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The Weekly Blab 5.9

The Weekly Blab

Volume 5, Issue 9—October 18, 2010

 

Another Beautiful Weekend!

It was a nice weekend, which began with the open house on our campus.  Lot’s of people turned out, playing with the band was fun, and doing the Early Show was a blast as always.  One of the best parts is talking to the parents afterwards and hearing them talk about their sons or daughters who are coming to SPSU and seeing all the pride in their kids and hope for their future in their faces.  I like to tease them about the “two for one special” that we offer at SPSU where the parent and child come for one tuition, but the parent has to take the same courses as their child.  Most of the time the parent laughs and says “I couldn’t handle the difficulty”, but every so often one says “that sounds great” and their child begins to get worried and we all laugh.

 

Afterwards, I went home to get Jill, Mark, and one of Mark’s friends, and it was off to the roof of Building J to see the air show.  You have a really good view of Atlanta and the air show from there, and when the planes orient themselves for the flyovers of Dobbins, they often “set up” almost right above Building J.  It was quite a sight, and a beautiful day to see it on.  After a few hours, we went up to Kennesaw to do some shopping and buy some jazz CD’s, and then for a good Chinese dinner buffet (where I’ve run into half a dozen SPSU faculty at various times).  Days don’t get much better than that.

 

The Week in Review

The big news last week was the Board of Regents meeting.  For those who have been living in a cave, the main item on the agenda was the vote on the University of Georgia’s Engineering proposal.  I went downtown after the Senior Staff meeting on Tuesday, and got there just in time for the beginning of the meeting.  I was surprised to see that Governor Perdue was on the agenda, but figured he was there to bid goodbye to the Chancellor (who you’ve probably heard has announced his leaving when the new governor is inaugurated).   After the safety announcement and the pledge of allegiance, the governor began to speak.  He began by thanking the Chancellor, but then moved on to discuss the working relationship between the Board of Regents and the Legislature and Governor’s Office, and segued into discussing the engineering proposal.  I won’t try to reproduce what the governor said, but you can read it here.  The AJC headlined it “Perdue Slams Brakes on UGA Engineering Plan”.  Given the reaction and comments by the members of the Board, they had heard he was coming and knew (at least in general) what he would be saying, since afterwards, those who were in favor of the UGA proposal said they knew there would be a motion to table the proposal, and that the motion would likely carry.  After a few speeches pro and con the proposal, on the third try to call the question, the motion to table passed, and the proposal will now be looked at again at the November BoR meeting, as will another proposal for engineering degrees from Georgia Southern.  

 

That wasn’t all the news from the BoR meeting, of course.  Other things that will likely affect us include that the Board is possibly going to change the funding formula a bit.  The way it works now, Universities get formula funding basically on the number of students that they have.  If enrollment goes up, formula funding goes up too, though it happens two years later.  The BoR’s greatest want at budget time has always been full formula funding.  As I’m sure everyone knows, the actual result for the past few years has been more or less full formula funding, but accompanied by budget cuts of a similar or even larger magnitude, so we’ve wound up with more students and less net state funding.   This has been true for state universities pretty much all around the country.  Anyway, some of the regents went up to talk to their counterparts in Tennessee about the changes they have made up there in their funding formula.  In Tennessee, funding is now more dependent on the number of students graduating than on the number of students.  In other words, the Tennessee funding formula has shifted to give additional funding to universities that have better graduation rates, and less funding to those with lower graduation rates.  The BoR is talking about doing something similar with at least part of the funding in the USG.  So, how will this affect SPSU?  The devil is always in the details and the details remain to be seen.  Still, a prudent campus would do everything within the bounds of appropriate action to help students toward graduation, and to remove those things that impede students to no real academic purpose.  And, of course, they’d do those things regardless of the funding formula, because they’re the right thing to do for our students.

 

Something else that was mentioned is that even when good times return, it is unlikely that state funding will ever improve enough to give the universities all the funds they need for new buildings.  It was pretty explicit that we’ll need to be more entrepreneurial about leveraging those state funds we get for construction, we’ll need to do more online, and we’ll need to find ways to educate more students at lower cost without a decline in quality.  That won’t be easy, but that’s the task that lies before us.

