Wednesday, February 18, 2009


A research center is not another name for an ad-hoc committee, a study group, or even a regional research unit. It is a far more serious undertaking, a sort of a think tank specialized in one area or other of strategic research. Both the mission statement and the vision of such a center will depend not only on who provides the funds, but also on who is going to be in charge of the manning and running center operations. How much power each of these parties has in setting policy is not necessarily a comfortable or self-evident equation to solve. In this short post, I wish to think aloud about the prototypical relationship between the two.
There is an old saying that ‘he who pays the fiddler calls the tune’, and generally speaking, those who dispense the cash will have right of way to draw the general policy guidelines to be followed by the center. The sponsor may well be a governmental or intergovernmental agency or a large business operation. Assuming that it is the sponsor who has the final say on the overall direction of the center can be a bit of simplification. More and more, there is recognition that any agency, think tank, research center, profession, union, guild or trade must have an agreed-upon code of conduct which is akin to a constitution. Underlying many formalized scientific and social research bodies is a principle called social responsibility. This is true of physicians, nuclear scientists, physicists, businesses, as much as it is true of teachers, nurses, linguists, standardization watchdogs, consumer-protection agencies, and so on.
What social responsibility entails is a declared commitment to the social good or the common good. How we define the common good itself is very controversial, but at the very least, it has to be seen that the outcome of the work being conducted is not meant to hurt or endanger the values believed to be essential for the survival of humanity at large, without distinction between people on the basis of all those socioeconomic variables that set humans apart.
With specific reference to the social responsibility of a research center, it has to be clear that neither the sponsor nor the experts and administration of the center are in the business of doing work that does not lead to human benefit across the board. In other words, both the sponsor, the managers and subject-specific human resources have to agree from the very beginning that universally-agreed upon values will have to be adhered to as a matter of course.
In the case of education, those will values will include but should not be limited to the right to learn, the right to communicate, the right to use and speak one’s native language, the right to think, the right to express and criticize alternative viewpoints, the right to create, the right to innovate,
the right to be treated fairly and -- principally-- the duty to treat others fairly.
A final note
It may be that there are those who judge the integration of the common good as being a bit of a simplistic and idealized view of life, business, and the world. Here though, we are talking about a minimum of two drivers: the business driver, i.e., the sponsors, those who will pay for center infrastructure and human resources, and the knowledge workers and managers who run the big, strategic operations of the center. Unless a clear, documented, and satisfactory agreement is reached between the two from the very beginning, there is a possibility that the center might not be capable of delivering the goods it was set to deliver.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


Developing and heading up a research center is a most challenging charge. Anyone entrusted with such a task should, as Dr. Coombe of HCT has rightfully suggested, seek out best practice in this area because very few of us, if any, receive specific training to take up such a job. After all, most of us hail from teaching, and later develop skills and competencies in administration, spilling sometimes into management protocols and practices. It is not immediately clear which is the best model to follow, a business model or an academic model. For all I know, it may be that the distinction between the two is outdated; there has been much talk, for quite a while about the so-called BET model: Business and Education Together Model, signaling a shift in academic thinking that institutions of higher education are no longer ivory towers, islands of sorts that neither affect nor get affected by a sea of change around them. There is more to say about this model, for now, it may be safe to assume that the right combination of business interest and academic pursuit will produce a new breed of researchers and research centers that will have a real, useful and measurable impact on the socioeconomic environment.
Despite the temptation to make this relationship between academics and the business world the centerpiece of this post, I will maneuver myself in the direction of pragmatism and try to answer instead the question at hand, about how to build and govern a research center. I should like to allocate another post to bad/worst practice in research center building, but for now, I wish to produce off hand, in list form, the elements necessary for a research center planner to factor into the process.
In the circumstances, a research center planner has to think through the following points, not necessarily in this order:

1. The BET Model and the question about the balance of power
2. Mission statement
3. Vision
4. Logo
5. Program of action
6. Sponsor’s goals and agenda
7. Budget
8. Recruiting human resources including researchers and staff
9. Socio-economic environment outreach: associates and partners
10. Publicity campaign
11. Products and services
12. Returns for sponsor and participants
13. Physical headquarters
14. Web site
15. System of communication among members (possibly in the form of a wiki or FTP)
16. Management best practice.
It will be interesting to look into each one of these factors to determine more specifically what is at stake in each and how to go about implementing them in such a manner that they create a cohesive whole.

