Back to the Pipe and the Pole

Here is a letter I received a few days ago from the President of my University.

Last summer, I formed an advisory task force to assist the University in developing a plan to prepare for probable reductions in state funding for higher education and to assist the University in developing a new instructional resource model. The task force consists of faculty, academic deans, administrators, and staff.

On December 18, 2010, the task force held an open forum. At that forum, Provost Mearns, who is co-chair of the task force, discussed the status of the task force’s efforts to assist in developing a contingency plan for next year’s budget. I attended the forum.

Since then, the task force has continued to provide me with additional recommendations. Those recommendations are detailed in a written report that is now available on the task force’s webpage.

This report recommends overall budget target ranges for each of the University’s major sectors: academic colleges, academic support units, and university administrative units. I have accepted these sector recommendations. In December, I provided differentiated budget targets to each of the vice presidents who manage university administrative units, and I directed them to prepare a contingency plan to meet their unit’s respective target. They have submitted their plans to me, which I am currently reviewing.

The task force’s report also provided specific recommendations about differentiated targets for each of the academic colleges. After developing a list of strategic factors and applying those factors to readily available data, the task force assigned each academic college to one of three groups, or bands. As discussed in the report, a college or an administrative unit can meet its proposed budget target through both permanent expense reductions and reliable revenue enhancements.

After reviewing an initial draft of the report, I met at length with Provost Mearns, Vice President George Walker and Tim Long, the University’s Budget Director, to review the strategic factors and the data relied upon by the task force to develop its differentiated recommendations for each of the academic colleges. In making my decisions, I relied upon the same strategic factors developed by the task force, including: how a college’s programs aligned with the University’s primary strategic goals; a college’s financial performance relative to the other colleges at the University; the extent to which a college has programs, including doctoral programs, with relatively few students; an assessment of the productivity and impact of the college’s research faculty; the success of a college’s students as measured by undergraduate retention and graduation rates and post-graduate licensing exams; and the ability of a college to develop differential tuition plans or increase enrollment above existing limits.

After this review, I accepted all of the task force’s recommendations with respect to the colleges’ budget targets, with one exception. I have delegated to Provost Mearns the responsibility of establishing differentiated targets for the various academic support units that report to him.

Provost Mearns has communicated the college targets to the deans, and he has asked them to provide him with their college’s plan by February 22, 2011. He has also directed the deans to consult with their respective faculties and staff in developing their college’s plan.

By early March, I anticipate that our collective strategy for meeting this financial challenge will begin to become more clear. Governor Kasich will present his proposed budget to the legislature on or before March 15. I anticipate that, when his budget is released, we will know much more about two of the most important factors that are driving this process: the approximate amount of any reduction in the state subsidy for higher education, and the limit on any possible increase in undergraduate tuition. By that time, we will also have had an opportunity to evaluate the various college and administrative plans that have been submitted.

When we have more information from the Governor, I will hold an open forum in March to discuss our University plan.

I know that this process is difficult and that it is causing some anxiety and uncertainty. I believe, however, that we have established a collaborative and transparent process that will enable the University to overcome this challenge. Indeed, I am encouraged by the constructive contributions that so many of you have already made to our contingency planning process. Therefore, I am confident that we will emerge from this process as a stronger institution — which is our goal.

Thank you for your service to our students, our University, and our community.

Indeed. To those of you who still believe in the American Dream, let me explain how it really works for you. Say Jane wants to grow up and become a Doctor. But Jane and her family live piss poor, so she works hard in High School, gets good grades in accelerated courses and takes part in track and cheerleading or some such other extracurricular nonsense that will look good on college applications. She gets accepted into a good school and manages to keep from getting pregnant. What a stand up gal Jane is, don’t you think? She gets some scholarships. Good for her! She gets Pell Grants and subsidized and unsubsidized loans through FAFSA. That’s our girl.

