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The Weekly Blab 5.8

The Weekly Blab

Volume 5, Issue 8—October 11, 2010


Hangin’ With the Folks

Another beautiful weekend!  My parents were making their annual trek westward (they live in Syracuse NY in the summer, and Las Vegas in the winter), so they stopped to see a cousin of mine in Boston, and then here on the way back.  As you may gather from this, my father loves to drive, despite being 83 years old, and is determined to keep this up at least until he’s 85.  I’m pretty sure my mother doesn’t love the cross country haul quite as much.  Anyway, on Friday I brought them onto campus to show them the new buildings (which they thought were very impressive), and we spent the rest of the weekend hanging out, eating home cooking (my father is the one who does the cooking), going for drives, and watching movies.  Last night it was (IMHO) the best movie ever made—North by Northwest—which they hadn’t seen since it came out in 1959.


The Week in Review

Last week was a busy one, and in some cases, for unusual reasons.


On Monday, I had a meeting with Ron Koger and David Stone about Tech Fee funding, which then spread a bit farther to address matters of IT strategic planning.  We put considerable amounts of money (mostly from the Tech Fee, but also from the Academic Affairs Capital Budget and from other funds) toward IT projects, but it’s not clear that we get the best possible bang for our buck.  A lot of times, we make decisions about upgrading space that don’t take into account the IT implications of the change.  Several times this term already, I’ve gotten DR’s to pay for additional IT capacity (in Building J, in the Library, etc.) for various upgrade projects where the cost of the IT capacity improvement wasn’t worked into the project. 


Also, there are various IT decisions that are taken by individual departments that even if paid for, still affect other departments.  For example, a department may want to convert a classroom they “control” into a computer lab, which then takes the classroom off of the “common use” list for other departments. 


We concluded that a number of things needed to be done:  (1) A set amount needed to be set aside each year from Tech Fee (i.e., a set amount per student) for the purpose of upgrading the infrastructure in general.  Right now this is handled on a piecemeal basis, often out of end-of-year funds, resulting in our spending Tech Fee dollars on items which are often of lower priority.  This amount would need to be spent against a strategic plan, which would in turn need to be approved by an oversight committee (a modified UITAC?).  This would force the IT area, in turn, to prioritize within a fixed amount, much in the same way as we are now doing with a fixed amount set aside for purchase of software.  (2)  Whenever a department wants to change the IT infrastructure of a room, it would need to fill out and submit a form giving the implications of the change, the benefits, the costs, and so on.  The form would be reviewed by a committee (again, possibly UITAC), in much the same way that the UCC reviews proposals for course changes. 


We’ll be contacting UITAC about the above.  More on this as it develops.


Monday also brought a meeting with the ECET faculty, where some concerns were shared, some about space.  This gives me a good excuse to talk a little here about a few space issues of a general nature.  It’s not uncommon for departments to get a bit territorial with spaces assigned to them.  In some cases, there is a good reason for this.  Someone has to maintain the room, make sure that the stuff in it works, that security is maintained, that the room is clean and functional, and so on.  However, as we grow and facilities get tighter, there are more demands on our space, and we will need to share more.  It’s not just a matter of the second department being able to use the space left over by the primary department.  In some cases, the primary department uses the space in ways that preclude its use by anyone else.  Again, sometimes that’s necessary (obviously you wouldn’t want to teach a lecture in a high power electronics lab for safety reasons), but often it isn’t.  Sometimes, with a small change in the format in which a course is taught, we can gain major capacity.  It’s critical that departments talk and work with their colleagues about maximizing use of space.  If it’s necessary, we can identify and equip a second lab of a particular type if the first is over capacity, but we need to study the situation first—with open minds—to see if all needs can be accommodated with a little flexibility in the original lab.  If it can’t—fine—we’ll develop a second lab.  In most cases, early discussion is better than later, so departments should get their schedules in as quickly as possible so that others can look at what’s available and enter into discussions about any necessary changes when there’s still time to do something.  That’s probably so general that no one will understand what I just wrote, but in short, I’m asking for cooperation and flexibility.


