GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Philippines’

How am I doing? Reflections on What Teaching Entails

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2013/01/18 at 22:49
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines

At a General Education course training, I was disconcerted by a colleague’s presentation which showed carefully selected personal notes from students, which she made them write at the end of every session. I was equally perturbed by other news that one of my younger colleagues has been cooking(!) in his Southeast Asian History class; and another opted for a study tour in place of a written final exam.

I am not passing judgment on these creative or technologically-innovative ways of teaching, but this great pedagogical diversity is making me wonder whether as a University, we are losing sight of the nuts and bolts of our profession. Previous attempts at peer-to-peer teaching assessment, where another teacher sits through your class and offers suggestions for improvement have been rebuffed by worries of infringement on academic freedom.

With over twenty years in the business and with experience at a US institution for comparison, here is a summary of my own lessons on what works:

1. Focus on the takeaway.

Every class is about what students learn at the end of each encounter.  I take to heart a former professor’s wisdom of delivering 3 or 4 maximum points per session, to arrange, reiterate and sum up my lecture or activity around those points and those points alone. Students have busy lives; they have other matters to think about. What makes your lessons stand out are their portability and enduring character. Vocabulary building,  human stories–these are things that will stay with them longer.

2. One size does not fit all when it comes to class materials.

There is a need to customize reading selections with the type of students/nature of class (i.e. level? homogenous versus mixed majors? undergraduates or graduate level?). In the US, this is solved by the instructor’s choice of a textbook or a custom-made reading packet that meets the minimum criteria of (a) readability and (b) content match with syllabus themes. There is no merit in inducing undergrad student “nose bleed” by assigning them materials you were given as a PhD student (no matter how brilliant you think the material is).

3. Keep students busy with short and easily-done assignments.

I routinely have my students handwrite (an anti-plagiarism measure) reflection papers from audio files and deliver news reports for sharing. In one GE class on gender, I had them keep a diary based on themes I pre-assign. It’s a lot of work marking assignments for 20-30 students but well worth the effort of making sure some “internal” learning process have occurred.

4. There is no substitute for face time.

I insist on actual make-up classes for sessions I miss due to official travel for meetings or research. I pre-schedule individual consultations for reports, papers and thesis; 10-15 minute minimum face time turning my office into a never-ending queue of waiting students. Students I find, place value on those encounters. It’s also a foolproof way of flagging under performers and absentees, as well as giving positive feedback to those who do their job well.

5. Do not assume that students know.

My classes come with Lego toy-esque instructions. I spend time walking students through the rubrics of writing essays, the format of scholarly papers with correct citations, how to deliver good oral reports (do NOT read from your notes; limit slides to 10 and use parsimonious text; use summary tables), speaking and writing English properly (I correct grammar and punctuation), and how NOT to plagiarize. More than content, students need to know what and whether they’re doing things right.

6. Treat students with respect.  

Contractual obligations in the syllabi run BOTH ways. If students get marked down for absences, tardiness and delay in turning in exams and papers, then the same holds true for the teacher. Scolding students for shortcomings in front of their peers or dismissing their responses as inconsequential show insensitivity. In my class, there is no wrong response when asked, but affirmation of how their answers link to the matter at hand.

There may be a thousand and one ways to be the best teacher one can be. To me, putting the student’s interest first, not your ego or your convenience, is key. That and remembering to always put yourself in their 16-18 year old shoes.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The Boss Who Gets Work Done, and Then Some

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/12/16 at 02:27
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines

Recently, a supervisor remarked that I am “too Americanized” and lacking in good-old-fashioned sensitivity [pakiramdam] as Division chair. Clearly, my brand of managing has critics. But as I constantly remind myself and my superiors, I only get half semester load credit for my administrative job. To live the other half of my academic life teaching, doing research and publishing,  I have to  follow work practices that will get the admin job done in a University machine that is in “low” gear (read: slow decision-making). To administrators, here are some unsolicited operational tips, guaranteed to get you through:

  • Yahoogroup and Chikka are your friends.

To ensure that announcements get out, vital information disseminated, and work assignments done in real time,  Yahoogroup and Chikka (a free web-based text messaging system) are lifelines.  You don’t check your email; you lose. The old excuse  “I was not on Miagao campus” no longer flies.