Before you know it she is accepted into Harvard Medical School and graduates with honors. Bravo! The problem is, now Jane has upwards of $200,000 worth of student loans to pay back. She gets married and begins practice as a pediatrician, her lifelong dream. But it will be a while before she begins to really rake in the dough and there are medical malpractice lawsuits on the horizon. Nonetheless, she and her husband, a college professor, are living well, having babies and attending church on Sundays. Everything seems fine until disaster strikes. Her mother is still piss poor and has just suffered from a stroke. A neighbor finds her laying face down in her apartment surrounded by urine and her own feces. Jane’s mother is admitted to the hospital and is soon discharged. Incontinent, paralyzed from the waist down and unable to take care of herself, Jane’s mother is just above the income threshold for medicaid and there are limited funds. She has no Health Insurance and therefore cannot afford to live in a Nursing Home or Assisted Living Facility, so Jane has to quit her job to take care of her mother, as her husband is unwilling to quit his. The financial problems caused by the fact that Jane can no longer supplement the family income as well as the demands of taking care of a sick elderly woman takes a toll on their marriage, and Jane’s husband starts banging his secretary. They get a divorce and the children are heartbroken. Jane is now a single mother with no job. She still has student loans and legal fees to pay back, no home because she can’t afford a mortgage, and three kids to put through college. Her oldest daughter Sarah is devastated by the break up of her family and commits suicide. Three months later, Jane’s mother dies due to inadequate medical care. Jane’s American Dream has turned into an American Nightmare.

Sounds extreme, right? Wrong. Things like this are happening everywhere. I can tell you that it is extremely difficult to pay for college, and I will explain why. Most people have an idea of the average college student’s financial situation. A freshman will have mom and dad foot most of the bill and private loans will take care of the rest, right?

Wrong.

Take me for example. I graduated from that Shithole High School a semester early with decent grades and community service. Go me, right? I figured I might as well try to go to college, so I briefly (and by briefly, I mean for about two seconds) thought about going into the military and even told the Hell Hole High School that those were my plans so they would let me graduate early. I took the ASVAB tests and got excellent scores, fielding calls from every military branch recruiter known to man telling me to join so I could become an officer. Of course, I am not going to go into the Military. I am a pacifist. So I changed my phone number to get rid of the recruiters and enrolled at the local junior college, with plans to save money on Gen Eds in mind. Problem was, my Dad makes too much money for me to get FAFSA and we are somewhat estranged. I had to work my tail off and go to School part time so I could get taken off of his tax returns, as a student has to be enrolled in school full time to be on their parents tax returns after they’re eighteen and to still be on their parents health insurance plan.

In any case, I no longer have Health Insurance but now that I’m off his taxes I go to School overtime, supplemented by a hefty financial aid award. But get this!

President Obama and his aides have spent a good bit of time over the last several weeks talking about the importance of education. Now they announce that they plan to cut spending on Pell grants, the big student-aid program that helps students in (roughly) the bottom half of the income distribution. As Jackie Calmes explains:

Pell grants for needy college students would be eliminated for summer classes, and graduate students would start accruing interest immediately on federal loans, though they would not have to pay until after they graduate; both changes are intended to help save $100 billion over 10 years to offset the costs of maintaining Pell grants for nine million students, according to administration officials.

Oh, fantastic! Keep in mind that my situation is not unique. Many students are like me, with families either too poor or too unwilling to help pay for school. I have a friend, for example, who had to run away from home when she was in Hell High School because her Step Father was beating her mother. She supported herself with two jobs and help from family and friends until she graduated, and now she has classes with me. I don’t know how she does it, because she is forced by FAFSA to file as a dependent even though she receives no help from her family and supports herself completely. She is awarded funds based on the assumption that her parents help her when in reality she has to pay for full time school as well as everything else.

And why is it that school is so expensive? Gods only know. The cost of living has increased exponentially since my parents were in college. It is easy for some stuck-in-the past 1950’s holdover to lecture one of us stupid delinquent teenagers about how THEY did it when they were our age so why can’t we? Well, I feel like saying to these idiots, you’re the ignorant fools who elected conservative Presidents and congresses for the past several decades and caused the inflation and budget cuts that led to all of these problems. Get over yourself.

