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The Weekly Blab 5.11

The Weekly Blob

Volume 5, Issue 11—November 1, 2010


Things Turn Colder

In honor of Halloween, I’m re-titling the Blab into the Weekly Blob—so beware!  There was apparently some confusion as to which night Halloween is—it actually fell on Sunday night, but since that was a school night, a lot of places had it on Saturday night.  Maybe because of that, we hardly got any trick-or-treaters at all!


We finally are getting some fall weather.  Last night, I actually had to turn on the heat in the house.  Of course during the day it still got up to 76, and I had to have the air conditioner on in the car.  Thus is Georgia.  Chelsea continues its winning ways, with a 2-1 win over Blackburn.  Unfortunately, Manchester United won as well, so it’s still a 5-point lead.


The Week in Review

This was crazy week, with lots of stuff back to back.


Monday and Tuesday, a visiting team from ABET was on campus earlier this week to review our degree program in Construction Engineering.  Since ABET does not accredit programs until after they have produced their first graduate, Construction Engineering is the first of our new engineering programs to undergo review.

Our Construction Engineering Faculty, led by Associate Dean Tom Currin and Program Director Ilseok Oh and supported by their colleagues in Construction Management and in the Core disciplines, did an outstanding job preparing for the visit.  The visiting committee was engaged, and offered several useful suggestions.  The official word on the outcome of the review will come in August 2011.  We’ll share the results as soon as we know them.  


Wednesday was crazy day.  It began with a meeting with Tim Zeigler and Carlos Ortiz from CET and Dean Bill Barnes (ACC).  The department is revamping its curriculum, and splitting out two new degree programs that we’ll be sending downtown when they’re finished—Structural Engineering Technology and Environmental Engineering Technology.  We’ll be meeting with the Biology faculty early this week to coordinate the latter with the proposed Environmental Science program.   Right after the meeting, it was a mad dash downtown for a meeting of the Atlanta Regional Consortium for Higher Education (ARCHE).  It was interesting to see what some of our fellow universities thought of various issues, and we were also looking for ways that we could work more closely together.  The main thoughts were that we could do some joint undergraduate research (and maybe apply for some grants together), and that we might want to do some regional programming around the theme of sustainability, which is an issue on all of our campuses. 


Then, back to SPSU for a meeting with Lisa with a Chinese delegation from Hangzhou (a beautiful city about an hour from Shanghai that I visited way back in 1999).  The Chinese have a saying about the city:  “In heaven there is paradise, on earth there is Hangzhou”.  The visitors were interested in SPSU’s applied programs, and the visit ended with photographs and an exchange of gifts.  At 2:00, we had a brief ALC meeting where the main topic of discussion was implementing the QEP. 


At 3:00, I gave a quick greeting to the students being inducted into Alpha Chi and their parents.  Alpha Chi, for those who don’t know, is a national honor society for junior and senior students in the top 10% of their class.  Mark Stevens (ETCMA) does a great job coordinating this group.  I had to dash, because at 3:30, it was down to Atlanta again for the USG’s second state-wide Diversity Summit.  SPSU’s team consisted of Ron Koger (VP), Mary Ellen McGee (HR), Jeff Orr (ATTIC), Jeff Ray (Dean of ETM), Sonia Toson (CM), and me.  Lisa was also there for part of the conference.  The theme of the conference was “Courageous Conversations”, to encourage discussions on diversity on all campuses.  After opening remarks by Executive Vice Chancellor Dr. Susan Herbst and Chancellor Erroll Davis, the keynote speaker was Dr. Thomas Sugrue (Professor of History and Sociology at UPenn), who gave a historical perspective and much economic information about the graduation rates, educational attainment, and economic status of various ethnic groups.  I ran into several colleagues who had worked with us at SPSU over the past few years at the conference, including Sandra Stone (now VPAA at Dalton State), Margaret Venable (now VP and CEO of the Oconee campus at Gainesville State), and Al Panu (now acting VPAA, also at Gainesville State).  Obviously, hobnobbing with us at SPSU is a critical element on the road to success! Got home at 9:30, and promptly fell asleep.


At 7:30 AM on Thursday, it was back to Atlanta for the rest of the Summit.  There were two more keynote speakers, Glenn Singleton (from Pacific Educational Group, Inc., who spoke on “Courageous Conversations: Models and Strategies for Implementation”) and Dr. Layli Maparyan (Assoc. Prof.,Women’s Studies and African-American Studies, Georgia State) who spoke on the topic “Beyond Race:  What’s Next?  Intersectional and Spiritual Approaches to Identity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Transformation.”  There was also a student panel from Georgia College and State U., being interviewed by Susan Herbst about their impressions about diversity on campus.


