July 2009 Archives

One of the numerous nasty side effects of a fiscal crisis is that it affords those in authority a prime opportunity to pursue their own personal and political agendas and vendettas. Higher education has not been particularly popular in this state for a long time among a certain coterie of legislators who represent districts where even the Episcopalians handle snakes and some folks think the Bible and the Sears Catalogue constitute a mighty fine library.
This problem grew infinitely worse with the ascension to the governorship in 2002 of Republican Sonny Perdue, a self-serving slug who is unfortunately just smart enough to know a relatively defenseless political punching bag when he sees one. Throw in a university system chancellor who is a former businessman, and thinks that a university should be run, you guessed it, “like a business,” where faculty are just another cog in the wheel and you have all the behind-the-scenes info you should need to understand what it’s like to teach at the University of Georgia these days.
Just in case you’re having trouble with the empathy thing, however, let me tell you about my last two days.

On Tuesday I received the following email:

July 21, 2009

TO: UGA Faculty and Staff

FROM: Tim Burgess
Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration

RE: Duty to Report Arrests and Convictions

This is to remind all faculty and staff that, under policy mandated by the Board of Regents, all University of Georgia employees are required to report any arrest to the Office of Legal Affairs within 72 hours of the arrest and to report the outcome of any criminal case within 24 hours of a court decision. Failure to report is a violation of the policy and may lead to negative employment action above and beyond whatever action might be taken because of the arrest itself….
The Office of Legal Affairs will consult with the Background Investigation Committee as necessary in making determinations as to suitability of employment of employees arrested for and/or convicted of a crime.

Then yesterday morning about 11 a.m., I signed a contract into which this language had been inserted:

Notwithstanding any other provision of this contract, for fiscal year 2009-2010, the Board of Regents has authorized the president to implement a mandatory furlough program requiring employees to take not more than 10 days of unpaid annual leave. In the event it becomes necessary for the president to exercise this authority, employee furloughs will be implemented in accordance with guidelines promulgated by the Office of the Chancellor.”
Well, let’s just say it didn’t take very damn long for it to become “necessary for the president to exercise this authority,” because about 5 p.m. I got this email from him:

To UGA Faculty and Staff:

By now, most of you have heard or read about Governor Perdue’s order to state agencies to cut 5 percent from their budgets and implement three furlough days by the end of the calendar year. I know that you have many questions about what this is going to mean for you, your colleagues, and your families.

We are working with the Board of Regents and their staff, and expect to receive further instructions on implementing these reductions. All of us are trying to work through budget scenarios both at the campus level and at the University System, and there remains a possibility of additional budget reductions and furlough days after the first of the year.

I will be making more information available as soon as possible, and I will be making a full report to the community on August 20, when the semester is under way and after the August Board of Regents meeting. We will have a more-detailed discussion on the furloughs and other budget issues at that time.

Until then, I would ask each of you as individuals and members of departments and units to continue to function as efficiently as possible. Throughout this time of economic challenge, we will continue to make the preservation of jobs a top priority, second only to serving students.

Thank you for everything you do for the University of Georgia.

