Month: November 2014

Board of Trustees Forum today @ SAC, NAHC 218, 6pm

District 8 Trustee Clint Kingsbery will be present at this open forum at SAC. There is a reception starting at 5pm. The forum will begin at 6pm. Below are the questions which Trustee Kingsbery will be addressing.

Questions for November Board of Trustees Forum

  1. Advising Guides
  •  What is your opinion on the implementation of Advising Guides and the end of majors?
  •  Do you see this as a policy issue to be addressed by the Board of Trustees? If so, in what ways would you envision the board addressing it?
  • What would you recommend to community members, faculty and staff and students who think the proposed changes are unfair, unnecessary and unhealthy for our schools? How do they best have their voices heard by the board?


  1. Chancellor’s/Administrative Performance Review?
  • Do you think it is appropriate to include feedback from faculty and staff in the performance review process for the chancellor, vice-chancellors, associate vice-chancellors, and college administrators?  If so, what recommendations would you recommend for soliciting feedback? If not, why?


  1. Faculty Evaluation and Tenure
  •  Do you see faculty evaluation as residing primarily with the colleges or the district? Why?
  • What work has been done so far on the Faculty Evaluation Sub-Committee of the Board of Trustees? What information have you received, and who reports to you? Have you received any official input from the faculty committee charged with overseeing the project?
  • One of the stated goals of implementing a new evaluation system was the Board’s need for clear employee evaluation over the faculty member’s career in order to create a new policy regarding tenure. Do you see these two items as being tied together? Do you support faculty tenure?  If so, how are you willing to convey that support? If not, why?


  1. Adjuncts and Hiring
  • How do you view the chancellor’s 50/50 hiring ratio goal? Do you see this as contributing to student success? What is the value of full-time faculty? What is the appropriate role for adjuncts? Do you think full-time faculty should be considered as adjuncts for purposes of summer pay?
  • Given that in some disciplines we have great difficulty attracting and keeping adjuncts and/or have fewer than 50% full-time faculty, would you support any of the following: allotting more funds for the hiring of full-time faculty, increasing adjunct pay, implementing benefits for our adjuncts comparable to those of other area colleges?


  1. Role of Department Chairpersons
  •  The role of the chairperson is being re-examined in part because of recent trustee feedback. Do you see chairpersons as faculty, administrators, or both? Do you see this position as one that should be mandated as 12-month by policy?


6. Faculty Board Communications

  • What are you assuming regarding the pace and direction of the change process at each of the 5 accredited schools.  What is your understanding of the process by which the Chancellor implements change across the system?
  • Are you open to a Standing Committee that is focused on “stakeholder relations” to ensure that faculty, staff, students and community members are able to give input?


AAUP seeks input on faculty teaching evaluations


Dear Colleague,

The Committee on Teaching, Research, and Publications is interested in determining to what degree there is consistency nationally in attitudes toward faculty teaching evaluations, in methods used for it, and in institutional practices surrounding it. We have developed a survey, and urge you to provide us information about your institution and your experience.

The survey can be taken at

Without your input, we cannot effectively bring these issues into the national conversation on the quality and the future of higher education. This is not intended to be a survey only of AAUP members, but of as many faculty in higher education in the USA as we can reach. Please share this with colleagues and encourage them to participate.

–Craig Vasey,
Chair, Committee on Teaching, Research, and Publications

The mission of the AAUP is to advance academic freedom and shared governance; to define fundamental professional values and standards for higher education; to promote the economic security of faculty, academic professionals, graduate students, post-doctoral fellows, and all those engaged in teaching and research in higher education; to help the higher education community organize to make our goals a reality; and to ensure higher education’s contribution to the common good. Visit the AAUP website andFacebook. Follow us on Twitter.

Letter to Editor: Degree plans should coexist

Letter: Degree plans should coexist

By on November 10, 2014 Letter, Opinion


I’ve been trying for months to understand the advantage of this new degree plan, but every supposed advantage dissolves under scrutiny.

Since the plan became public this September, I’ve been told that (1) it was necessary for reaffirmation for SACSCOC accreditation, but we found that SACSCOC wasn’t driving the change.

Then (2), the designation “major” is problematic: either it’s not an accurate name for the degree — “transfer advising plan” is more accurate — or 18 hours are not enough hours for a major — university majors require 30 or more hours — or major implies a terminal degree.

