September 3, 2015


Volume 10, Issue 06–September 3, 2015


Annual Report

I hope everyone knows what a fine public relations staff we have—they’ve done great videos about our academic programs and students, there’s excellent photography of all manner of events and people, and the write-ups that go to the press and that appear on the college website are all first-class.  The latest product from our team is the SUNY Canton Annual Report, which went down to Albany on Tuesday.  The online version is available by clicking here, and it’s a thing of beauty.  Starting with a sensational photo from last year’s graduation, filled with information, featuring a lot of active graphics, the Annual Report is a wonderful encapsulation of so much of what makes SUNY Canton great.  Please note that the online version and the print version have some differences, so to get the whole picture, you have to look at both!

Congratulations to Travis Smith, Greg Kie, Lorette Murray, Matt Mulkin, and Morgan Elliot for their excellent work making us all look so good.


Meetings, Meetings, and More Meetings…

As the term begins, the number of meetings increases, and this past week was no exception.  For those who don’t know, I meet with most of the folks on the executive cabinet on a regular basis—weekly with some, biweekly with others.  The purpose of the meetings is to hear what’s going on, help with any problems that may be occurring, and offer some (hopefully useful) suggestions.   At the same time, the people on the executive cabinet are having yet other meetings with their own staffs and whomever else they may be dealing with, and I’m having meetings with students, people involved in economic development for the North Country, various SUNY groups, and people who want to partner with us in various ways.  Often, there are follow-up meetings deriving from the originals, in order to make decisions on how to move forward.  The real difficult job is held by Michaela Young, who has to keep track of all of these things, make sure I have the necessary information, point me in the right direction, and push me out the door.



NCAA—Day One!

September 1 was SUNY Canton’s opening day as a member of NCAA Division III, and a fine day it was.

It began with the men’s cross country race, with Jacob Erdman winning for powerhouse Clarkson. Top SUNY Canton finisher was Shawn Diebel (20th overall), followed close behind by Ryan Teal (21st overall).

SUNY Canton’s first D3 win came in the women’s cross country, with freshman Aine McMorrow winning in 20:56:78.  Great job Aine!  Aine was quoted by the Watertown Daily Times as saying “I wouldn’t have been here today if it wasn’t for my teammates. I didn’t really realize how big of a race it would have been. All the work and practice really pays off. I love everyone here. Everyone is so welcoming. They are always so interested that I’m from Ireland. I love teaching them about the culture back home and stuff.”  Finishing second and third for the roos were Samantha Smith and Keara Byrne.


Aine McMorrow wins at cross-country

It didn’t take long for SUNY Canton to get its second Division III win, defeating St. Lawrence University 3:1 in women’s volleyball, with the sets going 25-19, 17-25, 25-18, and 25-18.  Coach Carol LaMarche said: “The way they bounced back after the second set shows a lot of mental strength. Half the team is new or don’t have as much court experience. It was the cross-town rival St. Lawrence. It’s just nice to start off the season with a win.”  Morgan Bills got 28 kills, with Rachel Lowther adding another 27.  Robyn Carroll led the defense with 20 digs.


Morgan Bills going for the kill

Closing out the day, SUNY Canton’s men’s soccer team lost 2-1 against Potsdam, despite taking a 1-0 halftime lead on a goal by Nick Escalante.  It was a tough loss, with even Potsdam’s coach saying “To be honest they were much more dynamic and we were just kind of lucky to get the two goals in the second half.”  Goalie Austin Lamay blocked 5 Potsdam attempts.

In an away game, our women’s soccer team got our third Division III win by beating Wells College 3-2 in their season opener.  Kristina DiNardo scored twice for the roos, including the winning goal.  Also scoring was Caitlin Grimshaw.  Our goalie, Kelsi Gilbert, played a fantastic defensive game, stopping 13 shots.


Kristina DiNardo setting the pace

Great opening day, and congratulations to all our fine athletes.


