Monday, January 31, 2005

My letter about plagiarism is in the print edition of the Chronicle of Higher Education today. Smaller newspapers never cut my letters, but when I have written to a more prestigious publication, they usually do. So, it has been cropped (sentences are omitted, though no words are changed). I think my original was better, but the shorter one is OK, too.

It is online, but it is a subscription site. Here is the letter, at it appears in the print and online editions:

I have failed nine students for plagiarism in the past five years. ... It is an upsetting experience, one I try very hard to avoid -- but once the line is crossed by the student, the action I must take is very clear to me.

I spend time every semester explaining to students what plagiarism is, that I am good at detecting cheating, and that I will pursue a severe penalty in all instances I find. ...

Those of us who are horrified by academic dishonesty have no choice but to stand up for what is right, no matter the professional risks (frankly, the personal ones involving angry students scare me more, but that is one reason we have campus-safety officers). When I caught the first student cheating, I thought maybe if a teacher had outed the various leaders now involved in business scandals when they were still students, they would have learned something important. ... As a colleague said to me at that time, "sometimes the most valuable lessons learned in school are not actually part of the curriculum."

Here is my original:

I have failed (in the course) nine students for plagiarism in the past five years, and referred six of the cases to the university level, where five were eventually suspended from the university. It is an upsetting experience, one I try very hard to avoid, but once the line is crossed by the student, the action I must take is very clear to me. I spend time every semester explaining to students what plagiarism is, that I am good at detecting cheating, and that I will pursue a severe penalty in all instances I find. I believe the university to be supportive, but I also think that while some faculty members take it seriously, many others decide to avoid the hassle and issue a minor (or no) penalty. It isn't necessarily condoning it (in some cases it may be), but instead, avoidance.

If cheating and plagiarism are as rampant among students as I suspect, and if what another poster wrote is true (that lots of ethically-challenged undergraduates go undetected or move through degree programs without being penalized, then go on to be faculty members and published authors), it is a sad situation indeed.

Those of us who are horrified by academic dishonesty have no choice but to stand up for what is right, no matter the professional risks (frankly, the personal ones involving angry students scare me more, but then, that is one reason we have campus safety officers). When I caught the first student cheating, I thought, maybe if a teacher had "outed" the various leaders who were involved in business scandals when they were still students (and probably just beginning the path of wrongdoing), they would have learned something important and avoided future pain all around. As a colleague said to me at that time, "sometimes the most valuable lessons learned in school are not actually part of the course curriculum."

Friday, January 28, 2005

It's about 10 degrees and that actually feels - OK. Tonight it is supposed to be the coldest night ever? Since temperatures have been recorded? In my lifetime? In the past decade? So far this winter? Beats me, but I did hear some claim of that type on the television weather report.

I'm not sure what is up with students. You always hear from (most) older people that the younger generations are declining, in various ways. (I wrote most because Mimmie never said that to me, in fact she commented that young people really had not changed much in her opinion.) So I am not sure if Mimmie was right, and I am not remembering what my friends were like when I was an undergraduate, or if it is that I know people who are more self-reliant and motivated than the norm or what, because all of my favorite young people fit that description (and get snapped up for jobs right away after graduation).

This week, a bunch of students proudly shouted to me in class that they didn't do the reading, and it is my fault because (1) it isn't on the syllabus (it is); (2) I didn't announce in class that they had to read the article (I definitely did, but regardless, why should I have to do this?); and (3) the copy place screwed up and is selling the wrong course pack (I checked, and this is not true either).

I did something I rarely do, which is lose it. I yelled (yes, yelled, it is a 100 person lecture hall) as many nasty and threatening things as I could think up. Many looked scared, but some seemed impervious. Now, I don't usually do something like that, no matter how hard I am pushed. I avoid the necessity. Instead I do very structured exercises, with specific guidelines, where reporting out is part of the assignment. I rarely expect students to individually respond to questions I throw out, unless they are things that don't require much familiarity with the materials. I know from experience that most will say nothing. Often even students who do the reading are nervous about speaking, especially in the lecture centers. If the class does not cooperate, I fall back on chalk & talk, and go back to the drawing board for the next class. I generally have good results with this approach.

I rarely ask students if they did the reading when they don't raise their hands to participate, but I have found the GAs almost always fall back on this when they are confronted with a silent audience. The personal humiliation style of teaching is so common, and familiar, and I think that is the first thing in the GA's tool box.

However, I had to react in a very strong fashion. One of the undergraduate TAs decided to advocate for the complainers, right during class. This is a big no-no. I felt like slapping her. Since this is one of the GA-taught classes, I don't go to it every time it meets. I took the opporunity to make an impression so that the students don't disrespect the two new GAs when I am not around.

