Year-end Tips for the Academic

By Robyn Jay Bage

BageSpring is typically viewed as a season of renewal, rebirth and fresh starts. The peek at budding flowers and sprigs of new grass somehow makes us feel happy and hopeful.

However, for those of us in academia spring is also about endings. As professors, not only must we be concerned about how we end the academic year, we must take care to help our students end the year well.

Here are a few tips to help the spring semester come to a smooth close:

Unclog the paper jam. In the flurry of late submissions and our own deadlines, remember to keep up with grading. Do a few papers or tests every day–even if you’re tired, even if the day is hectic. You’ll be thankful you did.

Take good care. It might seem like good idea to work extra long hours. Grabbing tasty yet nutritionally questionable food may appear a good solution to a hectic day.

Remind students of upcoming deadlines. As the spring term takes its final bow, students are dizzy from managing final term papers, tests, exams—none of which are less important than what they owe you. Nothing new there, except this time they’re also thinking about summer fun, preparing for graduation or looking for jobs. Sometimes all of the above. It’s tempting to leave them to their own devices to sink, float or swim.

But our obligation to support our students doesn’t end just because the semester is over. Offer reminders in the form of periodic emails and announcements. It will also enable the students to prioritize their work and save you at least a few late submissions.

Smile. It’s hard to be miserable with a smile on your face. It’s a gift our bodies give us. An article on the Psychology Today Blog explains that smiling releases neurotransmitters that make us feel good: dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. As an added bonus, they help us feel less stressed. Smiling is also contagious, so when you smile others experience a better mood–your students included.

Taking steps to end the academic year well also sets the stage for smooth transitions toward the new beginnings our students will experience. It also creates positive and hopeful expectations for the academic rebirth–fall semester.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

TANF: The Good and the Bad

By Winnie Eke

There is much to be said about the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF). In 1996, when TANF was created, some were in favor of the program and others were against it. Today, many still question some state policies in implementing TANF.

Included in the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the program was designed to put people back to work and reduce single parent households. Data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services show a decrease in families on TANF from approximately 4.6 million in 2010 to 4.0 million in 2013.

Laura Murphy with the American Civil Liberties Union contends that TANF was not the problem but poverty. Her argument still rings true. Many women, especially women of color are more likely to work in lower-paying jobs, are more likely to be in poverty and need additional help from TANF. TANF does not lift people out of poverty.

Compounding the inhumane treatment of the poor are the TANF policies implemented by various states. Some of these policies, like in Kansas, appear mean spirited and strip people of their dignity. Why does Kansas prohibit the purchase of undergarments with TANF funds but allow gun purchases? Most of the recipients of TANF have children or are children. Do we need policies to dehumanize them more?

TANF is helping. However, more could be done with wage increase, affordable education and child care.

Your thought?

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

In Search of Fair and Balanced Redistricting

By Craig Donovan

New Jersey State House

New Jersey State House

For more than 20 years I have been a resident of New Jersey. When I first moved here I had some idea of what the state was like. But it did not take long for my new friends and neighbors to tell me about the issues involved in the state.

Then as now, New Jersey is known for having some of the highest property taxes anywhere. New Jersey is also home to more school districts (604) and more municipalities (565) than we know what to do with. We spend more per pupil and have at best very mixed outcomes for our expenses. We even have a couple of dozen non-operating districts with administrators and staffs but no schools.

Some have said that New Jersey pioneered paying more and getting less, but that is unverified. What we do know is that year after year, legislature after legislature and governor after governor, things have gotten worse.

However there have been bright spots. Just last week, 17 years after Oregon became the first state to hold all elections with mail-in ballots it took another forward step to broaden voter participation by automatically registering people to vote. Every adult citizen in Oregon who has interacted with the Department of Motor Vehicles since 2013, but who hasn’t registered to vote, will receive a ballot in the mail at least 20 days before the next statewide election. The measure is expected to add about 300,000 new voters to the rolls.

But back here in New Jersey and in the other states across the country people are unhappy about what is going on in the statehouses as well as in Congress. I keep hearing the same thing, “How bad do things have to get before people start to vote for new people and new ideas?” My neighbors keep saying “Soon, the next big election will do it…” but that soon never arrives. And my neighbors (and I) are too often part of the problem.

I live in a “safe” district at both the state and national level. In my case this is a Republican district (Note: I am a registered Republican myself). We chose our neighborhood like many for having good schools and a good work commute. But in the 20 years of living here, there has been no Independent, let alone Democratic presence. There is no need to be responsive to the citizens, to try or support new policies or to have any reason to change the status quo no matter how many people object. And while we object, we keep voting for the same incumbents, over and over again.

