Creative Graduation Ceremony

University of Miami geology department graduation ceremony circa 1979, led by Professors Emiliani, Nagle, and Stipp.

My father, Cesare Emiliani (Dott., Ph.D), was a long-time chair of the Geology department at the University of Miami in Coral Gables Florida. He was a creative, outgoing, and fun person who applied his gifts to how the department would graduate its students. It was a separate ceremony that took place in a department classroom a week or so before the university held its official graduation ceremony.

This peculiar graduation ceremony was no doubt invented in the campus bar (or a bar nearby such as Bill & Ted’s Tavern or Duffy’s Tavern), and took place from the mid-1970s through the 1980s. Below is the department graduation ceremony as recounted by a former geology student, Douglas Introne (edited slightly for clarity).

“The graduation ceremony was basically a roast of the student. They would show a slide show with pictures of the student that they had collected over the years from field trips, in the classroom, from The Rathskeller, or wherever, and they would make jest of him or her and basically just take the piss out of the student [from laughter]. Then each student would go up front to get his “Leghorn” — a Leghorn is an Italian Chicken — which was the straw cowboy hat with The U [logo] painted on the front and University of Miami graduation tassel pinned on top. The three professors, Emiliani, Stipp, and Nagle, would each punch, crush, step, stomp, etc., on it and mangle it, and then put it on your head. Then your old man (Prof. Emiliani) would move the tassel from one side of the hat to the other, and then you’d go back and shake each one of the three professors’ hands. Then the next kid came up. And that’s how you had graduated from the department.”

To roast each student, you had to get to know them pretty well. This familiarity came about not just through classroom interaction, but in geology field trips, while dining together, and (especially) while drinking beers together and discussing geological science.

There was a palpable respect for students, a collegial atmosphere between geology department faculty, staff, and students, a tremendous desire among the faculty for students to succeed in school and in their job after graduation. The department graduation ceremony evidences these special attributes of undergraduate studies in geology at the University of Miami during the time my father was department chair.

The Toxic University

Outliers always get lots of attention.

John Smyth, the author of The Toxic University, talks about his book in this interesting article: “Author discusses ideas in his new book, ‘The Toxic University’” (IHE, 12 July 2017)

My key takeaway is that those responsible for pricing tuition and fees bear full responsibility for the toxic conditions described in the article (and book).

Prices were increased to the point that it began to make people think about and question the value of higher education.

Ever-higher prices put higher education on the radar screen of politicians and consumers, and generated hostility towards HE. It invited scrutiny of a type that led to toxic actions being taken that are distinctly at odds with what this web site is about.

Instead of mastering the basics and correcting fundamental problems (see “Academics ‘fail to change teaching due to fear of looking stupid‘”), higher education leaders chose to focus on different things which now makes their job even more difficult.

What should HE leaders do?

  • Master the basics
  • Improve processes to reduce costs

Excellence in Teaching

Excellence in teaching? Not quite.

The results of the U.K.s 2017 Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) have been released. Click here to view the results of the Gold, Silver, and Bronze university awards (official government results are here).

The purpose of TEF is to “…shin[e] a spotlight on learning and teaching in higher education, with a view to making it as much of a priority for universities as research.

TEFs existence is the result of wounds self-inflicted by generations of higher education leaders who, for one reason or another, did not pay much attention to teaching. Look at the details of the TEF report: Even those universities who received Gold awards likely teach in traditional ways that are not much better than any other university. In other words, teaching may not have been much of a priority among the Gold universities either.

Please know that I am not picking on U.K. higher education institutions. The situation is the same or very similar in the U.S., and likely in most other countries as well.

Universities have long had piles of data from students course evaluations and other sources to know that, overall, teaching is mediocre. Sure, there are some very good teachers, but there are more average and below average teachers, in part because the system does not reward professors’ effort to become excellent teachers. Those who achieve excellence do so in spite of the many disincentives.

In most cases, it comes down to one’s own personal desire and motivation to be an excellent teacher.

