Category: Society

Teaching Ferguson's lessons

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Hot-off-the-presses is not usually a part of lesson plans in university classrooms - unless it is. History, political science, economics... social sciences and humanities classtime can easily and sometimes should be convulsed in topical isses. Faculty at institutions in the immediate area don't have the luxury of remove and often need to incorporate the events for multiple reasons. The Chronicle of Higher Education shares some lessons plans from faculty in the St. Louis area and how they plan to address sensitive issues of race and policing that were ignitied on Aug. 9. Could be instructive:

We’ll also be talking about community policing as it relates to Ferguson. This became a buzzword in the 1990s as a way to build better relationships with the community. I want to look at a broader model of community policing that goes beyond neighborhood meetings and foot patrols. We’ll examine cities, like Cincinnati, that have collaborative agreements in which citizens have a voice in the hiring process and in the promotion and selection of the chief. We’ll also consider whether a more-diverse force might have been able to quell some of the unrest in Ferguson or build a better understanding and communication with the community.

We need to have a mix of people in law enforcement, and I hope more students of diverse backgrounds will see this as a career path.

There’s a lot we can learn from this situation about de-escalating tensions and the legal justifications for using force. Would people feel more confident if citizens could review use-of-force cases? When you have problems in the neighborhood, do you go to the community and say, "These are the strategies we have in our toolbox. What do you think we should do?" That way, when an incident happens, the response is something the community has agreed is appropriate.

Read the whole thing. In many ways, these discussions and expansions of the curriculum to broaden our understanding of contemporary events are what leading a classroom is all about.

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Welcome to the Class of 2018

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The 5,285 freshmen who entered UGA this week, assembled into a Super G on Sunday in Sanford Stadium as part of the Freshman Welcome to the Class of 2018 sponsored by the Student Government Association and the Student Alumni Council. 

That's a lot of people - normally, you would have to be crossing 42nd Street and 7th Ave to see that many people in one place.

Welcome to everyone and do not worry: you will get lost, and then lost again. The bus will come. You will find your class. Snelling will still be open when you get there. You will get used to all of this - and may so many other wonderful things happen to you as you do.

#uga18

Image: Official Class of 2018 Photo, courtesy of UGA Photographic Services. 

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The Humanities: towards greater empathy

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News and current events today challenge us to be able to see the world from the persepctive of others. The more insulated we become - socially, economically, politically - the more difficult it can be to understand the broader issues and events swirling around us. Of course, an education steeped in the humanities can go a long way towards making us better people, better citizens who can relate to our fellow citizens constructively, who want to understand, who can access solutions outside of our own personal interest, experience or perspective. This connection is the focus of recent NYT opinion column:

Sir Isaiah [Berlin] argued for acknowledging doubts and uncertainty — and then forging ahead. “Principles are not less sacred because their duration cannot be guaranteed,” he wrote. “Indeed, the very desire for guarantees that our values are eternal and secure in some objective heaven is perhaps only a craving for the certainties of childhood.”

Second, John Rawls offers a useful way of thinking about today’s issues such as inequality or poverty, of institutionalizing what our society gravely lacks: empathy. He explores basic questions of fairness, leading to a compelling explanation for why we should create safety nets to support the poor and good schools to help their kids achieve a better life.

Rawls suggests imagining that we all gather to agree on a social contract, but from an “original position” so that we don’t know if we will be rich or poor, smart or dumb, diligent or lazy, American or Bangladeshi. If we don’t know whether we’ll be born in a wealthy suburban family or to a single mom in an inner city, we’ll be more inclined to favor measures that protect those at the bottom.

Though there is room and impetus to do so, it's not really necesary to try to re-position the humanities within the context of the 'Digital Age.' They are important in their own right and always will be as long as there remain any adherents to the first part of the word. Anyway, good essay, and we're always happy to see the humanities get some ink and pixels. They are important because we so declaim, because we decide we care about humanity. Classes are in session this morning in a variety of departments and programs, from anthropology and classics to linguistics, philosophy and religion, educating our students in the traditions on which stability, progress and justice in our modern world depend.

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Educator/alum addresses school reformers

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Some great plain talk on school reform from Franklin College alumnus and Clarke Central High School literature teacher Ian Altman in the Washington Post:

7. Don’t tell us to leave politics out of the classroom. 

Don’t be naïve.  Learning always has some kind of political efficacy. Some opinions are more sensible than others, some arguments stronger than others, some interpretations and theories better supported than others. It is okay to say so out loud.  One need not disparage another to do so, and good teachers do not shy away from it.

