Academic retirement

I worked for 37 years at the University of North Dakota and a couple of years in upstate New York before that. I have been “retired” now for nearly three years. This makes me an expert on serving a single institution for most of a career and retirement.

UND (my school) is going through some extremely difficult times. The bottom falling out of the oil industry in a Republican, rural state that had assumed oil revenue would be the solution to taxing citizens created a mess. There was no escape from the need to cut programs and people. You don’t do this without long-term costs to the reputation of the institution, but I guess if you get yourself in the situation, this is what you have to do. Among the strategies to address the financial problems has been the effort to get folks to leave with what to me seems a pretty weak one-year buy-out (no fringes or medical).

The local paper carried stories of some who decided to take the money and go. One such story described a couple of people I know and the sentiment was that this is not the way they wanted to end their careers. Poor fellows. I had a somewhat different reaction to some of the details. One of the individuals, a decorated historian, was nearly 90. My reaction? This individual has taken nearly half a career away from a young academic. I don’t care how exceptional you are – others deserve a chance to work.

I think there are two problems here related to the reality that academic work for most is a life-style and not a job. I won’t take the time to explain and while this is not true for some, folks who value scholarship don’t think in terms of money or hours of work. The job is their life. This is what annoys me about some folks being proud of working 50 or 60 hours a week. There was a time when I would have asked – what is it you do with the rest of the time you were awake? I know individuals who lived that way until it was time to turn out the lights.

My two inter-related (this connection is important) proposals related to this issue:

  1. Faculty members should stop drawing a salary at a reasonable age (65).
  2. Non-salaried faculty members who are interested in continuing an affiliation with their institution should be provided opportunities suitable to the academic life – an office in proximity to their home department, the opportunity to work with students (if students are interested), the opportunity to teach (again, without compensation), respect for their contributions to the institution.

I think institutions think they are providing #2 but there is never enough space or a real commitment to involve non-salaried contributors.

I left UND to move to the big city. I must say – I have fundamental issues with North Dakota and Minnesota is better suited to my personal values. The academic work I do I can do more successfully outside of the department for which I worked. The way you get attached to a specific college and department in many institutions may not suit your evolving interests. My lack of fit had nothing to do with the individuals I worked with and who supported me as their administrator for many years. My colleagues had respect for me and I great respect for them. I now do some teaching for a program that would be my more natural home (as a lecturer which is pretty much the same as uncompensated) and I have written a second book not having to worry whether my interests in technology were appropriate for a psychologist. So, what I propose here is not about me. However, I do think what I propose would create a more positive environment for those individuals who have a deep commitment to a given institution, but really should retire for the good of all.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Academic retirement

Some thoughts on Facebook

So, in the run-up to the election, I decided to become more active on Facebook. My engagement with Facebook differs from nearly all of my “friends” (I hope that is the correct term. I sometimes get one social media site mixed up with another.). I did not come to Facebook to post pictures of my kids or the places I have been lucky enough to visit. I did not come to Facebook to relay news stories or pithy expressions. I did not come to Facebook to thumbs up thumbs down, happy face, angry face or whatever. I can to Facebook to interact.

Some may have been surprised by how I interact. My kids probably know that while I am immensely proud of them, I am not that good with praise. For some reason, I assume praise and acceptance are assumed. S0, just for the record – all of my kids are very cool. If I commented on Facebook, it was often to argue and to say I disagree. I was an academic and this is what we do. I suppose this style may come across as personal and perhaps sometimes it gets that way. This is not the goal. The idea of challenging each other is to work toward a better and hopefully more accurate understanding of the important issues and truths in life. I admit I do not object to having a good time and a beer or two along the way. This is what I hope is the “academic’s way”.

I also came to Facebook to express my views. The emphasis here is on MY. This goal is best approached by making the effort to use my words and not to rely on sharing the words of others. This takes some work and invites criticism. I would rather think of the effort as inviting engagement. I try to be clear and to offer what evidence I can. If others are willing to do the same, I see the process as potentially constructive.

I do have concerns with Facebook. I am a technologist by trade and I worry about algorithms that select what any one of us will see. I am a psychologist by trade and I know a little about the problems of group think and the many proven biases of personal thinking. The filter bubble only feeds these human frailties. If anything, our technologies should be working against the foolish things we are known to do on our own.

