Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dissertation: Reset

I have to admit, posting about my dissertation has been difficult, because my mind hasn't been in it. It's not that I'm not interested in, or thinking about, the topic; I'm working on revisions nearly every day. The trouble is, at the moment I'm revising the quantitative section, so that's where my head is at.

Because of that, I'm going to switch gears and write about what I'm actually working on.

The quantitative portion is based on a survey of presidents conducted in 2006 by the Council of Independent Colleges and Wes Willmer. Fundraising surveys often have bad response rates, as low as 20-something percent. In this case, 274 out of 555 responded. This is not bad, relatively speaking, but it's still quite possible that respondents are not typical of all CIC members. My assumption going in (and my committee's) was that responding schools would be those with more time and resources devoted to fundraising.

However, a comparison of these schools isn't bearing this out. So far I've only compared them in IPEDS, not in VSE, but the colleges are statistically similar on tuition and fees, revenues, the percent of revenues from fundraising and from endowment returns, total enrollment, and six-year graduation rate. The only variable they differ on is graduation rates.

This is unexpected good news, because I can generalize my findings to other CIC institutions. I am wondering what it means, though, that they are different only in graduation rates. Are they more selective? Do they offer a better education? And how does this impact my generalizability? Luckily, I can test how selective they are via IPEDS.

Monday, January 24, 2011


You might not want to breathe too deeply - I've been holding on to some of these links for so long, they might be getting moldy:

Penn State prof blogs on higher education.

Almost true tales of academia: "A friend from undergrad was in a program where she was the only female student to make it out alive and with a PhD in a decade. ('You’re making it sound worse than it is,' my husband tells me. 'Only one student actually died, and she was killed by a drunk driver.' 'Yes, but the drunk driver was the department chair.')"

Hitting very close to home: Dating as a 30-something female academic: "Most of the time, dating does not feel like fun. I mean, sure, it’s supposed to feel like fun, but really what it feels more like is a job interview, a job interview in which you are both the interviewer as well as the interviewee."

Universities as transmitters of social capital: "Once upon a time, the content of an elite education was much more closely mapped to the cultural capital of the elite: this is precisely what fed the resentment of ambitious outsiders like Richard Nixon for the Eastern Establishment."

And, nothing to do with academia at all: "Wild coyotes have settled in or around every major city in the United States, thriving as never before, and in New York they have taken to golf. I’m told the New Yorker coyotes spend a good deal of time near the tenth hole on the Van Cortlandt Park Golf Course in the Bronx." Yup, golfing coyotes.

One of the more interesting pieces on issues with the Kindle as "the future of books."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Upside down

One thing I've been working on in both yoga and capoeira is handstands and related movements and poses. That includes aus (cartwheels) in capoeira and headstands in yoga.

A secret: Cartwheels are actually easier than balancing upside down. That's because in a cartwheel, your arms aren't really supporting much of your weight: Most of the work is coming from momentum. You could probably do a cartwheel, although it might not be pretty - the biggest obstacle is mental.

Just a few years ago in yoga, I was terrified of handstands. I wouldn't even try them against the wall. (Just ask Gillian, my yoga teacher.) Now I've gotten over that, but I still can't hold a freestanding handstand.

The problem isn't really arm and shoulder strength, although I could probably use more of that. It's balance, and that comes from the rest of the body, particularly the core. So I've been working on a few things that build up control in those muscles.

One move I've just recently gotten down is getting up into tripod headstand from a wide-legged standing position. (You can see what I mean in the first half of this video.) It's much easier to get up into tripod if your legs are together than if they are spread apart. And I was surprised to find out that the difficulty for me was in the outer thighs, rather than my arms or tummy.

Not surprisingly, though, various forms of handstands are the best practice. So is simply kicking up into handstand (as opposed to going down from standing), because you have to learn the right amount of force to use. Not enough, and you don't make it into a handstand. Too much and the momentum carries you beyond a handstand into landing on the other side, hopefully painlessly. This isn't a problem when you're practicing against the wall, but it is an issue when you're in the roda.

