A provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.

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Provost Prose

A provost examines the world on campus and in higher ed.

By Herman Berliner October 17, 2011 12:05 am UTC

The 2010 Georgetown University Center for Education and the Workforce study of “Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018” concluded that “by 2018 we will need 22 million new college degrees- but will fall short of that number by at least 3 million postsecondary degrees, Associate or better.” Furthermore, the report states “we will need at least 4.7 million new workers with postsecondary certificates. “ The report comes to two other conclusions, all conclusions that will not surprise the higher education community. First, the report notes that “between 1973 and 2008, the share of jobs in the U.S. economy which required postsecondary education increased from 28 percent to 59 percent. And second that “as the economy evolved, postsecondary education gradually became the threshold requirement for access to middle class status and earnings.”

But there is a fundamental disconnect between the increasing need for higher education credentials and the support by government of students pursuing this education. Be it on the graduate level or on the undergraduate level, financial support for students as well as for institutions is declining. Consequently in a lackluster economy, with many families straining to afford the education for their children, the diminished support makes it more difficult to pursue added education and less likely that this investment will be made.

Education is first and foremost an investment, an investment in the personal growth of the individual undertaking the education as well as an investment in the economy. Our economy needs workers with sophisticated skills sets to do the increasingly more complex jobs that are available in fields such as the sciences, healthcare, business and education. In a global economy and in a highly technological time, there are no substitutes for such workers. As one example, if we look at health care where we are striving, rightly so, to provide a health care safety net for all our citizens, how will we be able to vastly increase the services needed by this broader base of our population without expanding the supply of educated workers? Laws can provide accessibility but without the necessary supply, the results will not be there.

Especially in those areas that are vital to our economic growth and to the well being of our population, there needs to be a well thought out policy that provides more, not less, resources for higher education. We should highlight the areas with the greatest need for skilled workers, and I think we already know this information for at least the next decade. Next, we should publicize where those areas are and what the required educational attainment is for a person to succeed in those fields. This information needs to be conveyed to students in middle and high schools and also to their families so that it can be fully considered as part of the decision making process in regard to postsecondary education. And then to further make sure the supply of skilled workers is commensurate with our needs, we need to develop specific economic incentives. These incentives should be targeted just to increase workers in areas of need; in a time of scarce resources we need to carefully and precisely allocate those resources. Yes, this will cost money; yes, we will need to increase our support of postsecondary education; and yes, this will impact the decision making process of these students/future workers. But we have no choice. To allow a fundamental disequilibrium to exist between needed skills and the number of workers with those skills is to relegate our economy to clearly falling short of its potential. And the more we fall short of our potential, the more we face an economy unable to do all we all need done.

By Herman Berliner October 10, 2011 1:18 am UTC

Six students from a top Long Island high school each hired the same recent high school graduate to take the SATs for them so that they could submit a higher test score than they would receive on their own as part of their college admissions profile. I am pleased they were caught but I’m certain that these students are not the only students who have substituted other individuals in their place to take important admissions and other examinations. What should happen to these high school students? The punishment should be severe (though I wouldn’t advocate jail time). How severe? If they are guilty as charged, I would recommend they should be barred from submitting a SAT test score or a high school transcript for at least a year and during that time they should provide extensive mandatory community service. A course on ethics should also be required. The test taker should also face at least as severe a punishment. And if there were any parents that aided and abetted this effort, their punishment should be much more severe. Furthermore, it appears that we need to substantially improve test security so that every possible safeguard is in place to prevent anyone else from taking the place of the student who is supposed to be the test taker.

Academic honesty is a problem in many high schools and in many colleges and universities. At times, especially since we are dealing with young adults, the plagiarism is unintentional. At other times, the cheating is both intentional and on-going. Many teachers and professors will react forcefully to cheating as it happens but at the same time intentionally moderate or eliminate long term consequences. Often cheating is not reported so as not to tarnish the student’s record and often the punishment is determined based on this cheating being a once in a lifetime occurrence, not a pattern. Once in a lifetime suggest that a moderate response is appropriate; a pattern suggests there needs to be an escalating response. How do we know what response is appropriate if the tracking system throughout much of a student’s education is rife with omissions? We really need to do better so that the message is more clearly and emphatically that academic dishonesty doesn’t pay.

