Archive for the ‘University of Delaware’ Category

U. of Delaware's state-of-the-art Visitors' Center

I belong to a Yale class of ’75 listserv, and recently, in addition to planning for our 35th reunion (starts the day after tomorrow!), there has been a lively discussion about the seemingly shocking rise in the cost of college: a year at Yale cost about $5,000 in our day, and $50,000 now. Since I have papers to grade and there is no better motivation than procrastination, I offer some comments on the subject—with the understanding that they are purely based on personal experience and observation, not on any knowledge of the economics of higher ed, the economics of pricing, or the economics of anything. So here they randomly are.

1.  My personal inflationary landmarks (aka the things whose prices I remember and are basically the same product over time) are the newsstand price of the New York Times (ten cents in 1971; $2 now) and the price of a ride on the N.Y. subway (thirty cents in ’71; $2 now). So the change in the cost of a year at Yale ($5,000-$50,000) is roughly in keeping  with those commodities.

2. At Yale (which Maria attends), Swarthmore (where Gigi works), the U. of Delaware (where I work), and Vassar (from which Lizy just graduated), and presumably most other major colleges and universities, if you divide the annual cost of running the school and educating the students by the number of students, you come up with a figure that is more, and in some cases far more, than the sticker price of tuition (much less the amount that the average student actually pays, once financial aid is factored in). At Yale and Swarthmore, my sense is that tuition accounts for something in the area of half the cost, with the rest coming from endowment income. At Delaware, which gets funding from the state (though it isn’t technically a state school), tuition accounts for roughly 40 percent of the budget. The relevance of this is that even if costs were substantially reduced (athletic programs cut, professors made to teach five classes year-round, tenure eliminated, thermostats set at 65 in the winter, etc.), tuition still wouldn’t cover them, so tuition would not go down.

3. When I chat with my Delaware students, I often ask them why they chose to come here. The most common answer (often eerily expressed in exactly the same words) is, “I fell in love with the campus.” That makes sense. It was a nice setting to begin with, but in the eighteen years I’ve been teaching there the place has been transformed, with a lot of new buildings, extensive renovations to all the old buildings, and every cement sidewalk torn up and replaced with a brick path. From looking at dozens of colleges with my two children, I know that UD is not alone in spending so much on physical plant. The centerpiece of virtually every tour we took was the “state of the art” gym (a state-of-the-art library was rarely on display). My sense is that all colleges, even the Yales and Swarthmores, realize they are in a battle for students with their peer institutions, and amenities and the appearance of luxury is one of the most important things they can sell, if not the most important. This has nothing to do with education, obviously, and it costs a lot of money, also obviously.

4. When we went to my daughter Lizy’s graduation over the weekend, we were very gratified to bring with us my 95-year-old mother-in-law, Marge Simeone. She is in fine fettle, but isn’t quite as nimble as she used to be, so we rented a wheelchair for her. On graduation day, the second—and I mean the second—we got to the outdoor amphitheatre where commencement was to take place, we were greeted by a friendly, extremely competent woman wearing a nametag stating her name and “Office of Disability Affairs” (or words to that effect). She very clearly explained all the options for seating, and access to and exit from same, and made it clear that she and her colleagues would do everything they could to make sure we comfortably enjoyed the ceremonies.

My reason for sharing this touching anecdote? The friendly woman was part of the administrative superstructure some of you have alluded to and which, indeed, has relatively recently sprung up and multiplied at U.S. colleges. So, in fact, is Gigi. She and her half-time assistant spend their time helping Swarthmore students (and alumni) get into medical school and law school. None of these jobs existed thirty-five years ago, and they cost a lot of money to staff and run. Should they be gotten rid of?

One of my Yale classmates, Chris Edwards, talked about the sort of nanny-state RA system he experienced when he fairly recently went to BU to get an advanced degree. Again, this whole structure (often called “Residence Life”) postdates our college experience and is a presence to some extent on all campuses. Gigi  in fact used to work in this field (at the Universities of New Hampshire and Pennsylvania), so I have some familiarity in how it works, essentially, to address and develop the non-academic side of students. This quest can sometimes seem a little foolish, as Chris observed. But its has a sort of noble bottom line, which is, as I see it, to support who more than likely wouldn’t have made it through (or been damaged by) the Darwinian sink-or-swim college ethos of past decades: people in wheelchairs, the non-wealthy, those on some kind of emotional precipice, those that society seems to think are marginal or different, and so forth. People with a handicap, or at least without a head start.

