Thursday, April 24, 2014

On Community

Part of the Division J Post-Conference Download series

by Margaret W. Sallee, Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University at Buffalo

“I’m so excited to be presenting in the same session as you,” the graduate student said, “I really admire your work.”

I turned around to make sure that she wasn’t talking to someone standing behind me.  No, as it turned out, she was talking to me.  Surely she must have me confused with another Margaret Sallee.  How did I become someone whose work is admired?  Aren’t I still new to the field?  As it turns out, I’m not so new anymore.  I no longer belong to the new generation of scholars in higher education, but I’m part of a generation that at least one new scholar admires.  That is a lot of pressure.

This notion of generations is one that I pondered throughout my time in Philadelphia.  This Annual Meeting was both similar and different from years past for me.  For one, it was a bit less chaotic than the meeting in San Francisco where I ran the show for the Inaugural Film Festival and schlepped films and promotional materials to and from the hotel on a daily basis.  (On a side note, here’s hoping that it was indeed the inaugural film festival and not the first and final festival…)  So, this year I was able to spend more time attending sessions.  I managed to attend the session with Francisco Marmolejo from The World Bank.  I also went to a session on MOOCs, which was surprisingly underattended for a topic that many are so passionate about.  What I love most about AERA is the opportunity to branch out beyond the disciplinary confines of higher education to attend sessions and make connections across divisions and SIGs.  It helps me think about my own scholarship in new ways.  But I digress.  Back to generations.

This year was particularly special for me because I had the opportunity to present a paper with my father, a retired math professor.  I (perhaps naively) imagined that we were the only father-child pair to write together until I saw father and son Hal Lawson and Michael Lawson win the Review of Research Award at the Awards Luncheon.  So, we were not the first.  Plus, now, a high bar had been set for interfamilial collaborations.  In any case, as a scholar who advocates bridging divides between work and family, being able to actually bridge work and family in my scholarship was an incredible experience.  While I value the paper that we produced, I value the memory of how happy my father and I were to share a stage together even more.

At this Annual Meeting, I had the opportunity to collaborate across generations within my own family. However, I also reflected on my place within the multiple generations of the higher education community.  It is through annual gatherings that I have had the opportunity to interact with senior scholars.  I have shared drinks with my contemporaries and those who have been around a bit longer.  I also have grabbed a cup of coffee with graduate students.  Through all of these meetings, I have both benefitted from and given advice; each interaction has helped to remind me that I am part of a larger community.  Many of my most fruitful collaborations have resulted from meeting someone at AERA or at ASHE.  Over a meal or even just a quick chat between sessions, I have gotten to know more than one person who has turned into a trusted collaborator and friend.

And so this is what the Annual Meeting means to me: a way to re-connect with colleagues from around the country and world who come from the many generations of the higher education community.  To share ideas and be inspired to think about new projects in new ways.  To be reminded of why we do what we do.  In a few more years, no doubt, another generation will enter the academy and that graduate student who approached me will have an admiring student of her own.

Margaret W. Sallee is Assistant Professor of Higher Education at the University at Buffalo.  Her research focuses on the intersections of individual identity and organizational culture, particularly related to issues of work and family.  Her latest book Faculty Fathers: Toward A New Ideal in the Research University is set to be published by SUNY Press later this year.  She can be reached by e-mail at

This post is part of our Post-Conference Download series. Over the weeks following the 2014 Annual Meeting, we will feature several reflections on the conference.

