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The Weekly Blab 6.1

The Weekly Blab

Volume 6, Issue 1—August 15, 2011

 

Welcome Back!

Welcome back to all returning faculty—I hope you had an excellent summer and are ready for what will be another great year. And welcome to our new faculty. I know I’m speaking for everyone when I say that we’re glad you’re here, and are looking forward to working with you.

 

My Summer Vacation, Part 1

Each year I’m at SPSU, the summer seems to go faster and faster, and the concept of the summer being a “down-time” recedes farther into ancient history. After spring graduation, we had a whirlwind of activity.

The day after graduation, it was down to Albany Tech and Wiregrass Tech (Valdosta) with David Caudill and Jeff Ray for some signing ceremonies about our ET articulation with the technical colleges.   There’s nothing like driving through the endless vistas that are southern Georgia, but Jeff managed to not get lost and to get us everywhere on time.

Then it was off to Austin, Texas on May 23-26 to the national meeting for U-Teach. SPSU had submitted a “Race to the Top” proposal to become one of three U-Teach program implementers in Georgia, and we had to defend our proposal and answer questions from a team of U-Teach experts. Our intrepid crew consisted of George Stickel (Education program director), Alan Gabrielli (Dean of Arts & Sciences—one month ‘til retirement!), Phil Patterson (BCP Chair), Ron Dempsey (VP for Development), and me. I had never been to Austin before, and the operative quote about the city is “Keep Austin Weird”. Compared to the rest of Texas, Austin is weird indeed—a liberal city in a very conservative state, with the huge number of tattoo parlors being the most surprising feature. Even the restaurants were a little weird—my first meal in Austin was meeting Alan, Phil, and George at an Indian restaurant near the hotel, where they had Tandori chicken that wasn’t red in color. I mean really—I’m as open minded as the next guy, but that’s just going too far! The meetings and presentations went well, and we had the opportunity to see what the other “replicants” were doing in STEM education. The timing was a little tricky, because the BoR was going to vote on approval of our STEM education degrees the following week, and called several times with questions and suggested changes, all of which had to be addressed quickly. The U-Teach meetings lasted all day, but at night we could head down to the music scene (Austin is also known as the “live music capital of the world”), which is pretty much everywhere in Austin but especially on 6th Street. There are a lot of nice restaurants, especially Tex-Mex, in the area. I was surprised to learn that a lot of movies are produced in Austin too, including one of my all-time favorites, Secondhand Lions. We had to wait several weeks to find out what the outcome was, but you’ve probably heard that SPSU got the grant, which provides $1.4M in support for our Education program over the next four years. We’re the one and only polytechnic who’s a part of U-Teach. So, kudos to all involved!

 

After Austin, it was off to Orlando on June 2-4 for the national meeting of the American Democracy Project, where I was presenting a paper with Rich Halstead-Nussloch (IT). The flight was fine, and the hotel was right across the street from Sea World. You’d think that being so close to a major attraction there’d be a lot going on around there, and that the transportation network would be excellent. It’s probably a function of my own ignorance of the area, but there were surprisingly few restaurants and venues compared to other parts of Orlando, which is practically crammed with them. Also, it seems that all the roads inevitably take you onto the toll road going to the airport, usually without telling you to turn off until it’s too late. Anyway, our talk went fine (about some things on our campus, such as our students’ budget protest and our “courageous conversations” series) and it was interesting to hear what some other universities were up to, in projects that kinda reflect the political environment in their home areas. Some of the projects were relatively low key (voter drives, trying to get students involved on campus), while some campuses were doing things like putting up “democracy walls”—places where students could write their thoughts about selected topics or anything at all. Some campuses monitored their “democracy walls” and had signs up saying “no profanity or disrespectful speech” (and would take down inappropriate comments), while others let it all hang out (and were indeed rewarded with some profanity and vulgar drawings). One college put up a speakers’ corner (which took six years for the project to be completed, and not because anyone was against it). When I asked if anything would have happened if a student wanted to give a harangue in the middle of the quad, I was told “nothing much—they could do it.” Go figure. I wonder what the hoi polloi in Georgia would think of some of the more radical projects, including where activist students voted out their more traditional student councils and began projects to raise students’ consciousness, levy mandatory fees to support their poorer fellow students, become greener campuses, and provide mass transit to students.

 

George Stickel, Alan Gabrielli, and Mark Nunes (chair of ETCMA) joined me at the Board of Regents meeting on June 7. The academic affairs meeting was supposed to be at 11:30, but when we got there at 11:00, it had already happened (earlier presentations were much shorter than expected) and everyone was congratulating us on the approval of our new degree programs. All’s well that ends well, and we now had officially approved STEM education programs as well as our new B.A. in New Media Arts. While we were there, folks from the BoR asked if we’d be willing to get together with colleagues at the TCSG about forming an articulation in the area of Biotechnology, which we are currently pursuing.

 

Then, it was back to campus to do the last minute planning for the Polytechnic Summit, which was held at SPSU from June 8-10. The Summit was fantastic! About fifty different papers, panels, and workshops were presented, many by SPSU faculty and many by colleagues from around the US and around the world. About 140 people attended in all (not included students who didn’t register), which was a substantial increase from previous years. I heard nothing but praise for the quality of the talks, and several of our out-of-town and international colleagues made a point of telling us how worth-while the Summit was, and how well it showcased SPSU.   The first night gala (held at the High Museum) was absolutely wonderful, and the crossover tour at LEED Platinum certified Perkins and Will (right across the street) was terrific. The High Museum featured a set of exhibits called “Modern By Design” that tied in perfectly to the Summit, and well as an exhibit called “Digital Matter” which had a robot constructing digitally ornamented side tables. Our own SPSU students helped maintain the robot—how cool is that? Another highlight was the successful demonstration of the Rapid Engaging Blowout Emergency Capture and Control Apparatus (REBECCA, the oil well capping device developed on our campus). There are way too many people to thank for helping pull off this major event (more than 50 people were involved in one way or another), but special thanks go to Dawn Ramsey (who is one of the best persons I’ve ever run into when it comes to logistics), Bobby Burke, Ann Lay, and Cindi Knight for all their behind the scenes work. 

