President's Blog

LED Energy Upgrade

Posted on July 24th, 2019

Toledo-Area LED Energy Project

In the coming weeks, our campus community will notice a much-needed upgrade to interior lighting in our Toledo-area facilities. The project to retrofit our campus buildings with energy-efficient LED lighting fixtures has an enormous financial benefit to the College. Not only will the new lighting generate an estimated annual savings of over $120,000 in utility costs, it is also estimated to create more than $60,000 in savings in light bulb replacement and labor. In addition, the savings on labor will not jeopardize any employee jobs, as there is ample replacement work in facilities for our team members who replace light bulbs. Based on these projections, the LED lighting upgrade will pay for itself in less than four years.

Moving to LED lighting saves the College money that can be spent on other important priorities. It is also more “green,” as it conserves energy and lowers our demand from the regional power grid. LED lights also emit very little heat, as is described in this page from the US Department of Energy.

I am very excited about the new LED lighting. Back during my time on City Council in Michigan, we replaced the town’s streetlights with LEDs. Not only are the lights far less expensive to operate due to their low power consumption and long life, they also emit a much more natural color and temperature. It takes a while to get used to this color and temperature if you have spent most of your time under fluorescent/CFL or incandescent lights in a particular space.

You Will Notice the Change

The more natural color and temperature can also be perceived as increased brightness. This is largely an illusion. As a test of this, I just downloaded a light meter app for my smartphone and used it in the “fishbowl” conference room on the first floor of Administration Hall. That room has two new LED fixtures and one old fluorescent fixture (see the photo above, also taken with my phone). Measured in both footcandles and lux ratings, those lighting instruments emit about the same amount of light. The ratings varied a bit: on some readings, the old lights were actually brighter. Even when the readings showed the LEDs as brighter, the difference was only a few footcandles.

The bottom line is that this change will take time to get used to, which is the case with any change. I ask everyone for understanding and patience as we retrofit the campus with the new LED lights.

Special thanks to Vice President Jeff Ganues and the entire Facilities team for their work on this upgrade.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.

Old Advice from Unexpected Places

Posted on July 10th, 2019

Blog Advice from Restaurants and Tour Busses

There are two thoughtful blog entries from outside of higher education that I have returned to over the past ten years. I think there’s something interesting about advice that is meant for a very specific situation, and in these cases, the specific advice has really useful (and surprisingly insightful) applications to working in a college setting. I have spent my entire adult life navigating the culture of public higher education, and these insights have proven very useful over the years. I often refer people to these now-aging blog posts, and I am thankful they are still live. Others must find them useful as well.

In my opinion, these lists of recommended behaviors are useful because they come from a context outside of colleges and universities. One list comes from the world of culinary arts, and the other comes from the performing arts. While I have both worked as a cook in a restaurant and played in a band, I am not qualified to give advice from these perspectives. Both Bruce Buschel and Danny Barnes are such experts, however, and I have passed along their tips and tricks for the past ten years or so.

Bruce Buschel’s “Restaurant Rules”

The first useful list comes from a pair of blog posts (post one and post two) by a restaurant writer in the New York Times. Composed as a list of dos and don’ts for the servers at a restaurant he was building at the time, Bruce Buschel’s list is surprisingly applicable to college organizational culture. Some of these rules apply in surprising ways: two of my favorites are #15 (Never say “I don’t know” to any question without following with, “I’ll find out”) and #77 (Do not disappear). These seem very specific to wait staff at a restaurant, but think about them a bit and they seem to apply to many situations. Buschel published 100 “restaurant rules” in total, but years ago I made a special compilation of the ones I think apply well to our work in community college organizations:

