March 12, 2014

THE WEEKLY BLAB

Volume 8, Issue 26 – March 12, 2014

 

Spring Break?

Spring Break has now come and gone, and it certainly went by in a flash.  Things were a bit quieter on campus, so I was able to catch up on a bunch of projects that had been piling up in pre-break crush.  Then on Thursday, it was off to Las Vegas for a short visit with my family.  As I’ve mentioned in previous BLABs, my parents, my uncle Nathan, and my aunt Shirley live in Vegas.  They’ve now been joined by my cousin Karen, who recently moved there from Maryland along with her three dogs Angelo, Ginger, and Jack.

The trip to Vegas was uneventful.  Something unexpected and great that has happened is that I’ve somehow gotten on the pre-screened list for the last four flights I’ve taken, which means that I don’t have to take off my coat, shoes, or belt as I went through security.  I didn’t have to take out my computer or toiletries from my carry-on suitcase either, though I still had to empty my pockets.  It’s amazing how such a small thing can change the complexion of a flight.  Unfortunately, Jill and Mark had no such pre-screened classification, so they had to do the full security drill.  Anyway, we got on the plane and it was packed as usual—one almost never sees any significant number of empty seats these days.  We were way in the back in row 44, and Mark spent the flight flirting with the stewardess who flirted right back and plied him with cokes and pretzels.  After a four-hour flight and another hug from Mark to the stewardess, we arrived, called the folks, were picked up, and were off to their apartment.   We talked for a few minutes and promptly went to sleep.

The visit was mostly staying home and vegging out, the only exceptions being a little shopping (gotta check out the CD/DVD stores after all), and going to see Karen’s new house and meeting her dogs.  As soon as we walked in the door, WOW!  These are the friendliest dogs I’ve ever seen, jumping up and licking us like long lost friends.  Mark just loved it, and wanted us to know he wanted a dog of his own just like Angelo.  One of the dogs, Jack, is a pit bull (which is a bit disconcerting considering the bad press that the breed gets), but extremely laid-back and friendly.  It goes to show you that there’s good and bad in all things, and you should never prejudge.

mark_NEWMark and the dogs

The house itself is really nice—it’s in the Spanish style that’s popular in Las Vegas, all on one level, with a swimming pool and Jacuzzi in the back.   It was wonderful to see Karen as well—I only get to see her once or twice a year most of the time.

The visit was all too short, and on Sunday afternoon we took the 5:30 PM flight back home.  The plane was absolutely packed—not an empty seat on it, but the good news was that we left slightly early and arrived in Atlanta at midnight, about 15 minutes ahead of schedule.  We got our bags, took the shuttle to the off-airport parking, and drove home, arriving at 1:30 AM.  It was off to bed quickly, because I had to wake up at 6:00 AM to get ready for my 8:00 Inorganic Chemistry class.  Another OWG meeting only added to the jet-lagged post-Spring Break fun.

 

RACAA

As promised in the last BLAB, here are some of the highlights from the recent Regents Advisory Committee on Academic Affairs (RACAA) meeting.

The group endorsed a new proposal allowing for substitution of Math core courses for students with learning disabilities.  Note that the math requirement isn’t being waived—each university is required to have policies in place that allow students in non-math intensive majors to take alternative courses that meet comparable quantitative learning outcomes.  Since most of SPSU’s majors are math intensive, this policy does not apply to most of our departments.  My question was “if the alternative course meets comparable quantitative learning outcomes, why wouldn’t it be an acceptable course to meet the math requirement for all students, regardless of disability?”  The best answer I got was that the proposal’s main purpose was to push departments to identify such courses.

The Affordable Care Act is causing some changes in the way we hire part-time faculty.  Anyone working more than 20 “clock hours” per week is entitled to the first level of benefits, and anyone over 30 hours per week is entitled to full benefits, which includes health care.  The trick is converting from credit hours to clock hours, and a standard formula has now been put forward: for every in-class hour, it is assumed that there is an additional 1.25 hours of preparation time and 0.5 hours of meeting time.  Thus, someone teaching 9 credits on a part-time basis is working 9 x 2.75 = 24.75 hours, which makes them eligible for the first level of benefits.  For this reason, some campuses are restricting part-timers to no more than 6 credits (16.5 clock hours) in a term, which would keep them under the benefits threshold.  Labs and studios count in the same way as in-class hours, even though they don’t carry the same credit value.  Thus, someone teaching 3 credits of lecture and two 3-hour labs is also eligible for the first level of benefits, exactly like the person teaching 9 credits of lecture.  This isn’t a big change for us—we’ve been paying benefits for part-timers teaching larger numbers of credits for us for some time now—it just better defines when benefits are required.

