MCC Daily Tribune
President's Wednesday Message
Like you, I walked away from last week's Carmen Powers Legacy Lectures thinking about the outstanding lectures I've had the privilege of hearing through the years--as a student and as a professional.
I recalled sitting on the floor of University Auditorium listening to Stephen Jay Gould mesmerize a beyond-overflow audience with the magic of science, sitting on the floor of a dark classroom in grad school hearing a very young Todd Haynes talk conspiratorially about his experimental (and banned) film "Superstar: the Karen Carpenter Story," and, yes, sitting on the floor (that seems to be the theme) in the home of my Sociology professor Hernan Vera as a visiting colleague, Harry Edwards, delivered an impromptu and powerful lecture on race and college sports. So many moments came flooding back to me.
As is shared each year, the Legacy Lecture is based on the idea of the Last Lecture, Professor Randy Pausch's lecture, "Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams," that became a book and a movement. After this year's presentations, I reflected on one of the great voices and minds in higher education research--and a truly incredible lecturer--who was lost last May, Clifford Adelman.
If you've done anything with data in education, you know Clifford Adelman's research. He designed and analyzed national longitudinal data sets for the US Department of Education, and authored incredibly influential studies based upon them. His reach was far-ranging; it is the rare education policy wonk whose passing is marked by the American Historical Association.
In his lectures, Adelman turned data sets composed of thousands and thousands of records into stories that made one feel the urgency of acting on the findings. I remember sitting (in a chair this time) hearing him scold all of us at an AIR convening for pretending that our colleges were the only ones our students attended and the only ones that mattered. The longitudinal data showed the average student "swirled" through more than one institution on the path to graduation, and our unwillingness to smooth the impact on transfer students was our failure, not theirs. In another presentation about the power of academic intensity (i.e., earning more college credits in a semester), he called out colleges for not doing enough to help all students enroll full-time in college level courses. Adelman was equally unsparing in our responsibility in higher education for understanding how and why high school influences student success. The highest level of math a student completes in high school was strongly correlated with college success, he would remind audiences, because it is a proxy variable for so much else: parental socioeconomic levels, school quality, and more. That's not on the students: that's on all of us.
The traces of Adelman's work are seen in everything from early college high schools to CUNY's impactful ASAP program to guided pathways to reverse transfer and more. His voice lives on in our sense of responsibility for creating and sustaining structures, policies, and practices that support our students' success.
The best teachers leave a legacy: their lectures linger, shape thought, drive action, inspire the next generation. Their voices influence. From them, we learn as much to question as to answer. Last week, Celia Reaves and Dan Robertson showed why they are teachers who will leave a legacy; we are lucky to work alongside them and so many others. As we turn the corner to the end of this academic year--and celebrate yesterday's extraordinary Scholars' Day--let's all take a moment to reflect on the incredible teachers who have inspired us and thank our colleagues who inspire our students every day.
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