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UFF Biweekly
United Faculty of Florida -- USF System Chapter
24 August 2017
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Chapter Meeting Tomorrow in Tampa

The Chapter will meet tomorrow Friday at 12 noon in Perkins Restaurant in Tampa, on 5002 E. Fowler Ave. (at the intersection of E. Fowler Ave. and N. 50th Street, on the southeastern corner of USF Tampa). Lunch is on us, and all USF employees are invited, especially UFF members and employees thinking of becoming UFF members.

The UFF Chapter Meetings this semester will be on August 25, September 8 & 22, October 6 & 20, November 3 & 17, and December 1. The August 25 meeting will be at Perkins Restaurant, and the other meetings will be in a room TBD on USF Tampa, although two meetings mid-semester will be on USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota / Manatee at dates and locations TBD.

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Welcome Back!

Classes have started, and it is time to recall that old rueful joke - they aren't getting younger; we're getting older - and Beloit College would like to remind us that the Class of 2021 was born in 1999. Beloit claims that the Class of 2021 always regarded phones as all-purpose gizmos, always searched for Pokemon, and followed Dora the Explorer around the world. The USF Oracle is not impressed by such patronizing, claiming that Millennials are socially stereotyped and complained about The Myth of the Millennial. The fact is, they are the future, and they are in our classrooms.

  • Student Success in the Classroom. One recent survey result suggests that in class, students should close the laptops, put away the tablets, and silence their phones. For more, see below or click here.
  • Students' Lives. During the last decade or so, students have come under increasing personal stress. For more, see below or click here.
  • Students' Attitudes. Perhaps because of the stress, students are becoming more politically aware - but in different directions and different ways. For more, see below or click here.
Of course, the previous generation has a mindset of its own, as observed one 50-something professor. Once upon a time, when the world was young and green, and brontosaurs roamed the plains, there was only one computer on campus, and it was called The Computer. There was only one phone company, and it was called The Phone Company - and long-distance calls were so expensive that students called home after 11 pm. Students wrote their papers on a mechanical word processor called a Typewriter - and every typo generated inevitable drama involving some stuff called White-Out. And the older generation grumbled about how college students lacked the commitment and civility of college students back in the 1950s (which was actually the era of swallowing live goldfish and packing telephone booths) (telephone booths??). Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Student Success in the Classroom

Universities change as their students change. For universities, part of student success is keeping their eyes on that ball.

While one school of thought contends that one can study in bite-sized pieces amidst distractions, the recent trend is to underline the importance of focusing on what one is doing and minimizing distractions. Addressing distractions is part of our job. And this brings us to the classroom.

Once upon a time, students hid comic books and magazines behind textbooks, or just gazed out the window. But now there are laptops, tablets, phones, and other gizmos which students use to ... take notes. Among other things. Despite the numerous rationales for these devices, one study found that laptops had a negative effect on grades (and there is some evidence that students understand printed text better than screen text). Of course, for students with certain disabilities, a device can make all the difference, but it is not clear that these machines are helpful for most students - and there is some concern about the effect of phones on youngsters independent of school (although history buffs will recognize a similarity with an old concern about television).

The Chronicle of Higher Education recently ran a Special Report on The Distracted Classroom, with faculty experiences living with - and living without - these gadgets. We are still feeling our way, so it is not yet clear what the solution is. But as we all know the effect of doing homework while watching Game of Thrones, we may want to tighten our control over these contraptions during class time.

Students' Lives

One blunt instrument to measure how well youth are doing is fitness for military duty. A century ago, the U.K.'s acceptance rate as "Grade I" (fit for "general service") varied between a quarter and a half, settling on about a third during the last year of World War I. As for World War II, just before the war, about half of all American applicants were rejected as unfit for any kind of service (not just "general"). Standards were relaxed during the war, and the end of the war only a third were being rejected. Explanations varied from malnutrition and disease among the working class to grumps about the lack of exercise.

The latest news from this blunt instrument is that two-thirds of American youth do not meet contemporary recruitment criteria. But part of this may be due to a policy decision to transform the American military into a leaner machine, which has allowed the Pentagon to tighten its standards.

