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The Weekly Blab 5.10

The Weekly Blab

Volume 5, Issue 10—October 25, 2010


Another Beautiful Weekend!

Another nice weekend!  As I’m typing this, I just got back from eating breakfast at the South’s equivalent of the Ritz—the Waffle House!  There was an interesting article about the Waffle House in the newspaper “Creative Loafing” this week, as well as reviews of lots of restaurants that look like they’re worth trying.  According to the article, the Waffle House does no advertising, and tries to avoid any press.  They even create their own music for their jukeboxes (which I have to admit I’ve never noticed in the place—maybe they just have them in Atlanta).  At least the eggs and the coffee are good.


Last night, we drove onto the SPSU campus because I wanted to get some pictures of the new buildings lit up at night.  I’d heard that the ETC looks really nice with the colored lights in the atrium and the light pole.  So, naturally when we got there, neither was turned on.   The walkways are almost completely poured, though, and a lot of the landscaping is in.  The Savannah Walk (the one between Buildings I-2 and K) is coming along nicely, and will really look great when it’s done.


Sports-wise, true-blue Chelsea continues to hold the top of the chart, with a 2-0 win over Wolverhampton—not a very good team, but a win is a win.  The hated Manchester United re-signed their top player, Wayne Rooney, for the bargain price of $235,000 a week, a small raise from his previous contract at $141,000 a week.  Yes, he gets paid 52 weeks a year. 


The hated Yankees were eliminated (yay!) and so were the Phillies (boo!), so we wind up with a Texas vs. San Francisco series that I could care less who wins.  An interesting fact is that the Giants have the most trips to the World Series of any National League team (18, tied with the Dodgers), but haven’t won the series in 56 years (behind only the Cubs and Cleveland).  That’s a strange combination!


The Week in Review

A lot of interesting things this past week.


Monday, I went down to the High Museum with Ameen Farooq (chair, Architecture) and Jim Werner (ETCMA) to meet with their Director of Education, Patricia Rodewald.  We’re looking at the possibility of forming a partnership with them that would allow our students to go there for free (with reduced rates for faculty and staff), might possibly include them offering some talks and events at SPSU, would allow us to access their research spaces, would open up internship opportunities for students, and several other such things.  The next step will involve their coming to our campus to see our facilities, and to talk further.  While there, we got a chance to have a private tour of the Dali exhibit, which was very cool indeed.  Dali was an interesting artist—part classicist, part futurist, and a significant part self-promoting huckster.  In addition to his artwork, the exhibit opens with a series of photographs devoted to Dali’s mustache, and contains other photographs of him doing various whacky things with cats and baguettes in the studio.


At various points on Tuesday through Friday, discussions took place regarding our capital construction needs for the next several years (which we submit to the BoR every year).  Over the past few years, we’ve been involved in a multi-step expansion of our science labs, trying to keep up with the increased demand for these labs due to our growth.  We’re currently working on converting the dry labs in Building E (evacuated by Physics due to their move into Building H) into wet labs.  The thought came up: “Why not combine our needs in Construction Management (for which design money is in the BoR budget in 2013, year 6 of the current funding cycle), Civil Engineering and Civil Engineering Technology (in the facilities master plan, but no set date for a building), Construction Engineering, and Biology and Chemistry into one large building”?  The programs do have several obvious relationships to each other, and could function well together.  A building of the same size (or a bit larger than) the ETC would meet all current needs, allow a bit of space for future growth, and could be sited to “complete the square” with the ETC.  This is all extremely preliminary, and the big question is “Can we make this happen?”  We’re working on it…


Wednesday also brought the 12th annual SPSU Authors’ Reception in the Library.  We hit another all-time high of faculty, staff, and student papers published; and every seat in the room was filled.  Congratulations to all our campus authors and congratulations to the Library for hosting such a fine event.


Thursday brought the most recent meeting of our Polytechnic Summit group, and things are coming along nicely.  With input from our colleagues at other polytechnics, we’ve decided on the date (June 8-10), the theme (“The Polytechnic Opportunity”), and on a name for our e-Journal (Polytechnic—the International Journal of Polytechnic Studies).  We’ll finalize the announcement of the summit (including tracks, design, etc.) and the journal next meeting, and begin start the advertising.  I hope everyone sets aside the date for the summit so they can attend, and thinks about presenting a paper as well. 


Just to show that not everything goes as smoothly as it might seem, the original name choice we liked for the e-Journal was “Polytechnique”, but David Stone noticed that was the name of a movie which the Internet Movie Database describes thusly: “A dramatization of the Montreal Massacre of 1989 where several female engineering students were murdered by an unstable misogynist.”  The Montreal Massacre was a very tragic event, and all too relevant to events today.  So, goodbye French title, and hello Greek. 


Friday, I attended the advisor training that all full-time faculty are taking, and Lance Crimm (EE) and Becky Rutherfoord (IT) did a very nice job with it, as well as supplying food to the participants!  Being a good advisor can be very complex, in part due to our complicated degree requirements (I found two errors in the Chemistry requirements while I was there, which shows how complex this is!), in part due to the sheer variety of student types coming to SPSU, and for many other factors. We also have a good advising website that gives helpful and practical tips to both faculty and students. 


As mentioned in last week’s BLAB, there is an increasing push for all campuses to improve their graduation rates, and advising is a key component of doing this.  Something else coming down the pike to help graduation rates (which you’ve heard before, but I’ll summarize here to remind folks) is that our QEP project (engaged communities) will roll out campus-wide next fall.  The QEP project will involve all new students being block-scheduled into a set of courses that they will take as a cohort.  First-time First-year students will take SPSU 1001, ENGL 1101, and a course designated by their major.  First-time Transfer students will take STS 2400 and SPSU 1001.  I’ve heard that some departments may block-schedule additional courses as well.  In some cases, SPSU 1001 is embedded into a department’s orientation course (in which case the required outcomes of SPSU 1001 are required to be met, measured, and assessed in that orientation course).  One of the things that students will do in SPSU 1001, working with their advisors, is develop a 2-year plan to progress toward graduation.  As was the plan, all these things are being piloted within CSE this year, and I’m told are going very well.