But the term “major” with an AA or AS degree has been commonly understood for a half century as indicating transfer into a bachelor’s major (especially for SAC since we were created in 1925 by UT as a Junior College that would feed UT Austin).

And why does it suggest a terminal degree for employment?

Does a bachelor’s degree with a major indicate a terminal degree? (Say a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy; who can get a job with that?)

Why this new nit-picking with traditional understanding?

I’ve also heard the budgetary reason (3): we want to make sure to get the Success Points since our funding will continue to be dependent on students’ graduating.

I concur with the importance of getting our students to graduate, but traditional degrees would equally satisfy this need.

The current justification (4), one that I heard Dr. Jo Carol Fabianke state a half dozen times at the last board committee meeting is that the new degrees will guarantee that all the 18 hours past the core will count in the major when the student transfers.

But this rationalization also is sketchy.

First of all, what is the problem with some of the courses transferring in as electives? Bachelor’s degrees do have electives that count toward graduation.

Then there is a more serious problem: How can the new generic degrees guarantee more courses transferring into the major?

If, for example, UTSA will only accept 12 hours of sophomore English courses in the major for an English BA, how will the new plan get more courses accepted?

One suggested answer is that the administration will apply more pressure on the local universities to have courses accepted.

Wonderful, but why can’t we put the same pressure for our traditional majors?

We don’t have to change plans to get universities to play nice.

One of the major problems with the proposed plan is that it would limit choice for students’ transferring.

At that board meeting last week, District 2 trustee Denver McClenden brought up this limitation. He asked, “What if a student applies to several universities for admission?”

The student couldn’t prepare for more than one.

But with the current degrees, especially if we can get the universities to play nice and accept our majors, students would be able to have choices and all the courses would count.

The final criticism of the new plan is that it treats the choice as a zero sum game: either the new plan or the old plan.

But that thinking ignores the fact that we have been offering the new plan for decades.

We call it the “associate in transfer degree.”

Why disrupt our system, invite unintended consequences, confuse the students and create controversy when we already have the “new plan” as a component of the old plan?

Why not simply ensure that the transfer degree has higher visibility as we advise students?

I can see no reason why the two kinds of degrees can’t continue to coexist.

Mike Burton, Chair

English Reading & Education

San Antonio College

District Seeks Faculty Approval on Advising Plans After the Fact

From Tony Villanueva, President of PAC AAUP to members of the Alamo Colleges Board of Trustees:
On Nov 13 and 14th,  faculty leads were asked to attend a meeting to “work on advising plans.”  Below is a quickly drafted, hand-written memo to express our dismay at what appears to be an attempt to demonstrate that faculty approve of the decision to remove majors from transcripts.  We were asked to participate in an exercise to “validate” the advising plans and to sign-off on the form.  For those of us who attended the Nov 14 session, we quickly felt that the meeting was awkward and felt like a set-up to feign approval of the decision to remove majors.
For sure, it is unreasonable to ask faculty to “validate” advising plans on a mere 2 hr workshop and to sign-off on the form.  Advising plans and validating course transfers takes much longer than a mere 2 hr workshop.
At the meeting, the presenter (Vice Chancellor Jo-Carol Fabianke) was met with numerous questions and comments pertaining to the appropriateness of the removal of majors and the process by which it was decided.  Attempts to hold a discussion on the merits of removing majors from transcripts were met with remarks that the decision had already been made and not part of the exercise at hand.  Further, we were told that any concerns that students/faculty may have regarding transcripts have already been addressed.  The solution proposed is unclear and requires clarification.  Again, faculty, as far as I know, were not included in this resolution, therefore not properly evaluated by independent colleges.
The level of discomfort at this meeting was palpable.  The memo below is a clear demonstration of the disconnect from each of the colleges with District.  It concerns many of us that the level of disconnect has reached a level that creates significant morale concerns leading to a dysfunctional college atmosphere, ultimately affecting the students that we serve.
Further, we are concerned that SACSCOC will view such information, along with memos from the faculty senates, signatures from faculty and department leads, and disapproval from AAUP chapters from all colleges, as clear evidence of District’s violation to allow colleges to function independently and autonomously on academic matters.   If the Board does not intervene we may  be risking sanctions and even loss of accreditation.  An investigation of this highly questionable decision (to remove majors) is warranted.   I urge the Board to convene an independent task force to investigate this matter carefully in order to avert problems with accreditation of the colleges.  Our hope is that the Alamo Colleges Board of Directors addresses the concern thoroughly before regulatory bodies (THECB and SACSCOC) are forced to intervene.
(I typed the contents of the hand-written memo below and attached a photo.  Please excuse the informality of the memo – handwritten – as it was drafted at the spur of the moment and upon becoming aware of the presumptive nature of the workshop.)
Memorandum for Record
To:  Southern Association
From:  Undersigned Faculty, PAC, SAC, SPC, NVC, NLC
On Nov 14 at 1 pm a meeting was convened of selected faculty to “help” with making changes in curriculum.  While we were assembled as an exercise to attempt to show that faculty supports the administrative “pre decided” decisions regarding advising guide and majors, we the undersigned faculty do not agree with the administration.  Our attendance at this meeting does not signify our agreement with the administration.
Transfer Degree No Approval   

