The Weekly Blab
Volume 4, Issue 3—October 27, 2009
Please note that there are several embedded links in case you want to read more on a particular subject.
Good Stuff This Week:
Here’s a long-standing tradition that apparently a lot of faculty don’t know about: Goat Night. Each year, SPSU has an inter-fraternity/sorority competition that is also the lead-in to the basketball season called Goat Night. The name derives from the fact that (I’m told) SPSU’s property at one time in the past was a goat farm, and the admin building was the location of the goat shed. At some point in the past, an enterprising student put a goat in the dean’s office, and a legend was born.
Anyway, the competition consisted of designing some banners, a taco/slushie eating contest, a skit competition, and a dance competition between six fraternities and three sororities. The latter three events were held on Wednesday night to an absolutely packed student center auditorium. The rowdy crowd was also entertained by Dan Ahdoot, an Iranian/Jewish comedian who I’ve seen before on the Jay Leno Show on TV. Judging was provided by several faculty and staff members. Several of our students can really down the food (one student reminded me of John Blutarski in Animal House); the skits were generally pretty ehh and the goats not all that cooperative (yes—there are live goats); and the dance routines were imaginative and quite good. Who knew that so many SPSU students could dance? All in all, a cool event.
Issue to Consider: Treatment of Adjuncts
Something interesting appeared earlier this week in the Chronicle about adjunct faculty. Treatment of part-time faculty is a big issue these days, with various organizations being formed to lobby for adjuncts.
Treatment of adjuncts has been a contentious issue for a long time—I remember first coming across it at my first college, where some faculty were trying to pass a resolution that adjuncts teaching more than 6 hours a semester should be paid proportionate to full time rates. The then current policy mandated full time proportionate pay at 9 hours, so as a department chair I wasn’t allowed to hire adjuncts for more than 6 hours, since the administration at the college didn’t want to pay them at full time rates. If I remember the outcome correctly, the resolution didn’t pass, since most faculty realized that the administration would change the rule so that we couldn’t hire anyone for more than 3 hours, thereby making the adjuncts actually lose money, since their teaching loads would be cut in half.
The argument generally comes down to this: adjuncts argue “we deserve more money” and administrators argue “we don’t have more money”, and the faculty argue “if we have more money, let’s hire full-time faculty”. The Chronicle article is unusual in that it really doesn’t argue about money—it argues (rightfully, in my opinion) about inclusion. While full-time faculty will always be the arbiters of the direction a department takes, including the part-time faculty in department meetings (which also means having the meetings at a time that part-timers can participate) seems obvious. There really isn’t any easy answer to the money part of the argument—adjunct pay will always be considerably less than full-time pay—but we can certainly take steps to make sure we treat adjunct faculty with courtesy and respect, that we are inclusive, and that we offer opportunities for advancement. Many departments at SPSU do these things, and have derived value by having done so. We have a pretty good track record of taking part-timers who want to teach more and when the opportunity arises, making them full-time temps and then ongoing faculty (be it lecturers or tenure track)—several faculty have moved down this path in the relatively short time I’ve been here. So, I think SPSU is ahead of many in this regard. I’m curious as to what our part-time faculty think, and welcome their views.
Issue to Consider: Political Diversity
Another thing that appeared for the umpteenth time this week in the Chronicle related to Political Diversity. Every so often (and this has occurred both in Georgia while I’ve been here and in New Hampshire when I was there), someone notices that that majority of faculty are liberal, and argues that this affects what goes on in the classroom and that our students are being indoctrinated—thus, we need political diversity. The USG actually did a survey of students about this a few years ago (in response to a legislative request, if I recall correctly), and the result was overwhelming that students did not feel that they were being indoctrinated and didn’t think that the faculty were biased. One interesting outcome of the survey was that students didn’t like being questioned or talking about why they believed what they did, especially by other students. This is an interesting problem, because critical thinking is supposed to be all about questioning beliefs and supplying cogent arguments and proof.
Another version of this argument is that since faculty tend to be liberal, conservatives can’t get hired at universities, thus propagating a liberal faculty. Back in the day, I was asked (at the request of a New Hampshire legislator) about the politics of the most recent faculty we had hired. I was only aware of one faculty member’s politics (because we had discussed such things at lunch and I had heard him on the radio), and he was a Republican. With the other new hires, I had no idea since it had never come up in the interview process or at any time thereafter. I suppose one can sometimes tell someone’s politics from publications in certain fields (silly example: if a political scientist wrote a paper entitled “Why I love Karl Marx”, one might presume he/she was a Marxist), but that sort of evidence is rare in curriculum vitae I have seen. And I’ve never heard the first syllable of any argument saying “don’t hire this person—their politics are too conservative (or have politics come up at all, for that matter)”. If your experiences have been different, I’d be interested in hearing about them.
So why do these articles keep popping up? I think it’s because we look at an increasing number of things in a political way, and assume that everything must be (secretly, at least) political. Also, pretty much all surveys indicate that faculty are predominantly liberal. So, if conservatives aren’t being discriminated against, why aren’t there more of them in academia? The best explanation I can come up with is that the academic life, with its relatively bad pay and relatively good job security attracts people who are motivated by job security and who are relatively unmotivated by pay, and those people tend to be liberal. We’ll see if the current recession changes this in any way.
This Week’s Trivia Contest:
This week’s trivia contest (which can net you yet another Jazz CD) requires you to answer the following questions related to newspaper comics. No peeking on the web now! The person with the most correct answers takes the prize.
1. By what other name is the Phantom known?
2. What famous comic strip creator absolutely hated the name of his strip?
3. What was Dick Tracy’s girlfriend’s name?
4. What comic strip’s name is based on the names of two philosophers?
5. What was Blondie’s maiden name?
Last Week’s Contest:
The answers to last week’s contest were:
1) Americans are superstitious of the number 13. What number are Italians superstitious of, and why? Italians are superstitious about the number 17. In Roman numerals, this is XVII, which is an anagram of VIXI, meaning “I lived” (i.e., I’m dead).
2) What common word, other than “orange”, has no word that rhymes with it? Hint—it is also a color. The word is “silver”. A common wrong answer was “purple” which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, has two words (both uncommon) that rhyme with it.
3) What is the female equivalent of the word “fraternal”? Sororal. Same relationship as fraternity and sorority.
Our winner was John Wiles of IET, whose vast trivia knowledge earned him a Chet Baker CD.