Students are very aware of who cheats and students can help foster an environment where academic honesty is valued but at the same time, I don’t think we should count on students alone to play a lead role in moderating the cheating of other students.

What can we do? Every incident of cheating — unless it is clearly not intentional — should be reported. The penalty for an individual offense should be determined by the faculty member but there needs to be an additional penalty triggered by repeat offenses. Every student can make a mistake and learn from his/her mistakes. But more than one occurrence should be accompanied by a zero tolerance response that should, if it continues, result in suspension and, if justified, dismissal.

The penalty should also escalate as students advance in their education. We should all be more tolerant of a high school student or a first year college student making a mistake and much less tolerant of an advanced undergraduate or graduate student having an ethical lapse. And in certain fields such as law and medicine, the penalty for academic dishonesty, if proven, should be immediate dismissal.

All of us comment with dismay on the widespread culture where academic dishonesty is more or less prevalent. But to change the environment we need to do more than comment and more than deal with individual occurrences. We need as a community to work together, to report and to track academic dishonesty as it happens. If we are determined to reduce academic dishonesty, our actions can help make it happen.

By Herman Berliner October 3, 2011 12:30 am UTC

At all levels of education in the New York area, the key conversation at this moment in time revolves around the APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review) which will beginning now affect New York’s K- 12 teachers and administrators. Be it in public schools or in schools of education, the education community is focused on what APPR means and what the impact will be. Nationwide, the equivalent of an APPR (and a more common curriculum)seems to be in various stages of development . For me, as a long time supporter of comprehensive on-going evaluation of faculty at the higher education level, including student course and teacher ratings, peer observations, ongoing support and feedback, I also support K-12 comprehensive evaluation of teaching .

The major portion of these performance reviews will look a lot like the performance reviews already been taking place continuously in K-12 education. Classroom observations are and will continue to be an important part of this matrix. But there are differences between APPR and what has existed before. An important factor in the new evaluations will be the progress demonstrated by students on standardized state or comparable local examinations. How much this component will actually be is still in dispute, and will depend on the results of litigation as well as collective bargaining negotiations before being fully decided. What is not in dispute is that after 2 years of being evaluated as ineffective, a teacher’s job could be on the line.

As a school board member, I am more and more involved in discussions on APPR and I also know that our School of Education, Health and Human Services is fully involved in how to prepare our teacher education students for APPR as well as how to prepare local school districts to be as successful as possible with APPR. I want APPR to work, but I am very worried as to how it will work.

The economics of K-12 public education is not in good shape. A tax cap with too little legislated mandate relief will clearly require we educate our students with less available dollars. Class size, support services and other enrichment activities will likely suffer. At the same time, with the implementation of higher standards on statewide examinations as well as a transition to a mostly national common core curriculum, we will be expecting our students to do more and do better. And our teachers will be judged individually on how successful they are in making this happen.

Even if our teaching becomes even more effective, the end result when all the other factors are included could be students doing no better than before or perhaps even worse. How will that factor into the evaluation of teaching? And for those of us in higher education, as our future students go through what could be a less robust K-12 education, we may end up with students who are less well prepared (even though the APPR and the common core curriculum was motivated by our wanting to more effectively prepare students for higher education). And do we have the resources, if in fact that should happen? I know that as an economist, I have a bias in terms of how important economics is in so much of what we do. But here is another example of, with the best of intentions but with far from the best of economic times, the results may be in question.

By Herman Berliner September 25, 2011 9:20 pm UTC

For almost a year, I have received a series of recommendations to see the film Race to Nowhere by filmmaker and parent Vicki Abeles. Early last week I had that opportunity and I certainly agree that the film presents a powerful message on the state of K-12 education. The film focuses on the over scheduling and then consequent stress (and possibly worse) we inflict on the current generation of students. Too many classes, too much memorization, too much homework, too many after school obligations, too little downtime, too little sleep. And much of what the film shows, I see firsthand in my kids, and in the kids of my friends and neighbors.

