Sunday, January 28, 2007

A good read about Plagiarism

I recommend reading Richard A. Posner's The Little Book of Plagiarism (New York:Pantheon Books, 2007). Posner, the well-known judge and public scholar, wrestles with the ambiguity of the concept, provides case studies, and balances out various competing concepts. Posner notes that the "subject of plagiarism requires cool appraisal rather than fervid condemnation or simplistic apologetics" (p. 108) and he generally succeeds in providing that "cool appraisal." He includes some excellent discussion of how plagiarism is treated within the academic community. The best reading on the subject since Thomas Mallon's Stolen Words.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Debating the Value of Wikipedia

A Stand Against Wikipedia
As Wikipedia has become more and more popular with students, some professors have become increasingly concerned about the online, reader-produced encyclopedia.

While plenty of professors have complained about the lack of accuracy or completeness of entries, and some have discouraged or tried to bar students from using it, the history department at Middlebury College is trying to take a stronger, collective stand. It voted this month to bar students from citing the Web site as a source in papers or other academic work. All faculty members will be telling students about the policy and explaining why material on Wikipedia — while convenient — may not be trustworthy.

“As educators, we are in the business of reducing the dissemination of misinformation,” said Don Wyatt, chair of the department. “Even though Wikipedia may have some value, particularly from the value of leading students to citable sources, it is not itself an appropriate source for citation,” he said.

The department made what Wyatt termed a consensus decision on the issue after discussing problems professors were seeing as students cited incorrect information from Wikipedia in papers and on tests. In one instance, Wyatt said, a professor noticed several students offering the same incorrect information, from Wikipedia.

There was some discussion in the department of trying to ban students from using Wikipedia, but Wyatt said that didn’t seem appropriate. Many Wikipedia entries have good bibliographies, Wyatt said. And any absolute ban would just be ignored. “There’s the issue of freedom of access,” he said. “And I’m not in the business of promulgating unenforceable edicts.”

Wyatt said that the department did not specify punishments for citing Wikipedia, and that the primary purpose of the policy was to educate, not to be punitive. He said he doubted that a paper would be rejected for having a single Wikipedia footnote, but that students would be told that they shouldn’t do so, and that multiple violations would result in reduced grades or even a failure. “The important point that we wish to communicate to all students taking courses and submitting work in our department in the future is that they cite Wikipedia at their peril,” he said.

He stressed that the objection of the department to Wikipedia wasn’t its online nature, but its unedited nature, and he said students need to be taught to go for quality information, not just convenience.

The frustrations of Middlebury faculty members are by no means unique. Last year, Alan Liu, a professor of English at the University of California at Santa Barbara, adopted a policy that Wikipedia “is not appropriate as the primary or sole reference for anything that is central to an argument, complex, or controversial.” Liu said that it was too early to tell what impact his policy is having. In explaining his rationale — which he shared with an e-mail list — he wrote that he had “just read a paper about the relation between structuralism, deconstruction, and postmodernism in which every reference was to the Wikipedia articles on those topics with no awareness that there was any need to read a primary work or even a critical work.”

Wikipedia officials agree — in part — with Middlebury’s history department. “That’s a sensible policy,” Sandra Ordonez, a spokeswoman, said in an e-mail interview. “Wikipedia is the ideal place to start your research and get a global picture of a topic, however, it is not an authoritative source. In fact, we recommend that students check the facts they find in Wikipedia against other sources. Additionally, it is generally good research practice to cite an original source when writing a paper, or completing an exam. It’s usually not advisable, particularly at the university level, to cite an encyclopedia.”

Ordonez acknowledged that, given the collaborative nature of Wikipedia writing and editing, “there is no guarantee an article is 100 percent correct,” but she said that the site is shifting its focus from growth to improving quality, and that the site is a great resource for students. “Most articles are continually being edited and improved upon, and most contributors are real lovers of knowledge who have a real desire to improve the quality of a particular article,” she said.

Experts on digital media said that the Middlebury history professors’ reaction was understandable and reflects growing concern among faculty members about the accuracy of what students find online. But some worry that bans on citing Wikipedia may not deal with the underlying issues.

Roy Rosenzweig, director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, did an analysis of the accuracy of Wikipedia for The Journal of American History, and he found that in many entries, Wikipedia was as accurate or more accurate than more traditional encyclopedias. He said that the quality of material was inconsistent, and that biographical entries were generally well done, while more thematic entries were much less so. Like Ordonez, he said the real problem is one of college students using encyclopedias when they should be using more advanced sources.

“College students shouldn’t be citing encyclopedias in their papers,” he said. “That’s not what college is about. They either should be using primary sources or serious secondary sources.”

In the world of college librarians, a major topic of late has been how to guide students in the right direction for research, when Wikipedia and similar sources are so easy. Some of those who have been involved in these discussions said that the Middlebury history department’s action pointed to the need for more outreach to students.

Lisa Hinchliffe, head of the undergraduate library and coordinator of information literacy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said that earlier generations of students were in fact taught when it was appropriate (or not) to consult an encyclopedia and why for many a paper they would never even cite a popular magazine or non-scholarly work. “But it was a relatively constrained landscape,” and students didn’t have easy access to anything equivalent to Wikipedia, she said. “It’s not that students are being lazy today. It’s a much more complex environment.”

