Fell into a perfect ending,
But the last page was missing,
I looked for right angles and straight lines,
And all I found was mostly irrational.
I’ve prepared a speech for just such an occasion,
You’d swoon and be moved to tears,
But when it came time to speak,
My throat closed and I choked on every word,
I let it drop to the floor and fall to pieces,
A dissection of imperfection,
A bloody vulnerable mess to be sure,
But I wanted there to be no doubt,
You’d capitulate and even smile,
I’ve got questions that wait for answers,
But as long as your voice answers,
It doesn’t matter what you say with it,
Or if you just sit in silence,
Thinking mirrored thoughts,
Moving in mirrored movements,
Taking a little walk around the room,
Staring at doors down the hall of the mind,
As beautiful as the memories behind them,
The knob is right in front of me somehow
Is it locked or was I afraid to open it?
Leaning back, I slump on the floor,
The wood is warm, just close your eyes.
It’s life and there’s nothing tidy about it,
Your heart stops without warning and starts again,
And you go on like nothing ever happened,
It’s a cold glass of lemonade on a hot day,
It’s a long heavy sigh that aches but doesn’t hurt,
And I can’t stop myself from another deep breath.
There have been numerous articles now posted in local papers about the upcoming possibility of a state system of higher education strike in Pennsylvania. And with that comes comments. It has been unsettling to see the amount of ire towards educators. I know there are a lot of conservative people in PA. In a way PA is probably a good microcosm for the general breakdown of the country in Republican vs. Democrat. There is a thread in attitude by the critics of the strike and I just wanted to briefly talk about it. I don’t know what to do about it, but it does make me sad.
There is of course general ignorance towards the problem. Nobody really understands what educators go through on a daily basis, but apparently we can all easily be replaced with more qualified people at a lower cost. For most people it’s all about the bottom line. Dollars and cents. Critics don’t think of whether or not changes to our contract might not cause the quality of education to suffer, we are simply greedy people who want more money and don’t care about our students.
There is an overwhelming sense in these hard times that if other people are suffering we should suffer too. One person commented “Let them not work for a year and see them struggle to pay their bills just like us.” When did we become a country who simply wanted to tear each other down. Shouldn’t we be trying to raise people up? I want other people to have good health care…if mine became bad I wouldn’t be asking for others to have their health care reversed. As we tear each other down, it seems like the only people going up are the very wealth in our society. I saw a meme recently that was based on a Harvard Business study on perception vs reality. Most people think CEOs make 30 times what the average American worker makes, when in fact it’s 350 times more. Here is a video that illustration financial perception vs. reality. It seems to me that the wealthy have done an excellent job at pitting us against each other. In the south poor white people blame poor black people or poor Latinos for their problems. Average workers are pitted against educators. Teacher salaries are actually quite low compared to other countries and yet we are painted as people who are draining the system. Poor people are pitting against law enforcement. Yet law enforcement doesn’t pay very well, and pensions are being cut. Law enforcement is an important job that requires intelligent and highly skilled people. Somewhere in lost in the sea of finger pointing are wealthy people laughing at us all and distracting us from who is really
taking away all of our money.
Anti-union sentiments are strong. I never really thought much about unions and their value. I know unions can become corrupt. Anything can become corrupt. Churches, government, business. But overall I’ve noticed that when there are no unions, workers are taken advantage of more strongly. This country has a history of workers not being treated fairly and humanely. Unions have helped us rise out of that situation. They have brought us child labor laws and helped workers make living wages. And while there are plenty of examples where workers are treated well without a union, by and large this isn’t always the case. Some companies have no need to form unions, others I think it is very important. Our union is unique because our contract also contains important elements to educational quality. Investing in education pays off, but when we treat it like a business and we don’t invest in that business, the quality suffers.
Education itself may need reform, but the answer isn’t to reduce quality. Let’s look at what research demonstrates as effective pedagogy and make that happen in our schools. Let’s make education truly affordable again. Let’s not bring each other down, and focus on the true cause of our suffering. People on welfare aren’t my enemy. People who have lost their jobs, their benefits, who have had to take pay cuts aren’t my enemy. I would support you every step of the way for you to improve your quality of life, and be treated fairly by your employer. I’m not your enemy either. I’m in the middle income tier in PA, as are many other professors. Your teachers on average are in an even worse place financially. The middle class continues to get thinner and it’s not good for our country. There should be common ground between democrats and republicans to work together to build the middle class. Weakening education and tearing middle class people down, doesn’t seem to be the answer.
