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The Weekly Blab 5.15

The Weekly Blab

Volume 5, Issue 15—December 6, 2010


Home for the Holidays

It’s never easy getting a flight near Christmas.  This year was a surprise—Delta lowered its fares on Friday, so I thought I’d try to take advantage.  I also had a companion ticket, via my American Express card.  Only one problem—they had never sent me my new AMEX card, and I hadn’t noticed until now.  So, I called American Express, and they said “No problem.  We’ll UPS you a card and it will come Monday.”  I went online to order my airline tickets, and I found a new problem:  the website would only let me order them with an AMEX card, and when I put in the old number, it didn’t work.  Another phone call to American Express revealed that when they sent me a new card, they changed the number.  When I asked them for the new number, they said “It won’t help—you’ll need the security code, and we won’t know what that is until they print the card.”  I went back and forth between them and Delta, and after about 3 hours of it, Delta finally agreed to hold a reservation for me for 72 hours (though they couldn’t guarantee the fare).  All ultimately worked out, and I got the fare I wanted and the companion ticket, but it goes to show you that something that would have been simple in the old days of people being able to make decisions became impossibly complicated in today’s time of the computer.  All along the way, I ran into nothing but nice people who really wanted to help but couldn’t, due to the way the computers were programmed.  So, we’re all off to see my parents for the holidays, and all’s well that ends well.


Chelsea continues to under-perform, with a 1-1 tie with Everton, a team that was expected to be at the top of the charts, but has played badly all season.  Something unusual was that Everton’s goalie fouled one of Chelsea’s players (Anelka, who you may remember got into such trouble in the World Cup playing for France).  He deserved a red card, but lucked out and only got a yellow, and Drogba scored on the penalty.  I’ve never seen a goalie get a red card (and still haven’t, as it turned out)—if he did, they’d have to send another player off the pitch to put in a substitute goalie (since in soccer, if you’re red carded, you’re out and the team plays a man down).


And on Campus…

On Wednesday, ETCMA had its portfolio open house, where their students get to show their portfolios to an audience of faculty, friends, and family.  It was both an impressive turnout (the room was packed) and an impressive display of student work in both digital and print formats.  Well done to all the students who did so well, and to the faculty who taught them so well.


Also on Wednesday, the ALC meeting focused on several things, among them the implementation of the QEP project.  As everyone should know, the QEP involves putting new students into learning cohorts during their first semester.  New students will be taking ENGL 1101, SPSU 1001, and whatever other courses their major department specifies (usually the orientation course and perhaps some other).  Some departments are also scheduling their students into mathematics.  The logistics of how to carry out the pre-registration took up most of the time, and there was some concern of how difficult this might turn out to be.  Fortunately, we did a trial run this year in CSE and they reported that there were much fewer problems than anticipated, so I don’t think it will be to bad.  This is a reminder that departments have to schedule out the time blocks for their learning cohorts, and need to offer enough sections of SPSU 1001 to accommodate their own students.  Please support your department chair and dean as they do this—it will ultimately help our students to graduate, as is pointed out in some of the articles discussed below.


On Thursday, I taped a welcome to our online students in the online orientation for the eighth time.  Each previous time, something had gone wrong—either there wasn’t enough volume, or there was too much noise, or too much glare off my bald head.  We wanted to shoot it outside, so naturally it was quite cold and I couldn’t wear a hat or gloves.  Hopefully the eighth time is the charm, and thanks to our colleagues doing the taping for putting up with me.


Friday brought several things.  First, I met with a small delegation from Arts and Sciences.  A&S had held a meeting to discuss salary equity, and wanted to revive the Salary Equity Committee and have it consider different models for how to apply equity increases (should we ever be allowed to do them again!).  I’ve brought the matter to Pam Frinzi, who tells me she’ll make it the first item of business for the Senate in the spring.


Also, Ron Koger, Jerry Turner, and I had a conference call about the Adult Learning Grant that we just received.  This is a small grant that will allow us to hire someone to help identify students who have dropped out before completing a degree at SPSU, and work with them to complete their studies.  It’s also focused on helping transfer students and students from the military.  All are good ideas that should help improve our graduation rates.  Special thanks to Dawn Ramsey, who helped write the grant proposal.  At the end of the conference call, we were invited to participate in planning for a grant in the area of health informatics, an area we were already planning on going into in CSE.