When she has taught, and spotted footnotes to sources that aren’t appropriate, she’s considered that “a teachable moment,” Hinchliffe said. She said that she would be interested to see how Middlebury professors react when they get the first violations of their policy, and said she thought there could be positive discussions about why sources are or aren’t good ones. That kind of teaching, she said, is important “and can be challenging.”

Steven Bell, associate librarian for research and instructional services at Temple University, said of the Middlebury approach: “I applaud the effort for wanting to direct students to good quality resources,” but he said he would go about it in a different way.

“I understand what their concerns are. There’s no question that [on Wikipedia and similar sites] some things are great and some things are questionable. Some of the pages could be by eighth graders,” he said. “But to simply say ‘don’t use that one’ might take students in the wrong direction from the perspective of information literacy.”

Students face “an ocean of information” today, much of it of poor quality, so a better approach would be to teach students how to “triangulate” a source like Wikipedia, so they could use other sources to tell whether a given entry could be trusted. “I think our goal should be to equip students with the critical thinking skills to judge.”

— Scott Jaschik

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Good Teaching

Thursday, January 25, 2007
Chronicle of Higher Education

Harvard Panel Calls for a Renewed Emphasis on Good Teaching, With Rewards to Promote It

Harvard University should make changes to improve its quality of teaching, enhance student learning, and reward successful teachers, according to a report released on Wednesday by a committee of tenured professors in the institution's Faculty of Arts and Sciences.

The report advises departments to pay more attention to teaching qualifications in candidates for faculty appointments, and proposes rewards for good teaching for all ranks, from graduate teaching fellows to tenured professors. To evaluate the quality of teaching, faculty members should develop tools to assess learning that go beyond online course evaluations, and students' gains in essential skills like writing and mathematics should be periodically measured, the report says.

The report makes five major proposals, saying Harvard should:

Foster a more collegial teaching culture, where faculty share course materials and discuss teaching goals and practices.

Gain more support for academic innovation, including grants, administrative assistance, and a review of course-scheduling practices.

Improve systems of accounting, so faculty achievements in teaching and advising can be recorded and used by others.

Link good teaching to salary adjustments, faculty appointments, and career advancement.

Increase visibility for excellent teaching methods and achievements, as an educational tool and as an incentive to teach well.
"For decades, universities have been criticized for paying too little attention to the quality of teaching," Harvard's interim president, Derek Bok, said in a written statement. He and Jeremy R. Knowles, interim dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, called for the creation of the committee, which was formed in September 2006. The report "represents an important opportunity for Harvard to address and assess the way we conduct our core academic business -- teaching our students," Mr. Bok said.

Mr. Knowles said in the statement that the report "focused attention on how we teach rather than on what we teach," and he expects the report to lead a shift in culture that has the potential of improving the educational experience of every student at Harvard.

The report is scheduled to be discussed this spring by faculty members, administrators, and students. Some changes will be put in place this academic year, while others will be delayed until a new president and dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences take over.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Could this be the final chapter in the life of the book?

Recommended by Ellen:
The world's libraries are heading for the internet, says Bryan Appleyard. If this means we lose touch with real books and treat their content as 'information', civilisation is the loser
... read on:,,2092-2557653,00.html

Saturday, January 20, 2007

An interesting read...

I came across this article titled "Why I am Not a Professor OR The Decline and Fall of the British University". Perhaps something to think about for all of us.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Women leaving IT jobs

You might find this article (from interesting. The author writes:

The number of women choosing careers in IT continues to decline, with many put off by the long-hours culture and lack of flexible working.

Most damaging for the industry is the increasing number of experienced senior female execs that are abandoning technology. As these women in their 40s leave IT behind, they take with them vital experience and contacts, and also reduce the number of role models and mentors available for younger women in IT.

According to Carrie Hartnell, programme manager at industry trade group Intellect, only 16 per cent of tech workers are women, and even that meagre number is a drop from 18 per cent a couple of years ago.

This clearly suggests that we cannot solve female enrollment in our technology programs by ourselves ... this needs to be a broadly-based industry effort in which we, of course, have a significant role to play.

Critical infrastructure study in the EU

Many of us are involved in some way in what could be defined as "critical infrastructures" You might find this EU site of interest; it announces a workshop, but more importantly collects much of the EU funded work on this subject. The report and the "technical details" PDF are potentially useful for our classes.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Distance Ed in the Chronicle

This short note in the Chronicle should be of interest to us. Quoting the article:
Ever the critic of distance education, Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers, Republican of Michigan, has introduced legislation that would require scientific scrutiny of online learning. The Independent Study of Distance Education Act of 2007, H.R. 412, would direct the National Academy of Sciences to conduct a study comparing distance-education programs to classroom instruction. The same measure was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2005 but was killed during House-Senate negotiations. In an interview with The Chronicle last year, the congressman talked about diploma mills and his concern that some distance education institutions could confer meaningless degrees.

Who knows if this will be successful, though ...

CIO Forecast for 2007 includes labor shortage

This article in, which reports on the results of a CIO survey, should provide some of the continuing help we need for our recruitment efforts. Writes McCue:
Recruiting and keeping hold of top talent remains a battle for IT departments in 2007. Russell Altendorff, IT director at the London Business School, said of his challenges this year: "Recruitment, retention, reward, and performance of IT staff."