In the U.S. the drift in focus from teaching to research happened over a period of about seven decades. Deficiencies in teaching had to be fully apparent by the third decade. So what has been going on over the last four decades? If the average tenure of a university president is 8 years, that means there have been five generations of university presidents who have largely ignored teaching. That is a shameful legacy.

It seems irresponsible to lead an institution of higher education and ignore teaching. In the U.S., the focus of university presidents, almost uniformly, are these three things:

  • Increase enrollment and retention
  • Obtain financial gifts from patrons
  • Obtain grant money from government funding sources

How successful can a university be if everyone is doing the exactly same thing, albeit in slightly different ways? Where are the ideas, creativity, and original thinking that one would expect from the brainy team of administrators, staff, faculty, and students?

Will TEF improve teaching? My guess is that, in general, people will work harder to game the TEF system (see my post, “Evidencing Improvement“) than they will to improve teaching. If that happens, then many more institutions will put themselves at greater risk of not surviving.

Finally, how did the U.K. universities who adopted Lean fare in TEF? It is impossible to say because most of the application of Lean has been to administrative processes. There has been some application to teaching, but mainly in work such as creating tests. If you have more information on this, please share it here.

Feedforward to Students


Professors typically give lots of feedback to students over a semester to help them learn and improve.

Professors, however, often complain about the feedback that students give concerning the professor’s performance in a course. I eagerly accept student feedback because it helps me understand what I need to improve.

But I also give feedforward to new students based on the performance that I have observed from past students over the years.

Below is what I tell my students at the start of each semester:


After many years of teaching, clear patterns emerge that affect how much students learn and how well they perform on assignments. Follow this feedforward, and you will require less feedback as the course progresses.

Feedforward on How You Can Improve as a Student

  • Budget your time at the start of the semester: Block out time in your calendar to do the work
  • Review the syllabus at least once a week
  • Carefully follow all instructions
  • Do the assigned work and reading
  • Attempt assignment after you have done the required work
  • Submit assignment on-time through Blackboard file upload

Feedforward on How You Can Improve Your Assignments

  • Review assignment instructions / requirements two times before completing the assignment
  • Re-write the assignment instructions (helps assure you understand them)
  • Create two or more drafts and edit your assignment each time for clarity, grammar, etc.
  • Submit finished products, not first drafts
  • Do not procrastinate and wait until day before assignments are due to complete them

Be Curious • Think Critically • Do Research • Study & Learn


It’s Time for Colleges to Cut Costs

Higher education thought leader Jeffrey J. Selingo has a new thought:

It’s time for colleges to cut costs.

Hasn’t this been obvious for the last 10 or 20 years? (See my 2005 article, “Lean in Higher Education“).

In his 26 May 2017 article in The Washington Post, “Forget the marketing gimmicks: It’s time for colleges to cut costs,” Selingo offers several ideas ranging from the obvious to the inane, none of which result in significant savings.

The only words written in Selingo’s article that are worth reading appear at the very end:

“Colleges can only discount their prices so much until they are forced to cut actual costs given reduced revenue. If recent news reports are any indication, the pricing strategies that colleges have utilized for several decades to attract students seem to be coming to an end. So college officials will be forced to confront their expenses whether they want to or not.”

Hopefully, college and university leaders will adopt Lean management, a non-zero-sum method to reduce costs and improve their offerings:

It is much better than the alternative that is normally used, shown in the image below:

Given the rapidly deteriorating situation, university leaders would be wise to take an immediate interest in Lean management and kaizen. Maybe that will be Jeffrey J. Selingo’s new thought in 2027 or 2037.

Professor Emiliani’s “Nos” for Teaching

Kaizen is practical method for improving any processes, and thus it can also be applied to the design and delivery of courses. In order for kaizen to be effective, kaizen participants must be given strict conditions under which improvements are made. These conditions take the form of “Nos” or “must-nots” – things that people must not do or must not consider as they work to improve a process through trial-and-error.

The purpose of specifying Nos or must-nots is to force people to think of ways to improve without relying on the usual resources such as: more people, more money, more space, more material, more equipment, more software, etc. When people rely on these, the result is the appearance of improvement, not actual improvement.

