Fire in Phelps Hall! And this one is not a drill!

Folks at EMU received a couple emails from communications VP Walter Kraft about a fire in the dorm Phelps Hall that forced students to evacuate. And then this morning, I stumbled across this story from Detroit WDIV (channel 4 on your television “dial”), “Fire closes Eastern Michigan University’s Phelps Hall dorm.”

Long story-short, no one was seriously injured, everyone got out (though one student had to be taken out of a window), people who weren’t on the effected floors got to go back to their rooms, and there is some number of students at least temporarily displaced by this.  Ironically enough, there was a fire drill in this dorm earlier in the evening so when the real “this is not a drill” fire alarms sounded, there was initially a bit of confusion.

Susan Martin Finalist for President of Florida Gulf Coast University

Remember Susan Martin, EMU’s retiring president who then went on to be interim president at San Jose State University? Well, she’s apparently still wanting to do some president-type stuff. As reported by the web site in the article “FGCU committee selects 4 finalists for president,” she’s seeking the job there.

Fun fact about former EMU presidents and FGCU: infamous ex president John Fallon was actually in the running for the job there back in 2007, though he didn’t make the cut.

Kullberg’s “Update on Equivalencies” Email Reveals Union/Administration Backroom Deals

Members of the EMU-AAUP received a bit of a bombshell letter and memo today from current EMU-AAUP President Judy Kullberg titled “Update on equivalencies from the AAUP.” I include the whole email and also the attached memo after the break. Though I was going to title this post something like “Moeller Secretly Sold Out the EMU-AAUP Membership,” and maybe that would be more accurate.

The issue of teaching equivalences and the train wreck of a deal that the EMU-AAUP and the Administration have negotiated has of course been a vexing and irritating discussion for quite a while. And it’s also complicated, so I don’t know if I can do much to get newbies/non-faculty-types caught up with this. I did blog about this in some detail on with the post “Why I’m voting for a Coalition for a New EMU-AAUP” and also with a post on this site back in early January, “Responding to ‘Setting the Record Straight From Susan Moeller, Outgoing EMU-AAUP.'” So if you are coming across this and wondering what all this equivalency stuff means, you might want to check out those posts.

Kullberg’s email outlines the timeline for how we got into this equivalency mess in the first place, and I’ll skip some of those details for my purposes here. The EMU-AAUP and the administration worked through summer 2016 to try to sort out the problems with the equivalencies. On August 30, 2016, Moeller sent an email to all faculty at EMU in which she said (in part) “Because of the difficulties with this process however the Joint DID Committee is not going to be able to complete its work on all aspects of the required DID changes by August 31, 2016, so the union has negotiated with the EMU administration a MOU to delay the August 31, 2016, deadline for our involvement in this process. The new deadline will be April 30, 2017.” (Bold in the original). Folks in my department kept working in the fall to try to figure out how these equivalences are going to work out, in part because there was an assumption that we’d have a chance to make changes through the end of the winter term in 2017.

Meanwhile, there was an EMU-AAUP election going on, an election that ran from November 7 to November 22. Now, I don’t know if Moeller et al sensed they were not going to be re-elected because of a general vibe, because of the chatter on social media, and/or because they took a peek of the ballots that were coming in. But they must have sensed something because on November 18, 2016 (a few days before the voting ended), Moeller and EMU Interim Provost Rhonda Longworth signed an Memo of Understanding that basically voided the previously promised April 30, 2017 deadline. (PDF)

And if that wasn’t bad enough: Moeller and the rest of the bunch voted off the old EMU-AAUP didn’t bother to tell the new leadership or anyone else, and they clearly did this on purpose. Here’s a quote from Kullberg’s email on this:

We, the new AAUP Executive Committee, took office on January 1 and began operations on Tuesday, January 3, 2017 (the university was closed on Jan. 1 & 2).  We understood that we had a mandate to revisit the equivalency documents as soon as our term began.  However, we discovered on January 6, while reviewing the actions of the previous EMU-AAUP executive committee, that outgoing EMU-AAUP President Moeller and Interim Provost Rhonda Longworth had signed an MOU on November 18 which terminated the DID review committee on December 22, 2016 and finalized its work on that date.  Neither Longworth nor Moeller have disclosed the existence of this MOU. (bold and italics in the original)

So, to sum up:

  • Moeller and Bunsis and the rest of the EMU-AAUP leadership encouraged folks in my department (and I presume other departments)  to work in the summer to try to resolve the problems created by this DID Committee agreement.
  • Then Moeller told the membership that we were going to have until April 2017 to iron out the problems with the equivalencies, which again meant lots more work on how to make this all work.
  • Then, in secret and probably after she realized she was going to lose the election, Moeller signed a deal that basically said a) we’re done talking about this, and b) all of you people who spent hours and hours working on this stuff in summer and fall of 2016 have wasted your time.