New York, NY – After another uninspiring, if not disastrous debate, Donald Trump’s campaign manager Kellyann Conway announced that the presidential hopeful will be taking a different tack. “There are still many undecided voters,” said a serious Conway, “and it is our belief that anyone who is still confused right now, will respond well to campaigning on a platform of confusion. This plan has also been developed based on feedback from a focus group reaction to Trump’s answer about dealing with Russia in Sunday evening’s town hall debate when he said “But Syria is no longer Syria. Syria is Russia and it’s Iran, who she made strong and Kerry and Obama made into a very powerful nation and a very rich nation, very, very quickly, very, very quickly” “This unique mixture of bad grammar,” said Conway, “confusing references, and ambiguous language struck a chord with many of the undecided voters in the focus group.” We talked to one of the focus group members Shirley Francis of Little Rock, AR. “I really didn’t quite catch what his plan was, but he seemed to know a lot about it.” A puzzled Francis paused to consider her next statement. ”There were a lot of words thrown out there, very quickly, and it sounds like a really complex situation that I can’t hope to understand. But I believe that he does.”
We asked Conway if she could reveal anything about this new strategy. “Well I don’t want to give too much away, but I don’t think it will really hurt if I tell you.” An excited Conway continued, “Fact checking shows that pretty much everything Donald Trump says is a lie, and we want to capitalize on this, along with that confusion factor I touched on earlier. We believe we can gain votes by using an Epimenides Paradox or what’s more commonly known as the Liar’s Paradox.” To this reporter’s knowledge, it is the first time a self-referencing logical paradox has ever been used as an election strategy but Conway seemed convinced that a generous usage of the paradox in the final debate could easily win Trump 2 to 3 key swing states. “Our research shows,” claimed a confident Conway, “that voters in swing states take pride in their state being of national importance during elections and against all odds almost prefer to remain stubbornly undecided. We feel that by trapping their mind in a perpetual state of logical contradiction that they will be unable to reason why they should vote for anyone else except for someone who himself is a paragon of confusion and logical contradiction.” When asked how specifically she will employ this strategy at the final debate Conway responded, “Donald Trump, before every response will simply say, ‘Everything I say is a lie…’ and then continue with what he planned to say. Even those who think he lies a lot will be forced to think that he must tell the truth some time, because if that statement is true that he can’t always be lying. Of course,” Conway conceded, “that statement can’t be the truth either. As they try to make sense of Trump’s responses while pondering the paradox, they will be in a constant state of confusion and should at the very least not vote for Hillary, and we feel will likely vote for The Donald.”
It remains to be seen how this strategy plays out on October 19th, but at this point any strategy is fair game as the presidential hopeful continues to slip in the polls. “The Trump team just wants the undecided voters to know that we think they are the backbone of America,” said a warm and smiling Conway, “and just because they are completely directionless, they can still help move our country in the right direction. Also, we want them to know we’ll be putting up a website that will give them easy directions to their nearest polling place, because we don’t want them to get lost.”
Omaha, Nebraska – Area man Derek Sonnerson expressed his deep disappointment in the locker room talk at the local LA Fitness that he had been a member of for 5 months. “I find myself in a position of needing to join a new gym because my current locker room talk doesn’t live up to the high standards of misogyny and descriptions of sexual assault I had been led to believe happened in this environment.” Sonnerson who pretty much just wanders around the machines to stare at the females working out, and then heads back to shower to talk about them as objects has found the opportunities for guy talk severely lacking. “You know, I stuck it out at this gym for several months, come at different times of the day, but can’t really seem to strike up a conversation with anyone about my creepy sexual exploits.” A dejected Sonnerson said reactions have ranged from disinterest to disgust. “Most of the time guys are just talking about their kids, sports, or politics. It’s really disheartening. One time I came in and these two college students were talking about some hot girl one of them was going to ask out to the movies and I said something like, ‘are you going to wait until the lights are low in the theater before you grab her pussy?’ They just told me to fuck off and called me a loser.”
