Saturday, May 30, 2009

Cheers, Mate

Our last day in London is finally upon us. We leave bustling London tomorrow morning to return to bucolic Happy Valley. We're in the midst of packing up, which we've discovered is much easier on this end -- it just means finding everything we own scattered around the house and shoving it into one of our seven suitcases, one picture frame box (for Rosie's art work she's bringing home), and assorted carry-ons.

I think we all have mixed feelings, sad about leaving behind a wonderful experience here in London, but also looking forward to returning home to see friends (and family elsewhere around the States). We've been reflecting both upon all we managed to do while we were here, as well as those things to which we never made it. Luckily, the former far outnumber the latter. Anne's been religious about filling up her London Moleskin (thanks, Eric) with everything she's done in various categories: theatre, museums, outings, tourist sites, etc. I've been a little less compulsive, but for those of you who have friended me on Facebook, I have posted there a list of the shows I've seen, along with things I'll miss about London and those things I won't be missing quite as much.

As I look back on my blog over the last five months, I realized I've probably posted more about my life here in London than I have about higher education issues. Probably natural, given the difference in life here compared to back home. But I'm going to do my best to get back to some of the topics I promised to write about, such as the college admissions process here. I will be continuing to work with my friend and colleague Claire Callender, who has been absolutely a wonderful host, so I know I'll be learning (and hopefully writing) more about British higher education policy.

I'm also going to try to provide semi-regular posts on higher education issues in the States, but know I'll never be as religious at posting as my friends Sara and Liam over at The Education Optimists, another good blog on higher education -- but hell, they have two people writing! There is a lot going on, between the programs proposed by the Obama Administration, and the changes forced on the sector by the economic situation, so I'll do my best to provide commentary and additional information.

So back to packing, saying some last good-byes, taking one last stroll on the Regent's Canal (it's finally beautiful here, of course, now that we're leaving), and watching the finals of Britain's Got Talent tonight. Cheers, Mate!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

My take on the British student financing system

This op-ed is in this week's Times Higher Education, the Chronicle of Higher Education of Britain. And in case you were wondering -- no, I did not choose the headline.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Dumbing down the college choice process

I've had plenty of experiences -- good and bad -- dealing with the media, but the most recent was really fun. I received a request through our news office to do an interview with a local TV station which was planning a story on whether college was still a good investment, and whether different types of colleges were better investments than others. I told them I was on sabbatical and in London, so they would have to work around that. Couple of days later I get an email from the reporter stating that he had been able to book a 15 minute block of satellite time at the London bureau of CBS news. He subsequently sent the location of the CBS bureau, and I was a bit peeved to see that it was about a 50 minute schlep by Tube from our house, but I was a good sport and said I would still do it.

The block of time was at 7:30 at night London time, so I squeezed myself into a sardine-tin Piccadilly line carriage for the bulk of the trip. I got set up for the interview, and the reporter came on from State College and asked me a series of questions about Penn State compared to other schools.

Well, you can guess what's coming. The story ran last night, and to say it dumbed down the college choice process was putting it mildly (yes, I should have expected this, knowing it was local TV in central PA). I should note that I blame the producer of the story more than the reporter. The story compared the "value" of a degree for three schools: South Hills Business School, a local for-profit 2-year institution; the University of Phoenix On-line; and Penn State. First, the reporter identified Penn State as a "liberal arts college." Second, the interview with me got edited in a way that made me look like a spokesperson for Penn State, rather than a professor. I was identified on the graphic just as "Don Heller, Penn State" -- at least, because it was television, people knew it wasn't the other Don Heller at Penn State. The piece was done in a way that it made me look and sound like a PR shill for Penn State.

Okay, enough whining. What this piece really made me think about was what happens if a piece like this was your main introduction to the college choice process. Approximately 3 1/2 minutes of glossed-over video comparing three higher education institutions that couldn't be more different from each other. A much better thought-out piece would have perhaps compared Penn State to Lock Haven to Juniata (and the relative costs of each, along with the expected returns) for a student considering a bachelor's degree. But something like that probably would have taken more research to pull off.

My favorite question, which unfortunately didn't make it to air, was this one: "Do you think students should be concerned about Penn State closing any time in the future, because of the economic crisis? Should they be worried that their Penn State diploma will be worthless if the institution closes?" After laughing in response to the question (which could be why they edited it out), I assured the reporter that while a handful of small, poorly-resourced, private colleges around the country had closed recently, that wasn't likely to happen to Penn State.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

And the Bonehead University Move of the semester goes to. . . . .

Arizona State University -- Congratulations!

Undoubtedly many of you have read about the controversy over Notre Dame's decision to have President Obama speak at its commencement. If you somehow missed the firestorm, conservative and Catholic commentators took issue with the university's decision because of Obama's support for abortion rights. The president and board of Notre Dame should be lauded for standing up to the critics and not rescinding the offer.

At the other end of the spectrum is Arizona State University, which invited Obama to speak at its commencement yesterday but declined to give him an honorary degree, normally an honor it bestows on its commencement speaker. ASU defended its decision by stating that,

“Because President Obama’s body of work is yet to come, it’s inappropriate to recognize him at this time,” Keeler said.

