THE WEEKLY BLAB
Volume 9, Issue 27 – February 19, 2015
I was looking on Facebook on Sunday and was amused to see a video taken in Marietta, GA. It seems they just had a dusting of snow there and the video showed some parents pulling children around on plastic sleds. School was cancelled due to the weather Monday in many parts of Georgia, though I don’t know why—the forecast was for a high of 48°F with rain. Ever since the ice storm last winter (which shut everything down for three days), politicians have been very antsy about the weather and close everything down at the drop of a hat. To be fair, they really don’t have the means for dealing with cold weather, with only a relative few snowplows and the like. One thing that has impressed me up here in the North Country is how quickly and effectively they clean the roads—even while the snowfall is occurring.
For those who live outside the area, we apparently had the coldest weather in the country here from Sunday into Monday—the low was -18°F here, with a wind-chill of more like -35°F. Some locations with wind-chill reached the point where the Fahrenheit and Celsius temperatures are the same (I remember solving for that on an engineering exam when I was a freshman—it’s a favorite problem for engineering professors). In case you want to know how to solve for that, remember that the conversion formula from °F to °C is
°C = (°F -32)(5/9).
Since we’re looking for the point at which the two temperatures are equal, °C = °F, and:
°F = (°F – 32)(5/9)
(9/5) °F = °F – 32
(9/5) °F – °F = -32
4/5 °F = -32
°F = (5/4)(-32) = -40
Get Involved in This Effort to Save Financial Aid
Perkins Student Loans have been an important part of student financial aid for 57 years. Unless Congress acts quickly, the student loan program will expire, and it will be much harder for students to finance their educations. Perkins loans are really useful to students because they don’t have to be paid back until 9 months after leaving school. You don’t need a credit history to qualify for them, and the loans can be forgiven under certain circumstances. About 500,000 students benefit from Perkins loans every year. At SUNY Canton, 450 students get Perkins loans, to the tune of $450,000 each year. Please watch the video below, and if you agree with it, sign the “Save Perkins Now” petition at www.change.org. Share the video with your friends—this is something we want to go viral.
SUNY Canton Shout-Outs
There have been lots of good things happening involving SUNY Canton faculty, staff, and students. Here are just some of them:
SUNY Canton Senior’s Clothing Line is a Hit in the Hip-Hop Community!
Danesha Williams, a senior in Graphic and Multimedia Design, is the cofounder of the clothing line Riotte Latimore with SUNY Canton grad Christina Thomas. Currently working out of her off-campus apartment, Danesha is producing cut-and-sew designs on hooded sweatshirts, shirts, and pants, which are then manufactured in China. An article on her success recently appeared in the Watertown Daily Times, and can be seen here. Her clothing was recently worn by hip-hop artist Dej Loaf at her concert in Toronto, and a number of items on her website (here) are sold out. Danesha is also managing Michael Wallace, a SUNY Canton senior who recently won a rap music competition and is flying to Los Angeles, under her independent record label Empire the Nation Records. Clearly, SUNY Canton students and graduates are taking over the fashion and music industries, which is obviously as things should be.
SUNY Canton athletes have been active in supporting several worthy causes during half-time of their games. On February 6, during halftime of the men’s ice hockey game against Cortland (which we lost 6-5 in an overtime heartbreaker), the women’s ice hockey team played a challenging game of sled hockey against members of the Wounded Warriors.
On February 7, on their way to beating Albany Pharmacy 82-46, our men’s basketball team hosted the North Country Region Special Olympics Shamrocks basketball team. Coached by Lesley Thompson, the Shamrocks played a well-received exhibition at half-time.
Also on February 7, our women’s basketball team hosted the Canton modified 7/8th grade girls basketball team for a 4 on 4 game to celebrate National Girls and Women in Sports Day. At both games that evening, members of the seven different SUNY Canton women’s teams (basketball, cross-country, ice hockey, lacrosse, soccer, softball, and volleyball) were honored.
Congratulations to all who were involved in these activities, and especially to our female athletes!
On January 31, several SUNY Canton students attended the Annual CSTEP Regional Career Exploration Symposium, hosted this year at Clarkson University and attended by CSTEP students from all four of the Associated Colleges. The two keynote speakers were Calvin Mackey and Don Asher.
Dr. Calvin Mackie is an award-winning mentor, acclaimed author and motivational speaker, and a successful entrepreneur. He has won numerous awards including the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring, which was presented in a White House ceremony. Donald Asher is a nationally known speaker and writer on the topics of careers and higher education and the author of 12 books, including “Cracking the Hidden Job Market”, “Who Gets Promoted, Who Doesn’t, and Why” and “From College to Career”. He is also a contributing writer for The Wall Street Journal.
