Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Have and Have-nots at the University

One of the funny things that has happened at research universities is the disciplines of study have evolved into a the departments that can get research money and the departments that can't no matter what they do. I'm not saying it is fair, but that is the way it is.

When you start talking about ranking (or firing) chairmen, one the metrics that needs to be looked at is how much money has their department raised and how that ranks against what is possible.

Let's go into the haves - Medicine, Business, Engineering, hard sciences - Chemistry, Physics.

Have-nots - History, Math, English, Foreign Languages.

There are some that I can't figure out like Law.

Need to do some work, so more later.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Latest business building news

On North Illinois, just north of the Napa Auto parts, Frank Black is putting up a self storage unit. You can see the repaving in now and I'm guessing the prefabs are coming.

There is some action on E. Walnut where the old dairy plant used to be. Seems to be some gravel down and there was a sign for a public meeting a while back. There was some state agency that wanted that land and a new building a while back. Anyone know what is happening there? Guess I'll have to ask around.

Rumor has it we are getting a new Asian restaurant on Giant City Road soon. There has been a sign for another Asian restaurant in the Bistro 51 door all summer.

The old WTAO building, just west of the Thai restaurant looks to be for sale. Actually has a few (8 or 10 maybe?) parking places, so might be a nice pickup for someone in that area if the price was right.

That is all I can remember for now.

Butterfly post

I was just writing up a little post for my blog and thought some of you might like to read it. It a little ode to a bike ride I like around the wine trail and the rare butterflies that live there.


Help for Dave - One good management initiative for free

Dave was kind enough to find something looking like I can write and blog about it yesterday. He has taken up my challenge to find 3 good management initiatives out of SIUC in the last 5 years. I'm fairly sure he can't do it, but maybe he can?

I'm going to give him one for free. Recently, the DE published a series of stories and editorials about a Professor-Student mentoring program like the one that the College of Ag has already has started. I don't know if it will work, but it is a good idea. Congratulations to the Dean of Ag for kicking it off and proving it might work. The real problem will come if it doesn't workout, because I'm fairly sure that no one at SIUC is capable of monitoring a program like this and pulling the plug if it fails.

I know that students who get it, are already forming these kinds of relationships with their professors. The SIUC professors have published office hours and it isn't hard to visit with them as much as you want. But maybe the students don't understand this and just need a push?

A tip of the hat to one of the good guys - Bill McMinn

I heard that Bill McMinn is going to retire at the end of this year and wanted to congratulate him on a great run. Bill is the director of Recreational Sports and Services-SIUC, which is the REC center, campus lake boat dock, all intramural sports and fields and all the other stuff that is sports related outside of the Athletic Department at SIUC. He works hard, understands customer service and has built up some fabulous programs and facilities in his 30 years at SIUC.

Bill has figured out how to manage student workers, he runs the REC Center with student workers in mass numbers. One of the great things about Bill's methods is the student workers have real work to do and if they don't do the work the customers will feel the effects. He has also built a system where student workers can be promoted and gain responsibility and status inside his programs. I know that the civil service managers of his programs mostly come from his own ranks. Everyone knows the powerful tool of promotion from within works (don't they?).

Are all the student workers working hard every second of the day and night? Well no. But part of the experience SIUC should provide student workers is giving them work important enough that if they fail it will be noticed and management to help correct that failure. Maybe the most valuable lesson you can give a student worker is to fire them or promote someone more deserving over them and allow them to experience that in the safe and temporary environment of the college?

If you want to see how to hire and manage student workers in a positive way for everyone, go see Bill's operation. I hope his replacement is someone who understands that system and can continue it. I'm going to call the REC Center my example of how to do student work the right way.

I don't know what Bill is going to do next, but I know the Boys and Girl's Club of Carbondale can use him on the board if he has the time.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More of the emperor has no cloths - the value of student work

This has been going on for at least 30 years at SIUC, but let's touch on it anyway because it will allow me to write a nice post next.

A majority of student workers do (almost) nothing at work and it is damaging to their education IMHO. As Jim Muir would say, "let me explain further." We all know that the federal and state government gives students aid based on need. One of the funding devices is to allow the students to earn money is student work grants, so the students get a job on campus and SIU pays them the grant money. I'm sure it is more complicated than that, but not much.

If you walk into almost any building on SIUC's campus there are students hanging around behind desks reading books, watching DVD's on their laptops, basically doing nothing. Turns out they are earning money doing their "student work" job. Give it a try, it is remarkable how many student workers there are on campus once you know what to look for.

I know that SIU is doing the students a service by allowing them to sit there and do nothing for 15 hours a week, but is this really good for the student? We all know that the do nothing work habits formed in these first few jobs are going to stick with many of these students. Does someone want to claim this is a good idea?

Let me propose a solution of a paid study hall for every student worker that is going to do nothing at their job. Just have them mail in their timecard and send them a check, wink, wink, nod, nod. If you are going to employ them, you have to give them something to do. If you don't you are hurting them and that can't be the mission of SIUC.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Freakonomics - Chap. 1 - What do Schoolteachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common?