Previous recipients of honorary degrees from ASU had long-established careers in their fields of work, Keeler said, and they aren’t necessarily affiliated with ASU.

Last spring, the University awarded an honorary degree to James Duderstadt, a professor emeritus of the University of Michigan and an international leader in higher education.

In 2006, degrees went to Wu Qidi, vice minister of education of the People’s Republic of China, and Frank H. T. Rhodes, former president of Cornell University.

Keeler said there are typically only one or two people each year who receive an honorary degree from ASU, though the University will not award one this spring.

“It’s someone who’s really outstanding, who has made outstanding contributions in their field,” she said.

Guess the president of the United States just isn't "outstanding" enough, including the time he spent in the U.S. Senate, in contrast to the accomplishments of Jim Duderstadt, Frank Rhodes, or Wu Qidi.

You have to feel just a little sorry for the poor university spokeswoman, Sharon Keeler, who got shtupped with the responsibility of putting her name on this statement. Would have been nice if Mike "Let Them Be Furloughed" Crow (he's the guy on Obama's right in the photo above) had been the more public face of this decision.

ASU's decision would almost be understandable, if it didn't stand in direct contrast to the honorary degree it awarded a little over three years ago to former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell, who served in office for less than five months. So according to ASU, five months as Canadian PM is more deserving of an honorary degree than 113 days as President of the US? Hmmmmm, may want to rethink that decision.

It wasn't easy for ASU to win the Bonehead University Move award for this decision. You may remember this as the same university that told some employees that they had to take up to 15 days of furlough leave after they had been told they were being laid off in a few months.

For a nice take on ASU's decision, check out the Daily Show's story.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

"College Suspends Student for Working in Gay Pornography"

The student was suspended by Grove City College, a self-described "Authentically Christian" institution north of Pittsburgh. According to the article in the Chronicle, a statement from Grove City said that, "Throughout this process, his sexual orientation was not a factor in the decision." The suspended student told a local newspaper that he had been working in the porn industry for two years, "to pay his tuition." He was quoted as saying, "When I first came to Grove City, I was pressed for money, and I worked four jobs trying to make ends meet."

Here's a link to the full article in the Chronicle.

The incident raises at least a couple of questions:

  1. Would the student have been suspended if he had been working in straight pornography? Notice that the GCC statement says that his sexual orientation was not a factor, but could it be that the type of porn he made was a factor?
  2. Grove City is one of a handful of colleges in the country that has chosen not to participate in the federal Title IV financial aid programs. It has chosen to do this so that it does not have to comply with Title IX of the 1972 Amendments to the Higher Education Act of 1965, which outlaws discrimination based on gender. If federal grants and loans were available at Grove City, would this student have had to resort to making porn videos - gay or otherwise - to pay for college?

Given that this is a very family-friendly blog, I passed up the opportunity to post many of the other images of the student available on the web.

Another review of really, really bad theatre

I really enjoy reading these kinds of reviews. This one is of the musical "Shout," about 60s music (pop, not the good stuff), playing in the West End. Read it and weep.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Been-a long, been-a long, been-a long time. . . .

In fact, almost a month since my last post. I have some good excuses, of course -- visitors, Passover, term break for the girls, holidays in Barcelona and Paris, a speaking gig in Liverpool. Nevertheless, I recognize I have failed my blogging responsibilities. I'd like to say I'll make up for it over the next month, but given that this is our last 26 days in London, that is a promise I'm very unlikely to fulfill.

Since this is admissions season back in the U.S. - at least if you are a traditional student, graduating from high school and transitioning on to college in the fall - I'm going to post about admissions here in the U.K. But before I get to that, I wanted to highlight a protest we came across when we were in Paris last weekend. One of the joys of living here in London is the easy access you have to other European cities. You can hop on a plane (or train, in the case of Paris), and in a little over two hours be in an entirely different country and culture. And the differences are of a magnitude much greater than when you take the train from New York to Washington, for example, or fly from Seattle to San Francisco.

So last week we took the Eurostar train from St. Pancras (a 5 minute bus ride from us) to Paris for a four day visit during the May Day weekend. We played tourist, doing everything from the Eiffel Tower to a daytrip to Giverny. On our last day there, before catching the Eurostar back to St. Pancras, we were walking from Notre Dame to the Pompidou Centre, and came across a concert behing held on the plaza next to the Hôtel de Ville (city hall, for those of you who are French-impaired as am I). We were listening for a few minutes, and then started to notice signs posted around the band. I believe this translates roughly to "The school (university) is not a business, knowledge is not merchandise" (those of you who are more French-literate please feel free to comment and correct my translation). We then noticed small groups of people marching around in circles, holding up more signs.

Many of the other signs were similar to those that showed up at the protest over tuition fees at British universities that I observed in February. The general theme was, commercial interests are taking over the universities, threatening academic freedom and the purity of the education received. Given the language barriers, I didn't have much opportunity to speak with the protesters. But it was an interesting parallel to the situation here in Britain.