Tuesday brought a meeting with Dr. Pearson of Georgia Tech.  There are apparently a number of ways in which Georgia Tech can work with us on projects/research of mutual interest, where we each bring something important to the table.  Further, Dr. Pearson is willing to introduce us to several key individuals he knows, both at Tech and at the NSF.  All are good opportunities for SPSU.  More on this as it develops.


Thanks to everyone who participated in the Faculty/Staff Campaign.  The luncheon on Wednesday was nice (if a bit windy), and it was great to see how many folks had donated to SPSU in these difficult economic times.  Congrats to the CM department for being the first academic department to have 100% participation.


At the Deans Council meeting (or actually, the post-meeting), issues related to Tenure procedures were discussed.  Lately we’ve had some results that indicate that more information about our tenure procedures would be helpful.  Julie Newell, at the last ALC meeting, volunteered to assemble a draft of a “Guide to the Perplexed about Tenure”.  We’ll also try to generate some checklists of what’s expected, both for untenured faculty and for the review committees, to try to get more consistency in how things are done.  We’ve tried to have sessions offered from the Faculty Development Center on tenure procedures, but the turnouts have been poor.  Your ideas on how we can do better are welcomed.


Thursday was the day of many happenings.  I was off at the dentist in the AM, having two crowns put in (out of four—the other two weren’t quite right).  After three hours of fun, I went to get a quick bite of lunch and then back for a 2PM Polytechnic Summit meeting.  Just as I was leaving the restaurant, I got a call from Chief Bauer about the armored car robbery and the fact that the University was locked down.  “Does this mean I can’t come back onto campus?” was my first question, with “Yes” being the answer.  After figuring out where I was going to go (the parking lot of Cobb County Transit, about 0.1 miles away from campus), I kind of followed events from the automated messages that were sent, and from phone calls from Chief Bauer.  A debriefing of the event took place on Friday afternoon.


Some things are obvious—not everyone who needs to has signed up for emergency notification via email or cell phone.  If you haven’t done that yet, you should.  The loudspeaker system didn’t work everywhere (in part because the loudspeakers aren’t everywhere, and in part because the ambient noise is sometimes as loud as the loudspeaker), so we’re going to do an audit on where the problems are.  More importantly, lots of faculty indicated they didn’t know what they were supposed to do, and we had some students who seemingly ignored the warning and were walking around the campus.  One of the outcomes of the debriefing was that we’ll be preparing a “Here are the five things a faculty member should do for a ‘Stay in Place’ emergency” and for an ‘Evacuate’ emergency.  Generating such a list isn’t as easy as it may seem—some of what you should do depends on the specific circumstances of the situation, and applying common sense to a fast-changing dynamic. 


A Mix of Politics, Science, and Academics

Dr. Jonathan Katz is a Physics professor at Washington University (St. Louis) who has some unusual views on contemporary issues. In an article entitled “Learning Disabilities at Universities”, he talks about the difference between a disability (which must be pervasive and interfere with a major life activity, such as blindness) and a disorder (which is not pervasive).  The law requires accommodations for some disabilities, but has wound up being applied to disorders as well.  He argues that people with mental disabilities (such as severe mental retardation) do not attend college, and no college has chosen (nor is required) to accommodate them.  He argues that colleges should not (and are not required to) provide accommodations to students who have mental disorders, the accommodations constituting “affirmative action for spoiled rich white kids”.  Katz does not oppose accommodations that address specific disabilities (ramps for wheelchairs, giving exams on tape for the blind, etc.).  He says he was threatened with dismissal for refusing to give students with learning disorders extra time on tests, which he considers to give them an unfair advantage.   


