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Humanities crises therapy

Once again the humanities are on our minds here at Heard on the Hill.

First, a mea culpa: A few weeks ago in a Journal-World article about the role of the humanities and liberal arts at Kansas University, we referenced a decrease of 210 undergraduate students enrolled in Kansas University’s theatre program from 2007 to 2012. As folks from the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences explained to me, the number did not accurately reflect the change in theatre students during the time period. The decrease from 2007 to 2012 reflected a reclassification of majors with the creation KU School of Art within arts and sciences. Where theatre and film majors had previously been counted together in the theatre department, they were now counted separately, shifting a large numbers of students away theatre to film on paper — but that didn't reflect actual interest in the major. Between 2009, when the School of Art was created, and 2012, undergraduate enrollment in theatre actually increased from 73 to 85. Our apologies for any confusion that caused.

The academic future of arts and humanities is an ongoing topic of conversation not just on the hill but across the country. But a New York Times op-ed article by Gary Gutting, a University of Notre Dame philosophy professor, argues that the crisis extends well beyond the college world. The inability of those interested in creating art or doing humanistic study to find an outlet in the economy is a national economic, cultural — perhaps even a moral — crisis in the country, Gutting writes. Making a living from writing, painting or playing music is all but impossible except for the extraordinarily good and very lucky elite.

If humanities doom and gloom in the media has gotten you down, though, Michael Gibbs Hill, a blogger with the Chronicle of Higher Education, has devised a "Humanities Crisis Mad Lib" to shine a bit of light on all the handwringing over humanities among journalists such as myself. Gibbs also happens to offer a resounding and nuanced defense of the humanities and their role in education.

But there are other crises in [adjective] need of a Mad Lib. You can [strong action verb] yours in to bunglesbee@ljworld.com. I'll happily take your KU news tips, too.

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A moody outlook for higher education industry

Higher education is education, but it's also an industry in this country. As evidence of that I would point to the fact that Moody's Investor's Service issues market outlooks for higher education. (Perhaps you remember Moody's from the run-up to the financial crisis, when it and other investment ratings agencies gave high seals of approval to the toxic mortgage-backed securities that blew up the economy.)

And Moody's view on the higher education industry the last couple years has been "mostly bleak," writes Scott Carlson from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

The service's most recent outlook for higher ed., issued this week, was negative once again. Moody's cited a weak economy, which hurts families' ability to pay for college, and political fights over the federal budget, which could decrease the student aid available.

The sluggish economy led to rising loan default rates, high unemployment and stagnant family income — all of which can hurt the revenues of schools. More expenses are coming up as well, after years of colleges and universities having avoided investments in human capital (i.e., raises and new hires) and infrastructure.

At Kansas University, total student enrollment is down for the fifth straight year, though the school had a 6.1 percent larger freshman class compared with last year. Along with federal battles over revenue, the university has also faced sharp cuts from the Kansas state government. With a $34.3 million decrease of funding for state schools over two years, Kansas is one of the few states in the U.S. to make outright cuts to higher education funding.

All these factors would seem to suggest that KU could keep struggling for a couple of years yet to regain previous enrollment levels, especially if tuition rates rise in response to state cuts. Lower levels will make it all the more difficult for the university to make capital investments.

See how easy that was? Maybe I should start my own investor outlook service. To subscribe to my outlooks, for a Moody's-esque price, or to send KU news tips, email me at bunglesbee@ljworld.com

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Post-tenure review 2.0

Some weeks ago we checked in on the ongoing construction of Kansas University's post-tenure review policy. After open forums around campus for faculty to weigh in, plus lengthy discussions in the Faculty Senate, the committee tasked with writing a policy has produced a new draft for faculty members and their representatives in the Senate to mull over.

This policy is considerably shorter — a direct response to concerns that the early draft was long, complicated and potentially onerous for the academic departments adopting it. The new version is about three pages long (single spaced), about a page shorter than the previous draft. For those who like the revised policy, Faculty Senate and draft committee co-chair Chris Crandall said thanks go to his fellow draft committee member Rick Levy for the word-smithing.

In addition to being shorter, the revamped policy nixes language about disciplinary actions, including dismissal, for faculty members who fail to satisfy an academic department's criteria. That is also a response to faculty concerns that the previous policy was unnecessarily punitive.

The new draft sticks mostly to language that is positive, describing the post-tenure review policy as encouraging "professional vitality through collaborative discourse concerning the faculty member's role" in his or her department, school and field. And the draft cuts out a reference from the last draft that reads "In some cases, post-tenure review may indicate the need for corrective action if the faculty member has failed to satisfy the (academic) unit's state criteria."

