Friday, January 26, 2007

SIU - will it get worse or get better? About low standards.

I think the discussion about low standards, not just in teaching and student performance, but in all things is worth having at SIU. One of the most interesting things about walking through an SIU building is the sea of professor's doors that are shut, empty and locked. Is it low standards if you work 20 hours a week? The physical plant workers who are on break for half of everyday, is that low standards? Students who don't take notes, estimated to be over half of all students by many sources, is that low standards? Alumni who give large gifts don't get promised reports, is that low standards?

SIU doesn't advertise and doesn't really recruit, but that has been identified as a problem. Good work there by SIU's management. I think that was identified as a really important area that wasn't measuring up and management is moving to fix it.

You wonder how long it will take for SIU to realize that allowing low standards in all things is killing the university? Is this like a 12 step recovery program, the first step is admitting you have a problem?

I'm on record predicting a 10% drop in students over the next 5 years at SIUC. That was before Poshard decided to try and fix SIUC's PR and recruiting, so maybe it will not be that bad. Yes, I know they can pad the numbers with US Military, stupid tricks with graduate students taking 1 hour and the like, but we are talking about real students. I don't see how the real numbers can go up anytime soon.

What do you think? Are SIU's low standards killing the golden goose? Will enrollment go up or down? What should SIU do about people just not doing the work and still being rewarded?


Anonymous said...

Yes, SIUs low standards are killing the golden goose.

I have heard that some employers no longer interview at SIU because our standards have fallen. Frankly, I don't blame them.

Re: "sea of professor's doors that are shut, empty and locked"

Professors can work from home. In some cases they can be more productive at home than in the workplace itself.

However, there is considerable value in being present at the office. I'll name just two. First, when I have an idea, I'd like to be able to go to a colleague and discuss it. If my colleagues are all "working at home", I can't do this. Second, throughout the day there are a variety of interruptions. For example, an unassigned grad student might want some help or advice; a reporter may have a question regarding a current event; an administrator may have a task that needs immediate attention; etc. When professors stay at home, all of the above tasks devolve to the poor mope who thinks that employment means showing up at the office.

As you can tell, I believe that under normal circumstances, professors should be in the office. If I were a chair I would suggest that each faculty member be present at least 80% of the time. (That's 4 days per week for those who take the union view of a work week.)

Peter in Carbondale said...

I believe in the superstar rule, if you are a superstar you can make the rules. A majority of SIU professors are performing at a level far below superstar. Working at home is an example of this, if your performance is anything less then fantastic, stop cheating your employer and work 40 hours a week.

I agree that in some cases professors are more productive at home, since that is about a 1% case at SIU the whole argument is BS.

Like all other professions, if your butt isn't in that chair you aren't really working. Kind of reminds me of SIU student not taking notes.

Fraydog said...

Are other places in the state puffing up their enrollment like SIUC is? (I am just using SIUC to differentiate from SIUE, personally I hate it when we're called SIUC.) I can see it going on at other places to some extent in order to get more state money, but not as much as it is here at SIU.

Peter in Carbondale said...

The junior colleges dropped their pants on this issue long ago, if you draw breath you will pass. A JAL degree is worth nothing in the real world beyond the vocational skills you learn to earn it. Other universities are experiencing grade inflation also. For example, I saw a study that said that 71% of grades at the University of Washington (in Seattle) were A's and B's.

The problem SIU has is the number of students who aren't really good students being admitted. If you cut a really good student lots of slack, they are going to be fine. A bad student cut slack, often learns nothing. This makes SIU's retention policy a lot more risky then the exactly same policy at U of I.

I'm certain that people who hire new college graduates know the value of a degree of every school in the state. I knew how good every school was in the Northwest when I was hiring. If the graduates aren't good, then you really ruin the university's reputation and I fairly sure that is why SIU's enrollment is down. Of course, there are programs at SIU that are doing well, so this isn't true for every graduate.

In the late 90's we found that University of Washington graduates in Computer Science were always better then Western Washington grads. We also found that a graduate with a 3.0 gpa was about the same as all other grads with a 3.0 (same for 3.5, 3.7, etc.). What I see from SIU students is that a 3.6 gpa doesn't mean anything, some are good and some are bad, but the gpa is a worthless guide. This suggests to me that the grade inflation has gone to far here.

nobody said...

Academic standards are loose here, but i don't think that's whats keeping enrollment down. The slide started when the city and University teamed up to stop the party image. As predicted long ago, eliminating that image without establishing learning as the replacement resulted in a less attractive SIU. Good professors that were dedicated to teaching were dropped from the tenure track. Hard-liners who fit in with the political environment gained permanent implacement.

Peter in Carbondale said...

Thanks for writing, but I think your ideas about this are from a much more recent problems and not from the root. Lots of universities have stuffed out parties like Carbondale's Halloween without problems.

Turning away from teaching starting in 1974 with the Durge purge, the end of the party image was when the students were no longer disciplined enough to party without having a riot. I have written here before that the beginning of the end was the day that Morris left SIU, I think I like that idea better then these two.

I certainly don't agree with this hard-liners stuff, the people running SIU are a bunch of political bums. Hard-liners means something else to me.

When you start looking at longterm institution like SIU (or the Catholic Church) it takes decades for problems to start and then decades longer for the problems to become evident to everyone. SIU has taken a thousand missteps, a million bad decisions, and hundreds and hundreds of hires who need to be fired, but what do you do now? You bring in a good manager and pray they can make enough good decisions to get lucky again.

I hope Glen Poshard is that manager, because SIU has become an embarrassment. Even if Poshard is the best leader of universities that was ever born, it will take decades of hard work for people to feel about this place as they did in 1968. That is OK, if things start to turn around people will feel like they are part of something moving the right direction again and that would be nice.

