The biggest issue with FSU’s presidential search: Can FSU’s faculty rebuild its sense of community after the search is over?

On Wednesday, the day after I spoke in favor of advancing Senator John Thrasher to the final round of FSU’s presidential search during the meeting of the search advisory committee, a colleague thanked me for speaking up.  He said there were other professors who shared my opinion but who were unwilling to say so publicly.

The more I pondered this comment, the more concerned I became about the long-term impact of the presidential search on our community of scholars.  I’m not going to argue here that there are hundreds of professors who support the Thrasher candidacy.  Let’s assume for the sake of argument that there are only two in addition to me, three of us altogether.  I was obviously not too afraid to speak up, although I confessed to several colleagues afterward that I had been more nervous than I had been in front of a group in a long time.  But if I have colleagues that are afraid to speak up, then that is bad for our institution.

A university like ours can only be a nurturing learning community for its students if the faculty makes it a priority to maintain an open, tolerant environment for dissenting opinions.  If even one faculty member feels socially intimidated enough to conclude there is too big a price to pay for speaking her or his mind on an important issue – and the selection of a new President certainly qualifies – then that is one faculty member too many.  In such a situation, all of us need to examine ourselves and our community and to make changes in the way we discuss and debate issues.  There is no excuse for social intimidation at a university.

I’ve certainly sent my share of blistering e-mails to colleagues and administrators during my time here.  But those were on matters that concerned the future of students and educational priorities.  And once those disputes were settled (and I lose more often than I win), I considered them closed and past.

The next few weeks will be an important test for FSU.  The selection of a new president is important, but it pales in comparison to the decision we will have to make as a faculty about the sort of community we would like to have.  Are we going to maintain the FSU tradition of working hard to find ways to get along with each other?  Or are we going to allow the rips that have formed in the fabric of our community during the last few months to remain?  This is too important a decision to leave to a few vocal colleagues.  We all need to decide for ourselves what needs to be done, and then we have to summon the courage to do it.

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Think dropping the Bright Futures test score requirement is an awful idea? One group of students is already exempt…

Not everybody likes my idea (described in an op-ed in yesterday’s Tallahassee Democrat) to drop the test score requirement from Florida’s Bright Futures program and replace it with a requirement for higher level high school math and science courses – Precalculus, Biology, Chemistry, Physics and computer programming.  I suggested dropping the test score for the same reason that the Office of Civil Rights of the US Department of Education is investigating the program for evidence of racial discrimination:  because in increasing the required minimum SAT score from 970 to 1170 (to control the number of scholarships and thus the program cost) the State of Florida disproportionately excluded black and Latino students.  I argued that substituting my course requirement for the test score would not result in a decrease in rigor, but would instead keep opportunities open to more students to pursue college majors and careers in the most economically attractive fields.

But removing the test score requirement has a kind of visceral impact.  Isn’t the test score central to the concept of the Bright Futures program?  Wouldn’t we be setting a bad precedent by dropping the test score requirement just to get more kids from disadvantaged backgrounds in the program?

It turns out the answer to both of those questions is no.  There is already a group of students that is exempt from the Bright Futures test score requirement.  And they are mostly not from disadvantaged backgrounds.  In fact, it is a remarkably affluent group.

It’s graduates of International Baccalaureate (IB) and Cambridge Advanced International Certificate of Education (AICE) programs.  Florida students who earn diplomas in these programs are exempt from the Bright Futures test score requirement (see page 5 of this).

I couldn’t find Florida-specific statistics on the demographics of the IB program, and I didn’t locate any information on AICE demographics.  But the International Baccalaureate Organization reported that in May 2009 only 16% of diploma candidates in its American schools were eligible for free and reduced price lunches.  Compare that statistic to this:  In the 2009-2010 school year, 47.5% of American K-12 students were eligible for free and reduced price lunches.

The IB population is remarkably affluent.  And in Florida, they are exempt from the Bright Futures test score requirement.

Maybe since we are already exempting a select group of affluent kids from the Bright Futures test score requirement, we should exempt everybody.  And substitute a requirement that will help steer kids toward the careers with the greatest economic opportunities.

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Leave the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering out of the FSU Presidential controversy

If you have a problem with the way the FSU presidential search is being conducted, fine.  Make your points, and make them civilly.

But leave John Thrasher’s attempt to take a close look at the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering out of it.

During his short interview on Tuesday, Senator Thrasher said that several FSU presidents had expressed concerns about the performance of the joint school and argued that this justified a careful reexamination.

As a physics professor, I’d rather see some numbers.  My regular readers have seen these numbers and read this argument before, but here is the stark truth direct from the Florida Board of Governors interactive university database.

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In 2003-2004, the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering awarded 105 bachelors’ degrees to African-American students.  That was 44% of the State University System total.

In 2012-2013, the school graduated only 43 black bachelor-level engineers.  Not only was that a 59% decline from 2003-2004, but it was also only 17% of the SUS total.

If the primary goal of the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering is to graduate black engineers, then there is something terribly wrong.  Any responsible policy-maker would take a careful look at what is happening there.

