How to kill a university

Pay attention, Republicans. I know this is what you want.

Florida’s New College has had a rocky time since DeSantis was elected governor. He hates the liberal arts university, and placed a lot of anti-education administrators in charge — first and foremost, that execrable hack Chris Rufo, straight from the anti-science propaganda outlet, the Discovery Institute.

But first, some good news! Enrollments are up.

The incoming freshman class, which is the largest in New College’s history, will include at least 341 students; 155, or just under half, are student athletes, according to university spokesperson Nathan March.

That is very good news. I know my university has suffered with low enrollments for the past few years, thanks to the pandemic. My upper-level course enrollments are still looking worryingly low this year, but my freshman class is having a surge, which is promising for the future. I’d say this also promises excellent prospects for New College, except…

They seem to be using athletics to lure in new students. Student athletes are great, well-rounded students for the most part, so that’s not intrinsically bad, but the question is whether the new class is appropriately focused. We have lots of student athletes at UMM too, but they know their primary goal is to get an education. Is that true for new students attracted to New College?

I also wonder, given the notoriety of the changes Florida Republicans have been imposing, how many of these new students are right wing goons seeing an opportunity to undermine a liberal arts university.

Another problem: they don’t seem to have planned ahead. They’ve got more first year students, but no place to put them, so they’ve booked an off-campus hotel to house the surplus.

Students first heard in June that there was a chance their housing contracts, which were finalized in April, could change, according to a Tampa Bay Times article from July. Apartments typically reserved for juniors and seniors would now house the more than 100 new student athletes New College had admitted for the fall.

The remaining students are being squeezed into the other dorms on campus—except for a number of rooms that are offline due to mold and other structural problems—or being asked to live in a nearby hotel, the Home2 Suites by Hilton Sarasota Bradenton Airport, if they cannot secure their own off-campus housing. The college has rented out the entire Home2 Suites for the semester, totaling 133 beds, according to the contract between the institution and the hotel.

Oops, there’s the student athletes getting priority again. The hotel is a mile off campus, requiring students to walk along a busy highway to get to class.

Students placed in the Home2 Suites hotel worry about how they will commute to and from New College, about a mile away. For those without vehicles, the journey consists of a 15-minute walk largely along a stretch of busy highway. Parents and faculty have also complained that high levels of crime make the area unsafe, especially at night. While a shuttle is available, it is infrequent—running hourly until 11 p.m.—and can only carry a handful of passengers.

“They don’t seem to be able to plan ahead very well at all,” said Hannah Galantino-Homer, whose son was assigned to live in the Home2 Suites, although he had already decided to transfer out of New College by the time he got the news a few weeks ago. “Like, you don’t think people need to be on campus after [11]?”

This is a huge coordination and planning problem. If your enrollments are over your capacity, the responsible thing to do is tighten up your admission requirements and get the numbers down to what you can handle. Recruiting lots of students mainly on their athletic ability is not a great long-term solution.

I haven’t even gotten to their big problem yet: they’re hemorrhaging faculty.

When a committee of the New College of Florida Board of Trustees met in July, a whopping 36 faculty members had already left since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis initiated a conservative restructuring of the institution in January. That number has subsequently grown to more than 40, Amy Reid, the sole faculty member on the board, told Inside Higher Ed.

Now, as students prepare for the fall semester, the impact of the faculty exodus is becoming apparent: many classes won’t be offered at New College this term.

The course catalogue was already sparse when students first began looking at classes last spring. Dani Delaney, the mother of one former New College student who is transferring to Hampshire College in Massachusetts—which guaranteed admission to all New College students in good standing—said her son could only find two classes that counted towards his “area of concentration” (which is what New College calls majors). When he contacted the institution about the lack of relevant courses, she said, he was told the course catalogue was “in flux” and to “choose something else.”

This is a disaster for a small university, where we’re often operating on the knife’s edge of staffing.You need a critical mass of diverse skills to properly teach a discipline. For instance, our physics department lost two faculty to retirement, leaving one person to teach everything (we didn’t plan far enough ahead), which is not viable. We were frantically scrambling to hire short term faculty while trying to get approval to hire tenure-track replacements. I can’t imagine what the New College departments are doing, adding the abrupt losses to the fact that New College is not an attractive venue for the best new faculty. On top of that, they’re disorganized and using political ideology to wreck programs.

“For neuroscience, there’s only one elective beyond the introductory level right now, which is not healthy,” Leininger said, noting that the number of faculty in NCF’s neuroscience program has declined from three to one. “The number of choices students have this year is drastically reduced … if one of those classes conflicts with another class they have to take that is completely required, they’re going to have trouble staying on track for their major.”