The conference ended about 4:00 PM, so it was quickly back to campus for a 4:30 meeting and then giving a welcome at a dinner at 6:30 at the Marietta Fish Market for the Reliable and Autonomous Computational Science (RACS) conference being held at SPSU.  Our own Chih-Cheng Hung (CSWE) was the local arrangement chair for the conference, and from all accounts, did a great job.  For those who don’t know (and I sure didn’t until I read a few papers on the subject), autonomous computing is a very big area in CS these days, since so much of the world operates by one computer exchanging information with another and allowing various things to happen, without human involvement (that’s the autonomous part).  The computers have to “trust” each other, else how could they exchange information, which make reliability and security big issues.  It was interesting talking to some of the bigwigs in the field, and reminiscing about my own old days with computing, back when an 8K job was so large it could only run overnight on the state mainframe.  Now, my cell phone has more computing power than the state of South Carolina did when I was a grad student.  The dinner was excellent, with huge portions as is normal for a restaurant owned by the same folks as the Marietta Diner.


Friday started at the dentist, where my crowns still didn’t fit right, so I’ll have to go back for a third time.  It’s annoying, but I’d rather have them care enough to make me come back and do it right than if they just had said “good enough”.   The Academic Integrity Committee met at 1 PM, finishing up a flow-sheet for the process and some draft educational materials for students and faculty teaching SPSU 1001 (see below).  At 2:30, I met with Rich Halstead-Nussloch, who is delivering a workshop on e-Citizenship at an AASCU meeting.  We’ve done a number of things on e-Citizenship at SPSU, some planned, some serendipitous, with the result that there’s a lot to say.  We got together to video a talk between myself and Andy Coen (last year’s student government president), about how the students used Facebook, email, and the media to organize and protest the budget cuts last year, an example of e-Citizenship at its finest.


When You’re Not There…

Thursday was also the day of the Faculty Meeting, which as most of you know I wasn’t at due to being at the Diversity Conference. I was glad to hear that the faculty voted to endorse the students’ Honor Code.  I’ve also heard that some folks were concerned that the upcoming process for dealing with cheating and plagiarism might impinge on the faculty’s academic freedom.  I’d like to make a few comments about this topic.


First, the draft report from the Committee is now finished, and can be read here.  The first several sections deal with the charge to the committee and the Honor Code, but the parts you’ll want to pay close attention to are Sections V-IX, which have the procedures themselves.  As promised, we’ll be having some open forums in the near future to discuss the draft, and allow faculty to express any concerns. 


Quite a few faculty worked for several months on this document, and I think they’ve delivered an excellent report.  They were very careful to preserve the faculty’s academic freedom in several ways:

  • First, it is the professor that makes the determination of whether a student’s actions rise to the level of academic misconduct.  If so, then the process is invoked.  If not, the professor may settle the concern informally with the student.
  • Second, the penalty guidelines are just that, guidelines, and they’re reasonably broad. Professors may impose penalties either less or more severe than the guidelines suggest. (In the case of less severe penalties, the department head may want to know why, and in the case of more severe penalties, the student can appeal.  That’s not a change—this can happen under our current process.)
  • Third, because a penalty within the guidelines cannot be appealed by the student on the basis of harshness, the administrative load on faculty caused by appeals will be reduced.
  • Fourth, the process introduces an objective mechanism for determination of fact if the student denies a faculty member's allegation, and it’s a one step process directly to the Honor Council, further reducing the burden on the faculty.  (In the past, faculty always went through such cases at least twice, with department chair and dean, and sometimes a third time at the vice presidential level.)
  • Finally, the process provides a mechanism for keeping the results of cases following this process, and a means for escalating the punishment for repeat offenders.  This escalation is automatic—the faculty member need only treat every case as if it were a first offense.


The committee looks forward to the faculty’s input in the upcoming open forums.  If you’d like to see some of the draft educational materials for students, click here.


As mentioned above, the theme of the Diversity Summit was “Courageous Conversations”.  An interesting question is: “Why does a conversation about diversity have to be courageous?”  A lot of folks (maybe even most) are uncomfortable talking about issues related to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and so on.  I remember when I was growing up, it was well understood that polite people didn’t discuss these things.  Many people still feel that way.  There’s risk of being misunderstood.  There’s risk of being labeled.  There’s risk of being disagreed with.


What’s more, while some people think that we don’t talk anywhere near enough on these subjects, others think we almost never stop talking about them.  How is this possible?  In part, it depends on which side of the conversation you’re on.   When you’re part of the minority, feeling your voice hasn’t been heard, it seems like we haven’t talked enough.  When you’re part of the majority, feeling blamed for actions of your own or your ancestors, it can seem like we’ve talked too much. 

Almost all of us are living combinations of being in the majority on some things and being in the minority on others, so we’re on both sides of the conversation at various times.  For example, I’m in the majority in the US with regard to race, but in the minority with regard to religion.  It’s also relative to where you are—when I’m visiting Israel, I’m in the majority in both, but when I’m visiting China, I’m in the minority in both.  Richard Pryor said something interesting in one of his concert films, when he was telling about visiting Africa in 1982.  He described seeing black police and black criminals, black government leaders and black janitors, and he said that he relaxed in places he never knew he was tense.  Many of us have experienced this kind of feeling.