I am also concerned that we commit to any given experience rather than open ourselves up to a greater number of experiences. I think Zuckerberg has some very good ideas about human communication and the needs of humans to interact. Zuckerberg is also a businessperson. The downside of the commitment to a common source, not matter how well-intended that source might be, is quite great. I think the problems are obvious – filtered and simplified information content mixed with feel-good content about kids and friends. If 40% of adults get their news from Facebook, this is terrifying. Read a book or a dozen. Read a major newspaper – you can usually scan them for free and pick out a few stories before they expect to be paid. Why not even pay for some depth once in a while?

The type of material I have posted here may surprise some. Perhaps the kind of material I post is not what is intended for this outlet. I have no real insight into what Facebook is supposed to be about. I tend to think it became what it is without much guidance.

I began blogging in 2003 and I have written thousands of little essays like this since then. I have just decided to put some of it on Facebook recently.  I suppose some cannot imagine taking the time to write even one such comment let alone one a week or one a day. I wonder how many individuals even bother reading to the end when something like this post is encountered. I can truthfully say I care if you read what I write, but I would write what I write whether you care or not. I write what I write because it helps me put ideas together for myself. If you don’t believe this I am guessing you don’t write. This is not an ego thing (or at least not totally). I think life challenges us with serious questions – you can ignore them or you can confront them. These questions follow me around – I cannot ignore them. The reality of a blank screen has a way of smacking you in the face – what exactly do you think about a given issue, can you put it down so you and everyone else can see?

Mark Grabe really writes at This Facebook thing is just an experiment. I hope you will join me. Facebook does not have a character limit (like Twitter). What do you have to say about important matters?

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Some thoughts on Facebook

Digging a deeper hole is the wrong approach

Now Main Street’s whitewashed windows and vacant stores
Seems like there ain’t nobody wants to come down here no more
They’re closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain’t coming back
To your hometown

Bruce Springsteen | MetroLyrics

Voters, maybe any of us – you can be misled if you are told something you want to believe. You are especially vulnerable when you are told something you want to believe combined with someone else to blame.

Climate change is a real problem and you are doing your children and grandchildren a tremendous disservice if you deny to make things easier for yourself. The world of work is changing and many who work in certain manufacturing jobs are simply not needed (see Manufacturing jobs delusion). This has nothing to do with Mexico or illegal immigrants. In this case, the culprit is technology and efficiency. Nearly any type of work including teaching is likely vulnerable. We all would like to believe new approaches that make use of technology are not as good. Educators are not unique in this regard. If the comparison was between a tutor and existing educational technology, i would agree. However, this is not reality – even now. You must use group-based instruction because there is one of you. Some kids are always ignored no matter how hard you try. The level of content you present is always too difficult or already mastered by some students. You are not functioning as a tutor. Like most jobs – all existing employees will not be gone. There will end up being fewer people and more technology. Many fields including education will move toward effectiveness and efficiency. Those who remain will be the more capable and will be paid significantly more. The numbers of this group will simply be smaller.

I have included educators here so my argument will not be assumed to be focused on those who work with their hands rather than their heads. You can ignore me if you wish, but I think the trend is obvious and inevitable. If the U.S. does not adapt, it will be left behind. Complain about iPads and iPhones being manufactured by Foxconn in China all you want. The skilled labor there was less expensive and the skilled labor there is being replaced by robots. Expensive, inexperienced American line workers against Chinese robots and supply chain advantages, not even close. Remember John Henry the steel driving man was really just wishful thinking.

Time to invest more in education and to accept that any one of us will ever finish school. The employable individual is already a moving target. I fear it is far more than this and this will really scare you. I doubt we really have meaningful work for all possible workers. We have tried to increase consumption of stuff we really don’t need, but this approach has really reached a limit and is also extremely wasteful of resources and damaging to the environment. We very likely need far earlier retirement and acceptance of a different view of a meaningful life. Significant attention to equity will be necessary in this reality and I see no way to create the necessary conditions without a greater role for government.

Less government, blame the other, tell people what they want to hear worked for now. However, these strategies have worked because of selfishness and they have only made the underlying conditions more damaging. The hole is getting deeper.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Digging a deeper hole is the wrong approach

Even conservatives are free to give it a try

There are some ideas so flawed and uninformed that they reach the threshold of ridiculously funny. I have found an example.