So if you want to object to Senator Thrasher’s candidacy for the FSU Presidency, have at it.

But leave the legislative review of the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering out of it.

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FSU’s faculty and students should think hard this weekend about how they will conduct themselves during the next two weeks

Paul Cottle:

FSU’s present presidential search has now moved far beyond the TK search in its lack of civility. This weekend, students and faculty should give some serious thought to how they will conduct themselves during the next two weeks.

Originally posted on Bridge to Tomorrow:

In my 28 years at Florida State, I’ve served only one academic year in the Faculty Senate. That was 2002-2003, the year of the presidential search that resulted in the hiring of TK Wetherell, who was then President of Tallahassee Community College and had previously been Speaker of the Florida House (and he had run a kickoff back for a touchdown against Miami in the 1960’s).  The Faculty Senate, seeing the presidential search tilt toward TK, considered a motion of no confidence in the Board of Trustees. I stood up and argued that since the only thing the Board really does is hire a president that it would be counterproductive to fight them over the presidential hire – that it might permanently ruin the relationship between the faculty and the Board. I suggested that the Faculty Senate save its energy for coaxing our new president to hire the right Provost…

View original 533 more words

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Percentage of African-Americans among SUS engineering bachelors’ grads in decline

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After reaching a fairly respectable 11.0% in 2004-2005, the percentage of African-Americans among SUS engineering bachelor’s degree grads began to decline, reaching a low of 6.5% in 2011-2012.

Overall, African-Americans received 12.1% of all SUS bachelors’ degrees earned in 2012-2013.  In the Fall of 2013, 22.9% of Florida’s PK-12 public school students were African-American.

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Number of African-American bachelor’s level engineers graduating from FAMU dropped by 2/3 in a decade

If the mission of the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering is to graduate African-American engineers, then this is very bad news.

In 2003-2004, FAMU graduated 81 African-American engineers at the bachelor’s degree level, which accounted for about 1/3 of the total SUS production of African-American engineers that year (240).

By 2012-2013, FAMU’s engineering bachelor’s degree yield for African-American students had dropped by 2/3, to 27.  The SUS total for that year was 247, so FAMU accounted for only 11% of the total.

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The Florida Legislature has funded a study of whether the FAMU/FSU College of Engineering should be continued in its present form, or whether the two universities should each have their own engineering schools.  The study is due prior to the next legislative session.

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Which SUS institutions lead on bachelors’ degrees in computer fields and engineering?

The numbers of bioscience bachelors’ degrees awarded by Florida State University System (SUS) institutions has exploded during the last decade, even though the economic power of these degrees is limited at best.  Meanwhile, the rates at which the system has awarded bachelors’ degrees in more lucrative STEM fields – computer, engineering and physical science fields – have stagnated or even declined.

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An op-ed published in the August 10 issue of the Tallahassee Democrat (and reproduced here) and the above plot describe this situation in more detail.

Which of the SUS institutions are most responsible for these trends?

The University of Florida is the SUS institution that produces by far the largest number of bachelors’ degrees in engineering and biosciences.  The reason for this is not that UF awards the largest number of bachelors’ degrees in total – it doesn’t.  UCF, USF, and even FSU awarded more bachelors’ degrees in 2012-2013 than UF did.  Instead, the percentages of total UF bachelors’ degrees that are awarded in engineering and the biosciences are much larger than the corresponding percentages at other SUS institutions.

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In 2012-2013, 12.2% of all UF bachelors’ degrees were awarded in engineering.  The nearest competitor in the SUS was UCF at 6.3%.

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In the same year, biosciences accounted for 9.7% of all UF bachelors’ degrees, while USF ranked second in this category at 7.7%.

While the large percentage of engineering degrees awarded by UF has been fairly constant during the last decade, UF’s high rate of production of bioscience degrees is a recent phenomenon.

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As recently as 2007-2008, only 3% of UF’s bachelors’ degrees were awarded in the biosciences.  That rate has more than tripled since then.

The above plot of UF bachelor’s degree production also shows another interesting result – the zeroing-out of the production of degrees in computer fields.  Most other SUS institutions award between 1.5% and 4% of their bachelors’ degrees in computer fields.

sus_computerUF has certainly not been alone in rapidly growing its bioscience bachelor’s degree production.  FGCU, FIU, FSU and UCF have also experienced rapid increases in the percentages of bachelors’ degrees they award in the biosciences.

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ucfThe plot of bachelor’s degree production at FAMU shows another striking result – the collapse of the engineering degree pipeline at that institution.

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In 2003-2004, 8.2% of the bachelors’ degrees awarded by FAMU were in engineering.  By 2012-2013 that rate had dropped to just 2.3%.  FAMU awards engineering degrees through the joint FAMU-FSU College of Engineering, which is presently the subject of a legislative study after an attempt to split the college during the 2014 session.

The statistics in this post come from the Interactive University Data page on the web site of the Florida Board of Governors.  The bioscience numbers are the totals for all bachelor’s degree programs under CIP code 26; for engineering, CIP code 14; for computer fields, CIP code 11; and for physical sciences, CIP code 40.

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