MOOCs and “Desirable Difficulties”

We haven’t posted on MOOCs in a while. They’re still around but haven’t gained a lot of traction in higher ed. Here’s an interesting article from The New Yorker: Will MOOCS be Flukes? A key section discusses what we know to be true in education: speed bumps in learning are good. Students learn best and retain more if they are challenged:

How can MOOCs live up to their promise? One possibility is to go back in order to go forward. The MOOC movement started off in a tech whirlwind; the people who pushed it forward were so caught up in its technological possibilities that they scarcely considered decades of research into educational psychology. They might, for instance, have looked at the work of the researchers Patrick Suppes and Richard Atkinson, who in 1962 were charged with designing a course that would use the latest computer technology to teach mathematics and reading to children in kindergarten through third grade. Suppes, a Stanford psychologist and philosopher who had been trained in mathematics, decided to use something called “control theory” as the basis for his approach. Students in his computer-based class wouldn’t all receive the same instruction. Instead, their materials and the order in which those materials were presented would shift according to their past performance and other learning metrics—much like the G.R.E.’s adjusted sections, which become harder or easier depending on how you’re doing. Some students might get stopped every fifteen minutes for a reassessment and summary of materials; others might go for an hour before they reach a stopping point. The approach combined leveling (in which the same material is presented at different learning and reading levels, depending on the student) with dynamic learning (which involves playing around with the manner and order in which information is presented, so that students don’t get bored or frustrated).

The Suppes-Atkinson courses proved so successful that they were soon expanded to include multiple subjects for many age levels. A company called the Computer Curriculum Corporation (which is now a part of Pearson) started distributing them globally. In 1966, the psychologist William Estes, a pioneer of mathematical learning theory, including control theory, presented a paper at the International Congress of Psychology, held that year in Moscow. He spoke Russian. He’d learned it from a Suppes-Atkinson course.

Why don’t MOOCs structure their materials in a similar fashion? The technology to do so has only improved, as have the metrics to measure success. Some MOOCs, like mathematics or economics courses, lend themselves to this approach, but even lecture-reliant classes could incorporate the method by, for example, incorporating pauses for reviews and summaries of material, tailored to each student’s comprehension level. As it is, individualized methodology has largely gotten lost in the excitement over technological capabilities and large-group approaches. According to numerous interviews I conducted, and studies I read, very few MOOCs are using anything like control theory as part of their approach to teaching.

The other major problem is that MOOCs tend to be set up in a way that minimizes frustration for students (who might drop out at any moment). There often aren’t pop quizzes or the kinds of challenges that can alienate students in traditional settings. The problem here is that easy learning does not make good learning. In fact, the very tools that we believe make for better education may also make students more likely to quit. More frequent testing, for instance, can improve memory, learning, and retention. And, sometimes, the best test of all is the test that you fail: recent work from the cognitive psychologist Elizabeth Ligon Bjork has shown that pre-testing on never-before-seen materials helps students perform better in a subsequent course covering that material. In general, Bjork has found, speed bumps in learning are good—desirable difficulties, she calls them. MOOCs would likely be more effective if they didn’t shy away from challenging students, rather than presenting a fluid experience which gives the false impression of the learning and retention.