That’s a straight-up “fuck you, I’m burning the house down while you sleep in it” move by Moeller. She sold us out.

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About the EMU Board of Regents Meeting; Farewell, Regents Fitzsimmons and Stapleton; Smith Inauguration

Geoff Larcom sent around an email about the most recent EMU Board of Regents meeting yesterday. Here it is:

Yesterday, in its regularly scheduled meeting, the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents approved two new academic programs, in mechanical engineering and a doctoral program in the practice of nursing. The two programs are in response to the strong market need for engineers and nurses with advanced degrees, along with strong student interest.

In other Board action during the meeting:

A $13.8 million capital budget for fiscal 2017-2018 was approved that helps set stage for completion of Science Complex, and sets aside funds for improvements in academic facilities, classroom and campus technology, further enhancements in campus safety and security, and in parking.

An average 2.5 percent increase in room and board rates for fiscal 2017-2018 was approved. The room and board increases are all below the five-year average for Eastern, with the residence hall increase being the lowest during that time period, and apartment and meal plan increases representing the second lowest levels in the past five years. The increases seek to maintain the University’s commitment to offering affordable on-campus living and dining experiences for students.

Complete materials from the meeting can be found on documents page of the Board of Regents website.

President Smith provided a summation of campus activities over the past several months in his regular President’s Report to the Regents.

Please also note that you are invited to attend inauguration ceremonies for President Smith on March 2, 2017. The ceremonies will celebrate EMU’s history while looking forward to a vibrant future. Complete details can be found on the inauguration website.

Two other points/highlights:

  • This meeting marked the farewell of Regents Beth Fitzsimmons and Jim Stapleton. Stapleton in particular has been a controversial figure on the board over the years.
  • There’s also information about Smith’s “Inauguration,” which seems kind of like a not completely necessary event to me (but hey, what do I know?). I am going to be out of town that Thursday, March 2, so I don’t need to think about this too much. But I am curious about who can go to this. I am guessing that faculty and staff can attend for free– though maybe not, I really don’t know– but I’m not sure what the case is with students. I do see that according to the inauguration website, I can buy an individual ticket for $150. Hmm. I realize this is a fund-raiser and I’m all for that, but it seems kind of an odd event to make into a fund-raiser. I mean, even the inauguration of Trump was free for anyone to attend.

Thoughts and Red Flags About “Academic Partnerships” and EMU

Hey, did you miss me again? Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve written anything here. It certainly hasn’t been the result of a lack of news around campus– there have been lots of things posted on the EMUTalk Facebook Group. I’ve just been pretty swamped with both life and the day-job over the last month. But I am sensing a little breathing room now.

Anyway: last Tuesday, I went to one of the informational discussions about EMU’s deal with Academic Partnerships. I blogged about this a bit back in December. Because there was some push-back from faculty and the EMU-AAUP, Provost Rhonda Longworth (and other folks in that office) decided to hold a couple “Dialogue Sessions” with faculty about the deal.  There’s another one of these sessions coming up on Friday February 10, by the way.

On the plus-side of things, it appears this isn’t going to cost EMU anything– meaning I don’t think EMU is putting money into this on the front-end; it’s all Academic Partnerships’ resources and risk. So I guess that’s kind of okay. But there was a lot that came up directly and indirectly at this discussion that makes me wonder.

First, there’s the legitimacy of Academic Partnerships and it’s founder/CEO, Randy Best.  I was going to describe AP as “sketchy,” but that might go too far, though maybe not. One example of what I mean: When you visit their web site and click on the link “AP University Partners,” you don’t actually get a list of universities that AP has partnered with at all. It’s more of a “why universities partner with AP” (and the answer is to boost enrollment in online programs). Longworth et al seemed kind of vague about knowing what other universities AP is/has working/worked with. Not really knowing who else has partnered up with AP is red flag number one.

It’s not that hard to find some articles about AP deals gone bad. For example, “Deal Dead in Ohio” is a 2009 Inside Higher Ed piece about how a deal between “Higher Education Holdings” (which is what the company was called before AP) and the University of Toledo went bad. Also from 2009 and Inside Higher Ed comes “So Many Students, So Little Time” which goes into detail about an arrangement with Arkansas State that went off the rails. One line from that article I worry might be foreshadowing for EMU’s partnership: “Administrators are all very clear about what they demand upon entering these contracts; whether that’s what they actually get, however, is a matter of increasing debate.” That’s another red flag.