I read this book (you should read this book and "Good to Great" by Collins) and at the end of the first chapter I had the horrible thought, does SIUC management motivate professors to cheat?

As everyone knows, grade inflation is rampant at SIUC and all other universities in the USA. This really hits home when you start to interview the graduates for jobs. There are kids with 3.50 gpa's that are great, hard working, well prepared for a real job and others with the same gpa who know nothing (I'm going to claim to be an expert because in the late 90's I interviewed, hired and trained several hundred new college grads. I figure I have interviewed over 1000 people.). How can it be that there are so many losers with good GPA's?

If you dig into this just a little, you will find that about half of a professor's job review is based on teaching. Teaching results at SIUC are based on GPA of your students and student evaluations. There is no attempt to figure out if the students know anything, it is strictly by popularity and grades. Does this sound like the cause and effect would lead to professors giving away grades?

The administration is circulating memos each year asking professors to help the students and sending a clear management message that retaining all students is their goal.

I hear there are professors at SIUC that are giving 50% on assignments for students handing in blank papers with their names on them. I hope this isn't true.

Hopefully, you can connect the dots for yourself. Grade inflation, students who don't work, performance based on grades and student reviews for professors, no supervision or tangible follow-up based on results. This is how scandals are made.

I know there are best practices for all of this. I wonder how the best universities are dealing with this?

SIUC - Marketing vs. Reality - or why job placement out of SIU is important

bill stevens said...

First, let me start with something you wrote with which I disagree: "Students don't come here for the administration, the football stadium, or new buildings; they are here to be educated by the professors."

That is true for some of them, but most of them are here to get a credential (degree) and if education occurs in the process, well that's a happy coincidence. Most students I know spend so much time in the Carbondale service workforce that there is inadequate time for both sleep and study. (Yes, they do party, but wouldn't you after pulling a double shift waiting tables?)

I have to agree that Bill has got me, he is correct about the reality of the students that SIUC attracts now (and really, this is a whole generation of the children of baby boomers who largely treat universities as trades schools). But, I was talking about marketing, not reality.

When you build a company from scratch (which is what I do for living - is my current gig, please buy some art we need the business. :)) you spend a lot of time figuring out the marketing story. I think of this as the "How much is that doggy in the window" view. You know that the dog is cute, but you need to make the customer forget about how bad it is to own it until after they buy. This is marketing and it is really, really important if you want to win (check earlier post, I like to win). I think that SIUC's management thinks that a football stadium is going to make this happen, I don't think it is.

I think that SIUC's marketing message to perspective students and parents of those students is better served by raising standards, quality, jobs coming out of school and real world stuff like that.

For example, if you want to really spin a parents top, doing a great job helping their kid get a job when they graduate is really, really important. Currently, if you go to U of I your kid doesn't come home and live with you for a year and work at Subway while they find their first job. If you want to get parents excited about SIUC, how about starting to get companies to come and interview here? Teach to students to interview before then maybe? Certainly, you need to rethink the Woody Hall career services, that is a joke and has been for at least 25 years (I was a student back then). Check out the one woman placement office in the College of Business, they have as many on campus interviews as the rest of the campus combined. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think I am.

The problem with this view of the world is that employers really do know when your students know something and when they don't. The rubber hits the road in a technical interview. If your students stink, they don't get hired into good jobs.

So, Bill is right. Once the student is here, they work to much to pay for their car and lifestyle as a player, don't study, treat SIUC as a trade school, etc. But that is just reality of the puppies in the window, as long as their parents (and the child) pay to come here we can deal with that problem next. And really, they are children and are perfectly willing to live down to the expectations their professors set for them (anyone else feeling that grade inflation and professors cheating post coming?). We can all use a kick in the pants once in a while, when you are 18 you need it way more often.

The people want quality, earned through hard work. I'm not saying they want to put the effort in themselves all the time though. The Wendler vision of "The Silver Bullet" never works (included a link, Silver Bullet means you can do one simple thing to fix your complex problems and it will work).

Let me ask, does anyone think that the Southern at 150 or Saluki Way is going to work? Anyone?

Boys and Girl's Club of Carbondale

I'm about to go and give some money to the club. I'm matching their fund raising from all contributions from Carbondale for the year, outside of their board (or something like that). It is a pretty good hunk of cash. I have officially put my money where my mouth is. Hopefully, some of you will join me.

I have written that I'm very concerned about our local school district's performance and I see the Boys and Girl's club as the most effective tool for helping that I have found yet. It works other places and should work here if we can keep them in business.

Let me explain the game.

I have received a couple of emails and wanted to clearly spell out the goals of going after SIU and its management team.

Clearly SIUC is mismanaged. I have had readers complain about my fire the chairmen posts, but no one suggests that SIUC isn't mismanaged. Feel free to jump in, anyone feel like SIUC is reasonable managed? Well managed?

SIUC is full of good people, who work hard and have become discouraged by the many years of poor management. It is clear that these discouraged employees need to grow a back bone and help make the university a better place. The problem they have is as employees they can suffer attacks to their jobs, promotions, raises and all the rest of the benefits of employment. I'm not sure they should do anything but circulate their resumes or wait for retirement at this point.

