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Frank Splitt's Odyssey: A worthy addition to public and university libraries

   
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The book's 15-parts form a chronologically arranged collection of the author's speeches, essays, commentaries, letters, book reviews and research papers nearing one-thousand-pages. 

By John W. Prados, PhD., P.E., 2-5-16

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It is difficult to imagine anyone spending most of their retirement years working to catalyze change in contentious areas of education. Frank Splitt's recently published book, An Odyssey of Reform Initiatives: 1985-2015, chronicles such an unlikely epic story. 

The book consists of 15-parts that form a chronologically arranged collection of the author's speeches, essays, commentaries, letters, book reviews and research papers nearing one-thousand-pages. It is a literal opus not to be read for pleasure, but rather studied for its wealth of information and insights on provocative subjects in education, including reform initiatives and related dynamics. Don't expect to see the book on any best-seller list since its distribution is limited to donations to libraries. 

The wide scope of the education related material covered by the author, who holds a doctorate in electrical and computer engineering from Northwestern University, is illustrated in the book's subtitle, From Engineering, K-12, and Higher Education to the Environment, National Information Infrastructure, and Collegiate Athletics. His 30-year odyssey of reform initiatives can be characterized by a 1513 quote from Niccolo Machiavelli that he used in the introduction to the book,  "there is nothing more difficult and dangerous, or more doubtful of success, than an attempt to introduce a new order of things.

The reader will find abundant evidence that, no matter the area, working on reform initiatives to "change the order of things is really not for the faint of heart. Also, to be found is the formidable resistance to change that can come in the form of economic, political, and legal forces that can be mustered to defend the status quo. When coupled with extant greed, corruption, incompetence, deceit, and denial, as well as human nature, the author saw these forces impede significant corrective action in America's education system.

The author's abiding interest in the quality and integrity of education at all levels is evident not only in the book's table of contents, but in his service as a McCormick Faculty Fellow at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science as well as a vice president of educational and environmental initiatives at Nortel Networks. Furthermore, his "courageous defense of academic integrity in collegiate athletics led to The Drake Group's 2006 Robert Maynard Hutchins Award”a testament to his ability to transform this interest into corrective action in the form of compelling arguments for change. The many citations of his published papers reflect the persuasive nature of these arguments as, for example, in the University of Michigan's 2008 Millennium Project Report, "Engineering for a Changing World that cites three of his papers.

Two of the author's early essays, "The New Reality: A Call for Leadership and "Creating Our Common Future, (Part 1), set the tone for later writings and speeches. These essays contain reflections on the need for strong leadership for the information age in the areas of the environment, education, energy, and economics. As can be noted in several commentaries, these reflections were put into practice when he served on the inaugural Industry Advisory Council for the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology and when he organized and then led the lakes association for the Ballard, Irving, and White Birch chain of lakes in the Star Lake area of Vilas County, Wisconsin in the late 1990s (Part 2) and the Lakes Committee for Plum Lake Township in 2005 (Part 7). 

Of special interest are the author’s many letters to government officials appealing for assistance in resolving issues in K-12 and higher education that are related to the big-money attempts to commercialize America’s education enterprise and to the academic corruption that is rooted in the win-at-any-cost mentality of many school officials. These include, but are not limited, to open letters to President Obama (Part 9) and several letters to Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Notable exceptions to Washington’s apparently general rule of not taking action on politically sensitive issues were Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, by virtue of her 2005 Remarks in the Congressional Record  concerning the author’s work on reform (Part 5), and Dean Zerbe, a former lead tax attorney for the Senate Finance Committee, who encouraged the author to comment on the Revision to the IRS Form 990, affecting nonprofits, particularly with respect to the tax-exempt status of the NCAA, (Part 7).

The author calls the attention of research-minded readers to commentaries on his papers by others.  For example, these can be found in the trilogy "Engineering Education Reform” (Part 3), the brief  "Reclaiming Academic Primacy in Higher Education” (Part 4), "Collegiate Athletics Reform … It’s a Long and Lonely Journey” (Part 10), and in the Forewords by Timothy Kratz, Senior Scientist and Director of the University of Wisconsin’s Trout Lake Station, Irene Peden, Professor Emerita, University of Washington, Theodore Hesburgh, President Emeritus of Notre Dame University, and James Duderstadt, President Emeritus, University of Michigan, as well as in Afterwords by Jon Ericson, former Provost, Drake University, and Clara Lovett, President Emerita, Northern Arizona University.

The attention getting dedications that appear in a number of essays were in memory of men who had an important connection with the author, namely: Dr. Thomas Frost, Mr. Arthur J. Schmitt, Fr. Theodore Hesburgh, Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster, and Mr. Joseph Feurherd. 

In several of his essays, the author concludes that true reform cannot occur without truth telling (disclosure), accountability, and enforcement of reform measures, as well as when concerned parties demand that sports, music, and arts programs are aligned  with academic values in all of our nation’s schools, and when citizens demand that public bodies such as governing boards, local, state, and federal governments cease the special treatment that shields athletics from the rules that govern the rest of education. 

The Odyssey is destined to be a valuable reference for all those who have serious concerns about the future of education in America, and, as such, it would be a most worthy addition to public and university libraries.

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John W. Prados, is Vice President Emeritus and University Professor, University of Tennessee,  a former president, Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), and was the editor of ABET’s 75th Anniversary Retrospective: A Proud Legacy of Quality Assurance in the Preparation of Technical Professionals.

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