Michael F. Adams
According to the local rag, “Each day of furloughs saves taxpayers $135 million when teachers, University System of Georgia employees and all state workers are included.” I don’t know who figured that out but she or he must have one hell of a calculator. In any event, if these figures are correct, why not simply cut the budget 5% plus the equivalent of three furlough days, or $405 million? If the object is to avoid layoffs, where’s the guarantee that won’t happen anyway? What’s so magical about three days?.
It will surely be interesting to see how this will work at UGA with a full-time faculty-staff population of roughly 9,000, where salaries range from the President’s reported $630k+ to clerical folks, I’m sorry to say, making barely 3% of that. Obviously, furloughing the three-percenters isn’t going to help the state nearly as much as it will hurt the individuals forced to forego three days’ pay. In reality, the only humane way to go here is to impose more furlough days on administrators, assuming we can spare them for more than 72 hours, (Pause here for removal of tongue from deep in cheek) and faculty, up to the point, of course, that they might be unable to meet their teaching, advising or committee responsibilities.
Maybe you believe this is all really just about money, but, like the Board of Regents’ Big Brotherish obsession with monitoring faculty conduct off campus, these mandatory days off without pay (which have already been instituted in some state agencies but thus far avoided in four-year colleges) strike me also as a sharp reminder to faculty that, in the minds of the powers that be, they are no different from the folks who mow the shoulders of the highways or slave anonymously away deep within the bowels of the state bureaucracy. It’s true enough that the paychecks all come from the same place, and university faculty are certainly no more worthy of high regard than any other contributing member of society, but in this case, showing disrespect for them translates directly into devaluing what they do.
Finally, even taking furloughs out of the equation, by my calculation, we have now absorbed budget cuts of 17 percent over roughly the last 18 months. Yet I read in today’s paper that officials are trying to figure how furlough days will be scheduled “so that absences don't affect the smooth running of the university? “Smooth running of the university!” Who, pray tell, has any right to expect smooth running after the butchering we’ve been subjected to? Better yet, if we can really appear to operate just as effectively after 17 percent budget reduction and faculty and staff taking the equivalent of 1 percent pay cuts (in addition to earlier reductions in benefits), just exactly who is going to believe that we needed all that money in the first place? Even if they wanted to, there is no way in hell that faculty are going to be allowed to take furloughs in a way that means cancelling classes, which, let’s face it, would hardly strike many students as forcing them to share our pain, in any event However, if staff furloughs are coming anyway, bus service should be curtailed, and the hours for computer labs, cafeterias, the student center and workout and recreational facilities should be reduced as well. This may sound cold, but getting cut to pieces while trying to repulse repeated knife attacks with appeals to reason is getting a little old. Unless students, parents, clients, and beneficiaries of our outreach efforts are made to feel that gutting their university has hurt them in some meaningful way, in this hostile environment, any hope we might have of recovering what’s been taken away is certain to fade from faint to non-existent.

Gloomy as things sound, not all the news around here is bad. With football season fast approaching, the $40 million expansion of our football and track facilities is proceeding apace. Any way you slice it, of course, the real thrust behind this project, said to include “a new weight training room, athletic training facility, a multi-purpose area, and new coaches offices and meeting rooms,” is the perceived need to impress seventeen and eighteen year athletes we are wooing to represent an institution, which, solely on the basis of their academic prowess, would not give more than a very few of them the time of day.

I have to confess that after all these years, trying to make sense of all these incongruities, accomplishes little more than stoking my thirst for a beer or several. That reminds me! Just in case you’re watching, Regents-voyeurs, can you tell me if I have a few too many and wind up in the old gray bar motel do I have to report it even if I’m on furlough?

More Sobriety On Campus? They'll Drink to That! (II)


Every time the bleary-eyed Ol’ Bloviator drags back from vacation, it’s an open question as to whether he should actually return home via the Betty Ford Center or, as the old folks used to call them, some other “kill-or-cure” outfit. All too mindful of my own propensity, even at my advanced age, to indulge in a few too many brewskies—and maybe drink that last one a little too fast—when normal constraints are removed, I ran headlong into the ongoing discussion in the New York Times about whether the legal drinking age should be dropped to eighteen. Recalling my own thoroughly misspent youth, and freely admitting that, on more than one occasion (several of which I can actually recall), I have allowed what made Milwaukee famous to make a fool out of me, the only question I have for anyone--especially the hundred or so overpaid, muddle-headed college presidents who seem keen on the idea--who believes that binge drinking can be reduced by making it easier for eighteen-year-olds to purchase alcohol, is “Are You Drunk?”
Folks, I started teaching eighteen-year-olds thirty-seven years ago, and seven years before that I was one. In fact, I grew up on the South Carolina border, and thus I was a legal beer drinker in that state before I was even a high-school graduate in this one. With Pabst at $1.80 per six-pack and a friendly beer joint six miles away, planning my weekends wasn’t much of a challenge. In the course of exercising the boozing prerogatives that went with being an eighteen-year-old, not only did I regularly rub shoulders with sixteen-year-olds who didn’t seem to have any problem finding a way to enjoy the same prerogatives, but I discovered one commonality that anybody a year or two shy or beyond my age seemed to share: We weren’t in that beer joint to relax, socialize, or philosophize while we sipped sedately on a cool one. We were there to buy as much beer as we could afford and drink it as fast as we could, because getting snockered was the name of our game. It’s certainly true that I have seen a number of shifts over the years in an increasingly sophisticated young set’s styles and habits, but I am here to tell you fine, well-intentioned people that when it comes to drinkin’, not a damn thing has changed or even shown a sign of doing so since Blue Ribbon was thirty-cents a can and a “church-key” was a young man’s most critical accessory .
For the current generation of post-pubescents, as for my own, the object of drinking is still getting drunk, and making it easier and more convenient for them isn’t going to make them any safer or more sensible about it. I understand the logic that says heavy drinking in secret means drinking as much as you can as fast as you can, but. So far as I can see, being able to drink in public means pretty much the same thing. Somehow I doubt that all those thoroughly besotted kids we see in downtown Athens in the shank of any weekend (and some weekday) evening have crawled out their dorm rooms or dumpsters and staggered downtown just so they could be seen blowing chunks outside a popular bar. In fact, I would argue that having to do your imbibing in a place that’s inconvenient, uncomfortable, and just plain un-cool does indeed serve as a deterrent for some kids. I know when I was a student at UGA in the late 1960s and the drinking age in Georgia was 21, I found it too much hassle to drink on the sneak when I could go home and pursue my principal hobby on the up-and-up in the Palmetto State. Come to think of it, this may be the only reason I actually got a degree from this place.
In the ideal world, an eighteen-year-old drinking legally in a public establishment would be subject to peer or bartender pressure not to make a fool out himself or herself, but I invite anyone who sees this happen regularly among real-world collegians to come forward with your testimony. It may be true that it would be harder for sixteen-year-olds to pass themselves off as eighteen than for an eighteen-year-old to fake being twenty-one, but I honestly don’t think the pimple count drops off that much over that span. Besides, the simple fact that a law is difficult to enforce--and perhaps unprofitable to abide by--doesn’t make it a bad law. Trying to reduce alcohol abuse among young people by lowering the drinking age is akin to trying to fight fatness by raising the BMI standard for obesity, except instead of “another (hic) birrr pleesh!” the likely response to the latter will be “Twinkie-up, y’all!”