As Chair, I find the yahoo platform useful because it gives me a de facto filing system, stored in my mail program, which I can access by a quick word search.  It is also a good discussion platform on academic issues. In Yahoogroup, colleagues can let others know what they are up to or articulate support or discontent, supplementing the paucity of face-to-face encounters found in our split campus situation.

  • Teach your old staff new tricks.

Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. Rather than complaining that the staff never does enough, I devised a method to keep them busy. First, new tasks. Capitalizing on Sam’s internet-savviness, I taught him to abridge lengthy notices into concise messages for Yahoogroup postings and use the Yahoogroup attachments as “virtual” filing system for letters and reports I send for printing. Bing, the other secretary, writes periodic reports and make silly tables, leaving proofreading to me! Second, I email them daily/weekly notices of tasks to keep track of the things to be done. This makes for easy justification to the human resources office why the staff deserve an excellent performance rating. Third, relay system. I am told when either one is out of office; unfinished work endorsed to the other staff and notice of absence POSTED at the office and in the Yahoogroup.

  • Create a cheering squad by delegating.

You may do things faster and better, but giving work to others spreads a sense of accomplishment and pride. To this end, I tap mostly junior faculty members– assessing transfer/shifting applications, faculty scheduling, creating content for the university newsletter and website, crafting proposals for curricular review, lining up lectures, etc. For socials, I nurture a pool of reliable committee workers committed to team spirit. I am the rah-rah leader, humble in asking favors for unpaid committee work and generous in positive feedback for the job done well.

  • All Division affairs are an open book.

Gossip, that insidious element which foments conflict is easily defeated by prior disclosure of facts. To  minimize the politics of hiring/firing and promotion, I opened the process heretofore reserved for the Division personnel committee for discussion of the concerned disciplinary cluster. Where there is lack of consensus, the entire faculty is brought into the loop to gain legitimacy for a majority position. I am known to post in the Yahoogroup lengthy chronological process accounts and decision briefs for my faculty’s reading pleasure.

  • Put it in writing.

John Nagl, one of the brains behind the US Army Counterinsurgency Manual, says it’s important for any current commander to think about the day when he turns over his job to the next guy. To this end, keeping a thorough record of lessons and insights is critical. It is time consuming to document all agreements, guidelines, decisions and standard-operating procedures, keeping them in paperless version and in a virtual location. It takes an obsessive-compulsive personality to do this; but it’s essential for the “norming” process of the organization.

Administrators in my university are known to crash and burn after their term. As I have no ambition to go further up the administrative ladder, a good management template for other subsequent Chairs to follow is enough of a legacy to leave behind.

Rosalie Arcala Hall is a Professor at the University of the Philippines Visayas and a founding member of the editorial collective at University of Venus.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

The Graduate School Pep Talk from the Chair

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/10/02 at 03:03

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines

In my 20 months as Division chair, I have seen the departure of several male junior colleagues for graduate school in Manila and abroad. It may sound like no big deal, but to any young man few years out of college or who hasn’t lived abroad previously, starting graduate school far from one’s comfort zone is daunting. Like any mother hen, I did the usual “let’s have a serious talk about your academic career” and “what the University expects from you” routine with each one of them. A walk through choices of graduate school and programs, housing, fellowship applications, return service obligations, University clearance — this process takes a lot of time before they can finally board the plane and begin the next 2-4 years away from the demands of teaching.

I also take time to celebrate this important transition from a teacher to a student. Like I had been toasted and feted with gifts of winter clothes, shawls and Philippine native accessories when I left for the US in 1996, I want my soon-to-depart colleagues to feel that I am as proud and hopeful of their success. The scarf, hat and gloves essential for cold weather upon landing; a set of flannel sheets; a chapter or the entire Lonely Planet to inspire travel; some coins or singles for when they get hungry in between airport transfers. Along with these, I drum up the following tidbits of wisdom and advice, which I hope they will take to heart:

1. Keep your eyes on the prize.

Getting the degree is the end and be all of this journey. There are plenty of distractions in the form of additional courses, internships and “rackets” (moonlighting) that may provide ready cash or added skill. But at the end of the day, the faster you can finish the degree the better, so you can go back to and really start your career.

