Liberty to argue

When I travel, I take pictures – lots of pictures.  I take pictures of buildings and signs and lampposts and steeples and arches and flowers and a perfect espresso and quotes carved on cornerstones. And I have my desktop preferences set to rotate through my thousands of travel pictures, one at a time, so that each day I see a different picture from my journeys.

Today’s picture was of this quote:  “Give me liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely according to my conscience, above all other liberties.”  Milton

Here’s the picture that’s serving as today’s desktop decoration. 

Milton had it right, didn’t he?  We are sorely in need of greater understanding and acceptance of the liberty to argue freely according to our understanding.  I would add, of course, that we should also argue respectfully, which also seems to be lacking these days.

Isn’t that one reason we work at an institution of higher education?  To foster the ability to “know, to utter and to argue freely according to [one’s] conscience”?

I believe that education is the key to a good life.  It is the key to a thriving economy, to creativity and innovation, to an engaged citizenry, to a functioning democracy, to acceptance of differences – but most importantly it is the key to liberty.  So when I spin and churn at work, when I go from a meeting about a new initiative to hearing a complaint from a faculty member to writing a report about another initiative to responding to an argumentative email, I do it because I believe in the power of education to change things for the good.  And yes, I believe fervently in liberty, including the liberty “to argue freely [and respectfully] according to my conscience”.  And I expect that you do too.


Football in Texas, like politics, is a contact sport.  Love it or loathe it, the sport involves the physical impact that one player (a defensive tackle, for instance) can have on another (the running back, for instance).

While football is all about physical force and impact, what we do in our work  at ACC is about a different sort of force and impact.  Here is a nice article from the Austin American-Statesman about a football player at LBJ (middle linebacker Lamael Hicks) that illustrates my point.  

When asked which of his high school courses would benefit him the most after graduation, Lamael replied this way:

“I would say the Early College Program, which allows students like myself to enroll into (Austin Community College) and get a chance to earn college credits while still taking high school classes at the same time.”

When asked about his future plans, Lamael had this to say:

“I’ll be going to a four-year university and major in wildlife biology and minor in architecture.”

Early College High Schools – like football – are all about intentionally directed force and impact.  We enter into partnerships with area high schools that serve students who are less likely to go to college.  The goal is to reduce barriers to college access and support greater equity in pursuing the benefits of a postsecondary credential.  We all believe that education is the doorway to a good and fruitful life.  And our work in Early College High Schools is one illustration of that belief.

Raise a glass to the impact of education.  And wish Lamael luck in his pursuit of his dreams.

In Praise of Libraries

When I was in college I worked in a public library.  I have always loved libraries – every time I return to my hometown I drive by the old public library where I worked and I remember not only my work there, but the summer book clubs and story hours that I participated in growing up.  When I drive by the old public library, I still recall the feeling from childhood that walking through those doors meant I was entering other landscapes full of exotic and interesting people.  Here’s a picture of that old library (which is now retail property).

I love libraries – did I mention that?  I especially love public libraries for their democratic mission, and community college libraries for their central role in our educational mission.  The Institute for Museum and Library Services, in conjunction with Ithaka S+R, has produced a report on the impact that community college libraries can have on the success of their students.  You can read about this research in Inside Higher Ed, The Chronicle of Higher Education (paywall access only), the Library Journal, and the Ithaka S+R blog.

There are a lot of insights to be gleaned from this research, but here are two or three.  First, students’ needs outside the classroom ARE academic needs because they can have a significant impact on their academic success.  We know this – we know that a student who struggles to pay the rent or get her car repaired with likely struggle with her school work.

Second, students view college as a means to an end (a good job) but ALSO as having intrinsic value.  They highly value both their attainment of knowledge and the advancement of their career as a result of their community college experiences.  And they see the library, academic advising office, and tutoring center as important service providers in addressing unmet information needs, both curricular and non-curricular. For students, in-person services to help them find information for navigating college, completing coursework, finding child care options, paying for food or housing, or gaining access to social services could all flow from their college library.

From the Chronicle article:

“Institutions often look at graduation, transfer, and job-placement rates to gauge success, said Christine Wolff-Eisenberg, manager of surveys and research at the nonprofit group Ithaka S+R and a co-author of a report on the survey’s findings. She said the group wanted to better understand how students themselves characterize success.

“’What we saw was students equally valued their learning and mastery, and their being able to grow as people through the educational process,’ Wolff-Eisenberg said.”

The central idea is to see libraries and librarians as the connective tissue between instruction and student affairs, supporting students’ learning and mastery and growth as individuals.   The goal of the research is to strengthen “the position of the community college library in serving student needs.” (Ithaka S+R)

Libraries are accessible.  And libraries are central to student success – they always have been central to the success of our students, and they will continue to occupy this central place.  This current research provokes additional thinking about how we partner with our libraries to best meet the needs of our students today.  So be sure to send your students to our libraries (either online or in person).  Be sure to say “thank you” to the next librarian you see.  And join me in celebrating the great and good work of our libraries.