The sink-or-swim mentality had a kind of attractive intellectual purity to it, and was a whole lot cheaper. But there is no going back. And even if there were, I’m not sure I would want to.

And now I really have to grade those papers.



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Faithful BloggEd readers (both of you) may recall that a few weeks back I embarked on a series of posts on what I don’t like about my job. I wrote two of them (about department meetings and correcting papers) and embarked on the third. The more I wrote, the more it seemed like a proper essay, rather than a blog post. So when I was done, I submitted it to the Review section at Chronicle of Higher Education. My editor said she liked it. But some of her colleagues, she reported, thought “it seemed more like a blog post than an essay.”

That allowed me to respond with an expression I had always wanted to use, but never had the opportunity: “It is what it is.”

Ultimately, they accepted it, and it appears in the current issue, under the title “Why I Hate Annual Evaluations.” You need a subscription to read it, and for those who don’t have one, I reprint it below. But first let me respond to a couple of the Comments received by the Chronicle. Some readers took my slam of annual evaluations to be a slam at unions, specifically the American Association of University Professors, of which I am a member. Nothing could be farther from my mind.  Second, a couple of comments took the line, who am I to complain, given the the fact that I have a teaching job, and UD professors got a 4 percent raise last year, and we have pretty substantial minimum salaries. No argument here—and I credit the AAUP for the last three.


“There are three things I don’t like about my job. Two of them are pretty obvious and completely unoriginal: correcting papers and attending department meetings. The third thing is somewhat obvious as well, but I hesitate to name it, for fear that it will make me look whiny.

“However, that battle has probably already been lost, so here goes: I hate my annual evaluation.

“To the extent that this evaluation is necessary, it is because of the collective-bargaining agreement between the University of Delaware and our campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors. As long as I’ve been here—going on 18 years—the agreement has divided our annual pay raises into two parts. The first part is across the board. This year our raise was 4 percent, of which 1.5 percent was across the board, meaning, for example, that a full professor making the minimum salary of about $85,000 got a raise of about $1,275.

“The other part of the raise is based on “merit,” and it works as follows. The average faculty salary is calculated. Say it is $100,000. Every unit gets a pot of cash equivalent to 2.5 percent, or $2,500, multiplied by the number of faculty members in the unit. In my unit, the English department, that would be roughly 50 bodies. The chairman of the department evaluates each professor’s performance. The professor who is precisely in the middle gets a $2,500 merit raise. Those rated higher will get more, those rated lower will get less, but the average merit raise has to be $2,500.

“In other words, no department can be a Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average.

“On paper, this all seems reasonable, and I freely admit that part of my outsized resentment of the process stems from my own quirks. It requires a lot of paperwork and rewards good record keeping. I despise paperwork and am truly terrible at record keeping. (It is a cruel twist of fate in my world that evaluation time and tax time arrive together.) My early experience in the working world taught me that I also deeply and irrationally resent being judged by a boss, which is probably the main reason why, before becoming an academic, I was a freelance writer and thus my own boss. Now here I am being evaluated by the department chair, who isn’t really my boss, but at this point the difference seems negligible.

“But I maintain that some of my gripes have objective merit. American colleges and universities, including the University of Delaware, still view faculty members as a group of scholars and teachers devoted to and bound by self-instilled standards of excellence. Tenure, as long as it continues to exist, must and does require evaluation. But—crucially—at Delaware and elsewhere, that evaluation and judgment are performed not by the chair but by one’s peers (ultimately ratified or not, to be sure, by provosts, presidents, and other higher-ups).

“For faculty members who will eventually go up for tenure, it definitely makes sense to get input from as many sources as possible, so I’ll grant that for them an annual evaluation by the chair makes sense. But for tenured faculty members? No—at least not the way we do it at my university.