But in delivering a powerful and worthwhile message, the film also oversimplifies and distorts the answers to difficult questions and leaves out key facts that would help present a more complete and accurate picture. For example, on the issue of too much homework, the film includes a relatively young teacher stating that when he reduced the amount of homework, test scores went up. The inference is clear—if we reduced homework across the board, test scores across the board would rise. I don’t doubt that this can happen in one case and perhaps in more cases. But I have yet to see any proof of the strong correlation suggested and that the first happening (the reduction in homework) is the cause of the second happening (increase in test scores). This message from the movie actually gives me the opportunity to utilize the majority of my Latin vocabulary. First, we have here a classic example (what could be better for Latin) of Post hoc ergo propter hoc. In other words, it is a logical fallacy of that what comes second is caused by what happens first. On very hot and sunny summer days, I tend not to open the shades of south facing windows until very late in the day, to cut down in the heat in the house. Typically, almost immediately after the shades are opened, the sun goes down. But no one would argue that this is cause and effect and similarly, it is difficult to argue that less homework leads automatically to better test scores. My second use of Latin in this blog is perhaps the favorite Latin phrase of all economists: ceteris paribus which translates into all other things remaining the same. Less homework and a more dynamic teacher or a less rigorous test, can lead to higher test scores. Brighter students or better foundations courses together with less homework will still likely lead to higher test scores. But because all other things did not remain the same, in no way did we prove that less homework equals higher test scores.

The film also doesn’t really take into account the stress that parents can place on kids. We all know parents who consider any grade of less than an A to be failing, parents who want their kids to take every advanced placement course offered, as well as parents who want their kids to accomplish – in the classroom and out on the field — what they couldn’t accomplish. There may be too much stress placed on our kids but in searching out the causes, looking in the mirror helps as well as looking at the schools.

But even with the concerns I have about this film, I consider Race To Nowhere worthwhile viewing for all educators. To the extent that our kids are overscheduled and overstressed, we need to improve our educational system but at the same time not cut back on the important learning taking place.

By Herman Berliner September 19, 2011 12:36 am UTC

As I write this blog on Labor Day, I am looking forward to the next day when fall semester classes will begin. For me a campus during the time period after summer sessions are over and before fall student move-in/the first day of classes is lacking in energy. I’m not suggesting that administrators lack energy; they don’t, but without students and without faculty, a campus has lost its heart and soul.

This time of year is exciting to me for another reason. Despite hurricane Irene, my excitement has nothing to do with now being hurricane season or the fact that the end is in sight for the hot and humid weather. Instead it is because on the Friday before classes begin, I had the opportunity to address new undergraduate students and this is often my favorite speech of the year. What do I say to these students who are less than half my age? What do I say to this group of students who are so different from the Baby Boomers that I grew up with? What should my message be?

My message has varied over the years. Last year, I spoke about the importance of academic honesty and why cheating and plagiarism has no place on a University campus. We know that plagiarism is unfortunately part of the fabric of many high schools and often is also present in middle school. We know that often it can start with parents being overly zealous in helping with homework; or it can start with students looking for the easy way out — copying takes less effort than learning; or on occasion, it even can originate from teachers being overly zealous in this environment when more and more they are being judged by their students’ test scores. However it starts, the message must be clearly delivered that students will be judged on their own work and that academic dishonesty and plagiarism will not go unnoticed and of course there will be consequences. I also spoke last year about the importance of diversity, all kinds of diversity, in promoting the best possible education. We all benefit from the value of difference; different points of view, a multiplicity of voices, different backgrounds, different orientations, multiple perspectives all serve to broaden our horizons and help us better understand the world we live in.