Monday, April 21, 2014

A Reflection on Drafting Justice

Part of the Division J Post-Conference Download series

by Michael A. Olivas, William B. Bates Distinguished Chair of Law and Director of the Institute of Higher Education Law & Governance at the University of Houston Law Center

USC’s Adrianna Kezar, as always generous, has asked me to blog about my recent AERA. While I am a great consumer of the blogging efforts of others, I do not produce any blogs, in my personal ecological effort to keep the blogosphere green and Olivas-free. But since she asked nicely, I have jotted down some notes and edited portions of my Award Lecture. I am trying to live within a carbon and byte footprint, so it is edited for brevity. I have edited the remarks I made at the AERA Awards Lecture, upon receiving the AERA Social Justice in Education Award for 2014, “Drafting Justice: Statutory Language, Public Policy, and Legislative Reform.” In the Lecture, I recounted the details and satisfactions of my involvement in several legislative reform efforts where I wrote statutory language myself or in collaboration with other co-conspirators, in the areas of state immigration DREAM Acts, college access, and the Texas Top 10 % Plan:
However, all of this is just prelude, and protesting, probably too much—that exquisite Shakespearean turn of phrase about suspect motives and false humility. The truth is, I concede I am drawn this way due to the congeries of personal attributes, and the unlimited latitude I have in my pursuit of suitable topics. Of all the dimensions of a full life as a professor—the opportunities and rewards of teaching, mentoring, scholarship, consulting, professional service, advising—I will say that one small piece of my life has been more deliberate and purposeful, and I rarely see this side of service and social justice acknowledged, so I have chosen as my topic "Statutory Language, Public Policy, and Legislative Reform," with the tongue in cheek corollary "Being in the Right Place at the Right Time with the Right People," a truism that likely accounts for my own involvement and satisfaction with this piece of my work, statutory drafting and legislative reform, including its kissing cousin, regulatory reform and administrative law. If there is an advocacy-gene in me, it is likely one nurtured by experience and my training, especially my legal training.  Just as it is always noteworthy how much children's willingness to learn turns on how much they like their teacher, a truly scary and life-affirming observation, but I am no different. . .

I end, as I began, grateful for this recognition, absolving all the nominators who so thoughtfully singled me out, and grateful for the many opportunities being a professor has afforded me. I am at the stage of my career where I am more delighted at my students’ achievements than I am at my own.  It isn’t even a close call. When they publish, get elected to judicial or legislative office, start a law firm, start a family, win an important case, I feel very fulfilled.  I delight in their returning to see me, their attending UHLC functions, their calls, their emails.  Don’t get me wrong: I’ve also had a half dozen students (that I know of) disbarred or admonished.  I cringe reading the Texas Law Journal disciplinary listings, the way my grandfather used to scan The Santa Fe New Mexican obituaries, to see how many primos or cuates he had lost.  But most have done extraordinarily well, and I celebrate them today with you.  Education is truly our society’s engine of upward mobility and stability.
As satisfying as a recent book or article or testimony is—and there is almost nothing better than laboring at the keyboard and bringing forth a piece into print—I really believe that nurturing young professionals, especially young professors, is the highest calling, the most rewarding vocation.  Now I know why my parents honored teachers; in our home, we often had our grade school teachers over to our house on important occasions, and they would sit in my father’s chair—something I don’t even do to this day, years after his too-early passing.  Every year, he would accompany each of us to the first day of school, a ritual that to this day haunts me.  (I am the oldest of ten children.)  He would say to each new teacher:  “I’m Sabino Olivas, and his teachers say my son Michael is smart but can be lazy.  I would like homework assigned every night, or a note from you telling me there is no homework.  You can punish him if he deserves it, but you must inform me so I can also punish him.”  No litigation in my family. Needless to say, I always dreaded the first day of classes, and classmates at my 25th high school reunion remembered these humiliating “teaching moments.”  But they had their desired effect, and I guess I always understood I would be a teacher of one sort or another, if only to gain my father’s approval.  And it was hard to win this approval. Years later, I would return to my native New Mexico, and run into one of my Dad’s friends, only to discover that they knew all about what I was up to—writing a book or giving a lecture somewhere—because he’d been bragging about me. But never to my face.  Praise, like allowance, was carefully rationed in the Olivas household.
Thus, in the spirit of this extraordinary Award, I thank all the colleagues who wrote letters for me, which were, fortunately, not subject to any Texas oath requirements for truthfulness (and believe me, they checked the statutes). I accept it for all the many teachers who shaped me.  But for the most part, notwithstanding these wonderful friends and colleagues, I accept it on behalf of my hundreds and hundreds of students, from Ohio State English composition classes, and Education and Law students from the various schools where I have visited, but especially my UH students, and especially those who have become professors.  Some of you are in this room, edging towards the doorways. You are truly my greatest gift, and I thank you all for this honor at the midpoint of my life as a professor.  I will try to be worthy of it.
What other profession, perhaps save that other teaching vocation—the religious life—gives back so much to its practitioners?  To be good at it, we must contend with ideas, reconcile contradictions, grapple with evil, especially the evil of ignorance and hatred.  But, with practice, and on a good day, we have our breakthrough articles, our wonderful classes, our worthwhile service. We should guard this splendid privilege and not squander it on self-indulgence, passing politics, commerce, or mean spiritedness.  In this transcendent sense, I share this with all of you, my AERA colleagues.
I will say that the Lecture and the Awards Lunch made my recent AERA experience a very good one. And it reminded me once again what a lucky boy I am.

