self-degrading academia

I am wondering … – if I should be wondering … – on different occasions I used the blog to describe issues from the academic world, and to reflect upon it. A kind of ‘series” looked into writing references for students and the way universities acted as business: externalize work, disrespect interest of students in learning and look how they fit into prepared boxes – if I am not mistaken this is the latest, and there are several links from there to earlier musings. Well, may be THIS PRESENT one will be the latest, a mail I received – a joke, SPAM, sent by mistake …? In any case hugely disappointing suggesting that to “meet industry expectations” is the primary and outspoken goal of a supposedly academic institution. Annoying to see that they abuse colleagues’ references as point of departure for SPAM-campaigns, looking for support. To be clear, I supported a student’s application – I definitely did not support the university’s programme In actual fact I discussed in several cases with students their choice, trying to make them aware of their steps, Faustian dimension which is not changed by the devil’s new clothes: blank business interest.

Here the SPAM letter:

Dear Peter,

Thank you very much for serving as a referee and sending us the reference form for one of our candidates who applied to the Master of Science in Business Analytics [MSc(BA)] programme at The University of Hong Kong this year.

We sincerely appreciate the time you spent and the comments you provided to support the candidate’s application, which are critical for us to evaluate and select students who can best fit our programme.

Our programme office will continue to fully support the programme with the aim to meet industry expectations, maximise our resources, and enhance students’ experience. We would greatly appreciate for your continued support to the MSc(BA) programme. If you know anyone who may be interested in postgraduate education in business analytics, you can ask them to reach out to our team or learn more about our programme at our official website.

Thank you again for your support to HKU Msc(BA) programme.

Best Regards,

HsiaoPHui Lee (Dr.)  Programme Director Master of Science in Business Analytics The University of Hong Kong

Copyright © 2017  School of Business, The University of Hong Kong

Our address is  Room 304, Block B, Cyberport 4, 100 Cyberport Road, Hong Kong, China

If you do not wish to receive future email, click here.

A disgrace, indeed ….

Annunci

time … appreciation …. value of values

… or
How academia today undermines knowledge and beauty.
“In his youth Albert Einstein spent a year loafing aimlessly. You don’t get anywhere by not ‘wasting’ time – something, unfortunately, which the parents of teenagers tend frequently to forget. He was in Pavia. He had joined his family having abandoned his studies in Germany, unable to endure the rigours of his high school there. It was the beginning of the twentieth century, and in Italy the beginning of its industrial revolution. His father, an engineer, was installing the first electrical power plants in the Paduan plains. Albert was reading Kant and attending occasional lectures at the University of Pavia: for pleasure, without being registered there or having to think about exams. It is thus that serious scientists are made.”
….
“Finally, in November 1915, he committed to print an article giving the complete solution: a new theory of gravity, which he called ‘The General Theory of Relativity’, his masterpiece and the ‘most beautiful of theories’, according to the great Russian physicist Lev Landau.
There are absolute masterpieces which move us intensely: Mozart’s Requiem; Homer’s Odyssey; the Sistine Chapel; King Lear. To fully appreciate their brilliance may require a long apprenticeship, but the reward is sheer beauty – and not only this, but the opening of our eyes to a new perspective upon the world. Einstein’s jewel, the general theory of relativity, is a masterpiece of this order.”
From Carlo Rovelli. “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics” – with regards to those who have a huge share of responsibility for irresponsibility

elementary knowledge for university admin staff

OPEN LETTER

I regret and feel very sorry: I would have expected that staff working in academic institutions – while we are writing the date of

Il giorno 20/mar/2018, alle ore 04:54,

apparently have to write

• Email submissions: We regret we are unable to accept references emailed to us

It is all about elementary knowledge, back to the real blackboard

Yes, I would have presumed the ability to deal with simple information technologies instead of uploading the burden on academics who surely have other and better things to do.

It is a commonly known problem though: specifically qualified staff not knowing about basics.
Feel free to contact one of my former students – they are surely most obliging and willing to help – and they do not even charge you such tremendous fees as universities like yours do. — I know, reading such things is frightening – as everything ugly is frightening if we see it in a mirror, feeling helpless especially if we are aware that we are acting as string puppets, being danced [yes, I hope for you that you don’t feel as dancer yourself] on others who are even weaker. – In any case, if YOU do not read it others will.
Positive thinking allows me to say that you fortunately are yourself worried about the low standards — otherwise you would not regret.
My recommendation: have a look if Warwick university offers offers some courses like
* basic IT-skills
* the problems of externalisation of cost: they multiplay and at some stage they return to the originator.
More positive thinking even: some universities came back to me, asked for apologies and promised changes. Unfortunately, after they asked for help and advice, they turned down my offer to support them further for a minor fee.
Sincerely worried – poor souls you are, a long way to academic standards [well, you remember E.P. Thompson? Top academics like him had been forced out …, history does to repeat, but lack of honesty and commitment apparently does …
Peter Herrmann
PS: Surprising for me is that a huge number of colleagues – students, administrators, academics – and surely most of the common people, using their common sense do agree .. and swallow.