Then, it was down to Jekyll Island on June 12-14 for the Adult Learning Consortium meeting. It’s a long trek to Jekyll Island, and I really didn’t want to drive on I-16, which is the most boring road in the known universe. So, intrepid wife Jill, intrepid son Mark, and I piled in the car and went down the badly marked Golden Isles parkway (otherwise known as more-or-less back roads) instead, with the temperature passing 100 at various points on the way. It’s about a 7-hour trip through small town Georgia, which is actually rather interesting in places and quite dull in others. I think we stopped at every ice cream stand along the way. SPSU is a member of the adult learning consortium, which is a group of Georgia universities led by Valdosta State dedicated to developing appropriate procedures for prior learning assessment (PLA).   Ultimately, this process will allow adult students and students from the military to more efficiently complete college degrees and obtain credit for their prior learning experiences. Several SPSU faculty and staff attended the conference, and subsequently have taken the first of several online courses on how do carry out PLA assessments. While on Jekyll, Alan Gabrielli and I did a phone interview with the Atlanta Business Chronicle using my iPhone as a speakerphone. Ain’t technology grand?   Then it was a mad dash back to Marietta on the 14th, getting here a little later than my parents, who were on their annual swing from Las Vegas to Syracuse, NY via Houston (where my sister lives) and Marietta. After a day or two of paperwork in the office, it was off to North Myrtle Beach, SC for a week of family vacation.

 

Part Two of the summer recap will appear in next week’s BLAB.

 

The New Normal

Something we’ll be talking a lot about this year is “The New Normal” for universities. You really can’t pick up a newspaper these days without reading a rant about how universities cost too much (or waste too much money), need more accountability, and need to enroll and graduate more students. Such a series (six parts!) about the USG appeared in the Atlanta Journal Constitution this past month, leveling a range of criticisms—some fair enough, some quite unfair.   Similar articles have appeared all around the country.

 

As it turns out, this year’s AASCU VPAA’s meeting (July 27-29 in Portland, OR—more about this next week) focused on this very thing, with a number of rather disturbing talks. The consensus of opinion is that universities are facing the perfect storm:

  • State support is continuing to drop, and will never come back to former levels
  • The number of students needing to attend college will need to rise substantially—more than 50%. Without at least some college, it will be difficult to remain consistently employed.
  • Increasing percentages of students will come from financially poorer families and poorer towns, which on average translates into poorer preparation for college.
  • Graduation rates will need to increase substantially—the national average (about 40%) is unacceptably low.

 

A provocative and interesting (though very long) paper by William H. Graves entitled “Waste Not the Learning Productivity Crisis: Transforming Educational Opportunity into Educational Assurance” makes this argument, and provides a number of potential solutions as well as case studies of universities that have responded successfully (in his opinion) to these challenges.   Graves, who now works for SunGard Higher Education Inc., worked for 30 years at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, as a professor, dean, interim vice chancellor, and chief information technology officer. The paper is well worth reading, if for no other reason than to see what stuff might be coming down the pike.

 

I’ll make some extended comments about this paper in the next BLAB (to give all y’all time to read it, don’tcha know), but the central premise is that by using online technology, we can deliver courses to greater numbers of students at lower cost and with better outcomes. The bottom line is that faculty need to focus much less on content delivery (which he argues can be done online in large section sizes with relatively little faculty behind-the-scenes support) and more on the “high-touch” aspects of interacting with students. Making these changes will allow universities to lower the costs of instruction. He lays out some pretty out there global goals (which, if actually implemented, I hope I’ll retire ahead of). I’m pretty certain that politicians of every stripe are reading this, and our funding ultimately will be affected by it.

 

The Globalization of Anger

If you think this has been a singular year for focused and unfocused anger around the world (the Arab Spring, the financial panics, the debt ceiling debate, the rioting in Britain, etc.) and wonder why it’s all happening now, Thomas Friedman (of The World is Flat fame) has a suggestion that I think not only hits the nail on the head, but ties into the “New Normal” discussion above. The article appeared on yesterday’s op-ed in the New York Times, and is called “A Theory of Everything (Sort Of)”. It concludes:

 

We are increasingly taking easy credit, routine work and government jobs and entitlements away from the middle class — at a time when it takes more skill to get and hold a decent job, at a time when citizens have more access to media to organize, protest and challenge authority and at a time when this same merger of globalization and I.T. is creating huge wages for people with global skills (or for those who learn to game the system and get access to money, monopolies or government contracts by being close to those in power) — thus widening income gaps and fueling resentments even more.

Put it all together and you have today’s front-page news.

 

New Year, New Trivia Contests!

We start the new year off with a trivia contest focusing on the greatest male vocalist of all time—Frank Sinatra. The first person emailing me with the correct answers wins a Chris Botti concert DVD from the vast Szafran duplicate vault. No cheating by looking this stuff up on the web!

 

1. In what musical movie did Frank Sinatra star alongside Marlon Brando?

2. In what city was Frank Sinatra born?

3. For whose big band did Frank Sinatra originally sing (before he became a solo act)?

4. For what movie did Frank Sinatra win an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor?

5. Most people have forgotten that Frank Sinatra used his fame as a strong force in favor of racial integration in the 1940’s and 1950’s. He even appeared in a short film and sang a song hit that called for equality and tolerance. What was the film/song’s title? The film won a special Oscar and a special Golden Globe.