The Power of Clear Writing

It is, perhaps, a bit of folly to write about clear writing – what if I’m not clear?  Nonetheless, I can’t resist this brief New York Times article that highlights the power of clarity in the written word.  The written word, in this case, is the whistleblower’s complaint that is now dominating the Twitterverse (and every other media universe).  While no one has a reliable crystal ball, this piece of clear writing could ultimately provoke a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives on impeachment charges against the sitting president.

The article is written by the Director of the Harvard College Writing Center.  (The existence of which serves to remind us that ALL college students need help with their writing, not just community college students.)  Please read Ms. Rosenzwieg’s complete article.  She highlights the power of structure, active verbs, and strong topic sentences.  She also reminds us that we live in a world that requires the ability to write clearly and effectively.  Whether we write memos, reports, emails, plans, proposals, tweets, blogs, or summaries of meetings, the written word is still the key to delivering a message that has impact.

As we help our students learn how to combine words into a meaningful whole, please remember that they can seek help from our own Learning Labs at every campus.  And join me in celebrating our various roles in helping our students develop their writing chops.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

A Day in the Life of an AVP – the Procurement Edition

I have devoted several days this month to the procurement process.  Sounds fun already, doesn’t it?

Procure to Pay (P2P) is part of Business Services here at ACC.  P2P consists of Procurement (which does exactly what you think it does), P-card Administration, the Small Business Development Program, and Accounts Payable. 

When the college is looking at a significant investment of resources, the procurement process is particularly rigorous.  All purchasing at ACC follows rules and processes, but procurement on a larger scale includes more voices, more steps, more training, and higher-level approvals (up to and including the Board of Trustees).  The process that I have been involved in included an RFP (Request for Proposals) that was advertised and open for a certain time period, allowing interested vendors to submit proposals (which can run to hundreds of pages).  Proposals are reviewed or scored for adherence to the solicitation’s specifics.  Based on that review and scoring, vendors are then invited to present their wares in person.

Here’s a current list of publicly advertised solicitations.  You’ll see that some involve significantly more information and specificity than others, but the general idea is that vendors respond to the solicitation and the responses are rated or assessed.  Top-rated vendors are then invited to make formal presentations on their product.  Those presentations follow a pre-determined script to ensure that each vendor is responding to the same set of questions or scenarios and helping ACC employees who are making the procurement recommendation understand whether any vendor’s product will meet our needs.  To participate in this procurement process, you must complete procurement training and sign a non-disclosure agreement (NDA).

Because I’ve signed an NDA, I can’t tell you much more.  Just let me say that from 8:00 to 5:00 on three separate days this month I’ve listened to vendors respond to – or not – our scenarios, and answer – or not – our specific questions.  It’s been both interesting and tedious, worthwhile and tiring.  But it’s all part of the life of an AVP.

Picture attribution (Alaska Purchase):  Edouard de Stoeckl and William H. Seward [Public domain]

Student Supports

Do you know what support services ACC offers to our students?  There may be more than you realize.  Here’s a link to an overview of available supports, resources, and services for our students.

If any of your students appear to be experiencing academic challenges, you can refer them to academic coaches or the learning labs or accessibility services.  If any of your students seem to be struggling financially, we have the money management office or the emergency fund or work study options.  If any of your students appear to be dealing with “life” issues, we have a food pantry and counseling services and child care options.

Seventy-eight percent of our students are part-time students.  For most, that means they work and typically also have family responsibilities.  A flat tire can torpedo their efforts to get to class because they can’t afford to get it fixed.  A child care arrangement that falls through can mean they can’t get their paper finished by the deadline.  A boss who calls them into work unexpectedly means they’ve lost study time for an exam.

Life happens to all of us.  As we begin a new academic year focusing on the life-altering impact of educational opportunity, remember as well that we offer more than an education. We offer help with the rest that life can throw out.  I encourage you to ensure that your students know what additional tools and resources are available to them.  In this way, too, knowledge can be power.


Chaos!  Or, more exactly, ACCHaoS!

The latest episode of Academic Transfer in Focus is about an outreach program in our Physics Department that they call ACCHaoS.  ACCHaoS is apparently a physics joke in addition to standing for “hands-on science”.  It’s a traveling show that our Physics faculty takes to various elementary schools, libraries, and other gathering spaces. The goal is to get schoolchildren to see the wonders – and the fun – of science.

The Department of Physics, Astronomy, and Engineering also hosts star parties periodically – and there’s one planned for September 6 at the Round Rock Campus, if you’re interested.

Such good work – helping all of us learn a bit more about science, and helping school children learn that science can be fun.

Hat tip to our dedicated Physics faculty for this wonderful outreach to our community.  To learn more, watch this.


Picture credit:  Miscellaneous Items in High Demand, PPOC, Library of Congress [Public domain]

Don’t Forget to Show Love

We are launching ourselves into a new semester and a new year.  We are about to invest ourselves in the learning of a new crop of students.  What we are making an investment in matters – to us, to our college, to our community.  Our students come to us from all sorts of backgrounds, bringing an array of experiences, perspectives, talents and interests. They are the reason you do what you do, and they are the reason I do what I do.

