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  • February 2011
    M T W T F S S

State-Funded Accounting Research

Preface: Let it be assumed that every research professor who sees this post will be offended and/or angry. Please know that I don’t dislike you or have anything personal against any one of you. I count many research professors as friends of mine, and hope I can continue to do so. The point I want to make below is that I think way too many taxpayer dollars are being spent on academic research.

I’ve been watching all the hand-wringing, angst, and legitimate concern over the budget woes, especially in Minnesota and Wisconsin. At least in Minnesota they’re not threatening to take away collective bargaining rights for most state employees, most notably the teachers and professors who are state employees.

Even though it won’t completely solve the budget problems, I’m still amused that the cost of doing (what I will call EXCESSIVE) academic research at the state-supported colleges and universities hasn’t been studied. For example, consider this question:


To help you form an answer, let me point out a few things based on my 17 years of experience as a faculty member in a few different accounting departments across the country, mostly at research universities.

  • Most research professors typically teach about half as large a teaching load as a teaching-only faculty member.
  • Research professors (with PhD) typically make $20K – $60K in extra salary over a full-time teaching professor/instructor (usually adjunct, usually without PhD)
  • Based on the data above, it would be typical for 24 credits of accounting courses to be taught for an adjunct at a cost (incl. benefits) of approximately $75,000 per year. The same 24 credits taught by two research-professors (12 credits each, per year) would cost about $250,000. To me, that means the cost of the research is about $87,5000 per research-professor. Some more, some less. (And yes, I realize that it’s a little more complicated than just this teaching cost vs. research cost dichotomy, but I think it covers the essentials.)
  • Tenured professors tend to be researchers first, and teachers second; while non-tenured instructors tend to have only teaching responsibilities and hired on a term-to-term basis (with some exceptions).
  • Teaching-only faculty members tend to be hired because they are good instructors. Tenure-track positions tend to be filled with those who the university believes will get published – whether they can teach a lick is not very important.

When I taught accounting at the University of Minnesota Duluth from 1987 to 1993, I was a non-tenure-track “teaching specialist” with a course load of 12 credits per semester/quarter. The tenured or tenure-track professors taught 6 credits per semester and were charged with getting extremely esoteric research articles published in the accounting journals.

It was my opinion then, and it is still my opinion now, that almost no one who works in the accounting industry gives a rat’s behind about the published research in the academic accounting journals. Most of it is completely irrelevant or totally incoherent to the people who actually work in the accounting profession (with a few exceptions, of course).

Around 1990, I conservatively calculated the cost of academic research in accounting at well over one million dollars, just in the state of Minnesota. My guess is that the cost is substantially higher today. Clearly, this doesn’t solve the budget problems, but keep in mind that this is only one discipline area. Add in several more disciplines where academic research is performed mainly for the benefit of the academicians who perform it. The calculation of $1M+ was based on what they were paying the researchers to teach compared to what it would have cost for that same number of courses to be taught by people in non-researching faculty positions (similar to the example added above in the bullet points).

I understand that this won’t solve the budget crisis – but it begs the question of whether we should be cutting K-12 teacher positions, increasing class sizes, taking away bargaining rights – instead of making some changes in areas such as this.

Without going through the accounting professor rosters at the University of Minnesota campuses and the MnSCU state university campuses, let me take an informed guess and say that there are at least 50 (FIFTY!) academic researchers in the accounting departments of these schools.

Maybe the state of Minnesota (insert your state name here) should pay the best 2 or 3 researchers in accounting to continue to produce this kind of product. I can’t imagine that there is a real need in society for any more than that. If every state did that, we would have 100-150 accounting researchers at public institutions of higher learning across the U.S. Then you can add in the researchers who work in the accounting field (non-academicians) and those who are employed by the private universities (they can do what they want with their money) and you still have one hell of a lot of accounting researchers out there.

On second thought, 100-150 academic researchers in accounting still sounds like too many to me.

To dissuade me from this argument, I will need someone to convince me that this very large use of public funding has a significant payoff for society as a whole, and that we would be better off with these millions of dollars be spent elsewhere.