More on each soon.

Monday, February 2, 2009


Our inboxes are replete with spam. Here, I speak specifically about emails purporting to be from people willing to share fabulous sums of money inherited from someone who was diseased or diagnosed with a terminal illness. These people speak of fortunes in the order of millions stashed in forgotten accounts. Out of automated reflex, having been stung once, I have learned to check such messages and to click on SPAM. There seems, however, no end to the tricks up the sleeves of these modern-day thieves.
In this post, I explore this practice with reference to a message I received February 1, 2009. Please find the message in red below. Initially, I didn’t go the extent of suspecting the genuine nature of this invitation to partake in the activities of the World Youth Festival with themes worthy of the attention of the noblest among us. Quite the opposite, in fact, I felt flattered that the organizers of the World Youth Festival had thought about me to represent my country and to attend either as a person or a member of an NGO. I particularly felt in agreement with the goals of this cross-continental youth organization that is intent upon upon building a space based on ‘democracy, secularism, pluralism, equality and respect’ (translation mine). One part of me continued to think about making arrangements for the trip, and the other part of me started to reread this invitation in the direction of doubting its authenticity.
So now that you know about my misgivings, here is the message in its entirety.
Festival Mondial de la Jeunesse -
World Youth Festival
Londres- Maryland 2009
Maryland K0B5/ Londres GP-67

Objet : Invitation à Participer au Festival Mondial de la Jeunesse.
(Version française)
Thème: *** La valorisation des cultures
*** Lutte contre les Fléaux Sociaux ( Prostitution - VIH/SIDA Drogue )

L'Organisme Internationale USA ENGLAND AIDS SOCIETY dont le siège est au USA, pour sa cinquième Edition de rencontre entre organismes recherche des ONG, associations ou groupes de personnes ayant une fois assister, participer, animer, et oeuvrant dans la même direction que l'organisme pour participer à son Festival International qui se tiendra dans plusieurs options courant le Mois de Mars 2009. C'est dans le souci que ceux-ci valorisent ou mettent en application leur savoir faire que le festival aura lieu au USA et en ENGLAND .

Un Festival unique où toutes les associations et ONG sont les bienvenues, une formation est prévue sur les stratégies de la mise en place d'une STRUCTURE, assistance et suivie rapproché.

Londres et Maryland accueilleront le 5ème Festival Mondial de la
Culture auquel participeront plus de 1000 jeunes et organismes du monde entier avec la présence des grandes personnalités Politiques du monde. Le Festival est le seul espace de rencontre complètement conçu et animé par des organisations de jeunesse de tous les continents. Un espace fondé sur la démocratie, la laïcité, la pluralité, l'égalité et le respect. Un espace engagé, revendicatif, novateur, et constructif. Le Festival est une occasion unique pour les plates-formes régionales de jeunes et pour les organisations de tous les continents de partager leurs idées et projets. Les personnes désireuses d'assister ou participer avec leur groupe au Festival doivent contacter préalablement le DCC (Département de Communication du Comité) dont l'adresse est ci-dessous afin d'être inscrits sur la liste des membres de la délégation, veuillez aussi adresser une demande d'informations pour avoir tous les détails sur l'organisation du forum ainsi que les conditions à remplir pour y prendre part. Le festival est ouvert à toutes les associations et ONG et à toutes personnes etc.?de tous les pays. Pour avoir plus de renseignements sur ce festival, adreser nous votre demande d'information et de formulaire à l'adresse du Bureau d'Etudes suivante ci

Nous sommes à Londres pour le Recrutement des jeunes ou ONG desirant participer à ce festival.

Email: bureaufestival.canben@yahoo.com
Tel: (00) 44 703 596 8137
(Comité National Préparatoire)
Département Communication et Informations
Service Informations
CNP Festival Mondial de la jeunesse Franche collaboration.
L'ensemble du comité préparatoire.