The Symposium also offered various workshops and panels in several of the STEM, Health and Licensed professions. Pierre Nzuah, a senior Engineering student, represented SUNY Canton as our Senior Speaker this year. Pierre told his story about growing up with 15 siblings in a poor family in Africa, to becoming a successful Engineering student who’ll be attending Clarkson’s Master’s program next year.
It was a fun and educational day for all who attended. The students enjoyed the speakers, the workshops, the dinner, and especially networking with CSTEP students from the other universities.
Love Your Library Day
Thursday, February 12 was “Love Your Library” day, with heart-shaped cookies, punch, and a drawing for an iPad on feature at SUNY Canton’s Southworth Library. Students were asked to fill out a brief survey on what they thought the library’s most useful features were, as well as what they’d like to see added. They could also double their chances of winning by doing a brief library search to find a particular book. Adding to the festivities, Dean Mollie Mott was dressed for the occasion as the Queen of Hearts, posing for pictures with the many folks stopping by. This is just one of the many cool outreach efforts by our library, which is a fantastic student-centered resource for our entire community.
Title IX Poster Competition
I was one of four guest judges in a poster competition by Canton Central High School students to design a poster to celebrate Title IX and how it has led to more equal gender participation in sports. The winner of the contest was Hailey Leonard, a student in Grade 12. The winning poster is below. Congratulations Hailey!
Me, Amanda Rowley, and the winning entry
Firing Faculty Over a Blog
There was an interesting article recently in Inside Higher Education about how Marquette University is moving to revoke a professor’s tenure and fire him stemming from comments he made in his blog. You can see the full article here. An earlier article (before Marquette decided to fire him) provided more detail in the sequence of events that happened and can be found here. While this has nothing whatsoever to do with anything at SUNY Canton, the situation has attracted in a lot of attention nationally, as it touches on issues of freedom of speech, unfair use of power (in more than one way), academic freedom, and gay marriage.
Bear with me here as I lay out the background, because the story is complicated. The more or less undisputed parts are as follows.
- A graduate teaching assistant, Cheryl Abbate, was teaching a philosophy course, “Theory of Ethics” and talking about philosopher John Rawls’ equal liberty principle (which states that everyone has the right to all basic liberties that don’t conflict with another’s liberties). She asked students to name any violations of this principle that they were aware of. A student named the ban against gay marriage as an example.
- Abbate listed the example on the blackboard and went on to discuss other examples. A second student (or perhaps it was the same one—the accounts don’t make this clear) approached Abbate after class (and taped their conversation without telling her he was doing so), telling her he was upset that she hadn’t considered the gay marriage example more carefully. He had seen data suggesting that the children of gay parents do worse in life and said that the topic was worth discussing further.
- Abbate questioned the data, and noted that gay marriage and parenting are two different things. As reported in Inside Higher Education (which says they have a copy of the tape), the student said “It’s still wrong for the teacher of a class to completely discredit one person’s opinion when they may have different opinions”. Abbate said “There are opinions that are not appropriate, that are harmful, such as racist opinions, sexist opinions, and quite honestly, do you know if someone in the class is homosexual? And do you not think it would be offensive to them, if you were to raise your hand and challenge this?” When the student said it was his “right as an American citizen” to challenge the idea, Abbate said he didn’t “have the right, especially [in an ethics class], to make homophobic comments or racist comments.”
- Abbate said the student could have whatever opinions he liked, but that her policy was that homophobic, racist, and sexist comments wouldn’t be tolerated in her class. She said he could drop the class if he disagreed with her policy. She then asked the student if he was recording the conversation. At first the student said “no”, but admitted he was when Abbate asked to see his cell phone. Their conversation ended at that point. The student subsequently dropped the class.
- A tenured political science professor, John McAdams, wrote a post in his blog ‘Marquette Warrior’ based on the student’s recording, accusing Abbate of shutting down the conversation in class on the basis of her own political beliefs. McAdams said that Abbate was “using a tactic typical among liberals,” in which opinions they disagree with “are not merely wrong, and are not to be argued against on their merits, but are deemed ‘offensive’ and need to be shut up.” He wrote that Abbate “invited the student to drop the class”.
- McAdams’ blog was picked up by several other conservative blogs. Some of the comments on those blogs made threats against Abbate and she received a number of emails harshly criticizing and threatening her, as well as some supporting her.
