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United Faculty of Florida, Summer 2006

May 18, 2006

Just a Thought

When the Journal of the American Medical Association published a report comparing Disease and Disadvantage in the United States and in England, the result was a minor stir. The media was shocked! shocked! to hear that the United Kingdom spends less than half as much money per capita on health care than the United States, and yet, for people in late middle age (when most of the highly feared diseases start appearing), Americans suffer noticeably greater incidence of diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, myocardial infarction [heart attack], stroke, lung disease and cancer.

There were several usual suspects available. But while the study tended to suggest that they had parts to play, there always seemed to be something else left unaccounted for. For example:

  • The American insurance industry consumes a growing amount of money in order to, ahem, manage our health care. This leads to denial of care for low-income Americans and delays and complications for medium-income Americans. But while the discrepancies were greater for "low" and "medium" education and income, the fact that for some diseases, the discrepancy remained for "high" income and education suggested that availability of health care isn't the only issue.
  • The stereotype is that Americans eat too much while the English drink too much. And both smoke too much. The study was designed to look at the effects of "a standard set of behavioral risk factors, including smoking, overweight, obesity, and alcohol drinking." But these factors did not explain the discrepancy. For example, among 55 - 64 year-olds, diabetes is twice as prevalent among the Americans. But the authors conclude that most of this discrepancy cannot be ascribed to American supersized portions.
  • The public health community has been aware of America's relatively poor health for some time, but the usual explanation has been ethnic and other pockets of poverty. The authors controlled for this by looking only at non-hispanic whites of ages from 55 to 64. And the discrepancies are still there.
So while health care administration, life style, and marginalization of minorities probably have some effect, that isn't the entire story.

The discrepancy for diabetes is striking, for it holds for all education and income levels. Strokes, on the other hand, are more subtle: among those with "low" (high school or less) and "medium" (college but no BA), Americans suffered almost twice as many strokes per person, but the rates for those with "high" education were about the same. Curiously, the pattern for strokes continued through income levels, with a much higher incidence for "low" (family income less than $ 322 / week) and "medium" (weekly family income $ 322 - $ 635 -- which translates to $ 17,000 - $ 33,000 per year) income, but about the same for "high" income groups.

At this point we should note that the "low", "medium" and "high" income groups each consisted roughly of about a third of their subjects. Of course, "low" income Britons have greater access to basic needs -- including health care -- than "low" income Americans.

In answer to the question everyone wants to know, 5.5 % of the British reported cancer, while 9.5 % of the Americans did. In both countries, cancer varied little with income or education. One should remember that "cancer" is an umbrella term for a large family of quite different diseases, and thus analyzing such lumped-together numbers can be a dubious business.

So what's going on?

The discrepancies for these populations seemed surprising: Richard Suzman of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (which helped fund the study) told AP that "It's something of a mystery." Others weren't mystified: Johns Hopkins professorof health policy and pediatrics Barbara Starfield told AP that "Countries oriented toward providing good primary care basically do better in health." Meanwhile, Harvard professor of health policy Robert Blendon said that America's more laissez faire economy may be at the root of it: "The opportunity to go both up and down the socioeconomic scale in America may create stress."Indeed, at all income and education levels, the Americans report higher levels of hypertension. This aspect of the study was picked up by New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, who noted that in America, an average full time week is 46 hours, while in England it is 41 hours. Krugman noted that in Europe, "regulations and union power have led to shorter working hours."

This brings us to a comment by co-author Michael Marmot of University College in London, who told AP that "It's not just how we treat people when they get ill, but why they get ill in the first place."

This is an article about disease and disadvantage, and in their conclusion, the authors suggest that part of the reason may be the growing inequality in the United States, as opposed to England. Considering England's class system, this may seem an odd explanation, but their point is that recently, American income inequality has been increasing.

This has two effects.

First, there is the simple matter of available resources. If there are real or perceived obstacles to getting preventative health care, then such care will become something that can be put off until tomorrow. Compared to bills, food, etc., health care does not come with a clear due date on it. One result is that some Americans do not see doctors. In fact, one recurring problem that Florida's Department of Children and Families keeps bumping into is the number of children who arrive at kindergarten, never having seen a doctor since birth. It's a matter of priorities, and one thing that Public Health has long recognized is that when it comes to disposing of income, people spend on immediate needs (and even desires) first. And so the level of disposable income impacts health.

Second, there is the stress involved. In a nation with fewer social services and supports as well as fewer and weaker unions, there is a greater sense of being on one's own. In addition, with fewer and weaker unions, working conditions deteriorate. Recall Krugman's observation that the full-time American spends five hours a week more than the full-time Briton. Pundits talk about how pressed for time Americans are, as if it is a choice that individual Americans make to work an average extra five hours a week. But this is also something imposed on employees with no means to balance their employers' power. And the costs show up in our public health.

Recently, epidemiologists have become interested in a "Socio-Economic Status (SES) gradient." Low SES status has been correlated to several diseases, including heart disease, diabetes, and some cancers. Some of this may be due to the social stress of being low on the pecking order (something the stereotypes might suggest would be a bigger problem in England), and some may be due to the physical stress of poor working conditions and poor pay.

And the greatest force for better working conditions and better pay have been the unions. About an eighth of the American work force is unionized, as compared almost a third of Britain's. Unions have been declining in both our nations in the last few decades (as opposed to many other nations, where it is rising: as of 2000, according the Boston Globe, the most highly organized nation was Iceland, at 84 %, with Scandinavia -- notable public health success stories! -- following). But the unions are still stronger in Britain than in the United States, with all that implies about salaries and work conditions. And Americans suffer more ill health.

UFF Senate Report, Part III

Twice a year, the Senate of the United Faculty of Florida meets in central Florida to review the past and to plan for the future. The Senate met in Orlando over the April 8, 9 weekend. The meeting began with a campaign speech by Florida Education Association vice president Joanne McCall, described in the April 20 Biweekly, and then proceeded to UFF President Tom Auxter's report, which was described in the May 4 Biweekly. Then the meeting broke into bargaining committees.

There are four bargaining committees, which consist of the senators of four groups of chapters of the UFF: the eleven university chapters (including USF's), the three graduate student chapters (including USF's), the ten public college chapters, and the three private college chapters. The State University System Bargaining Committee (SUSBC) is chaired by our own Sherman Dorn, USF Professor of Psychological and Social Foundations. The purpose of these meetings is to discuss bargaining (which is now conducted between individual chapters and their university administrations) and common issues. It is a good way of finding out what is going on at other universities. This session was not as rollicking as usual, although there were moments (FIU's administration wanted a dress code for faculty) (now what inspired that proposal, one wonders?). Bargaining is most difficult at FAMU and UF, and it is not at all clear when they will get contracts.

There were two other issues at the SUSBC meeting. * First, the chapters are getting more and more work (the number of grievances filed is increasing), and we need faculty who are willing to help out. UFF is a volunteer organization, and much of its work -- assisting grievants, bargaining contracts, keeping track of everything that affects faculty -- is done by volunteers. * Second, many universities are having problems with the question, "what is the bargaining unit?" The bargaining unit is the set of employees represented by the union, and it was determined by the Public Employees Relations Commission (PERC) long ago, and for USF essentially consists of those employees enumerated in Appendix A of the contract. The USF administration has been shuffling employees' classifications around, while FIU's administration is creating a new medical school. FAMU's law professors are in the unit, while UF's are not. Since the definition of the bargaining unit is one standard target for union-busting, UFF is dealing with this situation very carefully. The Bargaining Committee meetings go into the evening, and are followed up by the Senate when it reconvenes the following morning.

