UC Education: Down the Tubes

The New York Times ran an article on the destruction of the UC system.  Significantly, the article directed its analysis almost entirely at the UC’s research mission and what may be lost in that area because of budget cuts.  Only briefly mentioned was the affect of those cuts on students.

I have been a member of the University Council American Federation of Teachers (UC-AFT) since its inception.  This union represents lecturers, non-tenured faculty, in the UC system.  We are hired to be teachers; and some estimates hold that 50% of undergraduate classes are taught by lecturers.  They are being cut mercilessly in this crisis and the effect of these cuts upon the quality of undergraduate education are clear and immediate.

I am proud of the Union and its attempt to represent student interests, as well its own.  I am especially proud to know the current President of the UCAFT, Bob Samuels, who appeared recently on “Democracy Now” as follows:’

For more on the crisis see Bob’s blog, Changing Universities.

UCSB 1 Wofford 0

I think I have frozen my ass off for the last time this year, though I don’t know about 2010. But I wasn’t as frozen since I took the precaution of wearing a pair of sweat pants under my jeans, though that made for some issues in the going to the bathroom department.

The UCSB soccer team managed to beat Wofford College one to nothing. It was a cleanly played game with very few fouls; people were not littering the field in various states of pain, as has previously been the case. And the referees called a good game. The first half was back and forth. UCSB played like it was in mud. But they came out in the second half attacking, took charge, and scored their single goal with about 10 minutes to go. That was a relief since I didn’t want to sit through an overtime.


Afterward we stayed to congratulate “the guys.” Their next game is this Sunday down at the University of San Diego, a Catholic school. The guys are a little beat up and have been struggling with the sniffles. They didn’t think they had played all that well. Though clearly victory is better than the defeat.

At the end the Wofford players were lying flat on their backs utterly depleted. They had come clear across the country from Spartanburg, SC, to Southern California to play their opponent on their opponent’s home field and the lost by 1 goal.

I spoke with a Wofford professor, I believe, who was accompanying the team. I am sorry I did not get his name. He was a little aggravated–I mean they had just lost–at the way UCSB students throw tortillas (like flaccid frisbees) onto the field after the team scores a goal. I don’t like it either. For one thing it’s a waste of good food. For another, I have seen players slip on those damn tortillas. The guy sitting behind me though in the stands said it was better than what students threw at Colorado. Marshmallows–that given the conditions–were frozen like rocks.

The Wofford professor immediately recognized my Honea Path sweat shirt, and said he knew where that was since he had gone to Erskine–which does not appear, on Google Maps–very far from Honea Path. He knew where Clinton was too. I said goodbye to him and wished them all a good trip home, trying in my own way to extend a little Southern Hospitality. 

UC Crisis Continued

I can’t get this off my mind, though I wish I could. That’s hard to do when it’s staring you in the face.

I unfolded this morning’s LA Times to see a picture of students at UCLA protesting fee hikes. One is carrying a sign that says, ” California….#1 in Prison Spending #48 in Education.” I think that’s true; and it’s something to ponder. I don’t know how we got into this situation. I guess I wasn’t paying attention.


               But apparently, the fee hikes will take place. Up 32% by next fall, tripling the cost of UC education since 2000. 32% equals $2,500 dollars, meaning that overall students will pay $10,302 in fees. Then, for many, add in books, room and board; that’s estimated at around $16,000. For a grand total of about $26,000 per year.

That’s nothing, I know, compared to many private schools. But the UC is not supposed to be private institution. It used to be a way for the less affluent to get a quality, affordable education. Obviously it is becoming less affordable, and at the same time the quality is going way, way down.

All of this has palpable affect upon the classroom teaching experience. My students seem distracted this quarter; attendance has been very variable–not up to the usual levels. Part of that is the flu. I have a lot of sick people; one student broke her elbow. Another has bronchitis. And many are now working. I asked one class, are you working, and three quarters of the hands went up. I know of two students in my classes who are working full time and one of these told me she is taking 19 units.

People are being graduated–or so they tell me–$20,000 to $30,000 in debt.