This year’s speech once again had a focus on diversity. I just feel that the importance of a respect for diversity needs to permeate all that we do and all that we say. But my other main theme this year was the opportunities that higher education provides to expand horizons, discover new fields, and stretch outside of your comfort zone at what is an ideal time in a new undergraduate’s life to do so. Courses as varied as ballroom dancing and personal finance enlighten and shape students. Others such as interpersonal communication, stress management, LGBT studies, contemporary art, and animal ethics all serve to increase understanding and expand horizons.

And how do I package my themes so that I can more easily relate to our new students? What I share with many of our new students is a passion for the Harry Potter books and films. I begin with comparing my years of service with Dumbledore’s years as headmaster of Hogwarts and end with a comment that Dumbledore makes to Harry about the importance of the choices we make. In between I make the critical points noted above. Without a spell or a potion, I’m not sure that the message always gets through but I know the message makes a difference and I hope the students were listening.

P.S. For a copy of the speech, please click here.

By Herman Berliner September 11, 2011 9:08 pm UTC

I am writing this blog in a hotel in Seattle. I picked the hotel because it has LEEDS certification and in this way I am supporting businesses that share my priorities. I am here to attend the Bat Mitzvah of a close family friend's daughter and I am viewing the weekend as a nice change of pace.

In the temple for the Bat Mitzvah services, I am enjoying the music which comes with a piano, clarinet, and guitar accompaniment. Both Bat Mitzvah girls are doing great and we are up to the sermon. And what does the Rabbi talk about? Something in the Bible? Something in today's Torah portion? Not at all. He is talking about the sad state of the U.S and world economy.

Now I recognize that in difficult economic times, everyone tends to give economic advice and that advice is often easier to give when you don't fully understand economic concepts and consequences. The less you know the more sweeping the changes you can advocate simply because you are innocent of the consequences of what you advocate. I often feel that many of our politicians on the local, state and national level should spend more time talking with economists and more time studying economics. This is not designed to ensure full employment of economists as much as it is designed to ensure the fullest understanding possible of complex alternatives to move our economy forward.

From my remarks above you can tell how sympathetic and receptive I was to this sermon when it started. But hats off to the Rabbi (perhaps not the best suggestion when it is recognizing a Jewish religious leader) for his advice. He made three critical points. First, even in difficult times, we need to remember that so many of us have so much to be thankful for and so many reasons to be happy. Second, we should never forget that our society and our world have many vulnerable people and that we should make sure their needs are met and they are protected. And third, there are limits to what we can do, limits to what we can spend, and what we can commit in resources around the globe.

I appreciate the Rabbi's priorities. I appreciate that he decided to give this sermon on this Saturday and that I was there. Whatever economic solutions we ultimately implement will be better if we keep this advice in mind.

By Herman Berliner August 29, 2011 1:26 am UTC

On Saturday just before Hurricane Irene hits Long Island, I venture, very early in the morning, into the local supermarket to make sure I have extra bread at home. My food passions are dark chocolate and good bread and if I’m going to be stuck at home, I may as well have the necessary comfort foods. As I am waiting to pay, there is a middle age man nearby loudly complaining and getting a sympathetic response from those around him. The complaint is in regard to the technological progress we have made in this man’s lifetime and before, and the fact that we have not yet learned how to tame the weather. And the bottom line of the rhetoric is that we are no better off in regard to Mother Nature then we were 50 or 100 years ago.

My goal that Saturday morning was to do what I needed to do in terms of getting ready. I was anxious to get back home to move the deck furniture into the garage and therefore I chose not to enter the conversation. In reality, it’s not my style to enter into someone else’s conversation, especially given I didn’t know the man doing most of the talking nor did I know the individuals that were now also part of the conversation.

On the Thursday before Hurricane Irene hits Long Island, our president convened the first of a series of meetings to coordinate the University’s efforts in regard to Hurricane Irene, and it is clear that much work has already been done. We are fortunate that the fall semester doesn’t start until the Tuesday after Labor Day, and therefore there is only a small minority of our students on campus. Nevertheless, we spend considerable time reviewing measures to ensure the safety of the students on campus, we review communications to all members of our community, we review facilities and we talk through that all contingency plans are in place. We listen to all the latest weather briefings and we are clearly well prepared. Subsequently, we also use our emergency communication procedures to reach out to our entire community via phone calls, text messages, as well as our website, Facebook and Twitter.

