Campus free speech

Here are two somewhat different takes on the matter:

Why Evolution is True

Lawyers, Guns and Money.

My thoughts on the matter:

1. The First Amendment applies to what the government does and really doesn’t apply to, say a private school (say, a religious school can withdraw an invitation to, say, Richard Dawkins). And, of course, the First Amendment does not guarantee a polite, friendly audience.

2. But there is still the principle of free speech on a college campus, and just because the government doesn’t guarantee something does not mean that I can’t advocate for an enforceable policy toward official outside speakers.

3. And again, I am talking about speakers that were invited on campus to speak at a voluntary event, in say, a specific room. I am NOT talking about people being entitled to a polite audience in a public square:

4. Now about a speaker that an official, sanctioned campus group invited to speak at their gathering: of course, other groups are free to ridicule the group from inviting that speaker (say, the biology club inviting a creationist) or to persuade them to make a different invitation, so long as it is done in a legal manner.

5. But once the speaker has been invited, people really don’t have some moral right to show up and shout the speaker down or disrupt the speech. Seriously: who are YOU to tell me what is fit for me to hear? People go to the talk to listen to the invited speaker, not to listen to the uninvited people; they are not entitled to a captive audience. They are free, of course, to hold their own counter event. And you want to talk about being offensive: who are THEY to tell me what I am allowed to listen to?

6. I find the liberal campus snowflakes to be very annoying and while I think that the schools tolerating their antics is actually hurting them in the long run (do you want these easily triggered snowflakes representing YOU in court? I don’t! I’d rather have someone that can make a sound case on my behalf!) But, to be brutally honest, right wing political correctness has much more money and power behind it; for example, a super rich donor can influence who a school hires, what they research (think: climate science, etc.).

So I don’t want to over stress left wing misbehavior (which is real, harmful, and embarrassing) because right wing misbehavior can cause far more damage in the long run. I realize that might not be true in other countries, but it appears to be true in the US. There seems to be an “paradigm” of “hey, if he is rich, he really must know it all”; I feel that extreme wealth is an overvalued credential.


March 10, 2018 Posted by | education, free speech, social/political | | Leave a comment

Trump’s positioning becoming a bit stronger…

These are interesting times.

Trump’s approval ratings have inched up to 41.5 according to Real Clear Politics. That is still very low for a President just finishing their first year (and lower than Obama’s) and especially low, given that the economic numbers aren’t that bad overall.

Nevertheless the trend is up..and the Republicans are improving just a bit in the “generic Congressional ballot”, though they are still not in great shape. It is far, far, far from certain that the Democrats will win a chamber of Congress back.

Here is what I find ironic: Trump is actually governing like a typical Republican (in terms of what policies he is pursuing). And some Republicans who like those policies but who feared his instability are feeling better, and some who hate his “crony capitalism” just love how acerbic he is, especially when he attacks targets they don’t like. In fact, were Trump to act more normally, his approval might actually be lower.

On another note: higher education is under attack. Some of it is cost: new technology adds cost, new mandates (to accommodate students with “learning disabilities”) adds mandated cost and each program carries with it administrators and the like; administrative payroll is much higher than it once was.

And there is college itself: the postmodernist nonsense prevalent in some disciplines is not helping our reputation and frankly, I wonder about the overall erosion of academic standards.

February 2, 2018 Posted by | education, politics, politics/social | , , | Leave a comment

Spring Semester 2018: about to start and…

Ok, some academic stuff is on my mind…not all of it serious.

I just finished the book The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein (New York Times book review is here). It talks about the issues involving K-12 teaching from the founding of the country up until the later years of the Obama administration, and ends with an epilogue which has some interesting suggestions.

What I was struck by is how many of the current issues we are having really have been around for a long time. Controversies: how educated should the teachers be? (and yes, often, they were not and still are not “the brightest”) How well paid should they be? (missionaries or well paid professionals?) How should teachers be evaluated?(whims of the administrators, local school boards/parents, “value added test them to death?, “peer review”?) How should teachers be obtained and trained (converts? straight from teacher education programs?) What should be emphasized? (academic stuff, or “being a good citizen”) When it comes to who is best for a certain group of students: teachers who know how to control a class room but have poor mastery of the academic material?

Obviously, a thorough study would have to be volumes of very big books, and this is just one 280 page one, but IMHO, well worth reading. Bottom line: it was not necessarily “better back then”, at least not in every aspect.