When I was in college–those many, many years ago–I was in college. I read, I wrote, I took the tests. I over did it, I know. But I studied a good 40 hours a week. While I was in college I thought college was my job.

A 2006 study of the UC undergraduate experience found that UC students study on average 12 hours a week.

All of this enters the classroom in the form of students; it alters their relationship to me and my relationship to them

I don’t know what to say about it really, except that it makes me sad. 

UCSB and Wofford College

Carol and I have been going to UCSB soccer games. Turns out they have a pretty good team, not that I know anything about soccer. I kept yelling “good pass” when one is supposed to yell “good ball.” Lord knows why. I am still not sure what constitutes off sides.

We have been going to the games because a number of soccer players took Carol’s dance history class.

“The guys,” as we call them, live in the condo complex next to ours. We keep bumping into them. They are interesting people. Three are from Africa and the fourth guy is from L. A. His uncle drives all the way from LA to see his nephew play every game.

So they were doing really well in league play. The finished first in their conference and were ranked 4 in the nation.

Then…last Saturday night…as I sat there freezing my ass off…well, it was a really ugly game. One of UCSB’s coaches got red carded, as did a player, because the excessively sensitive referee did not like their language.  This annoyed me since after all it was soccer contest and not a clean mouth contest. So they lost the game, the conference title and an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.

I was wearing gloves, a stocking cap, with my regular cap on top of that, a t-shirt, a long sleeve t-shirt, my Honea Path sweat shirt, and a thick jacket and I was still freezing my ass off.

Looks as if I will freeze my ass off one more time. UCSB got in the NCAA tournament anyway and will be playing Wofford College, which, can you believe it, is located as far as I can tell in Spartanburg, South Carolina. And Spartanburg is not that far from Honea Path, SC, where I got my Honea Path sweat shirt.

So I think I will wear my Honea Path sweat shirt as I watch guys from Spartanburg play against guys I know who come from Africa.

Talk about your small world. 

Did Coke Create the Modern Santa Claus?

One of my students is researching the commercialization of Christmas. She got taken in by an urban myth: that Coke created the image of the Modern Santa. So did I. Amazing, I thought: the power of advertising. Then I checked it out.

True, around 1931, Coke ads featuring Santa cemented his image. So the Santa today is pretty much the Coke Santa. But Coke Santa drew upon already established images of this fictional creatures.

Norman Rockwell drew a number of Santa Clauses that look very much like the Coke Santa. But while I don’t like Rockwell generally for his incredibly sentimentalized visions of American life, I like his Santa much better than the Coke Santa. Rockwell’s Santa looks old at times and tired out. The Coke ads dehumanize Santa and turn him into a one dimensional Santa whose main purpose is to drink Coke.

If you reflect a minute, this is pretty disgusting. Once again the sales pitch is aimed at kids; and what is being sold to kids is benign and joyous Coke, not some sugary stuff that can make you obese. Coke ought to be ashamed.

But of course they are shameless, on their Coke Heritage page, they claim:

Before the 1931 introduction of the Coca-Cola Santa Claus created by artist Haddon Sundblom, the image of Santa ranged from big to small and fat to tall. Santa even appeared as an elf and looked a bit spooky.

I guess for Coke being human is a bit spooky.

And for fun: Springstein’s Santa Claus is coming.

Always on the Sunny Side

Damn. I have an upset stomach. I’ve had it for a couple of days. I won’t go into the grisly details. Maybe I have a bug, or maybe my stomach is reacting to the Advil I take at night for my aches and pains so I can get some of my half-assed sleep. If it’s that, who knows, maybe the Advil is eating a hole in my stomach and I will die of internal bleeding.

Or it could be that damn clock change a couple of weeks ago. I am very regular bowel-wise usually, but since the clock change I am not. I won’t go into the grisly details. It could be that because, as soon as the clocked changed, I took a nose dive into deeper depression, or whatever the hell my condition is. Just call it immense fatigue, plus exhaustion, massive ahedonia, and achy feet and limbs. Also my concentration nears zero. Each day is like a forced march across Siberia.