“Every year around this time, we submit our materials—publications, syllabi, evidence of service, and so forth—and fill out a Web form. The chair, who has meanwhile received copies of students’ evaluations of our teaching, rates all of us on a scale of 1 (the worst) to 9 (the best) in scholarship, service, and teaching. Different percentages are accorded to each area based on an elaborate formula, but generally speaking, for tenured and tenure-track professors, scholarship counts for roughly 50 percent, teaching 40 percent, and service 10 percent.

“The whole thing is undignified and unseemly. What, exactly, is the difference between a 5 and 7 in service? Number of committees served on? Hours spent? Scholarship is even more thorny, because as everyone knows, an article does not equal an article. Do two short articles in PMLA equal a New York Review of Books mega-essay, or do I have to throw in a draft choice and a player to be named later? Number of words produced and place of publication are important, to be sure, but quality trumps them both. And how can our chair be expected to judge the quality of the work of every faculty member, some of whom work in fields very different from his? The answer is he can’t.

“Evaluating teaching has its own well-documented set of problems. We honor faculty autonomy to the extent that evaluators are not welcome in another professor’s classroom, and we are still a good distance away from giving students No Child Left Behind tests that would “assess” the extent to which a certain course has achieved its “goals.” That’s well and good, but it doesn’t leave much as a basis for judgment. There are syllabi and the narrative Teaching Statements we provide each year, and sometimes the evidence of a new course devised and designed, but the main thing used to assess teaching are student evaluations. Those have some value, but they are most assuredly not the whole story when it comes to the quality of one’s teaching. If they were, we might as well outsource the whole process to RateMyProfessors.com.

“The unseemliness multiplies when my colleagues (as they often do) complain loudly and frequently about the marks they have gotten. I would be embarrassed to tell you how many laments I have listened to along the lines of, “I published a book, and he only gave me a 7!” I would bet our students don’t kvetch as much about their grades.

“And what are the consequences of our evaluations? In the 50-40-10 scholarship-teaching-service ratio, the difference between a 7 and a 9 rating in scholarship is about $540 a year. After taxes, that comes out to maybe $400 a year, or $8 a week. Not only is that not much, but for almost everyone, it gets evened out over time; some years, you can expect to get maybe a little lower rating than you “really” deserve, some years a little higher. For this my colleagues gnash their teeth and lose sleep?

“Several years ago, I came up with another way to evaluate faculty performance, based on the understanding that we all expect excellent work from ourselves and one another. Take the average merit raise and give almost everyone in the department a raise slightly lower than that; in the example I’ve been working with, that could be $2,300. That way, a handful of colleagues who publish major books or get major awards or stellar teaching evaluations can receive a slightly higher raise. And if a couple of people are blatantly not carrying their weight, they can get a little less.

“I proposed my idea at a department meeting, and it was summarily shot down. My explanation for this is Freud’s notion of the narcissism of small differences—our need to exaggerate the minimal distinctions between ourselves and people very much like ourselves.

“Even as I write, we are negotiating our next collective-bargaining agreement. Word on the street is that salaries will be frozen for next year. If that happens, I will be secretly glad, and you know why: It could very possibly mean no annual evaluation!”


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The child of a friend of mine, who has applied to the University of Delaware, got this e-mail on 2/26 from the UD coach of the varsity sport he/she participates in. (It is not a major sport and the child isn’t a highly recruited athlete, though he/she is probably good enough to play at UD). Here is the e-mail, which doesn’t mention the person’s name or say anything personal (that is, it’s a form e-mail):

“Congratulations! You have been admitted to the University of Delaware for the fall of 2010!  I’m letting you in on this great news a few weeks before any other students have been notified so that you can make your decision to attend Delaware now.  Official acceptance letters will start being mailed March 15th, so be patient it’s on its way! If you plan on attending Delaware please let me know by March 25th, if not before.”

This strikes me as sleazy. I guess there’s no problem with informing the applicant early, but I have a problem with the pressure to reply by 3/25, when most top colleges don’t reveal their decisions until 4/1. There’s an implication that the student might give up their spot if they don’t reply by 3/25, which is not true but which a naive high school student might fall for. And in general the pressure is out of line.


