Saturday, October 16, 2010

Provost John Pauly Stonewalls On Use of Bogus Data to Support 8:00 a.m. Class Mandate

Back in February, we learned that Provost John Pauly and Registrar Georgia McRae were demanding that more classes be offered at 8:00 a.m.

Since neither students nor faculty like 8:00 a.m. classes, this was not good news.

But, we wondered, was there any need to demand more 8:00 a.m. classes, or was this the sort of bureaucratic silliness that is very common at Marquette.

With a little research, we found that there were plenty of empty classrooms at 9:00 a.m. So why force anybody to take an 8:00 a.m. class when 9:00 a.m classrooms (and presumably rooms at other times) were readily available?

Our blog post got some serious attention from the Provost Pauly, who had staffer Anne Deahl research the issue. Georgia McRae insisted that all the 25 classrooms was had identified in preliminary data we had given to the Arts & Sciences Dean were really in use.

(In reality, we had found 44 free classrooms at MWF 9:00 a.m., and 34 free classrooms at TTh 9:30.)

This claim was not shared with us, but was surreptitiously shared with administrators (including department chairs) around the University, complete with an elaborate PowerPoint presentation. In effect, they were claiming that “McAdams is wrong,” without ever giving us a chance to respond.

A Second Cut at the Data

Of course, we found out about this, and asked Pauly for the data that supposedly refuted our data.

He gave us a response, which we posted, claiming that (1.) some of the rooms we had counted as “open” were labs, (2.) some had fixed seats, (3.) some are occupied only one day a week due to discussion sections, (4.) some are scheduled by departments, and not by the Registrar, and (5.) two lack acceptable video equipment.

Knowing this analysis was bogus, we did a new one, that took into account the issues Pauly raised.

We found that Pauly’s claims were simply baseless.

Our data are found in a spreadsheet here.

We identified available classrooms as follows:
  • MWF 9:00 a.m. – 39
  • MWF 1:00 p.m. - 48
  • TTh 9:30 a.m. - 19
  • TTh 12:30 p.m. - 21
We did not survey literally every building where a class might be held, but only the ones with the largest number of classrooms. Thus the actual number of available classrooms is almost certainly a bit larger.

And quite obviously, there are lots of classrooms available at times we did not survey.

With only two partial exceptions, the classrooms we listed as “available” are scheduled by the Registrar, and not by any department. Only one is a “lab,” and it is configured so it could easily be used as a classroom if not in use as a lab (Cudahy 145). Further, all except three have video equipment. A large number have movable seats.

Unfortunately, our post on this was quickly overshadowed by the brouhaha over the attempt to hire lesbian Dean candidate Jodi O’Brien.

Asking Pauly For an Explanation

We wrote Pauly for an explanation of his assertion that Marquette was short on classrooms, and he put us off – at first reasonably. He wrote us on 4 May 2010, for example, explaining that Georgia McRae was tied up and that it would be “next week” before anything would be available.

We heard nothing for several weeks.

Then, in response to another prod from us, he wrote on 28 August saying:
Georgia tells me that she has, in fact, completed her classroom study and plans to share it with Anne Deahl and me next week. As soon as we look at the data, we’ll be able to answer your question.
We have still heard nothing.

It’s Been Pauly and Not McRae All Along

Pauly, while failing to provide any data showing a shortage of classrooms, did explain why he thinks that a mandate for 8:00 a.m. classes is necessary. In a 28 August e-mail he asserted:
My only position on all this has been clear from the beginning. The course schedule was getting bunched up at certain times of day in ways that were making it harder for the registrar to accommodate all courses and for students to design the schedules they needed. This has happened at many, many universities. Rather than spend money on just adding general classrooms every year or two, we needed to work harder to live with the classroom pool we currently have and spend new money on classrooms that better fit the new pedagogies faculty want to use.

