Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The cracks in the Ivory Tower

I've refrained from airing my dirty laundry about academia, but have hinted I some day may do just that. Suffice to say I support higher education and the need for it but I have no illusions about its current state and the reasons for it. Although buffeted and attacked by outside factors many of the problems in the Ivory Tower, much like my house, are the result of decades of poor planning and self-serving decisions by administration, terrible ethics and outright corruption.

A number of stories before and after the new year caught my attentionbecause they shien a narrow spotlight on some of the compromised structure of American Higher Ed.

In California it has been found that the Los Angeles Community Colleges building program is a mess because of poor management:
“An independent panel looking into the Los Angeles Community College District's troubled rebuilding program found that the nearly $6-billion effort was hampered by a lack of leadership and accountability and that lax controls allowed large numbers of costly changes midway through projects.
The district, for example, spent $39 million to design and start construction on four major buildings at West Los Angeles College, only to cancel the projects for lack of sufficient funds to finish them, The Times found.”
Doug Lederman on InsideHigherEd explores why reform on college athletics is unlikely:
“In a set of interviews with nearly a dozen longtime observers and leaders of big-time college athletics, consensus emerged that given the political, financial and other forces that support and benefit from the current system of big-time college sports, it would take an external “asteroid” of major proportions to bring about truly transformative change (though it was difficult to find consensus on the likelihood of any one such thunderbolt actually happening).
But does anything differentiate the current spate of rule breaking and scandal from previous ones, in a way that might prompt a more dramatic response or suggest that more transformative change might result this time around?
No, argues Murray Sperber, a visiting professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California at Berkeley and author of such books at Beer and Circus: How Big-Time College Sports Is Crippling Undergraduate Education. While the rash of recent scandals may seem more widespread or serious than others, “what’s really changed is the Internet, which gives the illusion that there are more scandals,” he says. “The spotlight has gotten a lot more intense. Schools can’t turn it off like they could for generations and generations.”
A report (albeit from another academic institution-UPenn) has found that the State of Washington’s system is “adrift” due to management failures at the top:
In the second installment of a five-state, two-year study, the researchers determined that Washington lags behind most other states in the total number of bachelor’s degrees produced per capita; only 40 of every 100 students who start ninth grade enter college on time; and one-fourth of adults ages 18-64 range have not earned even a high school diploma.
“Performance and Policy in Washington Higher Education” reports that college is becoming less affordable in Washington. From 1999 to 2009, median family incomes declined by 1.9 percent, but tuition increased by 42 percent at public two- year colleges and by 39.5 percent at public four-year colleges and universities.
The University of Illinois System presidential chief of staff has resigned amid an inquiry into whether she sent anonymous e-mails to faculty members with the goal of influencing  them  on policy matters.  The Chicago Tribune reported:
“The university's ethics and information technology offices are looking into whether Troyer, one of the president's chief advisers, was behind two anonymous emails sent in December by "About UIIntegrity." The emails — with the subject line "call for reason and honesty" — tried to influence the University Senates Conference, the primary faculty advisory group to the president, which was debating the contentious issue of enrollment management changes.
The incident comes as the university's leadership has been emphasizing the importance of ethics and positioning itself as the reform administration following an admissions scandal that rocked the state's flagship campus.”
 I tweeted about this, they’re building a new mansion for the UMd president amdist massive budget slashing:
Construction crews are poised to demolish the president’s house at the University of Maryland this week and to pour the foundation for a new 14,000-square-foot on-campus mansion that carries a $7.2 million price tag.
But some question why the school would build such an elaborate house at a time when the flagship university is asking donors to support students who might drop out because they can’t afford tuition. And construction will begin just weeks after President Wallace D. Loh announced that he will cut eight varsity sports teams in June to save an estimated $29 million over the next eight years.” 
The standard line of defense form career academics is that this happens in all institutions.  I call this the GOP defense, because just like the current Republican Party that holds itself out as the protector of "family values" many academics (particularly boomers) crow about how they are above profits and politics and are involved in a nobler pursuit than the rest of society.  In both cases when the truth is revealed we see rank hypocrisy and self-righteousness instead.


