I just recently received my first two text books for the Masters in Management Information Systems, James A. O’Brien and George M. Marakas’ Management Information Systems Tenth Edition and James F. Kurose and Keith W. Ross’ Computer Networking: A Top-Down Approach Fifth Edition. Classes don’t start for another week and a half, and Blackboard doesn’t have the courses open yet, so I thought I’d just poke around a bit.
After looking at the author’s introductions to the books and the Table of Contents, I realized something. Text books basically work as standalone nuggets of knowledge, not as part of a web of knowledge. Nowhere in either of the texts can be found either a direction for additional study or, as is necessary in a field of study which is constantly changing, directions as to how to keep up. I suppose that this information is to be provided by the course instructor. But not all instructors are good, and as non-traditional students become more prevalent, instructors become less important to the entire learning process.
Is Computer Networking supposed to be the end all and be all of network knowledge? No, it is meant only as an introductory text to the subject. Students who wish to go into more detail need other texts, other classes, etc. But what about the non-traditional student, who may be self-taught and not taking courses at all? Shouldn’t the book close with a section directing the student in various directions, depending on what he or she wants (or needs) to learn?
Also, networking theory and practice is undergoing rapid changes. (Computer Networking has been rewritten every other year for the past nine years, which is indicative of the rate of change in the field.) Unless the student wants their knowledge to be completely obsolete in five years, he or she will need to keep up by reviewing the professional literature, joining professional groups, etc. But which groups, which periodicals or web sites? Hopefully the instructor will fill in that information; the book is completely quiet on the subject.
The same issues affect Management Information Systems, which is in its Tenth Edition.
I suppose one difference between accounting and auditing and technology is that, while both are changing at a rapid pace, accounting texts refer to the source of change. If a student of accounting wishes to keep up, they can go to the Financial Accounting Standards Board web site for new regulations, and join the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants for other information. These two organizations are discussed often enough that the students should realize their importance. No similar organizations are discussed in the two text books I just received.
I also considered how professional certifications connect (or don’t, as the case may be) with academic work. It is probable that there is a strong correlation between the contents of Computer Networking and CompTIA’s Network+ certification. While the text-book isn’t, and probably shouldn’t be, a Network+ study guide, it would be useful, especially to working students, if those sections of the text which addressed Network+ topics were indicated. And, at the end of the book, in the “Next Steps” section there could be a discussion of the Network+ certification, and what portions of the certification requirements were not discussed in the text. This would allow working students to earn their certification soon after completing the class, thus providing immediate resume fodder, as opposed to having to wait for any résumé boost until the completion of the academic program.
Academia is a small, separate reality. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was a bit more interaction between academia and the “real world.”
One of the items that schools are supposed to teach is critical thinking. At least, that’s what I keep hearing. But critical thinking isn’t something that’s easily tested using a multiple choice test.
Now, I have no problem with the core, skill based courses using multiple choice tests. The questions that are addressed in those courses tend to be black and white. In a calculus course, there is an answer to the question of “what is the derivative of 3x2 + 2x + 15? In an accounting course, there is an answer to the question of “what is the depreciation in year 2 of an asset with a purchase cost of $10,000, a residual value of $1,000, a five year life, using sum of the year’s digits depreciation? In history, the question “who were Henry VIII’s children and which one(s) took the throne?” has a meaningful answer.
But the higher level courses in college, where the critical issues should come up, don’t always have good answers. Issues are open ended. And so the demand for critical thinking skills rather than fact regurgitation becomes more important. But do colleges think about this any more?
Apparently not, if the experience of Steven Maranville is typical. Steven Maranville was recently fired from Utah Valley University because he asked open ended questions in his business capstone course. The students didn’t want open ended questions, so they complained. And since the students know what’s best for them, he was fired.
What was going on in Maranville’s classroom that generated such a backlash? He says he simply required students to do what most employers wish colleges would do: connect academic concepts to the real world. To facilitate that process, Maranville used the Socratic method, creating classroom dialogue by asking students open-ended questions that necessitated creative thought and participation—even if they hadn’t raised their hands. He also required them to work in teams and participate in small-group discussions during class time.
I wonder what will happen when the students enter the real world and discover that it doesn’t come with a scantron.