Anonymous said...

Peter wrote: I'm on record predicting a 10% drop in students over the next 5 years at SIUC.

You well may be right. I saw some figures the other day: only about 1/3 of the nontransfer applicants we accepted for admission enrolled. Maybe we should focus on finding where the other 2/3's went and why.

Fraydog said...

Someone will have to explain what this term "hard-liner" means in context to SIU. I suspect it's people in the administration who emphasize publishing scholarly work and getting research funds over good teaching, but at least these people are trying to emphasize something. I don't know if we should be emphatic about research, but I don't think SIU can afford to ignore it either. A lot of places in the liberal arts here could do no better than to just chuck research and just focus on teaching, but in the sciences and engineering, I think that research can be beneficial. Just make sure the people who are clearing the big research money can teach as well.

As far as killing off the party image... the University did try that and one of the problems is that they had no marketing and communications department that could redefine SIU as an institution of academic importance. Instead it was political hackery going on. If MCR had been interested in doing their jobs instead of being a mouthpiece for upper administration, a lot of the bad marketing crap would have never happened.

A lot of good students leave too... the transfer rates from people who have high GPA's are disturbing. We have to decide what our mission is. I know people who got here by the skin of their teeth through SWIC and John A. Logan, and I know people who could have went to UIUC (like myself). What group is SIU better off serving? I think the people who could get into UIUC are much better prepared to succeed and can fit into a research environment much better, but some don't want to go to a school so big and want more personal attention. Maybe that's the void we should try to fill. Not so much to be like UIUC, but to be the best alternative to it in this state.

Peter in Carbondale said...

I like your thinking Fraydog.

Can you imagine you are an earnest and hardworking student. You really hit it, taking your major classes and trying to do good work. At the end of each semester you got the same grade as everyone else does (an A). This includes the people who did no work on your group project. This is the world's way of telling your to run away to someplace better.

Saluki87 said...

Interesting post and responses. This post and the one just prior discuss the most crucial issues facing SIUC. Fwiw, some of my thoughts:

JUCO's are kicking butt in enrollment and have a healthy guaranteed budget base (i.e. prop tax). How do you compete? Certainly not by being the same. What is SIUC's value proposition? I don't know but someone better figure it out fast. It's obviously been handled ineptly for years. Practice basic marketing at least!

10% drop? I hope not but I fear that's accurate and depressing if you're a graduate and want your alma mater to reflect well on you. I think lower standards will result in an even greater long run enrollment drop. Good comments on that by Peter and Fraydog. I wonder how much the negotiation impass a few years ago with the faculty union hurt enrollment. The negative publicity on a possible strike was almost constant and statewide. It might be a coincidence but enrollment growth stopped then and eventually declined. It was not the unions fault, or at least not only their fault. The administration handled the negotiations rather poorly including the PR (surprise!). In any case, I don't know if there's a correlation, just a thought.

Is Dr. Poshard going to turn it around? I sure hope so but it will take more than just him. I also hope that the open access comments he has made frequently don't mean open admissions policies.

I'm an optimist so I'm I'll look for the positives. There are still many good programs, faculty, and staff there and it can get better.

Fraydog said...

To answer the marketing question, I'll go back to my basic marketing courses and state the 4 P's of marketing.

1. Price
2. Placement
3. Product
4. Promotion

SIU always tried to compete on price, the worst thing that you could compete on. It would be okay if you tried to compete on price if you were selling a commodity, but education certainly is not a commodity.

Product placement for SIU was not good, because after the Morris era, SIU tried to compete with the community colleges and couldn't, because we can't be a research institution and compete on price. So maybe we're better to compete with other research schools. Not necessarily U of I, but at least be better than NIU and ISU.

Product - I'm not going to beat a dead horse here, Peter has exposed a lot of product problems. Yet, there are strong areas and people don't hear much about them. People want to feel good about SIU, yet it's hard with the constant stream of negativity (some of it duly deserved, some of it piling on.)

Promotion - One of my marketing professors met with Poshard and Dunn along with CoBA faculty and was duly impressed with the plans set in place to deal with this. I'm going to trust his judgment.

Peter in Carbondale said...

A couple of ideas playing with Fraydog's comment.

I don't think it is about price in a narrow sense. Instead it is about value, or total return on the investment. We don't see Northwestern having problems attracting students, those students know over their lifetimes they will make more money and have a better life because of that investment.

About product, SIU was kicking the JC's around and still do in every area they directly compete. If you think about SIU's tradeschool like 4 year degrees (Aviation, Auto, Dental) they are the best programs, with the least competition at SIUC. There used to be a huge Vocation Tech program at SIU that they flushed. There is an opportunity for SIU to have the best programs in the country in these no so glamorous areas. Doesn't seem like the administrators wanted that back then and it has really hurt SIUC.

Fraydog is right on target, it isn't that hard is it?

Jack McKillip said...

The purpose of having graduate students register for a single hour had nothing to do with enrollment boosting--although that was a consequence. The purpose was to help programs and the Graduate School track students who had left campus without completing an academic program. The idea was that receiving a bill each semester would help the student who was serious focus on completing his/her program (usually a thesis paper). As a complement, receiving the bill would lead other students to formallly drop out of graduate programs, cleansing their rolls of those who were not serious. Both goals were achieved.

Peter in Carbondale said...

Hi Jack -

Thanks for putting a name up there, it is nice to have a person's comments.

I have no problem agreeing with you, but then SIU and all universities should break out these students in pergatory and not use them to pad their numbers.