Not only that, but tuition is obscenely expensive since now colleges are run more like businesses instead of academic institutions that shape young minds and prepare the leaders of tomorrow. I have to pay thousands of dollars for Professors to teach me the same bull shit I’ve been learning since the sixth grade (which is not to say I don’t learn a lot in College these days from certain professors, but I digress) and then once I and many students have paid several more thousands to complete an undergraduate degree two thirds of us STILL won’t be able to get a job. And people wonder why our education system is so behind.

Well, one might say, you may not be achieving all of your fancy starry eyed dreams but at least you are bettering yourself for the real world. Maybe you’ll be a hospital administrator instead of a chemical engineer but at least you have the right to a comfortable lifestyle and a reasonable retirement, right? Wrong.

So far, Obama has had the following “bright ideas” and has proposed them to Congress:

(1) Obama proposed (and Congress passed) a $112 Billion REDUCTION in revenues coming into the Social Security trust fund for this year; that is a cut of 30% in workers’ contributions to the Fund. I think we can be pretty sure this $112 Billion annual cut in Social Security taxes will be made permanent with the full agreement of Obama. It won’t take long, at that rate, for Social Security to drain its fund (and current surplus) and go out of business.

(2) Obama has proposed a 50% REDUCTION in federal aid to the program that helps poor people pay heating bills for their homes

(3) Obama is proposing that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac go out of business, which will make it harder — if not impossible — for lower-income and middle-income people to buy their homes instead of paying endless rents

(4) Obama is proposing that the interest homeowners pay for their mortgages NO longer be fully deductible on their income taxes. In the early years of any mortgage, the bulk of the monthly mortgage payment goes to pay the interest on the mortgage; having that great sum be deductible has made it possible for people to buy homes and not default on their mortgages when finances are tight (as they often are when new homeowners are just starting out).

The result of Obama’s “bright” ideas, numbers (3) and (4), will be to make it harder for current homeowners to SELL their homes, will DEFLATE the value of their homes, will cause more people to default on their mortgages, and will create a situation where communities will take in LESS in the way of property taxes because of the number of vacant, abandoned homes that will become liabilities.

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And Obama is doing all of this cutting less than two months after signing into law tax CUTS for the wealthiest Americans.

The Republicans have the EXACT right Democrat in the White House for their evil purposes. Obama is: (1) helping the Republicans realize their decades-long goal of destroying the Social Security program, (2) proposing policies that will create an even wider division between the “haves” and “have-nots” in America, and (3)proposing policies that will create a sub-class of Americans that the top one percent of Americans will be able to reduce to economic slavery.

That’s right. So long house in the ‘burbs. Bye bye white picket fence, 2.4 children and Labrador Retriever. S’later retirement fund, pensions, IRA. Hi poverty, what it do destitution? We’re the leaders of tomorrow. Nice to meetcha!

It just won’t do. Obama is a Republican Dream, not an American Dream. Why, just look at the cover of one of his famous “books.”

The Audacity of Nope

To Obama, this is the American Dream. Jane’s life would be everyone’s life with the policies he is currently championing. Can you believe this is happening? Well, I can. I’ve been saying who Obama is from the get-go. All it took was reading his idea of the American Dream in the pages of this book, where he talked about cutting Social Security and used Reagan as an example of a President to emulate. He’s stuck to his word, too. And has managed to unite this divided nation of ours- against him. On the 100the anniversary of Reagan’s whatever it was I was subjected to fawning book covers and pages about Obama’s hero for days. And now he is cutting Social Security with his bipartisan Republican pals, just like he promised.

I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t jive with the Obama the fauxgressives were selling us. This whole thing just isn’t going to work for me. I’m sure it won’t work for a lot of you, either, so run for office instead of electing more morons who will continue to pull this crap on us and expect to get reelected. My plan is to go to Law School and try to change these problems from within instead of sitting here and bitching about it.

But Isis, I can hear some people saying. Law School is expensive. You depend on those Pell Grants Obama and the Tea Party losers are cutting left and right and spending on unnecessary wars, a shitty Health Care Law and Michelle’s vacations in Spain to pay for your tuition, books and other fees. Won’t you be just like Jane, busting your hump for a dismal future? What are you going to do?