Squalidness of a System – Gravediggers of Dreams – Murderers of Humanism

… which is all a continuation of the entries on boxing and the attempt to open the box and various other blogposts and you may have a look at
Sure, one may say it is not a great deal, all the advantages of the digital world will of course also be there to make universities a better world and even help to open the doors to these still somewhat sacred halls of humanism, Western education strongly claiming this tradition as still guiding principle, proudly showing the two Humboldt’s, sitting in front of the main building
[https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Wilhelm_von_Humboldt_Denkmal_-_Humboldt_Universität_zu_Berlin.jpg]
[https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Datei:Alexander_von_Humboldt_Denkmal_-_Humboldt_Universität_zu_Berlin.jpg]
Admittedly – oh vanity – it had been an delightfully exhilarating feeling when entering the building for [one of?] my first public presentations, passing the busts and insignia of the many ‘great forefather’ – and the few mothers mentioned. Being able to say ‘my forefathers’ allowed me to redefine my strange orphanage, knowing that it was indeed about moving on and moving up and stumbling through the academic world – witnessing and being part ….
Indeed, the baby can remain alive while occasionally the bathing water has to be changed. The problem, however, begins as soon as the new water proves to be poisoned.
*******
Warwick University is amongst quite a number that deserve being ‘reported’ as institutions boxing humans – and I will later return to this  case. Others are e.g. Brook [Canada], CUHK [HongKong], LSE [London], Oxford U and some UCL [somewhere on the island of independence-dreamers], being sufficiently arrogant to assume that everybody has to know who UCL is [actually it is possible to find out who is hiding behind the three letters: it is not Université catholique de Louvain, not the UEFA Champions League, Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research … [interesting to see the differences in search engine results, depending on the location from which you search], but it is University College London – sure, symptomatically, being at such a UCL people begin to think like a puddle [see also here for the entire text about the Salmon of Doubt]: there is only one UCL – it is like the puddle being the entire world, only made for you], are part of the experience of disrespect and a ‘special kind of illiteracy’ which may well go as culprit to court at some stage – though for me the [il]legal side is only a wee part of a story that shows the squalidness which higher education reached.
*******
Now coming back to it: Talking about Warwick University means talking about one amongst many, denouncing one as example for a systematic defect. But it also means that it has some especially bitter taste as the history should have taught some wisdom.
Warwick is one of the universities founded during the times of a spirit of change: the forerunner, shock and also aftermath of the so-called 68-movement – forerunners, shock and aftermath also in a positive sense of taking up the need of investing in education, and understanding education as part of …, well not necessarily a revolutionary movement, but an emancipative strive in the spirit of the bourgeois enlightenment for which names like Kant and Humboldt and, yes also Mill and Smith stood. However
And at some this this culminated and
At stake was
And with this it was already at an early stage clear that the entire enterprise was concerned with a shift of understanding of subject matters, i.e. the self-uderstanding of disciplines. Here it changed for instance lets say from economics to ‘Management Science’.
Of course – and Andrew McGettigan makes us aware of it – this has to be seen against the background of the changing economic situation in Britain at the time – though it hadn’t been Britain alone.
It is an often forgotten factor, unfortunately – as seeing this context may help us to understand the moves today, for instance looking at the ‘Eon Energy Research Center’ in Aachen, Germany or the more or less recent ‘donation’ of twenty professorships: the technical university in Munich receives these from the discounter Lidl.
Much more could be said, also that Foundations [the professorships are provided by the Lidl-Foundation, not directly Lidl] are a kind of money-laundry-undertakings, other cases could be mentioned — mind snatchers are under way, even resulting in more or less funny …, perhaps Freudian slips? Briefly retuning to Warwick, we read that
Yes, God save the Queen and long live there multiple heirs. And though I recently looked into kind of shocked eyes when I mentioned the personal experience of the 1972 Anti-Radical Decree [oh, if official documents are looked at …and if some others are considered].
*******

