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Friday, June 26, 2020

A free advice to a University President

A free advice to a University President
(the one who still has the sense of perspective)

On June 24, 2020, the Boston University community was immersed in a discussion on racism. Thousands of students, faculty and staff have joined in “A Day of Collective Engagement: Racism and Antiracism, Our Realities and Our Roles” .

My participation was twofold:

I. My note for a reflection zoom meeting:

I was born and grew up – socially, psychologically and professionally – in a different country. When I moved in the U.S. I was a fully formed adult and a successful professional.

It did not take too long time to notice the existence of racism.

And it did not take too much time to realize that the racism in America has a systemic and a systematic nature, and it was deliberately designed that way.

I did not do much about it – I voted in elections, I did my best to help my students to master math and physics, and I developed proposals to the administrations to provide a targeted help to struggling students.

Evidently, I was not alone not doing mach. It took massive protests all across America before Boston University administration decided to get engaged. So, I am in a good company.

And I find very difficult to believe that a large number of intelligent people did not know about the racism in America.

So, when I see or hear someone who says that he or she did know that the racism in America existed or was so strong, I think of that person as either a very clueless person, or a liar.

For me “I did not know we had such strong racism in America” sounds like “Wow, I did not know that in order to live I have to breathe! I've been asleep, and now I am awoken!”.

The folk wisdom says “The beautify is in the eye of the beholder” - it means, people see what they want to see. It also means, people do not see what they don't want to see (the #1 reason America now in such a dire state).

From my point of view, anyone who still needs convincing that the racism in America exists, that the racism in America is systemic and systematic and is deliberately designed that way, simply should not be a part of this conversation.

From my point of view, for adult educated people, it is pointless to discuss if racism exists – the discussion needs to be focused on what to do about it.

I have my opinions on the matter – political and practical.

My political opinion is described in my publication The Only Way To Defeat White Nationalism Is To Embrace “Black Nationalism”.

My practical approach was proposed the first time about a decade ago, as described in my morning letter (below).

II. My morning letter for the main section (since July 24 this letter was edited and a little bit expanded).

About a decade ago BU was buzzing about teaching gifted students. At the time, I wrote a proposal, where I motioned that teaching gifted students is a no-brainier – just give them more material, more advanced/interesting material, more flexibility and set time for guiding/mentoring. However, I wrote, on the other end of the spectrum there are students who struggle with such subjects like physics. In my proposal I suggested establishing/designing special learning activities to support those exact students. I proposed to set-up specific support groups at a department level, because BU Student resource center does not differentiate students who need more help from students who need less help. I offered to create one or two special discussion/lab sections with an instructor leading those sections, who is not a grad student making a living, but someone experienced in educational practices for struggling students.

This project did not find any support.

Despite the fact that according to statistics the majority of struggling students come from economically depressed areas, including communities of minorities.

Two years ago I developed a proposal called “The layered classroom”.

Two years ago this proposal was rejected.

Today it is rebranded as “Learn From Anywhere”. But the community has lost two years that could have been used on testing and advancing the approach. when the pandemic forced everyone to go to switch to online/remote format, the vast majority of faculty were like, well, this ...

Administration could have avoided this by investing into experimenting with new forms of teaching.

Reacting to developed circumstances (e.g. a pandemic) is only one function of management that has only one goal – surviving. The true management is not reactive, it is pro-active, it aims into the future.

But for a management - investing into something = caring about it. Having resources and not investing = ... (you do the math).

These are only two of the examples from my list of the proposals rejected by the BU administration – proposals that could have been helpful for advancing learning experience of BU students, starting from the students from the communities of minorities.

For more than a decade (!) I was reaching out to the BU Board members, to the President, to the Dean, to another Dean, to the top managers of various entities related to improving education practices.Of course, I started from the very bottom, and was gradually moving up, I assessed ALL levels of management.

And on every single occasion I was turned down. But more importunately - not once, not a single time, someone would be able to offer a specific reason, an explanation why my project, idea, proposal would not work for students, no one was able to show any logical deficiency, a contradiction, a “bug” - no one, not once, never.

Despite the fact that NOW the same people are embracing the ideas I presented years ago (my retirement memoir “The University Where It Happened”, or “The President Who Did It All” will be thick from a decade of documented conversations).