2. Your dissertation is not your magnum opus.

Statistically, fewer than half of students who start Ph.D. programs graduate, and fewer still complete their dissertation after gaining an ABD status. This is a valuable piece of advice given to me by Professor Chris Bosso at Northeastern, which I repeat like a mantra to my young colleagues. Toil on and get it done.

3. Socialize and build friendships.

A scholarly life is not spent in solitude at the library. Make friends, go out for drinks or coffee, finagle an invitation to Thanksgiving dinner or Labor Day weekend barbecue, have your meals with somebody, go on a road trip and to school-sponsored activities. Aside from a diploma, earn memories of this important phase because this is the only “end stage student experience” (if in a Ph.D. program) you’re ever going to get.

4. If program has optional foreign language courses, take them.

While English remains uncontested as scholarly language, speaking another language helps in strengthening one’s specialist training. Spanish, Bahasa, Japanese or Chinese– these are handy for any specialist building a career in the region.

5. Your written English and your undergraduate/graduate training is not as good as you think.

It is both humbling and a liberating experience to have somebody critique your work for what it is. It pays to take criticism constructively and grow from it. This may require some serious brain re-wiring, but you’ll appreciate it down the road when you write your 200-page dissertation or tome.

6. Immerse yourself in the culture of the place. Don’t be the snob foreigner or the homesick nationalist

It’s normal to long for the fish sinigang using batuan (sour soup) but the clam chowder is equally interesting to the palate. Join a parade, watch the fireworks, attend a folk concert, visit the local museum, try the food at the local hangout. Every locality, no matter its demographics is a place of interest. You will be happier and more well-adjusted if you learn to appreciate what your host community has to offer.

7. Save money, but don’t give up the opportunity to travel.

Being in graduate school is synonymous with poverty. There are plenty of innovative ways to stretch your budget without necessarily living on a perpetual diet of canned goods and cheap fast food. If you are abroad, treat it as likely the only chance you’ll ever have (given the difficulties of applying for a visa). Ponder about which places/cities you want to see; plot how to get there the cheapest way during school holidays; team up with friends for road trips together. Travel enriches.

With misty eyes, I send them off. But not with a last minute reminder to send progress reports and copies of grades. And a postcard to adorn the Division bulletin board.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

From the Administrator’s Nook

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/07/28 at 00:00

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo in the Philippines

An announcement was made few days ago that my University has increased its allocation for the Doctoral Studies Fund. Said Fund provides full support to faculty members getting into Ph.D. programs in the Philippines and abroad. No surprise that the announcement was met with lukewarm response by my younger colleagues. At the recent review of our 5-year faculty development plan, those who were supposed to go have all decided not to. The usual reasons were cited: concern over leaving behind young children to go to school in Manila or abroad, on-going research projects or consultancies which they can’t afford to leave behind. Others, content in their tenured job (tenure only requires a Masters and one peer-reviewed publication) just do not have the drive. There may also be some remnant fear that Ph.D. work is just too daunting, particularly if one is to do it in UP Diliman where some programs are notoriously un-nurturing.

When a Ph.D. only merits a few promotion steps or is, by itself, insufficient to allow one to cross ranks from Assistant to Associate Professor, it’s hard to sell the idea. A Ph.D, is punishing work. I remember an old professor from Northeastern University who told me that unless I was set for a life in the academy, I shouldn’t bother wasting 4 years or more of my life earning a doctorate. Spouse, children, bi-locality, maintaining separate households—there are plenty of deterrents to this career path. While single men/women like my then self had found it easier to go to graduate school, I have known only of few strong-minded Philippine female academics who successfully juggled graduate studies with raising a family. There’s also the money issue. Poverty is synonymous with being a graduate student.

Downsides notwithstanding, my job as Chair is to motivate my young faculty members who have the drive and the interest to go for a Ph.D. 2012 is a bumper crop: we have two who just returned with fresh Ph.D.’ s and two in the two-year pipeline. Two of these four I have proudly mentored; encouraging them to apply for scholarships and to take bold steps in seeking program admissions. Another Political Science colleague I have recommended will start a Ph.D. program at Northern Illinois University this Fall under a Fulbright scholarship. There are five more I am still trying to push, with great difficulty since they just started or are thinking about starting a family.