This post is part of our Post-Conference Download series. Over the weeks following the 2014 Annual Meeting, we will feature several reflections on the conference.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Reflections on AERA14

Part of the Division J Post-Conference Download series

by Sara Goldrick-Rab, Associate Professor of Educational Policy Studies and Sociology, University of Wisconsin-Madison

When I was a graduate student, I had one goal in mind: to make the world a fairer place. In my estimation, that had little to do with becoming an academic, and so I honestly had no interest or intention of becoming one.  I thought that my doctoral program in Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania would help me gain the skills needed to dissect social problems and figure out how to address them; when finished, I planned to go out and do just that.

But funny things happen on the way to graduation, and despite my active consulting agenda and constant insistence that I only wanted to do applied research, friends and mentors (including my advisor Jerry Jacobs) convinced me to apply for a position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The job seemed to have “Sara” written all over it, they said, since it was for a sociologist studying higher education policy with strong networks and methodological skills.  I thought, “sure, but I’ll never get it” and applied anyway.  I hadn’t finished a single chapter of my dissertation at the time, but two months later the job in the wonderful Department of Educational Policy Studies was mine, and I spent the spring of 2004 frantically writing up my research in a West Philadelphia coffee shop. Getting that done meant ignoring practically everything else, including my new boyfriend who went on to become my husband just a year later.  Remarkably, people put up with me, cheered me on, and off I went to the Midwest.

Fast-forward ten years, and on April 5 2014, I found myself at AERA standing in front of more than 1,300 people, accepting the Early Career Award.  Me, a professor, honored by an enormous membership organization of talented people devoting their lives to research on important problems? Me—a professor?  I kept thinking, “what the heck happened?” But most of all, I thought “thank you, thank you, thank you.”

For I will never stop being grateful for this vote of confidence in the work I’ve done because this job that I do, I love completely.  I adore my work, I live and breathe and eat my work, and I wake up and go to sleep thinking of my work every single day. It gives me energy, it makes me laugh, it causes tears, and pain, and heartache, and I can’t imagine it ever ending. The luxury of spending my days chipping away at really hard problems, like how to make college affordable for the swarms of Americans who want to experience it, and the chance to dictate the terms of my life without an obvious boss, it’s beyond any blessing I’ve ever imagined receiving.

Standing at that podium made me as nervous as I’d ever been. I shook because I was overcome with how hard everyone had worked to get me here. The words poured out of me—I could hear my grandfather’s voice telling me to “go get ‘em” and my late grandma’s words “keep it short and simple, Sara.”  I could feel my family smiling at me through the camera that streamed the images into my living room at home, where my husband Liam, son Conor (age 7), and daughter Annie (age 4) sat watching.  They put up with me loving my job and love me anyway.  Nearby sat Nancy Kendall, my very best friend in the world who is never afraid to tell me what I least want to hear.  Often, that’s about the importance of ensuring that I fulfill my obligations at home and to myself, and that means turning to Patrice Coffin, who loves my kids and keeps them safe, and Alison Bowman, my associate director and right hand, who lifts burdens from me as often as possible, and turns my dreams into accomplishable tasks.