The Importance of Grants

Many of us were involved in writing “White Papers” these past few weeks, to secure funds from SUNY for projects on our campus.  These were all due last Friday.  As I mentioned earlier in the year, SUNY bundled together several of the annual funds (including a new $18M investment fund) to make up a $100M Investment and Performance fund.  The process for getting the funds this year takes place in two parts—first, a “White Paper”, which is a two-page compelling synopsis of the project.  If it is successful and gets chosen, part two is a follow-up full proposal.  Given that there are 64 SUNY campuses and each campus was able to submit multiple proposals, only a fraction will make it through to the second round, and only about half the full proposals will ultimately get funded.


I’d love to give everyone details about what we submitted, but since this is a competitive process, and since we may also want to take our grants to other potential funders, I’d rather not give other folks our ideas.  I can tell you that we submitted 8 proposals, some of them solely from SUNY Canton, and some of them with other SUNY partners.  We’d obviously like them all to be selected, but reality tells us that won’t be the case—we’ll be doing well if one or two of them make the second round. The decision points are around September 10 to let us know who gets into the second round and then September 30 to submit the full proposals. If any of ours are selected, we’ll have to write quickly!

While this may seem like a lot of work without a guarantee of getting any funding, it’s well worthwhile.  Even if the project isn’t funded by SUNY, it’s still a good thing to have a portfolio of projects to describe to potential donors who may be interested.  Some of the projects also may be competitive for grants from other sources.  Last year alone, more than $1.5M in grant funds have been secured by various people on campus writing successful grants (and there are still a few we’re waiting to hear about), which is really crucial in these times of limited state funding.

Back in the day, when I was a young faculty member, I had never written a grant.  The closest I had come was helping to collate and staple a last minute grant when I was a graduate student at the University of South Carolina.  When I started teaching at my first college, the Chemistry Department’s total capital budget was $6,000, and the basic pieces of equipment I wanted to use in my research cost $50,000 (for a Fourier-transform Infrared Spectrometer, FTIR for short) and $150,000+ (for a Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectrometer, NMR).  Needless to say, even if the department devoted its entire budget to me, you can do the math—it would have been 9 or 25 years before I could purchase one.  That’s when I had to learn about grants.

Working with some of my colleagues in the department, we started to submit grant proposals to various foundations—some local, some state, and some national.  In most cases, our first try wasn’t successful.  This is normal—you need to see what the reviewers say to see what thing you needed to include but didn’t, or where you messed something up, or if your idea is even within the range of things that might be funded, since foundations change their priorities from time to time.  That’s why lots of successful grant-writers will tell you that the first try is to see what you did wrong.  If you listen to the reviewers, do your research about the foundation, and have a reasonably good idea, the second attempt is much more likely to be funded.  Of course, sometimes you get lucky on the first shot, and sometimes even your second or third attempt fails.  The important thing is to keep trying.

The first grant I got funded was from a local foundation that gave us $30,000 or so.  That was a good day.  Then there was the one time that my two primary grant writing colleagues and I received positive results from three submissions in the same week—two from the National Science Foundation and one from a national private foundation.  That was a great week!  Overall at my first college (which was a small liberal arts college without much of a track record in grant writing) I wrote or co-wrote more than $3M in successful grants to support my research and my department, and even did a few for other departments.

So, a big thanks to everyone who was involved in writing the White Papers.  Also, if you’ve got a great project that you’d like to see happen, but your department or school don’t have the funds to support, writing grants may be your best path.  Yes, it can be a lot of work, but the rewards can be really good too—support for your project, summer pay, and providing better resources for our students.  JoAnne Fassinger provides tremendous help to novice (and not so novice) grant writers on our campus and can help you identify potential sources of support.  Your more senior colleagues, department chairs, deans, and provost are also potential sources of help.  And, if I’m not tied up in some meeting somewhere, I’d also enjoy talking to you about how we can make your idea become a reality.



Freedom of Speech (Part 1)

It may be because it was the first week of classes, but there were a lot of articles this past week about various freedom of speech issues on campuses around the country.  I’ll give a brief synopsis of four campus’ issues, but rest assured there were many more.