I believe the best way to “pitch” the idea of a Ph.D. is to share as much of mine and other’s humbling experiences as a graduate student. I organize platforms for this sharing: hosting send offs, welcome backs and simple get-togethers amongst colleagues who are going to or returning to graduate school. I make time for personal chats with colleagues for advice on their career plans. I share opportunities from my network for Ph.D. programs with bursaries; alerting them of dissertation grant opportunities and other means to finish their work. I keep an eye on the bureaucratic stuff at UPV’s end, ready to trouble-shoot should any problem arise with their paperwork. Most importantly, I tell them stories of life-long connections through Ph.D. work; the leisure of being a full-time student and the intellectual space it affords; of having a caffeine-loaded existence and losing your 20/20 vision from too much reading.

Having been there (and done that), there’s no belittling the importance of a support network while one embarks on a journey to earning a Ph.D. I was very fortunate to have that during my time: a Chair who made sure my papers were processed on time; a Chancellor and a University President who understood my career goals and senior colleagues who offered me well wishes (and plenty of going away gifts of sweaters and winter garb).

More than money and opportunity, this support is what counts.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Taking Care of (Administrative) Business

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/06/14 at 03:58

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, in the Philippines.

In academia, the summer break inevitably leads every professor to confront the very tasks he/she has put aside during the busy semesters of teaching: finish that research project; complete that journal article or book; catch up on more readings of favorite authors; brush up that syllabus; weed/add class materials, etc. To many, summer is really not a breather of one’s academic self, but merely a dedicated time to concentrate on things other than teaching. Except for the shorter library and office hours, and the minuscule number of students roaming about campus, summer is business as usual to many of us whose work follows wherever one goes.

My May summer vacation is different only in one regard from my regular semester: I am in the United States rather than my post in Iloilo City, Philippines. Although labeled as “official travel”, in actuality I am running my Division’s affairs as Chairperson from wherever I can get access to the Internet. Since landing, I have written letters of all sorts– requests, endorsements, explanations, justifications, committee appointments, reports– to my bosses bearing electronic signature (which, fortunately for me, the Dean and University officials accept as official). Remotely, I arranged for our Division to conduct a series of training with employees of the Department of Social Welfare and Development; part of our extension activity. I advertised, received applications and arranged to hire substitutes and lecturers for the first semester, which begins in June 1.  From whatever convenient desk I can open my laptop, I troubleshoot on course offerings and faculty loads- answering distress missives from the College Secretary about needing to open more General Education sections for incoming freshmen, a new recruit who suddenly pulled out because of legal encumbrance from her current University affiliation, and a faculty member who asked to defer going on study leave the last minute. Not even the 12 to 15 hour time difference could absolve me from delivering timely advisories to colleagues who are returning from or about to go on prolonged leaves of absence (for graduate studies or sabbatical). With email, one never really has time off; not even if one is 9,000 miles away.

Summertime is also a period of deadlines for research project proposals or travel grants.  Therefore, if I wish to do something productive in the next calendar year (which begins June 1), I must turn in my applications during the summer. The writing and accomplishing of forms needed at home had to be wisely interspersed with sightseeing and visiting family and friends. Electronic connectedness, while a bane to my existence as Division chair is also a blessing if I were to turn in proposals in time. Another plus is that I am able to supervise a team of field researchers back in the Philippines through Skype. I have never appreciated electronic bank transfers until now; and the power of Google voice which allows me to place relatively cheap international phone calls to the Philippines.

But alas, the writing break which I sought and planned to use to anchor my summer days has long since disappeared from sight. Except for the two full days spent slogging over materials at the Library of Congress last weekend and yesterday getting my bearings at my University of Maryland College Park Library, I have not made progress on the writing bit. The pile of books (marked for relevant chapters) at my UMD office stares at me with alarm, asking, “why haven’t you read me?” Just like a colleague at Johns Hopkins who similarly laments having not done any writing since he took a 4-month sabbatical, I am inevitably torn between doing my job and fulfilling life goals.