Since the local press has been purchased by a large and very conservative, money grubbing corporation, we can expect them to do nothing. OK, they report the news that might lead to a strike or criminal charge, but they certainly will not publish stories about mismanagement.

I'm about to work my way through the BOT's, but I expect them to be bought and paid for political pawns. Hopefully this is incorrect.

That leaves the owners of SIUC, the tax payers to start pushing for change. Last time I checked the taxpayers of Illinois own SIU. We paid for it in total. Granted we don't pay the expenses of everything all the time, we collect fees for services like every other company or institution.

Does anyone think if they were a shareholder in a company like SIUC they would be happy? Management has announced plans they can't pay for and never will be able to pay for. The very best employees leave, the rank and file has been mismanaged enough to form a union(!), a large number of employees at all levels are doing very little work (if the non-workers make up more than 1% of your staff you are screwed) and when you do no work management does nothing!

Management isn't doing the free things that other universities have done to turn things around. They could study best practices of this kind of turn around and start to apply them. A new football stadium should be on the list of to-do's, but not first.

The game becomes to start putting your finger on the problems at SIUC that are cheap to solve, but require real work and ask SIUC to do them. Only be raising the public awareness can this be done. I'm going to spend a little time and effort and see where it takes us. Hopefully, some good will come out of it.

This is the roll of the bloggers in American life today. The media is in just a few hands and where 40 years ago the reporters might have covered this story, now they would be fired for trying.

Fire the chairmen and baseball - a trick question

Got a great comment asking for examples of who else get rid of the chairmen in 5 years. The reason my post was a trick is that ... this is how all the fine universities in the USA do it. Only full professors become chair and they serve for 4 or 5 years and get out.

Everyone knows if the chairmen' (at SIUC) performance was this bad in the real world they would be fired and the business would find someone who could do the job. My personal record for firing a manager was 17 work days, but I was younger and meaner then. :)

I'm big on research and best practices, term limits for chairmen is a best practice.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Joy of Reading

Little blurb from I'm sure if you are reading this blog you know it already, but I thought it was nice reinforcement anyway.

Fire the chairmen? Let's start things off talking Baseball.

Here is your problem, your team is underperforming, all the line employees have guaranteed contracts, you have managers you can fire, and you are the owner, so what can you do? In major league baseball they fire the manager. Why fire the manager? Because sometimes it works very well and if you don't you know you will almost certainly fail. We also know that in MLB and other pro sports that managers/head coaches only have a certain amount of time before the player tune them out and they must be replaced. Granted there are exceptions (Bobby Cox in ATL), but there aren't many.

The pro sports problem is exactly the problem at chairmen have at SIU. If you have been chair for over 5 years, with very few exceptions you should be replaced.

Fire the chairmen, it is the best and easiest way to fix performance problems at SIU. Granted you would need real leadership from the Deans and other administrators that hasn't been there for years, but maybe Poshard will start to install that? When the new chairmen have been in place for 5 years, fire them too. Nothing person, it is the way the system needs to work given the other contraints.

Faculty negotiations

During the last cycle Wendler hired some lawyers out of Chicago and they came in and hatched a PR plan to throw dirt at the professors. Everything blew up in the papers and there was almost a strike. This time Poshard is involved and clearly the administration has decided to not be so stupid and villainize the professors in the press. They went to the papers and spelled out their first, best and last offer the other day which was pretty stupid, but generally their PR spin this time is pretty good.

There are a couple of problems this time and didn't exist last time. SIUC has been on a campaign to cut costs and raise more revenue at the same time. The extra money goes into Uncle Walt's piggy bank for new buildings. Salaries are down vs. inflation. There are large problems with salary compression (you know the new people make about as much as full professors with 10 years of experience). In general, the faculty might have the idea that if you really want SIU to be better, it is though people and not buildings.

The second problem is the shared governance, AKA the JRB. As everyone who is paying attention knows the administration no longer pretends to follow the JRB recommendations. When the administration's representative votes against the administration they still don't follow the JRB recommendations. This leads to screwing over people, getting them fired (sorry, turned down for tenure), and falling moral among anyone who knows the screwee. I can't imagine the Union is going to allows the administration to continue doing this, so look for the Union to strike over this issue alone.

Just because they aren't drawing blood in the paper doesn't mean that there will not be a strike. Since Wendler has proven to be a poor manager and completely unethical since the last union contract it seems more likely this time.

Comments about comments

Lots of good ideas in the comments -
Of course I use iTunes. Like most people my age I buy CD's as cheaply as possible and rip them. Heck, gave an iPod Nano to every employee last year at Christmas.

I didn't say I didn't like Poshard. As a matter of fact, I have high hopes for his success and have posted we are seeing something that looks like real leadership from him. But, clearly people who work for him are lying about the cost ($40,000! Ha!) of the party they are throwing. I object to the lying, it is wrong.

I'll break out the good stuff in new posts.

