Sunday, 13 February 2011

Working Weekend at Kuan Na Kap

... that's what the Chinese call Gurney Drive. There is the old Kuan Na Kap (Esplanade) and Gurney Drive is the new one. Looking east out my big window from the 22nd floor of the hotel, I see the sweeping coast line that is getting more and more congested with super tall condos and the E&O development on reclaimed land. Down below, Gurney Drive is still inviting but less appealing visually. I wish this was a superwide promenade where people can walk and enjoy the breeze. But the mud is taking over even though there's a sign that says an EM bioremediation project was carried out here. The mangrove trees are taking hold in some parts and given time, there will be no seaview.

 Super highrise supercondos costing millions along Kuan Na Kap.

Yesterday, my wife and I walked almost the entire length of GD 3 times. On the way, I brag to one of my USM colleague who was going in the other direction. He turned around and said that was his 7th time walking on GD that day. Impressive. I met 3 two other colleagues taking walks on GD too. So I am extremely pleased. And I am pleased to tell you that I had a most encouraging first meeting with the medical professionals at our Pusat Sejahtera (Wellness Centre) and the state of health report is on a fasttrack now with the commitment of the very top people.

Only parts of Gurney Drive is tree-lined. I wish there is a tree canopy for the entire length and I wished the sidewalk was at least double in width.

USM is famous for many weekend meetings at hotels. We don't seem to have enough time to do what we have to do on campus. I get "invited" to some of these. Well, this time they got lucky. Usually, I ignore calls from numbers not on my list in the handphone, especially when I am busy. They asked whether I could come. I demanded to know why. I wanted to know who asked them to call me. Who "approved" my name. Why me? .... Just playing hard to get. In the end I said yes. Often, they just surprise you with a letter which says "come" - often I find an excuse to say "sorry". But here I am, since Friday morning. And our job is done (sort of) so I can relax and blog a little.

The modus operandi is to gather a few very energetic people, put them in a room, give them a problem and let them deal with it. There's a lot of talking. And retalking (we go back to the same things again ... and again). Generally, we joke a lot. We are friendly. We enjoy our company. Most of us know each other quite well. We make an effort to listen. We tried to accommodate each others divergent views or concerns. But sometimes, you meet one who is hardheaded .. thinks he knows everything, has all the answers ... nothing else matters.

Sometimes we have a crowd-pleaser. He brings in his horns and strings and entertains us. I actually fell asleep yesterday after lunch while he was playing his melodic strings and woke up refreshed and full of questions.

See USM at work below:

 Service to the University is still severely capped. Yet there is no willingness to review it. Yet, we want lecturers to contribute to the university. And ironically, we give marks for service outside (in very large quantum). But I agree, we need to evoke the spirit of giving. Unfortunately, we don't treat all the parts with the same philosophy.

Why were we here? Some of you might have heard the Minister announce that there would be a third track for promotions of academics. There was research and teaching tracks (well, sort of). Now there will be "community engagement". We had to come up with the criteria for promotions. Actually, they have been doing this since about March last year and again in November. So we are really going through the work to fine tune it. This will be applied nation wide to all universities (I think). So, all eyes are on USM. We are always in the lead.

Am I happy with the outcome? In many ways, yes. In some ways, no. I am happy that, reading the paper, the conceptual and philosophical grounds for promotions on the community engagement track has been well-documented, withl concerns based on the substantial effort already going on in the US for the last 20 years (arising from Boyer's work in 1990).

But along the way, we always have to find some way to quantify it. We have to convert something which is qualitative into something which is countable. So that we can compare and say that yes, you have pass the "line" and is now eligible to be considered for promotion.

The problem is that other that the publications in journals which is accessible to the reviewers/assessors, the quality of work in teaching, and in the future, community engagement, is not available to the assessors; or is difficult to present to the assessors.

So while the working paper for promotions makes a good case in differentiating the scholarship of discovery, the scholarship of integration and the scholarship of application, the form for promotion is a sterile document. We must put more emphasis on the candidate demonstrating his "prowess" through more qualitative assessment, either by peers or by self. This is the currently the major shortfall.

But I take heart that USM now recognises the deficiencies in teaching ... and as a top management last night said .." we must do something about it". So, watch out all you academics, not just in USM, teaching assessment will become standard practice in the near future. And this will not just be for those choosing the "teaching track" ... all lecturers will have to demonstrate competency and effectiveness in teaching. And student review of teaching will be ramped up.

Will life as an academic be more stressful? Most likely. But with proper training, we can manage it.
Who will benefit? Students and employers. And academics too.

p.s. we had dimsum at the Bali Hai restaurant twice. Very popular place on weekends. And very cheap too. The hawker food we had the first night was slightly disappointing. And so was Kopitan along Beach Street.

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