But I make myself work out every day, except the days I teach. If I work out on those days, I have no energy left for class. So yesterday, I went to the club, did 25 minutes on my machine, and went and took a steam bath. The steam bath looks god-awful these days (they are trying to repair it), but when there’s a lot of steam you really don’t notice.

So I sat down and I must have groaned because this guy hidden over there in the steam, asked how I was. I know him from around. Not so good I said, and he said, had a long day, and I said, no it’s a bit bigger than that. I am depressed and ever since the clock changed I am more depressed than usual. Usually, I wouldn’t say that, but yesterday I was too damned depressed to make anything up. He said the clock change bothered him too and after a brief pause indicated that he was taking something, some med, I forget the name of it. I took it once for a couple of days and it made me want to jump out of my skin. I hated it. But it seems to work for him. We are all different, he said. The guy has a philosophical streak.

After the steam, the guy kept talking. Turns out he hates Sunday. Me too. But, he continued, he used to hate Sunday because everything was closed, but now you know everything was open. Frankly I wasn’t following his reasoning. He was raised in Alaska, he said, where it was dark like all the time, but now he is in Santa Barbara where it is light all the time. Yeah, I said, that’s true, not grasping his point. Where are you from, he said; South Carolina, I said. Well, he said, Santa Barbara is better than South Carolina, isn’t it?

Whereupon, this guy who is disrobing to go swim, says, Hey, there’s nothing wrong with South Carolina. Turns out this guy is working in CA for a year and he lives in South Carolina. He has a place in Greenville no less, and knows where Laurens is, and Clinton, where Brother Steve lives. So we get to talking. He seemed like a nice guy, though I did not get his name.

I think the guy from the steam room was trying to say and trying himself to stay “Keep on the Sunny Side.”  But I am just no good at the power of positive thinking.

CA: The State of Paralysis

As a worker in the University of California, I am most concerned of course with the state of that system. Right now, it appears that in a few weeks the UC Regents will announce yet another fee increase for students in the UC system. This time the increase will be 32%, and that, added to increases earlier in the year, means that fees will have increased 40% in one year.

The UC system is sinking into a fiscal quagmire and one way, along with layoffs and furloughs for staff and faculty, to avoid sinking further is to increase student fees. According to those at the top of the system, there’s nothing that can be done about it. The UC’s problems are really the problems of the state as a whole which is also sinking into a fiscal quagmire.

A recent poll conducted by the LA Times says that 80% of Californians think the state is headed in the wrong direction. In fact, most think that California has “peaked” and its best days are over.

Most voters seem to feel that problem lies with the state government. Year after year, the state appears unable to come up with a budget, and the one they came up with this last time seems mostly constructed of fiscal smoke and mirrors. Right now, for example, the state is taking more money out of my check than it is supposed to take out, though, I am told, I will get that money back in April. With no interest, of course. This little bit of persiflage was put into the budget apparently to make it appear balanced.

At the same time, the voters appear unwilling to do anything that might significantly change the way the government is run. For example, they don’t want to change the state constitution to allow a simple majority (as is the case in most states) to put a budget before the governor. Now it takes 60% and that means that the anti-tax people are able to exercise an inordinate leverage over the budget making process. They don’t want to make changes either to Proposition 13 that has for years placed tight restrictions on the property tax. That, before proposition 13, supplied the state with a relatively stable tax base. Now revenues, based largely on the income tax, fluctuate wildly, making it even more difficult to cobble together a sensible budget. And, of course, the voters don’t want either to get rid of term limits even those these produce a government run by novices, all the more easily influenced by lobbyists.

So maybe the problem lies not with government or the state, but the people of the state who seem to want to have their cake and eat it too, who are willing to rant and rave about our inefficient and wasteful government, but are unwilling to do anything to make that government less wasteful.

There’s something going on here that I just don’t understand; or maybe I do and prefer to live in denial. 

Is Multi-Tasking Bad for The Brain

Used to be, if you wanted to indicate somebody was really, really stupid, you could say, “He can’t chew gum and talk at the same time.” Now, maybe not. If chewing gum and talking at the same time is an example of multi-tasking, studies show that mono-tasking might be better.

