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The Weekly Blab 4.10

The Weekly Blab

Volume 4, Issue 10—January 19, 2010


And How Was Your Vacation?

The Szafran clan descended on Las Vegas, just in time to enjoy nine days of overcast, 50 degree weather.  We could have stayed in Marietta for that!  Anyway, we enjoyed visiting with family (my parents and my uncle both live there), went down to the Strip a few times, and tested out the new camera (a Canon SX-20) and its many abilities, including to take HD video!  Wow—the modern age!


While there, the big news was the attempted Christmas bombing of the Amsterdam-Detroit flight.  Everyone was in a panic as to what this might mean for airport security on the way home, but as it turned out, there was nearly no effect (at least in Las Vegas, at least on New Year’s Eve).  The lines were no longer than usual, and we zipped through security in less than half an hour.  I would have thought that traveling on New Year’s Eve (and away from Vegas) would have guaranteed a nearly empty flight, but apparently everyone else in Vegas had the same thought and the plane was completely full.  Then home to Georgia, just in time to see the Peach drop.


I hope everyone had a great vacation, and is all engaged to go this semester.  I know that I’m enjoying teaching my General Chem. I class—96 students, and H-203 is a nice room to teach in.


Budget Stuff

The latest on the budget front is a mix of good news, not so bad news, and same old, same old news.  The good is that SPSU has an appropriation of $1M for new equipment associated with the ETC in the governor’s budget, restoring almost all of the amount that was cut last year.  Most other campuses didn’t fare anywhere near as well, with almost all of the new design and design/construction projects requested by the USG being eliminated to help address the budget deficit.  The not so bad news is that there are (at least for now) no additional cuts in this year’s budget, and the additional cut for next year is on the order of 1%.   Also, the budget calls for a mandatory 3 furlough days in the spring (which we were already doing, so that’s not a change).  The same old, same old is that all of this is subject to change, so stay tuned.  Stuff that still has to be addressed is how the stimulus money ($1.8M for SPSU) will be replaced when its gone in 2011-2012, and if there will be furloughs next year (no indication of them at this point, but all things are possible).


Something that will be coming is that since the costs for HOPE will have moved higher than the revenues from the lottery, following the provisions of the original legislation the book allocation will be cut (or eliminated).  Students are already upset about high book prices, and this will surely make things worse.  This will be especially true at SPSU, where book prices for technical subjects will make us the highest of the high (with Georgia ‘Tech).  We’re beginning to look at some alternatives (such as renting textbooks), and I’d like to ask faculty to carefully scrutinize the book requirements for their courses to minimize costs in a responsible manner.  Are there less expensive choices for the text?  Can we cut back on additional books by making them available in the library?  Is the new edition really needed, or can an older edition work just as well?  Are there materials available for free online?  I’m sure our students will appreciate any relief we may be able to pass their way.


About Critical Thinking

Most folks are aware of the new core curriculum being put forward by the USG.  It doesn’t compel us to make any major changes (though we could…), but it does compel us to identify three things, called “overlay requirements”, which are more general areas that our students should be able to meet outcomes goals in:

  • US Perspectives
  • Global Perspectives
  • Critical Thinking

We’ll be scheduling some open forums on core in the near future to discuss this. 


In the meantime, to provide some grist for the mill, there was an article in the Chronicle that takes an interesting perspective on Critical Thinking, arguing that it’s not all good!  The article is entitled “Beyond Critical Thinking”, and it’s by Michael Roth, an intellectual historian and the president of Wesleyan University.  He makes the rather interesting point that critical thinking, at least as practiced in many departments, is heavy on the critical (“let’s find another idea to debunk”) and light on the ability to look at something and make (or take) positive meaning from it.  As such, he argues, we run the risk of generating a group of graduates who can smugly take apart an argument, but are unused and unwilling to learn anything from someone with a different perspective than their own (and, he argues, we in the academy fall prey to that tendency ourselves). 


There’s a segment of the public that views higher education as a bunch of elite snobs tearing down America, don’tcha know, but this viewpoint isn’t often expressed within higher education itself.  So, it’s an argument well worth reading and considering as we are being called upon to define our own “overlay” and determine (and be able to demonstrate)  how well our students can think critically.


Last Week’s Trivia Contest

There wasn’t one!

This Week’s Trivia Contest

This week’s trivia contest carries the usual prize of a CD culled from the vast Szafran repository of duplicates.  Largest number of correct responses takes the swag.  The topic for this week is “movies”.

  1. In the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”, what happens when an angel gets his/her wings?
  2. In the movie “Harvey”, what is a pooka?
  3. In the movie “A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”, who was the character who could change heads?
  4. In the movie “Back to the Future”, what was the name of the shopping mall before the time travel, and what was it after?
  5. What earlier movie is the movie “Sleepless in Seattle” based on?