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Volume 6, Issue 7—September 25, 2011

This Week in Sports

The Red Sox debacle continues, with losses of the majority of games to last-place Baltimore.  The only saving grace is that Tampa Bay also lost.  Now the Sox are playing the hated Yankees, and dropped two out of three, winning the third in the 14th inning.  This means they are 1 game ahead for the wild card slot.  Their remaining games are against Baltimore with the Rays having to play the Yankees, which would normally bode well for their chances.  Still, considering how badly they’ve played lately, I’d say the odds are even at best.

On a positive note, Chelsea has won two more this week—in the Carling Cup third round against Fulham 4-3 on penalty kicks, and in a league game 4-1 against Swansea City (with Torres even scoring a goal before getting red-carded).  Since Manchester United only gained a draw, Chelsea is in third place, 3 points behind Manchester United and Manchester City.  The other good news is that Didier Drogba is back after his concussion, and even scored a goal.


Listen and Learn This (or Why I Love My iPhone, Part 483)

I got this cool app for my iPhone last week called MovieVault, which has on it some 1,000 old public domain movies.  The main reason I got it was that there were a bunch of Roy Rogers movies on the app, but as I was going through the listings I saw two movies from 1954 featuring Rocky Jones, Space Ranger, which I’d never seen before.  I love old science fiction, so I put one on, and I was hooked.  It turns out that there was a TV series called Rocky Jones, Space Ranger that was first aired in 1954 and ran for 39 episodes.  For the most part, three episodes made up each story, which were then edited together into a movie. 

If you’ve ever watched a TV show (especially one meant for kids) from 1954, you know you shouldn’t expect much.  TV was in its infancy, the writing was terrible, the special effects were non-existent, and shows were usually broadcast live so all that remains is a poor quality kinescope.  While the writing for Rocky Jones was pretty trite (and scientifically horrible), the rest of it was a pleasant surprise.  The shows were shot on film, so the viewing and sound quality were quite good.  The real surprise was the special effects, which were excellent for 1954.  Whenever the spaceship would take off, they’d show it in animation against a painted backdrop—both very well done.  The inside shots of the rocket were what people in the 1950’s thought the future would look like—lots of switches and oscilloscopes, with the first forward viewing screen and whooshing automatic cabin doors that we wouldn’t see again until Star Trek 15 years later. 

 Rocket Ship Take-off

The crew consisted of the all-American Rocky Jones, his comic-relief co-pilot Winky (no explanation ever given for the goofy name), ship’s navigator Vena Ray (a proto-Lt. Uhura type blonde with a mini-skirt uniform), elderly scientist Professor Newton, and a 10 year old boy named Bobby (Prof. Newton’s ward).  Rocky and Vena are shown below.

Rocky Jones and Vena

The first storyline (“Beyond the Curtain of Space”) has Rocky and Winky first meeting Vena and going on a mission to rescue Dr. Newton and Bobby from an evil ruler of another planet.  As any 1954 boy could have predicted, Rocky was reluctant to allow Vena to join the mission—after all, space was no place for a girl!  Vena puts Rocky in his place and ultimately earns his respect and a place on the crew.  In an unusual twist for 1954, the evil ruler of the other planet was also a woman, the lovely Cleolanta (a brunette whose costume consisted of a tiara and a low-cut evening gown).  Various space flights, rocket battles, and action ensues, but no person ever gets shot with a ray gun—the fighting is all done with good ol’ fisticuffs.  Did Rocky succeed and save the day?  Well, you’ll have to watch the show yourself to find out.  Several episodes are available online by searching www.archive.org, and they’re all great.  I ordered the full series of DVD’s on eBay, and I’m looking forward to seeing the rest of the series.


Changes in Promotion and Tenure Requirements, Part II

Last Thursday, we had an open forum on campus about the changes in the BoR promotion and tenure requirements and to discuss our current promotion and tenure procedures.  While it may be that this is all the result of a clerical error downtown (we’re waiting to find out), the prudent thing to do is to assume that the procedures are correct as written.  Thus, we’ll be implementing the BoR changes according to the draft document that was sent out on Sept. 16 (which most folks at the forum thought was reasonable in its approach).  Affected faculty (those going up for promotion to associate professor or for tenure who don’t have the terminal degree) can submit additional material addressing the changes in requirements to their chair.  Peer committees are asked to give them up to two additional weeks to submit these materials, and also to take them into account in committee deliberations and decisions.   Chairs, School Committees, Deans, and the VPAA should similarly extend their deadlines.  Any questions should be directed to my office.

The general discussion about promotion and tenure procedures focused on two issues—there are some contradictions in our policies regarding lecturers that the Faculty Senate has agreed to take up, and about gaining greater transparency in how decisions are made as the applications go “up the line”.  One suggestion was made that an annual recap of issues that arise in promotion and tenure cases be prepared, and distributed to the entire faculty.  It’s a good idea, and we’ll implement it starting this year.