The tough social issues (racism, sexism, the feminization of the teaching profession) are not dodged.

Current academia
Yes, there has been quite a bit of “mission creep” in academia. The number of administrators have gone up over the years I’ve been teaching at the college level, and so has the number of “very important issues” that the “professors have to be educated on”. And there are have been trends such as “assessment”, and yes, these new duties (piled on top of the old ones) really do not add a thing to student learning. And there is the old “do more with less” mentality which tends to spread us a bit thin.

Here is a small thing: I teach mathematics and yes, that means I don’t have to grade a ton of essays. That means that adding a couple of extra students to my section doesn’t increase my work load that much. But you can increase the class size to the extent that one never gets to know any of them and leads to a more “assembly line” type of class, at least for the larger sections.

And what makes it very though is a wide variation between the student abilities in a given class: a 2 standard deviation in the math ACT of a given section can make it difficult to keep the better students interested while not blowing away the lower end of the class. (and yes, the ACT is reasonably predictive).

Math related humor

I chuckled when I saw this posted in a science group:

Now I can say that even the most dedicated, hetero male mathematicians love women but yes, mathematicians tend to see mathematical patterns in many (all?) places.

Riddle me this: Many years ago, I met a girl in high school that I was sweet on; this was in one of those 1 week summer camps. Once she wore tight pants and showed panty lines that looked a bit like …well…this.

(this isn’t her; this photo was taken from cheekygenie)

And..of course I liked them…but I also thought of a mathematical graph: of a branch of the secant function!

Of course, a parabola is really a better fit.

Workout notes: this one didn’t go well…I was thinking about running 10K but..on the track..I resorted to 2 miles of “jog a lap, walk a lap” then “jog 2 laps, walk a lap” and that workout took..28 minutes! The second mile, though it included more jogging, was the same time as the first. Then I walked 2 more miles in 27:36 (yes, my “all walking” pace was faster than my “walk/jog” warm up) then 2.2 more miles on the treadmill (every 2 minutes: .5, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, then .5 miles at 6, .6 at 5 (to 2.1) then .1 at 0.5; total time was just under 32 minutes for 2.21 miles of hill walking)

So, bad day, but still 10K. The body is sputtering a bit; the old “cold as hell outside but I gave blood” bit. It is almost as if I have a mild cold, sans the cough, runny nose, blah, blah.

January 17, 2018 Posted by | books, education, mathematics, running, spandex, walking | , , | Leave a comment

Graduation exercises done…various topics

Grading done, graduation exercises done. So, aside from some “less than pleasant” family obligations I should enjoy a pleasant month.

Sexual Harassment We are seeing lots of accusations and resignations..and in one case, a female was the accused.

I hope that we haven’t arrived at a place where an accusation is sufficient to tank someone’s career.

Example: 20+ years ago, I had a faculty friend who liked me well enough to sit in on one of my classes. She talked about a bunch of stuff..and in a conversation she had mentioned that she felt weak from a religious fast. I replied “yes, you are looking a bit thin”.

Later she asked me to come into her office. I did..she asked “do you know why I want to talk to you?” I responded “I guess it is about the course”. She went on to tell me that my remark was sexual harassment. I was astonished. I said “I meant…” and she said “I KNOW what you meant..” ..Eventually I had enough. She tried to shake my hand but I refused..and I broke off all unnecessary contact with her. No, no charges were ever filed and no official complaint was ever made.

By the way, she is a respected scholar (by our standards) but her personality…not as well respected. turns out that she HAD suffered some genuine sexual harassment; she was asked out by a senior faculty member; when she declined he told her that the tenure decision, in part, depended on her being “collegial”. So, it isn’t as if she always “cried wolf”.

So sometimes, people can honestly interpret the same situation differently:

So people who think that the issue can be resolved by hashtags, “zero tolerance”, “non-negotiable demands” and the like are delusional; the situation is way more complicated than that.

Republican Tax Scam Yes, they did fix some of the hits to higher education, but it is still a big giveaway to the wealthiest and will probably explode the deficit…which will lead to them cutting Social Security, Medicare and safety net programs because “we are broke”.

Oh, it is a wildly unpopular bill and might cost many of them their seats in 2018..but will also lead to some cushy K-Street jobs and the like. So the unpopularity of the bill bothers them not at all.

Bradley Basketball We saw the men demolish Arkansas Little Rock 86-46 despite clearing the bench.

They won big at Chicago State, though Chicago State got blistered by Northwestern 96-31..trailed 55-8 at the half. Still, the team is winning.