For example, the theory of intelligent design made a big splash a few years ago among creationists who insist that evolution is merely an unproven theory on equal footing with other theories in the “marketplace of ideas.” It is very easy to show two vitiating things: there is no contravening scientific evidence against evolution, and intelligent design derives from Aristotle’s teleological argument which was soundly critiqued by David Hume and Immanuel Kant in the 18th Century.

Explaining these things to students will harm one side of the political spectrum more than the other. As far as I’m concerned, that is the fault of the politicians themselves for getting involved in classroom issues that are beyond their legitimate concern as politicians. They can say whatever they want, of course, but it is acceptable academic practice to teach why and how their arguments are strong or weak, and it’s not our fault if that involves politics, too.

Verbal logic and argumentation are the province of English teachers, especially now that under Common Core, we are told we have to teach more non-fiction texts. I expect all my students to learn how to argue sensibly and with decency, seeking the truth rather than just defeating the opposition, and I expect them to push those arguments with each other and with me.  The vitality of my classes depends on it.

Too many people never learn how to discuss and debate sensibly and with decency. Too many people are trained to shy away from controversial ideas for the sake of being polite because confrontation might be considered embarrassing or impolitic. My students will not fall to those trappings if I can help it. I will continue to do everything I can, as a teacher and as a citizen, to disrupt everybody’s settled thoughts.

Stirring comment from one of our nation's very brightest and caring educators. Our public schools are lucky to have faculty like Altman and so many others who, not only understand all of the pieces of the education reform puzzle but arr willing to speak out out about them eleoquently and publicly. Keep it up, Mr. Altman. Read the whole thing.

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Renovations around campus

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Park Hall.jpg It's that time of year (in which I start out several posts with 'It's that time of year...') when the town begins to be once again flooded with people and cars, returning students, parents, futons, and hopes (we hope). Instead of showing a picture of a very congested Milledge Avenue during sorority rush, we'll preview some renovations to campus buildings that will soon re-open. The University Architects office does a great job keeping our facilities up to par, and for the Franklin College, that means some of the busiest sites on campus. Park Hall for example, is one of our most venerable buildings, an institution practically in its own right. Park Hall see such high volume of use throughout the year that it can be difficult to even schedule renovations there and hence, the building's infrastructure and appearance can suffer, affecting its functionality for the thousands of students who pass through its doors each day.

Over the summer, the HVAC in Park Hall received some long-needed attention. That, along with other updates, will greet students and faculty next week. Our thanks to the physical plant employees and sub-constractors that made all this work happen during the brief summer window. We look forward to being back in its halls once again and appreciate that, especially with some improvements we may not notice at first, it takes a great deal of planning and resources to keep our great buildings like Park Hall at the top of their game.

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Faculty in the media, Summer 2014

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Kagel_Tabori.jpg The summer slows on campus but our faculty have been very busy in the national and international media. A sampling of the active engagement of faculty scholarship and expertise across a braod range of subjects:

When predators vanish, so does the ecosystem – The New York Times reports on a study that shows recreational fishing and crabbing may be responsible for dying salt marshes off the coast of New England.  But “it’s still a leap to connect dieback to recreational overfishing,” said Merryl Alber, director of UGA’s Marine Institute on Sapelo Island.

Hypoxia widely accepted as cancer triggerYing Xu, Regents-Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and UGA professor of bioinformatics and computational biology, has co-authored a study that finds low oxygen levels could be a key driver of cancer growth.  Information reported in MedicalXpress.com.

New UGA research into biomass conversion engineers microbes for the direct conversion of biomass to ethanol fuel.  The research by genetics professor Janet Westpheling could lead to an economical method of biomass conversion.  Articles in Athens Banner-Herald,   Phys.org,   Biofuels Journal,   Green Car Congress,   ScienceCodex.com,   Milling Journal, and Science Daily.

Obama Administration announces new carbon-reduction regulation – Atheectic Association Professor in the Social Sciences professor J. Marshall Shepherd, director of the UGA Atmospheric Sciences Program, comments in news coverage of the issue.

The South is more likely to hand out corporate subsidies, UGA history professor James Cobb says in news coverage of Cobb County’s subsidies for the Atlanta Braves move.