Some time earlier this year, Katz, was appointed to, and then removed from, a study committee on the BP gulf oil spill.  The reason for his removal was an unusual one—he had written an article called “In Defense of Homophobia” where he argued that AIDS was the result of deliberate activity by homosexuals, and had consequences as a behavior.  Normally, I’d link to the article, but it has been removed from the web (reasons for which see below), with the link at his own site saying “access forbidden”.  A representative taste of the argument can be found in a different article entitled “Nature Cannot Be Fooled”, where he wrote:

“We know how AIDS is transmitted: by promiscuous sexual activity, chiefly homosexual, and by abusers of intravenous drugs who share hypodermic needles. The human body was not designed for these activities, and lacks the immunological defenses to deal with their consequences. Except for a comparatively few cases transmitted by transfused blood and blood products or congenitally, the victims of AIDS knowingly and deliberately put themselves at risk. AIDS could be stopped by a program of contact tracing and quarantine, methods which successfully contained venereal and other communicable diseases in the pre-antibiotic era. Instead, public policy refuses to admit that AIDS is a consequence of behavior, a fact which everyone knows to be true, and pours a large fraction of our biomedical research effort into a search, so far unsuccessful, for a cure.”

As you can imagine, a lot of people don’t share Dr. Katz’s views about AIDS and homosexuality.  Some began lobbying the Obama administration to have him thrown off of the study committee.  Also as might be expected, this led to others defending his position, and arguing that his views on homosexuality should have nothing to do with studying oil spills.  Ultimately, he was “quietly” removed from the committee.


Recently, his son Isaac Katz has publicly come out as gay in an essay submitted to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.   In the article about it, entitled “Son of Homophobic Father Says Life Gets Better”, Isaac said “he hopes the personal account of his struggles will help others, particularly in light of a spate of recent suicides by young gay men who had been bullied because of their sexual orientation.

The article goes on to say: “After coming out, Katz persuaded his father to remove from his website the "In Defense of Homophobia" essay, written in 1999, when Isaac was 11. His father's essay said, among other things, that gays should be shunned because they are physically and morally responsible for the AIDS epidemic.


There are a number of issues all wrapped up in this unusual sequence of events.  First, we have what is usually a private issue that would be dealt with within a family, playing out on the public stage.  Second, we have a person’s political opinions causing his removal from a scientific committee dealing with an issue totally removed from that opinion.  Third, we have issues of academic freedom and political opinion clashing with a university’s policies to try to accommodate learning disorders.  Part of the mix of issues is “encouraged” by Dr. Katz himself, who chose to link these opinion articles from his page on the university’s physics department website, under the header “Other items of possible interest, meant to be thought-provoking”.   All of these raise questions that are difficult to answer, for example:

  • How far should a faculty member be allowed to go on a university’s website with his own opinions?  Does the type of university matter?  What if the views weren’t controversial, but still had nothing to do with Physics? What if they have to do with Physics, but are about discouraging students from becoming scientists?  [There’s an interesting one called “Don’t Become a Scientist”, and he’s not kidding!]
  • Should a person’s political views trump his scientific credentials in determining membership on a scientific committee established by politicians? 
  • Where does academic freedom end relative to following university procedures?  What if he refused to turn in grades for students who got extra time on tests? 

I’d be interested in knowing how our faculty weighs in on these questions.


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Lots of responses to the Blondie trivia challenge with two perfect responses, so the earlier one wins—Nancy Turner of the CET Department.  Nancy gets the usual Jazz CD.


1.  What is the name of the Bumstead’s dog?  Daisy

2.  What is Dagwood’s boss’s name? Julius Dithers

3.  What is Blondie’s current profession, and what was she originally (before their marriage)?

     Before:  showgirl (flapper), Currently: caterer

4.  What was Alexander (their son) originally called in the strip? Baby Dumpling

5.  What is Dagwood’s boss’s wife’s name? Cora


This Week’s Trivia Contest

This week’s questions are all about famous dogs.  Earliest with the mostest gets the prize.  Tango is disqualified from entering.


1.  What was the name of the Jetson’s dog?

2.  What was the name of Roy Rogers’ dog?

3.  What was the name of Sgt. Preston of the Yukon’s dog?

4.  What was the name of Batman’s dog?

5.  What was the name of Tom Terrific’s dog (on Captain Kangaroo)?