Striking the Right [Tech] Balance

—This week I read three articles that presented a smorgasbord of positions about human-reliance on techno-gadgets.

In the first article, Carr explored the question is Google making us stupid? The author expressed concerned about our reliance on technology. Carr’s general argument is that tech and/or artificial intelligence is gaining strength and humans are experiencing an all time high of dumb. I would place Carr in the sky is falling category.

In The Myth of the Disconnected Life, Farman discussed how technology can be used to heighten our sense of place; he provided a few concrete examples of how tech has been used to enhance our personal experience with place. His argument could comfortably fit in the camp of tech-advocate.

The third piece is an excerpt from Clive Thompson’s book, Smarter Thank You Think. Thompson makes a convincing case for ongoing collaboration between humans and computers. He makes no attempt to promote one entity over the other. I would categorize Thompson’s stance as middle of the road.

I identified more with Thompson’s position. He was equally critical of the abilities of both man and computer. Thompson argued that humans have a unique trait–intuition–which cannot be replicated by computers. For example:

The recent accident between a motorist and one of Uber’s self-driven cars is a demonstration of what can happen if human abilities are absent from reality. A motorist failed to yield to the Uber vehicle, which caused the accident. If we replace the self-driven car with a human driver, we could increase the chances of avoiding the accident. You can read more about this accident by clicking here.

Computers cannot account for the unpredictable behavior that humans express on a daily basis. Yet, I am an advocate for driver assist technology (DAT), which harkens back to Thompson’s description of collaborative chess–humans and computers as chess teammates. I am not comfortable with computers taking full command of automobiles, but a few DAT warnings along the way could enhanced safety.

Much of this was discussed in previous GEDI sessions, so I look forward to rehashing the topic.

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Vivid Bridges to the Hidden Brain

Photo Credit: Salon.com

I just finished reading an article by Vedantam, How ‘The Hidden Brain’ Does The Thinking For Us. My dissertation dabbles with the concepts of biased mental models and implicit bias, so I found myself nodding to all of the author’s points. However, he included an excerpt from his book, Hidden Brain. I found the details of this excerpt highly disturbing. For one, I have found myself in similar situations, and quite like some of the characters in the selected scenario, in postmortem I questioned my reaction to the moment and/or the reactions–or lack thereof–of others.

In the excerpt, a young lady by the name of Deletha jumped from a bridge as a result of a brutal assault from a stranger. While I was reading this passage, I kept asking “why didn’t anyone help this young lady.” I sat with the story and tried to apply the author’s logic of the hidden mind. This is what came up with. If the aggressor and the victim were of the same race, some people may have assumed that they were lovers. And if those people tend to operate on the wisdom my grandmother shared with me–don’t get in the middle of a lover’s quarrel–they may have been acting with their hidden mind. I think the autopilot [hidden mind] the author is referring to is the behavior we express that isn’t always logical, useful or helpful and it can result in harm.

While I don’t anticipate the average class session to be anything like the death of Deletha, educators must make an effort to avoid operating on auto-pilot; we must stay “woke”. We must be aware when someone is being injured, ostracized, singled-out or mistreated, and create the type of environment where every student feels comfortable enough to state when they feel attacked. Sometimes, a toxic environment can be hard to detect if the facilitator of that moment is in a numbed state.

And for Vedantam’s effort to illustrate the hidden brain–I think his use of an extreme case really drove the point home.

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Is Getting to the Finish Line Enough?

Mark Carnes wrote an article where he talked about his learning concept called Reacting to the Past. Carnes description of Reacting to the Past is in alignment with the established descriptions of active learning. However, I have found the term –active learning–lacking clarity. So I have started to refer to [what would be] active learning as lived-learning…with the outcome of lived-knowledge. We are more likely to reach students if we can immerse them in the material. One way to do this is to move the stories we teach closer to their realities and their experiences. Let them touch history. Let them change the outcomes outlined in a lesson with contemporary tools. I purchase this approach.