 

Tuesday evening was a real treat—the annual scholarship dinner held at the Hilton.  It’s great to see our students all dressed up and so thankful for the scholarship support that our various donors and foundations provide.  It was a wonderful event, and one of the highlights of the year.

 

On Wednesday, Dr. P.K. Fokam from Cameroon was on campus.  We talked about how our Cameroonian students were doing (very well), and some new programs he’d like to develop in Electrical Engineering Technology at his campus in Yaounde.  I couldn’t attend his talk on “The Role of Higher Education in the Fight Against Poverty in Africa”, though I heard it was quite good (especially the Q+A with our faculty and students afterward) and well attended.

 

Thursday and Friday, it was rush, rush, rush to complete some grant proposals to meet various deadlines and to get them to our partner institutions in time.  We got one out on Friday to join a USG consortium and get some support to work to increase graduation rates among adult students, and then on one to help support our partnership with the TCSG.  Hopefully, they’ll both be successful.

 

Responses to Last Week’s Stuff

I did get a few responses to material in last week’s BLAB.  One related to my comment that we need to work to be able to schedule more flexibly.  That comment said: “It might be a good idea to improve scheduling efficiency by moving up the deadline for scheduling 'first rights' rooms. This would light a fire under folks to plan early and would give those with second right the opportunity to schedule less frantically at the end.”  That makes sense to me, and I’d like to encourage departments to get their priority rooms scheduled as quickly as possible so that others can use what’s left on a timely basis.

 

The other response related to the news story about the professor at Washington University (St. Louis) who was removed from the study panel on the BP gulf oil spill because he had written an article entitled “In Defense of Homophobia”.  I asked: “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?  The response said: “It seems very reasonable to me for a faculty member to link to “Other items of possible interest, meant to be thought-provoking” regardless of university type, controversiality, or relevance to his or her field.  If there's a legitimate question of strain on university IT resources, some sort of maximum on the quantity might be necessary.”  I’m afraid I disagree—while I see the free speech issue, there are things that I think most people would be concerned about, even if they are “only” links on a departmental website.  What if the professor espoused direct harm to someone?  What if he argued that women (or name your group) had no place in the sciences?  There are lines that shouldn’t be crossed, as difficult as it may be to draw them.  More on this below.

To the question “What if they have to do with Physics, but are about discouraging students from becoming scientists?” the response said: “There may well be some students that should be discouraged from entering some fields.  Faculty should be free to express their views on this, however those views go.  This includes expressing them to the students involved.  Those who disagree can also express their views.”  Again, I’m afraid I disagree.  There are certainly students who should be discouraged from pursuing a given field—students who have no aptitude for that field being the obvious example.  History, on the other hand, is replete with stories of famous people who were told they’d never succeed in their given field, and get the last laugh.  In any event, what the professor was doing wasn’t discouraging an individual student that he thought wouldn’t succeed—he was discouraging ALL students from going into ANY science, since he thought their chances for career success would be better elsewhere.  

This is a variation on a question that fascinates me:  does a citizen have the right to use our democratic process to harm democracy?  [Does a professor have the right to use departmental resources to harm the department?]  This question showed up in a famous Supreme Court case, where I’m with the minority opinion.  Quoting from Wikipedia:

In the 1949 Terminiello case, the majority opinion by Justice William O. Douglas overturned the disorderly conduct conviction of a priest whose anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi rantings at a rally had incited a riot. The Court held that Chicago's breach of the peace ordinance violated the First Amendment.

Associate Justice Robert Jackson wrote a twenty-four page dissent in response to the Court's four page decision, which concluded: “The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.”

Finally, to the question: “Should a person’s political views trump his scientific credentials in determining membership on a scientific committee established by politicians?", the response said “No, but we all know about politicians.  And what if there's a question of his or her political views affecting credibility with people who need to accept the committee findings?”  Excellent point—and that’s why there’s no easy answer to any of the questions raised.

 

Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s questions were all about famous dogs, and our faculty knows their canines.  The winner was Lance Crimm (EE) with a fabulous five correct.  Here are the answers:

 

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

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

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

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

5.  What was the name of Tom Terrific’s dog (on Captain Kangaroo)?  The Mighty Manfred, the Wonder Dog!

 

This Week’s Trivia Contest

This week’s trivia topic is on John Lennon, in honor of the 70th anniversary of his birth.

 

1.  What was the original name of the Beatles?

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

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

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

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