Thursday, October 31, 2013


Friday Fragments

What the hell is going on in Pennsylvania?  This week brought news of a fourth state university campus making drastic personnel cuts, including tenured faculty and multiple degree programs.  (Clarion, Edinboro, Mansfield, and East Stroudsburg, and, presumably, counting.) If this is what “economic recovery” looks like, can you imagine what the next down cycle will bring?  

That isn’t unique to Pennsylvania, of course.  (It also isn’t unique to higher education: the Philadelphia K-12 district has taken quite a beating lately.)  Michigan and Ohio have battered their public higher ed sector pretty hard, too.  California remains in a league of its own, but still.

Changes of that magnitude are scary in themselves, but they’re made much scarier by the sense that they aren’t part of a transition plan.  It’s one thing to endure a painful shift from an older thing to a newer one; it’s quite another to just give up the older one.  

Academics as a group don’t like to use terms like this, but it’s increasingly clear that we need to look hard at the underlying business model.  


The Girl dressed as Yoda for Halloween, which I thought was an inspired choice.  She’s the perfect height for it, and the long, curly hair poking out from behind the mask gave Yoda a badly needed bit of flair.  The Boy dressed as an FBI agent, complete with dark suit, shades, and earpiece.  He looked like a younger, thinner version of Tommy Lee Jones from “Men in Black.”  

On campus, the most popular student costumes this year were characters from “Adventure Time,” especially Fiona.  There’s probably a great sociological work waiting to be written about what any given year’s popular costume reveals about changing cultural obsessions...


On the subject of Halloween, why does anybody give out Sugar Daddies?  I’ve never seen anybody buy a Sugar Daddy for himself.  They’re dreary, nobody likes them, and they’re impossible to chew.  And yet, every single Halloween, they show up reliably, along with Smarties and Sweet Tarts.

This will not do.  Think “Reese’s,” people.  Or Snickers.  Even Hershey, for heaven’s sake.  But Sugar Daddies?  Necco wafers?  Puh-leeze.

And don’t even talk to me about raisins.  I have nothing against them generally, but as Halloween treats, they’re just wrong.  


The Red Sox’ victory was especially sweet this year.  This was the year that the family visited Fenway for the first time.  We picked a great day for it; the Sox defeated the Padres on a walk-off pinch-hit home run by Jonny Gomes.  Having actually visited Fenway, it was easier to identify with the team.  I have a long history of loathing the Yankees, so rooting for the Sox came easily.  The Boy is a huge Jon Lester fan, for reasons of his own.  And coming in the year of the Marathon bombing, it was great to see Boston experience collective joy.  I saw a lot of very tired-looking faces on campus on Thursday, though.

My theory on the terrible candy question is that if one gives away terrible candy then one is not tempted to eat it. We typically eat too much of our candy before we can give it away on Halloween. This year we gave away glow sticks instead to solve that problem.

Pennsylvania governor Tom Corbett has been seriously slashing state higher education budgets. His first year, he proposed a 50% cut to the state system, though that was watered down. He has kept up the pressure, and said things like because Pennsylvania is getting mainly service and energy extraction jobs that do not require college degrees, we should not have so many universities.
I buy candy I don't like so I don't eat it. Also, i could get a really big cheap bag of bad candy (lots of tootsie rolls and dots) as backup once the good stuff was gone.
I have a daughter with a peanut allergy, so I'd like to put in a plea for fewer Reese's and Snickers... It was like every house!

(And Smarties were always my favorite thing to get trick or treating.)

You've probably seen that another of the UNC campuses is proposing something similar. Phhffft, who needs history or political science?! It isn't like we'll be doomed to repeat our past mistakes...oh, wait.
It is indeed troubling when states start contracting the offerings at their public U's. I wonder if the extent to which the states in question have opted for a high number of campuses compared to their populations enters into this dynamic. For example, Pennsylvania appears to have a pretty large number of campuses. Michigan has far fewer. And Arizona has even fewer. Is it easier for states with relatively few campuses to maintain a full complement of academic programs? or are those states undergoing program elimination too?
We transitioned to small toys from candy years ago because when I was teaching clinical chemistry, it seemed that every year the lecture came on diabetes came just in time for me to hand out pounds and pounds of chocolate to my neighborhood's kids (largely overweight and hispanic). For about 50 cents you can get all kinds of little things that kids love.

Winning treats last night were - one house where they were handing out balloon animals, playdough, and lots and lots of glow sticks.

Minecraft, Star Wars, the Avengers and X-men were well represented amongst both the girls and boys - perhaps reflecting the relative nerdiness of the neighborhood.
In my day we were fairly merciless in our scorn toward non-candy items on Halloween. This was a time for candy and all else be damned.

(I'm significantly overweight now. Draw any conclusions you wish.)

But my sons are in enthusiastic love with the cheap Kazoos and plastic spider-shaped rings that some of my neighbors handed out last night. So who knows, maybe the tide has turned on this point.

I live in western mass as well and my daughter ended up with an insane amount of Whoppers..........what kid eats those?
The Red Sox victory did make for some good conversations around cheating in our house.
I'm shocked. I figured TB would get a "Duck Dynasty" beard and wear a Red Sox uniform.

In my day, we never missed the house that had homemade popcorn balls or the one with homemade caramel apples. Yes, I'm old, and those really were good old days.

I think it is important to note that those universities are eliminating undergraduate majors in those areas, not undergraduate courses in those areas. A well-designed small university would have t-t teaching faculty in some areas and research+teaching faculty in others with equal compensation based on how well they perform their assigned duties.

I am more dismayed when the gen ed curriculum is structured for fun rather than critical thinking about the history of politics and economics in this country than one less second-rate feeder into second-rate graduate schools in fields with too many underemployed MA and PhDs.
Right, CC Physicist. A friend taught for 30 years in the Chemistry department at a directional state U (happened to be within the city limits of Chicago). His goal was to send 10 students to grad school in Chemistry over the course of his career, and it was a tough challenge. Most of the well-prepared or even moderately-prepared students were sucked up by the 3 branches of the University of Illinois. He was working with students who had big gaps in their preparation and who, if they were well-prepared, were transferring to U of I or U of I at Chicago after one or two years.
Adventure Time is unbelievably awesome. I'm just amazed that other folks have the level of taste required to discern that. Usually, when I like a show (because it is amazing), the great mass of humanity thinks it's too challenging or something.

I think it's the bright colors. That probably helps a lot.
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