Archive for Thursday, January 13, 2011

Heard on the Hill: KU musicians arrive in Germany; small degree program story sparks reactions (again); law school graduates suffering in recession, too

January 13, 2011


Your daily dose of news, notes and links from around Kansas University.

• A KU group of musicians has made it over to Eutin, Germany, where they’ll be performing on Saturday.

I wrote earlier about their visit, which has attracted a fair bit of media attention in the country.

When I spoke with David Neely, KU’s symphony orchestra director, about the visit last month, he explained why the group had been garnering so much attention.

In essence, the city is almost viewing the group of seven KU musicians as a trial run for what could happen at the city’s annual music festival later in the summer, when the city could pay for a much larger group of about 75 KU students to attend.

KU would take enough students to put on an entire opera, and it could be seen as a way to revitalize a festival that’s been dwindling in recent years.

Neely said the media attention in Germany is attributable partly to a higher interest in the arts, but it also has a political element, as well.

A local trade organization is paying for the students to come over this time, Neely said, and state and local governments could provide funds for the potential return trip in the summer.

Here’s a video (fair warning, it’s mostly in German, with a few glimpses of KU students speaking English) that shows a little bit about what the seven musicians are doing in the country.

• I received a bit of feedback on my often-delayed small degree story that I finally got around to writing after covering the topic in detail in this space last month.

It’s always interesting to hear from folks after I write about a topic like this one that can be a sensitive one. I heard from a spokesman at the Kansas Board of Regents, who wasn’t particularly fond of the headline, “KU’s less popular state programs could be target of state review.”

He pointed out that the state — in the form of the regents staff — actually does review the programs already. And that’s not just the small programs. All of KU’s programs, along with each program at the other six state universities, are subject to regular regents review.

Another interesting thing that comes out of an article like this is what can happen when it gets picked up by other folks.

The website for Physics Today, which is a publication of the American Institute of Physics, noticed that physics was included in some of the programs with fewer bachelor’s degrees.

Their take on my article?

A headline said “Kansas University could stop offering physics and other less popular degree programs.”

While I guess that’s technically possible, I certainly never said that, and I haven’t yet heard a large groundswell of support for discontinuing the physics degree. It just happened to be on the list that KU created at my request. I think we’re still a long way away from being able to say that any of these degree programs are in danger. I’ve just been trying to track some of the movements that have gone on so far, and I’ll continue to keep one ear to the ground.

But something tells me that even if small degree programs do face consolidation and cutbacks, there will still be a way to earn a physics degree at KU.

• I’ve heard a lot of chatter about an interesting New York Times article about law schools recently.

It quotes law professors who say law schools are doing a disservice to their students by overstating the likelihood that students will get good jobs upon graduation. And it points out that the rankings of percentage of graduates employed that are used by U.S. News and World Report count all jobs the same — whether a law graduate is working at a high-powered law firm or waiting tables at Applebee’s.

In reality, the law profession seems to be suffering in the recession like the rest of us. And students are left with huge debt bills to pay.

It’s an interesting read, and I’d be curious to hear some thoughts from folks around here on it. Any suggestions for how I could take something out of this and look locally at KU?

• I take tips for Heard on the Hill from everyone, even the wait staff at Applebee’s. All you have to do is send me an e-mail at


Shardwurm 7 years, 5 months ago

"It quotes law professors who say law schools are doing a disservice to their students by overstating the likelihood that students will get good jobs upon graduation."

All colleges should be required to provide a disclosure stating the actual cost of the degree being pursued and what the payback is on the investment compared to a job in skilled labor (if there is one which in many cases there isn't.)

Of course they won't. If people knew how worthless many of the degree programs are there would be a lot more low-density degrees on the chopping block, and enrollment would go down.

The Education Industry doesn't want that. There are salaries to be paid.

question4u 7 years, 5 months ago

Why don't you provide the statistics if the universities won't? What possible reason can you have for withholding the numerical information that you've acquired? If "people" don't know the facts about these degree programs and you do, don't you care enough about people to tell them?

Paula Kissinger 7 years, 5 months ago

Students ? That's PhD Vera, my dear. They are only "students" in their German adventure.

Bob_Keeshan 7 years, 5 months ago

"It just happened to be on the list that KU created at my request."

Way to take responsibility for your article. The AIP post was an accurate synopsis of your piece.

ahyland 7 years, 5 months ago

Hi, Bob.

I see your point, I think, but I was mainly trying to say that it's probably pretty unlikely that KU will stop offering physics (like the post's headline said it might) just because it turned up on a list of programs I asked for using only one metric (fewer than 10 bachelor's degrees awarded on average per year over the last ten years).

Even in Missouri, the initial review was more specific than that. My aim was to provide a simple glimpse at the kinds of programs that generate few degrees per year.

And my larger goal has been to bring in additional context to show that's probably not a good way to evaluate these degrees (using bachelor's degrees alone, say).

