fit.” (This has ramifications for the tenure process as well, but that discussion can be reserved for another time.)

Perhaps this is all sour grapes on my part, but I don’t think I am that bad. I believe my work has merit, I believe it can inform performances and understanding of the pieces I study, and I believe the discipline benefits from it being out there. I don’t want this to be about me, however; my beliefs are applicable to any number of theorists – young and old – who are outside the mainstream of the discipline. I have heard it suggested that we should get away from single-author papers as well, as the process of collaboration often works out the issues most brought up in peer review.

So what can we do about it? More on that at some point in the future, but you may have the answer right in front of you.

Postscript (courtesy of Mike Berry): It’s not just us.

WF

I had the good fortune to read this essay by someone who is currently teaching at my Alma Mater. It resonates with me, because it points to a couple of flaws in the current system of training college professors.

First of all, in what is supposed to be the great equalizer, we still privilege a very narrow few universities and colleges over all others. A certain amount of that is understandable, as places like Harvard, Princeton, Stanford et al have access to means of getting better labs/buildings/resources, funding for grad students, etc. Still, I would put my MSU education – especially in my major – up against anyone, anywhere, anytime. I might not be able to match them class for class or skill for skill, but it is precisely that experience which has allowed me to succeed. When we say, “Oh, you only teach at a regional state university or a small liberal arts college or a community college,” we are, in effect, saying those are not real institutions of higher education. This is grossly unfair to the students and to the faculty.

Secondly, our PhD programs are guilty of this (arguably more than anyone else). What does a PhD program do, in essence? It gives you the skills to be a researcher at a research university. Most PhD programs do nothing to prepare you to be a faculty member at an institution other than a research university. This does a huge disservice to graduate students, as there are only so many research university positions out there; it further does a huge disservice to all the non-research universities out there. (To be fair, some PhD programs are trying to remedy this.)

Essentially, we do ourselves no favors when we marginalize professors like Dr. Skallerup-Bessette, anyone tenured or tenure-track at a non-research university, or those who are not on the tenure track and/or those who adjunct. When we say that they can be replaced by MOOCs, we are saying, “You don’t count as an academic.” Folks, that’s most of us.

WF

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.

WF

(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?

WF

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.

WF

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.?

WF

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.

WF

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.

WF

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?

WF

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?

WF

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.

WF