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Grand Challenges for Engineering

Here is a site in which the NAE is trying to develop a set of grand challenges for engineering using blogging. In briefly reviewing the comments, it is interesting to note that most of the proposed challenges are about people, and that all of them will require intensive use of information technologies.


The site "" was listed by as a new Web 2.0 site. It looks more like a traditional website to me, but is relevant to the school as it provides access to historical documents. It appears they have a partnership with the National Archives. I believe access to some documents needs payment.

Professional Devlopment Bill of Rights for Faculty

I thought this was a useful and interesting essay. . . .

A Professional Development Bill of Rights
By Michael Bugeja and Lee Wilkins
Inside Higher Education January 16, 2007
The original story and user comments can be viewed online at

Like many professors at this time of year, we are receiving calls for academic papers to be presented at conferences of our main associations. Papers, along with the publishable manuscripts that often emanate out of them, usually are weighted significantly both in annual reviews and promotion and tenure processes.

So it surprises us that often many academic units do not invest adequately in professional development, paying for travel and expenses for faculty members to attend conferences and partake in activities that benefit individuals as well as institutions.

Conference offerings keep professors on track — especially if they are on the tenure track. Sessions cover influential new books, exciting scholarly breakthroughs, and hot-button topics ranging from assessment to free speech zones. Also, the more paper acceptances and presentations that a department or school enjoys at conferences, the more prestigious that unit will seem to others. That plays a role in recruitment and retention of future and current colleagues.

A record of presentations by a particular department or school also may have assessment or re-accreditation value. There are service opportunities for professors who become chairs of divisions where they can build or enhance their national reputations. Also, faculty members who win election to serve on standing or executive committees elevate their programs and institutions yet again.

As senior scholars who are active in our associations and who realize the benefits of that in annual reviews and P&T processes, we have consulted with peers to develop a “bill of rights” to safeguard and enhance professional development funds (assuming, of course, you have them).

Rights and Responsibilities

All ranks of professors — including adjuncts — deserve professional development. However, it is imperative if you are on tenure track. Along with mentoring (often done by continuing faculty members for little or no reimbursement), your unit should set aside research funds necessary to place papers in conferences and later get them published in journals or books. Tenure decisions can be harsh or even fickle; standards can be high; and your career — dare we say, life — can be put on hold during the typical six-year process.

You deserve professional development.

True, tenure may represent an institutional multi-million-dollar investment in a professor. The question is, how has the unit invested in an assistant professor before that tenure decision is made and then afterward through promotion to professor? Moreover, with many institutions mandating post-tenure reviews, professional development is important even at the highest levels to maintain national reputations or innovative research. And finally, conference participation can be as much about teaching or pedagogy as research, with everything from panel presentations to poster and discussant opportunities. In other words, professional development is important in the small teaching college as well as the large public research university.

As such, we have conceived this bill of rights:

1. Pre-tenured professors should enjoy reduced teaching and/or service responsibilities.

2. Pre-tenured professors should receive additional, tangible incentives — fewer advisees or summer research stipends.

3. All ranks of professors should have access to research assistants if your program has graduate students.

4. All ranks should have a teaching schedule that allows at least one free day per week so that you can do research.

5. You should have a somewhat flexible professional development fund, not only enabling you to travel to a conference but also to pay membership dues in at least one flagship association related to your discipline.

6. Your professional development fund should be at least $1,000 annually.

7. You should have access to an administrative or a faculty committee to approve funds in excess of that amount for exceptional accomplishments — top paper acceptances or outstanding book awards., necessitating more travel or extended hotel stays.

8. You should receive additional funds if you are a chair or vice chair of a division in your major association, enabling you to attend mid-winter or plenary sessions.

9. You should receive additional funds or release time if elected to national office.

10. You should receive recognition in annual reviews, newsletters and departmental communiqu├ęs for your association-related accomplishments, providing official documentation for annual review and P&T purposes.

With all rights come responsibilities. Keep in mind that documentation can go against you in personnel reviews and decisions. If your research and publication records are mediocre when you have been given graduate assistants and reduced course, service and advising loads, your department chair and colleagues will have ample proof that the investment was squandered.

In other words, you are expected to perform.

Focus your efforts on one or two major associations in your discipline, attending conferences relevant to your research or teaching. You are expected to practice fiscal restraint. Do not pad expenses for meals or insist that conference tours to historic sites in host cities are part of your research protocol. You should come prepared to present at conferences without visiting the hotel’s business offices for extra copying or other clerical and computer chores. Concerning Internet, conferences often provide free wireless access or computer banks for you to e-mail colleagues, family and friends. So there usually is no need to pay expensive hotel room rates for Web access.

It goes without saying that bad conference behavior is legendary in academe. We have witnessed or heard about colleagues who were drunk, rude, solicitous and even harassing at conventions. If you are spending your department’s money, you had better behave appropriately, not only at your designated session, but also while in public (and private, too).

