THE WEEKLY BLAB
Volume 10, Issue 04–August 12, 2015
The summer is rapidly fleeting. Our faculty will be returning this coming week, and the students the week thereafter. The last minute sprucing up on campus is underway, and crazy as it seems, I’m even hearing people say that they’re tired of summer and want the fall semester to begin. As for me, I’m always glad when the students return, but I could stand another six months of summer if it were on offer!
Trudy and the Roos Win NCAA Division III Special Olympics Poll
Congratulations to Trudy Davis and the creators of SUNY Canton’s Special Olympics video, for winning the NCAA Division III Special Olympics Spotlight Poll, with an impressive 64% of the votes. SUNY Canton has hosted the North Country Region Special Olympics for the past three years, and it’s an impressive event with thousands of participants and supporters. As winners, the Roos get $500 to help with the next Special Olympics event.
Down on the Farm
Last Wednesday, a bunch of SUNY Canton folks visited the St. Lawrence Power & Equipment Museum in Madrid (pronounced mad-rid), NY. The museum is a really interesting place, with historic farming implements, very cool old tractors and threshers, historic home “appliances” (swinging butter churn, wringer-style washing machines, etc.), a collection of horse-drawn vehicles, and a reproduction of a small town square, including tailor shop, gas station, and one-room schoolhouse.
With SUNY Canton developing new degree programs in agriculture, forming a partnership with the museum seems like a natural idea, and we’re investigating some possibilities for students from the College doing project work there. If you have never been there, it’s worth a trip—just go north on Route 310 to Madrid, and turn right on Route 345. The Museum is about a mile down the road from there—a total of less than 10 miles from Canton. A big thanks to Chuck Goolden (who is an emeritus VP of Administration at SUNY Canton and an honorary member of the College’s Foundation Board) for helping organize the visit.
After visiting the Museum, we all went to see Mapleview Dairies, one of the larger dairy farms in the county. It’s an impressive operation, with multiple cow barns (some using mechatronics technology), and state of the art milking parlor technology. The Dairy was established in 1946, with the purchase of the Wallace Jones Farm by Flloyd and Millie Fisher. It has expanded tremendously since then, and now has some 40 employees. The Fishers are happy that SUNY Canton is reviving programs in agriculture, and look forward to helping in their development.
New Cancer Wing at Claxton-Hepburn
Yesterday, I enjoyed attending the dedication of the Dick and Bonnie Winter Wright Cancer Wing at the Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg. I’ve been to the Medical Center several times in the past, to see its new linear accelerator (one of the most advanced pieces of equipment in cancer therapy), and to talk to its president about how SUNY Canton and the Center can expand our relationship. It’s an impressive facility, especially when you consider the small size of the city of Ogdensburg. Before Claxton-Hepburn began developing its advanced cancer facility, patients in the North Country had to travel to Syracuse or Montreal (both 2 hours away). If you had to have multiple radiation sessions, the necessary travel distance was a major negative factor.
Having such an advanced cancer center in the North Country is a wonderful thing for the region. The new wing was possible thanks, in part, to the generosity of Dick and Bonnie Winter Wright. The Wright family have been major benefactors over the years in St. Lawrence County. I had the pleasure of meeting the Wrights after the ceremony. I guess I’ve been in the North Country a fair amount of time now, since I knew lots of people at the ceremony, including our own Linda Fay (who was co-chair of the Cancer Center Expansion Project, and is a member of CHMC’s Board of Directors), our Assembly Member Addie Russell, and Jim Reagan representing our Senator, Patty Ritchie.
We’re fortunate to have such fine medical resources as CHMC and Canton-Potsdam Hospital close by to serve this area.
Building the Kind of World We Want to Live In
As most of you are aware, as a result of the Yik Yak incident on our campus last year, I was asked to serve as the co-chair of the SUNY Social Media Responsibility Task Force. We’re getting to the end of the process, with our report to the Trustees being drafted as we speak. The Task Force has gone quite well—the participants have been active and thoughtful, the presentations have been interesting, and I’m confident that the report will be incisive and useful.
As most people are aware, social media cuts multiple ways. It can be used to build a sense of community, to keep up with family, to find lost friends, and to “rally the troops” when there is a problem. It can also be used in harmful ways (which is what prompted the establishment of the Task Force). Social media has been used to send death threats and racial insults, to form cybermobs, to host online attacks against women, to post sex videos (without the permission of the person(s) in them) and many other terrible things, many of which have received lots of press coverage. What then is the best way to encourage students (and others) to act responsibly online?
I’m not going to give away what will be in the Task Force’s report, but there are a few things that have turned up lately in the press that are worth talking about regarding behavior—the behavior of students AND of faculty and colleges.
A quick glance at any social media platform reveals that the way some people act online is often an exaggerated form of what they do face to face (f2f). They may use harsher language; make accusations or assumptions based on little or no evidence; act in ways that are racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, misogynistic, homophobic, or Islamophobic; and promote one-sided political views and call those who disagree traitors or worse. People who are appalled by what they see often feel a need to respond with equal or greater venom, lest the other side “win”. Pretty soon, the conversation (if it is even appropriate to call it one) degenerates into a sequence of insults and threats.
This kind of behavior isn’t restricted to life online—all of these things happen throughout society. Traditionally, the more disturbing things happen outside of public view. These are comments that are whispered to a friend or said in a bar while having a drink—the sort of thing that most people were circumspect enough to not want to say too publicly. Today, these kinds of extreme behavior are leaking out more and more into the public f2f sphere. The most obvious place is in politics, where candidates who think carefully about what they say are accused of being fake or “too PC”, while those who make extreme comments are somehow seen as being more honest and authentic. Both traditional and online media, always looking for a headline to draw in an audience, prominently features the attacks over actual substance, further encouraging the race to the bottom.