And so the morning of April 9 consisted of many reports. The Community College Bargaining Committee (for public colleges) reported a push by administrations to fingerprint faculty. The Graduate Assistant University Bargaining Committee is pushing for health insurance and concerned about limits on state support for out-of-state students. And our own Roy Weatherford was unanimously endorsed in his campaign for Florida Education Association Director of Higher Education.

Readers who have been following these reports may notice a returning sense of ... normalcy ... in this meeting, as compared to other recent meetings. However, the next meeting will be shortly before the fall elections, so there may be more excitement.

June 1, 2006

Self-Discipline versus IQ

The two national unions UFF is affiliated with -- the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association -- are composed of educators, so when they launch publications for their members, they wind up running a lot of articles on our common obsessions. One of these publications is the "AFT On Campus", whose May/ June issue features rebuilding efforts in New Orleans and plans for the fall elections (this may be an important transitional election, so stay tuned). Amidst the major articles is a section of Campus Clips. One of the clips is on a study of the relative effects of native ability (well, IQ scores) versus self-discipline (well, some personality measures) on academic performance. As curmudgeons everywhere have been saying for years, "hard work and self-discipline ... more accurately predict grades than ... the intelligence quotient ... ."

The study was conducted under the auspices of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania, directed by Fox Leadership Professor of Psychology and former President of the American Psychological Association Martin Seligman, who is best known for his book "Learned Optimism", in which he contends that there is a strong correlation between how well people think they can do, and how well they wind up doing. The study was conducted by him and one of his students, Angela Duckworth. The resulting article, "Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance in Academics," is in Volume 16, Number 12 of the 2005 issue of "Psychological Science," a publication of the Association for Psychological Science available via the USF Tampa Library.

The report covers two surveys, one year apart, of eighth graders at a magnet school. "Native ability" was measured by one of the standard IQ tests, which like almost all IQ tests measure the ability to rapidly and reliably answer a lot of little mechanical questions. (This native ability may or may not be correlated with other, less measureable abilities.) "Self-Discipline" was measured with a battery of questionnaires filled out by parents, teachers, and the students themselves. Academic achievement was measured in terms of grades, performance on standardized exams, and evaluations by a committee of teachers. They also looked at numbers of school absences, the average time spent on homework (and the time of day when students started work on homework), and, inevitably, the amount of time spent in front of the TV set.

First of all, there appears to be a weak correlation between IQ and academic performance. This correlation was "statistically significant" only in the second survey (!), and was not striking in any case. One reason for this was hinted at in the conclusion: the study was conducted at a magnet school, and the variance of IQs was smaller than usual. Thus more students than usual were of "average" IQ (relative to the average IQ at the school), and that might magnify the effects of other phenomena, e.g., self-discipline. The authors said that for the future, they intended to conduct surveys of more heterogenous samples of students.

Second, there is a strong correlation between the "self-discipline measures" and "academic performance." To quote the report, "... highly self-disciplined eighth graders earned higher GPAs and achievement-test scores, were more likely to gain admission to a selective high school [this was the evaluation by a committee of teachers], had fewer school absences, spent more time on their homework, watched less television, and started their homework earlier in the day." The correlations here were much stronger: while the bottom IQ quintile (lowest 20 %) had a final GPA of 85 and the top IQ quintile had a GPA of under 91, the bottom self-discipline quintile had a GPA of under 81 and a top of 93, doubling the effective range.

The authors concluded, "Underachievement among American youth is often blamed on inadequate teachers, boring textbooks and large class sizes ... We suggest another reason for students falling short of their intellectual potential: their failure to exercise self-discipline." With this, the authors leave us at the threshold of one of the most intractible problems in modern psychology.

"Self-discipline" is one of an archipelago of "self-regulatory disorders," ranging from alcoholism to gambling addiction to failure to reliably take prescribed medications. Despite the vast array of treatments -- much of the self-help section of the average bookstore is devoted to self-treatments for self-regulatory disorders -- there has been little (statistically measurable) long-term success in any treatment. And these disorders are not well understood. Are they the result of lack of skills of some kind? Are they the result of inner conflicts or complexes? Is it simply a lack of "will-power" (whatever that is)?

Despite our poor understanding of these problems, this study does suggest that remedial courses may be more effective if they dealt explicitly with study skills.

Supreme Court Update

The May 4, 2006 Biweekly outlined the case of Garcetti v. Ceballos, a case then before the U.S. Supreme Court, which raised the issue of whether a public official is protected for speech made on the job for the job: see the Biweekly story.

The speech was in fact mandated by the official's code of ethics: Mr. Ceballos reported to his superiors at the Los Angelos District Attorney's office (under the D.A., Mr. Garcetti) that there was evidence of police misconduct (largely falsifying affidavits). On Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its ruling in support of the D.A.'s office (which was supporte by the Bush Administration). Associate Justice Kennedy, supported by Chief Justice Roberts and Associate Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas, held that because Ceballos was doing his job when he wrote the offending memo to his superior warning of the misconduct, he had no constitutional protection against a superior who would prefer that such warnings not be committed to writing: "If Ceballos's superiors thought his memo was inflammatory or misguided, they had the authority to take proper corrective action." The issue of whether the D.A. should have disciplined an official for exposing police corruption was dismissed as irrelevant. The opinion is on-line.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Souter found the ruling difficult to reconcile with precedent. In addition, Souter said that the majority's opinion -- that the First Amendment did not apply to speech by public employees in the course of their professional duties -- created a "domain beyond the pale of the First Amendment ... spacious enough to include even the teaching of a public university professor," and Souter hoped "that today's majority does not mean to imperil First Amendment protection of academic freedom in public colleges and universities, whose teachers necessarily speak and write 'pursuant to official duties.'" The majority opinion was all the more disturbing as the precedent in contention (Pickering v. Board of Education 391 U.S. 563 (1968)) had clear academic freedom implications. Nevertheless, even though Roberts had raised the issue of academic freedom during oral arguments, Kennedy chose to punt, writing, "We ... do not ... decide whether the analysis we conduct today would apply in the same manner to a case involving speech related to scholarship or teaching." But of course, that's where the majority is going, which is why the United Faculty of Florida has made sure that our academic freedom is protected by our contract; for contracts tend to get greater respect in court.

June 15, 2006

Not With a Bang ...

The Harrisburg Area Community College (HACC) was the first community college in Pennsylvania, opening its doors to its first class of 426 students in 1964. In some ways a successor to Hershey Junior College (which was absorbed in 1965), HACC started building its first campus in 1965 and was the first community college accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, in 1967. Since then it has opened four additional campuses, and offers more than 120 associate degree, certificate and diploma programs to over 15,000 students.