- Abbate decided to discuss the gay marriage issue the next class period, noted that the article saying that children of gay parents do worse in life had been largely discredited, and said that there wasn’t time in a class to discuss every controversy of interest.
Whew! Got all that?
As the story spread, Marquette University decided to review the situation and concluded that McAdams had acted in an unprofessional manner and had misled the public about what happened. A letter was sent to McAdams from his dean, Richard C. Holz, saying the university was initiating a process to fire him. Holz wrote:
“Tenure and academic freedom carry not only great privileges but also vital responsibilities and obligations…In order to endure, a scholar-teacher’s academic freedom must be grounded on competence and integrity, including accuracy ‘at all times,’ a respect for others’ opinions, and the exercise of appropriate restraint. Without adherence to these standards, those such as yourself invested with tenure’s power can carelessly and arrogantly intimidate and silence the less-powerful and then raise the shields of academic freedom and free expression against all attempts to stop such abuse.”
Holz went on to say that graduate student instructors:
“…should expect appropriate and constructive feedback in order to improve their teaching skills. Multiple internal avenues of review were available to you if you believed a situation had occurred between a graduate student instructor and an undergraduate student that called for a corrective response. Instead, you chose to shame and intimidate with an Internet story that was incompetent, inaccurate, and lacking in integrity, respect for other’s opinions, and appropriate restraint.”
With regard to the student dropping the class, Holz wrote:
As you knew or should have known…, the student told the university three days after withdrawing that he had done so because he was getting an ‘F’ at mid-term. He further specifically agreed that his grade fairly reflected his performance and had nothing to do with his political or personal beliefs. Similarly, by leaving out any reference to Ms. Abbate’s follow-up class discussion in which she acknowledged and addressed the student’s objection to gay marriage, you created a false impression of her conduct and an inaccurate account of what occurred. You either were recklessly unaware of what happened in the follow-up class, or you elected not to include these facts in your Internet story.”
McAdams is fighting the firing and disputes the university’s account of what happened. He’s written several postings on the subject, the most relevant of which can be found here and here. He argues that the graduate student was the faculty member of record in the course and thus isn’t immune from criticism, and the university has no right to restrict his free speech:
“Campus bureaucrats hate controversy, since it makes trouble for them. Thus the most ‘valuable’ faculty members are the ones who avoid controversy, and especially avoid criticizing administrators. In real universities, administrators understand (or more likely grudgingly accept) that faculty will say controversial things, will criticize them and each other, and that people will complain about it. They understand that putting up with the complaints is part of the job, and assuaging those who complain the loudest is not the best policy. That sort of university is becoming rarer and rarer. Based on Holz’ actions, Marquette is certainly not such a place.”
Abbate has now left Marquette and is pursuing her graduate degree at the University of Colorado, Boulder. She writes her own blog and has written two responses to the situation (which can be seen here), and believes that McAdams is at least partially responsible for the threatening emails she has received. She disputes McAdams’ version of events, and views him as a bully. She says that the articles that have characterized McAdams as being fired over a single blog post are untrue:
The attempt to fire McAdams is not about a “one time act of misconduct” on his part. From what I can tell (from reading the Dean’s letter), the attempt to fire McAdams is about his history of attacking vulnerable members of the Marquette community and his repeated lies about me on his blog (that he has also repeated, on a number of occasions, to various news sources).
What can one make of this complex story? I think there are problems aplenty throughout this whole scenario, not least of which is that the usual political players have responded to the blogs on the expected sides, though there have been some thoughtful comments too.
Let’s start with the student who taped his conversation with Abbate. Most people would agree that it is morally wrong to record a conversation without someone’s knowledge (a police sting, properly executed, being an exception). Why did this student do it? Judging by subsequent actions, the student wanted to catch Abbate in a “gotcha”. He subsequently went to the department chair and dean on this issue and after getting no satisfaction there (from his perspective), brought the matter to McAdams’ attention. McAdams is identified in some articles on this subject as the students’ advisor (and McAdams is accused of hiding that). That Abbate listed the example on the blackboard but then chose to move on to other points hardly seems like a motive or justification for surreptitious taping. The most obvious explanation is essentially “conservative student wanted to trap liberal professor as being too politically correct”.