Back to the presence and the bad habits and style when it comes to dealign with applicants and referees – again:

  • Students, naming referees, are asked to provide ‘institutional e-mail addresses’ – Shouldn’t a university that claims to be international and global accept that lecturers are international and global, sometimes not able to maintain mail addresses from previous positions, sometimes just making life a bit easier using onky one ‘private’ mail address instead of permanently changing and/or checking various addresses?
  • Mails sent out  to the institutional address are sent in completely automated fashion or at least the responses are not checked. Concrete: for my part I set up an auto-reply, informing the sender that the mail address they used is rarely checked and asking them to use another contact address. What happens? Nothing. The keen interest of students to get their application properly lodged and also the right of lecturers to be available in a self-defined way are not respected – even the self-respect of the universities diminished to the extent that they reduce themselves to illiterate, at most semi-literate machines.
  • This is completed then by the expected formats of references: a questionnaire any person who is at least a little bit qualified in data analysis [not to speak of common sense] would immediately see as inappropriate, lacking meaning and not allowing gaining any insight it the student’s ability. Personal questions about the referee that breach protection of privacy and are completely irrelevant …
    – Of course, the entire procedure may [and should] be questioned and there is the need to find better ways. But leaving this aside, it may deserve some further reflection: Should a questionable procedure, a matter that is extremely difficult to be answered, be followed up by further sub-standardising the way of dealing with it?
  • Useful, then, would be to to protect referees against being bombarded by advertisement from those universities, offering the referee to apply for a graduate course … — so, apparently undergrads can act as referee??
End Administrative infantilisation – Please stop it
Artificial intelligence … – I am more concerned about artificial stupidity – but then again, it is certainly true that computers, also intelligent systems, are just doing what they are told do by humans: in other words there is no artificial stupidity, even if messages are from academic systems, we should not blame those algorithms. And one may summarise, saying that algorithmisation, further administration and infantilisation are very much different forms of incapacitation.
Other things may be added, different combinations can be found – the bottom line: human issues are dehumanised and passed on to systems that are completely lacking empathy, and do not even show some basic mindfulness and respect of the values the system they supposedly represent, claims as guiding. Simple: If a university claims to reflect and pursue the values of humanism in the truest sense, the same university should make sure that the instruments and tools, used by its departments work by applying and supporting these values.
*******
Navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse – Plutarco
The other day I talked with a colleague about all these developments in academia, she commented: ‘And we all accept it.’ I think it is really one of the problems, may be we get up, oppose on small items individually, may be even as small or large groups but at the end of the day  … – how can a system be changed, if changes are not approached on the system level, and systematically. Well, those who try have to pay. Those who have the say, always find a way. It is not least about  ‘squeezing more into less’.
To sum up, it is about universities and their development from academic educational settings to slaves of business further to administered systems, now to IT-led information providers.
Of course, the ‘old Bologna’ was also about business – and there Polanyi comes in: business was controlled by society – sure, we should not forget that it was a more or less rotten feudal society … And society itself is today actually often a stupid bubble economy, only leaving some small niches, suggesting real life is about withdrawing, looking for individual escapes … .
So, there you see me back, unsettled, opposing the temptation of a navigare necesse est, vivere non est necesse as already criticised by Plutarch. I just want to live, and I want for everybody the right to do exactly that. That is surely different  from permanently steering, moving from one emergency patch to another. And for the educational system it was already said by Alfred Marshall, thus even on the conservative side, stating

The schoolmaster must learn that his main duty is not to impart knowledge, for a few shillings will buy more printed knowledge than a man’s brain can hold. It is to educate character, faculties and activities; so that the children even of those parents who are not thoughtful themselves, may have a better chance of being trained up to become thoughtful parents of the next generation. To this end public money must flow freely. And it must flow freely to provide fresh air
and space for wholesome play for the children in all working class quarters. 

And we should never forget: at the end we are all complying! Nolens volens? Being algorithmicised, further administering life instead of living it or being infantilised – as long as we are not ready to stand up collectively and speak out loudly.

Honestly: Would you buy a used car from this man?

Would you buy a used car from this man?
Supposedly it originates in an anti-Nixon Poster from 1960.
Here is another question, seriously:

Can one as academic recommend students, honestly interested in understanding the world, eager to learn to a university that presents itself this way?