This was the site for the last (currently) planned performance of the Select Committee that the Pennsylvania House of Representatives authorized to investigate the rampant (liberal) bias allegedly now oppressing Pennsylvania higher education. The mood was somewhat dampened by the recent primary defeat of the Committee's initiator, Representative Gibson Armstrong, R-Lancaster; Armstrong told the Chronicle of Higher Education that some professors in his district had campaigned against him. But the show must go on, and even if the hearing was at a community college, it was the universities that were on the menu.

There were the usual administration claims that there was no problem to investigate. Peter Garland, Vice Chancellor for Academic and Student Affairs at the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, said that the system of 14 universities and 107,000 students had received 14 formal complaints over the last five years. The students themselves reported problems other than academic bias: one recent graduate told the Select Committee that "Classroom bias, in my experience, just isn't a problem. Paying for the schools is." In the end, while Armstrong said that he hoped for a resolution "without having to resort to legislation," Representative Dan Surra, D-Elk, said, "It just became so blatantly obvious ... [that] there is no problem."

Armstrong did get some support, notably from Pennsylvania State University Professor David Saxe, who proposed that a new "Center for the Study of Free Institutions and Civic Education" be founded at Penn State. "Thirty years ago, higher education in Pennsylvania as well as the nation began a track toward multiculturalism, diversity, and social justice," Saxe lamented, and he proposed that his center could be modeled after the James Madison Program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, and would serve as "a remedy" to liberal bias. Representative Patrick Fleagle, R-Franklin, asked for examples in American history and culture where Saxe would return to a more ... traditional ... approach, and Saxe responded with a contention that the American Indian contribution to American culture was being over-emphasized: "You can spend all the time you want studying Native American life pre-Columbus ... [but] you're never going to find rule of law, grand jury, Magna Carta." After some time on this sort of thing, Representative Lawrence Curry, D-Montgomery/ Philadelphia, suggested that they were wandering a bit afield from the oppression of (conservative) students -- which was what the hearings were supposed to be about.

While the Chronicle of Higher Education and the Harrisburg Patriot News covered the story (and this is where most of the material in this article came from), most of the mainstream media ignored it. HACC itself did not bother to post a press release on a visit by a legislative committee (although, to be fair, as Harrisburg is the state capital, this may not be a particularly uncommon event). And Armstrong's defeat (in a Republican primary) suggests that this carnival may be unsuccessful in advancing the interests of the more predatory participants.

But the national campaign may continue, if only because bias in academia, like witchcraft in Salem, is both alarming and ultimately impossible to disprove. Moreover, Professor Saxe's testimony shows a real temptation some of our colleagues may succumb to. Whether or not America owes more to King Arthur Pendragon's Round Table than to Deganawidah and Ayenwatha's Great Law of Peace, the sad fact is that Saxe was supping with the Devil, and with a dangerously short spoon. It is one thing to propose that a government support an academic institute to research a field of study; it is quite another to propose that a government support an academic institute in order to generate research and teaching materials endorsing the government's current policies and politics. What the government needs, and what the people have a right to, is honest and disinterested counsel, and what Saxe was proposing would inevitably lead to very real occurrences of the problem the Select Committee purports to confront.

Preparing for College

In 1999, Clifford Adelman, a Senior Research Analyst at the U.S. Department of Education, produced a "Toolbox" for everyone interested in how students can ultimately attain a Bachelor's degree. Noting that "Degree completion is the true bottom line for college administrators, state legislators, parents, and most importantly, students —- not retention to the second year, not persistence without a degree, but completion," Adelman said that completion rates were being affected by quite new developments, in particular, the trend to hold institutions responsible for their graduation rates, the greater proportion of students going to college, the greater proportion of students transfering from one institution to another (making it difficult to get good numbers describing what's happening), and squabbles over affirmative action. The report is available on-line.

Note that the phenomenon itself -- students not completing their college education -- is not new. In 1951, the president of an exclusive liberal arts college greeted the class of 1955 by saying to his nervous audience, each student look at the student to your right, and at the student to your left; by next year, one of you three won't be here. One difference between now and the 1950s is that modern college presidents don't brag about low retention rates.

Anyway, there were several findings, one of which the gentle webmaster gratuitously brings to his colleagues' attention: "Of all pre-college curricula, the highest level of mathematics one studies in secondary school has the strongest continuing influence on bachelor's degree completion." And despite the grousing about the diluting standards, "Advanced Placement course taking is more strongly correlated with bachelor's degree completion than it is with college access."

Some of the findings should be weighed guardedly, e.g., "For students who attend 4-year colleges at some time, the only form of financial aid that bears a positive relationship to degree completion after a student's first year of college attendance is employment (principally College Work-Study and campus-related) undertaken (a) while the student is enrolled and (b) for purposes of covering the costs of education." Of course, students requiring financial aid may be less prepared in certain ways, and in addition, it might be that work study motivates students to take their studies more seriously, and thus assure a greater return on the money invested in a financial aid package that includes employment.

Anyway, for better or for worse, the report concluded with a "toolbox" recommendation saying, "we must focus our efforts on aspects of student experience that are realistically subject to intervention and change," and adding, "We do not have tools to change intentions or perceptions, or to orchestrate affective influences on students' decisions." Adelman concludes that academically intense high school programs are the most successful in assuring ultimate acquisition of higher degrees.

That was 1999. In the latest issue of AFT On Campus, we are told that Adelman has just composed a Toolbox Revisited report; the article entitled "How to graduate in less than nine years" is on the Campus clips page, in the right column. This was a report of a subsequent longitudinal study of college students who took at most 8.5 years (!) to get a Bachelor's degree; see the study's web-page.

Things have changed, reports Adelman, which has made our numbers (like "attrition rates") even more dubious. In an era where students "swirl" from institution to institution, Adelman sought to track the students themselves. After all, one thing that did NOT change is Adelman's view that "The core question ... is about completion of academic credentials."

Apparently poked by the reviewers, the core of Toolbox Revisited is organized chronologically, following the tracked cohort through college. His basic conclusion is unchanged: "The academic intensity of the student's high school curriculum still counts more than anything else in precollegiate history in providing momentum toward completing a bachelor's degree." This includes at least 3.75 units each of English, mathematics, and science (including computer science), excluding remedial courses, and in addition, at least one AP course. Alas, the next paragraph begins, "Provided that high schools offer these courses ...," presumably referring to courses that actually fulfil these requirements, as opposed to merely having course descriptions fulfilling these requirements (he does address this issue). Adelman still has not untangled the knots of Social-Economic Status (SES); as in the previous report, Adelman doubts that SES directly affects outcomes, but he does grant that it is mysteriously correlated, e.g., students of low SES are more likely to go to high schools that do not have sufficient course offerings.

The gentle webmaster cannot resist mentioning Adelman's remark that mathematics has become even more indispensible since 1999: "The world has gone quantitative: business, geography, criminal justice, history, allied health fields -— a full range of disciplines and job tasks tells students why math requirements are not just some abstract school exercise. By the end of the second calendar year of enrollment, the gap in credit generation in college-level mathematics between those who eventually earned bachelor's degrees and those who didn't is 71 to 38 percent ... ."

