Perspective

I was born and raised and spent a good chunk of my adult life living in the upper Midwest, where it snows regularly and not-infrequently in large quantities. Naturally, I have a number of friends and family who still live there, and unfortunately, apparently also naturally a fair number of them seem to think there’s something they have to feel smugly superior about in watching the mid-Atlantic react to this weekend’s snow. So.. as someone who’s lived in both places, allow me to clarify why that behavior is not only annoying, but also fundamentally flawed and illogical.

If you live somewhere where it snows frequently, it makes sense to build your infrastructure in ways that will withstand sometimes large volumes of snow. This means your city planners were likely intentional about building wider streets and highway shoulders – so that when it snows and the plows come through, there’s room for the resulting snow to be piled up without impinging on traffic. Similarly, your power lines are more likely to be underground, where accumulated ice and heavy snow would be less likely to cause outages. It also makes sense for your cities, counties, and states to invest in sufficient equipment to safely and quickly respond to snow – adequate vehicles to pre-treat all major and most minor roads, enough plows so that even during blizzards they can make passes through most streets multiple times. Because if you live somewhere where it snows frequently, *not* doing those things would be irresponsible, both in terms of health and human safety, but also in terms of economic impact on the community.

If you live somewhere where it does not snow frequently, somewhere where in the last three and a half years (as long as I’ve lived in DC) it’s snowed *at all* less than a dozen times and snowed a couple inches at once only one or two times, it does not make sense to build your infrastructure with snow removal in mind. It would be fiscally irresponsible, in fact, for cities, counties, and states to invest in large volumes of equipment for the once-every-half-decade snow storm where they might be justified. It would be more expensive – taking money out of public budgets that could and should be spent on other things more likely to have direct impact on health and safety and economic prosperity – to insist that all power lines be underground, or that all streets be wide enough to accommodate snow banks.

Therefore, when that once-every-half-decade snow storm happens, yes, those places where snow is not a regular occurrence will not be able to respond as efficiently as those places that know and regularly expect snow in large quantities every year. There’s nothing inferior about the preparation or governance of those places that do not regularly experience snow. The people who live there are not inherently stupid, though they may be ignorant of how to drive in so much snow or how to ensure that their home is prepared for what may be several days without the ability to restock *because* it’s not a normal occurrence. Their governments are not overreacting when they close things down for several days to give adequate time and less-trafficked roads to the crews who are working diligently to respond to an abnormal weather event; they’re being responsible and working to keep everyone safe.

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Institutional Locus of Control

Those of you in the higher ed world will likely have heard of Florida governor Rick Scott’s invitation to the state’s colleges and universities to a meeting tomorrow with the intent to “challenge” them to 100% post-collegiate employment rates for their Psychology majors. (If you haven’t, Inside Higher Ed wrote it up today.) This prompted some lamenting in higher ed circles, which is not surprising. My thoughts (many of which were posted originally in response to an email about the article linked above on the ASSESS listserv) are below.

Rather than focus on the historical roots and purpose of higher education, I have to wonder if there’s not more of a role our business partners can play (or we could ask them to play) in helping change legislator perspectives about what they need for today’s jobs. It seems that there’s an unhealthy focus on major field of study as the be-all-end-all for determining a graduate’s career success or failure, when numerous surveys of employers tell us that’s not actually what employers care about. For example:

  • AAC&U released their latest update to their employer survey about a year ago and found that “[n]early all employers (91%) agree that for career success, ‘a candidate’s demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than his or her undergraduate major.’” (Emphasis in original.) (This finding was quoted again today, in fact, in an op-ed in Maine that crossed my Twitter feed just now.)
  • A similar finding was part of a recent (arguably – 2012) Chronicle of Higher Education employer survey (PDF): “Employers place more weight on experience, particularly internships and employment during school vs. academic credentials including GPA and college major when evaluating a recent graduate for employment.”