Summer is just like any month of the year to an academic and administrator with a full plate. The illusion of summer idylls are only for those without deadlines to meet. Regardless, it is a privilege and a treat I truly relish that I am spending my academic summer in another country where I could get access to materials, get connected with the right people, network, relish cool weather, grab pizza, cheesecake, pulled pork sandwiches and lots of other caloric-laden sinful treats I couldn’t get in the Philippines. It’s my version of happiness.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Confessions of a Field Research Addict

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/05/25 at 00:32
Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines 
At a recent International Studies Association panel presentation about military mergers, I was asked how I got access to the ex-combatants-turned soldiers in Mindanao with whom I did a focus group discussion. I am often asked this type of question by foreign audiences, and my standard answer is: I have built a considerable personal network within the armed forces and have a decade of field experience in my belt; I know who to call or send text messages to. By comparison, I never get asked this sort of methodological questions by Philippine audiences, not for lack of critical spine, but because  field  exposure is considered de rigueur in any Social Science research project.

A colleague, who is now Assistant Secretary of National Defense, once told me he likes my work better than another similarly-inclined “strategist” whose conceptual anchor is notoriously rusty and whose data is suspect. He says the empirical data I bring gives an “added value” to my work. In retrospect, this is standard research practice to academics in my University. There’s an emphasis on primary data– interview, focus group discussions, and  direct observations. That this primary data is secured at a heavy cost (think days of fieldwork in remote and inhospitable locations; literal armies of survey enumerators tasked to hop household-to-household; hours of facilitation with bureaucrats to secure FGD participation) is commonplace where I come from. There’s an implicit understanding even about what it takes a lot to earn your “research” wings, including  a close brush or two with guns, long hours of trekking (forget about public transportation; there’s none) and a several nights of un-hygenic situations. None has beaten the record of my anthropologist-colleague Dr. Alicia Magos whose pioneering research on the Sulod-nons’ (indigenous people of central Panay highlands) oral tradition of epic chanting required her befriending communist rebel commanders and military officers alike at the height of insurgent conflict in the area in the late 1980s.

My research interest (civil-military relations) makes field research comparatively less interesting, but edgy. I have been accosted by armed militia; conducted an FGD with paramilitaries in a remote mountain-village and interviewed a group of coup plotters in an East Timor prison. From a battalion-size force that  responded to a mudslide in Southern Leyte province to  a mobile platoon chasing after communist insurgents in central Panay island, I encountered various faces of the armed forces. I listened to stories of losses, despair, courage and optimism among men and women in uniform, ever conscious of my reflexivity and ethical position. I have done fieldwork research in conflict areas in Mindanao, where most of my colleagues fear to tread. I have a heightened sense of adventure but am not reckless, relying on advice by trustworthy local field assistants who have a keener sense of the spatial politics of an area than I do. Where my “Chinese-like appearance” or my foreign-sounding surname may invite kidnapping threats, I don’t go.
But where I can take risk, I will not let others do so under duress or on promise of remuneration. I have been recently engaged as area field supervisor to a handpicked team of 8 to conduct focus group discussions, interviews and community observations throughout the Visayas region for a bilateral foreign aid-funded research project on anti-poverty. During the training for the field teams attended by representatives of the funding agency, I put up a protest over their supposedly randomized selection of field study sites because they did not cross check their selection with the security data of the Philippine military and police. Arguing both from a methodological perspective (how truly representative is their site selection, where poverty is not cross-checked with armed conflict indicators) and from the point of view of my crew’s safety, they finally caved in and changed one study site in Eastern Samar, but not the sites in Negros Oriental tagged by my military friends as “security threatened by communist rebel groups.” A small victory but meaningful, particularly since the overall project leader (a close friend) is even more gung-ho a field researcher than I was! To someone like her who has traipsed across communist front lines in Bicol province, I am a wimp.
I have never aspired to be an armchair academic, not after I had my first field research experience at 21. At middle age, I still have the physical constitution and energy to visit remote places in my country for research. I hope to continue doing this, surpassing even my field-research be-medaled friend Rufa who at over 60 is still running her racket across Mindanao. We belong to the happy sisterhood of indomitable traveling researchers. May our tribe increase!