College still makes good sense (and dollars), writes associate professor of history Stephen Mihm in a Bloomberg View column.

Enhancing education through foreign collaboration – “The structure of a successful partnership is heavily dependent on the mission of the institution and the specific goals of the collaboration,” said Kavita Pandit, associate provost for international education, during a recent lecture at a college in Nigeria.

Mississippi Civil Rights Conference concludes – WTOK-TV (Meridian, MS) quotes sociology professor Keith Parker, who spoke at the conference

Martin Kagel, A.G. Steer Professor and head of the department of German and Slavic Studies, was featured as an expert on a documentary broadcast on German television (SAT3/ZDF), the primary German public television channel for arts programming, on the German-Jewish writer George Tabori.

Leonard Pitts: Don’t say we weren’t warned about climate change – Miami Herald (Pitts quotes Marshall Shepherd, director of UGA’s Atmospheric Sciences Program)

Interactive time-lapse map shows how the U.S. took more than 1.5 billion acres from Native Americans – Slate.com,   Vox.com (map produced by Claudio Saunt, Russell Professor of History)

Young gorillas caught dismantling poacher’s snares – Environmental News Network article quotes Dorothy Fragaszy, professor of psychology and director of the Primate Behavior Laboratory

Stephen Mihm, associate professor of history, takes a look at how American Indian culture became used as marketing tools.  The opinion piece is distributed via Bloomberg News.

Iconic images show pride, patriotism in America – AJC article quotes professor of history Allan Kulikoff

“1776: Not Just the Revolution” – Based on his book “West of the Revolution: An Uncommon History of 1776,” UGA’s Richard B. Russell Professor of American History Claudio Saunt writes an article in the Boston Globe for the Independence Day weekend.

She Blinded Me with Science: How do fireworks get their colors? – R&B article quotes Norbert Pienta, chemistry professor

NSF grant to help UGA math department attract, train more students – Thanks to a $2 million National Science Foundation grant, “UGA will continue its efforts to educate math majors at both the undergraduate and graduate levels,” reports OnlineAthens.com.

Monroe, Chaplin and Python on board for Summer Classics series at Ciné – ABH article quotes Richard Neupert, Josiah Meigs Distinguished Professor of theatre and film studies

Questioning Confederate memorials – Two activists say the state of Georgia should “pull the plug on its official support of Confederacy celebrations,” reports Creative Loafing.  “I agree wholeheartedly that neither state-sponsored commemorations of the Confederacy or monuments thereto on state property are appropriate,” said James Cobb, UGA professor of Southern history and culture.

Research challenges fundamental precept of organic chemistryPhys.org

Common Core to replace CRCT, ITBS testing for grades K-12 – R&B article quotes Sybilia Beckman, a UGA Josiah Meigs Distinguished Professor of mathematics

Weather Channel’s new “WxGeeks” show to be hosted by UGA’s Marshall Shepherd – The head of UGA’s Atmospheric Sciences Program and immediate past president of the American Meteorological Society is “already a star in the world of weather and climate” but “is now going to be a TV star,” the Athens Banner-Herald reports.

Magnetically controlled nanoparticles enhance stroke treatment – Research led by physics professor Yiping Zhao of UGA’s Franklin College of Arts and Sciences is reported in Phys.org., University Herald and in Nature World News.

“Another failed war? About 60% of cancers are preventable” – A story in USA Today magazine on the number of Americans who continue to die from what are considered preventable or curable cancers quotes assistant professor of genetics Melissa Davis.

The Washington Post quotes UGA geography professor Andrew Grundstein in a report that “thunderstorms can worsen asthma and allergies.” The article examines the phenomenon of thunderstorm-related asthma, which occurs even among people who otherwise don’t exhibit asthma symptoms.

How to rename six proposed Californians – “Let’s put aside the question of whether it would be wise to carve-up the nation’s most populous, economically-powerful state.  The real issue is: What should we call the six new states?” writes Stephen Mihm, associate history professor- Waco Tribune and Sun Sentiel report. 

NBC meteorologist Raphael Miranda and former President of the American Meteorological Society Marshall Shepherd discuss the latest in weather forecasting, satellites, and dual-pole radar on MSNBC. 

Alien Atmospheres - Methane, CFCs and other signs of smart ETs – Space Daily article quotes Samantha Joye, the UGA Athletic Association Professor in Arts and Sciences in the department of marine sciences

West Bank experienceEd Pavlic, professor of English, writes about his time spent in the West Bank this summer.