Now, a slight left turn from active learning. Last semester I wrote a paper asking the question Is education the key to a better quality of life. In particular, I wanted to know if college completion would yield an improvement in the areas of labor and shelter. What I found was a significant difference in the success outcomes and these differences were based on race. After running a few comparisons between racial groups, I found that–even with an increasing rate of college completion–markers of success had not improved for Blacks since 1964.

Carnes is concerned with students completing college, and the anecdotes he provided are great examples of how we can re-engage students. In addition to Carnes’ concern, I am concerned about what happens after college. Keeping students interested and engaged is just one step towards preparing them for success in life. There are other hurdles our students will have to overcome, and we can help them by finding ways to address the aforementioned disparities.

I would love to hear your thoughts about lived-learning and success beyond college.

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Deconstructing the Grading System

In Alfie Kohn’s article , The Case Against Grades, the author deconstructs the traditional grading system. The author opens up a big wound, pours salt in it and offers lukewarm examples as the balm. While I agree that teaching towards the grade is not the best learning strategy, I am also aware that the traditional grading system is subject to larger systems and bigger issues. For example, if the school system, as a whole, does not agree to change how we evaluate learning, then the individual teacher that elects for a “non-grade” learning environment runs the risk of being terminated or they might jeopardize their school’s position. Now, there is a larger way of being and doing that modern society participates in…and that is risk culture.

Risk culture is fueled by fear. Fear of losing one’s job, fear of failing school, fear of disappointing one’s parents, fear of lawsuits, fear of not getting into college. The list of fears is neverending, and risk culture is what drives us closer to quantifying success with a rigid grading system. So if we are going to deconstruct the grading system, we should consciously take steps to deconstruct the larger systems that will eventually undermine any advances taken at the sub-system level.

This article left me wondering what was occurring at the higher levels of society—like the school board and the college systems that review the applications of the students participating in a non-grade environment.

Questions to Ponder: What type colleges were willing to accept narrative summaries instead of grades? Did the non-grade teachers have the support of their leadership?

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Rewind: Trump’s Attack on Obama’s Record

I shamefully admit that I have tuned in to watch most of Trump’s speeches during and after his presidential campaign. Needless to say, each speech was more disappointing that the previous. He made the following statement during his acceptance of the Republican nomination:

President Obama has doubled our national debt to more than $19 trillion and growing. – #45

The bit that I know about our budget process is that you can never pin the entire national debt on one person, and you most certainly should consider the inaction of congress in the equation. For me, this speech was the first sign of Trump’s alternative facts. The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget wrote a piece entitled Has President Obama Doubled the National Debt? When you have a few minutes, read the article. While some of Obama’s policies did indeed have an adverse impact on the national debt, the Committee points out that the increase in the national debt was already set in motion before Obama took office (e.g. the Great Recession). The article also states that Trump’s proposed policies would also have a doubling effect on the national debt. So, this is what I gather from it all–Bush created the mess…Obama attempted to fix it…Trump points the finger at Obama while he designs plans to re-Bush us. This is tom-foolery at its best.

 

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Kellyanne Conway & Ellen Langer, They Must Know Each Other

I just finished reading an article by Ellen Langer entitled Mindful Learning.  As I was reading the article, what came to mind was Kellyanne Conway’s mention of “alternative facts” on Meet the Press.  This particular sentence is what made me draw the connection between Langer’s work and Kellyanne’s alternative reality:

“Facts, whether derived from science or not, are not context-free; their meaning and usefulness depend on the situation.“-Langer

This statement illuminates the power that an instructor has over the learning process, and it highlights the importance of grooming students to be mindful.  For example, Langer offers an alternative way of thinking about facts and the learning process.  If an individual typically operates in the mindless track [as described by Langer],  a savvy spin doctor such as Conway—and I’m sure Conway has read Langer’s article–can influence the mindless masses with a well-argued alternative perspective.

Now, shift this example to the classroom.  If a professor’s agenda is to promote a set of specific facts, they could fall into the same colorful bucket as Conway–aliens from the alternative universe.  But if we encourage students to consider multiple perspectives–shift them towards mindfulness–they will be prepared for characters like Conway and have the ability to co-sign alternative facts or detect the intent to manipulate information.