Well, shit. Whatever FAFSA doesn’t cover anymore I’ll supplement with scholarships. I just got a job that will pay for my Master’s Degree in Social Work so long as I get a good GPA. And certain agencies and non profits in my field of study will pay back all of my tuition if I end up working for them. As for the rest, it’s back to the pole and the pipe. And don’t think I’ll be the only one.

When Fear Is All Around You

Kevin Drum has a new article up at Mother Jones that is, in my opinion, worth reading. Actually, I’m not 100% sure it’s worth reading because I was too lazy to do anything but skim through it, but I got the general idea. Basically, the National Park Service wants to bring a higher level of security to the Washington Monument and Bruce Schneier thinks we should just shut it down.

Kevin Drum, like me, could really care less what happens to the Washington Monument. I didn’t even know people visited it. Like most Americans, I just see it in movies and I think, “Oh… the Washington Monument.” That sums up my opinion on the whole thing. But Drum sums up my opinion on something else very clearly: the intellectual laziness of Bruce’s attitude.

Maybe we should just shut it down. But that particular issue aside, I think Bruce’s attitude needs some major pushback.

There’s a certain class of people to whom his prescription sounds great. Refuse to be terrorized! Stop being such babies! I’m a member of that class. I would happily accept a slightly increased risk of terrorist attack in return for a less intrusive security regime. I think we’re way too willing to let fear rule our culture. On a purely personal level, this stuff infuriates me.

But those of us who feel that way really have an obligation to understand just how out of the mainstream we are. I’m willing to bet that most of us are a bit nerdy, sort of hyperanalytical, maybe even slightly Aspergers-ish. We’re comfortable — too comfortable, probably — viewing the ebb and flow of human lives as an accounting exercise. We’re also very sure of ourselves, generally pretty verbal, and we have soapboxes to shout from.

And, at a guess, we represent maybe 10% of the population. At most.

I have a friend who does not represent this 10% of the population. Like most people my age, she pretends to be non conformist and unique… but really isn’t. At least on this particular issue, her non conformism is purely commercial. If I go out in the middle of the night to take a walk or stop by the 24 hour drug store to grab some eggs, I get a tut and a shake of the head from her. “Oh… that’s smart. You’ll get raped and killed.”

Neither of us have spent much of our lives in particularly bad neighborhoods. We have been comfortably safe in suburbia and have never had our lives threatened in any way. But like most Americans we watch the nightly news and stories about murder and general destruction are plastered across the screen. Yes, I do run the risk of danger if I go out at night. I try to let this frighten me or deter me but… it just doesn’t. I don’t care.

Maybe I’m just a reckless young person who believes in her own invincibility. My answer to that is: well, I’ve been reckless for a while now and I’m still here, right? Or maybe I’m just an idiot. Actually, I’m probably just an idiot, but I think I’m losing my point here.

The point is, I have a certain attitude about the things I do, and it’s a simple one: I do what I want. I run the risk of dying when I get in a car to drive. Hell, I could drop dead or be struck down at any moment. My attitude is the exact opposite of reckless belief in my own invincibility. I know the grim reaper could pay a visit at any time, unannounced, and I wouldn’t be able to do a damn thing about it. That’s why I don’t care about death. It’s inevitable. I accept her dark embrace. And I’m not going to sit around and be so worried about death that I forget to live. As far as I’m concerned, she can call me anytime, because frankly I would rather die young knowing I stood up for something than die old and realize I threw my life away.

Our modern society is deathly afraid of death. Go figure. And violence. And since I was a child, terrorism was thrown into the mix. When you can’t even go through a scanner at the airport without having your private business groped, you have to stop and take a look  around you and wonder, “why?”

I am growing up in an age of fear and it is getting old fast.

We’re afraid of Cancer. “Watermelons cause Cancer!” a Woman’s Health article screams at at us when we’re in the Grocery Line. Jesus Christ. EVERYTHING causes Cancer! Who cares??? Eat a god damned watermelon! They’re friggin’ delicious!

We’re afraid of teen pregnancy and sexual activity. Oh my goodness. It’s not that hard. Teenagers want to have sex because they’re HORNY. Just teach them about sex education, give them some condoms and birth control pills and send them on there way. Everyone gets sex and everyone wins. Simple.