The women lost big at Green Bay, but Green Bay is ranked no. 21 for a reason.

Workout notes: yesterday, routine weight session. Usual PT, 5 sets of 10 pull ups, bench: 10 x 135, 6 x 185, 5 x 185, incline: 10 x 135. Military: dumbbell: 10 x 50, 10 x 45, machine: 10 x 80 (each arm), 3 sets of 10 x 110.

Today: easy 4.2 mile run prior to graduation exercises; clear and crisp.

December 17, 2017 Posted by | basketball, economy, education, political/social, politics, republicans, running, social/political, walking, weight training | , , | Leave a comment

Confusing the individual with the aggregate

One of the things that fascinated me was radioactive decay. If you were given a certain amount of a radioactive isotope, you can deduce how much will be left (not decayed) after a certain amount of time. In fact, you can do this so accurately that you can base a precision clock on it.

However, it is impossible to determine WHICH atom will decay, no matter how much information you have about it. I don’t mean that it is practically impossible but rather that it is literally impossible. And the individual atoms will decay at different times.

In short, you have information about the aggregate but not about the individual. Of course, in this example, we are in the range of quantum phenomena.

But this principle, (aggregate vs. the individual) applies when one attempts to make inferences about what will happen with a population in which there is a high level of variance within the said population, and people often get confused.

Example: suppose you have two groups of students who are, say, starting a program of study in engineering. One group is the group of students whose math ACT scores are 22, and the other group has math ACT scores of 30. The harsh reality is that the group of students with a score of 22 will have very little success; there may well be a few individuals who make it, but the vast majority won’t. And yes, the group with a score of 30 will have some failures, but they will have many more successes.

So, the ACT score matters and has predictive value. But if you bring this up, someone will remember the person with a 30 who flunked out, and someone with a 22 who made it and claim that means that the “ACT is meaningless”. Psst: that isn’t true.

So yes, there are smokers who live a long time, there are those who drive while texting who don’t get into accidents, etc. But smoking does harm longevity and driving while texting increases one’s risk of having an accident.

Application to Illinois Football Illinois football is starting MANY true freshmen and, well, the record so far is grim (2 wins over weaker non-conference opposition, followed by 5 straight losses against “power 5” caliber opposition (USF isn’t “power 5” but they are an undefeated, ranked team). And prospects for another win this season are grim, with 2 Top 10 teams (Wisconsin, Ohio State) and 3 improved teams (Indiana, Purdue, Northwestern) left to play.

So the PR department is playing this “the future is bright” angle:

And yes, the team is playing a lot of freshmen.

But: how good is that class? I went on ESPN and looked at how the Big Ten 2017 recruiting classes were ranked:

Top 10: Ohio State, Michigan
10-25: Penn State, Maryland, Nebraska
26-39: Michigan State
40-49: Wisconsin, Iowa, Northwestern
50-59: Rutgers, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue.

So, based on talent, we *might* be able to hang with Rutgers, Indiana, Minnesota and Purdue, youth or no youth.

Now yes, measuring recruiting is tough to do, and there is always that individual “lightly regarded” recruit who blossoms into an NFL player. It does happen..individually. But a team composed of lightly regarded recruits is rarely, if ever, successful.

Workout notes: yesterday, wet 10K walk (untimed). today: weights. Pull ups were a struggle, so I did a couple of 5-5 sets then 2 sets of 10, one of 7-3 (50 total). (switched grip), usual PT, incline presses: 10 x 135, 4 x 160, 6 x 150, military (dumbbell: 10 x 50, 10 x 45) 10 x 180 machine (90 each arm), rows: 3 sets of 10 x 110. Then a chilly 5K walk outside.

October 25, 2017 Posted by | college football, education, football, science, statistics, walking, weight training | , , | Leave a comment

On the need to prove yourself…

Well, I have signed up for a marathon this weekend, and it will be hot as hell. Still with a 7 hour time limit, I should be able to make it, if I don’t go out like an idiot. 14-14:30 mpm at the start..get to mile 20 in 5 hours and then I’ll have 2 hours to bring it home. That should be doable, even on a hot day.

Yeah, I’ve done a number of these, but with me, the question is “can I do it one more time?” I’ve got that need.

Yes, I’ve done much better in the past (masters PR: 3:38 (2000) running, 4:44 walking (2002); first marathon was done in 1980 (3:33)). Yes, in 2004, I walked 100 miles and *averaged* 6:12 per marathon. But can I finish THIS time?

