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The Weekly Blab 4.14

The Weekly Blab

Volume 4, Issue 14—March 18, 2010


I hope everyone had a great spring break!


Budget, Budget, Budget…

We don’t have any definitive news yet on the budget, but at this point, things seem to be moving in the right direction.  The Governor’s revised budget has a much smaller additional cut to the USG ($117M vs. the $300M that was being discussed), and formula additional funding of some $113M is also there.  So, if this goes through as is, the net additional cut will be small.  We already have submitted plans for how we’d handle the original $260M cut (through a combination of unallocated money from increased enrollment and not filling some open positions), so we would therefore start the year off relatively well (if you can call supporting a much larger number of students with the same amount of resources “well”). 


And wasn’t it wonderful to see how well our community responded to the crisis?  Faculty, staff, and students bombarded legislators with calls, letters, and emails; the facebook group has grown to some 10,000 names; and the students held a major rally at the state house where they were able to make their point without becoming unruly or partisan.   


The next big question is about the tuition.  As everyone probably knows, students currently pay two $100 temporary mandatory fees each semester.  Since pure tuition is about $2000, the fees each amount to roughly 5% of tuition.  Thus, if the fees are eliminated, tuition would have to rise 10% just to stay even.  Anything beyond that would be a revenue increase.


So, what does this mean for our departmental budgets and hiring?  For now, we’re moving forward with the assumption that the amount of money available for next year will be the same as the amount in the budget this year.  That means that the amount available for new hires is equal to money made available due to retirements and the like, plus money that we didn’t spend this year (I held back some money due to budget uncertainties), minus the money that we’ve already committed for people we’ve already hired this year before we froze hiring (there’s one such position) and that we hired mid-year (since they’ll be here full time next year).  How much is that?  I’m running the spreadsheets now, and should know in the next few days.  We clearly won’t be able to hire everyone we need to, but we should be able to do at least a little.  Again, stay tuned.


Something that we should be able to move on quickly is capital purchases for this year.  Please make sure that your Dean has received all of your capital requests, as we will likely be doing the final prioritization next week, and starting to execute DR’s then.


Goings on at SPSU

On Tuesday, I attended the first of this term’s International Forums, sponsored by the SIS department.  The speaker was Dr. Richard Friman (from Marquette University), who spoke on the subject of “Profit, Principles, and Politics:  The Complexities of Human Trafficking and the Fight Against Modern Day Slavery”.  It is indeed a complex subject, with one of the most obvious complexities being defining what human trafficking is—different groups and countries disagree, often for political reasons, which makes dealing with this issue much harder than it should be.  So, things which are considered part of human trafficking in the United States aren’t considered human trafficking in other countries (prostitution being the largest example).  I’d like to encourage more faculty to attend events like this.  There are two more International Forums coming up:  Ron Soodalter, author of “A Blight on the Nation: Human Trafficking and Slavery in America Today” will be speaking on Tuesday, March 23, at 12:30 pm; and Jennifer Swain, state coordinator of A Future, Not A Past will speak on “Innocence Lost: Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Georgia” on Tuesday, March 30 at 12:30 pm.  Both are in the Student Center Theater.


Cheaters Never Win

An article in the Chronicle this week was at the same time interesting and the most obvious thing in the world.  Entitled “Cheaters Never Win, at Least in Physics, a Professor Finds” by Jeff Young, a professor at MIT named David E. Pritchard and his team analyzed student performance on an online homework system called MasteringPhysics.com.  Not surprisingly, they found that students who cheated (as evidenced by entering answers in less than a minute—more quickly than problems could be solved) wound up performing much worse on subsequent exams than students who actually did the homework.  What surprised Pritchard was the degree of difference.  On average, the ones who cheated on their homework did two letter grades worse.  Also in the not surprising category was that the amount of cheating got worse later in the semester.  Students who were surveyed said that “time pressures” led them to copy others’ work, but more than half the students surveyed didn’t think that receiving unfair help on the homework was a big deal.  Other reasons given for cheating included that “they knew the content from high school and this was only a review”, and that “physics isn’t needed for my major”.  Pritchard also found that cheaters tended to be those who waited until the last minute to start the homework, and that they copied before even trying the problems.


As a result of this study, Pritchard changed his class to a studio-type course, where “students sit in small groups working through tutorials on computers while professors and teaching assistants roam the room answering questions, rather than a traditional lecture.  With lectures, he detected cheating on about 11 percent of homework problems, but now he detects copying on only about 3 percent of them.”


This article will probably be helpful in giving students a reality check in terms of how they view homework, and the importance of doing it.  It may also give us faculty and administrators a reality check in terms of how we view the copying of homework.




Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest on the subject of songs about trains was won by Kevin Starks, the mechanical technician in the MET department.  He is the proud winner of yet another jazz CD.  Here are the answers:


1.  Which train has “the disappearing railroad blues” in an Arlo Guthrie song? The City of New Orleans

2.  Which train do you take “From Casablanca going south, blowing smoke rings from the corners of my mouth”? The Marrakesh Express

3.  Which train is it that “She’s the fastest on the line…Rollin’ down the Seaboard line”? The Orange Blossom Special

4.  Which train has on it “a girl from Tennessee, she’s long and she’s tall”?  The Wabash Cannonball

5.  Which train goes “…bound for New Orleans.  Across the state of Texas to the land of dreams”?  The Dixie Flyer


This Weeks’s Contest

This week’s contest is on the subject of South America, and the prize is a 2-CD set by the Ventures (which have nothing that I know of to do with South America, but what the heck.)  All answers have to do with somewhere in South America.  No looking on the web, please!


1.  What two South American countries have won the most World Cups in soccer?

2.  From where in South America is the world’s most valuable postage stamp?

3.  In what South American country is Devil’s Island?

4.  What was the first major Hollywood motion picture starring Betty Grable, and also the fabulous Nicholas Brothers?

5.  What was the first time that armored vehicles (i.e., tanks) were used in a cross-border war in the Americas, and who used them?