And this is supposed to be the community of scientists, i.e. people who (1) should be able to provide a logical counter argument and (2) value the priority of an idea.

Many of those people did not become scientists because they wanted to study science; for them science was the easiest and the least risky path to a life success. They were born in a good family, grew up in a nice neighborhood, attended a good school. And they didn't have to make a single life-or-death decision in their life.

Many of those people represent the embodiment of “White Privilege”.

How do I know?

I'm one of them.

Just in the country where I was born and grew up people don't use this term “White Privilege” – people just say “good luck”.


Only my good luck was completely crashed – twice – the 1st time when Perestroika destroyed USSR and the economy, and the 2nd time when I moved to Boston. I know what a real struggle means and how it feels, and, trust me, it's very different from struggling for getting an NSF grant.

A note: only in America (among developed countries) a good luck or a bad luck is associated with the color of a skin. For a long time, the white population of America didn't want to admit this as a fact. However, over the last 30 years the economic condition of millions of white Americans has been declining and eventually reached the level of African Americans. When that happened, white Americans revolted against the system and elected Barack Obama. But Obama did not deliver on his promise of change and white Americans revolted again and elected Trump.

Economic decline coupled with the pandemic started affecting the livelihood of many university and  college faculty and administrators.  Many switched into a survival mode: from “anything for being promoted” to “anything for not being demoted or left behind”. This switch is especially noticeable in  administrators of all levels. The number one rule for any administrator now is “don't make a wave”; and #2 is “show your loyalty” – meaning – don't just be loyal – show it! With the aging President fixated on his legacy these two rules make wonders.

Disagree with me? 

Prove me wrong.

Don't just say it.

Prove it.
 

The long list of rejected proposals proves one simple fact: BU administrations does not really care about providing all students, including students from minority communities, with the best learning experience. Those people may feel like they care, they may think that they care, the may say it out loud that they care - but the don't. BU administration treats students like a “cash cow” (tuition comprises the majority of the BU income).

Don't believe me? How about some investigative video journalism?



NB: Human actions obey the laws of human activities with the same certainty as all natural objects obey the laws of physics (there are professional development programs based on those laws). According to those laws “caring about learning experience of students” does not mean saying “I care”. According to those laws “caring about learning experience of students” means acting in a specific ways, it means “using all available resources - human and physical - to maximize the learning outcomes, to minimize the possible negative effects, and to optimize the satisfaction of students with the process and with the results”. Hence, the fact of having an opportunity to use some resource - human or physical - and making a conscious decision for NOT using that resource proves the fact of NOT caring. In management, “caring” begins from establishing (1) specific (2) measurable (hence - open) criteria of the success of that management. No (1) specific (2) measurable criteria - no “caring”.

I know that I made a very risky statement that may lead to a retaliation (I'll keep you posted if that happens). But that statement is not an emotional outburst, not at all - that statement is a scientific conclusion based on facts and laws.

This is the thought process of the Boston university administration. “We need to invest in the development of the university. Will we use money to build a new building? Yes. Will we use money for more on-street advertising? Absolutely! Do we invest in projects that will elevate learning experience of students? Mmm. No, it’s not worth it. What if students struggle, especially those who came from minority and economically depressed communities? How many do we have of those? Just a few? Let instructors take care of it, there is no need to divert any university resources.”

Of course, I can only reconstruct the discussion on the matter, but actions speak louder than words.

As long as students do not complain – no one really has any interest in making any improvements in the way students are taught. The prevailing mode is – imitation.

No wonder it took for the administration more than a decade and massive protest across America to decide to get engaged – and not in the best manner.

There are several entities that are supposed to demonstrate how BU is advancing educational practices. But those entities are managed by people who are incompetent in the field of advancing educational practices, or in the field of education in general (see P.P.S.). For example, they believe that “enlightening faculty about right things to do” is an equivalent of “managing”.

The very event organized on June 24th is another proving point to my statement.

The summer term is a very intense term. Many students struggle in the summer. Especially students who do not have a strong background, and that includes many students who come from minority communities. For those students everyday counts. 

My syllabus was developed in a such a way that on Friday, June 26th, I would finish the material that would allow students to finish all homework problems over the weekend, and then begin direct preparations for the final exam. However, because one day was lost to the event, that material is being moved to Monday. Now, students will have twice less time to finish all the homework and practically no time for the preparations for the final exam.