The Nos help people do four things:

  • Abandon preconceptions
  • Think differently about the many abnormal conditions contained in the process
  • Use creativity and innovation to identify no-cost (or low-cost) ways of making improvements
  • Develop one’s capabilities

The Nos that I have identified for my own teaching, both course design and delivery, are inspired by sensei Chihiro Nakao, whose Nos for kaizen in manufacturing are legendary among those who have been fortunate enough to experience kaizen with him as the facilitator (“No AKA“).

My Nos for teaching have been developed over many years of applying kaizen to the design and delivery of my own courses. There are 59 Nos (presently). The result have been outstanding for me as a teacher and, most importantly, for students and for learning outcomes. The same could be true for you as well, regardless of the subject matter that you teach.

Kaizen in teaching – course design and delivery – must be practiced under the following conditions:

No unprepared
No batching
No too fast
No too slow
No delays
No ignoring students
No ignoring feedback or complaints
No ignoring abnormal conditions
No indifference
No unresponsiveness
No games
No tricks
No confusion
No unclear expectations
No re-work
No overloading
No over-processing
No busy-work
No “me” (professor) focus
No complacency
No complex grading
No status quo
No mid-term exam
No final exam
No term paper
No pontificating
No going off topic
No large PowerPoint slide decks
No reading PowerPoint slides
No unavailable
No haughtiness
No jokes
No deviation (without explanation)
No rambling
No theory-only
No lecture-only
No repeating the book
No disorganization
No unnecessary materials
No irrelevant materials
No obsolete materials
No expensive materials
No insults or put-downs
No unfairness
No bad experiences
No dishonesty
No bad communication
No miscommunication
No laziness
No begin class late
No end class late
No teach X and test Y
No boring
No not allowing questions
No unreasonableness
No unhelpfulness
No hostility
No stress
No disrespect

Handmade Visual Controls

In a previous blog post, “Final Exams, Final Mistake,” I described how students in my courses make two types of visual controls to help them remember and apply what they learned.

One visual control is in the form of an 8.5×11 inch sign that reflects the 10-20 most important things they learned in the course (called the “4a” visual control), while the second is a small handmade physical object that represents the key one or two things that they learned in the course (called the “4b” visual control).

In this blog post, I’d like to share with you some wonderful examples of 4b visual controls made by my students in three different courses – one undergraduate and two graduate courses this semester. But first, let me share with you the feedback I received from students about this unique assignment:

  • It forces you to think differently
  • You have to reflect on the entire course, from the end to the beginning and back to the end
  • It helps you understand the concepts better
  • It’s good to build a model of what you intend to do, or the result that you seek
  • It’s more personalized learning
  • The 4b assignment mattered the most to me
  • Helps you focus on what you want to remember
  • Making something by hand makes you think like a kid again; discovery and learning
  • It was fun to make
  • It makes you think more deeply
  • It promotes creativity
  • It’s fun to see the variety of things that everyone else in class makes
  • It helps spread the message of the course to other people
  • A useful keepsake
  • Helps you to always keep the course in mind
  • It is an open-ended assignment, unconstrained by the professor’s requirements, so we have freedom to think and create
  • More personalized learning

The last bullet point, personalized learning, has been an objective of mine for many years, but especially the last few years (inspired by sensei Chihiro Nakao, see “Evolution in Lean Teaching“).

The success of the 4b visual control reflects the fact that, fundamentally, people like to make things with their hands. And, the conversion of book knowledge in one’s brain into a physical object made by using one’s hands adds a wonderful new dimension to learning.

Four examples of my students 4b visual controls from the Spring 2017 semester are shown below. The written explanations are nice, but it’s even better to hear students in-person explaining what they created, how they created it, and what it means to them when they present it to class. I really look forward to that at the end of the semester. It’s a lot of fun.

The first two are from undergraduate students, the third and fourth are from graduate students (click on images to enlarge):

Higher Education’s Ultimate Failure

Who would have ever thought that tenure’s undoing in public higher education would be caused by higher education’s failure to achieve one of its most fundamental objectives: Teach people how to think critically.