For those who took exception to references of "corrective action," they pointed to the original Kansas Board of Regents mandate calling for post-tenure review, which made no mention of punitive measures, stating rather that the review process was an opportunity for "identifying opportunities that will enable them to reach their full potential for contribution to the university."

The KU History Department, for example, published a statement that argued because the Regents made no mention of dismissal in its post-tenure review mandate, "the PTR policy should not introduce such measures."

Mike Williams, KU associate professor of journalism, said the draft committee "did a really pretty decent job to address some of the concerns of faculty." Williams is aware of the anxieties post-tenure review talk can kick up among faculty. The mere mention of "post-tenure review" can often "sends chills down the spines" of professors, especially those who fear it amounts a second tenure process. "That's not what this is," Williams says. "It's not that kind of deal."

There is also much anxiety about the rollout and timing of the policy — the "who goes first" question, as Williams points out. Others have continued to express concerns not about the new policy draft itself, but where it resides.

The Faculty Senate has previously expressed to administration that it wanted the policy to reside in its own book of rules and regulations. As it is designed, the post tenure review policy is set to become part of the university-wide policy library, putting it under the direct purview of administration. Many faculty members have expressed concerns that this would allow future administrators to change the policy without faculty approval or even knowledge.

"We want it to be in the faculty code, because for it to be changed one iota it would have to be approved by Faculty Senate," said Gerald E. Mikkelson, a KU professor of Russian and Eastern European studies. "The provost is not yielding one inch on the matter of where that policy will reside."

KU Provost Jeff Vitter has said the policy library is the best home for the post-tenure review policy because it relates to the evaluation policy, another personnel matter.

The Faculty Senate still has to debate the new draft and vote on it before it comes before administrators for their approval. The policy is slated to go into effect in April 2014.

Until then I'll keep rocking the post-tenure review updates. If it were legal, and not a flagrant violation of journalistic and most other kinds of ethics, I'd start taking odds on the Senate's passage of the post-tenure review policy. Well, I won't be taking bets, but I will be taking your KU news tips. Send them on over to bunglesbee@ljworld.com

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Get your dose of Depression-era economics tonight on the hill

Tonight at 7 in the Spencer Art Museum, Alexander Field, a professor of economics at Santa Clara University in California, will give a talk on the Great Depression and economic growth.

Field is the author of "A Great Leap Forward," a book that makes the case that technological progress during the 1930s helped pave the way for the post-World War II economic boom times. In an interview with New York Times blogger David Leonhardt, Field discusses how 1930s-era innovations in aviation, automobiles (including the electric transmission and power steering) communications (TV would be the big one there) and other fields helped the country succeed militarily in World War II and made later productivity leaps possible in the U.S. economy.

Field is coming as part of the Phi Beta Kappa's visiting scholar program. His talk is free and open to the public.

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The President of the Gaels returns to the hill

For Iona College President Joseph Nyre, Tuesday's men's basketball game between his school and the Kansas University Jayhawks was one part competition, one part homecoming. Nyre holds Ed.s (education specialist) and PhD degrees from the KU School of Education, and he met his wife at the university. Last night Nyre had to put aside his longtime affection for KU basketball to root for his Gaels.

"I've never rooted against them (the Jayhawks) until tonight," he said. (Unfortunately for Nyre, his rooting came to no end: His Gaels lost by 20.)

Much has changed since Nyre last visited the KU campus 10 years ago. A football practice field sits atop what used to be parking lots, and the Booth Family Hall of Athletics now greets Allen Fieldhouse guests at the eastern entrance.

Nyre's journey down memory lane Tuesday included visits with education school professors he knew from his time as a graduate student. He also chatted with local media in Lawrence, including KU Sports' Tom Keegan and yours truly. Only now do I realize I forgot to ask him the most pertinent question of all: Is the Iona Gael's cane for walking, for hitting or for fashion purposes? Alas, I might never know. But I must move on somehow...

Nyre grew up in Wisconsin and went to school just about everywhere. He did his undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse and went on to receive an M.A. in Educational and Counseling Psychology at the University of Missouri. At Mizzou, Nyre said, he learned more about KU's special education program. Crossing the border, he got his PhD in school psychology from KU and then he was off to Harvard for post-doc work.

Nyre became Iona president in 2011. With Iona just north of New York City, Nyre has been able to meet with Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little on her occasional ventures to the Big Apple for national higher education gatherings. Nyre heaped high praise on Gray-Little — "I think the world of her and the work she's doing" — and said he was also excited to "share" New York's Iona with Kansas and the Midwest.