But there was not a single administrator from the department level to the very top who would care about such a little thing like “teaching” and “learning”. They all had a bigger fish to fry - to demonstrate to the whole world how caring they are about racial inequality and injustice. They had a decade to do that, but turned out the best day for being engaged is at the end of the Summer semester. So, the administration decided to take a full day out of the students' learning. And BTW: in the summer, students pay about $80 per each working day. Now they all lost $80 and had to spend a day without any support. Despite the fact that the finals are almost here, and the same event could have been scheduled for July 2nd – between the semesters. The fact of the matter is that university students simply have no one who would advocate their interests (or who would have the b@lls to go against the President). 

This is why I would like to ask BU administration – of all levels – stop pretending that you care about teaching students.

 Start caring.

 Don’t just talk about it – DO something.



P.S.

From this day forward, the BU policy should be “Drop At Any Time”. Administration needs to prove that BU is not about making money of students, but about giving to students all opportunities to learn. And if BU was not able to provide that opportunity to a student – that student can cancel his or her participation at any time without any penalty. This will make students at easy. But even better - this will attract more students! This is a trivial marketing move – like “100 % money back guarantee” (or course, that would mean that when the administration says “We provide the top quality education” - the administration would really mean it and not would not be afraid to be responsible for the words it says). However, instead of making students feel easier and more confident, BU administration made summer students feel even more anxious – by removing a “pass-fail” credit option. It is a commonly known fact that for the majority of students fully online learning is harder than on-site learning. Otherwise the completion rates for MOCCs would not be so dismal, i.e. 5 to 15 %. And yet, the administration says to students: “Students – we know you will have to work harder, but we don’t care. We will not create for you any support network, we will not provide for you any flexibility in taking a course. If you fail – it is solely your fault, or of your instructor”. 

BU policy should not be just “Learn From Anywhere”, 
but first and foremost
“Drop At Any Time”! (a free management consultation)

You're welcome!

The administration does not seem to understand that in order to provide a special support to some categories of students (e.g. minorities), it must advance the learning practices to all students. It is like developing a new medical treatment - it should be developed for everyone, but at first it should be offered to the most vulnerable, to the most in need. 

The administration also does not seem to understand the procedural and psychological differences between on-site learning/teaching and remote/online learning/teaching. Those people do not even know the actual difference between “remote” and “online”! No wonder some students want their money back. 
There is a common view that remote/online forms of learning/teaching will never be able provide the same quality of learning/teaching as on-site forms. First, it that is a case, then the administration should return money to students, at least some of it. I would advise to reduce the to students taking remote/online classes by 20 %. That is fair, and also that will attract more students to that form of participation.

However:

1. there is no data that would support he claim about low quality of remote/online forms of learning/teaching - in fact, there is no data about the quality of teaching - period; administration does not WANT to have such data. The existing data do NOT measure the quality of teaching, do NOT measure the actual learning outcomes, do NOT establish any correlations between various parameters that affect learning - all the existing data show is the fact that many students do not like learning from an outside.

2. if required data would exist, they would show that the low quality of remote/online forms of learning/teaching is mostly the result of a very poorly designed remote/online classes. BTW: that issue could have been significantly reduced if two years ago the administration would have given my “The Layered Classroom” project a green light.

 P.P.S.
There is no law that requires people to be nice. There is a law that requires people to be polite – e.g. no one can call anyone offensive names. Calling someone “incompetent” is not a violation of a law. I have M.S in Theoretical Physics. But I have never been doing physics. Hence, if I would say something about how a physicists should do physics I could be called incompetent – because I am – in that field. But in my field – education – I am both – an expert and a professional. And one of my professional competencies and responsibilities was to assess, audit, estimate the professional level of teachers and educational administrators. This is why when I call an educator “incompetent” that is not my opinion, that is a professional statement based on certain expert criteria. Of course, someone may reject my expertise because it makes him/her feel upset. Well, there are millions of American on the right end of a political spectrum who prefer personal opinions to expert evaluations. There is no reason for not having such people on the left, or in academia.

(have you noticed that Washington said “far better” - not just “better”?)

P.P.P.S


Greed - the American cancer that killed good management.
 