I don't meddle with the GA's experiments when in the classroom, since that would undermine their authority. I do make suggestions privately. But this week one of the GAs asked the fatal question to the blank stares, which sparked the student protests. And I couldn't risk letting that insubordination go unchecked.

Bob said he heard, or read somewhere about this latest crop having "helicopter parents." They are always hovering around, getting involved, fighting battles for their young adult kids. The college students whose families fit this description behave toward me as if I was in the parental role. In other words, when Dad said "be home by 11" and they sauntered in at 1 am, they whined "you didn't remind me" or "I tried calling but it was busy" or the old favorites "it isn't fair" and "it wasn't my fault." (I hear both a lot. "I know I missed some classes but it isn't fair I got a C since I tried hard" or "It isn't my fault I didn't hand in the assignment since I was on vacation.") Dad grumbled but immediately overlooked the infraction and did nothing. Or maybe Dad was absentee and didn't enforce rules ever.

If that is the case, I suspect yelling may not be very effective. The GAs will have to acquire a new tool -- learning how to "deliver content" that meets with student satisfaction, since letting the class out early every week is not an option. Kind of like the way the cafeterias have to cater to student demand for Starbucks, fast food and Coke or Pepsi. We had milk machines, dried out macaroni and cheese, and generic crap in vending rooms. The question of fairness wasn't part of the calculation.

And besides, we had to walk ten miles in the snow to get to those vending rooms.
So often I read something in the newspaper that annoys me. After I encountered this article this morning, I did a little surfing. I wanted to know if the paper was misrepresenting the situation. After watching the PBS series on Auschwitz that has been on the past couple of weeks, I had to know if this guy was really saying such things, and if so, why any college would invite him to speak. Not that I am opposed to alternative views, or free speech, or have no sympathy for indigenous peoples, but I was curious just the same.

Well, I think I have read enough. My reactions:

1. This dude has tenure and I am an adjunct? That fact alone says it all. But then he is mineral water, and I am a mud puddle.

2. There is something just a little odd about someone of privilege being so hysterical about injustice.

3. Good to read that he knows the truth, since the rest of us are brain dead (no joke, he actually does assert this, in a different, though equally offensive way).

4. Speaking the truth and all, I wonder if he has ever heard of anti-Semitism? (But of course not, he is in denial. As in Holocaust denial.)

5. He better be sure his smoke detector is in good order, and he probably should sleep with a fire extinguisher for good measure. Because in the event of fire, he wouldn't want to have to depend on a firefighter. I mean, he enlightened me that they were intent solely on protecting capitalism, racism, oppression and other ugly things when they ran up the stairs of the World Trade Center to their deaths.

6. His college alma mater is misspelled on his faculty web page. (It also doesn't exist any more, technically - but that is another whole opera. Probably one he did a lot of bitching about, before comparing 9/11 victims to Nazis became his 15 minutes of fame, and meal ticket.)

7. For a beacon of the truth, he watches an awful lot of TV.

8. If I was at his speech, I would ask, "Does being an American police dog make Sirius automatically guilty too?" Then I would give him the finger.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Blogger is acting funky. My archives are not appearing. I am making this post to see if creating something new helps. (I remember this is the frustration when journaling frequently, there are so many irritating bugs.)

I finished Surfacing a few days ago, a Margaret Atwood book I bought shortly before Christmas. It was her second book, written in 1972. The writing is great, as ever, a page turner, but I didn't care for the story as much as her later work that I have read (for instance the Robber Bride, Handmaid's Tale or Oryx and Crake). Could be that I didn't identify with the characters as much (too young?) or could be that she is a much better writer now. I have a book of short stories by her that I think I will tackle next.

Winter has really taken ahold!

Friday, January 21, 2005

The Olive Press has an editorial today that infuriated me. So I sent them the following letter to the editor:

To the Editor:
Your January 20 editorial so irritated me, that it is difficult for me to excerpt only a few sentences for comment, but here goes:

So let’s start with school taxes, and from the position that with respect to the large parcel bill, nobody’s got a corner on truth, justice, and the American way here. Olive has solid arguments about its unique situation and the historical price it’s paid for the reservoir that the other towns haven’t. However. It is fundamentally unreasonable that similar properties in adjacent towns pay wildly different taxes to support the same school system.

As I recall (and it can only be based on memory, as your online archives are all linked to the November 11, 2004 edition), in 2003 before the Onteora school board voted to hold off and wait a year then eventually adopt the large parcel, an Olive Press editorial expressed essentially the same sentiment, except perhaps the part about Olive having solid arguments. (I guess the reaction from Olive residents did influence your editorial position, if only just a little.) But I remember my irritation at that time at reading in one of your editorials that folks in Olive knew that paying lower taxes than the other towns in the district was unfair and inequitable, and probably should end.