This is the time when I can get work done on the old school house.  The previous two owners and an incompetent contractor made  a mess of things.  Load bearing walls changed, joists compromised, bad plumbing changes. and on the addition just shoddy workmanship. The new metal roof had problems too. So that and watching a 10 month old are where I'm at right now.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Plans for the Future

Taking care of little Joe and trying to plan out both house and career renovations have taken up most of my time so far this new year.  I've also done an evaluation for this here blog and found that the most views have been on the Marcellus posts. So I've decided to spinoff another blog dedicated to the latest news for developments in shale gas world in Pennsylvania.  This blog will go on, but there will likely be more activity on the new one.

Stayed tuned for details.

Don't sweat the methane, the ongoing change is bad enough

Prior to the New Year, the NYT's Dot Earth dissected alarming reports of increasing methane being released from thawing permafrost. As the December 14th installment relates

But read this summary of the paper from the American Geophysical Union, which publishes the journal, and see if you feel reassured that the “methane time bomb” there is safe for a long time to come:
[T]he authors found that roughly 1 meter of the subsurface permafrost thawed in the past  25 years, adding to the 25 meters of already thawed soil. Forecasting the expected future permafrost thaw, the authors found that even under the most extreme climatic scenario tested this thawed soil growth will not exceed 10 meters by 2100 or 50 meters by the turn of the next millennium. The authors note that the bulk of the methane stores in the east Siberian shelf are   trapped roughly 200 meters below the seafloor…
To me this is another case were we are facing a real  problem but the atteention gets focused on the more dire, but less supported by data scenario.  And going by the temperature anomalies from GISTEMP for September, October and November 2011 the warming we have is significant without any methane induced doomsday.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

My Calls For 2012

Once I gain, this is my non-scientific, seat of the pants, gut-feeling forecasts of events I think have a good chance of happening in 2012::
Super Bowl: Packers vs. Pats, Stanley Cup: Bruins vs. Blackhawks, NBA: don't know, don't care, WS: too soon, but it'll be a wide open season.  Don't know enough about the various Olympic sports and favorites, but I'll bet the event as a whole will be interesting.

World Events
Wow, lotta changes goin' on. Korea will remain stable (hopefully), Arab unrest will continue and spread.  Rightists in Israel will face an unexpected challenge from their own population. Russian unrest is a possibility and a great unknown. Iran will find themselves at odds with...India.  The last is a hunch based on Iranian maritime skullduggery that has occurred off the Indian coast and Iran's support for some Islamic militants. Citizens in some European countries begun a pushback over the surrender of their nations' financial sovereignty to the EU.  Otherwise the biggest events will not be foreseen, as usual.

Will Ron Paul do a third party run? I would say that is still an unknown and may depend on whether he feels disrespected by the GOP process.  Could Trump underwrite some sort of Palin third party debacle? Possible, how much so no one can say, but it would be great.
Meanwhile Tea Party candidates and pols will continue to pull the Republicans over the edge.  Congress will be utterly useless, Dems win by default.  The original Occupy movement loses steam but a better organized and focused offshoot, surprisingly the product of organized labor, will have a huge influence on the political narrative. Not a good year for finance, marketing and the two institutional political parties.

Tight supplies, wildly variable prices and no consensus on the supply and price issues among experts and the public.  Therefore no progress on resolving the dependence on fossil fuels.  Pipelines, and not just Keystone XL for oil sand product, becomes a huge issue.

Average temps continue to climb and variable wild weather continues.  As I said before, climate actually becomes a campaign issue in the U.S. and denialists suddenly find themselves on the defense, not against climate scientists and activists, but against public perceptions.

Higher Ed
Think the child abuse and other abuse of power scandals and cover-ups are only in athletics? Think again, this year the lid may come off crimes committed by and coverd-up by faculty and administrators.