Also on Friday, I had the pleasure of meeting with the CET Industrial Advisory Board.  We had an interesting discussion about future directions and opportunities for the department.  It was clear how proud the IAB members were of the department’s past and current successes, and how invested they were in the department’s future.



Le plus sa change…

An interesting article (unfortunately, only available to subscribers) in the Chronicle, entitled “Intellectual Proletarians in the 20th Century” illustrates the principle that the more things change, the more they remain the same.  Lots of faculty these days wish for the halcyon days of the past, but the article reminds us to be careful about what past we wish for.  At the turn of the 20th Century, faculty earned low salaries compared to other professionals, felt unappreciated in their jobs, and were objecting to being told what to do by a new class of administrative professionals.  Perhaps some of this sounds familiar…


Things Could Be Worse…

We’re about to enter another legislative session in Georgia.  What’s going on in other states?  Funny you should ask.  In New York, the relatively new Chancellor (Nancy Zimpher) convinced the Governor (David Paterson) to propose a package of regulatory reforms (“The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act”) that would allow the SUNY system to operate more independently—more control over their own tuition, purchasing, signing of leases, and entering into partnerships with industry.  This would help the system overcome some serious cuts in state appropriations (30% over three years).  These changes were opposed by the unions that represent faculty and staff members in the SUNY system, fearing that union jobs would be replaced by non-union jobs, and that tuition might be raised to levels that would be unaffordable for some students. 


So how did the legislature react?  About how you’d expect—in August, they rejected every proposal and cut the system budget by another $200 million. The Chancellor is now stepping back, and looking at scaled down approaches.


Graduation Rates

As mentioned in last week’s Blab, the attention graduation rates receive continues unabated.  For those who wonder where this attention to first-time full-time freshmen comes from, as well as whither the 6-year graduation rate and can any of this be changed, presto!  Ask and ye shall receive—the Chronicle has published an article called “A 6-Minute Primer on Advising” that does a good job of answering all such questions.  There is an alternative method of measuring graduation rates called the “Unit Record Tracking System”.   This sort of system would be good for Universities like SPSU, in that we would get “credit” for all of our students’ successes.  Unfortunately, creation of a system that would allow the government to track individual students’ academic, financial aid, and enrollment information was opposed by 62% of Americans when polled, mostly for fear of private information being able to be accessed.   Will this happen at the federal level in the future?  Time will tell.


Another article, entitled “Four Ways to Improve Advising” (also available only to subscribers) appeared in the Chronicle.  Some universities have experienced sharp improvements in their graduation rates in the past five years (at a time when 35% of university graduation rates actually declined).  What are these universities doing that is so successful?  We should all be pleased to know the answer: many of the very same things we’ve been doing at SPSU.  These include increasing advising staff and tightening up on course scheduling rules, sponsoring projects to aid retention, and placing students in small groups that take classes together.  In an approach that we might want to consider, U-Nebraska at Kearney uses computer software to look at students who are dropout risks, defined as those who are far away from home, uninvolved on campus, and first-generation college.  The advisors reach out to such students immediately—not even waiting for early warning grades, and regardless of academic performance.


Last Week’s Trivia Challenge

The winner of last week’s challenge on presidents was Greg Wiles, who got all five right.  Several people got 4 or 4.5 correct.


1.  What president also won a Pulitzer prize?  John F. Kennedy (Profiles in Courage)

2.  Who was the first president to not be reelected? John Adams (2nd president!)

3.  More presidents were born in Virginia than any other state.  What state is second? Ohio.

4.  What president served two terms, but not consecutively?  Grover Cleveland

5.  Which president fits the following facts:

  • He had the largest feet of any president (size 14!)
  • He lost all the white house china, gambling at cards
  • He was the first president to hire a speech-writer
  • At a time when the Ku Klux Klan had its highest ever membership, he supported anti-lynching bills and wanted to appoint African-Americans to federal positions.
  • He maintained a room near the Oval Office for “quick liaisons”
  • When he died, his wife would not allow an autopsy.

Warren G. Harding


This Week’s Trivia Challenge

This week’s topic is flags.  As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.


1.  What is the greatest number of stripes that the US flag has had?

2.  Which state flag looks almost the same upside down, leading to it often being hung incorrectly?

3.  What national flag is solid green in color?

4.  Which state flag contains the British Union Jack?

5.  What is the only national flag that is square in shape?