Postscript: I do not lump all types of research into the same category. I am not proposing that we reduce the amount of spending on certain types of medical research or other things where added value for society as a whole can be demonstrated. I am not a hater of research or researchers, but I do think that the situation described above is an incredible waste of taxpayer dollars.

EDTECH HULK needs some love

As I write this, the EDTECH HULK only has 40 followers. Come on people, where’s the love for the big green tweeter wearing the purple pants? Several of us at #ITC11 were speculating about who was the David Banner behind the HULK, and although we came up with a list of 6 or 8 possibilities, chances are good that we don’t know who it is. We may never know, which makes it all the more fun.

And it is fun. EDTECH HULK certainly smacks us right on the funny bone. Here are a couple of gems – but you really need to just start following him (her?) and go along for the ride.





Zoho Apps Interface in Zoho Mail

While preparing for an upcoming presentation, I stumbled onto something in Zoho that I didn’t know existed. I’ve been a Zoho fanboy for several years, but never really felt the need to use their mail program – mainly because I already have 4 or 5 different email accounts for different purposes. Not using the mail program means that I missed this feature when they rolled it out in the business version of their Mail client.

I find this to be incredibly convenient. Zoho continues to beat Google Apps (by a long shot) when it comes to innovation, performance, and functionality.

FERPA and Social Media in Education

Was really wishing that I could have been in attendance at this session at #ELI2011 in Washington D .C. today. Titled: “Bag It and Tag It”: Implementing a Course-Level Learning Portfolio Using CMS-Based Tools to Document Student Learning When Teaching in Wild, Open Spaces with Cloud-Based Tools,” by Kelvin Thompson of UCF.

A couple of tweets drew my attention to the session:

bwatwoodFERPA = dark cloud over using blogs w students #eli2011

tedcurran: why NOT teach in the free cloud? 1) can’t preserve the work! 2) FERPA3) Socialmediaphobia #cmsfolio #eli2011

Based on the session description, it appears that Thompson was providing ways of using Web 2.0 and social media tools in a “FERPA-friendly” way. Hallelujah for that. There’s been way too much FUD surrounding how these things impact upon FERPA.

The single best piece of writing that I’ve seen on this topic comes from John Orlando in a Faculty Focus article titled: “FERPA and Social Media.” I highly recommend that you check it out. Here’s an excerpt.

“FERPA is one of the most misunderstood regulations in education. It is commonly assumed that FERPA requires all student coursework to be kept private at all times, and thus prevents the use of social media in the classroom, but this is wrong. FERPA does not prevent instructors from assigning students to create public content as part of their course requirements.”

Higher Ed Loves the iPad

Fast Company publishes an article that is getting retweeted and re-facebooked all over the net. The title is “Apple’s iPad Officially Passes the Higher Education test [Exclusive]”

“Officially” appears to mean that the iPad scored high marks overall in a student pilot project at Reed College in Portland, OR. Let’s see – students were given an iPad to use for the course and then could buy it at 50% off at the end of the course. That sounds like an unbiased sample, now doesn’t it? The glorious iPad received it’s high marks in spite of the following:

The virtual keyboard is a pain for composing anything beyond short notes. The nonexistent file system makes finding important documents difficult and sharing across applications nearly impossible. Finally, managing a large number of readings in PDF format becomes a major time-suck. Syncing PDFs via iTunes was found to be “needlessly complicated,” emailing marked-up versions back to oneself was “prohibitively time-consuming,” and even the cloud-based storage, Dropbox, “failed to work seamlessly with PDF reading/annotating applications.”

Apparently, it’s just so cool that they don”t care about what it can’t do. And 50% off the cost of buying your own is enough to make any college student a bit giddy.

Tweet This!

Looking forward to the eLearning 2011 conference hosted by the Instructional Technology Council (ITC) on Feb. 19-22, 2011. This is always one of the best eLearning conference of the year. There’s a great lineup of keynote speakers again this year. The ITC board has done a great job over the past several years of getting some of the best speakers in the fields of educational technology and eLearning.

Full Title: Tweet This! social Networking in Higher Education

Pre-conference workshop, Feb. 19 from 12:15 to 3:00 at St. Petersburg College.

Presenters: Audrey Williams, Director of Educational Technology Services, Pellissippi State Community College and Barry Dahl, Excellence in e-Education.