A century ago, the primary problems were poor health and malnutrition - particularly among the working class. Despite the Pentagon's complaints about physical fitness, the old problem may still be with us. Obesity seems to go up as income goes down, and considering the foods we are supposed to eat - lots of produce and not so much processed food - it seems that a healthy diet is expensive. Add the fact that not only are incomes for most Americans stagnant, but incomes for young people are falling dramatically. Combining this with a recent study that reported that an eighth of all community college students experienced food insecurity in 2015 - and this was actually an improvement over previous studies - it seems possible that after a century, we have still not solved the malnutrition problem that the British encountered a hundred years ago.

All this affects us, for students' physical and mental health affects classroom performance. In fact, some recent studies indicate that much of standardized test performance in K-12 tracks family income and even residence, independent of schools. This is probably true of college students as well.

Physical and mental health issues entering the classroom brings us to Lynn Johnston's observation that in college, there is nothing to fear but beer itself. The recurrent tragedies involving drugs keep alcohol and opioids in the news, and drug issues do not confine themselves to Friday nights (and Saturday mornings). They invade the classrooms as well. That is not a surprise, recalling that the physicist Richard Feynman quit drinking when he found it was too habit-forming, and that the mathematician John Littlewood quit tobacco when he realized that his productivity went down when he was smoking.

Anyway, on the reducing tragedies front, it may seem encouraging that many students use marijuana rather than opioids. But when some European students lost access to legal marijuana, their grades went up, and an American study concluded that students who drink alcohol and smoke marijuana - both in moderate amounts - get lower grades.

Students' Attitudes

A sideways glance at what sells in the bookstore's Young Adult section suggests that times have changed. The Twentieth century saw essentially optimistic publications from the fabulist Amazing Stories to the cheeky Mad Magazine. The late Twentieth century saw censorship battles over the likes of Judy Blume and Madeleine L'Engle. But Kurt Vonnegut may have been the one who presaged the current trend we see in books like Suzanne Collins' The Hunger Games, Veronica Roth's Divergent, and James Dashner's The Maze Runner. Of course, fabulist stuff remains (e.g. Stephanie Meyers' Twilight), but the popularity of dystopian fiction may tell us something about how our students feel about their future.

For the class of 2021, the 2008 meltdown happened in the fall of fourth grade, and they've grown up amidst the fallout. That probably affected their views, including their view of education as the door to opportunity, and their view of their own prospects. As the 27 July 2017 Biweekly observed, the public view of higher education has darkened recently as student debt and news stories about graduate unemployment (and critical political commentary) spread. A recent survey found that among high school student respondents, 84 % planned to go to college but half worried about making it through. Students saw finances, family crises and stress as the main obstacles to their own success.

Some students have been motivated to do something political about the situation, but they are moving in many directions and like the rest of the country, they are growing more polarized: a recent survey that about a third called themselves "centrist," as opposed to the students two decades ago, when half called themselves "centrist".

College is when students try out new ideas and ideals - including political ideas - to see how they fit and what to do about them. This includes learning that there are honest and intelligent people with different views of things. About four fifths report that they are tolerant of other people's opinions and six sevenths report that they can work with diverse people. But only two thirds (women) to three fourths (men) reported that they can talk about controversial issues - much less be challenged on their own views. Inside Higher Ed recommended that "institutions should create programs or activities that would allow students with disparate political views to talk with one another."

Students are talking to each other on social media, as well as showing up to protests. But this is the era of doxxing, or finding out who is doing what and then posting resulting videos online. Despite their experience with social media, many students have not realized that if they attend a protest and get carried away, both their boss and Aunt Harriet will find out because someone has posted the video.

Whether all this will inspire the Class of 2021 to be more serious than their predecessors (like us) about studies and the world remain to be seen.


Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, August 25, at Perkins Restaurant, on 5002 E. Fowler Ave., in Tampa. We will have lunch at the meeting. All UFF members are invited to attend. Non-members are also invited to come and check us out. Come and join the movement.

Membership: Everyone in the UFF USF System Bargaining unit is eligible for UFF membership: to join, simply fill out and send in the membership form.

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