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UFF Biweekly
United Faculty of Florida -- USF System Chapter
23 July 2020
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Making Sure Black Lives Matter (and on Reopening)

In mathematical chaos theory, a dynamical systems that is usually relatively impervious to agitation may briefly be highly sensitive to perturbations. There is a problem: the outcomes arising from given perturbations can be hard to predict, and are often counter-intuitive (which is why during times like pandemics, one common reaction of The Establishment is to hunker down and try to keep everyone calm until the crisis blows over). During this pandemic, we continue to monitor the progress of two major perturbations.

  • Getting There. During World War I, many African Americans thought that their sacrifices for their country would be met with gratitude and improved conditions. That isn't what happened. Getting a different outcome this time will require thought and work. For more, see below or click here.
Meanwhile, the political situation is turning surreal. Washington ordered hospitals to stop reporting patient data to the CDC and instead send it to a new system managed by TeleTracking, a "World leader of patient flow command centers" that is concerned about "misinformation" about its new role. And back in Florida...
  • Amidst the surge. Florida's schools and universities are buffeted by surreal politics in Tallahassee. For more, see below or click here.
On Tuesday, at 7 pm, the National Education Association - one of our national affiliates - will hold a Virtual Town Hall on Reopening America’s Schools and Campuses Safely and Equitably. But since many of us will be online, we have a timely account by a recipient of a Research & Instruction scholarship.
  • Getting Online. Scott Grizzard of the Department of Mathematics & Statistics purchased some equipment for online teaching this summer and fall - and he posted some videos on how it works. For more, see below or click here.
In the last issue, we observed that the governor hadn't cut USF too badly when he signed the budget. But there's a caveat: he is "holding back" 6 % of all state agency allocations, which deprives USF of an additional 2 % of its budget. A few percentage points here, a few percentage points there, it adds up to real money - and this to an institution that during recessions is a critical engine for pulling the economy through and out of a slump.

Speaking of Tallahassee, election season is upon us. Yes, after wildfires in Australia, pandemics in our backyard, locusts in Africa, and murder hornets in Washington, it's time for the primary election, on August 18. On the ballot (in addition to legislative candidates seeking to be partisan nominees) are a crew of commissioners, a band of school board members, and a jam of judges. In other words, elected officials who make a difference in our daily lives. If you plan on voting by mail, contact your friendly neighborhood county Supervisor of Elections for a ballot.

Chapter Meeting Tomorrow on USF Tampa at noon on Zoom

The USF Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida will meet tomorrow Friday at noon on Zoom. On the agenda: the latest iteration of the reopening plan, more consolidation issues, the website upgrade, and more. And here are the minutes for the previous meeting.

We will meet tomorrow and August 7. (Yes, August is coming.) Any employee in the Bargaining Unit may attend, but you must have an invitation: contact the Chapter Secretary. Meetings and events are posted on the Events Calendar of the UFF USF Website. Come and check us out.

USF United Support Fund for Food Pantries

Many of our students are struggling during this crisis, and the USF Foundation is supporting the USF Food Pantries to help out. They are accepting non-perishable donations, but one can also make monetary donations for the pantries at St. Petersburg, Sarasota / Manatee, and Tampa.

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Getting There

History - even the history of pandemics - doesn't repeat itself. But, as Mark Twain observed, history rhymes. We are warned that while the Black Death helped kill feudalism, it also encouraged the concentration of economic and political power. And the 1918 pandemic accompanied a growth of racism in American and Nazism in Germany. Planning for the future is not just a matter of not letting a crisis go to waste, it is also a matter of avoiding disaster.

G. W. F. Hegel wrote that "...nothing great in the World has been accomplished without passion," and during the last few months, many people across the country - particularly young people - have shown great passion to accomplish something great: to make the World agree that black lives matter. And this passion has inspired similar efforts around the world.

But the hardnosed school is interested in results over the long term, which raises the question of how much change a campaign of protests can accomplish. Certainly protests (and legal action) can effect a single simple change: witness the federal directive that international students in the USA must enroll in face-to-face classes...or leave. After protests and a lawsuit, the federal government backed off (partially).

But this is an example of a simple thing to be done; a complex and entrenched thing requires a lot of work over time. For example, increasing the percentage of non-white students and faculty at a university requires a long-term commitment and changing habits and attitudes. Successful campaigners, like Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., thought strategically, keeping focused on what the outcome would be.

That means thinking about how people will react, and people, as Emma Lathen observed, are primarily concerned with their own problems, which poses two difficulties.

First of all, there is the effect of protesting. Princeton Professor Omar Wasow recently raised a storm with a paper arguing that in 1968, many middle Americans voted for Richard Nixon in reaction to the protests of that year. This observation was hardly new, and in line with similar observations about German support for Hitler.