I think mindfulness and critical thinking are pretty much the same, and we definitely need more of it in contemporary learning.

A let’s talk about it note: “Mindfulness coupled with ill-intent = Conway.” -Me

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To Blog or Not To Blog

During my time as a PhD student, professors have shared mixed comments about blogging.  Some professors have encouraged me to blog and others have deemed the practice as a waste of time.

What I noticed about those who were from the pro-blog camp is that they are either assistant professors or senior professors who happen to be tech savvy.

The anti-blog camp are typically older and committed to the traditional expectations of academia.

Even those from the pro-blog camp struggle with the act.  One professor asked me to chime in on a potential post.  The content was soooooo thick [wordy].  For some, making the transition from hefty manuscripts to brief and succinct commentary is a major challenge.  Here are a few other troubling comments that I have heard from students and professors:

  • I’m long-winded, and there’s no way I can cram all of what I have to say in that box.
  • Blogging will call into question my status as a serious scholar.
  • Who actually reads that %!#&?

Maybe it is time for universities to offer training on contemporary sharing platforms. Reboot?

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GEDI

I am going to have to visit Blacksburg a few times this semester…clearly a lively bunch!

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Suggestions on How to Improve the Tenure Game

Throughout this semester I have thought about the advantages and disadvantages of the current tenure-track system.  I made a concerted effort to learn more about the process. I spoke with professors who were up for tenure–the shift from assistant professor to associate professor. I tuned in each time I heard the topic being discussed by others.  I plundered around the Web to get a sense of what others think about the process.  I have come to the conclusion that many think that the current tenure structure is counter-productive, and its a system that maintains a hierarchical status-quo.  However, many of these same people did not offer of ways to dismantle the system.  This could be partly due to the fact that most of them are a part of the rat race, or have benefited in some way from the system.  Both junior and senior faculty members expressed the more negative points of the tenure process, and the only positive points that I came across were expressed online and in very subtle ways.  Everyone sees the pink Elephant, and they keep offering it food and comforts; no one is challenging the absurd.

phd072011s

 

One professor talked about how the tenure-track pressures junior faculty to crank out journal articles, and often times these articles lack in quality.  This then puts additional burden on journal editors to sift through an abundance of poorly constructed manuscripts.  A  major fallout from manuscript grind is that a professor’s teaching might suffer and students’ learning might suffer.  I think there are ways we can change the system, but it will require incremental change. Here are a few steps we can take now:

What Educators Can Do:

  • Talk to their colleagues about the topic; plant seeds.
  • Work with the graduate school to launch a pilot program.
  • Create a body of program and department heads who have a desire to change the system. Let’s call them the Society of Progressive Administrators & Professors (SPAP).
  • The SPAP will have the charge of designing a replacement structure, designing a roll-out strategy for the new structure, and establishing a shared commitment to recruit and retain talent using the new structure.

What Students Can Do:

  • Write op-eds that will provide decision-makers with new ways of thinking.
  • Encourage your chair and the graduate school administrators to consider implementing change.
    • Schedule one-on-one time with your chair and express your concerns.
    • Schedule one-on-one time with the dean of your graduate school and express your concerns.
  • Conduct research on the topic and broadly share the results.
  • Use your professional network to gain support.
    • Ask for support from the professional society for your discipline.
    • Create networks with other students who share your concern.

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The Journal of Artificial Socieities and Social Simulation (JASSS)

jasss

I am planning to submit an article to the Journal of Artificial Societies and Social Simulation (JASSS).  The journal is managed by the University of Surrey, which is located in the United Kingdom.  The journal promotes learning about society by way of computer simulation.  JASSS has been publishing since 1998, however, it is unclear if it has been an open access platform since its conception.  The journal has an “About” page that states that access is free and the term “open access” is not used to describe the journal.  In fact, there is no political stance about free [open] or traditional publishing modes.  Authors are not required to pay to contribute to JASSS, however, the submission instructions include a kind ask for donations in the suggested amount of $1,300.  I found it comical that the suggested donation was listed in three forms of currency (US dollar, the euro and pound sterling).  The journal also offers an incentive for donors in which they offer to tag the authors contribution with a badge that will denote their contribution.  The average visitor to the JASSS website will immediately realize that it is an open access journal.  URLs to their current articles are prominently posted on their landing page;  there are no assumptions to be made about their stance on publishing.