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Dreaming Away in the Winds of Change

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/05/04 at 01:46

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines

During the ritual of Strategic Planning that my University holds every time a new President is put in place, a new “goal” was announced: we were going to become a research University. Accordingly, a flurry of new programs were created to support publication-driven research projects, particularly targeting ISI-listed journals and reputable publication houses abroad. Publish or perish, which has been the mode since the 1990s just got deadlier and at the same time, more lucrative. Multiple monetary rewards await those who labor and toil according to these new rules (e.g. $1200 per published article in an ISI-listed journal; 3-year Scientist designation with a $10,000 bursary; foreign travel support to disseminate research findings, etc.) and those who don’t likely are confined to the dust of humdrum teaching unable to cross ranks.

To me, this is welcome indication of a new work ethic. My previous U Venus blogs have been mantras about scholarship being a key element in the academy and how some University policies (e.g. teaching overloads, not requiring publication as an output to research grants, etc.) create disincentives to building such a culture of scholarship.  As Division chair, in particular, it is an added boost that the current crop of University officials support efforts at my level to curb teaching overloads, provide funding for mentoring initiatives in research proposal preparation and journal article writing workshops, and generally push the faculty to re-focus their energies.

I rejoice in the fact that I am not a lone wolf among my colleagues. Recently, I have been invited to collaborate in an interdisciplinary, inter-campus, multi-year competitive research project on water governance involving 4 Philippine sites. I was also involved in crafting a new research program called Mentoring Initiative which will pair Scientists like myself one-on-one with a junior colleague to do a publication-driven research project on a smaller scale. Through this window, I hope to continue my work on civil-military relations in the Philippines, with the end view of inspiring another colleague to follow on my research interest.

There is a silver lining to this cloud of optimism. University officials are counting on the new pool of money available from within to entice faculty members to research and publish. The tagline “who wants to be a Philippine millionaire?” brandied about by one official may not work given the even MORE lucrative research and training consultancies that many of my better-positioned colleagues are involved in. The financial rewards for consultancies from foreign NGOs and institutions like the World Bank are ridiculously high; but with no added value to the University. Colleagues who do this don’t publish scholarly works, nor do they have proprietary claim on the data they gather. Sadly, this line of work is the typical money trail where pandering to funder themes and goals is the name of the game. To this group, the push for a new research ethos by the University has no effect.

There has never been a better time, at least for me, to be at my University. I could get more monetary rewards for the work I do without prostituting myself to the whims of donor-driven projects. I also am providing a better template to my junior colleagues about what being a University Professor is all about: scholarship NOT money for money’s sake. Doing research to make a contribution to the body of scholarly work; participating in the discipline or specializations conversation via peer-reviewed publication. The money is incidental, not the primary goal.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Who’s Afraid of K-12? Musings on University Life after 2018

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/03/30 at 07:04

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines.

Beginning school year 2012, incoming Philippine first graders will toil through 12 years of basic education instead of 10 years; high school freshmen will clock in 6 years rather than the usual 4. The two year addition is supposed to bring our students on par with other school systems in the region, and will also stream students into the more rational vocational versus college bound tracks that fill employment demands. While our legislature cooks up the sort of curricular changes and mandates for these two additional years, universities like mine fret and worry about the impact all of this would bring.

Over the past several months, I have donned my administrative hat as our faculty deliberated the assumption of having no college freshmen intake in 6 years time. In our planning horizon, this  is a major event. For a small undergraduate program like ours at the Division (made worse by consistently under populated majors like Community Development, History and Sociology), this is like doomsday. We have to quickly design a transition away from teaching (12 units or four undergraduate courses is the regular load per semester in a 2-semester year) simply because there will be fewer students to teach. While about 1/5 of my faculty is set to retire within the decade, simple Math tells me we will still have extra hands with no teaching load. What we do with these extra faculty is a cause for speculation. My Dean tells me they’ll be “downloaded” to teach General Education courses for high school; a Vice Chancellor says they’ll be compelled to do research consistent with the shift towards a research university; others say we will simply NOT fill in the vacant slots left personnel attrition thereby staving off supply.

I recently attended an orientation seminar for the Commission on Higher Education Technical panel for the Social Sciences, which advises the government body on aspects of tertiary program policies, criteria and guidelines. One of the presentations dealt with the proposed changes on the General Education curriculum (mandatory for all undergraduate programs) in view of the K-12 development. As an administrator, it is another bad omen: there will be even fewer GE courses offered and undergraduate programs are expected to be cut in length: 5 year programs into 4; 4 year programs into 3.