Some Iowa politician is concerned that the major Iowa universities are too liberal and he suggests that information should be collected when making hires to offer a more “balanced” perspective. The proposed bill is described by NBC News.

First, a full disclosure. I grew up and was educated in Iowa. I received a Ph.D. from one of the schools mentioned.

As part of my adult work as a college professor (Yes, I suppose I am a liberal.) I spent 17 years as ad administrator. I have been responsible for and participated in many hiring processes. The idea that any committee responsible for recommending to a department and college the individual that should be hired based on any consideration of political philosophy is beyond possibility.

We attempt to hire based on the job skills we are seeking. These attributes include research skills, existing academic accomplishments, teaching skills, potential as a grant author and such expectations.

WE ARE NOT ALLOWED TO ASK. (a very small sample)

  • Are you married?
  • Would your husband try to move here?
  • Do you have children?
  • Do you attend church?
  • Do you smoke or drink?

The list goes on and on and whether an issue is on the list or not the directive is quite clear. You are looking for someone with THE BEST ACADEMIC qualifications – teaching, research, service.

Have I ever had to ask a faculty member whether he/she had asked a forbidden questions? Yes, there are some folks who have difficulty following the rule, but the focus on productivity is really the goal.  There are certainly disagreements over candidates and which individual would be most productive. I can honestly say in 39 years as a faculty member that a hiring process ever included even a comment related to whether a candidate was a Republican or Democrat.

Higher ed is a competitive meritocracy. We compete based on performance to get hired and to receive merit pay adjustments and promotion. Yes, we can become tenured and that might be assumed by some to allow one to just slide along. Again, a lack of understanding so often exists. Tenure assures only your present salary for acceptable performance. If you cannot generate good student ratings, publish, attract students, generate grant applications, you cannot compete. The salary of a 30-year-old professor who has already spent 8 years putting in time in an attempt to be hired is not that great. What would you like to be making when you are 50? The allocation is fixed and you compete to get your share year by year.

So, you compete to get into graduate school. You compete to be one of those who gets hired. You compete year by year for salary. There are no guarantees and many fail along the way. There are not a lot of jobs and the system is not always fair. Still, the opportunity is OPEN TO ALL willing to compete.

So, what about this system is biased? Beats me. The system over generates individuals capable of a reasonable level of success at every stage. Many students who might succeed do not get into grad school. Many capable graduate school graduates do not get jobs and certainly not university-level jobs. This is the reality.  It is hardly a soft system. The system does not really care if you are a rich kid or a church-goer. Your dad and mom’s money may increase the quality of the school you attend and whether or not you have to work while there. So, if this is the system selects or maybe generates a disproportionate number of liberals, so be it.

Anyone, you included, are free to give it a try – conservative, liberal or whatever. No one will ask your party affiliation. You have eight years to invest?


Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Even conservatives are free to give it a try

The war on data

[Note – I have included some translations because I don’t want to be misunderstood or dismissed as an elitist using data.]

Most citizens have moved on beyond the issue of the election polls. If pollsters really failed in this case in contrast to their accuracy in such a high majority of previous cases, those who work in such fields really need to understand, consider, and adjust.

Here is why? Republican pundits have begun explaining away the abysmal Trump approval ratings as due to the same failed pollster performance that resulted in the inaccurate election prediction.

Were the pollsters wrong? Well, I remember the final prediction was that Hillary would win by 4%. She won by 2%. The statisticians would say this was an accurate prediction as the difference was within the margin of error [translation – this is like horse shoes and close does count]. It gets far more complicated when it comes to combining the predictions from multiple states.

Whatever. Still, the overall pollster prediction was accurate. Hence, claims that an overall assessment of Trump performance as the lowest for any new president is somehow inaccurate because the previous election prediction was inaccurate is simply not true (translate – it is a lie). Neither predicted election vote totals nor approval ratings were measured inaccurately.

Translation – The people have concluded that Trump sucks no matter how you try to spin it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on The war on data

Expectations of secondary education

I think many people have little insight into the complexity of secondary (high school) education – the diversity of students and the ever increasing expectations for what is to be accomplished on limited budgets. This recent Washington Post article indicating that quality manufacturing jobs exist, but U.S.-born workers are not available in sufficient numbers to fill them.  It was the comments made in response to this article that resulted in these comments about the unfair expectations placed on our public schools.