But then, what about morals? Our culture of sex and drugs is degrading our preciously valued beliefs and traditions! The sky is falling! No, it’s not. Who cares about morals? Morals are boring. As long as you aren’t hurting anyone else do what you want. I have low moral fiber and I am proud of it.

But… Terrorism kills people! Yeah, it does. But Terrorism isn’t just about violence. It’s about using violence… to make people SCARED. I’m sorry, but groping my hoo ha when I’m at an airport is not the way to fight Terrorism. Closing the Washington Monument would just tell our enemies just how afraid of them we really are. I’d rather we stood up to them.

And most importantly, people are scared for America. Or of America. Which one? I don’t know, probably both. China is gaining influence, the media tells us ominously. And we are declining. Our standard of living is declining, our government is imploding from the inside out. The economy is down and won’t get back up for a while, if ever. What are we going to do? We won’t be the world’s biggest superpower anymore! By 2040 white people will be a minority! WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO?

It’s all mass hysteria and it’s all silly. Stop giving into fear. That’s what you do. Don’t sit there and complain and let it happen. Don’t say, “America is doomed” and then go to Wal Mart to buy cups.  Do something. Vote. Get your shit together and get yourself organized. Protest. Raise Hell. It’s what the Founding Fathers would have wanted. They cared a lot more about that than “Family Values” and “American Security.”

And most importantly, stop being afraid for America. Fight for her if you love her. Don’t just let her go.

 

Uncle Sam Contracts Frater Magnus to Safeguard his Healthcare Liberty

Lincoln_A

You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you can not fool all of the people all of the time. – Abraham Lincoln

There’s a sucker born every minute. – P.T. Barnum

BenjaminFranklinWe, the People, are born every minute. The last ten years provides ample evidence about the regularity to which Lincoln alludes.

Geese are but Geese tho’ we may think ‘em Swans; and Truth will be Truth tho’ it sometimes prove mortifying and distasteful. – Benjamin Franklin

The Constitution of the United States is like a manual for building a nation of equals before the law. It embodies the wisdom that some people gain power and freedom by stealing the power and freedom of others. It enacts principles to thwart those who conduct such thefts. “Liberty” is a common code word for describing the nation’s promise of power and freedom to its citizens.

Interestingly, the founders were all too aware that the apparatus they made to uphold the liberty of the nation’s citizens, i.e. the government, could also fall under the influence of those who would thieve the liberty of others. Accordingly, citizens must be mindful of what they, and others, ask of their government, while using the government as a tool to promote liberty, and other Constitutional and DOI objectives, and thwart liberty thieves. Unfortunately, some citizens are so focused on defending their liberty from the government that they lose sight of the reason that the government was created, i.e. they lose sight of the enemies of liberty. They are so focussed on the tree, that they lose sight of the forest that is being clearcut all around them. Continue reading

Who here thinks creativity is easy?

You’ve probably seen this ad in the past couple of days.  I really loved it, although I’m not sure who at Intel approved of it:

I know the guy who invented one of the most widely used anti-depressants in history.  The company that he worked for bought his patent for a buck and is reaping in billions every year- well, for the time being anyway.  And what did Morris get?  Well, other than a pretty nice bonus, he gets fan mail.  He get letters from people who thank him for saving them from the wreckage of their minds.  Now, some of you may scoff haughtily at the notion of an anti-depressant, assuming (wrongly) that most people who take them don’t need them.  I might agree that they are overprescribed but the thing is, if you are one of the people who can pull yourself together under their influence in a way you can’t do without them, you probably aren’t terribly interested in the superior minded folks who tell you that there’s nothing wrong with feeling that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel.  Ever.  For day after day, year after year.  Well, you get the picture.

Yeah, Morris gets fan mail.  I don’t know how these people tracked him down but they did.  He’s a rockstar.

Last week, Don Draper, the Creative Director of Mad Men’s Sterling-Cooper, told his protege that she wasn’t an artist, she solves problems.  Those of us who work in creative fields like processor design, drug design, even auto-mechanics, are problem solvers.