Moving on to Abbate, it seems that she fell into the trap. The snippets of the conversation available online do seem to imply that she wouldn’t have welcomed a conversation opposing gay marriage in her class. Several reasons are offered by her supporters—that it would be off-topic, that her conversation was completely misconstrued, or that she was trying to live up to (or enforce) Marquette’s anti-harassment policies. I haven’t read those anti-harassment policies, but I would hope that they wouldn’t restrict any speech that might possibly offend someone—I can’t think of any debate on a controversial subject that wouldn’t offend at least someone. While she was clearly uncomfortable discussing the issue of gay marriage in her class, she ultimately did discuss it the next class period. The real point here is that while she was in charge of the class, she was still also a graduate student learning her craft. Part of learning is making mistakes and learning from them.
As to McAdams, despite his (correct) point that Abbate was the instructor in charge of the class and was therefore functioning as a teacher and not a student, he was well aware that she was a graduate student, not yet having been awarded her degree and never having been appointed even as a part-time faculty member. If McAdams thought Abbate’s actions were inappropriate, he could have alerted her department chair. Even if he thought that it was necessary to blog about her to make some larger political point, calling her out by name in his blog was not only highly inappropriate, but also unnecessary. Exactly the same political points he made in his blog could have been made by identifying her as simply “a graduate instructor teaching a philosophy course”. Some posts called what he wrote a form of cyberbullying, given the power differential between Abbate and himself. McAdams’ willingness to use the tape is also highly questionable—did he ask the student if she knew she was being taped and if the student had Abbate’s permission to use it? Even if McAdams asked and the student lied, McAdams could have easily contacted Abbate and confirmed that it was OK, and asked her for her side of the story. McAdams says that he did contact her (via email on a Sunday), but when she didn’t reply, he posted the blog nine hours later. Do I really need to say that giving someone nine hours to reply, on a Sunday, is hardly a sufficient attempt to verify facts or to get the other side?
Finally, we come to Marquette’s response. Taking each of Dean Holz’s main points, did McAdams act irresponsibly? Certainly. Did he breach academic norms by publically criticizing a graduate student by name in a blog? Yes. Did he misrepresent what happened in the classroom and subsequent discussion? That seems to be debatable—his account and Abbate’s differ, but the available evidence doesn’t significantly contradict McAdams’ blogged version of events. Did McAdams try to “shame and intimidate” Abbate and act with a “lack of restraint”? I’d say so. From the looks of things, McAdams is one of those people who is so filled with the righteousness of their cause, he can’t see where he himself crosses the bounds of propriety and is guilty of the very things of which he accuses others.
The ultimate question, though, is whether McAdams deserves to be fired for what he did. While I don’t pretend to have all the information that Marquette has, based on the charges in Holz’s letters and the facts presented in the articles I don’t see how the answer could be “yes”. McAdams’ blog, whatever you may think of it, says clearly in its masthead: “This site has no official connection with Marquette University. Indeed, when University officials find out about it, they will doubtless want it shut down” indicating he is clearly blogging as an individual, not as a representative of the university. This, of course, doesn’t remove his obligation to observe academic norms, protect the privacy of a graduate student who was still learning the ropes, and to not act like a bully. While some form of sanction might be appropriate, not all crimes are capital crimes. Many people have questioned Marquette’s seeming lack of due process in this case, as well as the lack of documentation regarding the alleged other prior acts that Holz alludes to. By moving for removal of tenure and firing, Marquette seems to be guilty of the same “lack of restraint” they accuse McAdams of and give credence to his claim that what they actually want is to get rid of an annoying critic.
I’d be interested in hearing other people’s opinions on this case.
Last Week’s Trivia Contest
Last week’s trivia contest dealt with advertising slogans. Our winner was Nellie Lucas. Others getting all five right included Rhonda Curtis, Christina Lesyk, Stacia Dutton, Marcia Sullivan-Marin, Will Fassinger, Rajiv Narula, Terri Clemmo, and my sister, Drorit Szafran. Here are the correct answers:
- Things go better with ________. Coca Cola.
- Plop, plop. Fizz, fizz. Oh what a relief it is. Alka-Seltzer.
- The quicker picker upper. Bounty.
- Let your fingers do the walking. The Yellow Pages.
- Sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don’t. Almond Joy and Mounds.
This Week’s Trivia Challenge
This week’s challenge deals with weather—each answer has a weather word in it. As usual, the first with the most takes the prize. No looking up the answers now! SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO firstname.lastname@example.org since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them!
- What you save for.
- Someone who only supports you when things are going well.
- Buried by too much work.
- What the band plays when the President walks in.
- In Carly Simon’s song “You’re so Vain”, what follows the lines: But you gave away the things you loved, and one of them was me. I had some dreams, they were _________.