How many high schools would be able to offer the sophisticated curriculum and have the equipment to prepare high school students to take sophisticated welding and robotic assembly jobs. What would this cost if appropriate for high school students and how many students in a given school would be interested.

I certainly agree as a college professor teaching some freshman classes that many students are not prepared for college and maybe would never be suited to the courses we offer. However, what is it that critics expect. Students want to attend and they have certain goals in mind. It is not our role to deny them the opportunity to try. There is great pressure from parents to allow their kids the chance to try. I know the odds of success, but if the parents want to spend the money the public kind of determines that many unqualified students be allowed to give it a shot. Denying access based on high school GPA or test scores brings all kinds of criticism.  We deny access to students with a likely high failure rate and we are wrong. If a high percentage of such students do not survive the first year, we are wrong. We can’t claim students know things and can do things when they can’t. We can’t win.

My university offered an Industrial Technology program with resources that were quite sophisticated. A couple of faculty members were friends of mine. I knew their struggles and despite the rise of the oil industry in North Dakota a decision to close the program for lack of interest.

So, it annoys me when uninformed critics of education place the blame on secondary schools and higher education. Educational institutions are big on allowing students to make decisions that end up determining what their preparation for work will be. If students are not interested in certain fields (e.g., computer science, industrial technology), you need to take a look at the values that cause those who might be involved to make other decisions.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Expectations of secondary education

Thanks for making America GREAT

Thank-you scientists for making American great. You seem shy and unwilling to be self-promoters so I will try to help. I suppose you are introverts by nature. Without your discoveries and the efforts of educators to bring these advances to the general public, this country would not enjoy the competitive advantage that it does. We seem to be entering a time when your discoveries are being discounted because the truth can be inconvenient to certain segments of the economy. Taking advantage of short-term benefits at the cost of future problems is shameful. Hang in there – reality has a way of making itself evident sooner or later. Let us hope this happens before efforts to recover are no longer possible.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Thanks for making America GREAT

Is real world knowledge inert when acting politically?

I have come to the use of the concept of inert knowledge as a way to understand political thinking and conceptual change theory as a remedy. I recognize that these ideas may be foreign to most, but if you are willing to tolerate a little background information I will get to my application of these ideas.

Different settings serve as memory retrieval cues for different information and conceptual models. This claim has been most thoroughly investigated when it comes to “common sense” understanding of various scientific phenomena versus formal science as taught in school.  So, think of the “real world” as a retrieval cue and “the classroom” as a retrieval cue.  One cue activates common sense and one formal knowledge. The interesting thing and frustrating thing to those of us who study learning is that inconsistent beliefs can be held by the same person and the beliefs that seem to be in play outside of the classroom are not those that reflect what might be described as the best representation of “the truth”. In other words, people can act in the real world in a certain way even though they “know better”. This is not necessarily a purposeful thing as might be implied when truth does not serve personal needs (e.g., climate change representing an inconvenience to actions a person wants to take), but rather that relevant information is simply not available to consciousness when it might be applied. The phrase inert knowledge is sometimes used to describe this situation. A person has relevant knowledge but fails to think of it (remember it, be aware of it) when it should be applied.

Researchers demonstrate some of these issues in interesting ways. If people are approached with a real world science problem without reference to what they have learned in school, they might give an incorrect response to a related question. If, however, they are simply told that “you might have studied this when you discussed electricity in high school or whatever the appropriate field of study might be” and then asked the same question, their answers change to be more accurate. So, it is clear they knew better but failed to use the information they have when it would have been appropriate.

So, one of the problems in education is that it is not enough to teach accurate information and ways of understanding the world. You have to somehow get rid of the flawed information and models that may exist because of personal experience and personal interpretation of such experiences. This clearly does not happen just because more useful information is provided. This is where the idea of conceptual change theory becomes useful. This theory proposes that it is necessary to activate existing flawed information before presenting contradictory information. If learners are not forced into a situation that makes clear their flawed existing knowledge, they will likely continue to held such flawed beliefs and if this flawed information is more likely activated by real world situations continue to apply such flawed beliefs.