Listening to the Mayor of New York, and the County Executives of Long Island’s Nassau and Suffolk counties, it is clear that careful planning for all likely contingencies has taken place throughout the area ( and throughout the entire east coast ). I don’t remember any other time in my lifetime when area mass transit as well as all local airports were all shutdown and closed. And Broadway being dark for weather related reasons for two days is also another first as is the mandatory evacuation of substantial areas on Long Island and in New York City. Safety concerns were clearly a top priority.

But the key to all this careful preparation is the much more precise knowledge we have in regard to hurricanes, and the much more sophisticated technology we have to reach out to members of our university communities as well as the larger area communities. Our tracking of storms is impressive and together with proper planning, the much more sophisticated communications capability makes an enormous positive difference, especially in terms of safety. We also have much more information available much more quickly to assess and respond to what has happened. Mother Nature hasn’t changed but we have — thanks in great measure to technology.

By Herman Berliner August 22, 2011 3:20 am UTC

With the growth of on-line services has come a wealth of convenience. I log into the Hofstra portal and my email around the globe. I rarely step inside of a bank. I purchase more and more products on-line, I pay more and more bills on-line, and I even access much of the national, regional and higher education news on-line. The rapidly increasing transition to more and more on-line products and services in the last decade has been a welcome change. I know I am more productive and efficient as a result and I even believe I have slightly more discretionary time.

Along with all the enhanced usage, there is clearly an increased need for security. My emails, what I buy, what I pay, and what I read is my business. Therefore with more and more of my accounts, there is a password along with the log-in ID and this is also as it should be. Initially, my approach was to use the same ID and the same password for almost all of my accounts. In a very few cases, there were password parameters that required I make changes and I did so whenever the need arose…but not more than that. As the accounts multiplied, it became clear to me that having so much reliance on one log-in and on one password diminished my security and increased my vulnerability; and so I began to vary both on a regular basis and to even change passwords on a regular basis. In all cases, I did stick to basic themes for both the ID and the password and so I ended up with many, many variations on a theme. I was clearly responding effectively to security concerns and to add further to the level of protection, I never wrote down any password and relied on my memory which served me well.

A few weeks ago, I needed to enter an important program on my hard drive that I had last accessed over a year ago. I open the program and get ready to enter the password but can’t remember exactly what the password is. And so I start to enter possible/likely passwords and nothing works. I even wrote down passwords as I try them since as I mentioned above, my passwords are close variations. Here too, nothing works. Periodically I come back to this program and to date nothing has worked. But I do feel confident that my data is secure. I have also opened two new accounts during this time and in each case have written down the ID and password information.

Since the technology exists I am ready for the ID/login function to be replaced by a thumb print or an eye scan. In the meantime I have started writing down this information for existing as well as new accounts on a secure site. I’ve learned my lesson. My memory is excellent but my many, many logins and passwords are more than a match. Maintaining security is critical but without accessibility, it leaves something to be desired. Having written this blog, I am feeling optimistic and heading right back to finding the right combination to access my data.

By Herman Berliner August 15, 2011 1:07 am UTC

A middle level administrator I know was faced with a dilemma. The person had agreed to make a program recommendation and immediately after sending the very strong recommendation began to have serious reservations about the program. To some extent these reservations were the result of information that became available subsequent to the recommendation being sent. And to some extent the reservations were the result of a more careful look by the administrator at the program being recommended. The end result was a 180 degree change from recommend to really can’t recommend.

But what does the middle level administrator do at that point? One possible response is to go back to the program developers and indicate that given this and that, the administrator can no longer support going forward. Another related possibility is that the administrator withdraws the positive recommendation. If one or both of these courses of action are your responses, you get Administration 101 advanced standing credit. However, what if this is not the response? What if instead the response is to contact the person the administrator reports to, and ask that person to turn down the recommendation? In that way, the administrator could go back to the program developer and indicate with sincerity that it was a higher-up that deserves the blame since the administrator had made a positive recommendation. With this scenario, what if the higher up refused to play this role?