Let me now proceed to a brief analysis of the message text and
1. This message was sent on February 1, 2009, a Sunday. Now it may be that an international, non-profit organization like the World Youth Festival is busy on a Sunday, all the more so as the date for this international organization is drawing near; after all, the Conference convenes in the month of March 2009; one and a half months or a maximum of two months leaves too little time to organize an international function of a magnitude of thousand invitees, hence the need for the organizing committee to work on Sunday. Well, maybe that’s no problem.
2. We have all heard of the Olympic games being organized in two countries by way of being more inclusive. The message above states that the Conference takes place concurrently in London, England and in Maryland, USA. I find this somewhat suspect, though I don’t necessarily dismiss it as a ploy.
3. Look now, if you will, at the sender’s email address: bureaufestival.canben@yahoo.com. I find it strange that an international NGO, like World Youth Forum, and the USA-England AIDS society do not have a .org or .net email extension. If anything, I would have thought they should not depend on Yahoo! for an email address. I am a regular citizen and a physical person, and Yahoo! is almost a default email address for me. For an international organization, people expect a more clearly-recognized affiliation.
4. I googled ‘World Youth Festival’. The now defunct ‘World Youth Festival’ was active during the Soviet era, and understandably doesn’t have any event scheduled for 2009-2010. There is however another one: the UNESCO Word Youth Festival, to take place in July, 2009, neither in London, UK nor Maryland, USA, but in Stuttgart, Germany.
5. What I did next was to google the address itself: bureaufestival.canben@yahoo.com. I found the same message with the same information about the same conference from the same sender with the same theme, and it purportedly took place concurrently in Canada and Benin in the 2008-2009 session. The only difference this time is that instead of a yahoo.fr extension, the Canada Benin event had a yahoo.com extension. Please see this URL: http://lists.debian.ch/community@lists.debian.ch/2008/msg01340.html
6. In the midst of this investigation, I definitely realize this is a hoax. I will add the following indication though: please look at the physical address postcode: Maryland K0B5, for the USA address and Londres GP-67. Of course, no such zip are used either in the USA or in England. The English address should not refer to ‘London’ as 'Londres' either. The British postmaster may send such a message back to sender (LOL).
7. Look further into one of the organizers of the Conference: USA ENGLAND AIDS SOCIETY. A Google search reveals no such society, though there is one by the name of the AIDS society USA, and AIDS society, Canada.
8. Over and beyond these indications, there are of course errors of grammar and spelling in the French text. I can tolerate these errors on the part of a regular citizen, but not on the part of an international organization, unless this organization is using a free software programme to do the translation, and even then… Look at these errors:
  • a. '…associations ou groupes de personnes ayant une fois assister, participer, animer'. The three underlined verbs here have to be in the past participle form, and not in the infinitive form.
  • b. … Les personnes désireuses d'assister ou participer …doivent contacter préalablement le DCC …afin d'être inscrits. It seems to me ‘inscrits’ refers back to ‘personnes’ and so has to take on the feminine marker ‘inscrites’.
  • c. Pour avoir plus de renseignements sur ce festival, adreser nous votre demande…. ‘adresser’ of course takes double s in French : ‘adresser’.
It seems to me, having conducted this quick search and analysis that the email I sent them by way of further enquiry is unnecessary. I am glad I have engaged in this bit of outloud thinking and live writing as it were, but I promise to follow up on this if and when I receive an answer from them.


Conférence/Session2008/2009. A email thread. Retrieved from: http://lists.debian.ch/community@lists.debian.ch/2008/msg01340.html

Das UNESCO-Welt-Jugend-Festival 2009. Retrieved on February 2, 2009: http://www.unescofestival.com/

Wikipedia. World Festival of Youth and Students. Retrieved February 2, 2009. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Festival_of_Youth_and_Students