Neither should you attend conferences to scout for other jobs. Colleagues may hear first- or second-hand about your ambitions, and that can jeopardize rather than enhance future funding. You may think that you can fool a colleague about why you are at the meeting, but experienced colleagues easily can discern job-hunters from attendees — sometimes by way of attire, sometimes by the company they keep.

General rule: If you use professional development funds, act professionally. Set a good example because the conference grapevine is digital and global. In fact, the best way to be recruited or to impress influential scholars and editors is by presenting stellar research at your session and interacting appropriately with others during your entire stay.

Billing Your Bill of Rights

At the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, each professor gets a $2,500 professional development account to use for travel, membership and participation. If the researcher requires more funds for significant projects, we bring the matter to our executive committee, which can recommend enhancements. We pay extra for conference memberships for faculty serving as association officers. We invest in conferences because there is no better return on the dollar to retain and recruit faculty.

By and large, this perception is shared. In an informal survey of deans across the country we found good investment in professional development. At the journalism program at California State University at Long Beach, new faculty members receive $2,000 per year in travel/conference/research support. Additional funds can be — and frequently are — obtained from elsewhere on campus. We saw the same pattern at Arkansas State University, where the College of Communication finances at least one and sometimes two or more trips to scholarly conference per year for all faculty. Our colleagues at Syracuse University receive $2,500 for every faculty member (junior and senior) to use for travel, and if a faculty member can make a good case — and funds are available — he or she can receive more.

The University of Missouri School of Journalism provides $500 per faculty member per year for travel. Those who present at more than one conference routinely apply for and receive additional funding. Many administrators consider funding to attend conferences part of a total package to attract and retain faculty. Shirley Staples Carter, director of the journalism program at the University of South Carolina, says that, in addition to funding travel to regional and national meetings, her college also provides reduced course loads during the first semester to complete conference papers or journal submissions, a summer research stipend and a faculty research mentor.

We also know of departments that invest as little as $200 per person for travel and conference attendance, and a few that invest nothing at all. (We’ll spare those units the embarrassment of disclosure.) However, we’ll be eager to check the comments sections below this article to get a feel from Inside Higher Ed readers about how widespread inadequate funding actually is across disciplines and institutions.

A goal of this article is to counter oft-heard excuses for insufficient funding and to make suggestions on how to remedy that.

Making a Commitment

Of course we realize that budgets are tight and may continue to be so for years to come. But there are steps that every department can take to ensure adequate funding for conference attendance and participation.

The first step is making a commitment to professional development. That can occur informally with your chair or dean or formally in a faculty meeting through a resolution.

Making this a priority is one thing. Financing it is another.

Unit heads who repeatedly state that they lack funding might also be less than transparent on how the budget is being allocated. Some chairs may be top scholars and poor fiscal planners. Situations will vary from department to department, of course, and what one person may deem frivolous (alumni receptions, say) another may deem vital. Concerning budget, sometimes professors themselves are to blame in that they increasingly add to the curricula to teach pet or low-enrolled courses, requiring ever more adjuncts to teach large or required courses, wasting supplemental budgets that otherwise can be used for professional development.

Chairs also can commit to the cause by creating a “faculty excellence” or “research fund” for the express purpose of professional development, soliciting support of benefactors. Unit heads also can raise funds externally for speakers, student organizations and/or other in-house events, re-dedicating funds previously set aside for those functions to professional development.

Professors also should investigate institutional research incentives. Iowa State University and the University of Missouri have programs to help fund research-oriented international travel, for instance. There are also programs for matching funds associated with initiatives identified by deans of colleges.

And it goes without saying, especially at research universities, that grant acquisition not only can fund conference-related research but also the graduate assistants necessary for top papers and eventual peer-reviewed publication.

Finally, chairs and professors should keep detailed records to provide documentation for annual review and P&T purposes and to showcase the value of conference attendance and participation, using that data for assessment purposes.

If the outcomes are impressive over time, everyone from students to benefactors will see the value of the investment. Professors will augment lectures with cutting-edge research. Department chairs will be able to fund-raise more effectively and increase budgets, recruiting new faculty to your program and retaining your most accomplished colleagues.

Michael Bugeja, author of Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age (Oxford University Press 2005), directs the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University. Lee Wilkins, author of The Moral Media: How Journalists Think about Ethics (Lawrence Erlbaum, 2005), is a professor at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and associate editor of The Journal of Mass Media Ethics.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Cost of FLOSS

(This article is cross-posted from my blog, since it may have interest across our faculty):

Yes, you can get floss for under $3.00 at your local market. The cost of FLOSS, or Free/Libre Open Source Software has been a discussion item in the press for some years. Some (often sponsored by Microsoft) have asserted that the total cost of ownership of FLOSS-based systems is, in fact, higher than proprietary alternatives. This article, published at, points to this EU sponsored study, which asserts otherwise. Thurston writes:

According to the report, which was authored by academics at the United Nations University in Maastricht, Netherlands: "Our findings show that, in almost all cases, a transition towards open source [produces] savings in the long-term cost of ownership."

Microsoft has attempted to persuade IT professionals and businesses that Windows can be cheaper than Linux, through its Get The Facts campaign. Get The Facts cited examples where Redmond's software offered a cost advantage over open source.