There are coalitions of business leaders becoming more active in advocating for better state support of higher education – there’s at least one in Florida called The Florida Council of 100 – though I’m not sure of the agenda of any of them and whether they’re intentional acting on behalf of institutions or higher education as a whole or not. Still, it seems like rather than higher education continuing to beat the same drum, it may be time for a change of tactics and partners to more directly respond to policymakers’ arguably well-meaning but ultimately ill-informed demands.

In addition to enlisting new partners, the academy as a whole could work to raise the visibility of work intended to broaden the focus of higher education outcomes beyond just employment and wages. I’m most familiar with the Post-Collegiate Outcomes (PCO) Initiative completed by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), and (my employer*) the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU) last year, which resulted in the PCO Framework and Toolkit designed to help institutions intentionally broaden the conversation about outcomes with their stakeholders. (Full disclosure: I was integrally involved in the PCO Initiative.) The Lumina Foundation recently (and without a lot of fanfare, unfortunately) released It’s Not Just the Money: The Benefits of College Education to Individuals and to Society, which uses data from national sources to document both the financial and human capital benefits to both individuals and their communities from a more highly education population. I also know that there are several institutions who are – as part of their mission – intentionally working to promote the civic engagement outcomes of higher education; James Madison University comes to mind as well as the institutions that are members of The New American Colleges & Universities, which held an event this morning at the National Press Club in DC presumably to engage policy-makers and DC-based think tanks more directly in promoting these outcomes.

There’s still undoubtedly a lot of progress to be made, but I think there are also a lot of potential partners to work with to push back on some of the too-narrowly-focused ideas we’re seeing.

* As always, the opinions expressed in the blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those my employer.

‘Tis the Season..

I don’t really do resolutions. Some of it is that I tend to eschew trends on stubborn principle, but most of it is knowing that my motivation comes from something other than the turning of the clock from one day to the next. That said, as many others who also don’t do resolutions note, the start of a new calendar year is a convenient time for reflection and re-evaluation. And with that in mind, there are things I’m working to make a more regular part of my life, as well as a few I’d like to make less so.

Previously I talked about having started running for cardio. I think it’s fair to say that it’s become enough a part of my regular routine, given that I have maintained it (well enough) through both work travel and the holidays. In the end, even on the days I don’t want to, I can often cajole myself into it by noting that “it’s only half an hour” and noting what time it will be when I’m finished. I’m not sure why that works as a mental kick start, but it does. In any case, my regular weekly routine these days includes 3-4 Pilates reformer classes and at least three days of 30-minutes of cardio (either elliptical or running/walking on the treadmill). I also regularly get 10k steps at least 6 of 7 days in a week. All that is good, and good for me, so I will be conscious of not letting myself slip out of those habits.

I rather enjoy live theatre, but tend not to go regularly because coordinating schedules with people to accompany me ends up being more work than enjoyment. However, I’m learning to enjoy going alone, which also has the benefit of meaning I can sometimes get very good seats – an empty seat between two parties in an otherwise full section of the theatre, for instance. My family was visiting this past week for the holidays and we saw a choral performance at the Kennedy Center and Motown at the National Theater, both of which were grand. On a whim this afternoon, I took advantage of a last minute ticket deal on Goldstar for their last available ticket for tomorrow night’s performance of Kiss Me Kate by the Shakespeare Theater Company. Next weekend, I’m meeting a friend – again, pretty much on a whim prompted by a good hotel deal in Manhattan – in NYC for a weekend of theatre. We’ll likely only be able to make two shows – a matinee and an evening performance Saturday – due to travel schedules and the like, but all the same, I’m rather terribly looking forward to it. So, something I’d like to make a more regular part of my life is going to the theatre, and I’ll endeavor to do more of it in the coming year.