Thanks to each of you for commenting. It is a lot more fun to write when people ping you when you are wrong. :)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

$.09 per song? Anyone tried

Found this surfing today and it seems to good to be true. Running out of Russia, which can't be a good sign can it?

Anyone tried it? If this is real, doesn't iTunes have a problem?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Faculty contract not going well. Some thoughts.

Here we go again. One of the problems we have in Southern Illinois at contract negotiation time is there is some thought that the professors care about money, which clearly they don't. The professors want fair pay, respect, control of their own destiny and reasonable management.

Fair pay - if professors everywhere else are making more than SIU professors, is that fair? It is funny how the paper covers these things without an understanding of who makes what at SIUC. Professors who make great money compared to their industry - Law, Medicine, Business, Music and Art (I figure this is about 20% of the professors). Who makes less than their industry - Engineering, all the sciences, all the liberal arts (I figure this is about 60% of the professors). When the press goes to interview a professors their view is largely about how they are doing, not the common good. Interview a business professor with their $130k for 9 months starting salary and they are happy, history professor with their $42k is much less happy. Human nature is powerful.

Side note on inflation - we are going to see rates over 5% in the next few years as our fuel prices start to reflect on the economy. A 1.5% raise per year isn't going to cut it.

Respect - Like the baseball strikes where the owners villianized the players, there are some problems here. The professors are the show at SIUC and all universities. Students don't come here for the administration, the football stadium, or new buildings; they are here to be educated by the professors. When Uncle Walt realizes that this is about the people and not buildings, many management problems will be solved as if by magic. You are right, Wendler will never understand this is about people and not buildings and is doomed to fail.

Control of your own destiny - I was amazed that everyone didn't know when you were deigned tenure you were fired. One of the problems that SIUC has is that the professors have been taught that management is incompetent on hiring and promotion. I expect that the professors would like the administration to follow the rules as they were written, in particular dealing with issues of tenure, promotion and firing people. Forget the money, there is where the strike is coming from.

Reasonable Management - Thanks to Glen Poshard we are seeing some public objectives from Uncle Walt and the boys in Anthony Hall for the first time. Not bad, only 5 years in and they are finally starting to do something.

Clearly SIUC is horribly managed and it is a shame. The more you rub elbows with people at SIU, the more you realize that most of the department chairmen are afraid to do anything, but are allowed to keep their chairmanships forever. Special note, for most people being chairman gives you a 40% raise the first day and a 10%+ raise every year after (vs. the administrations current offer of 1.5%, this is real money to a longstanding professor). At SIUC you don't see many chairman giving up that money.

Let me suggest here that if you want SIUC to improve, the BOT, administrators and Deans need to grow a backbone and replace a majority of the department chair people. The decision to hold chairman to some standards and get rid of them if they don't meet them must come from management. The professors can vote their chairperson out, but if you lead that movement and fail, the chair can really punish you.

I expect a strike or at least a whole lot of pain.

Finally, there is some management at SIUC

I'm sure the historians will remember the James Walker years as the years of no management at SIUC. To be fair, when you are fighting cancer is no time to run a university system. Glen Poshard appears to be providing leadership and making the kids at SIUC attempt to do something. Good work Glen. It is a shame is didn't happen years ago.

I need to find a full copy of the 17 page document to look over. There has to be funny stuff in there. What is written about in the DE article linked to here sounds downright intelligent.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Poshard Party Invites - you aren't popular if you don't get one.

I hope everyone got their invitations to the Glen Poshard's series of parties to be sworn in as President of SIU. You really aren't popular if you don't get one and most likely will never make the cheerleading squad next year. They sent me a $.80 postcard to hold the date and this is a $4 or so invite. Wonder how many were sent out? Every alumni in business I have asked (save 1) received both.

Personally, I have no problem with SIU throwing a party for this "event". The thing I don't like is the lying about the cost ($40,000 is less than the costs of the invitations) and their consistent use of "not public money." Not public money tells the big donors that the administration is wasting their donations and to find a more responsible place to park the money.

I guess if there was one thing that really pissed me off about this whole deal is that the public lies about the money. When you mark one budget as $40,000 for an event and then spend way more than that (people's time, places, materials, etc) from different lines or budgets you are lying about the numbers. I know everyone involved with the SIUC administration expects this, it is still unethical.

Should SIUC be allowed to suck?

Bill Stevens sent it a really smart comment on my patent post, thanks Bill. I responded to it, but I wanted to say something here about my view about life and business.

People like me relentlessly chase perfection. It isn't that I'm perfect (actually, I'm fairly flawed), but I pursue getting better with great energy and persistence. When I'm at work, I chase perfection by figuring out my biggest problems and working on fixing them. If you check out my new company's webpage you can see constant improvement in our product and offerings. We started trying hard, but doing bad and we are getting better and plan to get better still. I like to win and I'm planning to win with this company too.

For example, recently I did an audit of all customer support requests into our system. I prioritized the list and proceeded to make software, process or documentation changes to every item on the list. The goal, of course, is to have no customer problems.

