THE WEEKLY BLAB
Volume 10, Issue 07–September 17, 2015
This Just In…
In the last issue of the BLAB (click here to see it), I mentioned that lots of people on campus had been involved in writing “White Papers” to submit to SUNY to secure funding for projects supporting (among other things) retention and graduation rates on our campus. The process for getting the funds this year takes place in two parts—first, the “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, we noted that only a fraction would make it through to the second round, and only about half the full proposals would ultimately get funded.
Well, we now know how many of our proposals made it to the second round: out of the eight we submitted or partnered on, [drum roll please] – ALL EIGHT got through to the second round, which is just fantastic. The full proposals are due October 7, so we’re going to be busy, busy, busy! We’ll keep you posted as to what happens next.
Happy New Year
For those who don’t know, Rosh HaShana (the Jewish New Year) began at sundown on Sunday, lasting for two days. I saw a quote in the prayer-book that I particularly liked and thought I’d share:
Creation is not something which happened only once. Creation is an ongoing process…There is still much to be done: disease to be conquered, injustice and poverty to be overcome, hatred and war to be eliminated. There is truth to be discovered, beauty to be fashioned, freedom to be achieved, peace and righteousness to be established. There is a great need to dedicate all the creative power which a creating G-d has given us, so that we may join G-d in “the continuing work of Creation.”
I also got a text from Rajiv Narula, who shared a Rosh HaShana prayer he liked that was read several years ago at the Unitarian Universalist Church, with words adapted from Rabbi Harold Kushner [author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People]. With all the trouble in the world right now, it is particularly apt:
Many prayers conclude with “May G-d who made peace in the heavens grant peace to us on earth.” But what does it mean to create peace in the heavens? The ancient ones looked up and saw the sun and the rain clouds, and wondered “How can sun and rain, fire and water, coexist in the same sky? It must be a miracle.” But if the sun dried up the rain clouds, the world would die of thirst, and if the rain clouds extinguished the sun, the world would perish in cold. So the fire and water made peace, realizing that if either of them achieved total victory, the world could not endure. When we pray for the sort of peace ordained in the heavens, this is the miracle we ask for. Not for the total victory of one side over the other, but for a way to live together in peace…Only by making room for everyone, even for our enemies, can our world survive. It is the miracle of peace, making room for each other and giving up the illusion of total victory—on earth as it is in the heavens. May we be part of the miracle of peace, making room for each other in our hearts, in our community, and in our world.
Moving On Up
U.S. News & World Report just issued its annual rankings on colleges and universities in the US, and SUNY Canton has moved up quite a bit. Last year, we were #61 on the list of Best Regional Colleges—North. This year, in the 2016 edition, we’ve moved up seventeen clicks to #44. Schools are ranked on up to 16 measures of academic excellence, with outcome-related measures, such as graduation and retention rates, being the most heavily weighted factors in the methodology.
SUNY Canton also made their national list for best online programs in 2016, coming in 58th in the country, and 2nd in SUNY, the same as last year.
Lookin’ good, folks!
On September 11th, SUNY Canton marked the 14th anniversary of the 9-11-2001 attack with a remembrance ceremony at the end of Payson Hall, hosted by our Criminal Justice program. The ceremony was brief and moving, and began with a color guard, followed by Prof. Tony Bean singing the national anthem, Father Douglas Lucia giving a beautiful invocation. I said a few words about the importance of memory, and Provost Doug Schiedt gave a short keynote speech. Prof. William Fassinger spoke about the heroism of the police, firefighters, and emergency medical personnel. The ceremony concluded with bagpiper (and Engineering Technology lecturer) Robert House playing “Amazing Grace”. I’m not sure how many colleges and universities have held a remembrance ceremony every year since 2001, but I’m sure proud that we have.
Report from Albany
Last Wednesday evening, I flew down to Albany from Ogdensburg for the SUNY Board of Trustees meeting the next day. The flight was uneventful, though it got a bit windy for the last five minutes and just as we were landing, there was a gust of wind that made us hit the ground with a clunk.
After breakfast the next morning, I walked over to the law offices where the BoT meeting was being held, and met up with David Belsky and Rachel Haot, who were my co-presenters of the report from the Social Media Responsibility Task Force that Rachel and I co-chaired. The presentation went well, and the eight recommendations from the Task Force were well received. The report will be circulated for comments from the SUNY campuses and the public in the near future, with a final vote on adoption planned for November.
Roos Sports Media
A recently formed student group on campus called Roos Sports Media has created and edited some impressive videos highlighting our student-athletes. Check out their videos below!
- Women’s Volleyball v. St. Lawrence University 09-01-15
- Women’s Volleyball Highlights v. Cazenovia/Plattsburgh 09-04-15
- Kelsy Cornish Post-Game/Highlights 09-04-15
- Men’s Golf Highlights 09-08-15
- SUNY Canton Adds Women’s Golf
- Romario Fletcher & Sam Annorh – Team USA Experience
Opening Week Awards
Seven different SUNY Canton student-athletes earned awards from either the ECAC or USCAA for their efforts in their respective sports during opening week. Congratulations to all on their hard work!