I don't know your background, or who those friends of yours are, but my friends and family believe no such thing. Those of us privileged enough to be Olive natives, with roots that go back for generations, understand that the "historical price" you mention certainly does give us "a corner on truth, justice and the American way" on this particular issue. I write this not to insult town residents who were born elsewhere, and moved here later. It has been my experience that some who find their way to our town take a first look at the grave site (also known as the Ashokan Reservoir) and it speaks to them, too. They completely understand what you describe as our "unique situation." Sadly, there are others who cannot feel it, and they are clueless. It saddens me that one of the clueless is penning the editorials for the purportedly local newspaper.

That won’t fly in reasoned discussion in Olive, to say nothing of outside Olive. Unfortunately there is no way to compensate for what happened to our native civilizations, nor has anyone thought up, so far, just compensation for the armed robbery of most of the Town of Olive by New York City in the early 20th century. It’s done. The best we can hope for is fair tax remuneration from them.

Reasoned discussion? According to whom? I believe "outside Olive" are the two most telling words in this stunning quote from the "Olive Press." Maybe in the interest of really representing the town whose name you plaster across your publication, you should seek occasional input from some folks who are actually "inside Olive."

Gina Giuliano, PhD
Castleton & Samsonville, NY
Still freezing. I think it got up to the teens yesterday and that felt like a heat wave.

First week of the semester comes and goes. Wednesday was so hectic, I had to ask students who wanted to meet with me to tag along as I ran all my errands on campus, reserves to the library, grade changes to the Registrar, picking up lunch. I was exhausted Wednesday night, I wondered how I do it. But I know I will settle into the routine soon enough. After a month at home with animals for colleagues (even when they are barking they are calmer than people), plunging into the first day of the semester is a recipe for agoraphobia.

In today's Times Union, another local blog is mentioned.

Monday, January 17, 2005

This was a productive weekend. Cold, too, and snowy. I am back on campus on Wednesday, and I guess I am ready. I have been doing some thinking about journals. Not necessarily electronic ones, any kind of journal. Twice in my educational career I had teachers who assigned a journal. The first was in high school English class. The second was in my doctoral program in education. Those experiences made me an advocate for assigning a journal, and it is part of my classes every semester.

Most of the journals I receive are perfectly acceptable, if not inspired, exercises, some are kind of run-of-the-mill, mundane but OK, of course a few are pitiful, not serious efforts, but every so often, there is a student in class who really runs with the journal assignment, and hands in something heartfelt, that borders on creative writing.

I comment on the first half of the journals, and then return them, collecting them again at the end of the semester. A handful of students get them back after the class is over. Most do not care once the final course grade has been posted. I save them for a semester, then tear out the used pages and use the notebooks and binders myself. (I will never have to buy a spiral bound notebook again.)

Last semester there was a student who handed in a journal that was not only inspired - it revealed a lot of personal information (most of the creative ones do, but in this case, it was even more than usual). I soaked up the entries, and made positive comments, and looked forward to the second half of the semester's resubmission.

The second half was even more intensely personal. Some of the information shared was alarming. Not to the extreme of violence or suicide or anything, but the student had developed what seemed to me to be an unhealthy obsession with weight and diet. This student was in one of my on campus classes, and in my opinion, did not need to lose a pound. Given the other personal things she wrote, becoming anorexic was not out of the question.

She isn't one of the students who asked for her journal back, so additional comments would be pointless. The class is over now, the grades submitted. Whenever a situation such as this arises, I always wonder about my responsibility. College students are adults, even if at 20 they can be as vulnerable as kids. It's tempting to try to share some of what is learned from aging, not in an academic discipline, but in life. On the other hand, was is the proper role for a professor? Where should the line be drawn between helping, and it being none of your beeswax? Finally, with 250 students per semester, where can the line be drawn, realistically?

I suppose one can only hope that the exercise of journaling itself proves to be the gift, the healing.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Here are some gorgeous photographs of the Catskills and Hudson Valley.

Friday, January 14, 2005

I made a new tee shirt logo.

Oh, ejournals (what everyone else insists on calling blogs) were mentioned in today's TU. The local site focused on is here.
Horse theft may conjure images of the Wild West, but it is still a serious problem today, as you can see at Netposse.

My mother loves horses. I don't mean that in a passing way, not the way all adolescent girls like horses, or the way many people say they love horses, because they enjoy horse racing and saw or read Seabiscuit. I mean she really loves horses. She currently has seven, one morgan and six miniatures.