P.P.P.P.S.

Some people keep telling me that I am not a team player.

And I keep telling them that for more than a decade no one has ever wanted me in any team. Despite the undeniable proof of my high professional skills and qualities as an educator.

This fact is a clear reflection on those people - much more on them than on me.

Karl Marx said that the proletariat has nothing to lose except the chains.

This is a good illustration of my situation.

I do not break any laws, I do not break any rules, my actions are open, honest, clear and caring about students - every act and every word is about students. If some people get upset - they may take a look in a mirror and ask - why?

No one ever asked himself/herself – “maybe that guy is onto something, he has some extraordinary student evaluations and a very divers professional experience in education, let's take a closer look at his reasons, at his logic, maybe with his knowledge, experience and expertise in education  he could be helpful more in a different capacity?”

That has never happened, and based on my decade long observations will never happen, because I am uncomfortable.

If people value comfort much more than professionalism, maybe, in the end, those people and I are not a good fit, anyway.

For many years I was expressing my desire to become a member of a team of BU educators.

It is clear to me that this is not going to happen. I was, and is, and will be my own team.

But I still can make BU better by using the power of a pen.


Even if someone else takes my idea - at least it will be used for the better of BU.

So far, my actions were able to find the support from my students.

Maybe this time I will lose that support.

Maybe this time my evaluations will be awful (that would be expected for my very first fully designed fully remote course - I will know that around July 11).

If that happens, I will be the first to accept that I was wrong.

But what if a miracle will happen, and my evaluations will be good - again?

Will the administration be able to accept that the administration made a mistake?

I can tell with the complete certainty – no.



P.P.P.P.P.S.


Dear ______ (top administrator)

I was informed about certain negativity you expressed regarding the way I participated in the Day of the Common Engagement.

I would prefer having a face-to-face communication on the matters related to my professional performance.

As I said many times to many people - I answer for every word I say/write and I have nothing to hide.

Even when the USSR was ruled by communists, common people still  could follow an established procedure to meet their rulers.

But, as we all are observing right now, America has a very own and very specific understanding of democracy and free speech.

Probably, this is why I was hinted that my way of participating in the Day of the Common Engagement may even lead to losing my job.

Well, this is one way to deal with the source of a discomfort.

There are other ways as well, however in 16 years of my work at Boston University, I have not met a single administrator who would be aware of those other ways (and -believe me - I tried).

The goal of this letter is just to inform you about the existence of a longer and much more detailed version of my original engagement letter to you and to the community.

I don't expect you to read it, but I feel obligated to inform you about its existence.

I know that you are a very busy person - everybody else is at home collecting $600 a week for doing nothing.

But, in a case that I am making a mistake here,

Please feel free to reach out,

Best wishes,

Dr.Valentin Voroshilov

An excerpt from a conversation:
- Why do you write all this stuff? Never write to any administrator! First, no one will ever read it. Second - people will only get angry with you, or think you are crazy, and no one will ever listen to you because they will think you are nuts”.
- You just proved my point. People are incapable of stepping over their emotions and they judge others only based on a rank and comfort, and ignore professional  skills and expertise. Or - they don't care.”
- No, I didn't prove anything.”
- “Well, you just proved my point, again.”

 Let's try to analyze the logic of my opponent.

If no one will ever read it - then why bother trying to stop me from writing?

If someone will read it and get emotional - at least there is a chance that some of my logic may drip into the administrator's mind - even without his/her conscious action.

The premise of my opponent is very clear - BU administrators are so shallow and so narrowly visioned that they simply cannot accept the slightest possibility that someone who does not belong to their close circle may provide something worthwhile of their time; those people will never accept any information that does not come to them via proper channels (= people). And if not a proper person is interacting with those administrators - they get angry and vengeful.

Probably, that is an absolutely correct picture.

What makes me sad”, is the realization that all those movies, hundreds of them, like this one
https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0093936/
are complete and utter
https://giphy.com/explore/complete-and-utter-bullshit

NB: anyone who is familiar with the general theory of  social changes (here is an example) knows that the processes in an average large organization mimic (reflect, similar to) the processes happening in a society as a whole. So, look at America, and scale it down to a university.  



This publication is a part of a long list of publications on the matter management in general and management in education.








































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