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Department meetings (wow, stop the presses).

Don’t get me wrong, I heart my colleagues, and when we gather for one of these confabs I am filled with a collegial glow … at the beginning. But then we will start talking about a hire we would like to make, and the dean’s likely (negative) response, and someone brings up a procedural point that was actually decided last year, and someone else will rephrase their position in a not especially helpful or especially new way, and old fights will get dusted off and begun anew … and I start furtively eying the Exit sign.

The gospel for last week’s meeting was our forthcoming assessment by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education folks who will in coming months determine whether or not we are up to snuff, and specifically the Mission Statements—for the English dept. itself and for every concentration or program within it—that are now apparently required. These statements have to include the “Outcomes” we are striving for and the means by which we will “Assess” whether they have been achieved (buzz words in quotes).

Our distinguished associate chair addressed the troops and handed out a handout containing a “template” for each concentration’s statement: “The mission of (name of program) is to (state primary purpose) by providing (primary function or activities) to (stakeholders). (Additional clarifying statements.)” Good one. It reminded me of the (probably apocryphal) journalist who, using the well-known crutch “TK”–that is, “to come”–submitted the following article: “A fire broke out yesterday. Rest of story TK.”

The journalism faculty–two of us in flesh, one in spirit–adjourned to a corner of the room and tried to divine our primary purpose, function, activity, and stakeholders. We are still sussing it out; I’ll let you know what we decide.


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With that ratio, it doesn't matter if you wear an Expos cap

The New York Times today runs the article I’ve been begging my journalism students to write for the last half-dozen years. Titled “The New Math on Campus,” it begins:

ANOTHER ladies’ night, not by choice.

After midnight on a rainy night last week in Chapel Hill, N.C., a large group of sorority women at the University of North Carolina squeezed into the corner booth of a gritty basement bar. Bathed in a neon glow, they splashed beer from pitchers, traded jokes and belted out lyrics to a Taylor Swift heartache anthem thundering overhead. As a night out, it had everything — except guys.

“This is so typical, like all nights, 10 out of 10,” said Kate Andrew, a senior from Albemarle, N.C. The experience has grown tiresome: they slip on tight-fitting tops, hair sculpted, makeup just so, all for the benefit of one another, Ms. Andrew said, “because there are no guys.”

North Carolina, with a student body that is nearly 60 percent female, is just one of many large universities that at times feel eerily like women’s colleges. Women have represented about 57 percent of enrollments at American colleges since at least 2000, according to a recent report by the American Council on Education.

At my college, the U. of Delaware, the numbers are almost identical: 58 percent female for years, and 60 percent in the largest college, Arts and Sciences. It’s that way most everywhere, other than super-elite colleges and ones that emphasize engineering and the like. Some time back, I posted on how the gender imbalance may play out in admissions offices: affirmative action for boys—the suspicion of which has led to an ongoing investigation of 19 schools by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

But the Times story does a great job with what I always wanted my students to write about, the way this plays out socially. (I sometimes have a feeling that students shy away from journalistic topics that are really interesting–as if that somehow made them less worthwhile. As if.) Most strikingly, it leads to strange, scary and poignant new romantic and sexual rituals. The Times reporter, Alex Williams, gets some killer quotes from girls and guys alike (as well as a few less interesting ones from the requisite talking head experts). To wit:

Jayne Dallas, a senior studying advertising who was seated across the table, grumbled that the population of male undergraduates was even smaller when you looked at it as a dating pool. “Out of that 40 percent, there are maybe 20 percent that we would consider, and out of those 20, 10 have girlfriends, so all the girls are fighting over that other 10 percent,” she said.

Needless to say, this puts guys in a position to play the field, and tends to mean that even the ones willing to make a commitment come with storied romantic histories. Rachel Sasser, a senior history major at the table, said that before she and her boyfriend started dating, he had “hooked up with a least five of my friends in my sorority — that I know of.”


“It causes girls to overanalyze everything — text messages, sideways glances, conversations,” said Margaret Cheatham Williams, a junior at North Carolina. “Girls will sit there with their friends for 15 minutes trying to figure out what punctuation to use in a text message.”