The EC report also issued encouragement for organisations considering the free Open Office applications suite. "Open Office has all the functionalities that public offices need to create documents, spreadsheets and presentations," the report said. "Open Office is free and extremely stable." It added that users were equally as productive with Open Office as they were with proprietary software.

But the report issued two notes of caution. Firstly, it said that short term costs would be higher for organisations migrating, even partially, to open source, largely because of the initial cost of training. Secondly it said some workers may feel undervalued if they are required to work with free software.

Is there a need for a tagging standard?

For those interested in folksonomy ... from Slashdot. Is this the same as professional indexing? Are we re-inventing the wheel again?

John Carmichael writes "Tags are everywhere now. Not just blogs, but famous news sites, corporate press bulletins, forums, and even Slashdot. That's why it's such a shame that they're rendered almost entirely useless by the lack of a tagging standard with which tags from various sites and tag aggregators like Technorati and can compare and relate tags to one another. Depending on where you go and who you ask, tags are implemented differently, and even defined in their own unique way. Even more importantly, tags were meant to be universal and compatible: a medium of sharing and conveying info across the blogosphere — the very embodiment of a semantic web. Unfortunately, they're not. Far from it, tags create more discord and confusion than they do minimize it. I have to say, it would be nice to just learn one way of tagging content and using it everywhere.""

FSU Libraries and the Internet research

From the Chronicle:
Florida State University researchers will continue studying patterns of Internet use at public libraries, at least for a while. The American Library Association has awarded a $1.4-million grant to the university’s College of Information, which should help Florida State put three more years of work into its biennial surveys on the costs and benefits of Internet connectivity.

The surveys have provided librarians and policy makers with raw data about libraries’ use of the Web, and more recently, with updates on key trends. Last year Florida State researchers released special reports on wireless networking in libraries and on the role played by libraries’ Internet connections in the aftermath of destructive hurricanes. —Brock Read

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Periodic Table of Visualization

Please see this link for a very different classification of visualization methods.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Changing Notions of the University

From Inside Higher Education
January 10, 2007

‘The Academic’s Handbook’
Almost 20 years after the first edition came out, the editors of The Academic’s Handbook (Duke University Press) have released a new version — the third — with many chapters on faculty careers updated and some completely new topics added. Topics covered include teaching, research, tenure, academic freedom, mentoring, diversity, harassment and more. The editors of the collection (who also wrote some of the pieces) are two Duke University professors who also served as administrators there. They are A. Leigh Deneef, a professor of English and former associate dean of the Graduate School, and Craufurd D. Goodwin, a professor of economics who was previously vice provost and dean of the Graduate School.

Deneef responded via e-mail to questions about the book’s themes and evolution.

Q: As you look at all of the changes in academic careers since the first edition, which ones have been the most significant?

A: I suppose that 10 academics would give 10 different answers to that question, but, to me, two changes ? — possibly connected ? — stand out: first, the explosion of inter/intra/cross-disciplinary studies and the commensurate rise of inter/cross-departmental programs, centers and institutes; second, the relative ease with which individual faculty members can move across traditional academic boundaries, e.g., between faculty and administration, between departments and programs.

I would add that I think these changes have been good for the academy as a whole because they have broadened the focus of faculty members. Of course, we all served from time to time on various university or college-wide committees, but many faculty felt that their primary responsibility was protecting the turf of the department or discipline: Administrators, controlling the funds, were inevitably enemies and other departments/disciplines inevitably competition. It seems to me that there is a much clearer sense now of academic institutions as collectives, communities of various collaborations.

The other significant change I would note is the dramatic increase in the number of faculty employed off the tenure lines, often, as in my university, with titles such as “professor of the practice". This change has serious implications not only for those seeking employment but also for the employing institutions. At some institutions, the number of hires over the last five years in non-tenure-track lines has been equal to if not higher than those in tenure-track lines. Some may find the consequences of this trend disturbing in light of other national reconsiderations of the traditional tenure system.

Q: You have new material both on diversity among employers (section on small colleges) and among academics (minority and female professors). Is there less of a common experience of being an academic today then when you started this book?

A: For a start, I don’t think diversity necessarily changes the levels of commonality among academics. When we first published The Academic’s Handbook, minority faculty — ?primarily African American — ?and women faculty certainly faced different problems than white male faculty members in virtually all departments. This is no longer the case in large state and private universities where minority and women faculty in various humanities and social sciences may now be the majority. In the natural sciences and engineering, women faculty remain a distinct minority, as do African Americans, particularly in contrast to rising numbers of foreign-born faculty in these fields. Diversity now has moved much beyond the categories of 20 years ago: The academy, since the late ’70’s has seen a steady rise in faculty with origins in all countries of the world. I am speaking, obviously, of the AAU-type institution, not small colleges and certainly not community colleges.


Q: You wrote (and revised) the essay on faculty salaries. Is there any general advice you’d provide our readers on how to think about what they earn?

A: I do not know what to say here other than what I said in the article unless it would be the need for new faculty to realize that the economies of the academy are complex and often difficult to decipher. How can one not feel slighted when the person hired a year or two after you were is making considerable more than you are now? I still believe faculty pay far too little attention to salary figures across the nation, or to general salary averages in certain kinds of schools in specific areas of the country. Being aware of these averages might not make you feel all that great about what you’re earning, but it gives you a realistic base upon which to think about — ?or even argue with the chair or dean about- ?those earnings.