I remain confident that any degree review before they decide to cancel programs (if they even get that far) will take into account that kind of context.

ashmole 7 years, 5 months ago

We should be looking at the effectiveness of the huge, mass-production degree programs rather than the small boutique ones. Lots of the folks in those small programs - Slavics, Russian and E European Studies, etc. - end up with good jobs with the government, the military, or international businesses because they have real skills. What happens to all the undergrads churned out with degrees in communications or psychology? I bet a larger percentage of those folks end up flipping burgers than do Physics and German grads. Is a degree being more popular mean that it is better academically or somehow serves the state better?

Boston_Corbett 7 years, 5 months ago

Exactly. For example "communication studies" Volume does not indicate quality.

SnakeFist 7 years, 5 months ago

That's an excellent point. The number of students isn't the issue: Psychology, english, history, etc. graduate large numbers of students who qualify for no specific jobs and benefit the state in no objectively quantifiable way.

Still, I'd like to see the physics department do something to make its degree program - and the entire field - more appealing. Maybe offer more non-math-based elective classes to get people interested.

akhmatova 7 years, 5 months ago

I completely understand what you're saying with Physics, but that's really not possible. There is a "Physics for Politicians" class that you can pass as your elective, but you have to use math. Learning Physics without any math is like learning Shakespeare through Spanish textbooks

SnakeFist 7 years, 5 months ago

I disagree. There are many great books and other works by respected physicists that translate complex problems into a language everyone can understand. If physicists want their work to be regarded as relevant to everyday life (as I believe it is), then they need to learn to communicate using everyday language. By offering more non-math-based elective classes, the department will better connect with students who otherwise take as little physics as possible.

"Astronomy Bizzare", for example, is concept- rather than math-based.

Other departments are slowly doing this as well. Washburn, for example, offers both calculus-based and non-calculus-based physical chemistry classes.

stealcloud 7 years, 5 months ago

I think the real problem is people entering college taking math 001 and math 002 and the subsequent watering down of classes related to the subject. When people start that far behind in their college career they never seem to catch up and the degree standards just seem to lower.

SnakeFist 7 years, 5 months ago

A law school graduate can always create his own job. You'd be surprised at how many buildings in KC are anthills of solo practitioners. Of course, many of them scrape by for the first few years - often soliciting clients on the courthouse steps to fix speeding tickets. A law degree is never a waste of time or money (though I'll never understand why anyone would pay more than in-state tuition at a public university) because the law impacts every area of life.

volunteer 7 years, 5 months ago

I never seen or heard of so many law grads who passed the Bar still playing the role of bartender or liquor store clerk or whatever their law school "spending money" job was. It is a wicked Recession, for sure.

One decider of law school enrollments told me that "transactionally" there should be room for these young attorneys (I had scolded "the system" for not restricitng enrollment as well as med schools do); it is "just the Recession" that is preventing them from practicing law in some fashion.

A former county attorney in Doniphan County (geographically the most extreme northeast corner county) told me over the summer that there had been an opening for an asst county attorney, but that the law grads who inquired started laughing when they discovered the salary was not in the mid-40's that they claim they were led to believe appropriate for the first year.

sleepy33 7 years, 5 months ago

You have to have a job in the low to mid 40's to pay back your $100k + loans and still pay the rent.

The job outlook for law grads has been in the decline in the KC metro area, even prior to the worst of the recession setting in. I graduated in 06, and knew several classmates who were looking for work for well over a year before they found anything. It is a supply and demand issue; you have KU, Washburn, MU and UMKC all churning out grads within a 150 mile radius of one another. That's at least 400 new grads a year, most of whom want to stay in the region. I know we're not losing attorneys at such a drastic rate that we can sustain enough jobs for everyone. Law school is a moneymaking industry, like anything else. They want your tuition dollars, and what you're able to do with your degree afterward is your problem.

okiedave 7 years, 5 months ago

An education is expensive and time consuming, but how would you like to be operated on by a self-proclaimed doctor for heart surgery that just decided to jump into the heart surgery business because he got tired of his welding job or be on trial for a serious crime you did not commit and be represented by a lawyer that hung out a shingle the day after he/she got tired of changing oil at a gas station, or have your kids being taught by a math teacher who did not know anything about math but was hired by the school district because he would work for the same amount of money that he/she was making waiting tables at taco tico. Educational institutions provide standards for competence and that is good. Unfortunately, an Education is more expensive than the product it provides to the student, largely due to the hiring of professors who do not teach but only are employed at large salaries to publish and bring prestige to the University, due to the universities desire to keep students far longer than necessary by curriculum requirements that could be circumscribed to core subjects.

coderob 7 years, 5 months ago

Sarcastic comment: yeah, we might as well close down the Physics and Astronomy department. It's been years since a KU graduate discovered Pluto, and look how that turned out.

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