But not everyone does..and that attitude is what I have to deal with. Where I went to school (undergraduate and graduate), it wasn’t just about learning something; it was about showing that you’ve mastered the material well enough to move on. You had to prove yourself. And, well, not everyone is able to. And so, as a young professor I brought that attitude into my classroom, and it did NOT go well. The old “not everyone can do this…are YOU one who CAN?” just does not play well in most settings. And it was tough for me to adjust to that.

Workout notes; taper mode. I had a full weight workout on Wednesday (the usual; incline instead of bench: hip hikes, rotator cuff, toe raises, pull ups: 15-15-10-10, incline: 10 x 135, 4 x 160, 7 x 150, military: 10 x 50 dumbbell standing, 10 x 45, standing, 10 x 90 machine: rows: 3 sets of 10 x 110 machine, then yoga). Today: taper: 3 usual PT, 3 sets of 10 pull ups (strong), bench: 10 x 135, 6 x 185 (good, lots of energy), incline: 10 x 135, military (dumbbell) 10 x 50, 20 x 40 standing, rows: 2 sets of 10 x 110 machine).

September 22, 2017 Posted by | education, marathons, social/political, weight training | 1 Comment

Goat Rant 3: what is an academic “success story”?

There are different kind of success stories. But the ones that I think about are those of the following variety: underprepared student shows up with low SAT/ACT scores. They struggle. They get “worked with” and somehow cobble together a degree. Now is that a success?

Well, it depends on how you think of it. Imagine someone struggling in medical school and just not being good at it..graduating with a medical degree. Do you want that doctor? Or what about the flight school person who barely scrapes by? Do you want to fly with that pilot?

To me, part of success is finding something that you are reasonably good at. Believe me, you wouldn’t want to live in any shelter that I wouldn’t want me to operate on you..or to play for your competitive sports team.

So, to see if that “success story” really is a success story, I’d want to know something about what happened afterward….(example: did that marginal engineering student go on to become a P. E. or to do well in an engineering firm?)

Workout notes: Monday: usual weight routine (rotator cuff, hip hikes, toe raises), 5 sets of 10 pull ups, bench press: 10 x 135, 4 x 190, 8 x 170, incline: 10 x 135, military: 2 sets of 10 dumbbell (50, 45), 10 x 90 machine, rows: 3 sets of 10 x 110 machine. rope skips: 99, 50, goblet squats: 2 sets of 10 x 50 to the sill, 10 x 70 to 20 inches. Then 2 mile walk outside.

Tuesday: 2+ to the W. Peoria track, 1 home, 2.1 in 24:56 (20:12 for the first 4 laps..had trouble speeding up).

September 13, 2017 Posted by | education, walking, weight training | Leave a comment

still ill..sort of

Workout notes: 4 mile treadmill run in 44:15 (5.1 for 10, then up .1 every 5 minutes to mile 3, then up .1 every .25 to the end). And yes, THAT WAS ACTUALLY WORK; I am a bit of a physical wreck. Then 1 mile of cool down walking.
Weight: 201.3 with shoes (about 5 lb. down) so that is headed in the right direction.

Social note: yes, classes start tomorrow, and this will be different as last semester, I taught calculus III (vector calculus), differential equations and Statistics II. I was dealing with the most talented students we usually see. Now, I have larger classes of more inexperienced students, along with one advanced class. The larger classes requires a different mindset from me; I’ll adjust but I am going to have to be very intentional at fist (e. g. get in the habit of explaining things more slowly, including the details that come naturally to experienced engineering and science students).

August 22, 2017 Posted by | education, illness, running | Leave a comment

Wanted to be accepted without being acceptable …

I chuckled when a FB friend posted this:

The individual who posted this did so in a tongue-in-cheek way.

But it did get me to thinking about what I’ve actually seen. I teach college. And from time to time, a student will complain about flunking a class. But often their complaints will be “I needed this class and those credits to…” (insert “keep my scholarship”, “get my job”, etc.)

And, because I teach mathematics, their complaints are almost never “I did this correctly and didn’t receive proper credit” or “I knew the stuff and you flunked me anyway”. To them, the “grade” and “credit” is really a commodity that I have and that they want; “knowledge”, “learning”, and “performance” are almost always completely unrelated.

It would be like a prospective surgeon always botching the cadaver operation but wanting a pass, or a prospective pilot always crashing in the simulator but wanting a “pass” from pilot school.