Here in my district, like the overwhelming majority of districts in virtually every state across the country, we have allowed a system of redistricting that works not to stifle a representative democracy. As long as this system is in place, we have almost no chance of seeing our states or our nation prosper and move forward. Instead, we will see a continuing escalation of partisan politics at every level of government.

I have looked to the Supreme Court to be a centrist in promoting the welfare of all over the welfare of one party or the other. But a centrist position by definition is one of compromise between the extremes. In the past 15 years, the Supreme Court seems as partisan as the rest of our government.

There is no way that the states themselves will ever reform their redistricting practices to be fair and balanced. The slender hope we have as a nation is that the Supreme Court will one day find a case in which they will make a ruling that is both conservative and progressive. One that conserves the founding principle that each election should be a fair and balanced. It could be soon. We can only hope that it is not “never.”

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Right to Vote

By Wiha Powell

The right to vote is not a privilege; it is one of the most important and fundamental rights protected by the U.S. constitution. With the upcoming 2016 presidential election, states are  coming out of the woodwork with stricter voter ID laws. To date, a total of 34 states have passed laws that require voters to show some form of identification at the polls.

Since the early 2000s, voter ID laws have proven to be disproportionate, discriminatory and unfair to low-income individuals, minority voters, senior citizens, voters with disability and citizens without a government-issued ID. Even though some states IDs are free, the documentation to receive said ID does cost. According to an American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Voter ID fact sheet, 11 percent of U.S. citizens, which is more than 21 million Americans, do not have a government-issued ID. As many as 25percent of African-American citizens who are of voting age do not have a government-issued ID as compared to 8 percent of their white counterparts. Approximately 6 million senior citizens do not have a government-issued ID.

However, many proponents claim that these laws will prevent in-person voter fraud, which has proven to be a minor issue during election time. According to the ACLU, multiple studies have found that almost all cases of in-person impersonation voter “fraud” are the result of a voter making an honest mistake and that even these mistakes are extremely infrequent.”

The right to vote has been a fundamental part of our democracy for decades; the right as Americans to freely elect their officials and leaders. These voter ID laws have not only proven to be absurd, but they are also a misguided step backward to an era when discriminatory laws prevented certain citizens from voting. We as a nation have fought long and hard for our democracy, which continues to evolve. Therefore, it is imperative that every American have the right to vote without any restrictions or limitations. Our elected officials should encourage more citizens to vote, not invent excuses that deny many Americans their fundamental right to cast their ballot come Election Day.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Are We Really in 2015 or Jim Crow Era?

By Winnie Eke

It is not only shocking but disappointing that so many young people and future leaders are reprising and seem to be enjoying the horrible and inhumane treatment of African-Americans. Is this the beginning of another Jim Crow?

It is equally disheartening to see the very people who are paid to protect everyone target a particular group. The incessant reports of police brutality against African-Americans may be adding to this type of climate. The legal system gives police officers the benefit of the doubt. Unfortunately that same courtesy is never given to a Black person, even when s/he is killed.

There is something wrong with a criminal justice system that exonerates police brutality and college fraternities/sororities, but punishes a minority group it has always dehumanized. It is unfortunate that many children who have read about these injustices are now witnessing the horrors that our ancestors endured.

Will this treatment ever end or are we going to continue to pretend that we are in post racial society?

Your thought.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Interviews: Frequently Used, Less Frequently Useful

By Robyn – Jay Bage

bage marchOne of the most common methods of deciding the best candidate for the job is interviewing. We give a great deal of weight to this often very brief encounter with our potential candidates. Not that brevity is the issue. By the time a candidate has made it to an interview, you have already determined them to be qualified for the position. That’s why we ask for resumes and completed applications.

Interviews are designed for two purposes: to verify information received on the resume and application and to assess “fit”—the degree to which your candidate is compatible with the organization’s and current employees’ mission, values, work ethic, energy, mood, etc. Sadly, our reliance on interviews to provide useful and accurate information is often misplaced. They are notoriously invalid (not assessing what you intend to assess) and unreliable (yielding inconsistent results).

One problem I see is that we don’t always train managers to conduct interview. In my experience, the best we do is overlay an organizational process and hope folks figure it out and get it done. You remember the drill. You are handed a stack of resumes, a list of questions, and a schedule by which your recommendation is due.

I remember once being sent a packet from human resources that contained three resumes and a list of suggested questions. Fortunately I was fully aware I had no idea what to do and sought help from a more senior colleague. In hindsight that colleague wasn’t much more prepared than I was. Still, her help made the difference between a disaster and a greater disaster. A worse (and in my observation, more common) case is being given nothing except the resumes or applications.