Several years ago she bred the miniatures, but she was never able to sell any. She's very fussy about the care they receive, truly an equestrian lover. The barn was bursting at the seams (and it is a lot of work), a woman she thought was a fellow horse lover was interested, so she lent two of her minis to this woman, with the understanding that the woman would return them if she could no longer keep them. Instead, this woman (allegedly) lent them to a man who said he would train them to pull a cart. He then took them to the auction, where they were sold together to a man in Massachusetts. They were again sold to a man in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. My mother has been searching for these two minis for a year, and that's the latest information she has located of their whereabouts.

Here are the two beauties:

Fine 'n' Dandy Dixie Rose - 12 year old dark grey or brownish miniature mare. 32 inches tall

Fine 'n' Dandy Ginger Snap - 12 year old Palomino miniature mare, 34 inches tall

Both mares are AMHA registered in my mother's name. Law enforcement has not been much help. (The DA mentioned in this article wasn't interested. Regardless of his claims to the Freeman, I doubt he takes animal abuse cases seriously.) She is determined to locate her horses, and save them if that's what they need. Please keep watch for Dixie and Ginger and the other stolen and missing horses at Netposse.

From the TU, wow. My message to King: I knew better than to request a sabbatical when I wanted to finish my dissertation. I didn't need a memo to know it would be turned down. And I had worked there 9 years (not 12 days past being eligible) and had tenure. And I didn't earn a quarter of what he does. And I really did plan to do something academic. But I knew better. I resigned, and moved on. How clueless is the Chancellor if he didn't know that too? Then again, maybe it is simple greed that rendered him clueless. (To think I once joked [yes, it was only a joke] that I aspired to such a position.)

Thursday, January 13, 2005

I thought I would give another meme a try (via Sya).

The Thursday Threesome

The Phantom of the Opera

Onesome: The Phantom--Pick one (or more!): Hey, have you seen it yet? Are you going to go see it? Have you seen it on stage? Read the book? What Phantom?

I haven't seen the movie, I will probably add it to Netflix when it comes out on DVD. I have never read the book. I saw the show on Broadway, in 1994. It was fantastic! It is a funny memory...from my days in math assessment. I traveled on the train to Long Island to make a presentation at a math conference at SUNY Old Westbury. The director of the similar Ohio program was presenting too. It was his birthday, and after the presentation, we ate lunch at a very ritzy restaurant on the way to JFK airport to drop off one of his staff members. I thought he was at least 35 years old - but he told me he was 28, five years younger than I was at that time.

We went to NYC and met Bob and the Ohio guy's wife, and then we went out to dinner at a Spanish restaurant. I then discovered why he looked years older than his age...he did not eat vegetables. Even the verde sauce on his steak was alien! We wrapped the night up at Phantom, and stayed in a nearby hotel - can't remember the name. Plush, but typical Manhattan teeny rooms. Then we took Amtrak to Albany, and Mr. non-vegan & wife returned to Ohio. He was a super nice guy. He left that job several years ago for greener pastures, but that program remains vital and survives (unlike "mine").

Twosome: of the--Of the sights and sounds and smells of Spring what are you waiting for the most? ...and what is the first sign in your area that Spring is on its way?

I'm not really thinking of the upcoming Spring yet, it is only January! True, today was incredibly warm - in the 50s - but tomorrow it is going to plummet, and this weekend it is supposed to be zero at night. There is quite a bit of snow on the ground, even after the warm day. Winter suits me just fine; in fact, I love all of the four seasons, glory in the different aspects of each. That they are fleeting makes them all the better. As far as my favorite sign of Spring in general, I guess it is the lilac bush in my backyard, even though that comes fairly late in the Spring. The first sign that Spring is on the way in this area? I think it is when the forsythia bushes bloom.

Threesome: Opera--Theatre? Stage? Local shows? Do you get a chance to visit any of these venues? Any recommendations on current items?

Not opera, but I often go to see live performances. There are all sorts of wonderful arts events worth checking out. In terms of theatre, I have seen many performances by high school and college students, local Capital District productions, traveling companies, off-Broadway, and a few Broadway shows. Most recently, I saw actors from the Park Playhouse sing show tunes at First Night. I currently have season's tickets for the University at Albany's college theatre; sometimes I go to Capital Repertory, or Proctor's. The last play I saw at UA was Tartuffe, in November; the last play I saw at Capital Rep was Dr. Faustus, last year; the last play at Proctor's was Rent, a couple of years ago.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

We're having the first truly snowy week of the '04-'05 winter. Rudy, as always, is delighted. He was a little sick on Thursday, and had to go to the vet during the storm that day. It was one time I didn't mind the cost of having the truck. Also this week, Bob turned 45. We had a party for him at Jillian's, a big place in Albany with a game room in the basement.