I’ve been a member of Toastmasters since 2006. I haven’t accomplished as much as I should, but I have completed the Competent Communicator manual, and am partly through the speeches necessary for Advanced Communicator Bronze.
Recently I was elected the Vice President for Education (VPE) for my local club. After the election, I took a look at what I was supposed to do, other than scheduling the members for the various roles at the club meetings.
Our club has, at the moment, only eleven active members. (That’s a different issue, but one that we’re working on.) Three members have achieved Competent Communicator, which requires that the member present ten speeches to the club. Two members have achieved Advanced Communicator Bronze, which requires another ten speeches. And two members have achieved Competent Leader, which requires a variety of leadership skill building activities. (They have also achieved Advanced Leader Bronze.)
I’ve decided that my goal for the club is to attempt to get all the members (except the two who have already done it) to move along the Competent Leader path.
First thing I’ve done is attempt to find where everyone is on their journey to Competent Leader. With this information, I’ll be scheduling club roles to maximize their impact on the Competent Leader manual.
I’ve also purchased the Competent Leader wall chart. This way everyone in the club will be able to see how everyone is moving along the path.
Finally, at today’s meeting, I gave a presentation about the Competent Leader award. Probably the thing I emphasized the most is that over half of the tasks involved need nothing outside of fulfilling the meeting roles that they have to do anyway. Just bring the manual, and just do your job.
It won’t be enough to complete the award requirements, but it should be a large leap in the right direction.
At any rate, I’ve attached the presentation below. Feel free to copy and change it for your club. I don’t need credit, but I would be interested in hearing how the presentation went over at your club. (And in terms of full disclosure, the full chart of the Toastmasters Educational Program was copied from the Toastmasters Education Program presentation. I had to copy a chart out of my old 2006 Competent Leader manual. The ribbons and trinkets were copied from the Toastmasters web site.)
A couple of comments on the first two slides. First, the only time I’ll list my Toastmasters accomplishments and club title is when I giving a talk as the VPE. Normally, it doesn’t seem to fit into the presentation. I don’t recommend giving away free books to people who have lost their books, but I bought one to see how much the program had changed since my manual and had nothing better to do with the book. So I offered to give it away.
Now that I’ve introduced the topic of the speech, I’m going to discuss all the projects which can be accomplished just by attending and participating in meetings. First, I presented the Project Matrix from the 2006 edition of Competent Leadership. Then I listed the projects that could be accomplished, and closed up with all the different meeting roles that could be used to fulfill the projects.
Nest step is to list all the other projects, which need a bit more effort from the club members.
I referred to Project Eight as the bottleneck project. The question is how many membership campaigns, membership contests, or public relations campaigns can a club run in a year? The more contests, the more members can make it past this step. The fewer number of contests, etc., the fewer number of members can make it past this step.
Now that I’ve outlined how to earn the Competent Leader achievement, I wanted to give some context to it.
And time to focus back on my role as Vice President Education and what I’m planning on doing. I both outlined my goal for the year and that I’ll be bringing the Toastmasters Competent Leadership Chart to meetings so that everyone can follow along with our progress.
And finally, the traditional Questions slide. On the Questions slide, I also addressed my pet peeve. I’ve been to many presentations where the presenter’s contact information is on the first slide. But at the end of the presentation the contact information is missing. Someone in the audience almost always has to ask about contact information. So I put my contact information on the last slide.
If you found this presentation useful, please let me know. I don’t know how many members will achieve their CL this year, but I will be nudging every step of the way.
For my Fall 2011 semester, I’m taking a course at UCF called PAD 6958 – Case Study: Policy Management in Seoul. The biggest part of the class is a trip to Seoul to study the city government.
It turns out that the government of Seoul invites a certain number of students to the city every year. They make presentations, put on field trips, and let the students learn about how the city operates. It looks like eight UCF students will be going, along with students from Cornell University and the University of Delaware.
Even better (for me) is that, other than air fare and tuition, the city government picks up almost all the expenses.
What this means is that I will be in Seoul between October 21 and 29 this year. I’ll hopefully will be able to post while I’m there, so expect a bunch of posts, pictures, etc., that week.
