February 10, 2014


Volume 8, Issue 23 – February 8, 2014


All My Loving/Birthday

Happy birthday to my father, Daniel, who was 87 years old on Saturday.  And happy birthday to my son, Mark, who turned 30 on Sunday.  It’s hard to imagine either of them being so old!


All Together Now

Organizational Working Group #20 (Faculty Credentials, Rosters, Workloads, and Pay) and #22 (Promotion, Tenure, and Faculty Development) met for the first time last Thursday.  My co-chair, Ron Matson and I had decided to rearrange things a little bit, moving faculty evaluation from OWG #20 to #22 (after all, how does one get at promotion and tenure without having it align with evaluation) and splitting OWG #20 into two parts–#20A, dealing with credentials, rosters, and other mainly administrative functions, and #20B, dealing with workloads and pay issues.  Everyone at the first meeting thought that was a reasonable set of rearrangements.

The first meeting was mainly to meet each other, to describe the changes and why we made them, and to talk in general terms about how we would carry out our work in the future, what the main deliverables are, and what the timelines will be.  We decided that given the great interest we think faculty (and others) will have in OWG #20B and #22’s issues, members are encouraged to talk to folks on their campuses, listen to their ideas and concerns and bring them back to the committees, and share what happens in the committee meetings.  As you may have guessed, the issues associated with workload and pay differences seemed to garner the most interest.  We will gather and report these data honestly and impartially, including any differences in how we do summer pay (which was asked about at the meeting), and quantify what it will take to bring salaries and workloads into equity with each other.  A brief discussion of promotion and tenure issues also took place, with everyone agreeing that faculty need to be given appropriate time and support to meet any enhanced requirements (if any are adopted), and that we would be very mindful not to cause harm to current tenure-track faculty.  As mentioned last week, I’ll give an unofficial report of my impressions of these meetings in the BLAB.  I assume that the official reports will be posted/shared in some way as well.

Here are the SPSU members of each of the OWG’s, other than myself:

#18: Retention, Progression, and Graduation (RPG):

Bob Harbort, Sarah Holliday, Jeff Orr, Dawn Ramsey, Jessica Williamson and  C.J. Brown (student)

#20A: Faculty Credentials, Rosters

Crystal McClure, Debbie Patrick, Pete Rorabaugh, Tom Rotnem, Becky Rutherfoord

#20B: Workloads, Pay

Austin Asgill, Terry Carter, Greg Conrey, Valmiki Sooklal, Tsai-Tien Tseng

#21: Faculty Honors and Awards

Rich Halstead-Nussloch, Debbie Patrick, Kisa Ranasinghe

#22: Promotion, Tenure, and Faculty Development

Don Ariail, Al Churella, Tom Currin, Adrienne King, Becky Rutherfoord

Please share any comments, ideas, and concerns with any of our members or with me.  These are critical areas, and your comments will help us get things right.



I’m Happy Just to Dance With You

On Thursday at 7:30 PM, I had the pleasure of attending Step Afrika!, one of our Cross-Cultural Conversations Committee events.  Step Afrika! is the first professional dance company focused on the tradition of stepping, a polyrhythmic form of dance that’s popular among black fraternities and sororities.  The 75 people were in the audience were treated to quite an event—the nine dancers, six male and three female, were all fantastic, performing multiple forms of American stepping as well as South African gumboot and Zulu dances.  They even invited some members of the audience to join them—volunteers included several SPSU students, and two audience member children.  After a little instruction, they acquitted themselves quite well.

After teaching my Inorganic Chemistry class on Friday morning, I mentioned to the students that Step Afrika! would be conducting a workshop at 1:30 PM that afternoon, and I would be participating.  Morbid curiosity (was the world ready to see their prof dance?) drew four of my students there, who joined about two dozen others and me in learning the basics of stepping.  I quickly learned that stepping is a young person’s game—the ol’ body doesn’t move that fast or keep to the rhythm any longer!  After about 30 minutes I gave up and watched the rest.  It was a lot of fun for everyone.

Next up, on Friday February 14 at 8:30 AM in the Ballroom, SPSU will be hosting a mini-conference on “Globalizing the Future: Infusing International Perspectives on Contemporary China Across the Curriculum” presented by the University of Pittsburgh Asian Studies Center.  There will be lots of interesting talks, including “China’s Governance Challenges”, “The River and the Air Runs Black” and “From Mao to Now”.  I think it’s completely full, but if you ask Raj Sashti really nicely, he may be able to squeeze you in.