Then there are those who remind me that being a professor is about far more than sitting in an office waiting for students to arrive, or revising papers to send off to restricted-access journals.  I come to AERA for the people, the people who make me marvel at how big and good the world can be when caring translates into action.  Scott Thomas, Kate Shaw, Carola Suarez-Orozco, Rebecca Maynard, Tammy Kolbe, Adam Gamoran, Eli Lieber, Barbara Schneider, Ellen and Shawn Costello, Robert Kelchen, Lauren Schudde, Rich Shavelson, Minh Mai, and Chris Mazzeo, thanks for being there to celebrate with me.  You, and my students, and the world on Twitter, and most of all the everyday people who walked in and among and around me on the streets of Philadelphia during that trip—the Philadelphia where I turned my eyes towards academia and found myself—you’ve made all of the difference.  My “early” career may have been great, but I can hardly wait for the next part. 

This post is part of our Post-Conference Download series. Over the weeks following the 2014 Annual Meeting, we will feature several reflections on the conference.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Amen to all that

Part of the Division J Post-Conference Download series

by William G. Tierney, Wilbur Kieffer Professor of Higher Education, University Professor & Associate Dean for Research & Faculty Affairs, Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California

A long time ago I served as Vice President of Division J.  I was also a member-at-large for the Council about a decade ago, and now I have concluded my 3 year presidential term.  One of the aspects of academic life I always have enjoyed is the ability to do different things rather than having to do the same thing over and over again.  AERA has enabled me to do a lot of different activities and learn a great deal about ideas and people.

AERA has changed a lot, but probably not changed enough.  It’s a conference, in some respects, that everyone loves to hate: It’s too crowded.  It’s too exhausting.  It’s too qualitative.   It’s too quantitative.  There are not enough sessions on (fill in the blank); there are too many sessions on (fill in the blank).  It’s also too expensive.  I could go on.  And on.

But people keep coming to the conference.  Last year we had 15,000 attendees; this year we had 14,000.  AERA works best when people are able to disagree with one another out in the public in sessions or in meetings or even in hallways.  We’re a ‘big tent’ organization and big tents should be able to hold lots of people with competing ideas.  At its best, AERA fosters conversations across disciplines and methods to help improve educational theory, policy, and practice.

However exhausted I am when I leave AERA I always head home with a sense of having learned something and made a new friend or two.  This year was a touch different because I’ve sort of come to the end of my AERA involvement.  I’ll still show up for the annual conference and publish an article here or there, but it’s time for me to look to other horizons and other adventures.  AERA helped foster that sense of intellectual adventure over the years, and I hope it does so for all of you.  Get involved.  Change the organization and move it in a direction that is responsive to the multiple needs we face.

This post is part of our Post-Conference Download series. Over the weeks following the 2014 Annual Meeting, we will feature several reflections on the conference.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

AERA Hangover

Part of the Division J Post-Conference Download series

by Andre M. Perry, Founding Dean of Urban Education, Davenport University

I always leave the American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) annual meeting with a hangover of renewal; the meeting generates in me energy to write 1,000 articles before the next. However, my arrival to my students and communities and the substantive problems they face quickly sobers me up. My return from AERA always represents what is effectually a vast gulf between the research of higher education and the political goals that should motivate it.

Having identified as a researcher then later on as an administrator in both K-12 and higher educational settings, I occasionally hallucinate during my colleagues’ paper presentations at AERA. I see a professor in regalia in an ivory tower meticulously describing the damage the oncoming wrecking ball will cause. In other words, the study of higher education needs fewer words, less data and more political action.