I’ll be enjoying myself. And I should be learning something, too. (Something that I can use here?)
There were several lessons I learned from the Special Topics: Public Administration Reform in Contemporary Russia that are (or could be) applicable to my career and my future academic endeavors. First, and directly attributable to my career, the comparison of the Russian budgetary system to the system used in Florida and in Seminole County. Second, as mentioned in The Russian Flat Tax (Coulter, The Russian Flat Tax (and possible lessons for the United States during the debt crisis), 2011), Russia was able to make fundamental changes to their tax system despite the lack of a strong leader or external pressures. Third, by examining issues across national boundaries such as civilian leadership of the military in Creating Shared Responsibility through Respect for Military Culture: The Russian and American Cases (Herspring, 2011), distractions such as political parties can be excluded from the analysis. And finally, since American public administration research tends to be insular (Rhodes, 2011), reviewing foreign literature may provide new approaches for addressing common issues.
The Russian Budget System
As discussed in class, the Russian budget system does not have the regulatory framework that is enforced against local governments in Florida. It is easy to consider the regulatory framework promulgated by Florida Statues much as a fish considers the ocean. Florida Statutes Chapter 129 defines the actions that County governments must follow when adopting and amending their budget. Generally unchanged, it’s the ocean that County budget staff must follow. But examining alternatives brings up alternative approaches.
An example is the amount of Russian expenditures which are not subject to budgetary control. It has been assumed that all Florida County expenditures must be subject to budgetary control. However, there is nothing in Chapter 129 that addresses the issue, so by noting that feature of the Russian budgetary system, the question is brought up as to when, or if, allowing some expenditures without budgetary control would be useful to the local government.
While allowing non-budgetary expenditures to make up the majority of expenditures such as in Russia is probably excessive, a case may be made for certain non-emergency expenditures being allowable. By examining the advantages and disadvantages of Russian budget policy, the non-budgetary expenditures may be limited to specific types of expenditures so that the elected officials, and thus the electorate, do not lose control of the expenditure of tax revenues. An example of this would be removing agency funds and donation funds from budgetary control of the County’s elected officials. The level of funding held by agency and donation funds is generally very limited, and the funds can only be used for specifically defined expenditures. Adding budgetary control to these funds does not result in additional control, but does result in additional administrative costs.
According to research examined when investigating implementation of the Russia fair tax, it was noted that fundamental changes in budgets tend to only be successful when the government had a strong leader, or if there was strong external pressure for the change exerted by the international community. (Luong, 2004) Rather, Russian tax reform was prompted by an internal crisis.
The United States is currently in a self-generated debt crisis. There has been little evidence that debt of the United States government has lost its market appeal. Certain underwriting agencies have stated that unless certain actions are undertaken by the federal government, the debt of the United States will be downgraded. However, it is uncertain if such a downgrade will result in higher interest costs for the United States government.
The current debt crisis is due to the federal government reaching a self-imposed limit on the total amount of debt that can be held. Raising the limit only requires action by the federal government itself, and not some external agency.
Given the state of the current negotiations, there does not appear to be strong leadership in the House, the Senate, or the Executive Branch. The Senate has been unable to pass any change in the debt limit. The House has passed two different changes in the debt limit; both of which have been tabled by the Senate. The Executive Branch has not proposed any detailed change in the debt limit, and has been inconsistent in its definition of an acceptable debt limit change law.
However, the crisis itself may result in fundamental changes to the country’s expenditures and tax laws, much as Russian economic crisis of the 1990’s resulted in fundamental changes to Russia’s tax laws. Whether the fundamental changes would be an improvement to the existing system is indeterminate at the present time, but change may be forced upon the system.
Cross societal comparisons
An article in the most recent issue of Public Administration Review examined the issue of civilian control of the military and different leadership styles. (Herspring, 2011) The article did not need to look outside the United States to investigate the leadership styles, and could have focused on comparing the leadership styles of Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates. However, it would have been easy for the comparison to move from leadership styles to a discussion of the relative merits of the Republican and Democratic Parties.
By moving the comparison out of the United States, the extraneous factor of domestic party affiliation is removed from the analysis, and a conclusion may be drawn about the effectiveness of the two leadership styles. It is possible that the conclusions drawn in the paper were still too limited. In a separate publication, the author of this paper has extended the conclusions to questions about externally driven cultural change in general. (Coulter, Not just a question about Russia and America, 2011)
Different Research Paradigms
Moving from Russia to the rest of the world, the most recent issue of Public Administration Review had an article comparing public administration scholarship in the United States with public administration scholarship in Great Britain. (Rhodes, 2011) The article stated that European public administration research has far more “boundary spanners” than American public administration research. Unfortunately, American public administration researchers are currently tending to stay insular in their research, ignoring research and paradigms developed overseas.
This has not always been true. New Public Management (“government as business”) was not originated in the United States, but in New Zealand. (Rhodes, 2011) It is quite possible that other useful paradigms of public administration may also be developed outside the United States. By looking at public administration in Russia and in other countries, these new paradigms may be uncovered so that they may be adopted within the United States.
Examining only public administration in the United States leads to limited scholarship and may miss potential solutions to the problems facing the United States and local governments. Accordingly, public administration scholars should look beyond their parochial borders and review how government functions outside of national boundaries.
Coulter, F. (2011, July 24). Not just a question about Russia and America. Retrieved July 31, 2011, from A Scholar’s Quest: http://fredrikcoulter.wordpress.com/2011/07/24/not-just-a-question-about-russia-and-america/
Coulter, F. (2011, July 31). The Russian Flat Tax (and possible lessons for the United States during the debt crisis). Retrieved July 31, 2011, from The Scholars Quest: http://fredrikcoulter.wordpress.com/2011/07/31/the-russian-flat-tax-and-possible-lessons-for-the-united-states-during-the-debt-crisis/
Herspring, D. (2011). Creating Shared Responsibility through Respect for Military Culture: The Russian and American Cases. Public Administration Review, 519–529.
Luong, P. a. (2004). Contra coercion: Russian tax reform, exogenous shocks, and negotiated institutional change. American Political Science Review, 139–152.
Rhodes, R. (2011). One-way, Two-way, or Dead-end Street: British Influence on the Study of Public Administration in America Since 1945. Public Administration Review, 559-571.
 Emergency appropriations are a different matter. When several hurricanes hit Central Florida within a single year, local governments found themselves facing the need to make unbudgeted expenditure. Amending the budget requires that the elected officials meet. Public notice requirements may delay the meeting. As such, creating a mechanism in the County Administrative Code which allows the suspension of budgetary controls if the County Manager and the Chairman of the Board of County Commissioners declare a state of emergency.
 I tend to use a relatively simple definition of leadership. A leader has followers. A strong leader has more followers than a weak leader. It is unimportant whether the leader is correct on the issues, the methods used by the leader to motivate the followers, or any other factor. Basically, a leader must lead.
The United State, and much of the world, collects taxes on income. The tax rate, in most cases (Various, Tax rates around the world), varies based upon the amount of income, with higher incomes individuals and corporations being charged a higher tax rate. Other notable countries with such a tax system include (in South America) Brazil, (in Asia) China, Japan, and India, and (in Europe) Germany, the United Kingdom, France, and Italy. With nine of the top ten countries in the world (ranked by GDP) (Various, List of countries by GDP (PPP)), it could be said that the majority of the world’s economy is taxed using progressive tax rates.
But one country of the top ten countries in the world (ranked by GDP) does not use progressive tax rates. Rather, they tax income using a flat tax. But what is a flat tax?
The Flat Tax
A flat tax is a tax on individuals and businesses that has been called “simple, fair, and good for growth.” (Mitchell, 2005) According to The Heritage Foundation, a flat tax has the following characteristics:
· A single flat rate
· Elimination of special preferences
· No double taxation of savings and investment
· Territorial taxation
· Family friendly
· Consumption based
Flat tax systems have been adopted in other countries around the world, such as Hong Kong, the Channel Islands, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, Serbia, the Ukraine, and Slovakia (Grecu, 2004). In theory, the flat tax system would increase the economic growth rate (or diminish the economic diminution rate) by providing incentives to work, incentives to save, incentives to invest, and incentives to take entrepreneurial risks.