The only other thing I would mention here concerns retirement accounts. When we read every day about one or another company filing for bankruptcy because they are so indebted to their own retirements systems, when we read about other companies drastically altering the benefits packages offered to their employees, we need to remember that academic institutions are themselves economic entities struggling with the same financial concerns. One message may be that for those with the option to take part in TIAA-CREF, with the safety and flexibility that that provides, they should think carefully about doing so. As mentioned below, a faculty career can last upwards of 40 years, a tremendous investment opportunity for those who consider it carefully with a qualified financial planner, whether that person be an institutional employee or someone outside the system altogether.

Q: Do you think the “star system” has more of an impact these days on hiring and salaries? What do you think of that impact?

A: This is a question better posed to a few deans and provosts. My own sense ? — and it is an admittedly limited one ? — is that the so-called “star system” (as imprecise as this term is) has less impact these days than it did 15-20 years ago. I suppose that when some university decides to create a major center in one of the sciences ? — say cognitive neuroscience or genomics — ?it generally seeks a “star” and commits to X number of additional hires, but I don’t think that is the way most hiring takes place these days. Administrators recognize as well as the faculty the need to sustain a reasonable spread of junior and senior faculty. A rising “associate” may well, these days, be a better bet than a fleeting “star.” To a dean or a provost or even a president, high compensation for an academic leader who contributes much to the college or university community may be thought of as a sounder investment than getting involved in a bidding war for another “star” who may contribute in name only.

Q: What do you think are the major misconceptions new Ph.D.’s have about academic careers?

A: First, I would hope that some of the changes in doctoral education over the past 15 years or so have helped to minimize “major misconceptions” about academic careers. Most new Ph.D.’s are smart enough to realize now that the majority of their colleagues do not go on to become brilliant Nobel laureates in top-10 research programs. Most understand as well the need to balance their research responsibilities with teaching and service responsibilities — at research universities as well as liberal arts colleges. Most may even sense that faculty movement across a number of colleges and universities is perhaps less common today than it was a decade or two ago.

So what misconceptions remain? I wonder if that’s even the appropriate term? Perhaps it would be easier to ask what new Ph.D.’s don’t yet know enough about and need help understanding. That list would include, I think:

How particular institutions really weigh scholarship, service and teaching? What, very literally, are the expectations for tenure and promotion in each of these three areas? Are they changing in any clear way over time?

How do critical decisions get made at their institution? How central a voice is the provost or the president in matters of the development of academic programs? What role does the faculty senate play? How powerful is the department chair? Or the dean(s) of the various colleges? Who controls the purse?

What is the social atmosphere of a department or a college? Do colleagues meet frequently, with their families, outside of the academic setting? Do colleagues from different disciplines interact socially? What are the expectations on new faculty for attending institutional gatherings (concerts, lectures, parents’ or alumni weekends, football games, etc.)? What is the climate for alternative lifestyles?

Many new academics fail to appreciate the length of an academic career, which can easily approach 40 years. At times in the past this length has been broken up by military service or some other interlude (including government, foundation or administrative service). If these kinds of opportunities are not available, the thoughtful academic might wish to contemplate some planned interruption to prevent academic ennui.

— Scott Jaschik

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at

Friday, January 05, 2007

Library as Place

Jan. 5 Inside Higher Education

The Changing ‘Place’ of the Library
By Laura Rein
I run a library at a university of nearly 22,000 students, but I know that two-thirds of them will never step foot in our library. Ditto for hundreds of our professors. These students and faculty are either teaching or learning online or at one of our over 100 extended campuses worldwide.

So when I read any of the slew of reports that come out about the library “as a place,” I worry a bit. What do these on-site spaces mean to our growing population of distance education students and professors? The concept of the “library as place” was most recently reviewed in a report published by the Council on Library and Information Resources entitled “The Library as Place: Rethinking Roles, Rethinking Space.” Few would argue with the authors that the library is vitally important to higher education institutions in helping them achieve their mission. Indeed, if designed or renovated around the institution’s learning principles as outlined in an issue of Educause Review, the library can offer spaces and services to support virtually all of the latest learning theory principles. As summarized by Colleen Carmean and Jerry Haefner, deep learning occurs when it is “social, active, contextual, engaging, and student-owned.” What better place on campus to provide social, active, contextual, engaging, and student-owned environments than the library with its wired reading and study spaces, reference and access services, collaborative study rooms, rich print and digital collections, media facilities and — in many cases — cafes, information commons, conference space, classrooms, displays, and art installations.

How can libraries translate the benefits that our physical libraries offer to on-campus students and professors to serve our distance education students and faculty members in an equitable way? I believe we can do this through careful planning during building and renovation projects, through the creation or revamping of services and collections, and through the creation of specialized services to promote community and active learning.

During library building and renovation projects, space and technical infrastructures should be planned in a new way. Private office space for professionals, for example, is more important when a librarian could be on a lengthy, complicated phone call with a student overseas. Ample processing space is necessary for paraprofessionals providing document delivery and electronic reserves service. Growth space for developing print and media collections and robust technical infrastructure for access to the library’s digital resources also take on new importance in a distributed campus network.