Sonnerson says his current challenge is getting out of his current gym membership. He’s submitted a request for a refund citing “unfriendly locker room environment” as his reason. We talked to the LA Fitness manager Michael Thorn about the situation. “Frankly at this point,” Thorn said with some exasperation, “I’m prepared to give him is money back. We’ve been getting a lot of complaints. Women say he’s leering at them; men say that he keeps bothering them in the locker room. I have to clear it with upper management, but usually in these cases it’s a no brainer. He’s bad for business, we just want him out.”
Sonnerson seemed optimistic, “I know somewhere out there is a gym just waiting for a person that devalues women like I do and with a locker room full of guys that want to talk about it. I just have to keep searching.”
I love university. From the very first moment I started as a student, I thought it was great. The buildings, old and new, housing different academic fields, knowing there were extremely knowledgeable people who were dedicating their entire lives to those fields and passing on that knowledge to students. I was nervous my first day. University, I think no matter how small a university you go to, it feels big. Big ideas, a campus much bigger than your high school and anxiety filled visions of getting lost, looking stupid, and feeling small run through our minds. By the end of the first year I realized I was in love. I felt that after 1 year of university I had learned as much as I did my entire time in high school. I was exposed to diverse groups of people, diverse sets of ideas, and could literally feel my mind and my values growing. Now I know my experience is not everybody’s. It’s not everybody’s calling to devote themselves to this institution we call university, but by my junior year I knew it was my calling.
Society is made up of many different parts, and I believe that universities play an important role. Whether a student pursues an Associate or Bachelor degree, or chooses to specialize more deeply in their area of interest through a graduate program, the character and knowledge they bring into their new roles in the “real world”, as a result of their education, is important. We live now in a nation where universities are under attack. Education is becoming increasingly undervalued. Yet history clearly demonstrates that when societies make education a priority, it promotes greater innovation and economic growth, empowers people with knowledge as an antidote against oppression, and gives us the ability to flex our minds and adapt in an ever changing and increasingly technological world. The most current attack on universities in this nation is in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education (PASSHE). If a new contract isn’t agreed upon between the faculty union and the state system by Oct. 19th, the faculty at 14 universities across the state will go on strike. This has the ability to cause great disruption to the education of our students and because the state system is trying to spread the message that our striking is out of selfishness and desire for money, and a betrayal to the students we say we care about, I wanted to take a little time to explain why we’re striking and why it matters.
Several proposals by PASSHE remain sticking points in our ability to come to a fair agreement, and most of them have to do with educational quality. The state has conceded on some of the items that would have a negative impact on teaching from their initial proposal. Some of the major ones still outstanding are as follows:
An increase in workload for full-time adjunct faculty. Adjunct faculty are an important part of a university because as faculty retire or move on, as programs grow, we need quality adjuncts to fill teaching roles. When we get good ones and the position becomes permanent and tenure track, it is an easy transition for that faculty in their new role as a permanent professor. By increasing their workload to 5 classes (a lot by any university standards) and reducing their pay by 20% the probability of attracting quality adjunct faculty is reduced. In addition their increased workload will have negative impacts on the quality of teaching and thus the student is not served well. The state also wants to significantly reduce the pay for part time adjunct faculty as well.
Increased reliance on adjunct faculty. Ultimately adjunct faculty would like a job with more security as we all would. Adjunct faculty are only there to teach and generally play no other role in the university. They don’t advise students, they don’t serve on committees or are required to do university service. And why should they? They don’t have the same protections as tenure-track faculty and can be let go at any time. The state wants to increase the cap on the percentage of adjunct faculty at each state university. Coupled with the last point, this means less quality teaching. It means that since adjunct faculty are often looking for more permanent work, this will result in universities constantly utilizing less experienced lecturers who have never taught courses before. Any student who has taken a class from a first time teacher for a course, you know it’s not as good as it could be.