In terms of things I’d like to be less a part of my life, top of that list is my nearly constant internal monologue worrying about what other people think of me. I have a deep-seated fear of disappointing people – which leads to other manifestations like Impostor Syndrome and near constant second-guessing of myself. While it is undoubtedly a very good motivator to do things well, the drawback is a perpetual nagging doubt about whether I’ve done it “well enough” or been “good enough”, which quickly leads to questioning whether I am “enough”. This is different than egotism – I don’t want to be the best, or be the center of attention, or even receive public accolades for anything I’ve done. Rather, I want *not* to be noticed *because* I’ve done what’s expected (and not less). This, as is likely fairly obvious, is insidious and has so many pitfalls and traps as to be quickly self-sabotaging, all the while looking externally as if everything is going exactly as it should. For me, making this less a part of my life will involve taking to heart the advice I’ve given others: we are all human, we will all make mistakes and let people down, sometimes without ever knowing it, and that’s just part of *living*.

Things I Believe, an Unnumbered and Unordered Series

People, including and perhaps especially politicians, need to be allowed to change their mind on something when presented with evidence without being accused of being soft or indecisive or waffling. I believe in hypothesis testing and the Scientific Method and that those principles apply not only to theorems and experiments, but to every day life as we work, individually and collectively to find the best way through.

Corollary: I believe we have to learn to be okay with being wrong, and allow both ourselves and others to be able to admit being wrong without it being perceived as a fault of their character.

Now playing: Dear Mr. President, P!nk

I know what day it is. I think.

Today is Friday. I had to check to be sure, which might tell you a bit about this week.

I also know that I’m currently in Austin, despite spending a good chunk of the morning with the vague feeling I was in Dallas. (Not for any specific reason – the only part of Dallas I’ve ever been in is the airport, but I’ve been in it twice already this week and am about to be there a third time.) It’s fairly common for me to travel for work – about once a month-ish – but less common that two conferences stack up in the same week, much less that they do so in the same state. Even with the oddities of airline flight schedules – which made them think it made sense for them to get me from Houston to Austin via Dallas – I’ve had a good balance of time on my own this week to recoup energy, so I’m not feeling quite as crispy as I can after a week of travel. I do, definitely, miss my bed, though.

Both conferences were good – both had good encounters and opportunities to promote both of the major projects I manage at work, which is mostly why I was at them and both had sessions that were interesting and provided food for thought as we continue to plan the future of our work.

Sunday night’s keynote (at the Southern Association of Colleges & Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) Annual Meeting in Houston) by Dr. Stephen Klineberg, Sociology Professor and Co-Director of Kinder Institute of Urban Research, was phenomenal and gave a brief introduction to the history of US immigration policy that was new to me and filled in some pieces in our national identity that help me make sense of some of the xenophobia we’re experiencing today. Using data from a variety of projects the Kinder Institute runs, Dr. Klineberg made a very convincing case for the need to close the racial achievement gap, using Houston as a case study for where the nation as a whole is heading. (When the recording and/or slides are made available next week, I’ll post a link to them for those interested.) Edited 1/4/16: You can view the slides from Dr. Klineberg’s presentation here.

Dr. Jeremi Suri provided a different flavor of historical perspective (at the Higher Education Government Relations Conference (HEGRC) in Austin) yesterday, emphasizing the difference in founding principles between US institutions of higher education (established by pioneers and frontiersmen) and those established in European countries (traditional established by religions or monarchs). Even with my understanding of the origins of the US land-grant institutions, the framing provided by Dr. Suri added depth and insight to the identities of our colleges and universities as bastions of knowledge and seedbeds for new ideas and life-long learning. (Dr. Suri has written on this previously and you can read an article that includes much of his talk here.) Dr. Suri challenged us to remember our frontier origins and resist the urge to close off conversations on campus.

Suffice it to say, there are a lot of ideas percolating and bouncing into each other in new ways in my head, and I’m sure over the course of the next several weeks (or longer) they’ll continue to do so, spawning their own tangents and tangles. For now, though, my head feels a bit overfull, so I’m looking forward to a weekend at home to putter and tidy things before the holidays (and my family) arrive.

Run Your Own Race

Three-ish or so month ago, I decided to start running. Before you roll your eyes and prepare yourself for a screed from the newly converted, let me assure you: I’m not a runner. But I’m also not getting younger, and though I’ve practiced Pilates regularly (3-4 classes/week) for the last two and a half years, I needed to get in the habit of doing more regular cardio. In the past, I’ve been a more or less regular cyclist and even farther back I was sporadically a swimmer, so why I decided it was time to start running is as much anyone’s guess as mine. (I tell myself, though, it’s because it’s something I know I’ll always be able to do even when I’m traveling, so I won’t be able to use lack of equipment/facilities as an excuse to skip workouts.)