Many other changes are needed that don’t have to do with physical structures but with services and resources that have real costs and need to be part of the library budget. For example, creation or revamping of services and collections should be undertaken with the overarching goal of providing services and resources to distance education students and faculty that are the equivalent of those provided on-campus. Services might include, for example, online request forms and second-day delivery of books and media from the main library to the requestor’s home or office with prepaid return labels; or online faculty reservations of videos/DVDs with delivery to the faculty’s home, office, or campus (if any). Several options might be offered for reference service, including live chat; Web conferencing with the capability to share screens; e-mail with a guaranteed 24-hour response; or low-tech, low-cost toll-free telephone assistance, which some patrons may prefer. Options for posting required or suggested readings might include a full-scale electronic reserves system or assistance with scanning and posting items to a courseware page, university portal, or Web page. Increasingly, libraries are taking a leadership role on campus in educating faculty about copyright compliance, while ensuring that their faculty may make full use of the rights accorded under the fair use provision of copyright law.

Providing opportunities for information literacy instruction to distance education students can be challenging but is possible through a variety of means. Options range from designing an online credit course to creating a series of online tutorials. The latter may be home-grown or adapted at no charge from established sites such as the Texas Information Literacy Tutorial. Webcasting technology offers the opportunity to “visit” remote classrooms at the request of the faculty member and tailor an instruction session to a particular assignment. All that is needed is a camera, computer, Internet connection, and Web conferencing software.

Providing equivalent resources to distance education students has a few challenges but is increasingly becoming easier. The number of academic databases with full-text content is growing exponentially. In many cases, it is possible to use existing funds by shifting resources from print to online. In other cases, consortiums may reduce the costs for a particular institution. Students love full-text articles but appear to be slow in adopting electronic books. If e-books are provided as a supplement to print resources available via document delivery, however, and marketed effectively as a database of information rather than as discrete titles to be read cover-to-cover, they can be useful.

Our challenge increasingly is not the inability to provide sufficient online resources but to make them the resources of choice by our students. We must compete with Internet search engines such as Google to market the quality of our resources and to make them as easy to search as possible. Software tools such as federated searching, which enables searching across many databases, and open URL resolvers, which enable more direct linking to full-text sources, go a long way in making our resources easier to use. However, we need to work with these software producers on continuing enhancements to these products and on new products that make research more seamless.

Perhaps most challenging for libraries in serving distance education students and faculty is creating a sense of community to promote learning. Some libraries are experimenting with blogs to address this, but these seem to have limited reach and focus. One promising direction, however, is helping distance education professors to promote community and active learning. The new library at my institution, Webster University, includes a Faculty Development Center that supports both on-campus faculty and distance education faculty. Resources for off-campus faculty include a discussion forum, where faculty members may discuss any topic on teaching and learning; share their expertise with each other; review new techniques to improve learning outcomes; discuss instructional technology software/hardware; or address common learning issues. Other resources include a new faculty orientation course, an active learning handbook, and most recently, live Web conferencing with a staff of instructional support specialists to offer individualized instructional support to faculty regardless of their location. Many institutions may find similar ways to serve the teaching and learning needs of their faculty in ways that benefit students.

In the last decade, almost a half-billion dollars per year have been invested in new or renovated academic libraries. With this rate of investment, it is imperative that we ensure that these new and renovated libraries meet the needs of our growing distance education population. We can do this in many ways — by investing in new resources, staff, and services; or by leveraging existing resources (in some cases across departments) in creative ways — but do it we must.

Laura Rein is dean of University Library and co-director of the Faculty Development Center at Webster University. Rein Laura co-teaches an online seminar for the Association of College and Research Libraries entitled “All Users are Local: Bringing the Library Next Door to the Campus Worldwide.”

The original story and user comments can be viewed online at

Thursday, January 04, 2007

WaPo article on Libraries

This article was recommended to you be Ellen:
Public libraries have always weeded out old or unpopular books to make way for newer titles. But the region's largest library system is taking turnover to a new level.

Like Borders and Barnes & Noble, Fairfax is responding aggressively to market preferences, calculating the system's return on its investment by each foot of space on the library shelves -- and figuring out which products will generate the biggest buzz. So books that people actually want are easy to find, but many books that no one is reading are gone -- even if they are classics.

Perceptions of IT graduates

As a companion to yesterday's item about IT grads' job prospects comes this item. The authors write:
Graduates entering the workplace lack basic skills such as writing and arithmetic, and leave university with poor business awareness, according to CIOs.
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Paul Broome, IT director at, complained about a lack of technical knowledge among IT graduates today.
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Others noted a lack of more basic all-round skills in many new graduates. Neil Harvey, head of IT and accommodation at the Food Standards Agency, said: "My impression from dealing with younger colleagues today is that notable numbers of them lack basic good mental arithmetic, spelling and grammar abilities. It also seems to be regarded as an 'old-fashioned' standard - after all, we have spell-checkers and calculators, don't we?"

As with the past article, this report was based on results from the UK. I wonder if the same results would obtain here ...