There is a growing push to eliminate tenure for faculty in public higher education. Every argument that I have seen to support this change is illogical. The poor thinking reflected by tenure-eliminating advocates illustrates one important way in which higher education (and all education that preceded it) failed in its effort to teach critical thinking to its students, and, especially, how to avoid illogical arguments, inconsistent thinking, and unsound reasoning.

It seems that a general education philosophy course in logical thinking, co-taught with business political science, business, and engineering professors to emphasize its practicality, might have instead produced graduates who would not proffer or so easily fall prey to faulty arguments. Given its obvious importance and practicality in business, politics, and elsewhere, such courses should come at the very beginning and again at the very end of all degree programs.

The articles “Killing Tenure” and “Missouri Lawmaker Who Wants to Eliminate Tenure Says It’s ‘Un-American’” capture some of the illogical arguments used in the effort to eliminate tenure in public higher education.

As everyone should know, tenure is a job protection that exists to allow faculty to pursue lines of research that could be unpopular and lead to retribution. The fact that tenure has expanded into “astronomical freedom to do whatever they [faculty] wish” is primarily due to poor administration by generations of university presidents, provosts, and deans. Tenure is a job protection similar to the tools and safety equipment afforded to workers in hazardous industrial work environments; the protective equipment afforded to firefighters and law enforcement; the personal protective gear afforded to people who deliver healthcare; and redistricting to assure re-election and astronomical freedom to say whatever one wishes.

Generally, Kettle Logic informs the overall argument against tenure. Specific examples of illogical arguments shown below are taken from the article “Missouri Lawmaker Who Wants to Eliminate Tenure Says It’s ‘Un-American’,” and reflects the typical thought process and arguments among those who seek to eliminate tenure in public higher education.

Tenure is Un-American.
Type of illogical argument: Red Herring, False Equivalence
Comment: Sigh.

Tenure “protection” exists in no industry other than higher education.
Type of illogical argument: Special Pleading
Comment: Other forms employment have similar employment protection for the purpose of ensuring freedom from public or political pressure. For example, federal judges, to assure judicial independence. The unique nature of certain jobs require unique protections.

Degrees must correspond to jobs.
Type of illogical argument: False Equivalence
Comment: Job markets fluctuate and industry is fickle. The mission of higher education is not to chase to the ever-changing job market. Higher education could resolve this concern and increase transparency with a simple disclaimer: “Higher education is not mandated by society. As an optional educational experience, higher education serves the varied interests of students in relation to society’s ever-changing wants and needs. As such, academic programs and earned degrees may or may not lead to part- or full-time employment.” Such a statement would obviously remain true even if all degree programs corresponded precisely to jobs.

High cost of higher education is due to tenure.
Type of illogical argument: False Assumption
Comment: High costs (tuition and fees) are due primarily to bad processes throughout higher education, both in administrative and academic work. Today, less than half of full-time faculty members have tenure, and faculty wages, inflation adjusted, have been flat for more than 30 years.

Tenure allows professors to teach classes “that really aren’t.”
Type of illogical argument: Red Herring
Comment: Where this problem exists, the simple solution would be to improve the university-wide curriculum development and approval process.

Tenure allows professors to teach classes are disconnected from the real world.
Type of illogical argument: Faulty Generalization, Avoiding the Force of Reason.
Comment: Where this problem exists, the simple solution would be to improve the university-wide curriculum development and approval process. Another solution would be to improve the faculty hiring process so as not to discriminate against candidates with industry experience. Accreditation bodies would need to make accommodations for teaching faculty with wider ranges of experiences and degrees, and administrators (hiring officers) must not interpret such requirements in ways that narrow the range of teaching faculty experience, thereby excluding qualified candidates.

If you’re doing your job, then you don’t need tenure.
Type of illogical argument: Affirming the Consequent, Inductive Fallacy
Comment: Tenure is part of what enables faculty to do important elements of they job that they are specifically hired to do; e.g. research.