I asked Georgia to reexamine this issue this summer because I wanted to know whether we are meeting those goals in a reasonable way. If faculty and deans agree to other ways to meet the goal that students might find acceptable—e.g., more evening classes and fewer 8 a.m. classes—then I am happy to consider the alternatives.
Pauly, in fact, is pretending that his initial claims of a classroom shortage are correct, while flatly refusing to deal with the actual data.

But notice the threat: we might consider letting faculty and students off the hook for 8:00 a.m. classes if they will accept night classes instead.

Pauly’s claim that “we needed to work harder to live with the classroom pool we currently have” is close to bizarre. In fact, we have been living with the classroom pool we currently have quite nicely, with several dozen empty rooms at 9:00 a.m. (MWF) and 9:30 a.m. (TTh) and 1:00 p.m. (MWF) and 12:30 p.m. (TTh).

Pauly fired off another quick e-mail to us on 28 August, saying:
One quick point. Our freshman classes have increased the last few years. We have been aiming for about 1950 freshmen the last three years. Fall 2010 will likely end up between 1940 and 1950.
In spite of the claim that “our freshman classes have increased the last few years,” the enrollment at Marquette has increased only 2.6 percent between 2006 and 2010. And most of this increase happened before we found dozens of empty classrooms last spring.

In fact, Freshman enrollment actually declined a bit between 2008 and 2010.

It’s a Bureaucratic Thing

It’s obvious why Pauly and Georgia McRae will not deal with the issue of the empty classrooms.

Pauly cooked up the kind of “initiative” that bureaucrats love. It sounds so nice to say we are rationalizing things. That we are “fully utilizing our resources.”

Bureaucrats enamored with some pet initiative are unlikely to ask hard questions about whether the initiative is really needed.

Regardless of whether the issue is “diversity” or a soft drink monopoly or “outcomes assessment,” bureaucrats can convince themselves that it’s a great idea. And if they are isolated from faculty and students (which most bureaucrats at Marquette are) they can get away with being entirely heedless of the effect their initiatives have.

Most of the time, they face only minor grumbling. Most of the time, asymmetries of information mean that people will accept their claims — even if not happily.

But what happens if somebody (say, a faculty blogger) takes up the issue? What happens if just a bit of research shows the claims of a “need” for the initiative to be bogus.

The bureaucrat is likely to hunker down, stonewall, and hope the issue will go away.

The fact that Pauly finds himself in that position does not speak well for him.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Brian said...

What did Marquette expect from a guy who was a "Communications" prof -- whatever that is -- at a place like SLU for about five minutes before he became the Provost for all of Marquette?

It's good to know Pauly has his priorities straight and there aren't any actual academic issues that need to be resolved on campus.

8:18 PM  
Blogger david said...

I never took an 8am class. In hindsight I think that there is something to be said for 8:00am classes because they lend themselves towards a disciplined lifestyle, "early to bed, early to rise makes you healthy, wealthy and wise." However, the wisdom of 8am classes might best be learned through education and not through indoctrination, like we learned with the "Take a Stand" thing. Force-feeding the student body 8am classes does not make them healthy, wealthy and wise. Also, a student compelled to wake up early against his or her wishes is going to harbor an unavoidable resentment towards the class regardless of the material and the professor.

And I must admit I have been dealing with so much red tape lately that a diatribe about the evils of bureaucratic garbage sounds like a great idea right now, but I think I'll go back to daydreaming about moving to small town that's trapped in the past in order to avoid the incessant red tape, paperwork, acceptable identificiationism, parking tickets and the like that inundates the modern suburban and urban life, insteadi. Maybe it'll have a General Store with a soda fountain (no matter what I'm gettin something with a cherry on top).......ahhhhhh, a man can dream can't he?

11:02 AM  
Blogger david said...

*identification-ism (according to spell check it is a word)

*instead

For the few people that will read this, humor me please, I hate misspelled words. It reminds me of a time I asked McAdams for an "extention" on a paper.

"Ok, extension granted."

I have never misspelled extension again.

7:00 AM  

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