Well, the undue application procedure – one of many – did not allow me to remain silent … – so a letter went as well to this crowd:

Dear something – or somebody, I find it always extremely disrespectful to be approached by a machine, writing on a very personal issue, namely the assessment of the personality of a young man or woman who is looking for a responsible position in our societies. Furthermore it is highly unprofessional as mails of such format are often ‘auto-spammed’ – yes, machines with artificial intelligence know the difference between AI and AB [artificial bashfulness]. Also, using a no-reply address as sender lacks professional circumspection, not considering the rights of the recipient to move away from the address, change it or the like …

In the mail I received I found the sentence:

We require the use of the online recommendation process since it is the most efficient method to submit a recommendation to the Office of Admissions. The applicant’s file will not be processed until your recommendation has been submitted.

You should add: ‘for us’ as this what you respect instead of students and academic colleagues: Hobsons and FSBs convenience and efficiency, i.e. business-interest, distinct from academic requirements and standards. It is for you the most efficient way, not considering that you [i.e. Hobsons/FSB] shift your responsibility and workload on a person [i.e. individual academics] that is supporting students by offering a free, i.e. unpaid service to you [i.e. Hobsons/FSB] facilitating your work of evaluation. If you would imply external evaluators, it would be a rather expensive undertaking for you, while currently we as academics are covering these. – Sit down, please, and think twice about the truth of the meaning. I did not need the over forty years experience to come to this conclusion, but this time surely allowed me to witness an decreasing respect of academic and human standards in what is still called Higher Education. Sending letters that do not allow to clearly identify the sender, actually – from my understanding – sent by some company on behalf of a university, is suspicious.

BTW, the procedure in this case, if compared with that of other universities, is for the referee one of the worst and most complicated I ever came across  there had been several in over forty years. Furthermore, even the boxes that have to be completed for the referee-data are not allowing for differences in national systems etc. – more lack of international experience and professional standards on your side.

As stated on the website of the Dean [https://www.fuqua.duke.edu/about/our-dean], accessed on the seventeenth of January 2018, 21:08:
Checking Boxes is Not Enough in Ensuring Diversity – this, taken cum grano salis, is also applicable when it comes to dealign with applications and asking for references. There is good old request: FROM WORDS TO ACTION. You see … much to be done
I dare to hope that students learn other business models too at FSB, and learn also some respect – Alfred Marshal already made us aware of the need of such education, not boxing young people.
Sincerely worried about the future of Third Level Education in your country [unfortunately Fuqua School of Business is not known which also means I did not know where it is located before checking on the web – seemingly you assume everybody knows it, it is just another fault],
Peter Herrmann, respectfully still classified as human being
Prof. Dr. Peter Herrmann
Students, presenting such work as Hobsons and FSB do, would surely fail my courses.
And I dare to add: it is tremendously sad, that these things, the undue tyranny of administrations in non-administrative areas, are too often just swallowed and only few academics rebuke this bold takeover of universities, just complaining and moaning in silence …
PS: After writing ad sending this epistle I received a phone call – definitely a positiver sign, though at the end confirming that there are different departments of the university or actually agencies that are not part of the university dealing with issues, after they get some rather general information – the one seize fits all kind of, indeed ‘advancing business’ though far from acting as force for any good  that goes beyond personal or the institutions interest. Exactly the pattern of that teaching of economics that brought us the crisis of which we will celebrate in September the the anniversary – Happy Birthday Crisis, enjoy the profits you make out of squeezing honest people, mind the adversaries.

Higher Administration versus Higher Education

Recently, Denis Rogatyuk wrote in a telesur article about

Britain: University Teachers Launch the Largest Strike in Modern History

There we find the sentence

university staff, lecturers, and students have organized picket lines, rallies, occupations and protests across all major cities in the country in their bid to defend their future livelihood and bring the university administration back to the negotiating table.

Well,it deserves some slow reading, becoming fully aware of the fact that administrators are not mentioned. – Admittedly and importantly,

In a number instances, the vice-chancellor of the University of Newcastle, Chris Day, came out in support of the academic staff’s decision to strike, while Glasgow University’s Vice-chancellor, Anton Muscatelli, joined the staff on the picket lines on February 27th. Even the Conservative Minister for Universities, Sam Gyimah, expressed support for further negotiations between UCU and UUK

[An image from a University and College Union rally in London on February 28th. | Photo: UCU]

Of course, the one point is simply a matter of the ‘organisational framework’: Administrations are formally responsible for dealing with the issues of payment. However, considering that today admin-staff in UK universities gets higher pay [raises] as academics, the underlying is getting clear: universities are money generating systems, the academic freedom and academic standard seems to be – in the institutional  light – increasingly a necessary, though not valued by-product – as it is with any other commodity. – Achieving high academic standards is a matter of private engagement.