We too often get transfixed (or irritated) by data.  But data is really nothing more than thousands upon thousands of individual stories.  Your students this semester will have stories of flat tires, and child care issues, and unexpected shifts at work.  But they will also have stories of hope and strength and laughter.  As you get to know your students this semester, learn their stories.  Learn what each student has to offer, and help them succeed in their own academic growth and trajectory.  In other words, give them a little love.

This video is sweet and touching.  It reminds us that we can all make a difference, whether we’re four years old or a seasoned and salty veteran professor.  So in the words of the young superhero in the video:  “Don’t forget to show love.”

Happy new (academic) year!

An AVP’s Aspen Journey: Chapter Two

In late July I spent four and a half days with my fellow Aspen Fellows (fellow Fellows for short) at Stanford University.  For those who don’t know, the Aspen Presidential Fellowship is a leadership development program for community college leaders who want to support transformational change in their current or future roles.  It is a joint effort of the Aspen Institute and Stanford University’s Educational Leadership Initiative.

Let me just say that my fellow Fellows are a remarkable bunch.  They are uniformly bright and brilliant and energetic and thoughtful and passionate about the work of community colleges.  Our work changes the trajectory of our students’ lives, and my fellow Fellows believe in thinking creatively and strategically about how we can best do that work.  It was a pleasure to spend 12 hours a day with these folks, and I look forward to our November convening in Virginia.

At the end of our time in Stanford, we were asked to think about the key “big ideas” that would stay with us.  That is a tall order, because there were ideas aplenty.  We heard from Tom Erlich, former dean of Stanford Law School, former president of Indiana University, author, educator, and very nice man.  We heard from Baba Shiv in the Stanford Graduate School of Business and an expert in neuroeconomics (yes, neuroeconomics).  We heard from J. D. Schramm in the Graduate School of Business with deep expertise in communication.  We heard from Karen Stout, President and CEO of Achieving the Dream and former community college president.  In fact, we heard from a variety of current and former community college presidents, and each had immense wisdom to impart.

It was rich and thought-provoking (and exhausting).  Here are a few of the ideas that I’m pondering.

  • “Completion is not enough.”
  • “Love the one [student].”
  • “Encourage bold vision.”
  • “Understanding is better than knowledge.”
  • “We must build trust in the classroom, in part by decentering the self.”
  • “Combine joy and purpose – that lets you do your best work.”
  • “‘Presidency’ is a verb.”
  • “Teaching and learning:  Center it. Celebrate it.”
  • “Create institutions that are equitable by design.  The architecture of the institution must have equity embedded in it.”
  • “Focus on best practitioners rather than best practices.”

I could list a dozen more things that I’m pondering, but I’ll stop there.  I invite you to ponder the phrase or idea that catches your attention.  And I’ll let you know how my Aspen journey continues in the next few weeks.

A Day in the Life of an AVP – The July Edition

The month of July has flown by, filled with meetings (of course!), deadlines (of course!), evaluations (it’s PEP time), professional development, and a brief vacation.

The meetings covered such topics as Testing Center usage, transfer forums in 2019-2020, the THECB Star Award application, our summer Department Chair Institutes, our participation in the Explore Law program in partnership with UT and Huston-Tillotson, our Fall 2019 early alert pilot in Distance Education, full-time faculty hiring, and our OER work with OpenStax.

The deadlines included submitting our Star Award application for our OER work to date (check!), submitting an equity progress report for academic programs (check!), finalizing the Testing Center work group report (check!), and finishing PEP (Performance Excellence Program) evaluations for the folks that I supervise (no check yet – but they’re due August 2, so send me some good evaluative vibes!).

The professional development was an intensive, exhilarating, thought-provoking, inspiring, exhausting week at Stanford University for the Aspen Fellowship, and the vacation was three days in Denver that included museums, good food, and a Dodgers/Rockies baseball game.

Since today is the last day of the month, I’ll tell you what I’ve done today.  My flight home from Denver yesterday evening was cancelled, and the rebooked flight was delayed – so I got home about 2:00 AM today (without my luggage).  When I woke up a few hours later, I had no comb to drag across my head – literally!  (Although I did almost fall out of bed because I was so tired.  Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.)  First order of business:  run out and get some basic toiletries before heading to work.  (Figured my colleagues would appreciate it if I brushed my teeth!)

Once at work, I had a 9:30 call with a faculty member about the Fall early alert pilot, and an 11:30 meeting with my boss about some upcoming responsibilities in support of the Board of Trustees (specifically, their regular August meeting and their later-in-August retreat).  In between I caught up (a bit) on email and visited with folks – catching up, checking in, reconnecting.  And before you know it, I was headed downstairs to the Board Room for the start of our third Department Chair Institute at 1:00 (tomorrow at San Gabriel, Friday at South Austin) – saying hello, getting slide decks up and running, and kicking-off the event.

It is now 5:45 and I’m tapped out – but tomorrow is the start of a new month, with new meetings and new deadlines and new opportunities.  So as we say farewell to the old month and greetings to the new month, keep your fingers crossed for me on the PEPs.  And celebrate the new!