Description: Do you believe in the premise that “none of us are as smart as all of us?” If so, what are you doing to take advantage of that? Are you connecting with your peers in meaningful and useful ways? Are you learning from others and are they learning from you? These are some of the questions we will explore in this session as we see how social networking is changing the way the world works, and especially how education works. Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are some of the tools we will examine in this hands-on workshop. We will help you build your own network of educators and show you how to benefit from it. We will place particular emphasis on who is effectively using these tools in higher education and how. We will discuss uses both inside and outside of the classroom.

Not Returning to the Nest

For the purposes of bringing some closure to the last few posts about my very public job interview in Cheyenne, Wyoming, let me just say that LCCC chose to “go in a different direction.” I’m very disappointed in the outcome. The rumor mill and/or grapevine has given me reason to believe that they might not have liked the fact that I am a blogger and that I share things so freely. Not sure if that’s accurate, but if it is, then I don’t really have to worry about ever being a college president – and I’m okay with that.

One other possible explanation is that they saw those pictures of me on Facebook from some of our college parties back in the late 70’s.

Interview Answers – Part 2

Laramie County Community College digital signThe previous post contained my answers to the first five questions from my interview for the interim presidency at Laramie County Community College. This post contains the rest of the answers.

I’m expecting to hear something one way or the other within the next day or two – so soon you won’t have to hear about this stuff any more.

Q6. Describe a time when you took personal accountability for a conflict, failure or problem and initiated a solution with an individual(s).

A6. Unfortunately, we had a serious melt down of the technology used by instructors in the classrooms at the beginning of the most recent fall semester. We had a scenario where for the first time in memory the classrooms were not ready for the first day of class.Classes were scheduled to start on a Monday morning at 8:00. The previous Friday was a faculty development day with workshops and other learning events going on in the afternoon. Saturday was Parent Day at the college where many of the classrooms would be used for presentations by faculty and staff to the parents and families of new students at the college. For many, this would be their first impressions of the college.

I was one of the presenters for a couple of the faculty workshops on Friday. I was surprised that I couldn’t get several things to work properly while standing in front of a room full of faculty and other staff. The same thing happened in the second room where I was scheduled to facilitate another workshop. I started dropping into other classrooms and found that many of them had similar problems, such as outdated browsers on the computer, Windows updates that hadn’t been applied, missing plug-ins for playing videos, out-of-date anti-virus software, and the list goes on.

Finding this situation completely unacceptable, and knowing that the next people to walk into those classrooms were either the Saturday presenters for Parent Day, or the faculty members teaching their first classes on Monday morning, I set about to fix the problems. Along with one other employee, we worked Friday afternoon and evening, and most of the day Saturday to apply all these updates needed and to ensure that the classroom technology was ready to go.

I took responsibility for the poor state of technology in the classrooms in an all-employee email as well as in meetings of the Executive Council of the college. It was a personal embarrassment to me. Other employees in the Technology Division were also held accountable for the problems that we encountered.

Under the circumstances, I believe that I would do the same thing if I was a college president. It’s nice to have others available to take care of problems in the normal course of business, but when that’s not possible, you need to take care of things yourself.

Q7. Tell us how you have successfully lead subordinates through change in the past and the steps you took to ensure a successful outcome.

A7. This is another example that I’ll take from the world of online learning. I’m not sure if it happened here, but in most colleges there was a fair amount of resistance from some faculty, staff, and administrators against the whole build out of online learning opportunities for students. It wasn’t always easy to get buy-in for the concept. However, the college president had decided that this was a road that we were going to pursue and she provided the support for getting it done.

One of our early goals was to create the courses and services that would allow students to complete an entire AA degree at a distance. That meant that we needed to have liberal arts and sciences courses delivered online in a multitude of disciplines. However, there weren’t willing faculty members in all of these disciplines. So, I started searching for new faculty members who were willing, able, and eager to teach online.
Many of these new faculty members were not readily accepted by other faculty on campus. They weren’t considered by all to even be a part of the faculty. For a few of them, it had to feel almost as if they were scabs crossing a picket line.