- Àine McMorrow – ECAC Upstate Women’s Cross Country Rookie Runner of the Week – STORY
- Kelsi Gilbert – ECAC Upstate Women’s Soccer Defensive Player of the Week – STORY
- Robyn Carroll – ECAC Metro/Upstate Women’s Volleyball Libero of the Week – STORY
- Peyton Robinson – ECAC Metro/Upstate Women’s Volleyball Rookie of the Week – STORY
- Kristina DiNardo – USCAA Women’s Soccer Player of the Week – STORY
- Kelsy Cornish – USCAA Women’s Volleyball Player of the Week – STORY
- Nolan Reid – USCAA Men’s Golfer Player of the Week – STORY
Freedom of Speech (Part 2)
The first part of this item on Freedom of Speech appeared in last week’s WEEKLY BLAB, in which two cases were reviewed—the response at Old Dominion University to the hanging of some offensive signs at a fraternity, and the response at Northwestern University to a faculty-produced, college sponsored journal that had some sexual content. If you missed it, you can find it by clicking here. Here in part two, two additional cases that have some interesting complications will be discussed.
At Duke University, students were assigned to read “Fun Home”, a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, as a summer reading. A number of students refused to do so, saying that its sexual themes created a conflict with their religious beliefs and moral standards. The situation was reviewed in the Christian Science Monitor. Reporter Kevin Truong reported that this conflict is similar to those seen on other campuses, where students seem to have an expectation “that they have a right not to read or hear ideas that differ from their worldview or make them uncomfortable.”
The conflict, as reported in the Duke Chronicle, began when freshman Brian Grasso posted a message on Duke’s Class of 2019 Facebook page, saying he would not read the “Fun Home” “because of the graphic visual depictions of sexuality…I feel as if I would have to compromise my personal Christian moral beliefs to read it.” Grasso felt that the book choice was insensitive to people with conservative beliefs.
So what kind of book is “Fun Home”? It was certainly well received, winning “Best Book of the Year” reviews from Time, Entertainment Weekly, the New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, the Times of London, and many others. On the “controversial” end of things, it contains some drawings (well less than 1% of the panels) depicting nudity and sex; it tells the story of a father who becomes a bisexual and ultimately commits suicide; and tells of his daughter who comes out as a lesbian at age 12. The committee that chose “Fun Home” as the summer reading noted that it also talked about mental health, interpersonal relationships, and human rights. It was intended to start arguments and discussions, and in that, it has succeeded. Some parents have demanded that this book be dropped as a mandatory summer reading, and at least in one case, state legislators passed a bill to cut a state university budget by the cost of buying this book for its students.
On this same general issue, in an article appearing in the September 2015 issue of The Atlantic entitled “The Coddling of the American Mind”, authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt wrote: “A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense…This new climate is slowly being institutionalized, and is affecting what can be said in the classroom, even as a basis for discussion.”
So—should students have the right to be able to avoid seeing or reading things that make them uncomfortable? I remember this coming up in two different ways at my second college:
- The college required all students to take a course called “The Way of Science” which had a major portion devoted to evolution. Every so often, a student (or parent) would come by, objecting to having to take the course due to their religious beliefs. There wasn’t a lot of sympathy for that view, since we did not require the student to believe in evolution, only to understand and be able to explain the major tenets of evolution. I thought that this was a reasonable viewpoint and upheld it when the appeals came to me.
- The other instance was regarding a play that students in a particular course were required to see. The play contained nudity and a student objected to having to see it. I talked to the department chair about giving the student an alternative assignment of similar difficulty. The chair refused. I remember having sympathy for the student, but asked myself would I have had any if the reason that the student objected to seeing the play had been some other one? What if the play contained violence, or was overtly anti-gun control? Should religious objections to content be privileged over other kinds?
At the end of the day I’m with Duke on this one, but I have to admit I’m at least a little bit uncomfortable about it. I’m with Duke because if students can “opt out” of this book because of some nudity, what reasoned argument stops Art majors from being able to opt out of a class requiring the viewing of Renaissance Art (with its many nudes) or drawing from a live model? If students can opt out of this book because its discussion of homosexuality offends their morals, what reasoned argument stops History majors from opting out of a class requiring students to read Southern rationalizations for their actions in the Civil War? Students are free to disagree with with the views expressed by Alison Bechdel, and I suppose can skip over any panels with offending drawings. Still, I admit to having some sympathy for the position “why not give them an alternative assignment” as a reasonable accommodation to religious belief.