Like everything else in the Philippines, planning is not taken seriously. There is no transparency of information about what is going on to aid planning. It is amazing to me that this K-12 will start in June, yet no law has been passed (our lawmakers are too busy with the impeachment trial of the Supreme Court Chief Justice) nor is the Department of Education ready to divine how this feat could be carried out. There is that sense of “pakiramdam” (feeling through), with the expectation that no policy is set even if backed by the current President because after all, he will be gone from office in 4 years. And so, the system will expectedly muddle through.

This is obviously not a good time for any college administrator. I cursed the day I agreed to be chair when I had to produce actual figures for the 5 year budget plan, from personnel to maintenance and operating expenses. How much does it cost to run the Psych lab? My secretary’s original appointment is a lab technician? How many of my pool are willing to remain as a teaching faculty or be a research faculty? If my routine bureaucratic tasks are not enough, I now have to rally my young faculty to switch gears away from teaching into research and publication as a lifeblood. Down the K-12 road, there’s no other choice.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Academic Busking: Philippine Style

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/03/05 at 00:41

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines

Academic conferences offer opportunities to test-run ideas before like-minded colleagues, to network, and to key into conversations within one’s discipline or specialization. For many academics, it’s an integral part of the job. In my University’s promotion system, considerable weight is given to presenting papers at academic conferences. Whether local, national or international, conferences provide venues for institutional promotion– a chance to showcase research outputs from our little corner of the world.

Despite its assumed importance, little support is available for conference participation in my perennially cash-strapped University. Priority is given to paper presentation (rather than mere attendance); financial assistance is capped ($500 dollars maximum for international conferences; roughly $220 for local/national conferences) and access is limited (once every two years for international and once a year for local/national). Within my Division, where there are some funds available, guidelines were further drawn to only award it to Instructors and Assistant Professors on a first-come-first-served basis.

Regardless, there is a strong ethos to “democratize” access. Conferences within Asia tend to be less cost-prohibitive with the wide availability of cheap airfare and accommodations. Most Asian countries also do not require visa for Philippine nationals.

But for many of us, the chance to present a paper to a US or European conference is almost out of reach– unless you do a version of academic busking, which I will elucidate:

1.      Apply for other travel grants for paper presentation in international conferences.

There are small pools of money available from government agencies, private institutions and foundations. The key is knowing where they are and applying ahead of time. In my years of busking, I know of at least three in the Philippines: Commission on Higher Education (every 3 years), Philippine Social Science Council (every 3 years) and Asia-Phil (every year). Like my home institution, the funds are limited but they allow, sometimes require, counterparts– that is parallel applications for funds elsewhere.

I am a “regular” grantee of these institutions. In fact, I reserve funding applications to these three bodies only to my “must-attend” conferences: American Political Science Association (APSA), Inter University Seminar on the Armed Forces and Society (IUSAFS), and Asian Political and International Studies Association (APISA). I reserve the funding from my home institution for the Philippine Political Science Association (PPSA).

2.     Use your Third World origin to get a conference fee waiver or subsidized accommodation. 

Travel grants by conference organizers are becoming rarer and rarer. Of those that still offer them, your Third World credentials would be a plus factor in getting the grant. I received APSA  and APISA travel grants in ALL my sorties. They probably have me in a permanent roster somewhere as a perennial applicant-in-need.

If there is no explicit mention of a grant, try conveying your need to your contact person; ask for a waiver of conference fee or a free or reduced rate for accommodation. In my experience, they are very receptive. Often, they have extra hotel rooms or University facilities with subsidized rates.

3.     Piggy-back your conference paper presentation to a research fund application

Dissemination through presentation in an academic conference is an acceptable research budget item. Unless the donor specifically prohibits this, include it along with a justification that research results are best utilized when made public and widely circulated, either through paper presentation or through publication. Donors like an image boost; having their name included in your paper is attractive.

A variation of this is a round-table or a panel presentation proposal. If your research budget allows it, presenting as a group always carries more impact (hence a bigger sell to donors) than an individual presentation.

4.     Plan ahead to decide which conference(s) to go to and tie it up with other personal/business activities.

Planning is key to make sure you have financial backing lined up for conference paper presentation. Calls for paper abstracts come 6-12 months ahead. Outside travel grant applications carry their own deadlines. Airfare is cheaper when purchased several months ahead, as do bookings for cheap hotels.