On Wednesday, February 19 at noon in the Design II Auditorium, the SIS Department is sponsoring an International Forum, Crisis I—Cuba, a talk given by KSU’s Dr. Ernesto Silva.  Then at 6:00 PM on February 20 in the Student Center Ballroom, we’ll be hosting Great Britain Consul General  Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford as part of our International Issues series.  There will also be a reception at 5:30 PM, and you’re invited to come to that too.

Rounding things out for February, we have a major author—Adrian Miller, the author of “Soul Food: The Surprising Story of an American Cuisine, One Plate at a Time” will appear at SPSU at 6:00 PM, February 27, in the Student Theatre.   His book describes the history, influences, ingredients, and innovations that appear on the soul food plate.

More events are scheduled for March and beyond.  A full list can be found at the Cross Cultural Conversations BLOG, here.  Please encourage your students to attend these events, and come by yourself.


Getting Better/Here Comes the Sun

The week began with Manchester City in first place, Arsenal in second, and Chelsea in third, though close together in points.  Chelsea has been getting hotter all season, but so had Manchester City, with everyone expecting Arsenal (the Chicago Cubs of the Premier League) to fold at some point.  Monday’s big game was Manchester City vs. Chelsea and it was a nail-biter, Chelsea eking out the 1-0 win on a goal by defender (!) Branislav Ivanovich.  This was Manchester City’s only home loss this season and knocked them into second place with 53 points, behind Arsenal at 55 points and ahead of Chelsea (also 53 points) only by goal differential.

Then came Saturday.  The day began with an early game (8:00 AM our time) between Arsenal and 4th place Liverpool, who had also been coming on strong lately.  The game turned out to be a rout, with Liverpool going ahead 4-0 in the first half, and finishing 5-1.  At 10:00 AM came the other two critical games—Chelsea vs. Newcastle United, and Manchester City vs. Norwich, and NBC Sports kindly chose the Chelsea game for the broadcast.  Chelsea dominated throughout, though Newcastle United played a good game.  It all came down to two brilliant goals by Chelsea’s top scorer this season, Eden Hazard, both on give and take passes.  A few minutes later a Newcastle defender committed a cheap foul not even looking at the ball, giving Chelsea a penalty kick.  Of course, they gave it to Hazard, who scored for the third time.  Hat Trick!  Throughout the game, they had also been showing the Manchester City – Norwich score, and about one minute after the Chelsea game ended, the final came in at a 0-0 draw.  Final results, then, couldn’t have been better, with Chelsea up three to 56 points with its win,  Arsenal still at 55 with its loss, and Manchester City at 54 points (since a tie gives you one).  So, Chelsea is now in first place in the league for the first time since August.  Let’s hope it lasts.   Go Blues!


Roll Over Beethoven

A few weeks ago in the BLAB, I wrote about how I love the New York Times because they have interesting articles on things I otherwise never would have heard of.  They outdid themselves on Friday morning, with an article (available here) called “In Japan, A Beloved Deaf Composer Appears to Be None of the Above” by Martin Fackler.  It’s an almost unbelievable story that even has some interesting tie-ins to the Olympics and academia.

Mamoru Samuragochi is one of the most famous composers in Japan, where western style classical music is very popular.  A recording of his 1st symphony, “Hiroshima”, sold 180,000 copies where a typical classical hit cd sells 10,000.  Samuragochi was known as the Japanese Beethoven, in part because of his well-loved compositions, and in part because at the age of 35, he lost almost all of his hearing to a degenerative disease.  Japanese network NHK recently had broadcast a documentary about his life entitled “Melody of the Soul: The Composer Who Lost His Hearing”.  A few weeks ago, it was announced that the top Japanese figure skater, Daisuke Takahashi, would skate to Samuragochi’s Sonatina for Violin, bringing worldwide attention to Samuragochi’s music.  Everything sounded great, right?

It turned out there was a problem.  Samuragochi hadn’t actually written the music.  The person who had, Takashi Niigaki, was a part-time instructor at a prestigious Tokyo music college, and was upset that he wasn’t getting recognition for his work and ashamed of his deception.  He was going to tell his story to the press.  On the day before the story appeared, Samuragochi publically confessed.  When the story appeared, it said that not only Niigaki been paid $70,000 to write 20 pieces for Samuragochi, but that Samuragochi wasn’t even deaf.  The story has become a major national scandal in Japan.