Garret Jones, another UNC senior, summed up the new math with admirable pith: ““It’s awesome being a guy,” he said.


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A new study of 842 colleges and universities shows that their endowments lost about $58 billion last year.

That represents a 19 percent drop in the collective endowments, which total $306 billion. Interestingly, endowment spending by the average school actually increased last year, from 4.3 percent to 4.4 percent. To make matters worse, 60 percent of the schools reported a decrease in gifts and donations. Plus probably all of them received less money from the federal and (especially) state governments.

My employer, the U. of Delaware, saw a 25 percent endowment drop, to a neat $1 billion. We are also being squeezed by Delaware legislators, and, needless to say, rising costs.

Even as we speak, the faculty union, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP), is commencing negotiations on our next contract. Somehow I don’t thing we will be looking at double-digit raises.


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A couple of weeks back, I offered some thoughts on the challenges of teaching journalism in this day and age. I have an essay on some other aspects of the subject in this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education, as part of an special section on the state of journalism and journalism education. (I’ll comment on the section once I’ve had a chance to read the whole thing!)

Interestingly enough, the Chronicle charges actual cash money for most of its content, so you can’t read the whole article on its site unless you’re a subscriber. I hold the copyright, so I reprint the entire piece below:


David Simon did some righteous testifying a few months ago. Speaking before a Senate committee, the author (Homicide), creator/producer (The Wire), and former newspaper reporter (The Baltimore Sun) heaved icy water on the notion that, if and when newspapers meet their maker, journalistic excellence will effortlessly migrate to new platforms on the Web. He was especially pessimistic about the survival of local trench journalism.

“The day I run into a Huffington Post reporter at a Baltimore zoning-board hearing,” said Simon, “is the day that I will be confident that we have actually reached some sort of equilibrium.”

“There’s no glory in that kind of journalism, but that is the bedrock,” he added. He predicted that with local coverage dwindling, “the next 10 to 15 years are going to be a halcyon era for corrupt politicians.”

As a citizen, I am deeply interested in the issues Simon raised. And as a journalism professor, I have an additional interest. That is, with the cosmos of journalism shifting before our eyes, I have to decide what to teach my students. My decisions will not be based (in any significant way) on predictions about the fall of print, or the rise of the Web, or the viability of any particular economic model. Neither I nor anyone else has a clue about how the years ahead will play out in this regard. But I do have a basis for predicting the journalistic skills, concepts, and forms that will endure, and that is how I’m making my pedagogical decisions.

Take the genre Simon was talking about: the zoning-board story. He was dead on about its critical importance—and probably also about its near-term bad straits. But precisely because of its importance, and because it’s buttressed by the Constitution, by a long tradition of practice, and by the American DNA, I’m confident that it will eventually find some kind of appropriate forum. And so I continue to include in my classes units on how to cover local meetings.

What about the rest of the newspaper? To address that question, I conducted a thought experiment: I read a recent Sunday edition of my local newspaper, The Philadelphia Inquirer, divided its contents into categories or genres, and decided which will survive and which will die.

Following the optimistic logic of the paragraph before last, I predict the long-term viability of (and will continue to teach the investigative skills demanded by) watchdog journalism exemplified by two front-page Inquirer articles. One laid out systemic problems at the local Veterans Administration hospital. The other, based on interviews with numerous Philadelphia public-school teachers, was about the pressure they felt to pass students, even unqualified ones. Those are examples of what-the-people-need journalism. I would also place in that category lots of other stuff in the Inquirer: reports on politicians’ actions and statements, on criminal and judicial matters, on significant international happenings (the last all picked up from wire services or other newspapers).

Optimism isn’t needed to forecast the survival of what-the-people-want stuff. In the Inquirer, that consists of opinion and commentary pieces, local obituaries, and dispatches about subjects significant numbers of readers are passionate about, or at least interested in: dining in, dining out, sports, entertainment, celebrity gossip, real estate, travel, health, technology, gardening and other “lifestyle” pursuits, and personal finance. The big and steady demand for this suggests to me that it doesn’t require much classroom instruction. Just look at the Internet, which is overflowing with it. Compared with print, the online stuff is generally snarkier, shorter, less factually reliable, less accessible to the noncognoscenti, and less carefully conceived and processed. But the best of it also bears a more authoritative voice and smarter prose. Let’s hope (we’re back in optimism mode) that in coming years, the state of the art will gravitate toward the best and away from the worst of the two worlds.