If you’re smart, you’ll be able to “stitch” together a seamless travel itinerary that also  will allow you a day or two of sightseeing, maybe do library research, visit family, or hold a business meeting. My travel abroad for conferences is usually like this. Because I have to fly to Manila to catch an international flight, I bookend travels with official meetings for which I am able to get a free domestic air ticket.

Living in scarce times should not be a deterrent to professional growth. There are ways to defray travel costs to attend a conference. But there’s no such thing as a 100% free lunch– you must always be prepared to shoulder some of the cost, which is a worthy investment for networking and getting peer-feedback on the quality of your work.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

Social Capital in Academia

In Ponderings of a Peregrine Pinoy Professor on 2012/01/19 at 02:16

Rosalie Arcala Hall, writing from Iloilo, Philippines.

The advent season invariably leads me to engage in a self-reflection on whether (and to what degree) I have been naughty or nice. Oftentimes, I am very confident I have done more good deeds than bad, mainly because I have little occasion to potentially do ill to somebody. As long as I did things on my own (as a professor, researcher and writer), my actions bear little direct consequence to others. I would like to think I have a modest amount of social capital after being in the academic profession for 20 odd years, which I could bank on in case I veer towards the naughty territory.

But my social capital account has seen some tectonic movements in the past year. On the credit side, I would like to think of points gained from the many social events I pursued in line with my being Division chair: arranging a memorial for a retired faculty member who passed on; celebrating the Deanship and the Scientist award given to colleagues; welcoming a colleague who returned from a leave of absence; attending a funeral for a parent of a faculty member; hosting student events such as the Best Undergraduate Research award and a graduation reception; and throwing several parties at our house marking the start and end of the school year. A big plus also came from my unerring attendance to University events: graduation, opening ceremonies, alumni homecoming, foundation day celebrations, lantern parade, etc. Where I use to “disappear” from the University social scene to do research field work, or attend a conference or meeting, I now find my schedule sufficiently “freed” to make room for exponentially-expanding social obligations attached to the chairmanship.

On the debit side of my social capital ledger are losses due to the bitter struggle against a faculty member who wanted concessions pertaining to faculty loading (she eventually resigned); junior faculty members who now feel “small” because I made public their student evaluation ratings; a falling out with a colleague from a collaborative project whose leadership style and decisions I strongly contested (she no longer talks to me); and a foreign colleague whose proposals for a co-authored journal article piece I turned down without saying so (he was very upset because I didn’t answer his emails).

I would like to think I have also added on to my social capital after having introduced some worthy managerial innovations. The Division yahoo group is buzzing with exchanges of information, queries, responses, well-wishes and even debates. I have collected each of my faculty members’ mobile phone numbers for collective text message sending. Weekdays, weekends, nights and early morning (I am up at 5am doing “office” stuff on my computer); I engage my faculty and staff. I am told when any of them is sick, on errand somewhere, traveling or in some kind of trouble. I doggedly tracked down and followed personnel, mundane (e.g. updating the faculty contact list) or quixotic (seeking “corrective” promotion, something NOT previously done in the University’s history) concerns. I introduced transparency in ALL of the Division’s transactions from conference attendance grant applications to faculty loading. I feel I have established sufficient trust that I can confidently expect timely and substantive output from faculty members when I ask them to. Alas, the yahoo group medium also sank some of my social capital. A yahoo group for a regional project I was involved in yielded less than satisfactory outcome: my natural inquisitiveness and demands for transparency were seen as un-collegial and high-handed. Several members simply tuned out.  I don’t expect them to come rallying in support of future proposals from me here on.  My virtual musings at University of Venus, which keyed in academic issues to on-the-ground realities of my factual University, equally earned me admiration and admonition. Two former bosses told me my writing was too spicy and bear little circumspection but the current one says he enjoys reading them. At least I can expect some accountability from here on (lest they want to get written about!).

Political Scientists have argued that social interconnectedness and its premise of generalized reciprocity are linked to positive collective human endeavors. Whether addressing poverty or reducing crime, things get done better where social capital is present. In the academe, one must be ready to earn or burn it accordingly. There is always the next year to start all over again.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed. 

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