Adelman argues that students must be made more aware of their responsibility for their own prospects. "Student responsibility ... is a major theme of The Toolbox Revisited," says Adelman; "students, who are partners in their own education fate, ... shouldn't wait around for someone else to do something for them." One example is his sharp criticism of withdrawals without penalty. In the report, he says that withdrawals from or repeats of 20 % or more of one's courses decreases the probability of ultimately graduating by about a half, and in the summary, that letting people withdraw (after the add-drop period) keeps more serious students from taking courses that are short of space.

June 29, 2006

What The Public Thinks of Us

Recently, Academia has been the target of some sharp if nebulous rhetoric, mostly on alleged bias in the classroom and occasional mention of un-American activities. There has been some concern about how far this could go, and that depends on how much traction Academia's opponents could get in public opinion.

Academia has a long collective memory, so the appearance of popular books with subtitles like "The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America" revive old memories. It is true that in absolute terms, Academia is not being targeted much (Lexis reports that in the category of General News / Magazines and Journals, for the last six months, there are six hits for "the Academic Bill of Rights" and 24 for "liberal bias," compared to 391 for "Hillary Clinton"). On the other hand, during the McCarthy era, Academia wasn't the main target then, either.

So it is not surprising that the American Association of University Professors conducted a survey to find out what the American public makes of us. And the news is: Americans think that tuition is too high. Of the eight issues listed in the survey, the percentages who listed the issues as "very serious problems" are:

  • High tuition: 80.5 %
  • Student binge drinking: 66.2 %
  • Low standards: 48.9 %
  • Crime on campus: 45.5 %
  • Political bias in class: 37.5 %
  • Overemphasis of athletics: 36.3 %
  • Incompetent professors: 34.6 %
  • Lack of support for diverse student pop.: 30.2 %
At first glance, as political bias is just a wee bit more of a concern than varsity sports, we might feel reassured. But the authors warn that "the tempest in a teapot view, though not entirely unsubstantiated, underestimates how upset a sizable minority of Americans are about the perceived politics of professors, and, perhaps at some peril, fails to recognize how soft are Americans' views on academic freedom." The peril is, as the authors note, that this unhappiness and softness comes at a time when "the university has become something of a political football."

This is not the first such survey. In 1999, the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education published a study by Associate Vice President John Immerwahr, of Academic Affairs at Villanova University, on "Doing Comparatively Well: Why The Public Loves Higher Education and Criticizes K-12." Immerwahr reported that professors were regarded more highly than schoolteachers. The cost issue was already present: Immerwahr reported that the public was becoming worried about access to higher education. But returning to K-12 versus higher education, Immerwahr found that businessmen were coming critical of colleges and universities: "If business leaders, who are more knowledgeable, are also more critical of higher education, is this a harbinger of the future? Will other groups also become more critical as they learn more about higher education?" Michael Usdan, President of the Institute for Educational Leadership -- which co-sponsored the study -- said, "some of the issues currently faced by K-12, such as accountability, will soon surface in postsecondary institutions as well." See an ad for the study.

We pause for an editorial comment. First, whether or not business leaders are "more knowledgeable," they do have perspectives of their own, and they have the resources to broadcast their concerns to the public. Thus whether or not the public does "learn more about higher education," the public would hear criticisms about higher education from business-funded groups. This brings us to the second comment, that business leaders worry about "accountability," which the business community has come to regard as a need for standardized exams. But the use of standardized exams has become an partisan issue: in Florida, Jeb Bush managed to link standardized exams, vouchers, weird funding formulas, and union-busting into a single politicized package that has made rational discourse on educational issues much more difficult. The national No Child Left Behind act has had a similar effect. The political temperature rises, and Academia does not do well in high temperatures.

Returning to previous studies, in 2004, the Chronicle of Higher Education conducted a study (posted for subscribers in the May 7, 2004 Special Report), whose results were summarized as "U.S. Public's Confidence in Colleges Remains High" but with "concern over costs, sports, and 'legacy' admissions." Costs were the big issue: 83 % agreed or strongly agreed that students had incurred too much debt, 65 % at least agreed that the government should make more grant money available for financial aid, while 74 % at least agreed -- perhaps paradoxically -- that colleges should offer more loans to students. Bottom line: 94 % agreed that "every high school student who wants a four-year college degree should have the opportunity to earn one."

The Chronicle's 2004 survey explored what the public expected of a university, finding that 70 % thought that it was very important for academia to prepare undergraduates for careers, and that 67 % thought it was very important for academia to prepare undergraduates to be responsible citizens. 58 % thought it was very important for academia to "help students develop good values and ethical positions," and 14 % thought that varsity sports were very important. Interestingly, 49 % thought that university research to "discover more about the world" was very important, but only 39 % thought that university research to "make American businesses more competitive" was very important. It appears that there is support for the traditional mission (making students better people), and for the mission that Harvard & co. sold to America over a century ago (making students better corporate executives).

The Chronicle also explored concerns about bias in academia. About half at least agreed that "colleges and universities improperly introduce a liberal bias in what they teach," yet at least 60 % at least agreed that tenure is necessary for academic freedom. And academia was ranked high among institutions: the percentage of respondents expressing "a great deal" of confidence in the given institutions were:

  1. The military: 68 %
  2. 4-year private academies: 48 %
  3. Churches &c.: 44 %
  4. Community Colleges: 41 %
  5. 4-year public academies: 40 %
  6. Public K-12: 29 %
  7. The U.S. Presidency: 28 %
  8. Health-care providers: 26 %
  9. Local government: 17 %
and so on. Notice that public community colleges and universities and colleges were virtually tied, substantially ahead of Public K-12, somewhat consistent with the 1999 results.

The AAUP survey was taken two years later, and was structured differently, so perhaps it is not surprising that the results were different. For example, respondents had "a lot of confidence" in:

  • The military: 54 %
  • Colleges & universities: 42 %
  • Organized religion: 30 %
  • The White House: 21 %
The AAUP survey was designed to develop a more clear picture of who said what, and it appears that having a "lot of confidence" in colleges and universities is:
  • Negatively correlated with age
  • Positively correlated with amount of formal education
  • Higher among registered Democrats and "liberals"
In particular, 53 % of "liberal Democrats" have a lot of confidence in colleges and universities, but only 27 % of "conservative Republicans" do.

The AAUP presented the results of the survey in a "working paper" on "American's Views on Political Bias in the Academy and Academic Freedom" by Harvard Sociology Professor Neil Gross and sociologist Solon Simmons, which is posted on-line. The AAUP issued a press release, announcing a panel discussion on the subject, as well as a commmentary by AAUP Director of Research James Curtis.

Several significant things surfaced in the AAUP survey.

First, about half of the respondents said that both "professor" and "elementary school teacher" are very prestigious positions, from which it might appear that there is some comparability in prestige. This appears to be a change from the 1999 study, but one that the 1999 study anticipated might happen. (It is not clear what part, if any, standardized exams played in such a change in the public view.) Recalling the United Faculty of Florida's affiliation with the Florida Education Association, we should notice (whatever our pretentions) that from the public's point of view, we are in similar boats, if not the same one. Incidentally, the correlations for prestige are similar to the amount of confidence ... except that the correlations are weaker.

Second, Gross and Simmons argue that most of the public tends to fall into two groups. These groups are a bit fuzzy, with membership varying depending on the issue at hand.

