Assessment, Research, and Ethics

This is a snippet of my post at SA-Exchange.

The idea for this post came from a colleague of mine who was telling me about a new project he had implemented. He explained why he and another colleague had designed the project, what they wanted to do with it, how the roll out happened, what he saw happen based on the one on one interviews he was doing with students, what he thought that meant, and how he changed the program as a result of it. Then he told me how he didn’t feel he had remembered to assess it.

He had, of course, assessed the roll out, and then utilized that information to improve his practice. What he meant was that he hadn’t conducted research on the project. I suspect a lot of student affairs practitioners have similar thoughts, that our assessment needs to be done at the level of academic research.

He also shared with me that he didn’t think he could really do research because he didn’t know what the ethical boundaries were around it.

This post then is going to try to give a very brief overview of what the distinction between assessment and research is, why that’s important, and what the ethical boundaries are, finally leaving you with some questions to ask yourself about ethics and assessment.

Read the rest at SA-Exchange

Supporting Indigenous STEM Students

This is a snippet of Michelle Pidgeon and my post at Supporting Student Success.

The disparity of post-secondary education (PSE) completion between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians (40% vs. 55.3%) continues to persist (Statistics Canada, 2016). Unfortunately, the disparity is wider when we compare undergraduate degree completion between Indigenous (8.6%) and non-Indigenous Canadians (23.25%). The gap of post-secondary completion (certificate, diploma, degree, and above) specific to the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields is even wider. Indigenous people are half as likely to have STEM based PSE (4.1% vs. 10%), and for those with STEM Bachelors degree and above, the gap moves to being a fifth as likely (1.1% vs. 5.7%).

In 2012 Mount Royal University in Calgary, Alberta created the Aboriginal Science & Technology Education Program (ASTEP) to support the growth of Indigenous STEM students in the Faculty of Science and Technology. This program operated from 2012-2019 and represented one of three Indigenous specific STEM programs offered specifically at the university level in Canada.  To understand the impact and influence of this program an external review was conducted in 2017 following Indigenous research processes (Kovach, 2009; Pidgeon & Hardy Cox, 2002). This process included an analysis of institutional data, comparisons with similar programs, and interviews and sharing circles with students, staff, and faculty who were closely associated with ASTEP.

Read the rest at Supporting Student Success

Review: Pathways for Remembering and Recognizing Indigenous Thought in Education

This is a snippet of my review posted at SA-Exchange.

Sandra D. Styres 2017 book Pathways for Remembering and Recognizing Indigenous Thought in Education: Philosophies of Iethi’nihsténha Ohwentsia’kékha (land) is a key addition to the literature around understanding core concepts in Indigenous philosophies of education.

The audience of this book is academics who want to be able to express the specific philosophies that Indigenous people bring to education. It is not a book aimed at practitioners so much as researchers. Although it touches on story as a teaching method (Archibald, 2008) it does not utilize that as a primary method itself. There is some teaching through story but not nearly as much as a book like Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer. This book falls somewhere between western academic writing and Indigenous teaching through story, and that is one of its strengths. In addition, while Styres is trying to explain concepts that are common to many Indigenous peoples, she is approaching educational philosophy from a Haudenosaunee perspective.

Read the rest of this review at SA-Exchange.

A Response to “Let the Professors Run the University”

In “Let the Professors Run the University” Dr. Samuel J. Abrams lays out his concerns with how the University has fallen, and he places the blame squarely on the separation of faculty from student services roles.

His argument broken down:

Student facing administrators (by which he seems to be trying to conflate the front line student affairs professionals with management level employees but I’ll use his term shortened to SFA) have begun shaping academic discourse at universities. And this decreases deliberative dialogue.

SFA are more liberal.
SFA set the agenda of what happens on campus because they control everything that is “extracurricular”.
From the link to his other articles (strange that he’s mainly citing his own opinion articles) he, again without citation, says that SFA shape the experience of university.
Again from his self citation: SFA feel that “personal values” are important when educating (and again remember that these are people who only have control over extracurricular) and he implies that this means they are going to push their personal values onto students.

The backdrop of his argument then is that SFA, through their control of things extracurricular, encourage students to be more liberal and progressive and to become activists.

With that in mind he goes on to complain about the number of protests (as he is well versed in the literature and history here I’m sure I don’t need to point out that the small local protests of today are much smaller than the university student led protests of the 1960s). He says that the protests have led to his own university capitulating to student demands.

He follows this up with a complaint that SFA feel that students should be able to direct their own educational path.