I think these concepts can be applied far more broadly than science education. I started thinking about inert knowledge and the lack of conceptual conflict as a way to understand political behavior. For example, how could “conservative Christians” possibly accept a candidate with sexist, racist and misogynistic attitudes and behavior. Would they be willing to exhibit such behaviors themselves or tolerate them in their spouse or children? Would they even be willing to utter the phrase “I grabbed her by the pussy”? Would they be comfortable should such comments come up in conversations with their friends? Would they dismiss such attitudes as irrelevant in family members or friends or would the openness of such attitudes change the nature of their relationships?

Trying to work this out for myself, I came up with two options. The first is a willingness to ignore such traits and to assume such traits have nothing to do with values that influence political action. Taking this position implies a willingness to tolerate and accept such behavior because there are bigger and more important issues to consider. The political opponent represents such a terrible set of personal characteristics and proposed actions that a person with attitudes of a sexist, racist, misogynistic person is still the lesser of two evils. This makes no sense to me personally because even if I could ignore the personal behavior I believe the core values such behavior indicates are quite troubling and will be related to actions taken. Personal values predict behavior.

The second option is the inert knowledge model I have attempted to explain. This proposes that politics represents one mind set and real life another. Activating the political perspective brings with it values and priorities that are different than the values and priorities that are personally applied in daily life. This interpretation allows a way to interpret such behavior, but like the flawed belief systems educators must address in the classroom, this interpretation does not suggest that this separation is ideal. It may be personally useful as a self-protection mechanism, but I believe that personal beliefs and political beliefs should be consistent. Again, raising flawed beliefs and showing the inconsistencies with real life beliefs would seem the appropriate approach to change.

I do think like a psychologist and this influences how I understand and explain issues. Still, we all need to understand rather than avoid important issues and challenging others to explain the basis for their behavior seems a good way to start. Your explanations may be quite different than mine, but my challenge to you is that you generate some explanation you are willing to express.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Is real world knowledge inert when acting politically?

People like me

Educators are into talking about the importance of their PLN. Their personal learning network (PLN) is the folks they interact with to learn new things, share ideas, etc. I get the value of ed jargon – it makes common folks wonder what you are up to, but an obscure label applied to your group does not by itself accomplish much.

I think PLNs are self-forming and as a consequence are typically actually PLMs. A PLM is my clever take on the PLN but in grabe-speak stands for People Like Me. If your group is really a PLM, you are likely having a good time, but not really changing much about how you think about your profession.

Groups with a common perspective tend to move toward a more extreme view of that perspective. This is social psych conclusion of what happens when groups consist of people like me rather than a mix of people with different knowledge and assumptions. Two groups made up of individuals with internally consistent, but externally inconsistent beliefs grow further apart rather than find ways to integrate what is good about their initial positions. This how a group bias generates extremism. To be heard within a group with common beliefs, you have to argue for a more extreme position of the existing belief systems. Sorry for getting all science of group behavior on you, but this is the way things work.

Piaget, that champion of constructivists everywhere, might explain it this way. A PLN that is a PLM is for assimilation. Real change comes from accommodation – challenges that cause you to change your core models of the world and not just add more to an existing way of thinking.

Ask yourself, does your PLN ever engage in argumentation? Does your group have individuals who challenge your beliefs and not just whether you have read the same book they are reading? Do they get you to use the same motivational phrases they use? Are they into innovation, teaching like a pirate, or hacking this or that?

It is a PLM isn’t it?

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on People like me

Maybe the answer is simple – nobody really cares

I continue to be troubled by the DeVos appointment. It makes no sense. I cannot come up with a justification for putting an amateur in this position no matter how hard I try. Shake things up if offered as an explanation by some, but if you wanted to shake things up come up with a candidate with a plan for at least a couple of relevant issues. Kids are important is not a plan. Pretty much everyone sees things that way. Some think it is worth an investment, but that is a different issue.

I do think I have an explanation. I had to fall into complete depression to realize what is most likely the truth. Politicians don’t really care about education. Of course, it is about kids and our future as a nation and all, but education is complex, nothing seems to make much difference and everyone complains about the cost. So maybe the conclusion is that no one can really make a difference one way or another. The economy – that is important. The military – that is important. The environment (sorry bad example) – oil is more important. Most positions require someone with a clue. Why not use the ed position to reward someone who has been loyal and gives a lot of money? Why risk the ire of the party for going against the POTUS for such an unimportant post?

Am I right Senator Hoeven?

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Maybe the answer is simple – nobody really cares