Leininger said she received permission from her new institution to teach New College’s neurobiology course over Zoom—a plan the NCF administration at first seemed to embrace. In an email to Leininger that she shared with Inside Higher Ed, Bradley Thiessen, the college’s interim provost said he would “advocate” for her to teach the course if she was willing and able to do so.

But about two months later, she got word from NCF that she would not be allowed to teach the class, for reasons that were not explained. She suspects it may have something to do with her outspoken opposition to the direction DeSantis and the board are taking the institution, which has included speaking to the media about her decision to leave and reposting criticisms of the administration on X.

That’s what happens when you let incompetent hacks take charge. They’re losing the confidence of the students and their parents, too.

Dani Delaney’s son, a rising sophomore, decided he wouldn’t return to New College this semester in large part because he felt uneasy about the university’s decision to walk back the housing assignments students chose last spring.

He replied to multiple emails from the residential life department saying he wouldn’t be attending in the fall. Nevertheless, he received a notice on Aug. 9 telling him he had forfeited his spot in campus housing by failing to respond.

“I thought, ‘Oh my god, how many other people might have gotten that same email of, hey, basically, you’re on your own, kid,” Delaney said. “It just shows that they have not committed to what’s in the best interest of the student body. It’s so wrong, the way they’ve gone about it. The disorganization—I can’t wrap my brain around it. This is not how you run a college.”

I wonder how many of those new enrollments will still be there in a year or two? How many will be able to successfully graduate?

There might be a bit of climate shock moving from Florida to Minnesota, but we’d welcome any transfer students who’d like to attend a stable, reliable university, with the capacity to handle them and also the responsibility to provide a good learning environment.

Call to arms, Minnesota!

I got a letter from the Minnesota Science Teachers Association. It seems there is some skullduggery going on to undermine our state science standards, from the Minnesota Rural Education Association. Well, cool: I’m an educator in rural Minnesota, but I know nothing about the MREA. I’m sympathetic to the idea of an organization that opposes/complements those elitist tyrants of the Twin Cities <shakes fist eastwards>. So what does the MREA want?

Minnesota Science Teachers and Citizens:

Science education in Minnesota is at a crossroads. As the Science Standards Revision Committee works to produce a new set of state science standards, the Minnesota Rural Education Association (MREA) is going to the state legislature this session in an attempt to reword statute 120B.023 thereby diluting the quantity, quality and rigor of the state science graduation requirements. Their proposed wording to the statute would still require biology and either chemistry or physics, but would reduce the current third science credit to a set of electives that does not require that “all academic standards in science” be met. This essentially removes earth and space science standards as part of the graduation requirements already in state statute 120B.024 (4) (ii.) and would allow districts to choose what science standards they will or will not teach.

If we, as science educators and citizens, want our students to receive a balanced, comprehensive background in all science disciplines, i.e., be scientifically literate, it is essential that you act now.

Below are samples of letters/emails that can be reworded or used as is and sent to your state representative and state senator. (These letters are also attached as a Word doc to this message.) Your voice must be heard or our new state science standards will be reduced in rigor and merit. Hand-picking which benchmarks will be taught in our schools harms science education for all students. A strong response from science teachers and citizens will tell the Legislature that our students deserve the best science education possible.

Go to to find the names and e-mail addresses for your state representative and senator.

Please e-mail your state representative and senator as soon as possible. Be sure to include “Don’t Cut Science Education Standards” in the subject line. Thank you for your continuing efforts to provide our students with a quality, comprehensive science education.

Shorter version: they want to change the standards to allow high school students to focus narrowly in meeting their science requirements, and also want to open school districts to allow them to decide what science to teach. The first part I’m already disinclined to support because public school educations are already general enough — I’d rather they get a solid overview of multiple disciplines, because I care more about a broad background than that students get to ignore geology or chemistry if they want. As for the second part…I don’t trust rural school districts that much. State standards are there to make it harder for schools to compromise.

But OK, let’s be fair. What does the MREA say about their own plan?

MREA Executive Director Fred Nolan encouraged the state to amend the benchmarks statute 120B.023 that states, “Schools must offer and students must achieve all benchmarks for an academic standard to satisfactorily complete that state standard” by adding that high school students must meet the benchmarks in biology, physics or chemistry, and one elective set of benchmarks from the following: physical sciences, life sciences, earth and space sciences or engineering, or technology and the applications of science. Schools must offer at least two of these elective sets of benchmarks.