Energetically pursing the problems, unflinchingly dealing with them, imaginatively thinking up how to do better, chasing feedback from all sides and finding solutions to problems is what I do for a living. I'm pretty good at it. I have had more success with this method than a bad SIUC student should ever expect, but I have also out worked everyone around me for many years to do it.

So, if this hard work and improvement plan is what I believe it, should I be content to allow SIUC to suck? Clearly the patent office's performance sucks when compared to top performing universities. Is this OK or not?

For me, this isn't OK. I think that almost all management at SIUC could use a hard shove and be told to get to work. Stop play politics. Stop ignoring your problems and start dealing with them. If you don't want to deal with your problems, don't be in management, let someone with some backbone do it.

Mostly the SIUC management team needs to stop taking the easy way out on everything. The problems they face are going to take unflinching courage, ethics and hard work to deal with. I know the Board of Trustees are just political hacks and aren't going to push, but that doesn't mean that the rest of us should sit by and let the whole institution fall into ruin because we don't care enough to complain.

There are quite a few readers of this blog now. I'm kind of hoping that each of you decides how they want to be remembered, as someone who tried to do great things or as someone who coasts and watches lots of TV. I don't know if I can do great things, but I know there is nothing better on this earth for me to attempt.

Your comments are welcome.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Sunday Southern Illusion - SIUC earning financial benifits from inventions

Why is it OK that U of I is 1,000 times better than SIUC?

There is no link to the article on "The Southern" webpage, but let's blog on it anyway because it is interesting.

Calab Hale wrote the article in the Sunday and he got most things right. Good work Calab! There is a quote near the end of the article that kind of bother's me, Dale Wittmer chair of SIUC's ME (Mechanical Engineering) says according to the article that "The University of Illinois, can move 1,000 times faster than SIUC on an idea." Now I hear that Dr. Wittmer is a really good guy and I think he is right, U of I can move 1,000 times faster than SIUC on patents. But why is this OK?

I looking into this problem a while back and sent out some emails with the following suggestions -

Give professors job credit for patents. Should be at least equal to a paper in a major publication at job review time.

Figure out how to get more patents through the system. If this means hiring a patent lawyer or patent agent to drive this so be it.

Manage the process. Make metrics and keep results. Drive for improvement.

BTW - all these ideas are being implemented other places and are a list of best practices that are successfully used elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

I remember the good old days when we had a great party school too!

Pizza vs. Education

Funny comment about how I have posted 5 times about pizza and only 2 times about education. This is about my priority for life, but I think SIU posts will far outnumber pizza soon. :)

Vision Statement for a University

Mission Statement:

To provide students with the world's best undergraduate education in
engineering, mathematics, and science in an environment of individual
attention and support.

Vision Statement:

To be the best undergraduate engineering, mathematics, and science
educational institution in the world.

Now clearly this isn't the vision statement for SIU, it is the mission of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, IN. After reading this, I went hunting for the SIU Mission Statement. A search on the SIUC website for "mission statement" shows one for the Cycling Club.

My hunted around just a little and found this 2020 Report. If the Rose-Hulman statement is an example of a good mission statement, the SIU 2020 Report is clearly the way to not do a mission and objective.

In Silicon Valley they talk about an elevator speech, you know what you are going to tell someone about your company while riding up an elevator. The elevator speech for SIUC is we are going to build a new football stadium and the students don't study (or are bad).

I think SIUC could use a Mission Statement and Vision Statement about being great. That huge unreadable report is worthless to almost all humans dealing with SIU.

A comment to good not to post about.

Thanks to Bill for pointing out this more relevant listing of Universities.

Read -
for a little bit of reality.

Monday, August 21, 2006

SIU - good news?

I don't really buy into these annual surveys to much, there is almost no data involved. But like standardize testing for 8th graders, where there is smoke there is fire. SIU has gone up to a 3rd tier university instead of being 4th tier in the "U.S. News and World Report 2007 college ranking report." They were 3rd tier recently, so I'm not sure this is anything but SIU reporting the data better or the criteria has changed slightly.

Hopefully, SIU will adapt a management policy that will allow the move up to become an expected yearly tradition.

Turns out that University of Chicago has recently moved up too. They weren't turning in the true stats because they were still keeping them by hand. Oops.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

One more about District 95 and then on to SIUC

I think that we can all agree that for a variety of reasons the performance of District 95 isn't good enough and that 30 years ago it was one of the best school districts in the State. The teachers are high quality, the buildings are high quality (not that it matters), but something is terribly wrong and it has been heading the wrong way for many, many years.

The people who should likely get the blame for the lack of analysis and action is the School Board for District 95 (I included the link to their official webpage in the title, they don't list the board members on their webpage!). Several of them have been on the board for 20 or 25 years including the Board's head Nancy Stemper.

If you are failing and keep doing the same things over and over for 20 years some people believe it is a sure sign of insanity. It is time for this board to do something different, they are failing. It is OK if you don't want to do the heavy lifting to not run the next election and I would like to suggest that to Nancy Stemper and all the other retired members of that board.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Less government in Illinois - start with the school districts!

