Sunday, March 23, 2014

New President Interview -- Part 27 Investigative Reporting

New President Interview -- Part 27  Investigative Reporting

Q: Last week an investigative reporter for a TV station in another city reported on a problem with some academic programs in a community college similar to the College. What insight can you provide to this type of investigation?

A: First, thank you for the giving me the opportunity to see the piece before starting this interview.  TV reporters and journalists are in the business of getting readers or viewers to buy their stories.  Even investigative reporting is more of a process of getting headlines than finding the basis behind the story and discovering the “truth.”  Just look at how many times the TV stations run promos for the stories.  The promos give enough of the stories to grab the viewers. 

The reporter is not necessarily lying or trying to be deceptive, they just don’t know how to pursue the same kind of truth as a historian or scientist.  Their type of critical thinking is not the same an academic researcher trained to view all sides of the story.  The basis of academic research is ability to examine the research and reproduce it.  This does not apply to journalists.   Academic research builds a story based on history, precedent, or previous research.  Someone writing a thesis will review the literature in the field before even starting to write.    

The report starts with some of the background that seeks to grab the viewer, but it is a diversion from the problem the reporter is trying to tell the audience.

Q:  What is the problem and what is the diversion?

The diversion is the mention of a new building and its location. The problem is low test scores.  These are not related issues.  The reporter also talked about pass rates from more than 2 years ago.  Since then, the college has done much to address the problems. The certification test pass rate improved in 2013 when compared to 2010.
Q:  The reporter wants to know why test scores have fallen over the past few years.  What did the reporter ask to find out why the test scores are low?

A: The reporter wanted an on-camera interview.  The request was denied by everyone in the college.  No one in the College is allowed to talk to the press about College policy without proper clearance from the president’s office and the public relations office.

Even this interview was cleared with the public relations office.  Since I’m just giving my opinion based on my knowledge and research it is allowed to talk to the press.  Also as the president, I am the chief spokesman for College policy.

Q: Doesn’t that infringe on academic freedom?

A:  The restriction has nothing to do with academic freedom.  Faculty is free to discuss their areas of expertise, present papers at conferences, and talk about any academic topics. Free speech is not limited in the classrooms.  I trust my faculty to be judicious in how they present their opinions of policy to the students.  A person is allowed to disagree, but not allowed to spread lies and misinformation.  They may give personal opinions. Professors, librarians, and staff are just not allowed to talk about College policies to the press.  An organization does not air its problems to the public media.

Q: The report talked about failing in a nursing program.  What would make a successful program?

A:  I don’t know the details of their program and it is not my business to find out.  I can only talk in generalities.  The faculty is the key to making any program successful, but the administration has to give the faculty the tools to success.  It is the same in any organization.  That is a good administration gives the workers the tools for success. The colleges need to give faculty incentives that allow them to succeed and stay with the organization.  Health sciences faculty are difficult to recruit.  A graduate of a 2 year nursing program who is bright, hardworking and able to get along with patients and hospital staff can earn much more than a seasoned professor.  Colleges require a masters degree to teach undergraduates.  People with masters degrees in health sciences are the managers, administrators, and experts in hospitals.  The can earn well over $100,000.  As a college president it is my job to figure out how to offer competitive salaries to make sure that faculty are encouraged to stay.  Our College does not offer a nursing program because the cost would not justify the benefit.  We offer the basic sciences so that students interested in nursing and other health careers can transfer to a four year program in nursing.

There are four aspects to education that fit not only nursing, but all academic disciplines – 1) Basic knowledge; 2) Writing and communication; 3) Critical thinking and analysis; and 4) The understanding of action, power, and consequence.  We give the graduates a platform to stand on and hopefully they learn to support themselves and make the next step.

Basic knowledge is the learning about history, terminology, and facts that comprise the discipline.  For example for the health sciences basic knowledge  is the biology, chemistry, anatomy, and mathematics needed for advancement in their academic careers and in the profession.