  • 70 % fall into the "no funny business" group, which tends to believe that the government should keep its fingers out of academia -- and that academics should keep their noses (relatively) clean. This group seems to be divided over how clean academics have to be. Just over 60 % of all respondents believe that anti-war professors should be allowed to express anti-war views in the classroom -- while about the same percentage feel (more strongly) that public universities should be able to fire professors who join organizations "like the communist party"; more decisively, about 80 % of all respondents would keep politicians out of academia.
  • Meanwhile, 20 % fall into the "no restrictions" group, which believe that professors should be free, for example, to join the American Communist Party.
Then somewhat under ten percent is undecided. Curiously, even though Gross and Simmons worry about public support for Academia being soft, they did not explore divisions or indecisions within this huge "no funny business" group, and it is these divisions and indecisions -- between those who agree that professors should be free to speak on the job and those who strongly agree that professors should be subject to dismissal for joining the wrong political parties -- that may become critical in any coming political battle.

Third, much of the public does not perceive a problem with bias. While 68 % said that universities tended to favor liberals (compared to 60 % who said that professors should teach more and research less), 57 % said that professors' political views do not affect their teaching while 72 % said that professors are respectful of students expressing opinions differing from their own. And 81 % said that universities welcome students of faith (69 % said that the typical professor was only somewhat religious). In general, Gross and Simmons said that about 56 % of the public could be classified as "unconcerned" about "liberal bias" in academia, while about 30 % of the public was "critical" of such bias.

A real problem appeared in surveying views of tenure and academic freedom. It turned out that only 55 % of the respondents knew what tenure was. Given past knowledge or a brief description, three-fourths of the respondents liked the idea of using tenure to defend academic freedom. But, as Gross and Simmons pointed out, this "suggests ... that there is considerable room for partisan framing of the issue." Indeed, as respondents with less education -- i.e., less exposure to academia -- tended to be more critical or undecided, ignorance of academia could be a problem.

It is revealing in another way. The current notion of academic tenure may trace roots extending back to the ancient immunities of prophets and scribes, but it also owes much to the version that unions presented in the Nineteenth century. Perhaps there was no halcyon day when every worker knew what "tenure" was, but when half the public is unfamiliar with the notion, that is a sign of how weak unions have become.

One final point. What the public really seems bothered by is cost. The colleges do not seem to have persuaded the public that the problem is a lack of state and federal funding: in the 2004 Chronicle study, over two thirds agreed or strongly agreed that colleges and universities could cut costs without cutting quality. This view, coupled with hostile attitudes, could hurt us: consider Ann Coulter's recent quote of a consumer activist saying, "Every time you see the price of tuition go up, you can hear 'ka-ching, ka-ching' in the bank accounts of the college professors." If we don't explain the problem more openly, Ann Coulter will be only too happy to explain it for us. And anyway, if the politicians could be persuaded to constructively address the issue that the PUBLIC wants addressed, that would be very helpful.

July 13, 2006

Have you Received Your Annual Appointment Letter?

Members of the bargaining unit who are nine-month employees or originally appointed at the beginning of the academic year should now have received their annual appointment letters. Section 9.3 of the Collective Bargaining agreement says that the relevant individual making assignments for a faculty member or professional employee in the UFF unit should communicate the next year’s duties to each employee in writing and “no later than six (6) weeks in advance of the starting date,” which is early August for nine-month faculty. Unless your department chair has been in the hospital since late June, most of us should have received the letter by now.

The collective bargaining agreement does not specify the exact form of such assignment letters, but an assignment letter should clearly indicate how many courses you will likely teach each term—certainly the specific courses you are assigned for the fall!—as well as the general shape of other parts of your assignment. The university also needs to notify you in writing of any changes to your assignment (for example, if your letter in the summer indicates you will be teaching one graduate course, but the chair needs you to teach an undergraduate course instead).

If you are in the bargaining unit and either have not received an assignment letter or have serious concerns about it, please send an e-mail the central collection inbox for assignment-letter problems:

UFF Needs Your Help the Effect of Travel Restrictions

The United Faculty of Florida needs help from members of the bargaining unit on specific effects of the law signed last month by Governor Bush, prohibiting the use of funds provided or handled by the state and state universities, for travel or related activities to, in, or involving nations that the U.S. State Department has designated as "terrorist states.” The UFF is gathering evidence about the concrete harms of the new law. If your research or teaching is directly affected by this law, please contact the chapter IMMEDIATELY through e-mail at An automatic reply will acknowledge your e-mail.

Recent News on the Travel Restrictions

The National Education Association Representative Assembly approved a resolution earlier this month that was sponsored by UFF and the Florida Education Association delegation and expresses faculty concerns with this bill specifically:

“NEA will alert its members through its regular publications and the internet about threats to academic freedom in recent federal regulations and state legislation preventing educators in the United States from teaching and conducting research in so-called ‘terrorist states.’” (New Business Item 18, listed on-line.)

The UFF and our state affiliate FEA is currently considering what steps can be taken on the law. The question of whether to join the month-old lawsuit by the ACLU of Florida may depend on the specificity of information that is received from faculty.

Background Information

It started five years ago, when the FBI began investigating two faculty, a married couple who worked at Florida International University. Carlos Alvarez of the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies (Foundations / International and Intercultural Education) and Elsa Alvarez of the Counseling and Psychological Services Center (in Student Affairs) are active members of the on-campus and off-campus community. The FBI followed them, bugged their bedroom, and finally last year, agents stopped Carlos Alvarez at a Publix and persuaded him to come with them to an apartment to talk. The FBI talked to him about his future, his family's future, his children's future, his plans to retire, and had a request: "Since you helped the, the Cuban government, we want you to help the United States now." Apparently, something went wrong, and this January, the Alvarezes were indicted for being unregistered agents of the Cuban government (the indictment is on-line).

The government accused them of providing information about anti-Castro activists, and other prominent members of the Cuban-American community, to the Cuban government, and of recruiting Cuban-American youth to support the Cuban government.

FIU promptly placed the Alvarezes on paid leave (compare that with USF's almost as immediate dismissal of Al-Arian), and hired counsel to conduct an independent review. Miami being a community where Castro is much on people's minds, the fallout began immediately. "This opens the door to a witch hunt," worried one, while another countered, "Only those who are doing something illegal should be worried about the U.S. government's actions." One professor, once arrested on an explosives charge, accused another professor of providing a list of allegedly subversive professors to reporters. There was a squabble over whether or not a quarter century ago Elsa Alvarez had been associated with a group allegedly sympathetic to the Cuban revolution. Naturally, Miami's legislators felt a need to legislate ... something.

Enter David Rivera, R-Miami/Dade & Collier. Stating that, "The FIU spy case vividly demonstrates the security risks associated with state employees traveling to terrorist countries," Rivera proposed that travel to Cuba be restricted "to protect higher education from the threat of espionage activities." His bill, HB 1171 (which was superseded by SB 2434, at SB 2434) actually consisted of four insertions placed in ongoing legislation, regarding "Travel To Terrorist States: prohibits use of funds from Community College Program Fund, or funds made available to community colleges from outside fund, to implement, organize, direct, coordinate, or administer activities related to or involving travel to terrorist state; prohibits use of state or nonstate funds made available to state universities to implement, organize, or direct activities related to or involving travel to terrorist state, etc."