Managers need training in conducting interviews, as much as they need training in other areas of management, to develop the skills required to select the best candidate. Good interview skills include:

  • Solid preparation. The chances that you will select the best candidate are increased when you carefully prepare your questions ahead of time and ask each candidate the same questions. You should also be clear what constitutes a good answer. If you don’t know what you are looking for, and don’t ask each person the same questions, you have no basis on which to compare them.
  • Document the interview. Write down each candidate’s responses. Later, after the interview, you can rate the answers based on how close they came to your desired response.
  • Set aside biases. I’m not talking about discrimination, which has no place in an interview or any other employment action. I’m talking about psychological biases that creep into and distort our better judgement. For example:
    • Like me, not like me. We tend to favor people who we assess to be like us.
    • Halo, horns. This bias happens when something great about a candidate colors our judgment about every other attribute OR when one negative attribute makes every other attribute seem worse than it is.
    • Recency, primacy.When our judgment is colored by what happens (what we see, hear or assume) when we first meet a candidate or what happens last.

When we are aware of potential biases, we can set aside their influences and make higher quality decisions.

  • Avoid “illegal questions.” Actually, the questions themselves are not illegal. But the information you could illicit may give you information you are not entitled to use in making a hiring decisions. For instance, as employer you have no right to know if you candidate has children, what his ethnicity is or her religious affiliation. If a manager isn’t trained, she may not be aware of the types of questions and discussion topics to avoid.
  • Control. Maintaining control of an interview is a skill that can be learned through mentorship, modeling and observing others. As an interviewee, we are told to “take control” of the interview. As an interviewer, this is problematic. If the candidate is in control of the interview, the likelihood that you will inadvertently stumble into information you are not entitled to have is high. The likelihood that you will discover the information you seek is low.

How did you learn how to conduct a good interview? What tips might you have to make them more productive?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Giving Tree of Character

By Jason Bowns

Jason 1

Photo Credit: Attorney Oscar Michelin

We live in an age of visibility, where the public stage is bigger than ever before. There’s an upward push for more transparency, justified as an accountability mechanism. Secrets are inherently treated with suspicion and disdain; it suggests that something nefarious may be hidden.

British Lord Acton posited, “Everything secret degenerates, even the administration of justice; nothing is safe that does not show how it can bear discussion and publicity.” This suggests that to enter the public realm is also to abridge the right to personal privacy.

We expect that our leaders will have cultivated characters before entering public life and won’t make the kinds of mistakes we often see. We crave leaders who exhibit strong character, but exactly what does this mean? How can we measure whether our leaders have character?

Photo Credit: University of California-Irvine

President Lincoln illustrated the distinction between perception and reality when he poetically noted, “Perhaps a man’s character was like a tree and his reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” So how do we see the tree, rather than its shadow?

The answer to that is to find the tree and to know it, to test the strength of its bark, to assess the greenness of its leaves and to see how many birds sing in its branches. A person’s reputation may not reflect the reality. Our eyes may study a shadow down on the ground, when they should look upward, discerning for oneself.

Many persons of sound reputations have become fallen trees. Consider New York Governor Elliot Spitzer, Connecticut Governor John Rowland, Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich, U.S. Representative Michael Grimm, San Diego Mayor Bob Filner, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, Massachusetts State Senator Dianne Wilkerson and even U.S. President Richard Nixon.

These people were known for their integrity. Many held multiple public offices or had been re-elected multiples times. They had solid reputations before they came into their public roles. Do their mistakes mean that they had poor characters all along?

Photo Credit: The Library of Congress

Photo Credit: The Library of Congress

American humanitarian Helen Keller said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”

Many of those former public officials have sought to make amends for their poor choices. Nixon famously said during his interviews with David Frost, “As far as the handling of this matter is concerned, it was so botched up. I made so many bad judgments. The worst ones, mistakes of the heart, rather than the head. But let me say, a man in that top job, he’s got to have heart, but his head must always rule his heart.”

Character forms through failures and mistakes. Often, this vulnerable side of trial and error is hidden from that public reputation. While running for mayor of New York City, former City Council Speaker Christine Quinn chose to disclose her own prior struggles to overcome bulimia and alcoholism. U.S. President George W. Bush famously combated alcoholism himself before becoming a teetotaler. .

Former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson was arrested in his youth in incidents he later succinctly described as “I was just dumb and rebellious and stupid. And a different person.” He also noted, “The older your get, the more you realize…your own attitude is stupefying, and arrogant, and cocky, and a miserable way to live.”

Character manifests in what we do more than what we may say. As President Woodrow Wilson said, “If you will think about what you ought to do for other people, your character will take care of itself. Character is a by-product, and any man who devotes himself to its cultivation in his own case will become a selfish prig.”

In other words, focus on being the tree, rather than a shadow.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized