Responsive Materials by Professor John W. Hagen

March 26, 2008; updated April 4, 2008

Response to Ann Arbor News Article
(March 26, 2008)

This statement is being issued as my reply to the article concerning my work with students that appeared in the Ann Arbor News, March 16, 2008. There are two additional postings that are referred to in this statement: (1) my Dec. 12, 2007, reply to questions posed by the sports reporter; (2) a brief overview of progress over the past two decades concerning our understanding of, and improvement in, our teaching of students labeled with learning disabilities. It is my intention to inform readers concerning the range of contributions I have made, and continue to make, for students at the University of Michigan.

My career as a professor at the University of Michigan began in 1965, thus it spans 43 years. From the beginning, my scholarly and teaching interests have focused on cognition and individual differences. I have had many administrative positions as well, each of which has been complementary to my work in cognitive development. From 1985-95, I served as director of the Reading and Learning Skills Center. It was during this time I began to do work that combined my research and teaching, especially with college students. Some can be categorized into groups including minorities, those with learning disabilities, student athletes, and those with chronic illnesses. In my communication with the reporter from the Ann Arbor News, I provided ample evidence of my substantive work spanning 20 years including presentations made at conferences, chapters in books, and other documentation. The Dean’s Office provided additional materials as well. None of this is reflected in the article that appeared in the Ann Arbor News. It is especially disheartening that essentially none of this content was included, and the quote that was used was taken out of context so that it completely changed the message.[1] I have also received several awards, both here and nationally, that recognize my contributions to teaching, working on issues of disabilities, and with diversity in both children and college students. This work is always aimed at incorporating students, both graduate and undergraduate, into the research, teaching, and practicum experiences. The intent of the article was to trivialize my career and the many ways in which I have incorporated the issues I care about most into my scholarship, teaching, and administration.

The specific issue of students enrolled in independent studies must be considered in context as well. Over my entire career, I have pioneered in developing more than a half dozen new undergraduate courses. In 1995, I began Psychology 305, Advanced Lab in Developmental Psychology. In 2002, I introduced Psychology 401, Principles of Effective Learning. This course typically enrolls over 30 students and includes key readings from the areas of learning strategies, motivation, the brain, and learning (now including the new volume Brain Rules, 2008) and the impact of environment on effective learning. In 2007, I introduced Psychology 218, Diversity and Effective Learning, due to students' expression of keen interest in understanding how there can be so many different ways of learning. For each of the new courses I have developed, they initially began with students enrolled in independent study courses. Thus, this year these numbers have dropped with enrollment occurring in the new courses. This winter term there are 28 students enrolled in Psychology 218.

Much has been written about the worth as well as concerns about independent study courses. Dean Megginson’s report [PDF] contains ample description of the University's validation of these courses and the fact that my department is a major contributor. My students often comment that I spend more time with them when enrolled in an independent study than occurs in their other courses. Records are kept of each meeting and each student accumulates a portfolio over the course of the term. The final product may be a paper, academic poster, or PowerPoint, but it is only one of many assignments that occur for each student each term. The products are often impressive, and some students have presented them at academic workshops or conferences. One student from last term is using his PowerPoint in teaching trainers about the deleterious effects of sleep deprivation.

The issue of time spent with the faculty member, or number of hours per week spent on a course, has not been presented accurately. In fact, the whole notion of using time as a measure of worth is traced back to the Industrial Revolution, when workers began to be paid by the hour. When public education became universal, hours per day in class became a measure of effectiveness. Now, in just about all areas, time is not recognized as the most appropriate metric. We used to spend many, many hours teaching young children to read, after which large numbers still had not mastered the skill. Now, with greatly improved teaching and technology, larger numbers of children master reading in much shorter periods of time. Parents who home school their children report that their children can reach criteria of mastery in much less time than those in public schools. Further technology permits students at the college level to acquire information and develop new ways of achieving mastery in a fraction of the time it took a few years ago.

In summary, I believe that I have demonstrated commitment to my students, my scholarship, and the University of Michigan, in a career that spans more than 40 years. I look forward to trying to expand the horizons of future students as well as those of my own.


[1] Original quote: “To this day, I do not consider student athletes to be the major focus of my interests—rather it could best be described as college student learners and the assets as well as the barriers they encounter when trying to successfully navigate their college careers.”

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Progress in Understanding Learning Disabilities
March 26, 2008

Since the term learning disabilities was formally recognized in Federal legislation in the 1970's, debate has continued on what constitutes the definition, what is known about its origins, and how students with the label can be educated appropriately. Our qualitative research, recounted in “Labeling, Literacy and Enabling Learning: Glenn's Story,” (Harvard Educational Review, Vol. 62, No. 4, Winter 1992) was an early contribution that weighed in on the debate. In our work at the University's Reading and Learning Skills Center, we rejected the notion that students with this label were less able to learn. Glenn's remarkable achievements and his coming to grips with what the label imposed upon him in third grade made an impact (the article won the Albert J. Harris Award from the International Reading Association in 1994).

In 2007, an important monograph was published, “The Genetic and Environmental Origins of Learning Abilities and Disabilities in the Early Schools Years” (Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, Vol. 72, No. 3, 2007). Based on research by distinguished scholars in behavior genetics, speech and hearing science, and psychology, the traditional belief that individuals so labeled were qualitatively different in the wirings of their perceptual and cognitive systems is challenged. Three conclusions are drawn: “First, the abnormal is normal: low performance is the quantitative extreme of the same genetic and environmental influences that operate throughout the normal distribution. Second, continuity is genetic and change is environmental … Third, genes are generalists and environments are specialists: … genes largely contribute to similarity in performance within and between the three domains—and with general cognitive ability—whereas the environment contributes to differences in performance.” The importance of this work is now being realized in terms of implications for educating diverse groups of students.

David Rose, Ph.D., a developmental neuropsychologist, is the founder and Chief Education Officer of the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) at Harvard University. The work done by CAST for over 20 years is called Universal Design for Learning (see This program is an outstanding example of how approaches to effective learning must take into consideration the characteristics of each learner.

The important book by Thomas West, In the Mind's Eye: Visual Thinkers, Gifted People with Dyslexia and Other Learning Difficulties, Computer Images… (Prometheus Books, 1997), also set the stage for much of our current understanding that the term learning disability is a misnomer and individuals so labeled make large, and sometimes great, contributions to our society. Virtually every college and university in the country now recognizes that these students do very well with appropriate accommodations.

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Questions from Ann Arbor News Sports Reporter John Heuser, Received by Email, December 6, 2007

1. Athletes as a research area is not mentioned in your 2005 eight-page encyclopedia biography. In your CV there is no mention of athletics in the titles of any of your publications and there is one talk with athletics in the subject headline. Is it fair to call athletes one of your main areas of research interest? If so, why isn't there more evidence?

2. How many people work as paid assistants to you in any capacity, what kind of work do they do for you and what are their qualifications?

3. What is Steve Pacynski’s job? Is he a graduate student? Is he a university employee? If not, who pays his salary?

4. After some of the things we have discussed; the percentage of student athletes taking your independent studies, the fact that many of the athletes we've talked with say they are spending less time on your classes than is suggested by the departmental guidelines, the close relationship you have with the athletic department's academic advising staff, do you now view any of those things as a problem? Are there things you wish you had done differently?

5. Who, precisely, nominated you for the Advisory Board on Intercollegiate Athletics earlier this year?

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Responses to John Heuser Questions, Transmitted by Email, December 12, 2007

To: John Heuser
From: John Hagen
Re.: Your Questions 12/6/07

Thank you for submitting your questions via email. You may have been provided answers to some of the issues you raise, but I shall respond here as well. First, however, I would like to share with you information about the academic community and how things work in top-rated universities, as well as the roles faculty play in this environment.

All faculty at Michigan who are tenured have considerable latitude in choosing their areas of specialization and how they conduct their activities. There are evaluations, which primarily affect annual raises. Most of us combine our work in the four primary areas of endeavor: scholarly work, which includes research, writing and presentation, and working with scholars throughout the country on issues of mutual interest; teaching, which includes formal and informal teaching, mentoring of students at both graduate and undergraduate levels; administration; and service, which varies widely among faculty and across units. You have been provided ample evidence that I have been, and continue to be, viewed as exceeding expectations in each of these areas. Frankly, in my department of over 100 faculty, there are few who have exceeded my accomplishments over the four decades of my employment.

Now for your first question. My areas of scholarship have changed, and progressed over my lengthy career but there are clear continuities as well. I shall not go back to 1965 when I arrived here except to say that my work for my dissertation was considered pioneering and it played a key role in the first 15 to 20 years of my scholarly activity. It was on attention, learning, and memory in children and I was one of several scholars who opened up this as a new area. Meanwhile, my interests in individual differences, and in children and youth in particular who are "different" or disadvantaged in some ways began at that time as well, as seen in early presentations, publications and grant support. For example, I had two large federal grants to learn why children with diabetes mellitus (type 1) are disadvantaged cognitively and academically as they develop.

I have had major administrative appoints at UM, and the one relevant here is I served as director of the Reading and Learning Skills Center from 1985 for 10 years. This is when I first encountered student athletes and learned of their situation as college students. I gave you a copy of Glen's Story and I hope you read it. My emerging interest at that time in college students with diagnosed learning disabilities came together with students from many units, including the Law and Business Schools as well as Schools of Music and Art and Architecture, who were working with staff at this Center. (Note: I did NOT include my name as an author because I wanted my graduate assistant, Dr. Fairbanks, to be the author since she was amazing in her work with Glen and was also on the job market; I have done this with other projects as well). This study received a major national award and hundreds of requests for reprints were received.

To this day, I do not consider student athletes to be the major focus of my interests—rather it could best be described as college student learners and the assets as well as the barriers they encounter when trying to successfully navigate their college careers. Again, as in my earlier work when I did comparative studies of children with serious medical disorders and children and youth with diagnosed learning disabilities, this current wave of research involves regular undergraduates, student athletes, and students with diagnosed learning disabilities (the research always has been, and currently is, approved by the University's Institutional Review Board—to answer a query which apparently was raised in an interview when I was not present). Thus, the many items that are in my vitae that involve presentations and discussions of this work will not use the word "athletes" in the title. I have developed a research tool that is still under refinement, but we have had many inquiries from others who would like to use it in their research and to conduct cross-national research with us as well. These two groups provide an important contrast because both are viewed as being "at risk" in an academic environment, one for primarily exogenous reasons and the other for primarily endogenous reasons. I have been invited to present and discuss this work in many venues.

As a final note to this question, I have received several awards or honors for my work, both scholarly and hands-on, with students who are in some way "different" or deficient. In the James Neubacher Award Citation (honoring a UM alumnus and former newsman who suffered a several chronic disability) I shall quote: "Dr. Hagen's contributions are a testimony to his ability to creatively merge the critical faculty functions of research, teaching and service. When he came to the University, he established a course for undergraduate students which allowed them to work directly with children who lived in various state institutions. He initiated extensive research on diabetes to determine the effect of this medical condition on children and their families. He has integrated doctoral students into his activities to enhance their learning and to provide services to more people. He has also personally counseled many individuals to assist them in dealing with the challenges of living with a chronic disability."

In another paragraph, it states: “Some of these individuals (with whom he has worked) had learning disabilities, while others were considered to be academically at risk for other reasons. He provided important counsel to officials in the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics concerning ways to improve academic performance of student- athletes.”

Thus there is verification from others that my account is accurate and recognized as an invaluable contribution.

2. The number of people who work as paid assistants right now is only one. However, over the years I have had many, and they have been paid from many sources, including federal grants, grants from private foundations, the Society for Research in Child Development (from which I retired in September, but I still have funds for a staff person to finish up projects from SRCD).

They have included persons who have either the BA/BS degree or the MA degree. Many have gone on to complete their educations and have jobs in psychology or relevant to child/human development. A person who exemplifies the career trajectory of my assistants began with a new BA in psychology. After working for me full-time for two years, he became a doctoral student here and continued to work for me, both in teaching and research roles. He participated in our nationally funded project on diabetes and worked at the Reading and Learning Skills Center in development and intervention. He is now a tenured associate professor and department chair at a well-known university. To quote a recent testimonial he gave for my retirement from SRCD: "John provides a context for people to grow and develop. He provides enough structure to get the job done right, but he gives you opportunities and responsibility. He taught me how to do psychological research.”

I could provide many more statements from other former employees and students as well, but will not do so here. The assertion that any of them has not been qualified is patently wrong.

3. Steve Pacynski (B.A. Psychology, 2006) is a full-time employee of the University of Michigan and has been for two years. Currently his pay comes from the Department of Psychology, .50, and from SRCD, .50 (as explained above). His official titles are Instructional Aide and Research Associate. Obviously the University considers him to be well qualified for both positions.

4. I certainly do not consider the relationship I have with staff in the Academic Office of Athletics to be “close.” I have never socialized with any of them outside of work and I only talk or meet with them on matters directly related to my expertise as a psychologist and professor. In the past, I did consult with previous staff of that office when they were establishing a program of their own (and prior to building the Stephen M. Ross Academic Center). I also worked with Warde Manuel, who had been my graduate student in earlier years, when he was in charge of planning the architecture and design of that facility. I have expertise in how physical design can facilitate learning and have visited the Herman Miller Company and worked with them, as they are one of the national leaders on bringing together designers of learning spaces with university administrators and faculty. The Ross Center, in fact, reflects much of the consultation I and others provided at the time; it was a team effort.

You have obviously worked hard to locate and interview some students who seem to feel they did not work hard enough in my independent study courses. However, student evaluations of my courses and teaching do not agree.

I am pleased and proud of what I have done in my forty plus years as a faculty member—in research, teaching, administration, and leadership. I am totally confident that students who have worked with me, and those who have worked with the many very successful graduate students who learned from me, have benefited from the experience (I have served on over 120 doctoral dissertations and chaired or co-chaired over 30).

5. I do not know who nominated me for the Advisory Board. In fact, I did not even know I was appointed to it until mid-September when I received notice of the meeting. However, I think the Board is fortunate to have me as my knowledge, expertise, and personal qualifications make me well suited to serve. I trust it will be a two-way learning experience.

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