It is the old “accept me” rather than “help me so I can work to meet the standards”.

Another note Needless to say, poor people are not the most popular people in our society and are often blamed for their fate. The article I linked to purports to ask “why”. It is a decent article, but I find it strange that the author doesn’t see the reaction to poor people as being natural.

The headline is: “Why do we think poor people are poor because of their own bad choices?” so I’ll give my answer:

1. Our own experience. Quick: what poor people to you actually KNOW? (not merely read about or have seen somewhere)

Chances are, it is the family mooch. In our case, this sibling of a family member had the same parents, the same educational opportunities, the same upbringing, the same inheritance (well into 6 figures), and managed to piss it all away.

Parents will often see some of their kids do well, while others become chronic underachievers.

So when we hear “poor people”, we think of the examples that we know, rather than someone who grew up devoid of realistic opportunities. We look at the negative outliers that we know and try to extrapolate.

2. Social pathology. Yes, poor people tend to share some very bad, self destructive habits. Of course, research tends to show that this behavior tends to stem from poverty rather than the other way around. “Being poor makes you stupid” as some might say. The direction of causation isn’t always clear.

3. Fear. Yes, though I am comfortable at the moment (and close to being “long term comfortable”), at mostly points of my life, I was really only a bad break away from personal disaster (untimely illness, injury, lay off, employer going out of business just when I become unemployable), etc. No one wants to think “I am one bad break away from being just like that poor person” so we conjure up reasons why “it can’t happen to us because we are so virtuous” or something.

July 7, 2017 Posted by | education, politics/social, social/political | , | Leave a comment

Doing students a disservice: not pointing out their ignorance

A couple of things have struck me. There is a New York Times article about high school students not believing climate change because of what they hear at home and from our current President.

On the other end, you see student takeover and (attempted) intimidation of faculty at Evergreen State College; what struck me is how inarticulate the students are, and how they seem to ‘know” that they know more than the faculty and staff:

And they appear to be enabled by at least some of the faculty:

About 55 Evergreen State College faculty and 23 College Staff have signed a “statement of solidarity” with the student protestors, which you can find here. (That’s more than a quarter of the faculty).

I reproduce the statement in its entirety (indented). It is an implicit criticism of biology professor Bret Weinstein as a racist, which he is not. He is being punished and ostracized for writing an email refusing to leave campus at the “request” of students of color on Evegreen’s “Day of Departure.” If you want to see the email that got Weinstein demonized, go here. The bolding is mine, and my comments are flush left. […]

I omit the names of the signers (see the document linked to above), but I am guessing that the faculty are almost all humanities professors and that there are few or no science professors. The College Fix (I can’t verify their assertion) says that “The statement is being circulated by Julie Russo, whose expertise is “media studies, gender & women’s studies, sexuality and queer studies,” and Elizabeth Williamson, whose expertise is English literature and theater studies, according to a Friday listserv email from Russo obtained by The College Fix.

Now I am for getting students to start to think for themselves. But part of “thinking for oneself” is to come to grips with one’s own limitations (intellectual ability, experience and knowledge) and to understand when to defer to those who know more. Not all opinions are created equal.

And yes, fresh eyes might pick up on blind areas, but, I’ll just ask this: are the students really fit to run a university or to teach classes?

Now I teach mathematics and I can tell you that if I am not reasonably gentle with my examinations, I would blow away my classes. They simply lack the perspective, knowledge and experience that I have.

Yes, once in a while I might make a mistake on the board and they catch it, but none of them would claim to know more than I do.

I think that it there is a fine line between encouraging students to think for themselves and making them way overconfident as to their current abilities and achievements.

Workout notes: a bit sore from this weekend, but I still got in a weight workout and an easy walk:

weights: rotator cuff, pull ups (5-5, then 4 sets of 10), bench press: 10 x 135, 5 x 185, 8 x 170, incline press: 10 x 135, military: (dumbbell) 15 x 55 seated, supported, 10 x 45, 10 x 40 standing, rows: 2 sets of 10 x 55 dumbbell, 10 x 110 machine. Goblet squats: sets of 5: 25, 25, 45, 55, 60, 65, 70, 75, abs: 2 sets twist crunch, 2 sets of yoga leg lifts, 3 sets of moving bridges, headstand (shaky, but ok), 5k walk (warm).

June 5, 2017 Posted by | education, social/political, walking, weight training | | Leave a comment