Friday, June 24, 2011

Your Input Needed

We at the Gardner Institute (meaning Carol and Rob) thought it might be a fun, Friday diversion to compile a list of movies that have a higher-ed theme or component to them.  After exhaustive research (at the water cooler) we have assembled our list and now reach out to you, our colleagues, to contribute your findings. 

This is what we have so far…

Some of Our Favorite Movies with a Higher-Education Component
Toy Story 3 (*sniff*)
Good Will Hunting (a STEM theme as well)
It’s a Wonderful Life (everyone in Bedford Falls gets a college education except George Bailey)
The Nutty Professor (the original w/Jerry Lewis)
The Graduate (there is still a great future in plastics…if they are compostable)
Legally Blond (no stereotypes in this one)
Animal House (today’s version might substitute snuggies for togas)
Revenge of the Nerds (the greatest movie ever made…with Ted McGinley)

 We look forward to receiving your additives!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

In Some Important Ways I Have Not Left Home

John N. Gardner

Since 1986 every summer I have looked forward to travelling to an international location to participate in a conference series I founded in 1986: the University of South Carolina’s International Conferences on The First-Year Experience (IFYE). This post is written on the eve of the opening of the 24 annual IFYE Conference in Manchester, UK. I would be less than honest if I didn’t acknowledge that one of the things I look forward to most is the opportunity to return to the United Kingdom, a country I am comfortable in, knowledgeable and respectful of, and where our IFYE series began.This  year I have returned and have been having this nagging and disappointing realization that in some ways I have not left home.

Here are some similarities between our two cultures that tell me we have “converged” and are not nearly as distinct as we were when I started this series in 1986:

1. The Brits have emulated the US in funding student participation in higher education through personal debt acquisition on the part of students. What was essentially “free” higher education to the student in Britain in 1986 my first year of offering a conference for this higher education culture, now averages 9000 pounds or more than $14,000 of out-of-pocket cost to the student and his/her family.

2. British students have come to regard higher education as a consumer commodity not a privilege and hence have become very critical of what they are paying for. The government has been tracking the increase in reported unresolved complaints filed by students against their universities. In the week I arrived in the UK the government “named and shamed” the two universities with the highest rates of failing to resolve student complaints.

3. Both countries are dealing with huge national government deficits exacerbated and essentially caused by financial deregulation and mismanagement of the investment and speculative real estate sectors.

4. Both countries are pursuing a conservative ideology, not based on any facts or proven track record, that reduction of taxes and governmental operating costs will promote economic growth

5. Both countries are punishing the working middle class and the poor, blaming them for the economic ills by attacking national health systems, and government funded pension systems for government employees.

6. In effect, both countries have shifted the blame for the economic meltdown from the affluent financial ruling class to the working and non working middle and lower classes. In both countries this represents a spectacular rewriting of recent history.

7. Both countries have massively cut national subsidies to local/regional governments, leading to widespread public service cutbacks at the local level.

8. Both countries are cutting back the social safety net for the least powerful, the poor, the sick, the infirmed.

9. In Britain the evolution of the modern welfare state, developed after World War II has been brought to a screeching halt. In the US, which never had a real “modern welfare state”, the effort to create a “kindler, gentler nation” through such popular initiatives as Social Security and Medicare, has been under massive attack from right wing ideologues. The outcome for both is very uncertain.

10. In Britain, an effort by the Conservative coalition government to “privatize” the extremely popular NHS, National Health System, has had to be compromised and called back, just as one party in the US has had to backtrack after a proposal to privatize Medicare bombed with the overwhelming majority of the American public.

11. Unlike Britain, though, only the US is firing its public school teachers in huge numbers and truly rolling back the clock on “public” support of education.
In summary, I am finding it is harder for me to get away even for a few days from the things that trouble me back home. For better or worse,  the US driven system of global capitalism is wreaking similar havoc all over the world and is trumping all other value systems. This suggests to me that more than ever we need in US higher education to be challenging our students who will lead our next generation to examine the fundamental values systems on which we are making our most important political choices.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The International FYE Movement Continues

John N. Gardner

I don’t have any idea how many of my readers have founded something and left it as a legacy to  successors. But in my case, one of the things I am most proud of and pleased with is the job my successors in the USC National Resource Center at the University of South Carolina (Stuart Hunter, Nina Glisson, Jennifer Keup, and their conference organization team) have done to institutionalize, sustain, and expand the series of International Conferences on The First-Year Experience which I founded in 1986.
This week we offer our 24th International Conference, this one hosted in Great Britain as many of them have been previously, in Manchester. This meeting will follow a meeting of a spin off organization, the European FYE Conference series. One of the most important and useful outcomes of our series has been to serve as a catalyst for a European adaptation of which we are also most proud.

As approximately 250 delegates convene from 23 countries, they will represent the higher education systems of:

South Korea
Republic of Ireland
New  Zealand
People’s Republic of China (Hong Kong)
Republic of South Africa
Sri Lanka
United Arab Emirates
United Kingdom
United States

To me this international representation represents many things:
1. The “convergence factor” of increasing similarities in all societies seeking to expand access to tertiary education
2. The institutionalization of the so-called “first-year experience” movement
3. A testimony to the powerful pioneering role played by the University of South Carolina in organizing the first convenings on this topic
4. The fact that the “FYE” increasingly has taken on some elements of disciplinary status, one of them being international ownership, scholarship, research, publication, and practical applications.

So if any of my readers are on campuses where there are still questions about the legitimacy of these efforts to improve success of first-year students, this conference series development is one more piece of evidence of the legitimacy of this academic undertaking, now in its third decade of international outreach.