Increased workload for those supervising internships, supervising student teachers, and teaching lab courses. Any time there is a numbers increase on supervision, the time with each student is less. Good supervisors do a lot of work and it is a very helpful role. The increases in workload for internship supervision is by 67% and for supervising student teachers 20%. The most egregious one for me is the reduced value of lab courses. This is a difficult one to explain, but basically one hour of lab used to count as one contact hour, but now they want to reduce it to 2/3rd of a contact hour. Faculty in the state system are required to teach 24 contact hours an academic year. So those who teach lab courses will have a greater workload even though labs have grading, and take time to prepare just as much as a lecture. This will also discourage faculty from offering lab courses. Lab courses are part of important hands-on experiences. They are usually in smaller settings too, where students have more interaction with their professor. Increased hands-on experience in the classroom is proven in research studies to be an important part of quality teaching. So why doesn’t the state system want that? Because if I am teaching a 3 credit course with 3 lab sections, I have 6 contact hours for a 3 credit hour course. A regular lecture course with no lab is 3 credits and 3 contact hours. So if I teach labs I teach less credit hours. You, as a student, pay by credit hours. You are a dollar sign to them, and nothing more. They don’t care how well you are taught, or what research demonstrates about effective teaching practices. It’s about how much money they can make. This is what’s happening all across the U.S. in public higher education.
Allowing administration to move faculty to different departments to teach different courses. Did you ever have a teacher in high school teach you a subject that wasn’t their specialty? It happens in middle schools and high schools all the time. Have the PE teacher, teach a history class, have the biology teacher, teach a couple of math classes. This could happen at university now as well, where teachers who didn’t specialize in a particular area are forced to teach outside their area of expertise. How much would you expect to learn or enjoy such a class?
Matters of Money
So you might say this is a pretty one sided discussion what about money. Clearly faculty want more money right? So let’s talk about that a little.
Well who wouldn’t like more money? But keep in mind we have already been without a contract for almost a year and a half and have been on a salary freeze. We would also like to be treated with similar salary increases as the state has offered other unions in the state. We would like our salaries to keep pace with inflation. Who doesn’t want that? However, if you talk to any of your faculty, you’ll probably find that they care less about that, than impacts on their work quality, and the quality of education they can provide you. To show you how committed the faculty are to improving education, recently the state system tried to offer faculty more money to their salary to try and have us ignore all the measures they are taking to reduce educational quality.* The union refused to sign a contract based solely on a salary increase, and refused to be pitted against adjunct faculty.
Health care costs are also currently a point of contention. There are many unions who have had to take a hit in increased health care costs. How far we will get in regards to this issue remains to be seen, but we do believe that quality health care should be something provided by employers and changes proposed by the state system would incur additional costs in range of thousands of dollars to faculty. We have taken smaller hits in the past which have essentially negated salary increases. This year, most faculty expect a similar result and don’t expect more net salary given the increased health care costs we are likely to incur.
The mission of PASSHE is to provide the highest quality education at the lowest possible cost to students. The problems that we face in higher education in this country are perhaps broader than just what we are facing here, but if tuition costs are not going down and quality continues to get lowered something about the system is broken. We have less direct say in these larger problems, but we can be advocates for the quality of education you receive as a student. Thus, I felt it was important for students to know that your faculty do care about you. We don’t see you as a customer or a dollar sign. We see ourselves as people who play a role in your future, and thus the future of the region, the state, and the nation, and we feel the quality of education you get is important. We are tired of decisions being made about teaching dictated from a group of people who haven’t spent any time in the classroom. If you are concerned about the strike, you and your family need to send an e-mail to the university president at the university you attend. You need to contact Chancellor Frank Brogan (Chancellor@passhe.edu). You need to write your local state congress representatives. We faculty, still hold hope that a strike will not be necessary, and if it happens a strike is no holiday to us. I’ll be just off the California University of Pennsylvania campus, on the picket line, every day, hoping sooner than later, I will get to walk back on the campus and give students the quality education they deserve. You may not agree with our taking a stand on these issues, and that’s okay, but I hope you can respect my right to see this as important, and I hope that you all will take a stand for whatever you truly care about in your futures as well.
Department of Earth Science,
California University of Pennsylvania
*Note: The article that discusses the offer made to faculty to increase their salary, states that our average salary for faculty is over $100,000. This is untrue. Salaries at public universities are publicly available. Here you can find all salaries of all employees in the university system. You can export this data to excel. I calculated the average salaries from cell B270 to B6315 (which is almost all faculty) and came up with an average of just under $80,000. A big difference from what PASSHE is saying. The data is from 2013, but represents the contract we are currently under.