Illinois is bloated with levels of government, each with their own buildings, political kickbacks and other wastes of huge amounts of tax payer dollars. Mosquito abatement? Townships, cities and county's? Park Districts? Four school districts in the same town of 25,000?

A great law would be if the races are uncontested for several elections in a row then clearly the taxing body is broken and should be folded up into a larger one.

For this post, let me propose that Carbondale's 3 elementary school districts and CCHS are combined into one. This model works well almost everywhere else in this world and even if there wasn't a reduction in total spending, there would be lots of financial efficiencies to be found.

Your comments are welcome.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Now I'm difficult? Darn right.

I heard from a friend that he was told me a SIU administrator (wouldn't tell me which one) told him I was difficult. Made me crack up, darn right I'm difficult. If I wasn't really, really demanding on myself and the people around me how exactly could I be successfully?

If they don't call you difficult, than you are a chump.

SIU - the PR message is just plain bad

I was reading the DE yesterday; it was the back to school edition from August 2006. Got into page 2 and the article with the Wendler interview. Here is what is quoted near the end of the article (sorry, no link) "My challenge is to make he campus better so it provides the very best education opportunities for our students." Now there are two ways to read this quote, he is in charge of this "campus" and not the whole University, and he needs to make SIUC better. The other possible meaning is that he is an architect and he only cares about the "campus" (AKA buildings, roads, plants and the like) and doesn't understand that the people are what matter.

When you look at leaders of any large institution their real job is to set direction and deliver the marketing message. One of the largest failings of the Wendler years is his inability to deliver his marketing message in a way that inspires anyone. It isn't very hard to do. I wonder why he doesn't learn how to do it?

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

More about Elementary Education

I have a good friend in Seattle area who is one of the wisest people I know. He worked as a carpenter out of high school, got a college degree and became a computer programmer, switched to marketing and earned an MBA at night and now has switched and become a high school teacher. We were discussing our Carbondale based education problem this Summer and he said some things I thought I would share with you.

He pointed out that elementary education as it exists today has only been used for around 140 years. There is no history behind decisions that are made to teach new trends and the education professionals have no idea what will work and what will not.

When talking about poor and minority education (remember there are almost no minorities in most of Seattle) he said that if you look at the Jewish culture, almost no one stays poor through the generations because every child can read by the age of 5. Imagine, every child can read by the age of 5 as a basic part of the religion.

A couple of observations about District 95 and moving your child to a new school district -

District 95 conducted an experiment and then stopped it 30 years ago. The experiment was tracked classes. Clearly it isn't the only reason, but the fall of District 95 from being one of the best in the state to the current bad state clearly can be traced to the end of tracked classes.

I know, I know, what would this do for the self esteem of the poor and minority students? Imagine dropping your normal Southern Illinois poor and/or minority child into a group of 5 year olds who are Jewish or children of college professors (for example). The poor kids have no chance, every Jewish 5 yo can read already, then can count to 100, know the colors, etc. It is possible that the kids who are drilled at home can read better than the parents of the poor kids. It is possible for a student to rationalize when they are in a group of others at their level of education they are smart, but dropping a bunch of poor kids into a group of high drilled kids proves to everyone who is smart. The good news for the poor kids is their parents are drilling them on playing basketball and other sports, so they will dominate high school athletics.

Side note - I don't believe Jewish/professor kids are smarter when they are born than poor kids, but they almost always turn out that way. It must be the parents.

The results are clear, not tracking the classes doesn't work at District 95. I don't know that it will end the educated flight from District 95, there are still bigger houses and better test scores in the other school districts, but it is a logical place to start.

My goodness another new Pizza Place in Carbondale?

I saw there was new construction next to Family Video and wondered what it was about. Turns out there is an empty bay and there is a "Little Caeser's Pizza" going in there. Make no mistake, Little Caeser's has the worst pizza going (I have never eaten it without that MSG feeling after), but it is cheap.

If I was going to rank pizza places in Carbondale, I would rank them this way -

Quatro's and Pag's - the cream of the crop for the last 25 years or more. I like Quatro's better myself.
Pizza Hut
Store bought and cooked in your own oven (need to figure out which brand you like best)
Spinoni's - stolen IV's recipes and windows too. To bad, Murphy's well managed would have done better.
Little Caeser's

Monday, August 14, 2006

Samuel Goldman doesn't believe what I believe.

Nice story today in The Southern Illusion by Caleb Hale about Sam Goldman. I have never met him, but I hear he is one of the good guys in Carbondale. A real contributor to our town and region. I'm happily reading along in the article and thinking this guy gets it and then -

Sam is quoted - "You go to a school like Chicago, advancement is not their issue, it's the core of learning," he said. "And I think that's the reason we have a problem today. We have not taught people how to do some very fundamental thinking, and I would say one of the weaknesses current students have is their inability to conceptualize."

OK, he gets it. SIU students are treating it like a trade school. They aren't there to learn, they are jumping through hoops with as little work as possible to get sheep skin and move on.

