Welcome back! And the news is...after over a year of bargaining, we have a contract for you to ratify. Ballot packets will be sent to home addresses of all in-unit employees, for all in-unit employees - UFF members and non-members alike - are eligible to vote on whether to ratify the new contract. The new contract runs from 2016 to 2019 and features, among other things, merit raises of 3 %, 2 % and 2 % for 2016, 2017, and 2018, respectively. UFF strongly recommends voting in favor of ratification. Wheels are turning, and we will announce when packets are going out.
Meanwhile, classes are starting, we are welcoming the Class of 2020 (and new colleagues!). This brings us to...
The Mindset List
We are welcoming the Class of 2020, and Beloit College wishes to remind us that to incoming students, Vladimir Putin has always been in charge of Russia, cloning has always been a mundane laboratory procedure, euros have always been the currency of (most of) Europe, SpongeBob SquarePants has always lived at Bikini Bottom, one never has had to watch television programs at their scheduled times, India and Pakistan have always been nuclear powers, email is an ignorable medium used by old fogeys (get with it! text your professors!), the Star Wars of your youth has always been episode IV, snowboarding has always been an Olympic sport, and physicians have always had unions.
The complete Mindset List is posted online. And of course, the Onion has its own Mindlessless List, which observes that "For this generation of entering college students, born in 1998, Henny Youngman, Frank Sinatra and Seinfeld have never existed."
On a More Serious Note
We faculty and professionals are concerned with our students' ability (and willingness) to focus and learn, so of course we very interested in reports on student preparation and attitudes. A recent overview of some research threads found that students regard learning as something they get from professors - not something that they accomplish themselves. This overview also reported on recent research suggesting that student success depended critically on scholarly relationships students had with their teachers and their peers.
This may not be news - one may be reminded of the Zen ko'an about a master asked by a prospective student if the master could teach him Zen, to which the master replies (in effect) that it is the student who has to learn Zen. (Of course, that involves spending a lot of time with the master.) We faculty and professionals are used to these kinds of issues with students, and we are comfortable with initiatives to mentor students, encourage them to form study groups, etc.
(Incidentally, The Conversation is a media outlet for academics set up by a collection of academic funding partners, including USF, so that academics, like you, can write about their own research for laymen.)
But students may be distracted by external factors we are not so comfortable dealing with. Last year, the Association of Public & Land Grant Universities received a report that from the academic years 2006-2007 to 2012-2013, state and local appropriations per full-time student declined by about $ 2,700 (adjusted for inflation) and that tuition and fees went up by nearly that much.
Rising tuition and fees have consequences, and as another overview in The Conversation reported, To cut costs, college students are buying less food and even going hungry. The article notes that while Pell grants covered three fourths of the cost of college in the 1970s, they now cover less than a third. The authors reported that students went hungry for lack of funds, sometimes for an entire day.
In 2013, USA Today reported that in 2001, 5.4 % of all college students received food stamps, but that in 2010, it was 12.6 %. One difficulty was that in order to be eligible, a student had to work at least twenty hours a week, which seemed to affect grades. (Of course, going hungry may affect performance, and ultimately grades.)
Food insecurity has always been an issue for students, and recently colleges and universities have taken notice. In 2007, the University of Hawaii at Manoa concluded that a fifth of its students were food insecure while a fourth were marginal or at risk. Food insecurity means "limited or uncertain access to nutritious food," and a study in 2011 indicated that 14.9 % of all U.S. households were food insecure. "Despite the wealth of research related to student finances and debt, food insecurity among college students has only recently received attention in research and policy agendas," reported a 2014 study, which concluded that 14 % of University of Alabama students were insecure. Last November the Chronicle of Higher Education reported that other institutions conducted similar surveys, with a range of results up to 59 % at Western Oregon University - although that number referred to being "food insecure at some point during the previous year."
Some institutions (including USF) have set up food pantries and found resources. Some (like SUNY) have persuaded their state governments to come up with financial assistance. Meanwhile, we faculty and professionals should be aware what some of our students are going through.