Thursday, April 25, 2013


Friday Fragments

I read yesterday that the wait list for California community colleges is now about 450,000.  That would be roughly three quarters of the population of Vermont.  


I know it’s dangerous to read too much into comments, but I was struck at the disparity between two Chronicle articles on the same day.  An article about colleges cutting hours for adjuncts to dodge the obligation for providing health insurance under the Affordable Care Act had over 80 comments, most of which were livid.  The article that ran alongside it, on the very same day, about the fiscal challenges that the next generation of college presidents face had no comments at all.  

The two subjects are connected.  In fact, I’d go so far as to say that getting angry about the first one without acknowledging the reality of the second one is missing the point.  As long as a lack of spending occasions outrage, but a lack of revenue occasions only a shrug, we aren’t going to get anywhere good.


The rubber chicken circuit has hit its annual late Spring peak.  It’s mostly a blessing.  Each event is wonderful in itself, and it’s always heartening to see hard-working people bask in a well-earned opportunity to reflect on what they’ve achieved.  The cumulative time commitment is a real issue for a parent, though.  When you combine music lessons and lacrosse and baseball practices with PTO meetings, end-of-year celebratory dinners, and performances, I start to understand why relatively few people with school-age children do these jobs.


Why don’t most cell phones allow calling over wi-fi?  Where I live and work, the options for good cellular coverage amount to either Verizon or not bothering, and Verizon is expensive.  It seems like it shouldn’t be all that difficult technically, since voice is just another kind of data.  


Judging by the solar systems on display at The Girl’s science fair, the planetary status of Pluto remains very much in question.  The styrofoam-balls-on-wires displays were evenly divided between including Pluto and excluding Pluto.

For my money, include Pluto.  It’s already cold and isolated; attacking its pride just seems mean.  If we teach constellations, which are entirely imaginary, then we can certainly grandfather Pluto.

Thank you for making the case against constellations. They are completely arbitrary.

That article from The Chronicle made me sad. Our college is in a terrible budget crisis in large part because the state keeps yanking funding. That same state issued an edict, which we can't control and must comply with, that says we can't hire part-time people more than 29 hours/week due to the health insurance issue. We are entirely at the state's whim through all of this. But read the comments, and the bad guys are all higher ed administrators, not clueless lawmakers and rule-setters at the state level.
Pluto is an adjunct planet, occupying a no-man's-land between full planethood and mere asteroidship.
Skype and other voice-over-IP providers do have apps for cell phones -- just search "VOIP app" or "video conference app."

I used one of these called "Qik" to video call people from the hospital when my daughter was born, and then noticed about 10 cell phone commercials in which the characters do the same thing. As far as I know, these will happily operate over WiFi even if you don't have a cellular connection
Our college operates on a fraction of what a state university gets per undergrad, yet the state university complains that it isn't getting enough. It gets more at our expense, yet no one dares complain.

If funding per freshman and sophomore were the same across the system, we could afford health care for adjuncts and have more full-time faculty while the university would still be using adjuncts to teach freshmen.
Our college operates on a fraction of what a state university gets per undergrad, yet the state university complains that it isn't getting enough.

That is because the overhead costs of having research at your school are astronomical. Imagine if your faculty were given $1 million on hire to build a lab at your school. This happens routinely in the UC system in the sciences and $200,000 is common at the CSU level. Schools pay out that money because admin overhead is supposed to "pay it back to the school" when grants come in. But if your grants are from NSF or Howard Hughes the overhead doesn't even come close to covering just the admin costs of your grant not to mention the facilities costs incurred when you have things like animal facilities, P3 rooms for infectious organisms etc.

In California, without some kind of property tax reform (where commercial properties start paying full freight for their value) I can't see things getting better in the near term.

As for Pluto - it is not a planet - the kids who included it had old texts with inaccurate info. Talking about why that is so is a good way of introducing people to the way scientists make decisions about "facts". Reminds me I have to buy some science books for my kid's classroom to help keep them up to date!
I understand all of that Ivory, but the taxpayers and their elected minions seem to think "per student" means those dollars show up in the classroom. They probably also think their tuition is going to the classroom as well.

Money in direct support of research should be appropriated as such and not included in "per student" spending claims.
Dean Dad, here is a story for your "nothing special" college file:

Are Bachelor's Degrees Worth It?

Money in direct support of research should be appropriated as such and not included in "per student" spending claims.

Don't hold your breath. No one wants to think about the real costs of research - if you look at actual dollars spent on instruction, the state school probably does have less money than your CC. If per student funding were reported based on $$ spent in the classroom, high schools would be the hands down winners in the funding game.
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