The "terrorist states" are the nations listed by the U.S. State Department as "State Sponsors of Terrorism". The list is on-line; and currently six nations are listed: Cuba, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Sudan, and Syria. Notice the "prohibits use of state or nonstate funds made available to state universities to...": external funding processed by the university cannot be so used. This effectively eliminates almost all academic travel to these countries. While academics visit most of these nations to study current affairs, archeology, biology, etc., the primary issue was Cuba. As Cuba is a Floridian obsession, so it is a focus for Florida academics, and their work would be compromised by not being able to visit Cuba. And Cuba dominated the Florida Senate analysis, which noted that U.S. law currently permits asking for permission for travel to Cuba for government business, professional research, journalism, educational activities, and other purposes. (Presumably -- although the analysis did not make the point -- if the state department was concerned about a particular visit, it could deny permission.)

The Senate analysis mentioned that the Florida Board of Governors had four objections:

  1. That there were already a lot of travel restrictions.
  2. That these restrictions further limit "the exposure of persons living in designated terrorist states to the ideals and values of persons from the United States and Florida." [It should be noted that in classical Stalinism, to which North Korea adheres if Cuba does not, the movements of visitors is severely curtailed to keep them from ... contaminating ... the populace.]
  3. These restrictions limit what we can learn about conditions in those countries, compromising advice academics can give.
  4. These restrictions also curtail "academic and individual freedom."
Two house committees produced six rather sparse analyses.

The public fight began almost immediately. In February, Stanford University history professor and former president of the American Historical Association James Sheehan told the Miami Herald that "Visiting a place, studying a place, speaking freely about a place -- these are things that are really essential for a democracy to work."

Added University of Florida Professor of Latin American Studies and Political Science Terry McCoy (who is also Director of the Latin American Business Environment Program and Associate Director of the Center for International Business Education and Research), "The post-Castro era is getting closer ... It's going to happen probably within the next five and certainly within the next ten years. And that's going to be an unstable time. It would be in [America's] interest to have institutional academic relationships in place."

Florida International University Professor of Sociology Lisandro Perez (and Director of the Cuban Research Institute) said, "[Rivera] wants to build a career using the Cuba topic, which you can always count on here locally to grab people's emotions ... This is just a blatant effort on his part to get some political limelight." Curiously, there was little mention of the academic conferences that take advantage of Havana's weather and prices -- and the consequences to Florida if, say, Florida faculty are not permitted to attend conferences in Cuba (readers can imagine the discussions among European, Asian and especially Latin American academics should Floridians suggest that conference organizers boycott Cuba in order to appease Floridian politicians). (Indeed, a recent change in federal rules makes travel to academic conferences in Cuba much more difficult.)

It is not clear that Rivera understood the effect of his own legislation. Inside Higher Ed reported that Rivera called on professors to seek external funding for travel to Cuba: "Any professor who feels they cannot justify their research enough to receive private, direct funding is probably not worthy to teach in Florida." But of course, such funding is processed by the university, and so public university professors are barred by Rivera's law to use such funds for travel to Cuba.

Nevertheless, in spite of the criticism -- or perhaps, because of it ("Legislators just don't pay too much attention to what academics think," Rivera said, reported Inside Higher Ed; "I always welcome their opposition") -- the Legislature passed the senate version of Rivera's bill. The American Association of University Professors then sent an open letter to Governor Jeb Bush, saying "... SB 2434 cannot be reconciled with our nation's commitment to academic freedom. The legislature has not demonstrated that these restrictions are essential to our security. Nor has it shown that these restrictions should be added to those that have already been promulgated by the federal government for academic research and learning related to these countries. The bill will also take its toll on the willingness to accept faculty appointments in Florida colleges and universities ..." (see the letter).

Bush signed the bill anyway. Heading for the courts takes time, usually many months at least. First at the courthouse door was the FIU Faculty Senate, supported by the American Civil Liberties Union. Unlike legislation, a lawsuit (like a grievance) must be based on a violation of something: to overturn a law, it is not sufficient to prove that it is stupid or that it was passed with demagogic intent. The lawsuit filed by the FIU Senate and the ACLU (and slowly accumulating a growing crowd of co-plaintiffs) contends that the law violates the U.S. Constitution in two ways:

  1. First, the State of Florida does not have the power to regulate international travel, to regulate international commerce, or to conduct foreign policy, and the suit contends that this is what the law tries to do.
  2. Second, the suit contends that the law violates the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of faculty attempting to travel to Cuba.
The ACLU issued a press release, which quoted ACLU Executive Director Howard Simon saying, "Crude censorship like this only serves to keep Americans uninformed about climate changes that may affect our economy, the understanding of diseases necessary to protect our health, and information about political and economic developments that may be vital for our national security." The press release is on-line, as is the lawsuit brief itself.

Rivera was outraged by the suit, telling the Miami Herald that, "The ACLU has hit a new low by filing a lawsuit that will aid terrorist countries," and that he planned to propose further restrictions next year (Florida House Speaker-elect Marco Rubio has expressed support for further restrictions).

The Spellings Commission on the Future of Higher Education Releases a Draft Report Critical of Higher Education

The U.S. Department of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education released a draft report June 26. In an article in Inside Higher Ed, reporter Douglas Lederman said the commission “largely delivers the back of its hand to American higher education, which it describes as offering ‘equal parts meritocracy and mediocrity.’” Those who know the recent history of K-12 education reform may find the phrasing familiar, eerily similar to the claims in 1983’s A Nation at Risk report that our economy was threatened by a “rising tide of mediocrity” in education, and we would quickly fall behind such 1980s economic powerhouses as Germany and Japan.

As widely reported, this is not a draft that represents the consensus of the commission, and the report may change considerably before the final version. Places to begin reading:

National Affiliates Meet in July; NEA Defends Academic Freedom and Higher-Education Funding

The National Education Association Representative Assembly met July 2-5 in Orlando, Florida, and the American Federation of Teachers meets July 20-23 in Boston, Massachusetts. The United Faculty of Florida is affiliated with both of the major education unions through its affiliation with the Florida Education Association. The NEA Representative Assembly this month was in our backyard, figuratively speaking, with more than 9,000 delegates meeting in the Orange County Convention Center for four days in what is reputedly the largest deliberative body using parliamentary procedures (with the help of 41 microphone podiums and a small army of volunteers). Most of the discussion centered on K-12 education and the No Child Left Behind Act, which is up for reauthorization in 2007. But NEA considered several items of interest to higher education, including the Florida travel restriction law (see the discussion above) as well as a change to NEA’s program to promote “legislation to reduce or eliminate tuition costs in public higher education” (
2006 legislative amendment 11).

Delegates from the United Faculty of Florida are elected by the statewide membership of UFF every two years. The next statewide UFF election is in the spring of 2007. News from the convention was starting July 2 covered daily by the NEA. The next biweekly newsletter will cover the AFT convention.

July 27, 2006

The AFT Convention

The American Federation of Teachers is one of the two major teachers' unions in the United States (the other being the National Education Association). The Florida Education Association -- of which UFF is a part -- is affiliated with both national unions.

The annual convention was in Boston last week, and had as its theme "Count Me In!" and AFT President Edward J. McElroy spoke on the importance of organizing and political activism. Four resolutions were of particular importance to higher education.