I am on the fence as to whether I will donate. Virginia Tech has a fund that will cover publishing fees for open access, but I would rather those funds go to a student who is trying to contribute to a journal with mandatory fees.  I will make my decision on this point in December. If any of you are interested in JASSS, here is the direct link to their page: http://jasss.soc.surrey.ac.uk.

Cheers!

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“10 Cool Ways Teachers Use Social Media to Enhance Learning” by V. Harris

My task for this week was to find an article related to how teachers are using technology to enhance learning.  The first article I came across was this quick read by Vicki Davis.   She provided 10 examples of how teachers have incorporated tech in their classroom.  One teacher had students create Twitter handles using names of famous Aztecs.  As they walk through the history lessons, students sent tweets that stated how they think a historical event transpired.  I was inspired by several of the examples shared by Vicki, but then I started to think about how these ideas would align with higher education. Based on the provided examples, I assumed that most of them were drawn from K through 12.

I have found the delivery of most professors to be predictable, and this could make learning more of a chore.  However, a select few have made an effort to teach outside of the box.  One professor used a survey app to push questions to us [students] as we moved through the lesson. In fact, the professor projected our collective responses on a screen and we discussed each element of the lesson with great detail.  The professor used this tool a few times throughout the course and I thought it was a great way to spice up an otherwise mundane topic.  More importantly, I noticed that people were fully engaged.  Learning should be fun, and I think his use of tech helped to make that happen.

One challenge for higher ed is that we may sometimes find that our class population is not homogeneous.  Meaning, some students may be technologically challenged, and some students may not have the means to purchase or participate in certain platforms.  If we decided to make technology a centerpiece to our lesson plan, we must keep these type of issues in mind.  With enough creativity and patience, we can bring along those who are not savvy with technology and we can ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate.

If any of you have used technology as a centerpiece to learning, I would love to hear about it.

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Our Presidential Candidates’ Stance on Higher Ed

prez

I stumbled across this article that summarizes the U.S. presidential candidates’ plan for managing the costs for higher education. Trump takes a more conservative approach, and Hillary’s plan looks as though she’s been drinking Bernie’s kool-aid.   Trump’s plan is pretty much more of the same, so I will not waste any space reviewing his plan, you can do so via this link (https://www.nasfaa.org/2016_presidential_candidates).  However, I would like to drawn out a few points related to Hillary’s proposal.

  • Hillary is proposing a lower interest rate for those who already have student loan debt. Outstanding!
  • She also proposes that students from families with a collective income of $85 or less go to in-state 4-year colleges for free. Brakes!

While the second bullet sounds good in theory, how do you implement such a plan without ticking off those who weren’t afforded the same opportunity.  I combed through the rest of Hillary’s plan looking for a loan forgiveness clause–beyond those that already exist. There is nothing mentioned along these lines.  If Hillary becomes president, and her plan is implemented…there will be fallout.  There will be a large segment of society that are currently enrolled in school that these perks will not apply to.  Instead, they will be on a 20 year loan forgiveness track. Unfair much?

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Bad Brandi

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I have had bad Brandy before, and the punishment I received for drinking it was far worse than that issued to Brandi Lyn Blaylock.  Ms. Blaylock was a graduate student and researcher who falsified research that was supported by NIDA and NIH.  Feel free to review the case summary.  My stance on this case is that the punishment does not match the seriousness of the ethical violation.  I believe we would see less of these cases if we were more punitive in our response to such matters.  For example, if you receive federal funding and you purposefully alter findings, this behavior should be treated as a federal offense.  Typically, when people misappropriate federal funds there is the chance that they will be subject to harsh fines and even jail time.  For some reason, ethical violations within the world of research are not held to the same standard.  This laissez-faire approach could place thousands if not millions of lives in danger.  Instead, Bad Brandi received supervisory restrictions and a requirement that her work be monitored.  Really?  Here’s how the case should have been handled:

  • Barred from applying for any federal and state-level funding; and
  • Barred from publishing in any peer-reviewed journal.