On Friday, at my university, we were fortunate enough to have a very well know climate science researcher speak, Michael Mann. IF the name sounds familiar it’s because he was the one that produced the famous “Hockey Stick” graph that appeared in the peer-reviewed Geophysical Research Letters journal in 1999 (I wonder how many graphs have their own Wikipedia page!). The graph of course was much maligned by climate change deniers funded by various lobbying groups, but has since that time proven to be quite accurate and verified by other researchers. His was also among the e-mails leaked in the scandal called “climategate” which, despite the spin of deniers from out of context e-mail excerpts, has been debunked by the scientific community. It was a great opportunity to hear from someone who has been at the heart of promoting scientific research on climate change, while also dealing with a great deal of political controversy and pseudo-science promoters who try to claim human-induced climate change is a hoax. Like many climate scientists he has reached a point where he no longer finds it very useful to reach out to the public with facts and figures. Numerous research articles have concluded that now, views on climate change are governed by political ideology rather than directly arguing with the science behind human-induced climate change. I found the talk quite illuminating since I too have reached the same conclusion that scientific evidence seems to carry little weight when having discussions with people about the issue. I also found it illuminating to learn more about the political state of affairs in the U.S. right now, so I wanted to share some good news and bad news takeaways for those of you concerned about our Earth.
The Good News
One thing that I thought was a good take away is that if you are a person debating or discussing this topic with a friend, relative, stranger whatever, that talking about the scientific consensus is probably the most helpful thing you can do. Obviously there are always going to be contrary people, but for many there is still a misconception that this is a split issue, and research demonstrates that a lot of minds are changed by pointing out how much consensus there really is. For more conservatively minded people reminding them that there are more economic benefits to doing something to not doing something, and that climate change also represents a national security issue is also important. Fortunately there is already a faction of the military addressing climate change from this perspective.
The other bit of good news is that there is a great deal of plans in place by scientists and engineers to start dealing with climate change. Basically the scientific community is prepared, and are simply waiting for the political will to be able to spring into action.
Michael Mann also said there are a lot of Republican members of congress who are closeted climate change supporters. They accept the scientific evidence and feel that it is important to do something about it. Why are they in the closet, well they have learned the lesson of Bob Inglis. He was a SC congressman who served from 2005-2011 and came out for doing something about climate change from an evangelical Christian perspective. He said the scientists were right and as Christians we should be caring for God’s creation. If you are a Christian this is a valid position to take and is supported by scripture. Bob Inglis ended up losing by a landslide in the Republican primary as his opponent was support by the Koch brothers. Michael Mann and Bob Inglis are good friends and so I believe this political inside information to be plausible and valid. In some ways by releasing him like that, conservative America has opened up a can of worms and Mr. Inglis now promotes doing something about climate change from both a Republican and Christian viewpoint.
The Bad News
Well the bad news is also related to the good news. It makes me concerned, not only that the massive money of the Koch Brothers and energy companies lobbying against solid science is preventing us from taking action that will help this planet, but also that we have so many Republican people in congress without the political courage to stand up to the money. It seems if they all banded together I am not sure what the likes of the Koch Brothers could do, if all of a sudden all of those people in congress lost their next elections suddenly. It would sort of “show their hand”. I guess it upsets me that the people we elect can be so intellectually dishonest and live with themselves.
I asked Michael Mann what the political tipping point would be to make all these Republican congress people come out the proverbial closet. He said that it would take the Republican party to crash and burn in this next election. Only by losing the executive branch and the senate (and possibly the house) would make them turn around and start to support more environmental concerns. The problem is that this election is looking a lot closer than it should be. A small margin of victory by Clinton isn’t going to cut it.
What is clear is that whatever your political stance, climate change is in your best interest and it behooves you to vote for politicians who do have the courage to fight for this planet. Given Gary Johnson, and Trump’s stance on climate, these are really not viable options. And most importantly make sure you vote for people in the senate and the house who accept the scientific consensus on climate change as well.
Finally I also want to help promote Michael Mann’s new book. It gives a much more in depth discussion than my little summary here. He also teamed up with a satirical cartoonist from the Washington Post who provides some good humor throughout the book. The book address things like ethics, politics, the money and ideologies behind climate science deniers, logical fallacies, and of course some basics about the science. I highly recommend it.
