I really want to go to Drinking Liberally tonight—I even said I would go.

It is, however, the end of the term, and there is a horrific pile of grading sitting on my desk. It’s the classic dilemma of having to choose between fun and beer and interesting people vs. obligations and responsibility and work.

So I took a look at the pile and carved out a harshly large chunk of it, and I have set myself a goal: if I can get that scary looking subset of it done in time, I’ll take off for Minneapolis. If I can’t, I’m going to stay here and make lots of furious little red marks instead. I think I can do it, but it isn’t going to be easy…so excuse me if I ignore this little corner of the intarwebs for a while.

If anyone knows any fairy godmothers with a little free time, send ’em my way, OK?

Hi, Daryl!

I get lots of hate mail, but it’s actually not that often that I’m cc’ed complaints sent to my acting chancellor and the university PR person. Since he’s willing to share, so am I…so here’s Mr Daryl Schulz’s defense of free speech:

I have known a few people through the years that have gone to UM Morris and thought it to be a reputable institution affiliated with the University of Minnesota. But you can’t be serious about being proud of one of your Associate Professor’s blog winning an award when it contains such hate towards religion or faith of any type ( To put it on the splash page of your university website is not helping your image to being open minded and fair to all types of students whether Christian or otherwise. His frequent mocking and ridicule of faith in anything other than science is embarrassing for him as a professor but especially so for you as a tax payer supported branch of the University of Minnesota. Does your school support and advertise blogs of Christian, Muslim, or Jewish proponents? Would your school be proud if one of your staff admitted to being hard on Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists or Atheists, despising their beliefs and making mock of their nonsensical ideas and backwards social agenda as Mr. Myers admits to below in the blog headline below regarding Christianity?

His ideas are his own whether I agree with them or not and free speech is a constitutional right. But I’m embarrassed by this endorsement by your school for several reasons and thankfully I am not an alumnus.. I will also be sure my children and others who ask will be directed to fully research your institution fully to be clear on how their beliefs are accepted and treated by representatives. I am appalled my tax dollars are being used to advertise his hatred.


Daryl Schulz

He also provides a link to this fine example of my perfidy. Just a hint to those making future attempts to screw with my employer’s heads: I don’t recommend picking a criticism of Kent Hovind as an example. Anyone with half a brain, and the people working here are actually pretty smart, aren’t going to be too dazzled by someone who is unhappy that a biologist thinks a dishonest creationist huckster is an embarrassing representative of Christianity.

My university does not endorse what I say here. I don’t think Mr Shulz quite understands the concept of free speech if he thinks it means you only acknowledge the existence of one side of an argument; thinking that universities will back away from criticism of religion because some guy feels the existence of an atheist on campus makes the place unsuitable for his children is rather silly. That’s going to narrow their field of prospective educational institutions to lots of third rate bible colleges…which is, of course, Mr Schulz’s choice.

By the way, the majority of students here are Christian. I don’t think I’ve ever had a single student complain that I discriminate against them on the basis of their religion—they’re usually more interested in complaining about the brutality of my exams.

Which reminds me that I have to finish grading one of those brutal exams today…

We all have “Life Experience”—you get it by living

OK, this Dean Dad fella substituting for Dr. B got me a little sniffy with his first post (telling little kids easy lies about heaven is a pet peeve. Dead is gone, sugarcoating it is the first step to a life of delusions), but his latest is much more interesting and sparked some cranky comments—is it just me, or are the trolls on a hair-trigger everywhere lately?

Anyway, it’s a good snarl.

It’s not unusual for downsized or early-retired professionals to show up asking for faculty positions, thinking that we’ll be tripping all over ourselves for the opportunity to bask in their reflected glory. They present themselves as willing to take one for the greater good by settling for a job I spent years in poverty to prepare for, and felt damn lucky to get. In the few occasions in which folks like that have been hired, when I’ve been around to see it, they’ve ranged from acceptably average to constant-pain-in-the-neck. They’ve never excelled, or even risen above average. They don’t want to; as far as they’re concerned, they paid their dues in ‘the real world,’ and they’re coasting across the finish line by teaching. No, thanks.

I have never been on the administrative side of academia where those kinds of decisions are made, but I’ve met a few people that match that description. They think because they had successful careers and rose to bank president or regional manager of a department store or whatever, all commendable accomplishments and good on you, etc., that they now have exactly the right stuff to inspire and train college students. Nuh-uh. Stay away. If you ask me, they are exactly the wrong people to bring in to the university.

We already have a perception problem, with the increasing commodification of college degrees and the narrow b-school mentality that says the measure of the worth of an education is in how well it profits the students after graduation…where profit is measured only in how many more pennies the person will earn. People who have found happiness in the prosperity of the upper middle class tend to be superficial and uninteresting. Give me instead beach bums and street poets and activists who’ve found something of worth in the unconventional, and that’s where you’ll find deeper inspiration for students. Unfortunately, they’re also not the kind to collar college administrators and inspire them with tales of fat donations.