But this time may be different: there is a lot of popular support for the Black Lives Matter campaign, which may be partly because of media coverage. As FAIR observed, once journalists became targets of police violence, media coverage became more sympathetic with BLM. The moral of the story is one that Gandhi and King knew well: media coverage of protests is critical, and something that should be planned.

The second problem is that even if white people agree that Black Lives Matter, it is one thing to ask for support and another to ask for resources, especially resources that white people might have to give up. People almost instinctively think in terms of a zero-sum game, even though it's been four centuries since economists started arguing that divvying up resources is not a zero-sum game, and that some divisions will actually increase the size of the pie we all share (and some will decrease it). Recently, business psychologists have observed that heterogeneous groups are more productive than homogeneous ones (although heterogeneous groups tend to whine more). So it is not surprising to see a number of corporations endorsing Black Lives Matter: of course, they want good PR, but they have also discovered that this is good policy.

Academia should listen to the business psychologists. This may be a good time to ask what we actually want USF to be. If we want a major research + teaching institution to lead Florida out of its world-ish Agriculture + Tourism economy, not to mention facing major challenges like climate change and artificial intelligence, this requires thinking outside of the box, something heterogeneous groups are better at.

Perhaps it is time to think about increasing diversity. Partly out of good citizenship - and partly to advance the mission of the university in serving the community of which it is part. USF has just launched an effort to investigate systemic racism, which should be a helpful part of this thought process.

Amidst the Surge

Political pressure on the schools and universities to reopen in August has been mounting.

President Trump announced that he may cut funding to schools that don't reopen. While the president may not be able to cut allocated funds, he may be able to block disbursement of funds although that could lead to litigation. American Federation of Teachers (AFT) President Randi Weingarten condemned the threat (the AFT is one of UFF's two national affiliates), while opinion polls indicated the public was opposed to cutting school funding and were opposed to the president's demand that schools reopen.

Meanwhile, the New York Times got hold of internal CDC documents warning of the risks of reopening and reviewing individual state plans, and the Surgeon General just said, "...the biggest determinant of whether or not we can go back to school ... [is] your background [COVID-19] transmission rate."

The CDC seems to think that Florida has one of the most developed plans, and Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran felt confident enough about Florida's plans to announce that schools must reopen in August (although his authority to mandate this is questionable).

Out in the (ahem!) real world, teachers and experts were worrying about how adolescents will be induced to follow social distancing, face covering, and other restrictions after the first burst of enthusiasm when classes start. Student compliance is the wild card according to the chair of the American College Health Association's COVID-19 task force, and there is skepticism about student compliance with anti-viral measures lasting more than a few weeks: the rather sad record of alcohol and sexual abstinence efforts, and the continuing struggles over bullying and harassment, do not inspire confidence. Obviously, faculty and staff would be on the front lines of enforcement, which leads to concerns over the very small number of problematic students: just as business owners have had problems with anti-mask customers, teachers can expect similar problems this fall in classrooms - and it is not clear what to do about them (send them to the dean's office?).

The reality that many pundits and politicians are ignoring the problems that teachers and administrators face (as teachers and administrators navigate the political minefield): if school resumes in classrooms, a lot of people will probably get very sick, and outside of the human cost, there will be a backlash. Some politicians recognize this, and ... the American Council on Education and the U. S. Senate Leadership are proposing liability limits, which suggests that neither the ACE nor the Senate realize that a lot of very sick kids and teachers could panic the very same politicians who vote on university budgets.

The Florida Education Association - which represents K-20 teachers across the state - has sued Governor Desantis, Commissioner Corcoran, and the Florida Department of Education, contending that the state directives on reopening schools is endangering everybody's health, and FEA President Fed Ingram has been appearing on televesion to tell the public that Florida schools shouldn't be "...the petri dish for America." For many reasons, it would be best to have students in classrooms. Many nations are doing it, if cautiously and with precautions. But doing it in the midst of a viral surge, and without preparing the infrastructure that other nations are using, is irresponsible. And September is coming.

Going Online

Scott Grizzard is a graduate student and visiting instructor in the Department of Mathematics & Statistics. He received a $ 500 Research & Instruction scholarship to purchase equipment for online teaching. This is his account.

I spent the money on audio and video equipment for remote teaching, and then made videos on YouTube on how to use the equipment, and other tips for remote teaching.

Mr. Grizzard made several videos - some with UFF support, some with NSF support - on some hardware and software useful for online teaching. They are posted on YouTube, along with some examples.


Chapter Meeting tomorrow Friday, July 24, at noon, via Zoom. All UFF USF members are welcome: for the Zoom link, contact the Chapter Secretary.

All UFF members are invited to attend. Non-members are also invited to come and check us out. To get the link to Zoom, contact the Chapter Secretary. Come and join the movement.

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