We needed to do several things to start to gain acceptance. First of all, we received blanket accreditation from the HLC for any or all programs to be delivered online back in 2004. This was a process that involved lots of people and provided a good amount of data about what we were doing and how well the students were doing in online learning.

One of the concerns of the on-ground-only faculty members was that online was going to take away enrollments from on-campus courses, thereby threatening their ability to make a living. With regard to the liberal arts and sciences, that proved (over time) to be a falsehood. In fact, at LSC, the amount of on-campus instruction was the same in 2010 as it was in 2002. Flat enrollment on the physical campus over an eight year period, but the college grew a total of 26% during that time, all of the growth came from online.

The other thing that we started in 2004 was a quality of course design project that I hope to talk about later. These and various other things (including positive student feedback) helped to eventually wear down the naysayers to the point now where I think you’d be hard pressed to find someone on campus who would tell you that online learning has been a bad thing for the college as a whole or for the students.

Just a side note, back in the middle of the decade I made several presentations at conferences detailing all of the things we did to help make this change happen. The title of the presentation was “How to start a civil war on campus, and how to end it.”

Q8. Describe one of the most difficult decisions that you have made in your role as a leader. What would you do differently next time and what did you learn?

A8. I’ll go a bit off the beaten path on this one. One of my most difficult decisions related to leadership was when I decided to quit a doctoral program in Educational Leadership several years ago. I think it’s relevant since I sit before you today as a candidate without a doctorate in my pocket.
I have three kids. And yes, I started that project a bit later in life than most people do. I had just turned 40 when my first child was born. My third child was born in 2001 and it was shortly after that time that I started in the doctoral program. As I saw what a toll it was having on my family to have a husband and father who worked 50-60 hours a week at the college in addition to hiding away for hours at a time to do some school work, it became clear to me that I was going to miss a great deal of their formative years. It also became clear that if I was able to turn that doctorate into a college presidency, then I would also miss a great deal of the last half of their time growing up in the household.

I was $10,000 of the way down a $50,000 path, and right there I decided that my family was more important. I also decided that if I worked hard and developed a good record as a campus administrator that I would still have a shot at being a college president even without the doctorate. Not as good a shot, but still a shot. And if it doesn’t come to pass, then I’m okay with that and I still have never regretted walking away from the program when I did.

Q9. Tell us about an accomplishment you are most proud of personally and professionally. What made it so successful?

A9. I’m going to have to go with two accomplishments here. I don’t think there is one that I’m most proud of both personally and professionally.
Personally, I’m most proud of being a dad to three beautiful children. Blah, blah, blah. (I’m reminded of an old George Carlin bit “You’re supposed to love your kids, it doesn’t make you special.”)

Professionally, I’m most proud of providing high quality professional development opportunities to educators throughout the country, and a bit internationally as well. That includes many of the speaking engagements that I’ve been hired to provide, plus the last three years that I’ve spent as a board member for the Instructional Technology Council (ITC), one of the affiliated councils of the AACC. The network of engaged and engaging educators that I’ve been able to develop over the past several years has truly proved to be invaluable. I’ve received a great deal of positive feedback from attendees at workshops and conferences and it makes me proud to think that I’ve added real value to these events.

Q10. If an employee came to you with a problem relating to another employee and nothing had been taken care of previously, how would you handle the situation?

A10. There are several important pieces here, and my answer would probably benefit from many more details about the situation.

It could be that the college needs to undertake a process review with regard to the complaint processes that are in place and find out where they aren’t effective. If the processes are reasonable, then the breakdown must have come from some people in authority not doing their jobs.

If policy has been followed, and if someone has let these complaints fall through the cracks, then we need to look very carefully at the performance of the employee who didn’t act on this information. It’s inexcusable for someone to not act on complaints that are forwarded to their attention – that’s how a college gets sued.

However, the president should not be dealing with employee complaints early in the process. The process should have them go through the proper channels and the responsible people within those channels need to be doing their jobs. The president should not be involved early in the process because the president needs to be the appeal agent later in the process, typically the last possible appeal.

End of part two. So there you have it, warts and all. This is not intended to be a word-for-word transcript from what I said (you can see that on the video archive), but it is intended to give the gist of what I had to say for each question.

I might post my answers to the questions asked during the open forum, although I think the hiring decision by the college will happen before I get around to that. Probably a moot point by then.