And Then…

Here’s a follow-up to a previous BLAB about Virginia’s Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli II.  You may recall that Mr. Cuccinelli had demanded documents from the University of Virginia about Dr. Michael Mann, a former faculty member and climate researcher.  Cuccinelli claimed that he wanted to investigate the possibility of fraud in said documents.  UVA appealed, and a Virginia judge threw out Cuccinelli’s demand, saying he had not explained what his allegations were and that the anti-fraud law he was purporting to uphold was passed after the documents he was demanding were written (and didn’t apply to four out of the five grants, since they were federal, not state, grants).  Never saying die, Cuccinelli has now reissued his demand, dropping the federal grants part, but making the argument that some requests for payment on the fifth grant came after the state law was passed.   Needless to say, another appeal to quash the demand is coming.  You can read about this here, and the blogged responses provide an interesting view of the global warming debate. 


A really fine rant showed up last week in the Chronicle entitled “The Making of Corporate U.” The author, Marvin Lazerson (Professor of Public Policy at Central European University in Budapest), makes the argument that college education became part of the post-WWII American dream, even beating such things as owning a home or a fancy car.  This led to an insatiable demand to attend college, which led to higher education becoming an industry, which led to tuition increases that far outpaced inflation, which has led to a bubble (like the dot-com and housing bubbles) that will surely burst.  The 1980’s brought more money into universities, but with it came an increased market-oriented viewpoint.  Faculty, who had gained stature as education became more of an industry, lost power as they were pushed aside by managers (who took over the institutions) and students (whose tuition became more and more critical, and demanded better treatment as customers).   Universities are responding to the bursting bubble by cutting programs and staff, holding back salary increases and scholarship money, and shifting to part-time faculty.  Lots of students aren’t graduating, and they’re learning much less than they ought to.  At this point, I was really interested in hearing what Lazerson thought the solutions might be to this set of situations, except…there weren’t any solutions.  The article ended there.  


As always, the responses were as interesting as the article.  One that I believe makes some interesting points (albeit with some politics tossed in) wrote:


The real problem is global neo-liberalism and the "race to the bottom" labor arbitrage that is making the cost of higher education one that simply cannot be borne.  One can adjust for this by increasing welfare state involvement in subsidizing tuition, but with many competing needs--including the Obamacare health insurance mandate no one can afford either-- and an unreformed banking system likely to collapse again in 2011 due to stress from the mounting foreclosure crisis, I suspect direct subsidies are already on their way elsewhere. And probably not to bail out Obamacare…


We need a rededication to developing the US domestic real economy--a domestic industrial policy as we had following WWII-- that is only going to come when someone in the government starts making it difficult for the US financial sector to make money peddling effectively fraudulent investment vehicles around the globe that get bailed out by the government when the fraud is discovered, generating even more moral hazard. 


There is simply no need to invest in the domestic economy when you can make easy money in debt based ponzi schemes and lazy global labor arbitrage that not only depresses the domestic economy but wreaks havoc abroad each time some multinational pulls up in search of greater fools.


If you’re interested in part of the reason that the economy is the way it is, and why universities are partly to blame for it, just read “Larry Summers and the Subversion of Economics” by Charles Ferguson, which also appeared in the Chronicle this week.  It’s a really depressing article on how the people who control our economy go in a cycle between industry, government, and academia; feathering their own nests and engaging in major conflicts of interest, and never being held accountable for the disasters they cause.


The article is darned convincing, and the responses to it were overwhelmingly positive.  However, one of the responses raised an important point about who the true blame lies:

This piece is typical of the vituperative conspiracy mongering that's paralyzing the left these days. Summers and the other deregulators were wrong, sure, and the policies they advocated turned out to be disastrous. And sure, they had conflicts of interest that probably influenced their views. But none of these economists were legislators, and none of them had any power whatsoever to pass the deregulation policies that fed the financial bubble. That was done by the congress and the successive presidents that these people served. The legislators didn't do this because they were hypnotized by Rasputin-like advisors -- they did it because they wanted to benefit the financial institutions that had them in their pockets…If you're angry about what's going on, put your focus where it belongs.


And who elected (and continue to elect) these legislators?  Pogo had it right:  “We have met the enemy and he is us.”


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s questions were about John Lennon, and to no-one’s surprise, the winner was Alan Gabrielli with a fabulous five correct.  Here are the answers:


1.  What was the original name of the Beatles? The Quarrymen

2.  What was the first #1 single for John Lennon in the United States? (Hint:  It’s not “Imagine”)

Whatever Gets You Through the Night

3.  What was John Lennon’s mother’s name (and the name of a song he wrote)? Julia

4.  What was the name of the album released just after his wedding to Yoko (on the cover of which they appeared naked)? Two Virgins

5.  In the song “Oh Yoko”, what are the five places John calls her name in the middle of?

In the middle of the night, a bath, a shave, a dream, and a cloud.


This Week’s Trivia Contest

Today’s topic for trivia is the TV show “The Addams Family”.  As ever, first to get the most gets the goods.


1.  On what is the television show based?

2.  What is Morticia’s favorite plant?

3.  What is the name of Wednesday’s favorite doll, and what did Pugsley do to her?

4.  What was Morticia’s sister’s name?

5.  In the show’s credits, who played “Thing”?