From the article ----
"The student body has remained relatively the same. We're drawing the same percentages of students from Chicago and other places ? so it rests basically with the faculty and staff," he said. "There are people who have been there a long, long time. They have institutionalized a lot of what creates and what causes SIU to be."

In that respect, Goldman said, there is little that will knock SIU off the course it has set.

Here is where I'm more than a little concerned. If you are on the Board of Trustees for SIU, then you darn well should be saying that there are things to improve and demanding improvement from the staff. Maybe he knows something about "the course" that SIU has set, but to me it isn't good enough. It would be easy to do better and the BOT members are the people who should be asking for improvement and not just staying the course. The bar is too low for faculty and staff at SIU. If you know Sam, please let him know that he could do better.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ray Lenzi retiring?

Many of you know Ray Lenzi for his two part history in Carbondale, he was student body president of SIU back in the student riot days. He later returned to Carbondale and had a number of "suit" jobs at SIUC before settling into running all the State of Illinois economic development center in the Dunn-Richman building. He is married to Maggie Flanagan (Maggie's new gig -

Word on the street is that Ray's retirement party is Wednesday, but I didn't get an invitation.

Economic development is Southern Illinois is tough. It will be interesting to see what Ray's successor does.

Harley crowd changing bars?

Anyone else notice there are more hogs at Sidetracks than PK's these days? I am never out much past 10 pm myself, but I was wondering if we were seeing an economic sea change in Carbondale without my knowing anything about it.

Thanks to a loyal reader for the heads up.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Does moving out of District 95 makes you a racist?

Since I moved back to town I have heard from a few liberals that if someone moves their children out of Carbondale school district (District 95 is our K-8 and the worst district by test scores in Carbondale) they must be racist. I have been told by others of a more right wing philosophy that the problem with District 95 is there are to many black students. I have been thinking about this for a while and trying to figure out some answers.

When I lived in Seattle and my oldest child was about to start school, my wife and I moved to a bigger house in a better school district. There were essentially no black kids in either school, does that make us racist? If we weren't racists because minority students simply were not part of our decision making process, why did we move? We could afford a better and bigger house, it had a better view, and the school district was one of the best in the state. It sure made sense then, like the Jefferson's we were "moving on up." A summary of the American Way in action isn't it?

When we look at District 95 vs. Giant City and Unity Point school districts (click title of this post to mine for data on this issue) we know some facts - the teachers are drawn from exactly the same employment pool and are likely about the same quality, houses are smaller in Carbondale than outside of town, lots are smaller in Carbondale, people in District 95 are poorer, the buildings are about the same. We know that test scores for District 95 are much, much worse. The key factor I believe is how many students are poor ( in District 95 (62% vs. 21% in Giant City, but 49% for Unity Point).

I'm sure I'll write more posts like this one, but we all know the answers already - test scores are about the results of good parents and in a small way about the school, teachers or district. Kids do what their parents lead them to. Drink, smoke dope and watch TV and your kids will figure it out. Work hard, read, learn, waste less time on drugs, booze, TV and video games and your kids will follow. Let me suggest that one way to tell if a child will have high test scores is the household subscribing to the local paper and/or using the public library.

In Summary, I don't think that moving out of one school district into an other makes you a racist. You may be a racist too, but that is a different discussion. I believe that American's have the right to move their children into the situation that they feel will educate them best. I have done it and would do it again (as soon as my wife tells me to). It isn't about race, it is about results.

Comments by non-bloggers

When I set up this blog, I didn't realize that I have excluded comments from people who aren't blogger users. Sorry, should be fixed now. Comment away.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Building updates

I hear we might get an IHOP. Target is looking at the old Kmart building across from the mall. The metal bookstore building across from the DQ is going to contain Cristaudo's Cafe & Bakery.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Plagiarism at SIU

Nice article in "The Post" this Sunday about SIU's plagiarism problem. I read Glen Poshard's ideas about plagiarism in The Southern Illusion the other day and thought it was pretty one sided. He said that if you are an insider you can plagiarize all you want, but if the administration doesn't like you than you were looking at a higher standard. It can't be leadership when your ethical determinations change depending who the standard is applied to.

The Post's article has a more balanced view. The SIU administration's approach is plain unfair.

The Global Gourmet - Restaurant Review

I went to the Global Gourmet last week with a friend and had lunch. I had Jamaican rubbed chicken, curry rice and cucumber salad. I loved the chicken and rice, while the cucumber salad was well prepared I would choose something else next time. The chicken was a large breast with a little kick in the spices. The rice was long grained, with almonds and dried cranberries and of course light curry spices. Both were excellent. My friend had curry chicken salad that looked really good. We both had the coconut cream pie for desert. The pie was excellent, though my wife's pie crust is better. :) The water had a lime slice, which was a nice touch.

The meals ran around $12 a piece and desserts were another $3.50 (I think, teach me to wait a few days before blogging). I remember the bill ran $32 including tax, but not tip. Kind of high for a Carbondale lunch, but downright cheap for the big city.

