Archive for March, 2011

What does a university do?

March 30, 2011

A quickie post full of links today.

What is a university?

…hired consultants who have publicly stated the fundamental view that academic research is not valuable and that tenured faculty could be replaced by lower-cost lecturers. These consultants propose a formula that excludes research in valuing faculty. They only want to look at any immediate financial value of research that can be proven on a current basis.

Professor X tells us more about university life in the US.  S/he works at two institutions and describes grading thus:

My colleges’ official stance is one of vehement opposition to grade inflation, and I believe they are sincere. Based on strict adherence to many other colleges’ grading criteria, my students would forever be doomed to dwell in the place of F’s and D’s. Occasionally, very occasionally, a student may stand on tiptoes and crane her neck and breathe the sweeter air of a C. I fail lots of students, more at the community college than at the small private institution.

S/he looks at the goals the university has for the students -to be prepared for formal research work at a university and/or for non-academic work – and at where most of the students do work:

the aspiring laboratory technician takes core courses in medical technology but also three years of prerequisite courses in the liberal arts and sciences — including English 101 and English 102. B.A. candidates in sociology with a specialty in criminology will be prepared, in the words of the catalogue, for “scholarly careers” in sociology, criminology, and social deviance, as well as jobs in victim counseling, corrections, and law enforcement. Virtually none of my students are headed for scholarly careers in social deviance or anything else. They will work — or are working — as bailiffs or federal marshals; in sheriff’s departments; as nurses of all kinds; in the billing or human resource divisions of large institutions; in county, state, or federal prisons; as court or correctional officers; or as caseworkers in the caverns of whatever social service agency will have them. Whether much of their college coursework will actually be of any use to them, other than qualifying them for the job, is questionable.

Many of my students see conversational English as a hurdle to be jumped and left behind rather than as a component of their future work.

I’m interested in reading Prof X’s book which comes out next month although it has attracted some criticism.

It’s not his fault that, as he describes in his book…, he is toiling away in a feminized academy where, he surmises, the influx of women professors has created rampant grade inflation. According to Professor X, feminine qualities have compromised the mental toughness and rigor once necessary to get through college and replaced these with a reliance on compassion and nurturing.



Somewhat related: Cosmic Variance discusses how to get tenure at a major research university and at other universities.

And Does/should School meet the Demands of the Job Market?


a (sorta) sad milestone

March 30, 2011

About a month ago, I was reading a pop-up version of The Jungle Book to my son.  At the end, Mowgli left the jungle to live with people.  My son asked why did the boy have to leave the jungle and I far-too-quickly explained that all children grow up and leave their parents.

I had returned my attention to the book or anyway looked away for a moment. When I looked back, my son had a long face and huge, puppy-dog eyes* and softly asked if all children had to leave their parents.

I quickly tried to repair the damage and after a long hug from me and another from mom, he was able to move on.

Skip ahead to today.  This morning I was informed that he liked hugging me when we parted at the kindergarten door, but not when his friends could see.  Then he went into the school and didn’t try to comfort me or notice my long face!


* “long face” and “puppy-dog eyes” are cliches but for good reason: they perfectly described his appearance.

I want to agree with this guy, but…

March 22, 2011

Roar Sheppard (poor guy, his parents doomed him from the start) is a “New Humanity Culture leader” and director of the Overseas Seon Culture Life Museum.

In an article for the Korea Times, he writes about the earthquake in Japan and links it to other recent natural disasters.  Then:

I wanted to ask nature, what is the reason for abnormal conditions of the Earth to appear all of a sudden? This was the answer I received.

How can we say all of these are separate phenomena? The one organism, the Earth is showing the signs here and there. Human death and shortage of grains ― these are only the result. Take a look at the fundamentals that are giving rise to these.

What is the present condition of the Earth? When people and nature are uprooted from their homes like in Japan, swept away by extreme rains in Pakistan, how do you think the Earth feels which is the basis of all of these?