Are there other alternatives? The administrator could write a detailed memo to the higher up indicating the flaws in the original recommendation and once again indicate that the higher up should turn down the recommendation. Why not at this point just rescind the original recommendation? The explanation could be that the administrator is still not comfortable saying to the program developers that the original positive recommendation was flawed and should be withdrawn. Once again, what if the higher up refused to play the role of nay sayer? What if the higher up very clearly indicated to the administrator that if there are such serious doubts the recommender should contact the program developers, explain the reassessment, and withdraw the recommendation?

One resulting possibility is that the administrator emails the program developers directly, spelling out in detail the concerns about the program. It should and could be a well thought out email. The conclusion, at this point, might go in one of two ways, with one punch line being that for the reasons noted above, the University had decided not to go forward. The other alternative would be for the administrator to state that it is he or she that is withdrawing the recommendation.

There are clearly moments in time when a recommendation looks sound initially and subsequently turns out to be very flawed. I think we are all aware of such situations. Absent extenuating circumstances, my Administration 101 advice is that the recommender should just go back to all involved and indicate that given all the information now available, that he or she can no longer make a positive recommendation. Think about it. Asking someone else to do your work or suggesting that someone else has made your decision, serves no purpose and more than likely is counterproductive to long term administrative advancement.

By Herman Berliner August 7, 2011 10:06 pm UTC

In my early days in administration, many years ago, I had the opportunity to serve on negotiating committees for various labor contracts and the position I held on these committees was the exalted chair-filler position. A chair filler has minimal involvement with the actual negotiations so expertise is not necessarily a prerequisite. Instead a chair-filler is selected based on his or her ability to fill a chair and look both intelligent and engaged at the same time. I did the best I could to meet these standards, and though I wondered initially why it was necessary to have such a position, I nevertheless found it to be a valuable experience. The “why” in my opinion is simply because if one side has a large number of individuals on their team, the other side needs an almost equal number to show it is at least equally engaged.

The reason I found these early career experiences to be invaluable is that almost at the beginning of the process I was able to gauge with a high level of accuracy exactly what the settlement would be. In an environment where everyone realizes that bargaining is a mutual benefit equation, it is not that hard to predict the conclusion. I believe the likely conclusion is known by the individuals heading the negotiations and those associated with the negotiations well in advance of the deadline date and perhaps even well in advance of the start of formal negotiation. However, the widely held belief is, if you settle too early, you are really not doing all you can to have your positions prevail.

In the recent budget/national debt debate in Washington, even though we came close to defaulting, I think our national leaders (as well as the accompanying chair fillers) knew based on clearly stated positions, exactly what the likely outcome would be. The fact that it took so long was designed to convince the public of how each side worked to have their position prevail. I think this strategy was a mistake. With an economy that is struggling, with a faltering economy, it is a serious mis-step to undermine confidence in that economy and not surprisingly in the Washington leadership in both parties. And yet we have done that. Would a settlement two weeks or a month sooner have made a difference? I believe it would have and that we would have been better off as a result of that earlier conclusion.

More and more we seem to be headed for confrontations and for blunt economic solutions. No changes in taxes, tax caps, and across the board spending cuts are blunt instruments. There are no doubt tax loopholes that should be closed or tax rates that should be adjusted. There are no doubt tax caps that will prevent real needs and priorities from being addressed. And across the board federal budget cuts, if it comes to that, will almost inevitably result in changes that undermine the national interest.

As I have said before we do need to contain spending, we do need to get a handle on the national debt and we do need to reduce the tax burden. But unless we move away from brinkmanship, and also substitute well thought out policy initiatives for blunt economics, these goals will not be achieved or if they are achieved, the costs could rival the gains. The economy is faltering and the clock is ticking. We need to do better and now is the time.



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