Collaboration between east and west produces new Rumi translation – ABH (the 13th century Persian poet’s works have been translated by professor of English emeritus Coleman Barks)

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Campus smart streets

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Coliseum1.jpg It's the lull just before fall semester, but around campus, progress marches on. Though they have been a political hot potato locally, smart streets are a safety innovation the university can and has embraced. Note the new pedestrian islands on Carlton Street in front of Stegeman Coliseum. The university has added painted bike lanes around campus as well, all in the service of safer transit in what is a very densely populated area.

Look for more of these as you watch out for people, bikes, buses and yes, cars on campus and around Athens. They can all co-exist and we can get to where we are going in, on time and in one piece.

Photo courtesy of our colleague in OVPR, design guru Krysia Haag. Thanks!

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Pavlic on Palestine

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Creative writing professor and poet Ed Pavlić just returned from the West Bank, where he toured the region with other writers as well as government and NGO officials. He offers some poignant observations about the current conflict in this piece for Africa Is A Country:

I know. It’s the oldest of old hats to note the distended shapes American journalism creates to preserve the Israel-first, false impression of some symmetry or parity between interests and powers in the contested territory split, shared, and struggled over by people known as Palestinians and Israelis. Even the names are disputed. Many Palestinians would refute the idea of “Israelis” and simply say Jews. Many Israelis have contended that, in fact, there are no “Palestinian” people. It’s territory—rhetorical, ethical, religious, ethnic, and geographic—so complexly, at times, hideously, contested that many people in the West, certainly in the U.S., simply look away. As a person who, since childhood, has lived a life athwart American racial codes and territories, I’ve always kept an eye on Israel / Palestine for the focused, if challenging, clarity it can offer one’s perspective on American experience. That might sound strange. But, it’s true. In a recent tour of the West Bank with the Palestinian Festival of Literature, in fact, I found much clarified.

...

There’s active and latent anger and violence everywhere in the region. But, according to these sources, even in so-called “Palestinian” territory (occupied by and often under the control of Israeli military personnel), there’s absolutely no parity in the legal, military, and social contests between Israeli power and Palestinian struggle. One is a contemporary bureaucratic state whose legal system vigorously operates to sustain and increase its hold on geographic territory and is possessed of a cornucopia of surveillance and weapon systems to back it up. The other is a disparate array of factionalized, anti-colonial resistance that uses smuggled and home-built weapons when not employing such high-tech systems as slingshots and cutlasses or simply throwing stones. Simply put there’s no contest here.

Friends of Israel do it no favors with our silence. The crisis continues, with news harder to come by as journalism suffers beneath its own conventions. Thanks to Pavlić for trying to elucidate some of the underlying conditions. Be sure and read the whole thing.

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This week in UGA history

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photo (60).jpg 213 years ago, by just a few days (July 25, 1801), there appeared a classified ad in the Augusta Chronicle (alas, no link from that year) announcing that:

The Senaticus Academicus had chosen a site for the university, "an institution deeply interesting to the present age, and still more to an encreasing posterity."

[Re-]discovered in Nash Boney's excellent A Pictorial History of the University of Georgia. May we be today and always deeply interesting to the present age - and my personal hope that the Senatus Academicus (one of two major governing boards of UGA prior to the creation of the Board of Regents) is re-animated in its original latin.

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Summer Commencement

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The summer semester is winding down on campus and that can only mean one thing--summer commencement is quickly approaching.  This summer, commencement is being held on Friday, August 1 at 9:30 a.m. at Stegeman Coliseum.  The 2014 summer commencement is a combined Graduate and Undergraduate event. Doors open at 8 a.m.  For those unable to attend,the ceremony will be broadcast live on Channel 15 of the University Cable System and Channel 181 of the Charter Cable System.  It will also be streamed live here.

Francis "Abit" Massey, a 1949 graduate of the University of Georgia and president emeritus of the Georgia Poultry Federation, will deliver the summer Commencement address at the ceremony. Massey led the Georgia Poultry Federation for 48 years, and in 2009 was named president emeritus.

For more information about the event, visiting Athens and other college and department convocations, be sure to check out the great resource page that UGA has put together for the event: http://commencement.uga.edu/.

Congratulations to all of the Summer 2014 graduates! Have fun and enjoy the celebration of this momentous occasion.

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