Let’s start with Old Dominion University, where students in an off-campus fraternity hung some sheets from their balcony on move-in day that said the following: “Rowdy and Fun—Hope your baby girl is ready for a good time…”, “Freshman daughter drop off”, and “Go ahead and drop off mom too…”  Needless to say, the campus leadership and many folks on campus were not amused.  The administration sent out a warning, stating in part: “[m]essages like the ones displayed yesterday by a few students on the balcony of their private residence are not and will not be tolerated” and “[a]ny student found to have violated the code of conduct will be subject to disciplinary action.”

While this kind of response from a college administration may seem reasonable under the circumstances, college students have the right of free speech, even when that speech may be viewed as offensive or controversial.  As noted on the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education’s (FIRE) website in an article by Sarah McLaughlin:

“In Papish v. Board of Curators of the University of Missouri (1973), the Supreme Court held that students cannot be punished simply because their speech contradicts a university’s “conventions of decency.” And in Iota Xi Chapter of Sigma Chi Fraternity v. George Mason University (1993), the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, the jurisdiction of which includes ODU, ruled that even crude student speech enjoys First Amendment protection. In these rulings, the courts held that the University of Missouri and George Mason University could not punish students simply because others were offended by their speech.” 

Hmm…so what is the right response?  At ODU, cooler heads prevailed and the president sent out a letter to the campus, writing:

“A young lady I talked to earlier today courageously described the true meaning of the hurt this caused. She thought seriously about going back home.  But she was heartened, she explained, when she saw how fellow students were reacting to this incident on social media. She realized this callous and senseless act did not reflect the Old Dominion she has come to love.”

In other words, the best response to the offensive speech wasn’t censorship—it was more speech from reasonable and responsible people in the campus community, supporting the college’s standards and criticizing the loutish behavior.  The banners disappeared quickly.


Unknown In a very different kind of free speech issue also described in FIRE, Professor Katie Watson, editor of a faculty-produced bioethics journal called Atrium, ran into trouble at Northwestern University, where the journal is published.  The journal had published an issue called “Bad Girls”, guest-edited by Alice Dreger (a clinical professor in the Medical Humanities & Bioethics program at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine) in which an essay by Syracuse University professor William J. Peace appeared.  In that essay, Peace described a past sexual encounter with a nurse while he was undergoing rehabilitation after paralysis at age 18.

The sexual content of the essay led to some controversy, which in turn led to Northwestern removing the offending issue of Atrium from its website.  After Dreger threatened to go public about the censorship, the University restored access to the journal, but moved to set up an oversight committee to review future issues of the journal before publication.  While Northwestern characterized the committee as “an editorial board of faculty members and others, as is customary for academic journals”, Prof. Watson said that the committee included medical school administrators and a member of the medical school’s communications department.

Watson began looking into ways of making Atrium an independent journal, finding another publisher, or cancelling it.  As reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dreger has now resigned from Northwestern over the issue.  Ironically, Dreger is the author of a recent book titled Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science, “a book about academic freedom focusing on researchers who got in trouble for putting forth challenging ideas about sex.”

On August 24, Dreger wrote in her resignation letter:

… my most recent book, on academic freedom, was made possible because I came to Northwestern University. It happened because, as I took on one controversial issue after another—first the Bailey transsexualism controversy, then the Chagnon/Tierney fiasco in American anthropology, then the prenatal dexamethasone intervention disaster—university leaders defended my academic freedom when they received often sharp criticisms of my work. Time and again, my academic freedom was protected by Northwestern University. Northwestern University enabled me to work effectively and confidently, for a full decade, in the service of the disempowered and the wronged. For that, I am deeply grateful.

But I no longer work at that institution. I no longer work at a university that fearlessly defends academic freedom in the face of criticism, controversy, and calls for censorship. Now, I work at a university at which my own dean thinks he has the authority to censor my work. An institution in which the faculty are afraid to offend the dean is not an institution where I can in good conscience do my work. Such an institution is not a “university,” in the truest sense of that word.