Not all of the characteristics, above, of a flat tax represent a change from the current tax system. As an example, most nations do not charge income taxes on world-wide income (Various, International taxation). As such, the territorial taxation limitation is not different than already enjoyed by many nations throughout the world. (The United State of America, on the other hand, does base its taxable income on world-wide income (Investopedia).)
Russia’s Flat Tax
During the time of the Soviet Union, collecting taxes was a simple proposition. The Soviet Union owned all productive assets, and so the calculation and transfer of taxes was simple. (Preobragenskaya & McGee, 2004) The central government did not have problems collecting any revenue it needed for any programs it wished to fund.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia had to rebuild its government. The early attempts resulted in a system which was unable to provide enough revenue to fund governmental operations. In 1998, revenues for the Russian government only totaled 12.4% of GDP, resulting in a massive budgetary deficit and a default on its debt (Gaddy & Gale, 2005).
A new tax law was enacted in 2000. The new law resulted in a uniform tax rate of 13% (as opposed to the old progressive system of 12%-20%-30%). Taxable income calculations were simplified, with many deductions being removed (Gaddy & Gale, 2005). These changes were in keeping with the definition of a flat tax proposed by The Heritage Foundation. However, unlike the theoretical flat tax, taxes were increased on dividends (30%), and gambling, lotteries, and other forms of unfavorable income was taxes at an even higher rate (35%) (Gaddy & Gale, 2005). As such, the theoretical underpinning for the flat taxes effects on economic growth cannot be found in the Russian example.
An interesting side note can be found in the method used to enact the new tax law. In general, most economic reforms are either brought about due to a strong leader within the country, or by external pressure. (Luong & Weinthal, 2004) The conventional theory is that the new tax laws were promulgated due to the ascent of Vladimir Putin to the Russian Presidency. However, the initiative which created the new tax laws began several years before Putin’s ascendency, at a time when Boris Yeltsin could hardly be described as a strong leader. And yet a radical overhaul of the country’s tax laws was accomplished. Luong and Weinthal (2004) state that the shock of the debt default itself provided the impetus to reform the existing tax laws.
According to the theory of flat taxes promulgated by The Heritage Foundation, moving to a flat tax should grow the economy and increase tax revenues. (It’s assumed that the increase in tax revenues would be due to increased personal income, caused by the increase in the economy.)
After the tax laws changed in Russia, the economy (GDP) increased by 5%, while tax revenues increased by 25%. (Gorodnichenko, Martinez-Vazquez, & Sabirianova Peter, 2008) With such a large difference between the increase in GDP and the increase in tax revenues, it is difficult to ascribe the growing economy as the cause of the increased tax revenues. In fact, based upon the non-capital friendly portions of the tax reform package, the tax reform may have been no economic effects at all.
According to Gorodnichenko, Martinez-Vazquez, & Sabirianova Peter (2008), there are three possible reasons for the increased tax receipts: economic growth, increased enforcement, and increased voluntary compliance with the tax law. As mentioned previously, economic growth alone could not have increased personal incomes enough to increase revenues to the extent received. Increased enforcement seems like a reasonable possibility, especially given Putin’s reputation. However, the penalties for tax evasion in the new tax law were lower than those in the old law. (Gorodnichenko, Martinez-Vazquez, & Sabirianova Peter, 2008) As such, the only explanation left was that the taxpayers’ level of voluntary compliance had increased.
Based upon longitudinal data collected of the Russian taxpayers, Gorodnichenko, Martinez-Vazquez, & Sabirianova Peter (2008) have concluded that the tax reform’s economic impact only increased tax revenues by 2%. The remaining 98% of the increase was due to increased voluntary compliance, which was caused by a lower perceived reward due to tax avoidance.
Even if the increased revenues were not due to favorable changes to the Russian economy, it is possible that the flat tax could have improved the economy. However, the economic effects of the flat tax are much harder to quantify. In addition to the flat tax not being a pure flat tax, it was not the only change made to the Russian economy at the time. In addition to the income tax, Russia charged a multi-part tax roughly equivalent to FICA and Medicare taxes in the United States. The rates for this tax was changed to a unified regressive tax, with rates ranging from 35.6% to 5% of total income. Additionally, the maximum corporate tax rate was increased from 30% to 35%. (Ivanova, Keen, Klemm, Pestieau, & Velasco, 2005)
A great deal of discussion has taken place about the theoretical benefits of implementing a flat tax. Russia is the largest economy that has done so. As such, advocates of flat tax reform have used the Russian example as evidence of the efficacy of flat taxes.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of the actual tax reforms undertaken by Russia, evidence supporting the economic benefits of a flat tax regime cannot be found in the Russian experiment. While there is some evidence of economic benefits among smaller economies, it is unknown if those benefits will accrue to larger economies.