1. Do not let anyone enter the restaurant without a warm greeting.
5. Tables should be level without anyone asking. Fix it before guests are seated.
14. When you ask, “How’s everything?” or “How was the meal?” listen to the answer and fix whatever is not right.
15. Never say “I don’t know” to any question without following with, “I’ll find out.”
21. Never serve anything that looks creepy or runny or wrong.
31. Never remove a plate full of food without asking what went wrong. Obviously, something went wrong.
32. Never touch a customer. No excuses. Do not do it. Do not brush them, move them, wipe them or dust them.
40. Never say, “Good choice,” implying that other choices are bad.
46. Never acknowledge any one guest over and above any other. All guests are equal.
47. Do not gossip about co-workers or guests within earshot of guests.
50. Do not turn on the charm when it’s tip time. Be consistent throughout.
51. If there is a service charge, alert your guests when you present the bill. It’s not a secret or a trick.
52. Know your menu inside and out. If you serve Balsam Farm candy-striped beets, know something about Balsam Farm and candy-striped beets.
56. Do not ignore a table because it is not your table. Stop, look, listen, lend a hand. (Whether tips are pooled or not.)
58. Do not bring judgment with the ketchup. Or mustard. Or hot sauce. Or whatever condiment is requested.
61. Do not stand behind someone who is ordering. Make eye contact. Thank him or her.
63. Never blame the chef or the busboy or the hostess or the weather for anything that goes wrong. Just make it right.
66. Do not return to the guest anything that falls on the floor — be it napkin, spoon, menu or soy sauce.
69. If a guest is having trouble making a decision, help out. If someone wants to know your life story, keep it short. If someone wants to meet the chef, make an effort.
70. Never deliver a hot plate without warning the guest. And never ask a guest to pass along that hot plate.
71. Do not race around the dining room as if there is a fire in the kitchen or a medical emergency. (Unless there is a fire in the kitchen or a medical emergency.)
74. Let the guests know the restaurant is out of something before the guests read the menu and order the missing dish.
77. Do not disappear.
82. If you drip or spill something, clean it up, replace it, offer to pay for whatever damage you may have caused. Refrain from touching the wet spots on the guest.
87. Do not stop your excellent service after the check is presented or paid.
89. Never patronize a guest who has a complaint or suggestion; listen, take it seriously, address it.
90. If someone is getting agitated or effusive on a cellphone, politely suggest he keep it down or move away from other guests.
92. Never play a radio station with commercials or news or talking of any kind.
98. Do not wear too much makeup or jewelry. You know you have too much jewelry when it jingles and/or draws comments.
99. Do not show frustration. Your only mission is to serve. Be patient. It is not easy.
100. Guests, like servers, come in all packages. Show a “good table” your appreciation with a free glass of port, a plate of biscotti or something else management approves.

These rules have a Strunk & White kind of feel, and they can seem a little bossy. But if you have ever worked in a restaurant (or if you dine in them frequently), I am sure you can connect with the idea behind each of them. Again, the reason the list has stuck with me is that some of them apply to our college work in surprising ways. We really should avoid serving anything creepy, runny or wrong (rule #21), and I wholeheartedly agree that we should not run around the dining room like there is a fire in the kitchen or medical emergency, unless there really is a fire or medical emergency (rule #71). And we should always make sure the table–metaphorical or literal–is level (rule #5). Good advice.

On Tour with Danny Barnes

Some of my favorite people are banjo players, and I actually play a bit myself. The second list of “rules” comes from the charismatic, eccentric, and ridiculously-talented banjo player Danny Barnes. I met Danny once briefly, and we did not discuss these rules. But there is a lot here to learn about being a member of a team and not letting your ego drive your participation in a team setting. From my brief experiences being in a band, this essay reads like the ultimate “How to be a supporting musician” essay, or as Danny phrases it: “gain twenty years of road experience with a five minute read.” Much of what Danny writes is very specific to playing with a touring musical ensemble, especially the ins and outs of the bus, plane, hotel, and money aspect of the gig. Elements of Danny’s essay that still crack me up–because they are so true–are reprinted below. The first is about managing your schedule. Danny’s rule D is: “do not be weird about the calendar.”

if someone asks, can you play march the 3rd? the answer is yes, no, or maybe, let me check. this is not an essay question. if you are unsure, get back to them. quickly. a typical musician will have this conversation about 120 to 200 times a year {one for each gig}. after a few years, it should be very smooth and easy. it’s the same question over and over.

Rule G, true to Danny’s fun prose style, is succinct and to the point. Most of his essay pivots on the reader’s role of being a supporting musician in an ensemble, and recognition that the reader is NOT the leader of the ensemble. He calls this “the rule.” Here is how Danny describes the rule: “go out and look at the marquee of the club where you are playing tonight. is that your own name up there? if not, this article is probably for you.” I constantly try to follow Rule G, which is “try to be the easiest person the leader will ever deal with.”

if you do that, they will be delighted to have you back. you won’t get your needs met by being difficult. or passive aggressive. or endlessly bewildered.

That one is worth repeating: “you won’t get your needs met by being difficult. or passive aggressive. or endlessly bewildered.”

Barnes has more great lessons from the road. You know that old phrase “your lack of planning does not constitute my emergency?” Danny’s version of this is Rule M:

don’t make others work harder through your own inaction, or inattention to detail or inability to grasp the overall schema. when it doubt, stop talking and just look.