The final case took place at Columbia University, where a student, Emma Sulkowicz, accused another student, Paul Nungesser, of having raped her in her dorm some months earlier, in a relationship that had hitherto been consensual. The case went through Columbia’s judicial procedure, where a school panel heard both give testimony and ultimately cleared Nungesser of the accusation. Sulkowicz argued that the case was badly handled, and developed a performance art project that was also her senior thesis project called “Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight)” where she would carry a mattress around for a year (including to graduation) drawing attention to her claims against Nungesser and protesting that Columbia hadn’t expelled him. She received course credit for this project.
At various events, Sulkowicz called Nungesser a “serial rapist”. He was indeed brought up on charges in several other cases, one from an ex-girlfriend who accused him of “intimate partner violence” [dropped by the University when the accuser stopped answering emails], one by an anonymous accuser accusing him of closing her and himself in a room and grabbing her [originally found responsible, cleared on appeal when the accuser declined to participate further], and one for sexually assaulting a male victim [found not responsible]. An interesting and thoughtful summary of these events was written by Michelle Goldberg in “Benefit of the Doubt”, which appeared in the May 22 The Nation. A review of how cases like this catch colleges in the middle, “Have We Learned Anything from the Columbia Rape Case?”, appeared in the May 29 New York Times.
Nungesser sued Columbia University, saying that the school’s inaction (to stop Sulkowicz) caused him damages from gender discrimination and defamation, thereby harming his job prospects. His suit was described in detail in an article in the Columbia Spectator. He argued that Columbia would never have let a male student carry out a vendetta against a female student in the way he had been targeted. Columbia has asked that the case (still under consideration at this moment) be dismissed as a matter of free speech. They argue, as reported in the Huffington Post, that Nungesser’s case amounts to obligating them “to silence Ms. Sulkowicz, preventing her from speaking publicly on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses – an issue of national concern.”
As a freedom of speech issue, this case has some disturbing elements. Nungesser’s suit is based on the premise that Columbia had a duty to stop Sulkowicz from defaming him, and not only did not do so, but aided her by granting her credit and letting her carry out the project. The University clearly did allow the project (where a central element of the project was that she would carry the mattress until either Nungesser left Columbia or they both graduated) and gave it credit. Did Columbia have another choice? Once the project was approved as credit-worthy by the faculty in her home department, how could Columbia have stopped her without being guilty of censorship? While the granting of credit may give the appearance of agreement with her premise, it’s actually quite a common thing for academic credit to be given for all kinds of academic products that a university’s administration may disagree with (a thesis that takes a controversial position on a political issue, for example).
Once the University found Nungesser not responsible, were there University policies that precluded Sulkowicz from making further accusations? Nungesser’s suit says yes, arguing that Columbia University violated Title IX when it allowed Sulkowicz to breach its confidentiality policies surrounding her accusation. While Columbia University is certainly correct in saying that they shouldn’t be expected to silence Sulkowicz from speaking on the issue of sexual assault on college campuses, didn’t their own confidentiality policies indicate that they shouldn’t have allowed her to name Nungesser as a serial rapist once he was found “not responsible”?
Are Columbia’s confidentiality policies themselves a problem? It appears that they may be. As a citizen, Sulkowicz should be free to say anything she pleases, including making accusations against Nungesser. Similarly, Nungesser should be free to bring suit against Sulkowicz for defamation, loss of income, or any of the other charges he brings against Columbia. Lots of problems arise when the university is put in the position of restricting one or the other’s speech.
Last Week’s Trivia Contest
Last week’s challenge dealt with musical hits from the second half of the ‘80’s. The winners are Misty York (from SPSU), my sister Drorit, and Christina Lesyk. Prizes can be picked up from my office.
Here are the correct answers:
- Huey Lewis & the News song—it make a one man weep, make another man sing. The Power of Love.
- It took Dionne Warwick, Elton John, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder singing together to explain this. That’s What Friends are For.
- What Robert Palmer might as well face it about. Addicted to Love.
- Peter Gabriel song saying “you could have a stream train, if you’d just lay down your tracks.” Sledgehammer.
- Norwegian group who sang “Take On Me”, which has a very cool animated music videos to go with it. A-Ha, who just put our a new album that has been well received.
This Week’s Trivia Challenge
Since I have basically tuned out of popular music since the 90’s, today’s Trivia Challenge was written by a much younger compatriot, Greg Kie. Feel free to submit your own trivia challenge. Any one that I use will win a prize.
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 email@example.com since if you put them as a response on the BLOG, everyone will be able to see them.
- This band named after a stage of sleep had the 1991 hit “Losing my Religion”.
- This group of business-savvy rappers had a hit in 1994 with “Sabotage”.
- Ricky Martin chose to live like this in 1997.
- Ace of Base saw this and it opened up their eyes.
- There is an ongoing debate to this day which of two grunge bands was the better example of the “Seattle Sound” label during the 1990’s. Who were they?