The solution to this is to have faculty members run extracurricular programming. This should include everything from student orientation to residence life to academic advising to career services.

Now lets look at the biggest problem here. The average professor makes between $70,000 and $110,000 a year while the average student affairs professional makes between $35,000 and $65,000. To have a professor take over the job of a staff member making 1/2 their salary would be absurdly costly. Every professor who did so would need to do a job that they have no training for at double the efficiency in order for the university to break even.

Unfortunately for his argument the main reason why universities today have so many staff members doing things that in the 1950s were either done by faculty, or weren’t done at all, has a lot to do with capitalism. In the shift from elite to mass education many things needed to be offered at scale. This includes things like residence life, student orientation, academic advising, and career services. To offer these things at scale a professional workforce that specialized in those things took over them, allowing faculty to focus on teaching and research.

If instead a university decides faculty lead student services is an important thing and so will reduce services to ensure that faculty can provide them instead of professional staff then that university will have a harder time competing as they will be providing fewer services for the same price. This problem arises whether you feel that the university is offering “mass” education or “elite” education. Universities are not immune to market forces, and those forces don’t want universities to decrease services, those services are what get students who may not have been able to access post secondary 60 years ago to thrive and graduate on time.

Unfortunately it is not uncommon to see people write articles about post secondary as if you don’t need to think about 1) how much things cost or 2) where that money comes from. Both errors that Dr. Abrams seems to have made.

A second issue in the article is a mistake that Dr. Abrams has made before in his article “One of the Most Liberal Groups in America“. And that issue is the conflation of jobs that results in his phrase “student-facing administrators”, referred to in other articles by him as “professional class of administrators”. In the articles he cites, such as “Remarks on Benjamin Ginsberg’s Fall of the Faculty” the definition of “administrator” is very narrow and is used to refer to “vice-presidents and vice-provosts” “deans and chairs” “associate and assistant deans and assistant chairs” and their support staff. Dr. Abrams takes that group and combines them with the Student Affairs professionals to create his term “student-facing administrators”. This allows two things, first it widens the pay scale and second it makes the mean seem like the median or mode.

Vice, assistant, and associate, provosts, deans, and chairs nearly always arise from the faculty side. They usually have a history as a tenured or tenure track professor, and they almost always have a doctoral degree. They nearly always have a higher salary than faculty. Their direct staff tend to be administrative assistants and the like who make 1/4 to 1/3 of what they make and rarely have influence beyond the office in which they are situated.

Student Affairs professionals as a whole have either bachelors degrees or, commonly in the US and uncommonly in Canada, masters degrees and are in student facing roles. Dr. Abrams is correct that their role is often one of overseeing the extracurricular activities on campus. But unlike vice, assistant, and associate provosts, deans, and chairs they always have a lower salary than faculty and their say on policy is always smaller than that of the actual administrators.

By conflating the two groups Dr. Abrams gets to imply that the large influence on university policy held by the actual administrators is also held by the student affairs professionals, thus making the group exercising a large influence becomes bigger than the number of non administrator faculty. This is untrue, as Dr. Abrams no doubt knows.

I’m sure the last problem here is obvious by now. If you share the salary of an associate dean and imply that student affairs professionals make that salary then you can imply that the ballooning of budgets is because of them. In a recent twitter thread new student affairs professionals shared whether they made in the 30-40k range or the 40-50k range. Virtually no one was above 40k and the majority of them had a masters degree. To conflate that person with the assistant provost making $100,000 more is absurd. And the most frustrating part is that since Dr. Abrams has done the research and knows all of this he must be doing it deliberately.

Rhetorical Misuse

There are some people whose rhetorical goal is to bring the reader/listener to a point of numbness where they feel that the topic is too complex to understand and they defer to the expert. This is especially used when talking with those who agree with the premises and conclusion that the speaker/writer has. Thus the reader/listener feels good because their view has been supported by an expert, and the writer/speaker feels good because they have received support.

But in reality all that has happened is the linking of premise and conclusion with a bunch of wibbly wobbly rhetorical wimey stuff that isn’t a functional argument.

This leads to polarization of belief as camps grow around the speaker/writer and they are combative with other groups around a different speaker/writer who disagree with the premises or conclusions, but because the speakers/writers never actually educated their groups but simply provided them with unlinked premises and conclusions the two groups turn their backs on each other because to admit that they don’t understand it is to admit that they might be wrong. It is to admit that they hold the premises and conclusions not because it’s true but because they received confirmation of their biases from an “expert”. It is to admit that their proof is based not on truth but on a misunderstanding or misrepresentation of the evidence or of the opponents perspective.