Professor’s job is to ensure students are successful in their job.
Type of illogical argument: Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc (faulty cause-effect)
Comment: Professors cannot control student outcomes post-graduation (Example: proffering illogical arguments that will harm people and society). Former student’s success in the workplace is controlled by their own performance, their immediate supervisor, other people, and other factors.

Students obtain degrees with no real-world applicability.
Type of illogical argument: Expediency
Comment: That’s a choice that students make. Is it wise? Maybe yes, maybe no. Those degree choices exist primarily because there is continuing marketplace demand.

Taxpayer and student dollars pay for faculty doing thing outside of their job description.
Type of illogical argument: Shifting the Burden of Proof
Comment: Likely true in some cases, not true in most cases. Corrective action, if needed, is the responsibility of college and university administration, not state legislators.

“Where else in any other industry do you have” such highly educated people making such low pay? If tenure is eliminated in public higher education, then the pay of all full-time faculty must be raised to 50 to 100 percent to be on par with industry salaries. This is the same logic upon which eliminating tenure is built. The two go together precisely.

Final Exams, Final Mistake

A recent op-ed article in my university’s student-run newspaper, written by a soon-to-be graduating senior, questioned the wisdom of cumulative final exams (click here to read the article).  It’s great to see a student putting their critical thinking skills to use. Professors should do the same. The student, Lauren Lustgarten, said:

“Instead [of final exams], professors should make students take part in creative projects or presentations. Something that actually shows ones creativity and that can actually successfully measure ones knowledge on the subject. At least projects and presentations get you ready for the real world post graduation. Cumulative final exams filled with details we learned months prior will not help us in life down the road.”

I share that sentiment. Needless to say, I have never given final exams (nor mid-term exams) in any of my courses in the 17 years that I have been teaching in higher education. Final exams is a useless tradition that should be questioned by all (same goes for mid-term exams).

In my view, cumulative final exams are a futile effort by professors to force all the information contained in the course onto students. Professors push onto students a big batch of information, the entirety of which they think is important. But, what information do students think is important? Why not instead allow students to pull from the course the information that they think is most important to them, and for their success post-graduation? And why not allow them to do this in a way that exercises their creativity and also the human desire to make things?

chhen1Readers of this blog and those who have read my book Lean Teaching know that in all my courses I give an assignment to students to create a one-page visual control whose purpose is to help them apply what they learned in the course in relation to their own needs and interests. It requires students to undertake a comprehensive review of all course materials, just as a final exam does, but it replaces the stress and pressure of a final exam with a fun, interesting, and memorable challenge.

The image above shows a wonderful, creative example of a one-page visual control made by a student, Zack Chhen, and submitted a few days ago. Click here to see other recent examples of the visual controls created by my students.

The one-page visual control that each student creates helps them personalize their discovery and learning process, and transform it into something useful for years into the future. After all, the only way to really know the material learned in a course is to use the material learned in a course. Absent this, students finish courses with no practical or useful distillation of the learning from their perspective. A graded cumulative final exam (document) is of no use to students after they graduate, but a one-page visual control is of use – potentially of great use.

This semester I asked my students to create another type of visual control, in addition to the one-page visual control. I asked them to:

“Make a small physical object (desktop sized) that reminds you of one or more key learnings from this course that you intend to apply on-the-job. Material of construction can be anything you like (wood, aluminum foil, paper, paper mâché, styrofoam, etc.). Bring it to class and explain it at the final class meeting.”

andre1I wanted my students to deepen their understanding of what they had learned in the course by engaging in a new process: Transforming the knowledge in their head into an object that they make using their hands. And then bring the object to the last class of the semester and explain to everyone what they created.

Complimentary to the one-page visual control (cumulative review), this assignment requires them to focus on one or a few key elements of what they learned that is personally important to them.