This is pretty high end stuff for Carbondale, but I think the Global Gourmet has to be included in the finest restaurants in Carbondale area. I guess I understand why you might go to Houlihans (I included the link in the title, Global Gourmet doesn't have a website that I can find) and the like, but the food at the Global Gourmet is better, a whole lot better.

Global Gourmet
102 East Jackson Street
Carbondale,IL 62901

Got quoted in The Southern yesterday

Econ development story and I think a series. My Mom likes the spin between the 1000 jobs lost in Herrin's Maytag plant and the 3 full-time and 5 part-time jobs created by the ladies who help doctors startup offices.

Friday, August 04, 2006

SIUC's Deans quitting? Someone called me about that one.

I'm sitting at work minding my own business when I get a phone call from someone who wants to talk about my little comment about SIU's Deans quitting. The caller told me that they feel SIUC's upper management all hate each other and it is killing productivity. They implied that an example of the infighting was when recruitment of new students moved to be under the Provost's office. The caller pointed out that the Provost is complete swamped, can't solve the problems that were on his plate before and now was handed a huge new responsibility. BTW - the caller was someone who knew something.

I'm not surprised that Wendler, Dunn and Koropchak can't get along. Clearly there is no vision in place from upper management that the staff or public can buy into. Don't send me mail about Southern at 150 or any of that crap, without someone giving SIUC a billion dollars that ain't happening. If the plans don't work, clearly administrators at SIU will fall back to what got them there, political attacks. Why worry about results when instead you can discredit the other guy?

The 3 readers of my earlier posts already know that I feel when you have a huge percentage of people leaving an organization leaving, it is clearly mismanaged. The Deans report to the Wendler or is it Dunn or is it both? Don't suppose it matters, but maybe Glen Poshard will start to hold SIUC's upper management accountable?

Now we know for sure that things are going poorly in Iraq

The Southern Illusion story on the top of the front page actually has something negative about Iraq. Normally, they hide the bad news in the back of the classifieds.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

The organizations that are doing the most for Carbondale's future?

I have been a big supporter of the Boys and Girls Club of Carbondale (their website isn't great, but it is linked out of the title) for the last few years. They are going great guns. Serving around 100 kids per day this summer, and great volunteer efforts from many. As a special bonus to readers of this blog, I will match any financial contribution you make to the BGCC (just send me email or tell the BGCC and I'll write the check). I figure if you were to spend a $1,000,000 on trying to reach out to the poor kids of Carbondale that you couldn't do as well as this club. Go check it out, it is inspiring to see.

A second club that I have just seen in the last few weeks is Black's Martial Arts Academy ( Master Black is located in the old Carbondale High School (where the science classrooms and computer rooms were for you locals) and has really built a nice setup for himself. Master Black has a great teaching style and is great with kids. I can see Master Black being another place where kids can go to improve their lives. Like the Boys and Girls Club, but maybe for kids that need a little combat? I'll be looking into this operation and I'll report back on what I find here.

One of the enjoyable parts of seeing the Boys and Girl's Club programs is seeing the young black men down volunteering there. They are smart, motivated and one of the groups that has the most to say to the kids in the club as positive roll models.

Nothing better than a little rain

Woke up this morning to some rain, but they are still calling for a 94 degree high today. I guess it is August. You have to wonder what it was like to live here before air conditioning.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Anyone else notice that SIU is turning over all of their Deans?

The excuses are that this is the circle of life in academia or something like that. I'm not saying this is a bad thing because most of the Deans who are leaving can be replaced easily, but wow what a turn over in the last 3 years or so. If I owned an organization that turned over all their managers I would be looking in the mirror.

Of course, there is almost no turnover at the Chairperson level. I'll do a series of posts once school is back in about this problem. :)

Sales of American autos fall, trucks drop like a rock

The truck and SUV market took a huge dive in July (see title for link to BW article). We knew that betting your future on gas guzzling trucks and SUV's wasn't going to work if gas prices were going up. The shoe has begun to drop.

A couple of thoughts -

There is a large supply of gas in the world right now. The problem is that all the military based problems in the Middle East are making the future of that supply uncertain. I think this is one of those unintended consequences of President Bush's (that is "W", not his father) actions in Iraq and diplomacy issues in the rest of the world. A simple fix is to raise the average MPG scores of autos slowly over a few years, gas prices would ease if we did.

One of the main problems the American auto companies have is the price of medical care for their employees and retirees. If we could get a handle on the health care costs in the USA, we would leap back into contention as a manufacturing center. I'm to lazy to find you an article, but it isn't easy to figure that "The Big 3" spend about $1000 per car more than their competitors to cover their health care bills. Needless to say, $1000 is a lot of quality improvements in a car's parts that "The Big 3" can't afford, but Honda and Toyota can (for example, door handles that cost $5 instead of $2 last a lot longer).

Just back from a wedding in MA and Boston

Just back from a few day in Massachusetts going to a wedding for one of the old nieces and then visiting friends in the Boston suburbs. Went on the Duck Tour of Boston, which was fun but pricey.

I noticed that there are many, many for sale signs on houses in that part of the country. I had heard the real estate market was down on the coasts and it sure looked that way in the Boston suburbs.