The New York Times article was a fascinating tale of rise and fall, but the blogged comments were even more interesting.  Several raised an interesting question—who was guilty here, and of what?

Samuragochi had obviously not written the music, but was Takahashi actually the composer, given that he was, in effect, a ghostwriter?  Ghostwriters are quite common in book publishing, especially for “autobiographies” of famous people.  It seems unlikely that Samuragochi said “write me anything” to Takahashi—it’s much more likely he said something like “write me a symphony—one that’s an elegy to the dead in my home town of Hiroshima”.   Assuming I’m right, how different is this from the graduate school research director who gives a bare-bones outline of what to do to a graduate student, and then puts his name first on the paper (or leaves the grad student’s name off entirely)?  Is a ghostwriter an author or a composer?  If so, there are lots of scholarly books out there who haven’t listed the author of various chapters researched and written by students and assistants.  History is also replete with composers who had assembly lines of assistants to generate their works (Vivaldi is an example) and of artists who had assistants to finish their work.  Even in comic books, throughout the 1950’s for example, Bob Kane (the creator of the Batman character) had his signature appear on every Batman story, even though he wasn’t drawing or writing any of them at that point.  The people who did labored in obscurity.  I could give you hundreds of similar examples.

Was the public cheated?  How?  The music was the same regardless of who wrote it.  The most interesting question was whether the music was good at all, or did the public hear it more sympathetically and favorably because of the composer’s backstory?  In response to this question, one commenter pointed out that music always has context, for good or for bad.  Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the Beatles coming to America.  Would their music have been as well received if they had come five years earlier or five years later?  If they had been less attractive looking?  If they had been women?   I notice that an awful lot of young solo classical artists are extremely good looking.  It hardly seems likely that this is coincidental.  Context is critically important to how music is heard.   I know that in my case, whenever I hear music by Richard Wagner, I hear it in the context of his anti-Semitism and the fact that he was Hitler’s favorite composer.  While that may not be “fair” to the composition, that’s the way it is.

Meanwhile, if you were a dean or department chair, would you give Takahashi a full-time position or tenure at the music school on the strength of his compositions?  He made a deal as a ghostwriter (which implies keeping it secret) and then went back on it, going to the press because he felt jealous and guilty.   Was that ethical?  Would it even be possible at this point to objectively evaluate his music?  If anyone were to listen to Samuragochi’s music now, they’d only be able to hear it in the context of this scandal.

So many questions arising from such an interesting article.  I’d be interested in hearing your opinions, if you care to share them.



Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest had questions all had to do with the word “snow”.  Our winner was Misty York (ETCMA) who got all five right within a few minutes of the BLAB’s posting.  Others getting all five included Marietta Monaghan, Rajnish Singh, Bill Diong, Briana Morrison, and Michael Franklin.  Here are the correct answers:

  1. A poisoned apple put her into suspended animation and a kiss woke her up.  Snow White.
  2. You make one of these when you lie down in the snow and slide your hands back and forth.  A Snow Angel.
  3. People who spend the summer up north and the winter where it’s warm.  Snow Birds.
  4. A fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, about the struggle between good and evil as experienced by children Kai and Gerda.  The Snow Queen.  This fairy tale is the basis for the new Disney movie “Frozen”.
  5. Snoopy sits atop the most common version of this children’s toy, which can make cool treats in many flavors.  Snow-cone machine.



This Week’s Trivia Challenge

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the Beatles coming to America, all the questions or answers to today’s trivia challenge have to do with the Beatles.  As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO zszafran@spsu.edu, since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!

  1. Popular name for the frenzy that the Beatles caused.
  2. Ringo’s real name.
  3. Names of the two “live” movies that the Beatles starred in.
  4. Last original album from the Beatles.
  5. King Curtis, followed by The Discotheque Dancers, Cannibal and The Headhunters, Brenda Holloway, and Sounds Incorporated.
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One Response to February 10, 2014

  1. rcoleacm says:

    Congrats to your dad and Mark on their birthdays. Amazing that they go older and you didn’t 🙂 BTW, I have that Beatles ticket stub, as well, but mine was a $6.50 seat.

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