A push is on to encourage faculty to make sure that all of their courses (especially online courses) are accessible to students with disabilities.  This means that if you use a video as part of the class, a transcript or close-captioning must be available.  If you have a math formula in the materials, the formula must be text-tagged so that visually-impaired students will know what it is.  If you link to outside websites or use outside software, they also have to be accessible.  This policy applies regardless of whether you have any students with disabilities in your courses or not, so please modify your courses accordingly.

Some moderately good news is there is some $12 M in the USG’s proposed budget for equity adjustments to salaries and to allow universities to retain key faculty.  While this is not a general salary merit increase, it is at least positive to see some new money going towards salaries in the budget.  If the funds are distributed pro-rata (and I have no idea if they will be), SPSU’s share would be roughly 1% of this total, $120,000.

As has been discussed previously, performance funding for the universities will begin to be modeled next year, and will be implemented for FY 16.  The model will reward universities for improving numbers of students meeting key benchmarks (30 credits, 60 credits…) and graduating, rather than being based on enrollment.

The USG is going to be pushing to make eCore more widely available, and its cost will be lowered significantly (and will include the cost of textbook type materials).  There is also $2.5M in the governor’s budget to support driving down of textbook costs.  An additional $1.25 M is in the budget to support a campaign called “Go Back, Move Ahead” to encourage adult students to return complete their degrees.  There will also be more of a push for the “15 to Finish” initiative (to encourage students to take at least 15 credits per term) and to support reverse transfer.

Among student life type issues, student insurance will be getting more expensive, impacting international students and some others.   The cost should be going up some 20-25%, in order to meet necessary minimum coverage aspects of the Affordable Care Act.  The BoR is also expected to ban the use of tobacco on all campuses at its March meeting, with presidents being responsible for enforcement.  A look is also being taken at campus alcohol policies—there must be a policy stating that if someone has drunk too much, one must stop serving.  Liability also applies to off-campus parties involving alcohol—the host still has this responsibility.

 

Upcoming Cross-Cultural Events

At 12 Noon on Tuesday, March 18 in the Design II Auditorium, the SIS International Forum series is hosting “Crisis I—Venezuela”, with a talk given by former SPSU faculty member Dr. Juan Carlos Guzman.

The big event for March comes on Thursday, March 20, at 6:00 PM in the Student Theatre.  Cynthia Cooper, the accountant who was VP of Internal Audit at WorldCom and discovered a $3.8 billion fraud there in 2002, will be speaking and here for a booksigning.

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.

 

Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s contest had questions all had to do with the word “East”.  Our winner and the only person to get all five right was Gerald Pierce (SIS).  Nikki Palamiotis, Bill Prigge, and Ronny Richardson all got four correct.  Here are the correct answers:

  1. Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection.  Easter.
  2. He starred in “The Rookie”, “Unforgiven”, “The Bridges of Madison County”, “True Crime” and Gran Torino, among many others.  Clint Eastwood.
  3. The Beach Boys say they’re “hip and I really dig those styles they wear”.  The East Coast Girls (in the song California Girls).
  4. Movie starring James Dean in 1955, based on a novel by John Steinbeck.  East of Eden.
  5. National anthem of the People’s Republic of China.  The East is Red.

 

This Week’s Trivia Challenge

To prove that the BLAB is always fair and balanced, this week’s trivia challenge has all answers involving the word “west”.  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. Great television show starring Robert Conrad, later a rotten movie starring Will Smith.
  2. Well known sex-therapist and radio/TV personality, born in 1928.
  3. Originally the major telegraph company, it’s now a way to send money electronically.
  4. Major US manufacturer of home electronics, its motto was “You can be sure if it’s                        ”.
  5. Only Elton John album with “west” somewhere in the title, released in 1975.
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