The image at right is a wonderful example of a student’s creative response to the challenge in my Lean leadership course. Using found material, wire, Victor Andre made a “BBC Pyramid.” The letters at the base, “RP,” stand for “Respect for People,” The letters at the top, “CI,” stand for “Continuous Improvement.” And the letters “BBC,” one on on each side of the pyramid, stand for “Beliefs,” Behaviors,” and Competencies.” What it means is Respect for People is the foundation upon which specific leadership Beliefs, Behaviors, and Competencies are necessary in order to realize “Continuous Improvement.”

castaneda1The image at right is another wonderful example of a student’s creative response to the challenge in my supply chain strategy course. Monica Castaneda created a diorama-type story about how to improve supply chain management. Her explanation revealed a depth of thinking and understanding that gave me confidence that she learned a great deal from the course.

By explaining to the class what they created, students engage in a kind of brief and informal oral exam that allows me to further evaluate the student’s knowledge and understand of how the course that I created impacted them and what they found to be useful. This is useful feedback that I use to help me improve the course.

I plan to refine the two visual controls assignments in my courses to have greater impact and effectiveness – not just for my courses, but for the benefit of students both at the conclusion of the course and long after they have graduated.

Final exams throw away professors’ opportunity to finish the course in a way that has a positive and memorable impact on students. I hope this blog post inspires you to follow in my footsteps and experiment with what I call “4a” (for the one-page visual control) and “4b” (for the physical object) visual controls. But please, don’t copy my 4b instructions, above, as they are being extensively revised for my courses next semester. Instead, do that Lean thing: think for yourself!

Improvement in Higher Education, Circa 1912

One of my great interests is reading books from the early 1900s that describe the troubles in higher education and the means by which people thought to eliminate problems and improve processes. The period 1910-1915 saw a lot of interest in applying the then-new Scientific Management to process problems in teaching and administration in higher education.

The first thing to realize is that Frederick Winslow Taylor and his colleagues who created Scientific management are not the evil-minded people you may have been led to believe (for example, see “The Spirit and Social Significance of Scientific Management,” 1913). They, as others who were interested in Scientific Management, were intelligent, deeply thoughtful people, with good intentions, dedicated to improving American higher education for the benefit of students and to make professors’ job easier. Bias against Taylor or Scientific management will limit your ability to comprehend the work of those who sought ways to apply in an effort to improve higher education in the early 1900s – for the benefit of both students and faculty.

symposiumThe book, A Symposium on Scientific Management and Efficiency in College Administration, is an interesting look back at how academics and non-academics described the problems in higher ed teaching and administration and reasoned how progressive Scientific Management, the forerunner, to Lean management, could help. Remarkably, the problems then are mostly the same as now.

The focus of the book is engineering education, though you will find much useful information for any academic discipline. The latter chapters focus on the plight of the professor and their many burdens, and how to relive the faculty of burdens so that they can focus on doing what they are paid to do.

Read the chapters by Frederick A. Parkhurst, Henry L. Gantt, and H.K. Hathaway to better understand Scientific Management. But if your time and level of interest are limited, skip to the chapters by W.A. Hillebrand, Hugo Diemer, William Kent, H. Wade Hibbard, George Shepard (very good chapter), S. Edgar Whitaker (another very good chapter) to understand the problems in higher education and how Scientific Management was seen as a good and practical solution.

And here are a few notable quotes:

“We therefore find that initiative alternates with routine as part of the law of progress.” – Harrington Emerson, p. 6

“I was trained looking backwards into the past. I was not trained for what was ahead of me.” – Harrington Emerson, p. 9

“In many cases the greatest objection comes from those who are eventually to be benefited by this change of condition [to scientific management].” – Frederick A. Parkhurst, p. 26

“…he knew nothing… and never would know, for his bump of conceit was too great to permit of his learning.” – William Kent, p. 146

“The motto of the conservative is ‘whatever is, is right,’ that of the scientific [management] expert is ‘whatever is, is apt to be wrong; I am going to test it and find out whether it is right or wrong.” – William Kent, p. 157

“…why is the standard period for a recitation or lecture one hour? I have been unable to find any better reason for it than that the hour is a clock unit.” – George H. Shepard, p. 198

“People are always glad to be relieved of trouble.” S. Edgar Whitaker, p.  213