Oh, and do look at the comments. I’ve also noticed that those people who are most proud of their bourgeois accomplishments can be awfully thin-skinned when others are unimpressed with the size of their money-pile and the hard work they put into acquiring it.

Treating students as people is awfully inefficient, after all

Oh, my. Inside Higher Ed has an article that has to be read to be believed: the problem with universities are their faculties, we need to get rid of tenure, hire more part-time, untenured faculty on short term contracts, cut back on those expensive bits of infrastructure like libraries and theaters, increase teaching loads across the board…in other words, turn education into a commodity with universities as the assembly lines that crank out graduates, while letting all those over-educated professors know that they too can be replaced by some yahoo with a mail-order degree. It’s a recipe for the complete demolition of higher education in this country, replacing it with some cookie cutter B-school model.

Fortunately, I don’t have to blow a gasket over it, because that guy Bérubé has already turned it into a colossal joke. It seems to be the only appropriate way to deal with these unrealistic libertarian fantasies.

Death of science by multiple organ system failure

Science fairs usually have a few pleasant surprises, a lot of ho-hum projects done by rote with little thought (sometimes clearly done the night before), and a few stinkers that reveal nothing but the student’s ignorance. The science teachers are supposed to screen the project proposals to prevent that from happening, though, so the really bad projects usually don’t get through. There’s also a hierarchy: local to county or regional to state, and only the best are supposed to progress. State science fairs usually have some very impressive work and some that might be naive, but at least the student has enthusiasm. This description of a state level science fair project is disturbing, not just because the student’s work was substandard, but because it somehow made it through what should have been multiple levels of screening.

Then I saw it. “Creator or Not? YOU DECIDE”

The title claimed we could decide, but the project left no room for vacillation. It started with a hypothesis that “The universe was created by an intelligent designer.” It went on to make the standard big number argument, and closed with the conclusion, “The universe was created by an intelligent designer.”

The big number argument: there are twenty amino acids. The average human protein has around 460 amino acids in it. Thus the number of possible combinations is a huge number. The age of the universe in seconds likewise is a huge number, but less huge than the number of possible amino acid combinations. Thus you would have to have been randomly generating these protien chains at the rate of bunches every second from the Big Bang to now before you got human protein chains. Clearly that didn’t happen; therefore, an intelligent designer did it. Quod erat demonstratum.

That’s extremely distressing. It’s sad that some kid has such a poor knowledge of logic and evidence, but it is even more troubling that the educational system has rotted out so much that shoddy work like that can actually advance that far. We should worry about individuals, of course, but this is a sign that the educational infrastructure that leads to good scientists isn’t working—there was a complete failure from parents to science teacher to fair judges, and all of those people ought to be ashamed of themselves. This is not how we get kids into the Siemens Westinghouse competition.

(via The Scientific Activist)

Education and Invasion

A Carnival of Education is up! I don’t know that the plague theme is entirely encouraging, but as we creep towards the end of the term, it feels like it is entirely appropriate.

Also, tomorrow is the Invasive Species Weblog‘s fourth birthday (I know, she’s really, really old), and Jennifer Forman Orth is celebrating with a contest—send her a link to an invasive species-related post by midnight Thursday and you might just win a prize.

Beckwith’s tenure decision

More details are dribbling out about the decision to deny Francis Beckwith tenure. It’s a little bit odd, because these things are supposed to be confidential, and I will note that Beckwith, to his credit, is not commenting on the decision while trying to appeal it. I hope his appeal does not succeed, however. I agree completely with this fellow, Dr Jim Patton, who clearly states a legitimate reason for kicking Beckwith out (warning: Free Republic link):

When tenure time approached, the anti-Sloan [Sloan was the former Baylor president who had hired Dembski and Beckwith] interim president, William Underwood, appointed psychology professor Jim Patton, the chair of the anti-Sloan faculty senate, to Mr. Beckwith’s tenure committee. In an e-mail message about another faculty member shown to WORLD, Mr. Patton wrote, “I clearly do not think highly of anyone who claims ID theory is science.”

I get to vote on tenure decisions at my university, and I can assure you that if someone comes up who claims that ID ‘theory’ is science, I will vote against them. If someone thinks the sun orbits around the earth, I will vote against them. If someone thinks fairies live in their garden and pull up the flowers out of the ground every spring, I will vote against them. Tenure decisions are not pro forma games, but a process of evaluation, and I’d rather not have crackpots promoted. Beckwith may be a nice fellow with a commendable publication record, but when it gets right down to it, his untenable position on intelligent design puts him smack in the middle of the tinfoil hat brigade. And that position on ID is a focus of many of his publications, so it is certainly a legitimate criterion for judging him.

(Before the inevitable trollish twit starts claiming this is a sign of intolerance, I’ll short circuit that by stating that whether a person is Christian or Muslim or atheist, Republican or Democrat or Green, is not an issue in tenure decisions and would not be and has not been a factor in any tenure votes I’ve cast. I do not object to differences in opinion among my colleagues. I do object to keeping fools around.)