A little more Googling pretty quickly turns up some eyebrow-raising articles about Randy Best too. Best is not an educator who became an entrepreneur; he’s an entrepreneur (among other things, he used to be in a business that manufactured Girl Scout cookies) who got into education. Say what you want about the rise of MOOC providers like Coursera, Udacity, and EdX– and by the way, AP is not about facilitating MOOCs but online programs– but at least those providers were founded by educators who became entrepreneurs. The most damning article on Best comes from the Texas Observer, “Randy Best Is Going to Save Texas’ Public Universities, or Get Rich Trying.” It’s a long article that goes into Best’s background with how he got rich off of “No Child Left Behind” and then steadily built HEH which became “Academic Partnerships.” Red flag number three.

In the meeting with Longworth, we heard that AP provides what it calls “retention specialists” to recruit students into online programs and keep them enrolled. To me, that sounds way too much like the terminology proprietary schools use to scam/recruit students into worthless degree programs. There was also was some confusion/lack of clarity on the role of “academic coaches” assigned to these online courses/online programs– who hires them, what their qualifications are, and so forth. Red flag four.

And then there is just the whole “why does this make sense” question. The big program that AP wants us to launch as an online program is the BSN Completion degree (and apparently, that is still not a done deal yet with the School of Nursing). This is a very high in demand program all over the country because there is a lot of incentive for Registered Nurses to get the BS degree– in fact, it seems like most of AP’s business is in these kinds of programs. What AP brings to the deal, according to Longworth, is marketing and support, but EMU (and the School of Nursing specifically) gets to maintain academic control and integrity of its program. But the reason why EMU’s Nursing program can’t admit all of the students it wants to admit into the BSN Completion program right now is there aren’t enough faculty to teach in the program, and that’s all about maintaining academic control and integrity. It has nothing to do with recruiting/marketing to new students.

Conversely, if we had an online degree program in Written Communication (which is the program I teach in), we would probably need some marketing to recruit students. We’re kind of small, and while it is a great major for all kinds of reasons, it’s not in the same level of demand as the BSN Completion program. So if a company like AP came in and could help us attract students to an online degree in writing, well, that might be a good thing– because we have the faculty but we could use more students.

In any event, I tried asking a version of this question several times: Why does EMU need a company like AP to help “market” a program that already has a higher demand than we can possibly satisfy with our current faculty staffing? I don’t feel like that question ever got answered.

Last but not least, there’s the other program that AP is apparently interested in, which is an online degree of “General Studies,” which would basically be an online version of a program that exists at EMU now, the Individualized Studies Program.  How this would work seems pretty murky to me.

Right now, the program is run out of the University Advising and Career Development Center and it is basically set up to help students who have a lot of miscellaneous credits get some kind of college degree. I’ve actually had a fair number of these students over the years because I happen to teach a couple “Writing Intensive” courses online (and these students need at least one WI course just every other student at EMU) and I have to say these students are almost always “unique cases,” so to speak. I’m talking about students who have transfer credits from four or five different universities going back a decade, and they still can’t graduate because these credits aren’t in a coherent program of study.

Now, I’m okay with EMU’s ISP program as it is because it’s small and personalized, and if we can help individual students resolve their unique situation, that’s fine. But we sure as heck don’t want to get into a situation where EMU (via AP) is recruiting hundreds or maybe even thousands of these students into this program. That’s where we start crossing the line from legitimate online program of study into diploma mill.

Let me end with a longish quote from that Texas Observer article that sort of sums things up for me overall:

“’I think the big picture is that higher education is becoming more and more a business and less and less a public service,’ says Jack Zibluk, a former faculty senate president at Arkansas State University-Jonesboro, who spoke out against a deal with Best in 2008. ‘This may be part of the business of higher ed in the future, but my concern is, at what cost? What kind of education are you going to get as part of that business model?’”

Best’s critics aren’t against online education, but they wonder why a university, with all its resources and scholars, needs a for-profit company to develop online courses and recruit students. Couldn’t the schools launch online courses themselves and avoid turning over so much tuition money to Best? Some critics see administrators and for-profits like Academic Partnerships cashing in while faculty get saddled with more work. To them, the company looks like a pipeline from the public coffers to Best’s bottom line. It’s a familiar charge against him.