So currently, high school students should take biology, physics, and chemistry, and one of a defined set of electives. The MREA would like to change that to an or, and let the schools decide what the additional science elective ought to be. Why? They don’t do a good job of justifying the change.

Minnesota faces a well-documented skilled-worker shortage and Minnesota Academic Standards currently hold high schools back from providing the education and training needed to effectively prepare students for their future jobs. Today’s system operates on a one-size fits all approach for students no matter their plans after graduation.

Ugh. Education as a purely vocational enterprise. No, thank you. I have a lot of respect for good vocational training, but that’s not what public school should be about — it should be about giving citizens a broad, basic background knowledge so that they’re better informed, and know better what they want to do with their life after schooling. No matter their plans after graduation, students should have at least a rudimentary understanding of science (and art, and history, and language, etc.) Focusing on JOBS is counterproductive.

I also find it weird that they say they’re concerned about a skilled worker shortage, and their solution is … to teach less science? Strange. I think there must be other motives they aren’t talking about.

The MnSTA provides some sample letters for Minnesotans to use if you want to write to your rep. I’ll include them below the fold.

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It’s like the author read my mind


Or maybe it’s just that the situation is so obvious. This past weekend, I gave a talk in Minneapolis about how messed up higher education in general was becoming, and specifically about the problems facing science education. And then this morning I run across an article from a couple of years ago that basically says many of the same things. I should have just phoned in How Higher Education in the US Was Destroyed in 5 Basic Steps and spared myself all that thinking and planning and preparing stuff.

Here are the 5 steps in the article:

Step I: Defund public higher education.
Step II: Deprofessionalize and impoverish the professors (and continue to create a surplus of underemployed and unemployed Ph.D.s).
Step III: Move in a managerial/administrative class that takes over governance of the university.
Step IV: Move in corporate culture and corporate money.
Step V: Destroy the students.

Dang. I talked about all of those things. Now you can just read the article to get the gist of my discussion.

The very best academic proposal ever?

It’s brilliant, and solves a host of problems at American universities. Why Not Adjunct Administrators Instead of Adjunct Instructors? It Makes Far More Sense. I agree. With the proliferation of administrators and increasing teaching loads on us faculty, it makes far more sense to make all those administrator positions into temp jobs.

Most of the growth of university costs comes from administrative bloat. Non-faculty staff has grown at more than twice the rate of instructors – you know, the people who are the ostensible reason a university exists. As tenured professors retire, administrators kill those tenure lines and replace them permanently with part timers. Administrators do this so they can gorge on a higher salary while demanding more from the refugee ration-packet salary of academics. Think I am not being generous? Some administrators earn $300,000 a year to fundraise for new football stadium skyboxes. Vice Presidents at the University of Maryland saw their salaries increase by 50 percent between 1998 and 2003, as faculty positions were slashed. All the while adjuncts try to get by with the help of Medicaid or food stamps.

There’s only one catch. The idea comes from Glenn Reynolds, Republican toady and right-wing shill, so it makes me suspect that I’ve missed something. It makes me pretty certain, actually.

Online Gender Workshop: Detour, Social Construction Ahead edition

Online Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

To understand gender, it is vital to understand how it comes about. While the etiology of individual gender identities is very much in doubt, the etiology of gender as a framework, as a concept, that is not in doubt: Gender, as I’m sure you’ve heard, is a social construct.

Few feminists would dispute that. However, when I taught courses on gender-related topics to people who already espoused the idea that gender is a social construct, it frequently, even typically, became clear that they didn’t understand the statement at all. So while many might not dispute it, the statement itself is not helping us. Indeed, it appears to be hurting us. So let’s add to the discussion another statement, more commonly disputed among feminists: Sex is a social construct.

There. That should make all the rest easy.

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Gender Workshop: I used to be okay with a “witch hunt” or two

Gender Workshop, as ever, is brought to you by your friendly, neighborhood Crip Dyke.

There’s been much talk over the last few years about witch hunts. Targeting Dawkins. Targeting Shermer. Targeting Hunt. Targeting anyone who happens to sit near Adria Richards. And though I think it is far from a witch hunt to be criticized by a lot of people, even by a lot of people at once, because your comments or behaviors merited criticism, for a long time I merely rolled my eyes at the inevitable, defensive backlash: “Witch hunt!”

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Obama does something right

I think this is exactly what the federal government ought to be doing: building the national infrastructure and setting priorities. So I’m completely behind Obama’s proposal to make community college free for everybody for the first two years, a project that will lead to an expansion of our educational system, more employment for educators, and more opportunities for young people. It’s estimated to cost $34 billion — scrap a few defense contracts, we can cover that.

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