Just to show that the Ol’ Bloviator ain’t got a problem with criticism or dissent, I have elevated this comment on this post to prime time:

Name: Fuck You
Email Address: gotohell@fuckyou.com

You're a fucking horrible writer (that first paragraph was nearly insurmountable for me) and your line of reasoning is even worse. "Hmmm, here's a personal anecdote I've embellished with some awkward, masturbatory verbosity. CONVINCED YET?"

You don't analyze any data or cite any other sources or statistics. There's absolutely nothing to back up any of your bullshit postulating; you don't even make reference to the most obvious source of data for consideration: other countries with a lower drinking age than ours (which are plentiful). In short: you should never write an editorial piece again.

How exactly did you get a degree in history? What would you make of someone who published material in your profession like this? What would history be like if researchers used personal anecdotes and opinions to propose new ideas and made no reference to any supporting evidence?

Dear Mr. or Ms. You (I prefer to be informal, but somehow getting on a first-name basis just didn’t seem appropriate here):

Anyone who takes to the time to compose a comment this contemplative and constructive deserves a response, and I will try to reply to as many of your points as I can:

You're a fucking horrible writer (that first paragraph was nearly insurmountable for me) [You are doubtless not alone in this impression and, believe me, that first paragraph was something like breach birth for me, too.] and your line of reasoning is even worse. "Hmmm, here's a personal anecdote I've embellished with some awkward, masturbatory verbosity. CONVINCED YET?" [ Awkward perhaps, and verbosity is my trademark, but mastubatory? Man, I am getting old if there was some self-gratification involved, and I missed it]

You don't analyze any data or cite any other sources or statistics. [Do you mean stuff like this, showing that after the feds pushed the states to raise their drinking ages to 21 back in 1984, traffic fatalities involving drivers ages 18 to 20 fell by 13%, or a study showing the risk of alcoholism to be 50 to 80% higher among women who began drinking at 17 as opposed to 20? Or maybe you meant this report that links teenage drinking to unplanned pregnancies and higher risks of premature births? ] There's absolutely nothing to back up any of your bullshit postulating; you don't even make reference to the most obvious source of data for consideration: other countries with a lower drinking age than ours (which are plentiful). [There’s no disputing that I’m a world-class BS’er, but I’d say thirty-seven years of seeing college freshman careen into mid-morning classes smelling as though thy had showered in Natural Light or Milwaukee’s Best might count for something. Ditto for the incident about three years back when one of my freshman students showed up sporting a gunshot wound acquired the previous evening after he and a friend who was still in high school helped close down a local drinking establishment and chose to walk all the way across town alone in the wee hours. As to data from with the rest of the world, until American kids are raised to appreciate the pleasure of moderate enjoyment of alcohol the way kids in Europe are, I don’t think comparisons tell us much. ] In short: you should never write an editorial piece again. [Here again, you are probably offering good advice, but, even sober, my record on taking good advice is not exactly stellar.]