However, the Russian example does provide evidence that imposition of a flat tax regime on a large economy may assist in lowering the rate of tax avoidance and thus increase revenues to the government. This evidence may be useful when examining the tax policies of the United States.
Gaddy, C., & Gale, W. (2005). Demythologizing the Russian flat tax. Tax Notes International, 43, 983o988.
Gorodnichenko, Y., Martinez-Vazquez, J., & Sabirianova Peter, K. (2008). Myth and reality of flat tax reform: Micro estimates of tax evasion response and welfare effects in Russia. National Bureau of Economic Research Cambridge, Mass., USA.
Grecu, A. (2004). Flat Tax–The British Case. Adam Smith Institute, London.
Investopedia. (n.d.). Worldwide Income. Retrieved July 30, 2011, from Investopedia: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/w/worldwide-income.asp
Ivanova, A., Keen, M., Klemm, A., Pestieau, P., & Velasco, A. (2005). The Russian’flat tax’reform. Economic Policy, 399–444.
Luong, P., & Weinthal, E. (2004). Contra coercion: Russian tax reform, exogenous shocks, and negotiated institutional change. American Political Science Review, 98(01), 139–152.
Mitchell, D. (2005). A brief guide to the flat tax. Heritage Foundation Backgrounder.
Preobragenskaya, G., & McGee, R. (2004). Taxation and Public Finance in a Transition Economy: A Case Study of Russia. Business Research Yearbook: Global Business Perspectives, 11, 254–258.
Various. (n.d.). International taxation. Retrieved July 30, 2011, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_taxation
Various. (n.d.). List of countries by GDP (PPP). Retrieved July 30, 2011, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)
Various. (n.d.). Tax rates around the world. Retrieved July 30, 2011, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tax_rates_around_the_world
 Unlike the current situation in the United States in which there may be a default due to arbitrary legal debt limits, the Russian default was due to its inability to cover required debt service payments.
 As the United States approaches its own debt crisis, even if based on an arbitrary debt limit, it is possible to hope that if default occurs, it will provide impetus for the United States to look at fundamental reform of our tax system, despite the lack of strong leadership in the House, Senate, or Executive Branch.
I was reading the latest issue of Toastmasters magazine and I saw an article by Beth Black describing the new youth communication program.
Toastmasters has had a long history of being an educational resource for adults, with both public speaking and leadership training available. For a long time, they offered a public speaking for teenagers module.
But the reality is that teenagers don’t normally stand up in public and make presentations. Heck, it’s hard enough to get college students to do it.
So Toastmasters has rethought their entire approach to teenagers.
The first module of a proposed youth communication program has been released, which focuses not on standing in front of a room and giving a five to seven minute speech but on one-on-one or small group situations. The theory is that teenagers are more concerned with job interviews, college meetings, school assignments, and parent/teacher/student conferences than running a PowerPoint presentation.
As usual with Toastmasters courses, the cost is dirt cheap, especially when compared to the cost of courses such as Seven Habits or Effective Personal Productivity. You can buy a complete package for ten students for only $50. This gives you a leader’s guide and ten student handbooks. Each additional student handbook is only $6. (These prices are for Toastmasters members. If you’re not a member of Toastmasters, you may find a member to help you out.)
I don’t know how good the course it, but at those prices, it seems like an interesting experiment for any teachers out there.
If you need any outside help, you could ask your local Toastmasters Club if they have any mentors who would be willing to volunteer. I’m sure you’d find someone to help. But the course claims that you have everything you need.
An another idea would be to see if you could get a local Toastmasters Club to sponsor your class. They might be willing to raise the money and buy the books for you.
If you try it, please let me know how it worked out.