In this context another point should be mentioned, though just anecdotal: I talked to several colleagues, who confirmed that forty, four-five percent of standard teaching is nowadays at their uiversity undertaken by casual teaching staff. Mind: standard teaching. These teachers, often highly committed, still have another commitment: paying rent and getting some food on the table.

trying to open the box

 

Looking at how academic institutions deal with applications by students – and with lecturers who support their endeavour – when it comes to applications there seems to be little hope: one meets ignorance, lack of respect and unqualified ways of handling procedures – I referred to this issue earlier.. I suppose part of the problem is also that we usually accept such misbehavior and move on, allowing ‘them’ to move on their way. Hopeless …

“HOPE is what makes us strong. It is why we are here. It is what we fight with when all else is lost.”
– Pandora’s last words

With this attitude I wrote the letter/mail to some completely ignorant universities: if asking for a reference that supports students to follow their path of curiosity, has any meaning, there are some institutions that themselves delve in complete lack of meaning.

 

Dear colleague, I am writing to you after overcoming some hesitation and also after reflecting if there is any point in it.

Still, for the sake of students and due to my commitment to academia and academic standards I feel obliged to follow up on the way your university is dealing with applications. If there is any claim on hour side to be an academic institution of reputable rank and with an international standing, at least revisiting the following is highly advisable – to say the least.
Lecturers today are encouraged to move, and some actually manage to be engaged by different universities and research institutes – for my part I can humbly state that I had been in the lucky situation of being involved in teaching and research in different countries, linked to various institutions, amongst them those with high international standing. However, this also means that e-mail addresses change. Apparently, so I had been informed, your institution requires students to submit contact details of lectures whom they nominate for their recommendation, valid at the time of teaching. In other words, I had been teaching students who asked me for a reference after I left the respective university – and still the students are asked to provide contact details from an outdated position. In this light, what is really outdated is the requirement you set. It shows that your institution does not reflect standards of todays academia, and instead follows somewhat ‘provincial’, ‘parochial’ ideas. – I may add, that historically at least in Europe, the mobility of academics had been the norm, the settled, academic the exception – settled in terms of space usually also meant settled in thinking, lacking openness to exchange and innovation.
Now, moving on to the next point: In several cases it is [was] possible for me to keep the e-mail address from an earlier position. One option to deal with this is to check different mail accounts. Sometimes it is possible to forward mails; and another option is to set an automatic reply, informing and asking the sender to use a different e-mail-address. I had to chose with one of the accounts the latter option. So, the request for a reference, sent by our university to the one ‘official’ mail address, was answered by such automatic reply, providing an alternative address. Although the mail from your institution was not sent by a completely automated system and replies had been received, the responsible department or person did not consider to react in an appropriate way. On the contrary, later a reminder was sent to the same, inactive, address. This behaviour from your institution shows in my opinion cum gram salis the same attitude as that mentioned previously. It is highly disrespectful, ignoring the serious interests of students and showing no collegiality to academics. It is even topped by the fact that I once set a mail to the relevant department of your institution, using the ‘dormant address’. The rely I received gave apt evidence of the fact that the mail I sent was not properly read.
I may then add: the standardised ‘questionnaires’, used to ask to assess students, are substandard. In general I think it is questionable to use multiple choice questions and similar for such assessment – it is about young personalities and not machines or fat-stock. Still, if such approach is used, the design requires a bit more reflection. If a student of mine, would submit such questionnaire which I had been asked to complete, as part of exams, that student would end, on a generous day, with a very low grade.
Again, the way your institution is currently handling – at least – this part of the application process is simply appalling and lacks any respect towards students and those lecturers who are in a position to support their curiosity about learning. This part of their learning experience provided by you is apt to undermine such curiosity, and teach that studies you offer may not deliver what they promise.
Sincerely disappointed
Peter Herrmann

 

Prof. Dr. Peter Herrmann
Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy/
Max-Planck-Institut für Sozialrecht und Sozialpolitik
[section social law]
– Research Fellow –
….
skype: …
QQ: …
__________
University of Eastern Finland (UEF)
Department of Social Sciences
PL 1627
70211 Kuopio
FINLAND
—-Corvinus University
Institute of World Economy
Faculty of Social Sciences and International Relations
Fővám tér 8
1093 Budapest
HUNGARY
_________
Active Member of the European Academy of Science and Arts