For more on the convention, see the convention page.

The Growing Divide

"Never before has a college degree meant more in determining social class in America ... [and] ... Never before have American colleges been asked to play a more crucial part in educating a generation of students for a global economy." These were not the first words that the Chronicle of Higher Education published on what they called "the growing divide" between the haves and the have-nots -- the Chronicle has been running articles on the subject for years -- but it was part of an announcement of a new focus, an "occasional series" designed "to examine the broad issues as the United States prepares for a time when the student body will look a lot different, and have much more financial need, than those of today."

The Chronicle of Higher Education is perhaps the pre-eminent academic newspaper in America. A weekly covering administrative, political, and social science issues and (with less intensity) other areas of academia, it can be found in departmental and administrative waiting rooms in colleges and universities across the country. A few of its articles are available to browsers at its website at (although much of the site is restricted to subscribers), and it maintains a page with links to all you could possibly want in academic punditry (the Arts & Letters Daily, at ). Its influence is substantial enough to inspire grumbling and imitation.

The initial April 7 Special Report, "The Rich-Poor Gap Widens for Colleges and Students" concentrated on the wealth of institutions, noting that per-student instructional spending at institutions in the top quartile of baccalaureate colleges have increased 37 % in the last ten years, while such spending among colleges in the bottom quartile increased 6 %. Meanwhile, endowment assets per student increased nearly $ 127,000 at the top, and by $ 8,600 at the bottom.

As an example, there was a comparison of Clarke College (an old Roman Catholic institution in Mississippi with about a thousand students, an operating budget of $ 18 million and an endowment of $ 17 million) with Grinnell College (an old frontier institution in Iowa with about 1500 students, a budget of nearly $ 70 million and an endowment of $ 1.4 billion). Clarke is trying to raise $ 5 million with which to replace 40-year-old lab equipment (and to do something about temperature control in the labs), while Grinnell is finishing a $ 43 million science addition, part of a $ 160 million construction effort during the last six years. The implication is that Grinnell could do a lot for disadvantaged youth, and yet "Grinnell gets a solid failing grade from us," the Chronicle quotes a senior scholar at the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education saying; "Other elite schools do, too."

There are some consequences: the average pay for a full professor at Grinnell is $ 100,000, while at Clarke it's $ 61,000, and Grinnell's student-to-faculty ratio is 9:1, while Clarke's is 11:1. More strikingly, about a third of Clarke's faculty is part-time, while at Grinnell less than a fourth are. But the difference in resources may be reflected in one obvious difference between preparation at Clarke versus Grinnell: it is Grinnell that has the more financially successful alumni. But some observers did not think that more money bought a better education: a later May 12 article would quote the Director of the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy saying, "You're not going to learn English better at Harvard ... You're not going to learn calculus better."

Yes, on May 12 the Chronicle was poking the rich with the report that "Elite Colleges Lag in Serving the Needy: The institutions with the most money do a poor job of reaching the students with the least." The article used a convenient indicator -- many needy students receive Pell grants -- to compare institutions and found that in the 2004 - 2005 academic year, colleges and universities ranged from Berea College, with 80.8 % of its student body receiving Pell grants, down through many institutions in the teens to Yale at 10.4 %, Harvard at 8.1 %, and Princeton at 7.5 %. Grinnell had 12.9 %.

The May article touched on the problem, reporting that "And as college-going rates increase, the wealthiest and most prestigious institutions have become even more selective, crowding out needy students, who are less likely to attend academically competitive high schools or earn top SAT scores." Noting that the Supreme Court's recent restrictions on Affirmative Action programs had thrown more attention on class distinctions, the article quoted a senior fellow of the Century Foundation saying, "The dirty little secret is that low-income students are even more underrepresented than underrepresented minorities..." One recurrent concern was that financially disadvantaged students would not survive academically, although so far the Occasional Series has not covered the mechanics of remedial work.

The traditional route for working class students was to work one's way through college, but on June 9 the Chronicle reported that "Working-Class Students Feel the Pinch: Longstanding aid formula can make it seem that have-nots have more money for college than they really do." This concerns a familiar glitch: as tuitions rise, fewer working class parents can afford to send their children to college, but the formulas presume that they will try and thus reduce the aid by presumed parental contributions. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Education now requires that financial aid offices presume that students are not independent, which often has the effect of simply deducting much of a student's own salary from that student's aid, making the job into a liability.

The institutions that serve working class students are not able to make up the difference. The article looks at California University of Pennsylvania, an Appalachian school serving the children of coal and steel -- as coal and steel decline. Also declining is the state's support of the university, and as the state support falls, tuition, room and board have risen. And student employment being transformed into liabilities, the primary recourses are increasingly debt or stints in the military: at CUP, student debt has doubled in the last ten years. Worse, the loans available are increasingly private. The ultimate result is that nationally, during the last quarter century, the percentage of bachelor's degrees going to "upper middle income and affluent" students has risen from 44% to 58 %. One by-product is that "Working-Class Students Increasingly End Up at Community Colleges, Giving Up on a 4-Year Degree."

On July 7, the Chronicle described a pilot program in a North Carolina county where 8 % of the population have bachelor's degrees. The program pays for academic expenses during the first year, presuming that the students will find support for subsequent years. The program was launched by former U.S. Senator John Edwards, who described it in an interview with the Chronicle. Saying that "Education is absolutely critical in ['poor kids'] being able to be successful," Edwards said that "the trend away from getting poor kids, poorer kids, into college is such a disturbing thing." Edwards said that it is more than just money: "When their parents didn't go to college, when they don't live in an environment where most people go to college and it's not a given, then inertia pushes them in a different direction or keeps them from going in the right direction," and furthermore, there are also "the bureaucratic hurdles that they're confronted with, which are worrisome and frightening for a 16-, 17-year-old kid whose parents didn't go to college, and they don't know what they're supposed to do."

In the July 21 issue, the Chronicle turned to the geographic distribution of National Science Foundation grants, in particular, to the Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research (Epscor), which is intended to encourage research in 23 largely rural and largely western and midwestern states that get very little NSF money even though they have 20 % of the population. (Florida is not an Epscor state.) The difficulty is that major league academics go to where the money is, which is where the hi-tech industries go, bringing in more money, more major league academics, and so on. A recent study says that 75 % of the companies exploiting university discoveries were founded in the same state as the university where the discovery was made. The report was accompanied by an article on Oklahoma -- an Epscor state -- which is using money from Epscor for initiatives in weather and nanotechnology, among other things. The difficulty is that when the state recently found an extra billion dollars in its budget, the legislature's first thought was ... tax cuts. Still, the universities did get $ 150 million, and the president of the University of Oklahoma said that if they ultimately get only half a billion, that would spell success.

Readers may now let their eyes drift up to the top of this review, and notice that yes, Grinnell College, with 1500 students, has an endowment of $ 1.4 billion dollars, nearly ten times what the state of Oklahoma has scraped together for its research budget.

The series is continuing, usually producing a new report each month. The USF Tampa Library subscribes to the Chronicle, which is available via MyUSF.