How exactly did you get a degree in history? [I hung around till they got tired of me. Isn’t that how you got your degree?] What would you make of someone who published material in your profession like this? What would history be like if researchers used personal anecdotes and opinions to propose new ideas and made no reference to any supporting evidence? [Are you kidding? The piece under discussion is a model of objectivity and restraint compared what passes for history in some quarters these days]

PS. May I assume from the tenor of your post, that you probably don’t wish to be considered for the presidency of the Cobbloviate Fan Club or participate in our annual August Scratch ‘n Sniff camping trip to the Okefenokee Swamp?

Barbecue and Patriotism: They Both Have a Price

Folks, the ol' Bloviator is at an undisclosed location down the islands, pursuing every aspect of the holy sun, suds, and surf trilnity with his usual excess. Thanks be to JL, my friend and soulmate from over there in Alabama, for sharing this highly appropriate posting with us. Just remember that if you come across a copy of the Declaration of Independence with some barbecue sauce smeared on it, JL would love to have it back.

By JL Strickland, Linthead Emeritus

On the Fourth of July, we naturally think of Uncle Sam, our nation's favorite icon. While I try to keep a positive attitude about Uncle Sam in July, I can't forget the day the old man hurt my feelings in October.

Let me explain:
Back in the day, Fairfax Mill chartered a bus to take the mill-village Boy Scouts to the Southeastern Fair in Atlanta. As a proud member of Fairfax Troop 10, I was thrilled at the prospect of such a magical journey. Going to the Southeastern Fair was like a trip to Mars. Atlanta was a heap farther away then than it is now. So, early one glorious Saturday morning in October, we headed up Highway 29, giddy with anticipation. Unfortunately, the fun came to a rattling halt when the bus, as if pre-ordained, broke down in Newnan, Ga., right in front of Sprayberry's legendary barbecue joint. Sprayberry's barbecue pit was already in high gear. Not only was the pit in high gear, as country boys used to say, it was in grandmaw! Our scoutmaster left us waiting outside while he went in and phoned home for help. But, when the beguiling, heavenly aroma of barbecue wafted over us, we stormed into the restaurant, in a feeding frenzy, and started buying sandwiches, and Brunswick stew. And fried apple pies. And we went in again and again. Sprayberry's barbecue was more addictive than crack. This was in the early Fifties and the Valley cotton mills were on short time. While Boy Scouts wearing uniforms got into the fair free, none of us had much spending money. By the time another bus arrived to rescue us, four hours later, we were all broke; but packed full of Sprayberry's vittles. We arrived at the fair two hours before we were scheduled to return home. Little matter. We didn't have money left for the rides anyway. We could only mope around looking at the free exhibits, feeling pangs of buyer's remorse for splurging on barbecue. Then, as we were about to leave, an epiphany: A bearded man on stilts, dressed as Uncle Sam, was selling copies of the Declaration of Independence to passersby near the gate. He was carrying the copies in an American flag-colored bag hanging from one of the stilts. I ask to see one of the copies and he handed it down to me. The stilts made him look ten feet tall. The document looked like the real Declaration of Independence, with parchment-type paper, and that old-timey curlicue lettering. I had to have a copy. I asked Uncle Sam how much they cost. Peering down at me from his lofty height, he said they didn't have a set price; they cost whatever I could afford to pay.

He added dramatically, "Every American should have a copy of the Declaration of Independence."

I was in luck! I gave him all the money I had, one lonely, solitary quarter. After examining the quarter like he had never seen a coin before, Uncle Sam frowned at me like I had just shot Abe Lincoln. Then he leaned over, snatched my copy of the Declaration of Independence out of my hand, and flipped the quarter on the ground at my feet.

Drawing himself up to his full height, he shouted, "Look, hicker-nut head -- you can't buy no bloomin' copy of the Declaration of Independence for no durn quarter!"

In a huff, Uncle Sam stuffed the copy back into his bag and stalked off through the crowd. I was stunned. And more than a tad mortified. I could not believe that Uncle Sam would use that abusive language and tone of voice with a Boy Scout of America, who was in full dress uniform, including a sash almost full of merit badges. Not only did I play the bugle at assemblies, I usually led the Pledge of Allegiance, for gosh sakes! I learned a valuable civics/life lesson that day. You can buy a copy of the Declaration of Independence or you can buy a bellyful of Sprayberry's barbecue. You can't do both. But as traumatic as this incident was, it could have been much worse. It could have happened on the Fourth of July. Then it would have been like Jesus giving you a wedgie at Bible school.

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