Those who work in the insurance industry and the finance industry are NOT problem solvers.  I think this point was lost on the folks at Planet Money recently.  Ya’know, back when the Financial Meltdown of 2008 was young, Planet Money was a great little podcast.  It explained how all of the moving pieces meshed together.  The few missteps in the beginning when Adam Davidson told us all not to get too mad at the bonus structure of the bailed out companies were naive but we could overlook them.  Then came that cringeworthy interview he had with Elizabeth Warren and it all started going rapidly downhill from there.  The latest stupidity has spread from Adam to Alex Blumberg.  God, I had such high hopes for him.  One of the recent podcasts extolling finance as the “geniuses” behind every new innovation that has made our lives better has really taken the shine off of him for me.

Oh, sure, the moneybags have financed a lot of good stuff but there have been plenty of things that never got off the ground or have been hopelessly stalled.  Take stem cell research for example.  I guess it depends on the religious mindset of who is actually holding the moneybags.  Or the fact that back in the 90’s, Apple nearly went out of business when all of the big corporations gave lifetime employment to the IT nazis when they bought PCs that ran nothing but Windows.  We are all going to be paying for that  non-diversification of the the desktop for a lifetime.  Or the fact that our financial wizards can not think beyond 3 months, which is forcing a lot of companies to merge, cut their workforces or get gobbled up by private equity.  Or the fact that so many small businesses can’t get loans because all of the bankers who Adam Davidson insists we just had to save are sitting on big piles of money because they refuse to divest themselves of their bad assets.  Yes! Let’s hear it for our financial braintrusts!

How frickin’ clueless can you get?  I’ll answer that: pretty clueless, especially if you’ve never seen real creation at work.  Some of our corporate overlords have this fantastic notion in their overblown egos that the companies they pilot would sink without their skills.  The R&D people make note of this all of the time.  Yes, we can be replaced by cheaper Ajay Bhatts in Hyderabad but real creativity doesn’t come by swapping out parts.  It takes a certain environment.  Malcolm Gladwell touched on this in his most recent book, Outliers, when he describes the characteristics of successful people.  Your native intelligence can only take you so far.  Other things have to come into play, like how effectively your family advocates for you at school, opportunity and location and something that most of us in America overlook- how hierarchically our society is structured.  It turns out that in highly hierarchical societies, creativity and problem solving is squelched, sometimes with disastrously fatal results.

The grumbling of the problem solvers is starting to make noise.  At least we, the R&D people are starting to hear it from each other.   A real resentment is starting to simmer about how the corporate people think their s%^& doesn’t smell because they don’t have to spend their days in the labs touching things with their hands.  Their salaries and bonuses match their egos.  The newest thing is a management development program where the trainer encourages the non-corporate types to use the same meaningless biz-speak jargon to communicate with the “people who have the money”.  See, if you use the latest trendy word combination, they are more likely to listen to what you have to say.  You put it in a context they can understand, even if the rest of your presentation is completely over their heads.  Someone tried to convince me the other day that this was a good idea.  It’s not.  There are studies that show that the more jargon a business uses, the more poorly run it is, a prediction made by Richard Mitchell, the Underground Grammarian in his book Less Than Words Can Say three decades ago.    I don’t think I have an obligation to contribute to my own demise.

I worry about a country that had a cornucopia of innovation in the past is now facing its biggest creative crisis.  This country is becoming more hierarchical all of the time while it is also becoming less able to cope with the demands of new technology and how to solve problems with it.  It doesn’t help that our nation’s teachers blame everyone but themselves for their poor preparation.  Yes, if we would only pay them better, they would learn this stuff like every other advanced industrialized nation’s teachers that use standardized testing.  Well, not to worry.  At the rate things are going, there will soon be a glut of highly educated future teachers on the market who will be fluent in advanced mathematics and science.  When the creative types finally lose their jobs because they can’t convince the “people who have the money” that solving problems is worth a damn, they can take a crack at the classroom for a little less money but summers off.

They might not have fan mail, but at least they’ll have a union.

Catch more on the battle of the creatives vs the hierarchy on Mad Men tonight at 10PM EST on AMC.

PS.  Thank someone who solves a problem for you tomorrow.  We need to start a movement.

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