Northwestern University administrators have declined to comment.

This particular freedom of speech issue is a more complicated one.  As the publisher and financial supporter of the journal, it is not unreasonable for Northwestern to insist on particular editorial standards for the articles published in it.  As an example, if one of the journal’s editorial standards is “no obscenity”, the university has every right to expect that the editor will uphold those standards, and that authors of articles abide by them.  The author has the choices of removing the obscenity or submitting the article elsewhere.  The imposition of editorial standards is not censorship—editors and publishers are under no obligation to publish anything that violates their stated standards.

In this case, however, no deviation from editorial standards was alleged by the university.  The article in question met the journal’s editorial standards, and was accepted and published.  Due to the controversy, the university engaged in censorship by removal of the issue from their website.  This was clearly wrong, as the university seems tacitly to agree, by having restored access to the journal.  When Dreger called on the university to apologize, however, “what happened was denial, avoidance, blame-shifting, and evasion. To this day, the university has not admitted its mistake, and it has not affirmed its commitment to academic freedom in a way that makes clear that similar incidents will not occur in the future.

Does the university have the right to change its editorial standards by imposing an oversight board?  That depends on its purpose.  If the university establishes a clear set of guidelines and the oversight board determines if the articles being submitted follow them, there is no censorship.  If, however, the oversight board’s purpose is to determine whether publishing an article might embarrass the university (due to being controversial in some way), that’s censorship.

Dreger is clearly one of those people who have a “bright red ethical line” that they will never cross, no matter what the cost.  It would be a better world if there were more people like her.

More to come in Part 2, next issue.  Other opinions and counter-arguments are invited.



Last Week’s Trivia Contest

Last week’s challenge dealt with musical hits from the ‘80’s.  As the music gets more recent, the number of entries has increased.  Perhaps that we’re now giving a prize has also helped!  The winner was Thomas Rotnem, a professor of political science at the former SPSU (I can’t bring myself to type its new name).  Others with all five right included Alan Gabrielli (also from SPSU), Rosemary Philips, Renee Campbell, Scott Quinell, DianeMarie Collins, Carmela Young, Rebecca Blackmon, Greg Kie, Marianne DiMarco-Temkin, Christina Lesyk, Bill Prigge (off in Tennessee), Barry Birckhead (also SPSU), and Drorit Szafran (my sister).  Each one wins a prize, and you have to come to my office (6th floor, MacArthur Hall) to get it.  Prizes will be available as of Friday.  If the out of state winners want me to mail them a prize, please email me with your current address.


Here are the correct answers:

  1. Ray Parker Jr. answered “Who’re you gonna call?”  Ghostbusters.
  2. Pink Floyd song, about why “We don’t need no education.” Another Brick in the Wall.
  3. Kim Carnes’ homage to a great ‘40’s movie star that begins: “Her hair is Harlowe gold, Her lips sweet surprise.” Bette Davis Eyes.
  4. Song with an amphibian in the title by Culture Club. Karma Chameleon.  Several people reminded me as to why I became a chemist, rather than a biologist—a chameleon isn’t an amphibian, it’s a reptile!  I hang my head in taxonomic shame. Alan Gabrielli and Ken Erickson were the first to hang me out to dry.
  5. Why Stevie Wonder phoned. (I Just Called) To say I love You.



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 second half of the 1980’s.  To celebrate the new academic year, from this point on, all winners win a CD, DVD, or whatever else I come up with from the vast Szafran repository of duplicates or good stuff I want to get rid of.  As usual, the first with the most takes the prize.  No looking up the answers now!  SEND ALL ENTRIES BY EMAIL TO since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them.

  1. Huey Lewis & the News song—it make a one man weep, make another man sing.
  2. It took Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder singing together to explain this.
  3. What Robert Palmer might as well face it about.
  4. Peter Gabriel song saying “you could have a stream train, if you’d just lay down your tracks.”
  5. Norwegian group who sang “Take On Me”, which has a very cool animated music videos to go with it.
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