From cool blue ice She melted into the serene rill below and swirled Her way down the slope. A cup dipped into the water and She felt Herself poured over a sun-beaten face, thick with sweat. Thoughts lost in introspection, the man let the water drip back into the stream. Continuing on Her journey She felt the leaves fall on Her and carried them down, down. Some slipped away from Her lazy grasp, and others joined Her. She came now to a bridge and looking up She saw the face of a woman who saw to peace in the waters below. A single tear landed without a sound to join the gently flowing waters. Though no one could tell She wept as well as She passed under the bridge downstream. Tall soft pine waving farewells in the breeze.
It was night when She first entered the sleeping city. Dark houses are filled with slow breaths and strange dreams while the occasional streetlight reveals nothing but strays contemplating the next meal. Further on a key slides in noiselessly and turns as a wayward teen sneaks back into their warm home, hoping not to be heard. While the ever vigilant and worried parent is blanketed with calm knowing their child is safe. As city center is reached the dawn approaches and She turns into vapor as She wafts into the street, drifting and curling around corners. It is Sunday morning and only a few vehicles pass on towards churches whose bells call to worship. She sighs as hidden sins enter wooden doors and quietly sit in polished pews. A few people shuffle down deserted alleys, failing to recall clearly the boisterous activities of the night before. An old man with newspaper in hand opens a door and She follows warm smells of roasted beans for steaming brews and feels at home for a moment. She passes by a woman in her 40’s dressed in Sunday best, who slowly stirs her coffee while feeling ignored and unknown. Her husband staring into his phone to learn the minutia of teams and players in upcoming matches. She circles in behind the counter as a barista makes conversation with a young man, who is gripped in fear for how vulnerable and in love he is with her. He contemplates what to say, but never gets it right. And before the ventilation takes Her out into the streets again She passes by a manager thinking about his wife and young son at home who had to leave on a Sunday morning to come to work in a country that doesn’t rest as much as it should.
In the day’s heat She ascends above the growing bustle and looks down upon missed connections, lost opportunities, and people who have forgotten how to listen, to breathe in the air and be thankful. It cries to Her. Or sings in continuous discordance. She cannot tell. It deafens Her as She continues to rise and feels Herself condense back into Her better self. As the noise subsides She looks down again and sees fields of green and dives down like a giant tear to the spongy earth below. She is drawn to the roots of a tree and took asylum in the xylem as She flowed up trunk and out branch and waited. Each day She fed to the growing fruit, incorporating Herself into the flesh.
The sky turns above and She hears Her benefactor hum a song of patience as Her branch becomes heavier with fruit. And each day a young girl comes to sit under the tree. Hoping for better days. Hiding from the screaming of parents. Breathing in the clean air to replace that dank smell of her father’s alcohol. And each day She hears the hope, the hiding, and the relief from clean air. She hears Her kind slide down cheeks and get wiped away on pretty dress sleeves. She hears the slow decay of an untended farmhouse, and the façade of a mother pretending everything is alright. And then one day, with leaves fading from green to orange, the girl sits with head between knees, shutting out the world. The wishing to be whisked away is like a piercing scream into the sky and She has no choice but to fall to the ground. Vibrant in Her redness, full of sugar and quenching juices. A thud that could be heard by no other, save someone sitting under the swooping branches, caused the young girl’s head to turn. A soft rumble reminds the girl she is hungry. And there was a meeting to never forget as she, but for a moment, loses all remembrance. Each bite slow and savored and She can hear the sound of laughter as She is consumed. From the lattice of fruity flesh to the dendritic flow of blood through flesh. Through lung, to ventricle and atrium, the girl and She merge together as one.
Eyelids widen in the dead of night and She slips out through door in defiant trance. With divine strength she climbs stealthily into hills and then on to rocky slopes rising like a fog in a valley breeze. She is sustained by Her purpose alone and through 3 days and nights she climbs and climbs until white frozen ground is beneath Her bare feet. Soft snow shuffles and She listens between gusts of wind for the calling of Her home. As She gazes out at the wide world, the first of the sun’s rays dance of Her face, sweet peace is like a hymn from a jubilant choir in Her ears. She sits down on Her throne of ice and closes Her eyes in glacial contentment.