Sunday, January 25, 2009


In many parts of the world, student evaluation of teachers is a commonplace occurrence. Teachers know throughout their course that yes, they are teaching and assessing their students’ levels in many ways. But they also know that there are those evaluations in the end, where students exercise the most fundamental of rights, which is the ability to evaluate their teachers. This is the rule of the game. Much depends on those evaluations: tenure, promotion, prestige on the one hand, and the looming prospect of being terminated or at least being stuck in a certain rank much longer than usual.
In some parts of the world, such as the University of Sfax, action is being taken to put this process of evaluation in motion. Not that it doesn’t informally exist. By all accounts, students have their teacher heroes. They vote for a teacher by choosing to attend that teacher’s class in big numbers. A different kind of punishment (read evaluation) is meted against those who are not popular. Students know, almost intuitively that X is awful while Y is sweet, or tough, or friendly, or irresponsible. Swamping a lecture hall is not necessarily an indication of universal approval; students too are pragmatic and know which side their bread is buttered and that attendance c0unts, but that is another story.
Informal evaluations are therefore the rule, and no one can stop them, but they don’t represent a systematic account of the abilities of a teacher. I tend to believe that the teacher gains must have a lot of truth behind it, but it still is unofficial and informal. One argument may hear is that students are not qualified enough or mature enough to evaluate a teacher, and from then, it can be argued that teachers are not qualified to evaluate administrators and high-ranking college or university officials. If we believe this argument, it will turn out in the end that there is no use evaluating anyone, because the claim will be simply made that the evaluators are not competent or knowledgeable to issue a statement about their evaluees. A well-designed evaluation form, though, when administered to the totality of students taking a specific course, can yield a very representative and balanced, collective, judgment.
It should be clear that this judgment, when negative on the whole, is not necessarily a condemnation of the teacher’s practice; I would like to think that a teacher stands to gain much from such evaluations, whichever way they go. When these are positive, the teacher’s approval rating will boost their confidence that they are doing a good job. Where the ‘verdict’ is negative overall, a teacher will know that they have to review their teaching philosophy, daily classroom practice, and possibly their assessment tools. This is no less positive, because it is telling someone that instead of carrying with teaching methods that create boredom and do not produce learning, they should rethink their tools, enrich them, and try new ways. Obviously, this is more like a win-win situation.
At any rate, with the prospect of institutional accreditation looming larger and larger in the horizon, student evaluation of teachers will soon be instituted, regardless of any lingering opposition. And there should no qualms about that. Performance evaluation is almost a reflex. In its strongest defence, we will say that it’s second nature: as patrons in any service-institution, we rush to say that so and so has not served me well, has wasted my time, has procrastinated; has bluffed me, hasn’t given me the specific piece of information I need, hasn’t responded to my telephone call, has ignored my email message, etc. etc, and, we’re all entitled to our views on how we are served anywhere, by anyone. This feeling should simply be extended into the area of teacher evaluation.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Who is a qualified teacher, and who is a legitimate teacher?

This may appear to be somewhat of a redundant question that takes up again the issue of qualifications. What I am thinking is that a qualified teacher is not necessarily the same as a legitimate teacher. Let’s look at qualifications first. Saying that someone is qualified is saying the following: (i) they have graduated with a degree in their field of specialization from an accredited institution and a certified program; (ii) they will have taken some kind of pre-service training or in-service training that is not bogus, and (iii) they will have received certification following a probation period of however many months or years from credentialed supervisors. Fair enough. This person, as evidenced by their academic, professional, and training records, can be said to be qualified.
What do I mean by ‘legitimate’? Legitimacy can also be translated into records, but it is more of a moral, abstract, and spiritual quality. Legitimacy means your students recognize you as a teacher, as an educator, as a coach, as a friend, as a supporter, as a prop, as a model, etc. The way you behave while teaching sends a crystal-clear signal that you are there to push them beyond their current boundaries of knowledge, that you recognize and capitalize on their knowledge, and that you are seen to respect and appreciate that knowledge as unique, rich and very much worthy of representation.
A legitimate teacher in this sense is someone who is not in the business of flexing their muscle, silencing their students and telling them that his/her authority is supreme and that if they want the truth, they must use him/her as first and last reference. Eventually, a legitimate teacher is someone who, on top of delivering their lessons, knows how to listen, appreciates what they hear, builds upon it, and definitely creates a sense of self-worth among learners. A few years ago, I saw a poster on the wall of a colleague’s office where a boss was seated on his chair with his feet on the table. Behind him was a banner written in bold characters; “When I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you’.
For me as a teacher, the politics of neutralizing, minimizing, marginalizing or down-talking to students will not lead to forming persons who will be capable of behaving as a constructive, balanced, and forward-looking individuals, whatever they may be: employee, employer, parent, compatriot or world citizen. My goal as an educator is to form students who, before and after they graduate, will carry with them values of respect for the people they serve or are served by in any capacity.