During my academic time at the University of New Orleans, Louisiana spent $1.4 billion for higher education in fiscal year 2007-08. However, in 2013 Gov. Bobby Jindal’s budget devolved to contain $284.5 million for colleges and universities. Many researchers meticulously situated the 80 percent reduction in state funding to a conservative agenda bent on political patronage. Following suit, university administrators managed their own downfalls by finding creative ways to cut budgets. While professors accurately described these phenomena, particular industrialists, lobbyists and non-governmental organizations in Louisiana mobilized constituents, aligned agendas and leveraged resources to redirect funding away from students and their postsecondary institutions.

Meanwhile at my former institution of UNO, leaders and researchers of higher education ostensibly did not have the skills to protect ourselves from a rival agenda or to defend the principles we stood upon. Many of us graduated from programs that taught us policy analysis, but didn’t teach us advocacy. We separated our research from political actors who could have found mutually beneficial ends. The field of higher education research seeks approval from peer reviewers (who are trained with the same deficiencies), rather than the positive impact our research can have on a community. I was warned by a higher education faculty and administration to not get too involved for it would hurt my chances of getting tenure (which I received) and my activities would stain the work. This was particularly surprising given our post-Katrina context. I couldn’t sip that Kool-Aid. What happened to improving my community?

If higher education research is to be taken seriously, researchers must see themselves as members of a political community bolstered by unappealable principles. Michelle Rhee and Diane Ravitch are rigid, often inconsistent and highly unreasonable. However, they defend their respective political communities and influence real outcomes. I can hear taunts from atop the ivory tower that say higher education doesn’t need another divisive character. However, higher education researchers do need principles, leadership and a true political agenda that advance those principles. Like it or not, researchers are influenced by multiple agendas. I would rather have my research promote my field’s political needs.

Our research must become more politically relevant. As a higher education scholar that worked in a post-Katrina environment, I can say my academic work helped erect effective schools, hire teachers committed to New Orleanians, increase college access and assist undocumented immigrant find postsecondary options. Research can stem from and give birth to outcomes that can be measured based on human capital gains. Research can produce political outcomes that don’t compromise the principles it stands upon.

Researchers talk of change that our political behaviors don’t reflect. One could easily argue that most higher education research defends the status quo because of its political detachment. Aloofness in higher education research conveniently serves the aforementioned conservative agenda. The language used in many of the sessions I attended on college access represented the same exclusivity the professors incoherently decried. I used to think that professors understood that discourse on “discourse” stays within the confines of privilege. Illuminating student outcomes using yet another design falls short of providing underserved students an education that results in employment. Waxing poetic about the travails of marginalized populations and evils of neoliberalism won’t pay students’ tuitions. An academic agenda for higher education should be measured based on its ability to deliver real human capital gains.

I actually entered the field in 1998 when President Bill Clinton pledged “to make the thirteenth and fourteenth years of education – at least two years of college – just as universal in America by the twenty-first century as a high school education is today.” I’m still waiting to see a readily accessible research agenda that is part of a movement toward that end. However, in the K-12 reform community, there’s an expectation that research contributes towards academic growth, school erection, improved teacher training, or some other tangible outcome. You don’t have to agree with what new-aged reformers stand for, but seeing a political agenda reflects their influence on delivering it.

If anyone outside of the AERA is to deem higher education research worthy, we must demonstrate its relevance. Education research can be and should be measured by its ability to add human capital to people who need it most. Enough with the affectations of word-making and “discourse shifting.” Enough replication of findings long since found. Enough of the poorly veiled polemics that are positioned as research based in discovery. As the urban research group N.W.A. once said, “Don’t get high off your own supply.”

It’s time higher education researchers made our politics explicit and our research matter. 

Dr. Andre Perry (@andreperryedu), founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Mich., is the author of The Garden Path: The Miseducation of a City (2011).

