Miscellaneous notes on the transition to Arizona

June 30 is technically my last day as a faculty member at the University of South Florida. I’ve been unpaid for June and living in Arizona for a little over two weeks, and my official USF emails have dwindled to a trickle, mostly erroneous bureaucratic missives (TRAVEL AUTHORIZATION FOR SOMEONE IN A DEPARTMENT THAT YOU NO LONGER HEAD AND NO LONGER EXISTS IS READY TO APPROVE).1 At this point, keeping in touch with almost-former colleagues will require much more effort on my part. It’s definitely worth the effort.

Tomorrow I start my new job at Arizona State University, and I’ve made a few forays onto two of the ASU campuses for various bureaucratic and human purposes. Bureaucratic: get an ID card. Human: meet staff and some faculty, start to unpack my boxes of books. Combined: talk with a staff member at one of the parking offices to figure out what would be the best parking pass arrangement for me, ask the tech-support office to send a staff member to finish setting up my desktop, change the calendar-sharing permissions so a critical staff member can tell me where to be at what time (i.e., set meetings up on my calendar).

From my limited experience thus far, Arizona State is going to be in the national news more frequently than the University of South Florida has during my time in Florida. For the record, I am unlikely to comment much on ASU matters here, though I may put some news in a broader context if I don’t see that context elsewhere. To take the two most visible stories recently, there is plenty of written commentary elsewhere on the Starbucks-ASU project, and I am unlikely to contribute anything new to it. Or, in the evolving discussion of the arrest of Professor Erusala Ore, I cannot improve on the probing from Tressie McMillan Cottom, and can just add that I hope ASU’s administration has a constructive response to such points. More generally, my blog does not represent my division or college; where I fail to make that distinction clear, it is my error rather than a judgment of my colleagues, academic unit, or university.

Anastasia Salter has a new entry up on Profhacker about moving. My comment on the entry is from my own experience this year: if my wife and I had not agreed to keep a People to-do list as well as a Things to-do list, the move would have been much more stressful than it was. As it turned out, our daughter helped us finish packing, drive across country, and start to unpack on the other end (thank you, Kathryn!). Our car did not break down in West Texas—a very good thing given that we were traveling with small and fragile pets. The movers were remarkably efficient and solved the only (minor) problem they created; I was the one who broke a dish on this end. Arizona turns out to be a fairly warm place in June, and my first day on the job may break 110 F.

There’s a small run of new skeptical writings about “personalization” as a synonym for student-centered or algorithmic education (or both at the same time): Benjamin Riley, Jade Davis, Dan Meyer, Audrey Watters, Mike Caufield, and Alex Hernandez, among others.2 Since the U.S. Department of Education may be setting personalization up as a supplementary priority for its research programs, I hope someone spends some time disentangling the problems with the term, especially the confusion of processes such as algorithms with the perceptions of students.

Dean Baker caught Kevin Carey in a minor bit of economic illiteracy this weekend. Carey spent most of his inaugural column for the New York Times‘ “Upshot” section explaining that we could learn a thing or two from other countries’ higher education systems—provocative and reasonable stuff—and then ended with the ed-policy wonkish conventional wisdom (let’s invent a buzzword for this, edu-CW) about international competitiveness and “harsh competition in global labor markets.” Baker pointed out that our standard of living would probably rise as other countries had more educated populations. As I’ve noted before, the edu-CW conflates productivity issues with long-run international trade as a primary argument that folks like Marc Tucker have used for years. It’s also been wrong for years. There’s an argument to be made about human capital and long-run productivity, but beating the international-anxiety drum is neither very original nor justifiable.3

As I began attending classes at a new dojo (or a dojo in Chandler, AZ, that was new to me), I was caught short by a brief discussion of goals. I’ve hit the “move to Arizona” goal and am ready for “start a new job,” but that leaves a whole bunch of other things, most of which are in an aspirational-project document. A coeditor and I recently finished with the first round process of a special journal issue, and then there is a very long list of partially-completed items on other research or writing projects.


  1. Translation: grants are staying on old budget numbers until project-year end-dates, and some database table still identifies me as the accountable officer for those budget numbers. Fortunately for all concerned, such items have been handled without my involvement, especially since I no longer have access to the required financial subsystem. []
  2. I wrote last year about my discomfort with the use of personalization. []
  3. There is also the question of how much one can rely on the human-capital argument. In Capital in the 21st Century, Piketty goes straight for the jugular on the arguments made by Claudia Goldin and Larry Katz. When I finish Piketty, I may have some comments on that point. []