THE WEEKLY BLAB
Volume 12, Issue 5–January 9, 2018
Happy New Year!
I hope everyone had a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year over the break, and is well rested up for the beginning of the Spring semester. I really didn’t do very much over the break—mostly rested, read a bunch of books, and listened to a lot of music. Mark has gotten into the old TV show “Monk” recently, so we’ve all been binge watching that. I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed the show when it was first broadcast, so I’m thoroughly enjoying seeing it again, and since I’m remembering almost nothing about the individual plots of most episodes, it’s like it’s a new show to me. We also watched a number of movies that have been accumulating. One of the most interesting was “The Walk”, a semi-documentary about the guy who walked a tightrope that he snuck up between the twin towers in New York City (obviously the original event happened before 9-11, but the movie was made well after, using CGI). We watched the 3D version of the movie which was really something—it gave you a bit of the feeling as if you were walking the tightrope yourself and seeing what he saw.
The weather was pretty crummy here over the break, as it was over much of the country. We had a cold snap where the low temperatures hit -18 to -20°F for a week, warmed up a little for two days, and then dropped again as the so-called cyclone bomb hit the east coast. We’re now in a warming trend—the temperature has been above freezing (barely) for two days, and it’s actually supposed to approach 50°F on Thursday and Friday.
In the middle of the night during the cold snap, our house’s boiler decided to stop producing heat. Jill woke up at about 3:30 AM and noticed that it was getting cold, so she woke me up and I went into the basement to see what happened. The boiler was getting power, and the lights indicated that the four zones in the house were all calling for heat, but the boiler temperature was only about 50°F. I called up Grants Plumbing’s emergency number and no doubt woke up Eugene from a sound sleep, but he was very pleasant about it and came to the house about 20 minutes later. What we found was that the boiler wasn’t getting enough intake air, because the intake pipe had some moss and leaves in it—possibly a nest of something. He cut through the PVC inlet pipe, cleaned out the line, and put a sleeve on it to reattach the line, and the boiler started up and started heating the place. He told me if it happened again, just loosen the sleeve, separate the pipe, and let it pull in air from the basement. Sure enough, the next night the same thing happened, and so I did what he suggested and all is well. We’ll see if it’s worth replacing the PVC line or whether I’ll just keep taking the inlet air from the basement, which seems to be working out fine.
Just before the break, on December 13-15, I was down in NYC for a SUNY Presidents meeting. This time, I decided I was going to fly out of Ottawa, Canada, since there are direct flights from there a few times a day to Newark Airport. It had been snowing a little so the drive up to airport took a little longer, but nothing serious. The plane left a little late, but was otherwise fine. I took the airport shuttle bus into Manhattan, which let me off about 5 blocks from the hotel I was staying at. The bus normally costs $17 each way, but the ticket agent asked me if I was a senior citizen, and said their definition of it is anyone over 62, which is exactly my age, so I got a round-trip ticket for $18 total—not bad. So, I’m now officially a senior citizen. I walked to the hotel, checked in, and walked over to SUNY’s NYC office for a meeting between the presidents of the Colleges of Technology and the Chancellor. We talked about several issues common to our sector, most of which were related to strategies to help offset our higher than average costs for keeping current with technology. After returning to the hotel, I found that there was an Indian restaurant around the corner, so it shouldn’t be hard to guess where I had dinner that evening.
The Presidents meeting started the next morning, and it focused on the topics of “Campus Climate”, “Increasing our Research and Outreach Enterprise”, and “Crisis Communication”, each of which was discussed by a panel of presidents. I was on the last panel, and talked about the crisis communication issues that arose during our Yik Yak incident back in 2014.
There was also a very interesting speaker on “Leadership Before a Crisis”, giving five main recommendations, each accompanied by an African proverb. The five recommendations and proverbs were:
- Ask how the crisis intersects with your campus values, and recognize that there are no quick fixes. “When spider-webs unite, they can even tie up a lion”.
- Create a culture where everyone is listening and hearing all communities on the campus. “In the moment of crisis, the wise build bridges and the foolish build dams.”
- Create a great value around collaboration instead of competition. “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
- Leadership matters. “An army of sheep led by a lion can defeat an army of lions led by a sheep.”
- Leadership, if well expressed, is contagious. Have a positive attitude. “However long the night, the dawn will break.”
State of the State
On January 2, I was off to Albany for the Governor’s annual State of the State message. I had breakfast at the hotel, which was a good thing, since if you’re going to attend the speech, you have to go through security, and can’t leave thereafter.
The main foci of the speech were about making New York State a leader in ending discrimination and sexual harassment of women, standing up for unions, advocating for more infrastructural work (and pointing out that New York is the national leader in advanced infrastructure, even when people say that various projects couldn’t be done), and saying that the Federal Government is at war with New York (especially regarding the new tax bill’s capping deductions for property, state and local taxes), and that the State would be taking steps to block and address this.
There wasn’t a whole lot about higher education in the speech, but there is a push for more transparency in student loans (and appointing a state omsbudsman for this), as well as advocating for establishing food pantries on all state college campuses (SUNY Canton has had one for several years). After the speech, several SUNY presidents and I met with the State’s Assistant Secretary of Education to discuss several of these issues.
Higher Education in the News—and It’s Not All Good
Higher Education is in the news a lot lately, and not always in a good way. A lot of people seem to be questioning whether sending a child to college is a good investment for families, why our graduations rates aren’t as high as they should be, and lots of other issues.