Location based services

This article in BusinessWeek does a nice job of summarizing location based services. These are new in the US:
... providers of services that help wireless users track friends and loved ones are still finding their footing, Koenig says. Consumer applications, he says, are still in an experimental, "Wild West" phase. "Everybody's tweak is a bit different now." One version of mobile location-tracking applications is aimed squarely at young socialites. "As soon as you walk out of a class in college, people pull out their cell phones," says 21-year-old Sam Alton, who started Loopt last year while on leave from Stanford University's computer science program. "And the chief question they have for their friends in this scenario is, 'Where are you?' I just thought this should be automated."

Not surprisingly, there are concerns raised by this technology. David Holzman, a member of our board of visitors, is quoted in the article:
Privacy advocates say these services are susceptible to abuse. "Fundamentally you have to be concerned that all computer security can get broken," says David Holtzman, author of Privacy Lost: How Technology Is Endangering Your Privacy. "If one incident of child molestation occurred because of this technology, you can bet that all manufacturers would completely change what they're doing overnight."

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Blast from the past, or the hazards of predicting the future

This item, from Slashdot, is a best/worst list from 1994 and predictions of the future. Some examples are:

  • ISDN access will become a common standard for small office and home office access, allowing lots of new applications from conferencing to software distribution.

  • Return of the editors. The CB radio effect; too much noise from too many people; will drive more people to moderated lists and newsgroups.

  • Digital cash will bring home shopping and pay-per-view to the Internet, as well as new forms of asset protection, money laundering, and tax evasion.

  • Conflicts between local and global Internet jurisdictions will become more pronounced, especially over censorship issues. How will prosecutors in Tennessee go after posters from Denmark?

  • On-line politics will take off in a big way, with candidates for the 1996 presidential race making their positions available, soliciting funds, debating opponents, and forging postings from each other. Some campaign somewhere will get in trouble over dirty GIFs.

  • Cancelbot wars will erupt on some newsgroups. Some disbarred attorneys will unleash a doomsday bot that cancels every Usenet message that does not refer to their green card services.

Employment prospects for IT grads

This article reports results that are counter to what we have been reading. Granted, it reports UK and not US data, but the results are not encouraging ...
IT graduates have the highest unemployment rate across all degree subjects at almost double the average for students leaving UK university courses, according to new figures from the Higher Education Careers Services Unit (Hecsu).

The annual Destinations of Leavers from Higher Education survey of more than 200,000 graduates shows that while the unemployment rate of IT students fell again this year to 10.3 per cent it is still substantially higher than the average of 6.2 per cent across all subjects.

From Gutenberg to the Internet: A timeline

This lengthy item touches on most everything we address here. Perhaps you will find it a useful resource for research and teaching.

The author, Jeremy Norman writes:
Separate from the anthology which comprises most of the book, the introduction contains a relatively brief, but reasoned and documented attempt to compare and contrast the introduction of printing by moveable type in the fifteenth century with the development of computing and the Internet in the twentieth century. I was motivated to make this comparison by the general awareness that the way computing and the Internet are revolutionizing the creation and distribution of information in our time is analogous in certain respects to the impact of Gutenberg's invention of printing by moveable type in the mid-fifteenth century. It is a measure of the massive change taking place today that we need to revisit the last information revolution which took place more than five hundred years ago to find a situation that may be comparable to our own.


Another purpose for which I intended From Gutenberg to the Internet, is begin to address a wider set of historical problems which I could not articulate when I wrote the introduction-- the problems of comparing and contrasting the histories of the separate, but increasingly interrelated cultures that fall under the general headings of book history and computing/Internet history. To some readers with an interest in history just considering these two separate cultures in the same sentence might be considered a radical departure. Even though we all read books and use computers most people are not necessarily interested in the histories of both subjects. This reflects the fundamental and very long separation between the two cultures which began to merge in a widely-recognized way first with desk-top publishing, starting in the mid-1980s, and most noticeably about ten years later through the Interne

BW: Libraries for the Internet Age

This article discusses topics that are familiar to us, though the focus is on the design of new buildings rather than on infrastructure. Still, it is nice to see what the mainstream media has to say. There is a link to a slide show that is worth viewing.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Medical identity theft

This article points out that identity theft is not limited to financial records. Quoting the article:

"Medical identity theft—in which fraudsters impersonate unsuspecting individuals to get costly care they couldn't otherwise afford—is growing. Based on Federal Trade Commission surveys, Pam Dixon, executive director of the World Privacy Forum, a San Diego-based research group, estimates that more than 250,000 Americans have had their medical information stolen and misused in recent years. And this isn't petty larceny. Experts note that while individuals who have had their credit-card data stolen are usually wrangling with their banks over losses of as little as a few thousand dollars, medical ID theft can leave victims, and the doctors and hospitals that provided the care, staring at bills that are exponentially higher.

Beyond that, restoring the records can be difficult because test information gets intermingled ...

Seagate R&D article

This article in Wired is of interest because of its Pittsburgh connection and because of the implications of cheap, high capacity storage technologies.

In case you haven't noticed, there is a technology war of sorts going on between solid-state flash memory technologies and disk storage. Disk manufacturers have basically conceded the "low" end of the market to flash memory (<10 Gbit). Still disk storage is much cheaper on a per-Gbyte basis (~$0.40/Gbit) than flash (~$15/Gbit).