If you live on the Earth ― no ― if you are a being with a heart, when you stare at the Earth in this situation, you should wail. Are glaciers melting? Do you know what it will cause to the Earth? It means the immune system and basic circulation of the Earth is collapsing.

If your digestive system has a disorder even slightly, you can’t perform normal activity, can you? Even though the Earth has serious disorders in all of its organs, especially serious damage in essential organs, it is still circulating its blood here and there to send nutrition even now. That is nature.

I sorta agree that we need to take better care of the Earth, but even my so-common-it’s-cliched phrase bothers me.  Whatever happens to humans or living things, the Earth will be okay.  Well, as okay as any inanimate, non-responsive, non-thinking thing can be.  A big rock is okay, after all, even after you break it.  It is now in two pieces but the change doesn’t matters to the rock.

There are some useful lies out there.  Perhaps belief in Santa does make kids better behaved in December and the companies that make Christmas donations to charity might not if there were no Santa.

… I’ve decided to leave religion out of this argument as much as I can.  The author is director of a Buddhist organization so I have to bring it up but I guess I don’t need to connect it with useful lies.

Anyway, there are useful lies and metaphors can carry important ideas.  If we think of the Earth as a living thing that we need to better care for, perhaps we will behave better: we might, for example, work to reduce fossil-fuel use, fight acid rain and other forms of pollution, and be more careful of just how much we harvest out of the ocean.

So long as we keep in mind that we are only discussing a metaphor and not truly thinking of the Earth as sentient, I am satisfied.

However, Roar continues in the same vein and overworks the metaphor – if it is, indeed, a metaphor for him.  I do not believe it is.

However, it is not that the Earth will just watch humans do this forever, because the Earth also has to maintain its balance as a member of the universe.

The events happening now are nothing in fact. It’s already in the state where the balance has begun to crack, and the imbalance will only speed it up and the rate will get even faster.

Even though you know we are headed toward a cliff, we can say it’s a runaway car that cannot be stopped. Please understand the Earth’s situation where it has no choice but to take action.

I’ve questioned in the past whether I let Buddhism get away with such claims, as I do not offer such latitude in my consideration of Christian claims,  but this is far enough into the realm of science that reading it bugs me.  How much does it bug me?  Enough to break my nearly month-long silence on this blog, that’s how much!

Anyway, in addition to disliking Roar’s statements even as metaphor, I also dislike them if uncritically accepted.  I imagine an angry mob with pitchforks driving them into the ground while chanting, “Earthquake, huh?  Take that, jerk.”  After all, if we accept the Earth is actually deliberately quaking or that the previous quakes, and other entirely explainable-through-meteorology natural disasters were twitches of a waking beast and could deliberately quake again, we should obviously be ready to counter attack or try to blackmail the Earth into good behavior.

I am an environmentalist but I can only see improvement in our situation coming through better education, but nightmarish threats of the Earth itself fighting against us don’t help.

plans and concerns

March 11, 2011

I recently started reading “Cognitive Surplus“, a book about how people can create collaboratively online.  The thesis of the book is that for years, TV demanded that we only absorb media.  Modern media -delivered by the internet – is more of a give-and-take* proposition. We can do more that receive information; we can create it, too.

Since starting the book, which I enjoy, I haven’t created anything online although my time online hasn’t decreased much.

I’ve been distracted by concern over my wife who is in the Korean Coast Guard and has been at sea for more than a week now.  We’ve spoken to her, so I know she is fine, but her job is more dangerous than I had imagined.  To my knowledge, she is not in the West Sea but I have no information either way.**

I see that rice season may have started already.  It seems early.  I am surprised; last year we started the first planting in May and the second planting in June.  The planting I was involved in was in southern South Gyeongsang province so I would expect it to be ahead of the more northern Gyeonggi province.


* a student majoring in 국제물ㄹ류 – or maybe 국제관계 described his major as “give and take”.  After discussion, we agreed that maybe “import/export” or “International Relations” was a more august sounding title.

**I’d started a rambling, stream-of-consciousness type of post and left it in the draft folder.