You’d think that being combinations of majority and minority would give us some insight into other peoples’ thinking and feelings, but it often doesn’t.   People in the majority tend to regard what they’re used to as “normal” and “right” and tend to resent changes to those things, seeing them as “special treatment” for others.  I saw a nice quote the other day:  “The special treatment I want due to my race is the same treatment you already receive due to yours.” 

In the academic world, I truly believe that most of us try to be fair.  In many cases, though, fair isn’t actually fair.  I’ll give you an example.  In my past life as Dean and then VPAA, I’ve had occasion to see lots of faculty evaluations that had space for student written comments.  Something interesting is that in many cases, evaluations of female faculty talk about how well dressed (or not) they are, and how nurturing (or not) they are.  Evaluations of male faculty never talk about clothes, and usually talk about how demanding (or not) they are.  Differing expectations show up in less overt ways on numerical evaluations.  So, even if we use the evaluation results in exactly the same way for male and female faculty for promotion and tenure, the result is not necessarily fair because men and women are evaluated differently by students.

We’re about to embark on a series of faculty searches.  I’ll be talking to the Deans about how we might broaden our pool of finalist candidates to promote greater diversity.  This may wind up being a courageous conversation, but it’s one we will have.


Letter from Tajikistan

As some of you know, Prof. Omar Zia (ECET) is currently on a Fulbright in Tajikistan.  I’ve gotten a few emails from him, and thought I’d share some of what he wrote (edited a little for length and clarity):


Other than teaching two courses, one for those who are at their last year of studies and are writing their thesis and the other for regular undergrad students, I am also involved in a project funded by the European Union (EU) on wind energy. It so happened that there was a seminar organized by this university, funded by the EU, where representatives from all Central Asian countries were presented.  I was given an opportunity to present a talk about state of wind energy in the USA and the world, and some of the projects that I have done for NASA.


Two of the participants liked it so much that I got invitations from them to their countries.  One is Kazakhstan and the other my old country Afghanistan. If I want and my schedule allows me, Fulbright is ready to fund the trip.


On Sunday, I got a follow-up email:

This is Omar Zia, this time from Kazakhstan. As I informed you some time ago, at the invitation of a University in Pavlodar, Kazakhstan, Fulbright authorities funded my one-week travel to that city to deliver lectures to faculty and students of that university. 

That is what I have been doing all this week. It so happens that at the beginning of any presentation, I talk about SPSU, its mission, programs etc.  In the presentation I had for the faculty, almost all of the University's authorities were present. At the end of my presentation, the vice president of the University invited me and the Dean of the School of Engineering to her office.  She asked me if SPSU was open to any relationship with foreign universities.  I told her what I knew about Germany, China and others. She wanted to know if there was a possibility of some kind of relationship with them. What they liked most of all about us, is our mission, “ ... providing hands-on and application oriented education...”


The University’s name is the “Innovative University of Eurasia” (www.ineu.edu.kz).  It is a semi-private university, located in the city of Pavlodar, which is way north, close to the border of Russia.  It has 10,000 students, offering BS and MS degrees in Engineering, Management, Finance, Architecture, etc.  They claim to have a practical-oriented education too.  Both the administration and the students are very much open to our way of doing things.  Everywhere there are signs in English, a lot of English classes, and joint programs with universities in Germany, France, and the UK.  Their students are eager to do their higher education in the States.  Most of the students come from rich families and can afford to study abroad. Already two students are signed up to apply for our Graduate Program.


The Vice President, the daughter of the main owner of the University, talked about finding a way to regularly send their students to our University for graduate degrees. She talked about inviting appropriate individuals from SPSU to visit their University and vice versa.


Thank you, and hope you and everybody at SPSU are doing great.



Election is Coming

Get out and vote on Tuesday, if you haven’t already!


Something to Think About

While looking on the web at the various lists of the “Seven Wonders of the World”, I came across a list of the “Seven Blunders of the World”, first compiled by Mohandas Gandhi, and well worth thinking about in this political season.  They are:

  • Wealth without work
  • Pleasure without conscience
  • Knowledge without character
  • Commerce without morality
  • Science without humanity
  • Worship without sacrifice
  • Politics without principle



Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s topic for trivia was the TV show “The Addams Family”.   The winner was Mark Vickrey (SIS), with all five correct.


1.  On what is the television show based?  Charles Addams’ cartoons in the New Yorker

2.  What is Morticia’s favorite plant?  Cleopatra, her African strangler

3.  What is the name of Wednesday’s favorite doll, and what did Pugsley do to her? Marie Antoinette.  Pugsley beheaded her.

4.  What was Morticia’s sister’s name? Ophelia Frump

5.  In the show’s credits, who played “Thing”?  Itself


This Week’s Trivia Contest

This week’s contest is on the United Nations.  First respondent with the most answers wins the goods!


1.  What earlier organization did the U.N. replace?

2.  In what US city was the organizing conference for the U.N. held (where the Charter was written)?

3.  Who are the five permanent members of the U.N.?

4.  Who was the first secretary general of the U.N.?

5.  Which of the six original principal agencies of the U.N. has ceased operations, and why?