This post is part of our Post-Conference Download series. Over the weeks following the 2014 Annual Meeting, we will feature several reflections on the conference.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Needed: New Strands of Research in Higher Education Finance and Public Policy

by Christopher M. Mullin, Assistant Vice Chancellor for Policy and Research at the State University System of Florida, Board of Governors and Jennifer A. Delaney, Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

The field of higher education has benefitted from the contributions of researchers applying various methodologies, frameworks, and perspectives. Using these tools, higher education public policy and finance scholars have shaped our collective understanding of the higher education enterprise.

The field of higher education finance has a number of important strands. For example, there exists a strong and enduring strand in the research literature that focuses on a student’s response to price, there is a strand devoted to examining how student aid is structured and delivered to impact student outcomes, there is a strand that examines the economic returns to college, there are studies focused on institutional expenditures and unit costs that drive the prices students pay, and a line of research on the models that allocate funding to public colleges, such as performance-based funding.

At the intersection of higher education finance and public policy, there are a number of important areas of inquiry and we often find both academics and policymakers working in this space. For example, there are reports that examine trends in higher education finance (such as reports from the College Board, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the State Higher Education Executive Officers).

These and other strands of research in the higher education finance and public policy fields are important and have informed (and likely will continue to inform) policy at the institutional, state, and federal levels to improve opportunity for the students who enroll, to advance innovations in research, and to strengthen communities.

There is yet one line of inquiry that we believe needs greater attention: efficiency and adequacy in higher education. Neither of these are new concepts, but higher education scholars tend to shy away from research on these subjects. On the campus and in the state capital where we work, we often hear deans and policymakers asking us to meet certain outcomes with a limited discussion of the resources required to meet these new outcome levels. However, we know little from a research standpoint about what this will entail or the impact that this approach will have.

Johnstone (1999) has written that the concepts of access, quality, and efficiency are in tension in higher education and are often treated as a zero sum game such that enhancing one will lead to reductions in the others. While there is rich scholarship in the areas of access and quality, scholarly research on efficiency is much sparser. Contributions to the field often discuss how to balance access and quality. Both of these goals can be accomplished through the allocation of additional resources. However, we have a much more limited understanding of how to efficiently maintain, or increase, both access and quality. This idea of efficiency needs to be researched and engaged in policy discussions. The field needs scholarship in all three areas to better understand the ways in which the finance of higher education either enhances or limits social mobility, social justice, equity, and both the preservation and creation of knowledge in postsecondary institutions.

Research to determine adequacy is not uncommon in K-12 finance and we believe that we have entered an era in which these arguments will increasingly impact higher education policy decisions. Adequacy not only has utility for institutions in terms of benchmarking their expenditures to the outcomes they seek to produce, it has an impact on access, equity, and success. Research on adequacy allows for conversations about the appropriate shares each revenue source contributes given the substantial returns to education. We also believe that better decisions can be made if based on a robust foundation of scholarship that considers efficiency in postsecondary settings and adequacy of funding at all levels of higher education.

A few scholars have written about efficiency in higher education at a conceptual level and the tension among access (equity), quality, and efficiency. In addition, a couple scholars have applied ideas of adequacy to the study of equity in higher education. However, we believe that more research like this should be done in the fields of higher education finance and public policy.

About the Bloggers
Jennifer A. Delaney served as a co-chair of Division J, Section 5 for the 2014 AERA annual meeting and is currently an assistant professor at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Christopher M. Mullin served as a co-chair of Division J, Section 5 for the 2014 AERA annual meeting and is currently the assistant vice chancellor for policy and research at the State University System of Florida, Board of Governors. He is also the co-author of a newly published monograph Higher Education Finance Research: Policy, Politics, and Practice.

Johnstone, D. B. (1999). “Financing higher education: Who should pay?” In P. G. Altbach, R. O. Berdhal & P. J. Gumport (Eds.), American higher education in the twenty-first century: Social, political, and economic challenges (2nd ed.) (pp. 369-392). Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.