Communication skills are essential in every field.  One must master the language and vocabulary of the general world so that people take you seriously and respect your authority.  The language and vocabulary in your profession or academic discipline are important to help communicate with a precision and expertise.  Communication also includes the ability to read and understand texts, academic publications, and everyday human communications. Mastery of communication is not limited to a particular and includes print, electronic, visual, and non-print media. One must be able to write and express one’s self to the general public and colleagues.

Critical thinking is a skill that involves gathering data and information from multiple sources to conceptualize, analyze, synthesize, and/or evaluate. The information gathered interacts with knowledge and experience and enables planning and action. Critical thinking connects the dots so that a problem is solved or action is based on solid judgments.

When someone is in their job, home or in the street actions must be based on the confluence of basic knowledge, experience, and critical thinking.  As one gets more experience and knowledge, the actions can be more precise.  Greater experience and knowledge enables solving more complex problems. The process of gaining experience also includes knowing when to seek help.

Q: Thank you very much.

Part twenty-seven of imaginary interviews with the president of the College. After more than 20 interviews the president is no longer “new,” but since we are all works in progress I am continuing the series as if s/he were a “new president.” Please feel free to suggest new ideas for interviews and presidential comments. This article is for your information, amusement, and edification. Any connection to a real college or president is strictly coincidental.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

I Am Not Omniscient

I am just a humble librarian. Even though library users think I know everything about everything, I am not omniscient.

Let me tell you a little about the expertise of librarians. We know about books, journals, non-print media, and all kinds of electronics resources. We know how to find, acquire, catalog, and help readers find every kind of information that people have created and made available to the public. We know how information flows and how to use information to create wisdom. We know more about how to use recorded knowledge than any other profession. We also know about the promotion of reading and other information seeking skills.
Much of our work is done in the back room and for the users seems like magic. Even top faculty members don’t understand the processes that encompass the building and maintaining of the library collection. Collection building requires a combination of budgeting, purchasing, selecting, and working with constituents. At some point collection building needs to be concerned with space, building, and preservation needs. One can not buy and buy without enough room on the shelves. The flip side of acquisitions is de-acquisitions (also called weeding.) Non-librarians don’t seem to understand collection building is a highly skilled task that takes a combination of skills and experience that no business or administrative trained person ever appreciates.

Cataloging is the systematic recording of all the library’s possessions. Catalogers take the messy world of the writers and publishers and systematically record metadata so that readers can find library materials. Librarians assign subject headings, classification numbers, call numbers, and maintain authority records.
Sometimes publishers make this job routine and easy and sometimes the cataloging process could take more than 2 hours per item. Catalogers need subject and language skills beyond what any faculty members is required because the library could own anything in every discipline know in the institution.

Ask a librarianI don’t know the settings used in your web site. I can tell you theory of operation, but not how someone is applying the theory. I don’t know what your teachers told you in class or what was in the mind of the person who published the web site that you just visited. In the past week students have asked questions about systems and programs that we have no knowledge or experience using.

Let me tell you what I and other librarians are expert in doing. We are experts in library systems. That includes cataloging and catalog use. We can help users interpret the catalog and find library materials. We know about books, periodicals, non-print media and anything else that a library could own and make available to readers. We know about the library’s electronic databases and how to use them. We know how to seek information published in print, online, and in archives. We have superior searching and seeking skills.
We can anticipate needs and work with faculty, students and other stakeholders; we are not omniscient. We can’t read minds and we don’t know what people are thinking until you tell us. We don’t know what settings are on your computer unless you tell us.

We can provide basic help with Microsoft Office products; we are not product specialists or available for private lessons. There are thousands of software products that not only have we never used, but also never even heard of their names. We do know a little about how the IT department has set up the computers and printers but we don’t know what they haven’t told us. We know how to ask for help from our vendors and colleagues, but answers are sometimes hard or slow to get to us.

In short we know everything and nothing at the same time.