At the moment, there’s no real place on the Web for leisurely, witty articles like one on the front page of the Inquirer: the food writer Rick Nichols’s fly-on-the-wall description of a pizza-research road trip—with stops at Pepe’s in New Haven and Lucali’s and Franny’s in Brooklyn, among others—taken by the local restaurateur Stephen Starr and his posse. Will the Web develop to accommodate such prose forms? And will I keep teaching them? I say yes to both.

I suppose my thinking here is based on the robustness of art. For the same reason, I see future incarnations of two other stories in the paper, the Metro columnist Daniel Rubin’s deft and touching account of a road trip with his 83-year-old father and the Pulitzer Prize feature writer Michael Vitez’s long account (this is the first of three parts) of a local collegiate swimmer’s recovery from a very bad accident. In any era, excellent narrative about human beings will find a home.

If Snark and Art represent two sorts of newspaper features destined to get out alive, I’ll add a third name: Mabel. The reference is to the “Hey, Mabel” story, named for the tableau of a guy looking up from the paper and calling for the missus to get a load of this. Judging from most-viewed lists on aggregators like Yahoo and Google, the market for this sort of piece, sometimes called a “bright,” is still robust. An example is the top story on Yahoo News as I write, an Associated Press article entitled “Dead Sea Peril: Sinkholes Swallow Up the Unwary.” The Sunday Inquirer has one too, also from the AP: “She’s Hot on the Trail of Nuisance Gators in Florida.” (Funny how the titles of these stories pretty much say it all.)

By the same logic, there would also appear to be a continuing demand for Hey-Mabelish lifestyle/trend pieces, along the lines of grandmas are now getting tattoos, teens are getting off Facebook because their parents are getting on, tweens are having co-ed slumber parties, and so on.

That covers everything in the Sunday Inquirer, right? Wrong. Two articles remain. Both are well reported and well written, and represent venerable genres, but neither has a future, and I’m going to stop teaching them both.

The first appears in the Metro section of the paper and is called “Comics Convention Draws a Colorful Crowd.” The genre here is the scene piece—think the mall on Black Friday, or outside the arena of a Phish concert. The idea is to go to a colorful event, soak up the atmosphere, fill up a notebook, stitch together some quotes, color, and characters, and close with a “kicker”—a pithy quote. The author, Matthew Spolar, has done all that at a fantasy/science-fiction/comic-book exposition called the Wizard World Philadelphia Comic-Con. It is all well done, as I say, but I cannot imagine anyone really caring.

The second story, “Rachel Simon on Homes and Hearts,” is a leisurely profile of a local author with a new memoir coming out. Again, it has all the requisite elements: catchy lede, a “nut graf” (sometimes called a “billboard”) that briefly explains what the story is about and why we should care, well-chosen factoids about the writer and the book, sound-bite-style quotes, and, again, a kicker. And again, it does not scream, “Read me!”

Some other types of features, which don’t happen to be represented in this edition of the Inquirer, are toast as well. The weather story, where, after an day of extreme meteorology, the reporter goes out and gathers some quotes and anecdotes. The anniversary story—commemorating the 50th or 100th birthday of Jell-O, or iceberg lettuce, or whatever. The lame holiday angle—the Christmas piece about the mall-Santa-training academy, the one about sexy outfits on Halloween, the one about unusual jobs on Labor Day.

Generations of journalists have been schooled in the protocols of those genres; they have amused and instructed, in their fashion, for years. I have devoted much time to them in my feature-writing class. But there will be no Congressional hearings bemoaning their demise, nor should there be. They are the kind of thing Marshall McLuhan was talking about when he said, “People don’t actually read newspapers—they step into them every morning like a hot bath.” They will soon be as antique and superfluous as copy paper, glue pots, and symbols like



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