United Faculty of Florida -- USF System Chapter
27 July 2017
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Chapter Meeting Tomorrow in St. Petersburg
The Chapter will meet tomorrow, Friday, at 12 noon in Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg, on 1320 Central Ave. Lunch is on us, and all USF employees are invited, especially UFF members and employees thinking of becoming UFF members. Come check us out.
This is one of the two remaining chapter meetings of the summer: the last one will be on Friday, August 11, at 12 noon, at CDB Restaurant in Tampa, 5104 E. Fowler Ave (note change in location). Come and join the movement.
Last Call: $ 500 Travel Scholarships for UFF Members
The USF Chapter of the UFF will award six $ 500 Travel Scholarships for fall and spring. This will be for travel for participation in a professional activity. All applications are due by August 9, and only UFF members are eligible. In addition, no recipient of the Fall 2016 or Spring 2017 cycles of travel grants, and no member of the UFF USF Executive Committee, is eligible to apply. The six recipients shall be selected by lot at the August 11 chapter meeting. For more information, see the Travel Scholarship Flyer. There are two new conditions:
This initiative is part of our membership campaign. If you would like to become active in the UFF USF Membership Drive, contact the Membership Chair, Adrienne Berarducci (click here).
- When presented or published, any research or presentation facilitated by this grant must acknowledge that the work was partially supported by the United Faculty of Florida.
- After the work is presented or published, the recipient will compose a short (200 words or so) description of the research, scholarship, or creative work, for publication in the Biweekly.
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IN THIS ISSUE
The Public and Higher Education
Periodically, the Pew Research Center conducts a poll on what Americans think about their institutions. This year, Pew's subhead was "Republicans increasingly say colleges have negative impact on U.S." Then came a flurry of explanations, rationalizations, and accusations from across the spectrum. In this issue we look at a very ancient problem.
- The Poll and the Commentary. Pew said that attitudes towards higher education have turned sharply south during the last two years. For more, see below or click here.
- A Little Context. People have been anxious and suspicious of academics and similar creatures for a very long time. For more, see below or click here.
- What to Do? One proposal is to reach out to the community so we can show them that we are not extraterrestrials, and we have something to offer. For more, see below or click here.
The Poll and the Commentary
The Pew Research Center, a subsidiary of the Pew Charitable Trusts, is a think tank in Washington, D.C., which tracks trends around the world, including attitudes in the United States. Every now and then, Pew conducts a poll to find out what we Americans think about churches and religious organizations, banks and financial institutions, labor unions, the news media, ...and colleges and universities. Do we think that these institutions, on the whole, have a positive or negative impact? In this year's poll, as usual, we think much of churches and religious institutions, we don't like the news media, and across the political spectrum, and we continue to develop a more positive view of labor unions (!).
But the headlines went to a recent dramatic and rather partisan change in Americans' attitudes towards colleges and universities:
Graphic © 2012, Pew Research Center per terms and conditions.
Still, Pew reported that last year, at least, graduates across the spectrum tended to like their own college. Nevertheless, there was a predictable flurry in media:
Of course, this could be a two-year blip, but it is a large shift, so it is something we should take seriously.
- The Senior Vice President of the American Council of Education wrote that part of the problem is a perception that a degree is not worth as much as it used to (even though the College Board says that a degree is worth a lot), a view reinforced by news of growing student debt.
- The President of the National Academy of Scholars wrote that "Colleges Are to Blame for the Contempt in Which They're Held". Citing recent news stories about student and faculty demonstrations, he wrote that, "American higher education, taken all in all, has put itself in opposition to America’s best principles, its most admirable aspirations, its open-mindedness, and its capacity to a create a generation of worthy civic and political leaders."
- Indeed, as mentioned in the 29 June 2017 Biweekly, Academia has become a particular favorite media target recently, and more negative attitudes towards academia may be a consequence.
- One academic blogger saw this as yet another sign of impending doom for academia. Costs are rising, the pool of students are shrinking, and government support is decreasing. He argues that we will need academia during the coming century, but just because we need it doesn't mean we won't junk it.
A Little Context
The immunities once granted to prophets, sages, and minstrels reflected a grim reality: the prophecies, counsels, and songs were often unwelcome. And the immunities sometimes broke under political pressure: Jeremiah was tossed in a pit, Socrates drank the hemlock, and it's not quite clear what happened to Geoffrey Chaucer. Politicians and the public have mixed feelings about such creatures.
Some major stereotypes appear in this sample of clickbait through the ages:
These are some of the major popular anxieties about academics, intellectuals, and people who quote Shakespeare and think too much. Academics, intellectuals and the like twist words to their own occult ends, they waste resources on impractical nonsense, and they have strange powers and resources and cannot be trusted.
- In his Clouds, the Greek playwright Aristophanes portrayed Socrates as the headmaster of The Thinkery. His newest student is the wastrel son of a debtor seeking to learn how to talk his way out of red ink, and Socrates succeeds in turning him into an unscrupulous lawyer.
- The French monk Gerbert of Aurillac introduced some important astronomy and mathematics to Europe during the late tenth century, and was subsequently elected Pope Sylvester II. According to medieval sources, Gerbert stole a book of magic spells, built a talking machine (who told him to stay away from Jerusalem), and won the papacy from the Devil in a game of dice - who got even by attacking Gerbert during a mass.
- One of Lemuel Gulliver's travels (as recounted by Jonathan Swift) is to the floating island Leputa, where nerdish scientists generate light from cucumbers while their wives cheat on them in the oppressed land of Balnibarbi below.
Academia is also resented because of its privileges. In a world where many people can be fired with thirty days' notice - or even no notice at all - tenure (or even the requirement for a six months' notice) and academic freedom looks like privilege.
History is part of the problem: academic institutions evolved out of sanctuaries, and the fact that academics have more education sets an academy apart, even in communities that benefit from universities economically. This is nothing new: in medieval Europe, town versus gown tensions were aggravated by the fact that many students and faculty were immigrants (in those days, if you were born over twenty miles away, you were an immigrant) who spoke Latin. Town and gown didn't know each other that well, and people have little difficulty nurturing resentments and building fantasies about people they don't really know. And that suggests one way to address the problem.
What to Do?
The Chronicle of Higher Education observed that in 1956, 66 % of all Americans viewed the news media positively, while in this recent Pew poll, 63 % of all Americans viewed the news media negatively. The Chronicle then asked some experts in journalism what Academia could do, and they recommended that Academia explain its benefits better and provide more access.
Others have a more expeditious proposal: reach out to the public. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has launched programs to help members engage with the public, the press, and politicians. And K-12 schools. Public societies (like the Society for Science and the Public), professional societies (like the consortium that runs Mathematics and Statistics Awareness Month), museums (like the San Francisco Exploratorium), collaborative enterprises (like Art Museum Teaching), news media (like the Tampa Bay Times), universities (like USF), and even labor unions (like the National Education Association) have been doing similar things for years.
In psychology, there is a notion of a familiarity (or exposure) effect, that people become accustomed to the faces and things they encounter (although the results can be mixed). Reaching out may help show the public that we are not aliens from another planet, and we do have things to offer.
Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, July 28, at noon, Ferg's Sports Bar & Grill in St. Petersburg, on 1320 Central Ave.
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.
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