If we want to heighten the value and quality of scholarship, there should be no lax policies nor should there be the impression that ethical violations are but a hiccup in one’s career.

Am I violator-shaming right now? Why yes I am.

 

Additonal Reading:

Former Wake Forest grad student fudged data for drug study

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White Inclusion on HBCU Campuses

Graduates stand for the anthem "Lift Every Voice and Sing" during 2014 commencement ceremonies at Howard University in Washington May 10, 2014. Entertainer Sean Combs delivered the commencement address and received an honorary degree in Humanities during the ceremony.    REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst    (UNITED STATES - Tags: EDUCATION ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY) - RTR3OLDN

Graduates stand for the anthem “Lift Every Voice and Sing” during 2014 commencement ceremonies at Howard University in Washington May 10, 2014. Entertainer Sean Combs delivered the commencement address and received an honorary degree in Humanities during the ceremony. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: EDUCATION ENTERTAINMENT SOCIETY) – RTR3OLDN

Earlier in the semester, a student asked if white students were allowed to attend HBCUs.  I think I chimed in and said “yes, and they are welcomed.” Several years ago, I had heard that it was mandatory for HBCUs to recruit students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds.  This article supports that notion.  The article also raises some controversial elements of an ongoing conversation regarding white inclusion on HBCU campuses.  If you have the time, read the article (Click Here).  For those of you short on time, I will provide a few key opinions mentioned in the article:

Statements from Black students at an HBCU:

“I think that it is a learning experience for both cultures to blend at a majority black institution and therefore I fully support white attendance at Howard and all other HBCUs. I think white students at Howard can bring new opinions to the area and institution and receive many good lessons as well…However, I hope that the majority of HBCUs always remain predominantly black and carry on the traditions, culture, and legacy they were created for.”

“I think a white person attending an HBCU is a positive thing and fosters a couple of different perspectives. One, I think it gives white students a chance to be a minority and therefore the ability to be more sympathetic to minorities in society.”

Statements from White students attending a HBCU:

“I would only suggest it to another white person if I knew they had a strong self-esteem and were outgoing enough to make friends easily,” she said in an interview. “Being the minority is something “white people” are not used to.”

“As a school, I love it and I love the people. I really enjoy being unique and for that reason I appreciate my experience,” she said. “I feel as though you have a bit more notoriety being so different at a place like this. I think that I truly learned one hundred times more in terms of life and culture than I ever would have at a predominantly white university. It has been a blessing and a growing experience.”

 

What are your reactions to the opinions expressed in the article?

 

 

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Tips for Your Job Hunt

tips

 

Here are a few tips regarding the application process for professorships.  I hope this post will help some of you with your planning:

1. Keep your chair informed. Make sure that your chair is aware of the timelines for each application. Your future employer will ask him/her about the status of your dissertation.

2. Be realistic with your timelines. If you plan to complete your dissertation and start work shortly thereafter, make sure you give yourself enough time to complete the dissertation. If you don’t finish the dissertation in time, the school may withdraw their offer. The situation could cause strain on both parties, and that’s not a good way to start a job.

3. Get organized! Create a document with the point of contact information for each school, the key requirements of the application and important dates/deadlines. It is easy to get things mixed up when you are applying to more than one school.

4. Know your tolerance level and job expectations. Ask yourself, would I be ok with a heavier teaching load and less pressure to produce scholarly work or vice versa. Am I open to either scenario?

5. Get to know the common hiring practices.

  • Most tenure-track positions and some adjunct positions are advertised in the Fall prior to the upcoming academic year; you would apply for a position that starts in Fall 2017 position in Fall 2016.
  • Most full-time non-tenure positions are advertised in the Spring prior to the upcoming academic year; you would apply for a Fall 2017 position in Spring 2016.

Happy hunting!

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You: Hey professor, I need your help. Professor: I’m on summer break!