Interview Answers – Part 1

In the previous post I talked about being interviewed for the interim presidency at Laramie County Community College. ToCowboy boot at entrance to Laramie County Community College have an open search process, they chose to live stream the interviews and open forums on the Internet. I promised to post my answers to the questions. Since they’re lengthy, I’ll post the first five here and then the second five within the next few days.

Q1. Laramie County Community College is interested in the quality of their programs.  Give us an example of a time when you became aware of deficiencies in program quality at a college where you were employed and how you fixed the problem.

A1. When I first became an academic dean at Lake Superior College I was responsible for various instructional programs. There were several issues related to one program area when I moved into this position. There were 5 or 6 different degrees available in this program area, but there were very few core curriculum courses. Core curriculum as a baseline for all of the programs made sense, but there was very little of that already in the program designs. Additionally, there were not enough students to go around for each program to survive. Their enrollment had dropped from over 300 program-declared students to less than 100 students right about the time I became the dean.

Some of the program and course offerings were outdated, teaching 10-year-old techniques and skills. Three of the six faculty members provided high quality learning opportunities for students, but three others did not. It was difficult to assign all six faculty members full teaching loads because some of them did not have the skills to teach many of the needed classes.

We undertook a massive redesign project that would consolidate the offerings into no more than three different degree tracks, which were all built upon the same basic core of introductory knowledge classes, and which featured a laddered system of certificates leading to degrees, with two or three stop-out points or program-shift opportunities. Today they have a much more focused program of study that has high quality instruction, utilizes state-of-the-art technology and prepares students for employment in 2011 rather than 1995.

BTW, the enrollment never really bounced back, but the students who are there are more satisfied and are receiving a much better education.

Q2. Organizational executives often delegate broad authority to subordinates.  Suppose you had authorized someone to fix a particular problem, and this person kept reporting progress on getting the problem fixed, but you were unable to determine if the situation was actually improving.  How would you go about assessing progress on the problem?   If it turned out that there was no progress, what would you do then?

A2. Delegating authority to others does not excuse you from responsibility for the successful outcome of the task. Delegating authority brings a focus on you in at least two different ways; how well did the task get completed that you delegated to another, and how wise was your choice of whom the task should be delegated to?

Another question that I would ask is whether the person giving the false progress reports actually believed that progress was being made. I can easily see the scenario where there is an appearance, sort of a false illusion, that progress is being made when it really isn’t. So, I don’t want to immediately assume that the employee was willingly lying to me about the progress.

I have been in this situation a few times in my career, one in particular that I will talk about briefly. Unfortunately, I will be accused of airing dirty laundry about an individual if I give you the details of the situation on a live Internet broadcast. So, I’ll try to give enough details to be informative, but not enough to pinpoint who I’m specifically talking about.

One example was a case where an employee had assured me that a project would be completed prior to the end of the school year. Turns out that the project wasn’t completed on time. When asked why, the employee had ready answers/excuses for how other things, out of his or her control, were creating roadblocks to getting the project completed. This went on throughout the entire next year as well. There was always a new reason why the project couldn’t be completed. Many of those reasons sounded perfectly reasonable so it started to feel like the project just wasn’t going to get done, at least not in our lifetimes.

Although the excuses/reasons sounded plausible, it was difficult to ascertain how legitimate the perceived roadblocks actually were. I started talking about these roadblocks in larger group meetings since many of the excuses had to do with other employees. People weren’t willing to speak up against their fellow employee in the group meetings, but they did seek me out privately to let me know that what I said in the meeting (about the roadblocks) just wasn’t true. Usually it was where something about another individual employee was being held out to be the roadblock. “I can’t get this done until Billy Bob gets that other thing done.” Having open conversations with multiple staff who had knowledge about the project was the only way to get to the truth of the matter. After assigning the project to a different employee, the project was completed within about one month.

Q3. Tell us about a time in your career when a whole department in your organization needed to be restructured.  How did you handle that situation?

A3. Best example is the answer to the first question about redesigning the programs and course curriculum for that unnamed department. For a different example, let me talk about what is happening at Lake Superior College right now and why my own job is being eliminated. This might help you understand my current situation, as well as give you insight into how I would handle a similar situation differently.