Whether Kansans were in the mood to have Iona shared with them is another question for another day. And it's one that does not matter to me, at least not until I find out what the Gael's cane is for. If you know, please share with me — along with any KU news tips you might have — at bunglesbee@ljworld.com

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KU events this week: Michael Dirda and the Post, Halloween concert, a cult classic filmed in Lawrence and more

Up on the hill Kansas University and company are dishing out ghoulish thrills and intellectual candy this week. If you have time between costume balls and Halloween parties, here's some stuff to do:

*Tonight night from 5:00-6:30 p.m. at the Big 12 room in the Kansas Union, Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Dirda will talk about his life at the Washington Post, the world of books and publishing, as well as literary journalism. Dirda is a book critic for the Post in addition to having penned a memoir and four collections of essays. He won the Pulitzer in 1993 for his literary criticism, plus a bunch of other prestigious awards. Seating is free but limited. (Note: I'm trying to start a rumor that he will present his talk in a Carl Bernstein costume. There's some candy corn in it if you can help spread the rumor. And there's a whole bag in it for Dirda himself if he actually comes dressed as Bernstein.)

*At noon Wednesday in the Ecumenical Christian Ministries building, Jeremy Farmer, CEO of Just Food, will speak about issues in the food system that have contributed to rises in obesity and malnourishment among the poor. Just Food is a nonprofit that aims to tackle food insecurity in Douglas County.

*On Wednesday visiting lecturer Robert Wuthnow, a professor of sociology at Princeton University, will look at the role religion has played in Kansas political activism from John Brown to Dwight Eisenhower. Wuthnow will speak at 4 p.m. in the Kansas Union's Woodruff Auditorium.

*If your Wednesday is still open after that, you can mosey on over to the Dole Institute of Politics on West Campus for PBS producer and director Mark Zwonitzer's talk on Richard Ben Cramer, who wrote a tome on Bob Dole. You can hear Zwonitzer talking about Cramer writing about Dole at 7:30 p.m.

*But perhaps you'd rather attend something spookier, and more tuneful. At the same time as Zwonitzer's talk, the Lied Center will host the KU Symphony Orchestra's Halloween concert, which will feature bat- and ghoul-related selections. Kansas public radio's Mark Edwards will emcee. Show up earlier and you can take part in the community costume contest. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6 for children. If you can't make up your mind whether to attend, consider this: They'll be playing from Danny Elfman's score of the Michael Keaton Batman movie.

*On Friday the KU Film and Media Studies department will be showing Carnival of Souls, an indie cult classic directed by Herk Harvey and shot largely in Lawrence. The film, made on a budget a hair over $30,000, is about a woman who survives a car wreck only to find herself haunted by ghosts. Doors at 100 Old Father Studios, where much of the movie was filmed, open at 7 p.m. Seating will be limited and tickets cost $10 at the door. Proceeds will go to benefit the department.

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Tenure and post-tenure: discussions and rumblings

Earlier this week we covered the discussion on the hill about post-tenure review for faculty. It's an ongoing one at KU. Nearly a year has passed since the Board of Regents issued its initial directive for state universities to develop a review policy.

One of the main focuses in KU discussions on the current review policy draft doesn't relate to the policy itself but rather its ultimate destination. As it's been conceived, the review policy would be university-wide, in the KU Provost's Policy Library. It might sound like parliamentary minutia, but some think that leaving the policy in the policy library, outside the oversight of the KU Faculty Senate, could allow the policy to be changed without faculty knowledge or input.

In its most recent meeting, the Faculty Senate implored the administration to move the policy to the Faculty Senate’s own book of regulations. The body unanimously passed a resolution stating: “In accordance with the pledge to collaborate in good faith found in the Statement of Principles on Post-Tenure Review and in recognition of the importance of continuing KU’s tradition of meaningful shared governance, it is the sense of the University of Kansas Faculty Senate that the proper location of any forthcoming Post Tenure Review policy is the Faculty Senate Rules and Regulations.”

KU Vice Provost for Faculty Development Mary Lee Hummert said in an email that the Provost's office recently received the Senate statement. With KU Provost Jeff Vitter meeting regularly with faculty governance members, Hummert said, "there will be opportunities for him to discuss this topic with them."

An even greater contingent of faculty has voiced concerns that the current draft, as written, is too complicated. The members of the draft committee said they heard faculty concerns on the issue and are working to simplify the policy.