I am in the process of applying for professorships, and I keep coming across adverts that state that the job is a 9, 11 or 12-month tenure track position. I haven’t put much thought into how professors spend their summers and I have been sloppy about contacting them during “off season”. I assumed that they all were being paid during the summer break. Well, apparently not. If a professor is tied to a 9-month contract/agreement with the university…they are not obligated to work over the summer. There are many versions of this, but that’s what I have gathered from the adverts. I welcome insight from others, and I would love to cover this topic in class.

So look, the next time you decide to email your professor over the summer…put some thought into their relationship with the program. Are they a year-round kinda professor, or are they only obligated to respond to your inconsiderate emails for 9 months out of the year?

This is me, learning as I go…and I may have to apologize to a few people.

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What’s Your Teaching Style?

There are two major modes of teaching that are discussed in academia. Do you see yourself in either of these descriptions?

Didactic – Passive Learning

1. Teacher-centered: based on the assumption that the teacher is the primary agent in learning.

2. Teacher’s role: to impart the results of experience, personal study, and reflection.

3. Primarily deductive: the usual methods are lecture, story telling, use of analogy, and aphorism.

4. Test of truth: authority and experience.

5. Learning is the reception of ideas.

6. Student’s role: to be passive, open, receptive,
trusting, and unquestioning.

7. Evaluation is factual recall of data–commonly in the form of objective tests–right and wrong answers.

8. Ultimate goal: wisdom viewed as the internalization of truths and beliefs.

 

Socratic – Active Learning

1. Problem-centered: based on the assumption that the student is the primary agent in learning.

2. Teacher’s role: to uncover the question that the answer hides. To be a co-learner.

3. Primarily inductive: the usual methods discussion, dialogue, and problem-solving.

4. Test of truth: reason and evidence.

5. Learning is a conflict of ideas: a thesis, antithesis, and a synthesis that results in new knowledge (Hegel).

6. Student’s role: to be active, questioning, critical, and discriminating–learning to trust one’s own judgment (independent thinking).

7. Evaluation is application of understanding interpretation of data–commonly in an essay, speech, journal, or a review.

8. Ultimate goal: wisdom viewed as an informed ignorance (knowing what one does not know–the Socratic paradox).

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Mission Statements – Marketing vs. Mission

I selected the two mission statements where I received my undergraduate and masters degree, Morgan State University (MSU) and Columbia University (CU).

MSU:

Morgan State University serves the community, region, state, nation, and world as an intellectual and creative resource by supporting, empowering and preparing high-quality, diverse graduates to lead the world. The University offers innovative, inclusive, and distinctive educational experiences to a broad cross-section of the population in a comprehensive range of disciplines at the baccalaureate, master’s, doctoral, and professional degree levels. Through collaborative pursuits, scholarly research, creative endeavors, and dedicated public service, the University gives significant priority to addressing societal problems, particularly those prevalent in urban communities.

CU:

Columbia University is one of the world’s most important centers of research and at the same time a distinctive and distinguished learning environment for undergraduates and graduate students in many scholarly and professional fields. The University recognizes the importance of its location in New York City and seeks to link its research and teaching to the vast resources of a great metropolis. It seeks to attract a diverse and international faculty and student body, to support research and teaching on global issues, and to create academic relationships with many countries and regions. It expects all areas of the university to advance knowledge and learning at the highest level and to convey the products of its efforts to the world.

My Thoughts: Being that MSU is an HBCU, I expected to see wording that identified their primary audience/client [African Americans]. If you didn’t know any better, MSU’s mission statement would be a standard statement for a TWI (Traditionally White Institutions).  I guess the use of the word “urban” was supposed to capture the minority mandate.  Unlike MSU’s statement, CU’s statement reads as a sales pitch.  If I were to search for a place to learn, CU’s angle would lure me in more so than MSU’s approach.  CU’s statement clearly mentions that the university is located in New York City.  If your institution exists in such a place, you want to make that known to the reader.  MSU is located in a less desirable place, Baltimore, MD, and there was no mention of the city nor the state.

This exercise raises one question that I welcome others to try and answer:  Can a university strike the right balance between stating their mission and marketing the institution?

 

 

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