The college (LSC)  is going through a major reorganization. I’ve been employed at the college for 15 years; first as a faculty member and then as an administrator starting in 2001. The president that hired me as an administrator retired during the past year and on July 1 a new president started at the college. The new president is a very nice guy, has over 20 years of experience as a college president, and has a very different idea about how a college should be structured, especially at the administrative levels.

Wave one of the restructuring had my name on it. Myself, along with three other vice presidents, were informed that our positions were being eliminated. As an employee-at-will, I’ve always known that this could happen, and now I’m experiencing what happens when the will is gone. One of the vice presidents might still have some sort of position available to him at the college, but the other three of us are gone after our three months transition time (by contract) has expired. To use the well-worn analogy of seats on the bus, the current president wanted to have what he considered to be the right seats on the bus (the positions in the right place on the org chart), and would deal later with whether the right people were sitting in those seats.

If I had been in his position, I too would have been looking at some restructuring. However, I would have approached it differently. I believe that it is very difficult to recruit, hire, and keep really good people/employees. My priority would be to keep my best talent, even if it means finding a different role at the college for them as long as they were capable of filling those other roles. In other words, I would have spent more time finding out which of my bus passengers had the best skill sets and could help move the college forward, and then I would have made sure that they had a seat on the bus.

One of the other senior administrators made the following statement (not necessarily word-for-word) after the news came down: “It seems odd that three of the brightest bulbs in the room are being extinguished.” That’s the piece that I would have done differently if I was determining how to restructure the administration of the college.

Q4. What is your idea of the proper relationship between a college president and a board of trustees?

A4. The Board of Trustees hires and fires and hopefully inspires the president. Board members are elected by the residents of the county to represent their interests – to be accountable to the taxpayers.

The president works for the board – not the other way around. Since the president works for the board, and since the board works for the people, then the president works for the people as well.

Board members can’t be expected to deal with the day-to-day workings of the college. That’s the responsibility of the college president and the other administrators who have been delegated the authority to work within their areas of assignment. If the college is not operating efficiently, effectively, and ethically – then the president and other administrators must be held accountable. Held accountable by the board.

The board sets the overall tone by creating strategic directions and college priorities – then the president is expected to implement the board’s strategic direction, work on those priorities, and move the college forward. It should be a pretty clean (simple) relationship, as long as personalities don’t get in the way.

Q5. Tell us about a time that you had to improve the image of the college where you worked. What actions did you take and what was the result?

The only college where I’ve been in a position to have much impact on improving the image of the college was at Lake Superior College. LSC is located in the border cities area of Duluth, Minnesota and Superior, Wisconsin, also known as the Twin Ports. There are three universities, a career college, and two two-year colleges within a 15 minute drive of one another. There’s another community college just 20 miles down the Interstate. We didn’t have too much of a concern with improving the image of the college, we had more of a problem of even being recognized as one of the players in the higher education market (just having an image at all was the key for several years). Aside from buying advertisements, it was sometimes tough for us to even get the college name mentioned in the paper. You don’t seem to have that problem here at LCCC.

The image of the college in the Duluth/Superior community has slowly become more and more positive over the years. As the college has grown, and as the importance of the technical (career) programs and the liberal arts (transfer) programs has become more recognized within the community, the college has experienced a similar increase in its image as a serious contributor to the surrounding community.

One of my areas of direct responsibility at LSC was management of the e-Campus. Online learning makes up about 28% of the total enrollment at the college, but it provides 33% of the tuition revenue. Our first online class was back in the ‘97-98 school year. By 2000 it was growing rather rapidly and then I was selected in 2001 by the college president to be the administrator in charge of online learning; first as a Dean and later as a Vice President. We worked very hard to improve the image of online learning in general and the LSC e-Campus in particular. I’m proud to say that LSC students taking online courses have expressed significantly higher satisfaction with the reputation of the college than have the students taking on-campus courses at the college. Lots of people don’t want to hear that stated, but it’s a fact and there are data to prove it.

End of part one. So there you have it, warts and all. This is not intended to be a word-for-word transcript from what I said (you can see that on the video archive), but it is intended to give the gist of what I had to say for each question.