I am not sure what multi-tasking is though I guess I do it more than I used to. It would seem to mean listening to music while answering emails and interrupting the email to IM.

The authors of a Stanford Study say however that the brain really can do only one thing well at a time. That would seem to be a physiological fact.

So they ran some experiments.

Sure enough, the multi-taskers (I guess these were self-identified as such) performed considerably worse at some very simple tasks than did mono-taskers.

One of the authors of the study said of multi-taskers, “They’re suckers for irrelevancy….Everything distracts them.”

And another says, “When they’re in situations where there are multiple sources of information coming from the external world or emerging out of memory, they’re not able to filter out what’s not relevant to their current goal…That failure to filter means they’re slowed down by that irrelevant information.”

But there’s a bit of a chicken-egg problem here. The researchers were not able to determine if multi-tasking clogs up the brain or if people who can’t concentrate anyway are drawn to multi-tasking.

I was visiting the class of another teacher. I was sitting with the students, and the student right next to me very surreptitiously checked his text messages at least five times during the hour I was there. I wonder if he heard what the teacher was saying. And the problem here wasn’t just the time paying attention to another stream of information; clearly the student anticipated getting text messages, and how much did that constant sense of anticipation run counter to his ability to concentrate. I know when I am anticipating something, I am not as present as I might otherwise be.

When I brought up this issue with my students, one said, were it not for multi-tasking she would not be able to stay awake during the lectures. They were so boring. But another said, it was amazing how much time one could pass on the web, and text messaging, and end up doing nothing. 

The Death of Reading and the First Paragraph of The Ambassadors

Following Nicholas Carr, who argues that the net is changing the way we think, I argued that the net may prove the death of reading, qua reading, or as a particular kind of experience.

Certainly one reads on the web, but one reads for information. In one sense, this is very active reading; one is constantly clicking as one looks for a particular info bit. When I asked my students about how they use the web–whether or not that read entire articles–the whole point of the web, for them, seemed to be to avoid reading the whole article. One student said, I type in key words, I find the article, maybe I read the abstract if there is one, and then I use the “find function,” type in key words again and go straight to what I am looking for.

If this is how the web is teaching people to read, then something significant is also being lost.

I tried to indicate the nature of what might be lost–the experience itself of reading–by quoting the entire first paragraph of Henry James’ The Ambassadors and daring you, dear reader, to read it. The passage from James I felt would stick out like a sore thumb as the kind of writing that does not belong on the web. I wonder if any one read it.

I did several times and as proof, if one can call it that, I include here audio of me reading aloud the passage from James.
And if you want you can read it again:

Strether’s first question, when he reached the hotel, was about his friend; yet on his learning that Waymarsh was apparently not to arrive till evening he was not wholly disconcerted. A telegram from him bespeaking a room “only if not noisy,” reply paid, was produced for the enquirer at the office, so that the understanding they should meet at Chester rather than at Liverpool remained to that extent sound. The same secret principle, however, that had prompted Strether not absolutely to desire Waymarsh’s presence at the dock, that had led him thus to postpone for a few hours his enjoyment of it, now operated to make him feel he could still wait without disappointment. They would dine together at the worst, and, with all respect to dear old Waymarsh–if not even, for that matter, to himself–there was little fear that in the sequel they shouldn’t see enough of each other. The principle I have just mentioned as operating had been, with the most newly disembarked of the two men, wholly instinctive–the fruit of a sharp sense that, delightful as it would be to find himself looking, after so much separation, into his comrade’s face, his business would be a trifle bungled should he simply arrange for this countenance to present itself to the nearing steamer as the first “note,” of Europe. Mixed with everything was the apprehension, already, on Strether’s part, that it would, at best, throughout, prove the note of Europe in quite a sufficient degree.

I think there’s a good deal going on in this passage and that it can’t really be put into words other than the words into which it is put.

Strange to think that James hired at one point a Type Writer. I say hired because back then the person who worked the type writer was called the Type Writer. And James, consequently, dictated his later novels. That is amazing. What kind of concentration did it require to speak sentences of the kind found above.