A recent poll (taken June 8-18, 2017) by the Pew Research Center showed that among Republicans, the percentage saying that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the way things are going in the country rose a small bit from 32% (in 2010) to about 37% (in 2015-6), and then spiked upward to 58% in 2017. Over the same period, among Democrats, the percentage saying that has dropped from 22% to 19%. On the other hand, also in a Pew Research Center poll (taken May 25-June 29, 2016), similar majorities of both parties (89% of Republicans and 87% of Democrats) said that their education from a four-year college was useful in developing skills for the workplace, and 53% and 52% respectively said it was very useful [similar positive results were obtained for a four-year college education leading to job opportunities and to personal growth].
Let’s look at some of these issues one by one. Questioning whether college is a good investment makes absolutely no sense at this point in time. All the data point to that college has never been a better investment than it is now. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (click here for the reference), based on 2015 results (the most recent available), the average salary of someone 25-34 who worked full time, year-round, with a high school diploma was $30,500, while that for someone with a bachelor’s degree was $50,000. The unemployment rate for high school graduates was 5.4%, compared to bachelor’s degree graduates at 2.8%. The relative difference in earnings between the two categories, 64%, is the largest it has ever been since this began to be tracked in 1973, and its rate of growth is increasing. So, you are more likely to get a job with a bachelor’s degree, and it will pay you significantly more. Having a bachelor’s degree correlates with lots of other things too—likelihood to own a house, to be healthy, to be happy, etc.—because having more resources leads (on average) to better outcomes.
Of course, to get that bachelor’s degree, you have to graduate. On average, the graduation rate at public universities of first-time full-time students in a bachelor’s degree program was 59% among students who started their education in 2009 and finished by 2015 (click here for reference), though this number varies widely by type of college—it is higher at selective state universities (80.3%) than at open admissions ones (34.6%)—and also varies by many other factors (ethnicity, gender, family income, etc.). Students fail to graduate for lots of reasons, some of which are beyond our control (death in family, financial issues, moving to join friends, weaker home high school, etc.) and some of which reflect where colleges can do better (simplifying procedures, eliminating superfluous requirements, stronger student support, more effective responses to outcomes assessment results, etc.). Graduation rates are highly complex and there are no simple or quick fixes, but there are ways that the rates can be continuously improved.
In some cases, negative views occur because of misunderstandings about how colleges work. I remember an article about Title IX issues and sexual assault which drew a reader comment saying in effect “Why don’t colleges give victims of sexual assault a choice of a campus-based procedure and a court-based procedure? The campus-based procedure would allow for a faster resolution and would let colleges issue no-contact orders or suspend students who were found to be responsible so that they would no longer be on campus.” Of course, all those suggestions are exactly what most (if not all) colleges ARE doing. The article actually correctly said what colleges were doing, but the responder either didn’t read the article, didn’t understand the article, came in with a pre-perception that was unshakeable, or was a troll/bot.
Another common complaint is that colleges raise costs because there is now more money available. The argument goes that as additional financial aid is made available to students by the government, colleges will respond by raising costs to soak it all up. The colleges, in turn, are accused of spending the increased revenue on inflated faculty salaries, hiring bloated staffs, building climbing walls, and other such things. While I can’t claim that no college has ever squandered money foolishly because they could get it, that’s not the way budgeting works anywhere that I’ve ever been. In my experience, faculty salaries are not inflated—they’re almost always lower than salaries for equivalent backgrounds in the private sector. Are college staffs bloated? No doubt at some places, but every place I’ve ever been at has been quite lean in its operations, with net increases in staff positions most likely occurring to address some federal or state mandate (Title IX, sustainability, etc.), often unfunded. Faculty legitimately complaining about low salaries often point the finger at the increasing number of staff, without understanding that this is happening because of mandates that the college has no control over.
Besides the mandate issues, here in New York, state colleges do not set their tuition rates (that’s done by the state government in Albany), and don’t negotiate with labor unions about salaries and benefits (that’s also done in Albany. When salary increases are approved by the state, funding isn’t increased to cover the costs—we have to find the money within our current budgets). Thus, it’s quite common to see a tuition increase completely eaten up by a small salary increase, leaving the college with less money for programs and support than it had in the previous year.
So, the reality in Higher Education is often different than what people think or what’s reported in the press.
Last Time’s Trivia Contest
Last time’s contest had to do with songs about winter. Our fastest responders with all five correct were Robin Gittings, Terri Clemmo, and Kevin Elliott. Just come to my office on the 6th floor of MacArthur Hall to get your prizes—a duplicate CD from the vast Szafran repository.
Here are the correct answers:
- Song that begins: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire, Jack Frost nipping at your nose.” The Christmas Song.
- What you’re doing when “Sleigh bells ring, are you listening? In the lane, snow is glistening.” Walking in a Winter Wonderland.
- Beatles song with lyrics: “Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting.” Here Comes the Sun.
- The Mamas & the Papas song with lyrics: “All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray, I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day.” California Dreamin’.
- Anne Murray song with lyrics: “Spread your tiny wings and fly away, and take the snow back with you, where it came from on that day. Snowbird.
This Time’s Trivia Challenge
This issue’s challenge will continue a series about songs, this time being songs about New York. As usual, the first five with all five correct wins a duplicate CD from the vast Szafran repository, or whatever else I’ve dredged up as a 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.
- Frank Sinatra 1980 song that says “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.”
- In the Drifters and George Benson both had massive hits with this song, saying “The neon lights are always bright” there.
- Simon and Garfunkel’s 1966 song, saying “Slow down, you move too fast, You got to make the morning last.”
- According to Duke Ellington, the quickest way “to go to Sugar Hill, way up in Harlem”.
- Rolling Stones song with lyrics: “Friends are so alarming, My lover’s never charming, Life’s just a cocktail party on the street, Big Apple, People dressed in plastic bags, Directing traffic, Some kind of fashion.” Shadoobie!