A Straighter Line

There was an interesting article in last week’s Chronicle about StraighterLine, a company that offers online courses to students for $99 a month.  Currently, two dozen courses are offered in the areas you’d expect: first year composition, math up to calculus, social science, and business.  Current enrollment is 4,000 (compared to 1,000 last year).  StraighterLine has gotten some good ink as of late, and Carol Twigg (from the Center for Academic Transformation—her name has appeared in several previous issues of the BLAB) is on its Board.  The courses have gotten generally good reviews, and the students seem to be satisfied with what they’re getting. 

A big problem has developed for the company, however:  some of the relatively few “bricks and mortar” universities that agreed to accept StraighterLine’s courses in transfer credit have pulled out.  The list of universities accepting StraighterLine credits was never that large to begin with—it consisted of 21 universities, many of which were for-profit online universities themselves (Capella, DeVry, Kaplan).  The four partners who pulled out included Assumption College (a Catholic college in Worcester, MA), Fort Hays State University (a university in Kansas that seems to have the most liberal transfer credit policies in the US), La Salle University (a Catholic university in Philadelphia), and the University of Akron.  StraighterLine’s argues that the pullout was caused by conflict of interest—colleges are afraid that their brand will be smeared if they associate themselves with an online for-profit source.  StraighterLine is probably at least partially right about that.

I was looking to see who was left on the list of partners, and there’s a certain sameness to many of them.  They include Charter Oak State College (CT), Colorado State University Global Campus, Thomas Edison State College (NJ), and Western Governors University (4 different versions).  All of these are a relatively new innovation—units of a state university system that is aimed at adult students and offer most of their courses online.  Western Governors University is a conglomerate version of this (though aimed at all students) from several western states, and has now spread into Indiana and Texas.

The real surprise on the list to me was Granite State College.  As a New Hampshire resident for 21 years and as a former rep on the New Hampshire higher education consortium, this caught my eye because I had never heard of it before.  A quick search revealed that this was the College for Lifelong Learning under a new name, and was now offering courses both online and at small locations around the state.  They seem to be tightly affiliated with the community college system of New Hampshire (also a new name—back in 2005 when I was last there, they were called technical colleges). 

These are units of their respective state university systems, which would lend some legitimacy to StraighterLine’s courses, but it also seems that none of the more traditional units in those states (like the University of Connecticut or the University of New Hampshire) grant transfer credit to StraighterLine—at least none are on the list. 

So what’s the big deal?  StraighterLine is small, as are the places that will transfer their credits.  Should we be worried?  I’d say “yes”, for several reasons:  first, these online institutions are growing quickly.  Universities that don’t have strong online offerings will ultimately lose market share to those that do, even within their own university systems. 

Second, these institutions center around courses and programs that can easily and cheaply be taught online—core courses mostly; and degrees in business, criminal justice, the social sciences, and related areas.  These are the low cost end of the academic spectrum. Part of the reason that state universities like SPSU can offer degrees in engineering, ET, computing, etc. at relatively low prices is that their higher cost is averaged with lower cost core courses.  If students were to take their core courses at low-cost for-profit places like StraighterLine, the average cost per course at the state universities would shoot up, with no additional money to compensate.

Third, why are these courses so cheap?  First, they’ve targeted the cheaper to offer courses, as mentioned above.  Another reason is that StraighterLine (and other for-profits) use predominantly part-time faculty at low pay—faculty who also don’t get any say in StraighterLine’s policies.  So, while their course quality is good now (or at least they claim it is), for how long will that continue?

StraighterLine says it will lobby states to liberalize their transfer policies, and compel colleges to accept their credits.  Will this effort succeed?  Stay tuned…


Trivia Contest!

Last Week’s Winner

Last week’s contest focused on famous cats.  Our winner is Trish Buchanan, who was the only entrant!  She wins a Pretenders “Loose in L.A.” DVD. 

  1. What is the name of the cat in the 1st grade reader “Dick and Jane” series?  Puff
  2. What does Felix the Cat do whenever he gets in a fix?  He reaches into his bag of tricks.
  3. What is the name of Supergirl’s cat in the comic books?  Streaky
  4. What is the name of Freida’s cat in the comic strip Peanuts, and what is the cat’s most distinguishing feature? Faron.  The cat seemingly has no bones.
  5. What are the lyrics to the song “Soft Kitty” on The Big Bang Theory?  “Soft kitty, warm kitty, little ball of fur.  Happy kitty, sleepy kitty, purr, purr, purr.”


This Week’s Challenge

Hopefully, people will do better with this week’s contest, which focuses on bodies of water.  As always, the first with the most takes the swag.  No looking up the answers, now!  The winner gets a Barbra Streisand DVD.

  1. What is the largest lake in the United States?
  2. What is the longest river in Asia?
  3. What is the largest lake in Africa?
  4. What is the fifth (and last—not until 2000) ocean to be recognized by the International Hydrographic Organization?
  5. What is the name of the body of water between Finland and Sweden?