Much of the policy's complexity could have something to do with a central tension faced by the draft committee between giving departments flexibility and creating a university-wide standard that meets the principles of the Regents mandate and the Provost's charge.

The policy draft acknowledges that more innovative research takes time and carries a higher risk of failure than more conventional research. Also, departments have different standards and measures of success. James Carothers, an English professor and member of the Senate, pointed out that there is far less external funding available for research in English as a discipline than there is for the physical and applied sciences. Where those departments might make grant awards a part of faculty evaluation, "That would be inappropriate for us," Carothers said.

While many KU faculty members have entered the discussion around the reviews with considerable passion, the reaction will likely seem tame by comparison should the legislature move to change the nature of tenure. So far we at Heard on the Hill have only heard about rumblings from Topeka on changing tenure, but we'll keep a close eye on it.

In the meantime, send your own rumblings and KU news to bunglesbee@ljworld.com.

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Antarctic research plans on ice

Yesterday the Journal-World took a look at how the federal government shutdown was hitting home in Lawrence.

Up on the hill, most research at Kansas University will continue as normal for now, though there is concern about the funding, review and submission of future projects tied to federal agencies if the shutdown continues, said Kevin Boatright, director of communications for the KU Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

But one area of research, several thousand miles south of campus, is in limbo right now. The National Science Foundation announced Tuesday that when its funding runs out on Oct. 14, it will cut most of its staffing at Antarctic research stations, including McMurdo Station, a critical hub of logistical support for most scientific fieldwork in the Antarctic.

That could delay or even upend a handful of KU projects in Antarctica that were — until now —slated to begin in the coming weeks.

KU's Center for the Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets, or CReSIS, had two projects planned for Antarctica for the season, one of them a collaboration with NASA, another agency facing furloughs and near-full shutdown.

David Braaten, a KU professor of atmospheric science and deputy director of CReSIS, learned the projects could be in jeopardy when the National Science Foundation posted a notice about shutting down its Antarctic Program.

"The sad part is we hear bits and pieces of information and kind of assume the worst, but we really don't know," Braaten said.

Thomas N. Taylor, a KU professor of paleobiology, is also part of a team with plans for an Antarctic voyage this fall, in this case to collect fossils from the region to study the effects of climate change over time. Taylor also found out from the science foundation's website that his project could be stalled by the government shutdown. "We'd spent so much time getting everything and everybody set," Taylor said. "I just didn't think about the potential of (the shutdown) affecting us."

Even if a shutdown of McMurdo is short-lived, it could reverberate throughout the research season. More than 1,000 researchers worldwide depend on McMurdo and other government support operations in Antarctica. If an entire season is lost or even delayed, projects can't easily be rescheduled, Taylor said. That’s because so many scientific projects in Antarctica depend on government resources, such as helicopters to deploy them in remote areas of the continent, which are relatively limited even without a federal shutdown.

Taylor, Brataan and their colleagues are watching and waiting to see what, if anything, happens next.

At the moment, the situation is "not necessarily a disaster," Taylor said. "The two trains are rushing toward each other right now, but they haven't collided yet."

If the federal shutdown has you feeling cold and alone, send your woes and KU news tips to bunglesbee@ljworld.com

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    Author invited to speak on race issues in the U.S. as part of 60th anniversary of KU American Studies

    As the Kansas University American Studies program celebrates its 60th anniversary this week, the department has invited David Roediger to give a keynote talk tonight at 7 p.m. in the Kansas Union's Alderson Auditorium.

    Roediger, a professor of history at the University of Illinois, has written extensively on race and ethnicity in the U.S. His books include "Our Own Time," "The Wages of Whiteness," "How Race Survived U.S. History," "Towards the Abolition of Whiteness" and "Working Toward Whiteness."

    His talk this evening is titled "Emancipation from Below: The Jubilee Slaves Made Freedom for All." Admission is free and the event is open to the public.

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    Pulitzer-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas to speak at KU tonight.

    Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas will speak at Kansas University tonight. Vargas has written for Rolling Stone and the San Francisco Chronicle. He is perhaps most widely known for his 2011 essay in the New York Times admitting that he was an undocumented immigrant.

    In the essay he wrote about the daily fear of being found out, even having to keep family photos hidden away in his home. Vargas is also the founder of Define American, a group dedicated to engaging the public in discussion around immigration issues. Vargas will speak at 7 p.m. in room 120 of Budig Hall. The event is free to students with student ID and $5 to the general public.

    For more information call the Union Programs office at (785) 864-7469.

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