I especially like the elegant simplicity of his recommended solution: “when in doubt, stop talking and just look.” The basic idea of Danny’s essay is to relish your role as a member of the ensemble, be aware of your surroundings and empathetic towards others, and try hard not to be a jerk. He has other specific recommendations, such as offering to help with the driving or navigation, don’t be “weird, overly pedantic, or confused” about traveling, offer to pay for gas or a meal from time to time, and don’t run up hotel charges on someone else’s tab. The essay is authoritative and funny, and it is clear that everything in it comes from hard-won experience.

These lists from Buschel and Barnes are things I bring up from time to time, and I often send them out as a follow up to conversations. So I thought I would combine them here into a single link that I can share. One reason I return to these lists is that I strive to follow these myself, and I need reminders. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do. I expect I will still be talking about them in another ten years.

Hopefully in 2029 the links will still work.

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.

Higher Education Demand Index (HEDI)

Posted on July 9th, 2019

Nathan Grawe Speaking at the 2019 IHE NOW Conference 

Each year, one of the higher education books I read tends to dominate in discussions and presentations. Last year, that book was Nathan Grawe’s Demographics and the Demand for Higher Education (2018 Johns Hopkins UP). Well written and researched, the book is also scary as heck from the perspective of higher education organizations in our area of the country. Grawe is an economist at Carleton College in Minnesota, and this book is his first major piece of research on a tool he created called the Higher Education Demand Index (HEDI). Grawe created HEDI to forecast demand for higher education over the next 15-20 years. HEDI draws upon birth/census data and available information on historical demand for higher education. It is the first index of its kind.

While reading the book, I often described it as a “horror story,” and it certainly is depressing. In a region that is already quite challenging for 2-year college enrollment due to the robust economy and low unemployment rates, Grawe forecasts that the “birth dearth” will cause a precipitous drop in demand for 4-year and 2-year college attendance. Grawe analyzes the birth data by census region. Consider his analysis of the future demand for 2-year colleges:

The divisions running up the East and West Coasts will hold more or less steady until 2025, when the birth dearth will reduce enrollments modestly (5 percent) in the South Atlantic and aggressively (13 to 17 percent, respectively) in New England and the Pacific. In the heart of the country–East North Central, Middle Atlantic, and East South Central–the picture is quite bleak. Losses are persistent and deep, totaling 20 to 30 percent by 2029 (Grawe 62).

For context, Ohio is in the East North Central census region. Below is a pair of slides I shared with the Owens Board of Trustees during an annual retreat presentation I made back in February of 2018:

While these data are based on birth rates and calculated on a much younger average age of student than we currently serve, I think it is important for us to pay attention to these demographic trends.

Is Demography Destiny?

I enjoy attempting to research notable quotes and key phrases. The phrase “demography is/is not destiny” is common in popular journalism and articles in economics. It took some digging, but some great sleuthing by John Weeks, Professor Emeritus of Geography at San Diego State University was very helpful here. Like many quotes, the “usual suspect” (in this case Auguste Comte), was not the true origin of the phrase. Weeks attributes the first use of the phrase to  Richard Scammon and Ben Wattenberg in a 1970 book entitled The Real Majority.

While demography may (or may not) be destiny, it is important to realize that the Owens Community College of the 2020s will be faced with an uphill climb caused by declining birth rates in the region. That is indisputable and “baked in” as the cards that have already been dealt to the region.

Yesterday I heard Grawe deliver the opening lecture at the 2019 Inside Higher Education IHE NOW Conference. He presented updated data from HEDI, and sadly the picture for Ohio has not improved in his newer data. I took this photo of his slide with my phone (the photo of him at the lectern is also from my phone).

While the forecasts have improved for Wisconsin and worsened for Oklahoma, you can see that for our region, the “Forecasted growth in students who will attend a two-year institution 2018-2019” is the hardest hit area of the country, with declines greater than 15%. Scary, indeed.

One interesting point made during Grawe’s lecture was the number of ways particular colleges rationalize how this demographic may not impact them. I think its safe to say that the decline in birth rates will most certainly affect us here at Owens; how we respond and craft strategies to adapt is the key topic.

Further, Grawe made the important point (less prevalent in the book) that some of the conclusions regarding 2-year colleges do not take into account important, sector-specific factors, such as returning adult students, fluctuations in industry workforce needs (e.g. retraining, etc.), as well as the very strong impact of unemployment rates. None of these factors are a part of HEDI.

2029 seems like a very long time from now. That said, when I look back at my community college career (which began in 1993), one thing is for certain: 2029 will be here before we know it. In fact, at the end of our current strategic planning process, 2029 will be 8 short years away.

Tempus fugit,

Steve Robinson, Ph.D.