I'm not there yet. There's a feeling in an inversion where you know that you are balanced - not only are you not falling over, but you feel lighter. I know this sensation from headstands. Only recently have I begun to have those moments in handstands as well. While, alas, they don't last very long, they are very encouraging, because I can tell I'm getting better - even if no one else can see it.

So my long-term goal right now is something I can't do yet but hope to be able to do by August: Get into a handstand (and hold it) from a cartwheel. You're using momentum, yes, but you have to stop that momentum with entirely different muscles since you are falling sideways, not forward.

In the meantime, I'm working on balancing in handstand period; on kicking up with my right leg as reliably as my left, and doing au fechado, a cartwheel with the legs hugged into the body.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Dissertation: Evaluating and supportng the president

All the literature stresses that board must simultaneously support and evaluate the president. At all three colleges, however, board members stressed supporting over evaluating. This was most notable at one college:

"I think it’s truly become [the president's] board at this point," one trustee said. Another said, “I truly believe a board is simply there to support its president or support its leader.” When asked what one should do if one couldn’t support the president, this trustee replied, “Get off the board.”

Friday, January 14, 2011


This weekend I am going backpacking. Yes, it will be cold. It builds character.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Dissertation: Trustees on campus

Sorry for the hiatus: I've been traveling. I'm back in Nashville, the semester has started, and things should be more regular.

Last time, I was talking about the differences in trustee roles among the three campuses. At one campus, trustees were expected to be at many on-campus events:

We probably hit our [local] alums a little harder in terms of visibility and ambassadorship. We really expect them to be at as many functions that the college hosts or co-hosts as they possibly can. Not everyone can be at every sporting event, but at the big ones we hope people are there, as well as major events which are philanthropic by nature either directly or indirectly.

There was a downside to this, however:

Those of us in the area that see each other socially outside of college events, or at college events, we feel very close to one another. Some of the guys, one of the guys in Hawaii, he probably only makes two meetings a year, so those are the only two times I see him, so it’s hard to establish a relationship. … So those who aren’t at the college, who don’t see each other, don’t sit with each other at football games, it’s much harder. And having just completed our trustees’ review of the group that’s up for selection, that was a consistent theme among the out-of-town trustees.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Dissertation: Trustees on campus

One thing I found fascinating during my research was how the duties of trustees varied among the three campuses. Unsurprisingly, trustees were expected to attend several annual meetings and serve on one or more committees at each college. Making donations was expected as well, although for at least one college this was new. But at one college, trustees were expected to attend as many on-campus events as possible, including home games in the two big sports on campus. (That this wasn't expected elsewhere was not a function of the trustees' distance from campus.) At another campus, the expectations for trustee giving were much more structured - they should give x and y to the campaign and z annually when they're not in a campaign.

Of course, the work of trustees varies slightly from campus to campus, depending on how large the student body is - not to mention whether it's public or private - and how strong its religious affiliation (if any) is. But within the small, private, denominational sphere, I was expecting more similarity. Trustees can only devote so much time to their role, generally: It was fascinating to see how colleges allocated that time differently.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dissertation: Overview

Someone suggested to me that I talk more about my dissertation on my blog - now that the majority of shoveling is done and I have results. So, taking that advice, I'm going to be trying to post twice a week with quotes from my interviews or analyses of my data.

Today, however, I'm simply starting off with a brief description of what my dissertation is. I am studying boards of trustees at small private (American) colleges. More specifically, I'm looking at how they are involved with fundraising. The actual analysis consists of two parts: The first uses data from a survey to attempt to predict how various board characteristics (like percent who are alumni of the college) influence total funds raised from donations. The second consists of data, mostly interviews, from three small colleges in the Southeast. Here, I am less interested in prediction than in the roles the trustees take on in relation to fundraising.

I found several things, some surprising, some known but not the subject of previous strategy, and some utterly unsurprising. I'll be talking about some of those in the weeks to come.