So.. 21 days make a habit, or so they say. I’ve run more days than that, but I still don’t think it’s a habit and there are still days when I have to guilt-trip myself into doing it. It helps that a friend has an awesomely supportive, no-pressure, non-competitive Facebook group where people set their own monthly goals and then report out weekly (if not more often – I track in a single thread daily so I don’t forget). Even that little bit of accountability helps keep me on track and the genuine support and non-competitiveness of the group keeps me engaged even when I miss goals.

I started with the Couch-to-5k running plan app* – which I highly recommend until about week 5 or 6, but by the time it’s just “run 20-25-30” minutes, I found it a lot less useful. For me, for now, I’m still building endurance and while the difference between two 10-minute runs with a 1 or 2 minute walk in between and one 20 minute run doesn’t seem like that much, it is for me. And for awhile, I let that bug me – I felt like I wasn’t doing it right if I wasn’t running longer intervals every time.

And then, recently, I realized that was silly.** I’m running to improve my cardiovascular health so really, as long as I continue to do it – at whatever speed and for however long – I’m meeting that need. The important thing is that I’m doing it. So, days like today, when I wasn’t feeling up for longer intervals, I still clocked nearly 2.5 miles doing 3 minute run intervals at a comfortable pace. At some point, likely fairly soon, I run (well, run some and walk some) my first 5k (in a workout, not as a race), and I’m sure that will feel like a big accomplishment. But for now, days like today, it’s okay just to have done it.

* I’m now using Zombies, Run! with my own music, which is working better for me. The random story interjections and stuff you pick up is enough to keep my mind from dwelling on the time still to go. If you’re a walker and looking for something similar, the same company has an app called The Walk that I’ve also really enjoyed.

** The context in which I realized this had almost nothing to do with health and certainly wasn’t related to running, however. It was a more general conversation with a friend in which they pointed out (as they have in the past) that I’m *very* tough on myself. I am the poster child for high standards and the person I’m hardest on when they aren’t met is myself.

Now playing: Ani DiFranco – Amazing Grace

Words of the Day

I subscribe to Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Day emails. Not really because the words are generally new to me – I read a lot* – but more because I like words and remembering and using synonyms in place of more common words is something I appreciate. I’m always a little excited when the Word of the Day is one I don’t already know, though, so last Tuesday started with an extra little bit of fun.

November 24
henotheism  \HEN-uh-thee-iz-um\

Definition
noun
: the worship of one god without denying the existence of other gods

I like this word both because it’s a new word for me, but also because it describes a state of being I think a lot of people may generally relate to without having a way to express.** And there’s a part of me (an eternally optimistic, pr’bly frequently naive, hopeful part***) that wonders if we just had better words (or knew the right words) to describe the idea that it’s absolutely, perfectly, completely okay to believe something as fundamental as how our world came into being and who or what, if anything, governs the broader rightness and wrongness or moral order differently from someone else and both be right. Or at least not wrong. Just.. different. In the same way that some people like bananas and some people are ambivalent and some people really wouldn’t eat one if it was the last sustenance on earth. And all of those people are still people and they still live and interact and struggle to make it through their days and are courageous in the face of their own demons. Maybe if we just knew the right words, it would .. our world would be better.

* I’m one of those people that sometimes mispronounces words because I’ve only ever read them. I’ve done it so often I’m no longer embarrassed by it when corrected.

**It does not, however, describe me.

*** The part of me that would rather not ask someone out because if I do, I may have to stop hoping the answer will be yes. (No, that’s not a joke. Yes, I did eventually ask the person out. No, they did not say yes. *shrug*)

Now Playing: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy – I Wanna Be Like You

Tonight’s Dinner: Winter Squash Carbonara with Pancetta and Sage