July 27, 2006


The current contract, the United Faculty of Florida / Board of Trustees Collective Bargaining Agreement is for a term of three years, with salaries and benefits renegotiated each year, along with a few other articles named by each side.

The bargaining process for the 2006-2007 academic year began with a letter dated April 5, 2006 (sent shortly after the belated conclusion of the previous year's negotiations) sent by USF/UFF Chapter President Roy Weatherford. Weatherford appointed the UFF's bargaining team, which includes Mark Klisch, Kathleen de la Pena McCook, Steve Permuth, Art Shapiro, and Sonia Wohlmuth, with Bob Welker as Chief Negotiator.

Our team prepared with six or seven pre-bargaining strategy and planning sessions to begin developing the UFF proposal. The USF Administration team was a little slower to get going, so actual bargaining did not begin until June 2. There have now been seven formal sessions of approximately three hours each, with many more hours of research, writing, scheduling, venting, and exchanging endless e-mails. None of these individuals has received any money for this huge contribution of time and effort, and Bob Welker's lone one course of released time scarcely compensated for the many nights he worked until one in the morning and several hours the next day drafting, rewriting, researching, and refining our positions.

We still are not over the main hurdles of bargaining, and tension is rising. If you see any of these generous colleagues who have been working so hard on your behalf, please give them some thanks and encouragement. They are pulling far more than their share of the load in advancing our common interests.

Logistics Changes

The official purpose of this Biweekly (which, as has been noted before, really should be called a "fortnightly") is to announce the meetings of the USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida. The Chapter is the primary policy-making body of the union at USF, and all UFF members are welcome. (Non-members are invited to come and see what we're up to. Lunch is free.)

Tomorrow, Friday, the Chapter meeting will be at noon at CDB's at 51st & Fowler, when the schedule for meetings in the fall semester will be set. After the meeting, there will be a UFF Biweekly Extra announcing the fall schedule, and henceforth, the UFF Biweekly will continue to be broadcast the night before the Chapter meeting, serving as a reminder of the meeting.

Thus this UFF Biweekly, and the upcoming UFF Biweekly Extra, will be the last Biweeklies that have "Gregory McColm" as the sender. The next regular UFF Biweekly will have "uff" as the sender. The UFF Biweekly will still be broadcast from an off-campus server which maintains our off-campus page,, where past issues of the UFF Biweekly are archived.

The Biweekly will continue to be sent in plain text. This may be boring (most newsletters are sent in HTML, at least), but our primary concern is that the newsletter gets through. As we are all aware, the tide of junk mail continues to rise to the point that some of us (including this webmaster) receive over 200 items a day. USF's various machines have various filters, none perfect, and all requiring supervision. Just in case you haven't read the missives from IT, the primary concerns are:

  • The filters make mistrakes. In dealing with such tides of spam, they almost always junk the refinancing ads while putting the conference announcements in the inbox, but even a 1 % error rate can mean one, two, or three goofs a day, including that critical memo from one's colleague down the hall.

    There are two things one must do. One must be aware of mail that one expects to get but does not. (The UFF Biweekly is an example: if you do not get it for several weeks, it could be a sign that your filter has decided UFF is a suspicious organization.) So one must check one's junk mail folder periodically, for that could be where the missing UFF Biweekly -- not to mention your colleague's critical memo -- has been dumped. Second, Some mailtools get ... unhappy ... when their folders get too full, and an unhappy mailtool can complicate one's life. It is probably a good idea to empty one's junk mail folder periodically.

  • The filters are not only to protect us from viagra and ink cartridge ads, they are also to protect our computers from viruses and worms. One of the most popular routes for attacking computers is via their mailtools. The filters thus function a bit like the security guards at airports, looking for hidden weapons.

    One consequence is that filters are very sensitive to attachments. Like airport security, when a particular kind of file is used in an attempt to breach security, the filters become VERY paranoid about all attachments of such types. For example, while ZIP and TAR files can be very convenient sacks for carrying many files around, they are also great hiding places for worms and viruses, which is why some junk filters simply delete them. That's why some mail comes with a TXT attachment saying something like 'for your privacy, we removed this attachment and if you want it back, contact us at ...' That's one reason why the UFF Biweekly avoids sending attachments.

Of course, there have been cases of overzealous filters (the union brought such a case to the Administration's attention recently, and the Administration has assured us that they will have a firm talk with the filter). But as long as former dictators discover millions of dollars to be smuggled into the USA, we will continue to get spam. Like washing machine and air conditioner filters, spam filters need to be watched.

At any rate, the UFF Biweekly will continue to be broadcast in plain text with no attachments, using the subject line "UFF (Faculty Union) Biweekly". If you have any questions, do not hesitate to contact me at

Welcome Back!

Happy Labor Day!

The computers are compiling our enrollment lists, we are compiling our reading lists, and students are getting oriented. The academic year is upon us.

Teaching is an ancient profession. While there may be some question about ants teaching ants, there seems little doubt about meerkats, those social African mongeese that live peaceably among TV cameramen in the Kalahari. Alex Thornton and Katherine McAuliffe of Cambridge University describe in the July 14 issue of Science magazine how meerkat cubs learn to deal with tricky prey ... like scorpions. Adults present very young pups with dead scorpions, and then present older pups with live scorpions whose tails have been bitten off. Pups presented with increasingly challenging prey learn more effectively how to deal with it, especially with adults looking on, occasionally providing, um, hints for pups experiencing technical difficulties.

Ours is an ancient profession. It is also hard work. And not just for us.

Herbert Simon has called chess the Drosophila for cognitive psychology. Human grandmasters and computer grandmasters follow very different kinds of strategies; the computers relying on their ability to rapidly assign numerical values to vast arrays of possibilities, and then choosing a possibility with maximal (theoretical) potential, while the humans rely on their ability to get a gist of the position by breaking it into "chunks" and looking at how the chunks fit. This "chunking" operation is not unique to chess: we see it in how students learn to read, write, and compute.

But it takes a long time to learn how to almost effortlessly "chunk" a chess position into two central pawns controlling the center here, a bishop lurking behind a ridge of pawns there, and so on, and then being able to abstract a next move. It takes playing literally thousands of chess games to develop this ability.

The strongest indicator of how well a person will learn chess is the amount of time and energy that that person puts into it. The amount of coaching, the number of chess books, the joining of chess clubs, while somewhat helpful, are weaker indicators than the amount of time and effort the player actually spends practicing chess. Like adult meerkats, we do not so much impart knowledge to the next generation as provide them with the chance to develop that knowledge themselves.

This is hard work for both teachers and students.

It is a calling, but recognition and compensation are nice, and that is why the USF Chapter of the UFF is launching a campaign to strengthen the union so that it can more effectively defend our rights and interests. And what the Chapter needs is members. What the union can do for faculty and university professionals depends substantially on how many of those faculty and university professionals are union members. While voting for the union, participating in ratification referenda, and being supportive of the union's goals are somewhat helpful, what really makes the difference is actual, dues-paying -- and even actively participating -- membership. Dues-paying membership is the strongest single indicator of the bargaining strength of a union.

This year, Sherman Dorn (at and Steve Permuth will be leading a Membership Campaign. So for this Labor Day, we ask everyone who is interested in meeting people, making friends across campus, and helping their colleagues, to contact Sherman Dorn and join the effort.