Incivility, both online and f2f, also shows up at colleges. Almost every college has a code of student behavior that has been adopted, often with significant student input. In most cases, students are also involved in the judicial process—hearing cases, hearing appeals, and helping decide what penalties to set. When the online offense is parallel to a f2f offense, there is no reason to treat the two differently. A student posting a threat on a social media site to harm a specific individual should be treated identically to one who makes such a threat verbally or in some other manner. A student engaging in online hazing of another student should be treated the same as one who physically hazed another student. Racist comments on anonymous social media sites pose their own challenges in tracking down the perpetrators, but are not really different from anonymous racist graffiti on a rest room wall.
Some campuses take it several steps further. Civility codes of one sort of another have been created by campus administrations, often forbidding or restricting various types of speech or behavior. There’s also a student movement developing to label or remove words, ideas, and subjects that may be sensitive. Some words or phrases are now being labeled “microaggressions” because they might be offensive. An example that turns up often is the word “American”, when used to refer to people living in the United States, which is said potentially to be offensive to people living in other countries in North or South America. [If this is true, referring to the United States might be a microaggression, since we’re not the only “United States”–the official name of Mexico is “Estados Unidos Mexicanos”, i.e., the United States of Mexico.] Some students are calling for trigger warnings to be given when sensitive topics are to be discussed, and in some cases, “safe spaces” have been created for students who may be traumatized by the sensitive topic.
Civility codes have often been attacked as being violations of free speech. These codes, as well as proposed policies on microaggressions and trigger warnings, have also been criticized as promoting an infantilized culture where the student body feels it should be protected from anything it might find controversial or offensive, and of harming students’ psychological health and intellectual growth. An interesting article on these issues, written by Greg Lukianoff (president and CEO of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education) and Jonathan Haidt (a professor of ethical leadership at the NYU-Stern School of Business), appears in the September issue of The Atlantic, entitled The Coddling of the American Mind.
There’s also been a recent spate of articles focused on how civility codes and fear of offending students have affected faculty. Two recent widely circulated examples can be found at the following links:
- “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me”
- “Why College Professors Are Afraid to Teach Millennials”
There have been a large number of articles in reply as well, from faculty who dispute this.
Whenever I see articles of this type, I wonder how widespread the phenomenon actually is. I’ve read quite a few such articles, and they mostly cite the same small number of examples. Yes, a very small number of campuses have responded badly to allegations, and a very small number of faculty have been impacted. I’m not aware of any faculty member here at SUNY Canton who is afraid of our students (liberal or otherwise), though there well may be some. Similarly, I’m not aware of any student having alleged microaggressions having taken place, nor advocating for any trigger warnings. I’d be interested in hearing from any faculty who see things differently.
I don’t have any sort of magic bullet solution here, but the types of issues raised are why I believe we need to take a positive approach. We can teach students that their online identity should be treated in exactly the same way as their more general identity should be treated. Learning how to develop and maintain a professional reputation and resume is critically important, and should as a major topic include learning how to maintain that reputation on social media. While we should certainly inform students of the risks of posting inappropriate comments or pictures—the risk of loss of reputation, losing potential jobs, etc.—we shouldn’t try to make policies that restrict students’ free speech rights, even if that speech is offensive.
Similarly, we shouldn’t try to shield students from the rough and tumble of academic life and intellectual growth. Students need to learn that arguments can be heated and the topics discussed can be controversial. Students need to learn that their classmates may well take offense, just as can happen post-graduation with the people you work with. We need to teach students and to model that the best prescription is still the golden rule: treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.
In short, teaching our students that they have the ability (and opportunity and obligation) to build the kind of world they want to live in, both in the physical world and online, is the best approach. Asking the questions: “Do actions/comments of this kind make our campus/city/country/world a better place?”; “Would you want to live in a place where everyone acts like this?”; and “Do you like being treated in the way you acted?” can serve as springboards for students to explore their behaviors, hopes and fears in a productive manner. Will it work in every case and stop objectionable behavior? Of course not, but a concerted effort can help in building a culture of civility and respect, without having to restrict freedom of speech or shield students from reality.
Last Week’s Trivia Contest
Last week’s challenge dealt with musical hits from the ‘60’s. The winner (and only entry) was Christina Lesyk. C’mon folks, I know you can do better!
Here are the correct answers:
- Anatomical song that was the Beatle’s first #1 hit in the US. Lyrics include “And when I touch you I feel happy inside, it’s such a feeling that my love, I can’t hide.” I Want to Hold Your Hand.
- Rolling Stones hit that they sang a censored version of on Ed Sullivan; they replaced the words “the night” with “some time”. Let’s Spend the Night Together.
- Bob Dylan song that asks “How does it feel?” Like a Rolling Stone.
- 1963 The Crystals hit that starts “He walked up to me, and he asked me if I wanted to dance/He looked kinda nice, and so I said “I might take a chance”. And Then He Kissed Me.
- Top song from 1960, it was recorded by Percy Faith and his orchestra, and was the theme from a movie starring Richard Egan, Dorothy McGuire, Troy Donahue and Sandra Dee. Theme from A Summer Place.
This Week’s Trivia Challenge
We continue our move to more recent days in this week’s challenge, which deals with musical hits from the 1970’s. 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.
- Bruce Springsteen song about “tramps like us”.
- John Lennon #1 about his version of utopia.
- “Walk on the Wild Side” was his only big solo hit.
- AC-DC song, but it’s not about Route 11.
- Dolly Parton song asking a rival to leave her man alone.