Archive for December, 2013

Kansas State University Distinguished Professors: Open Letter to the Kansas Board of Regents

Kansas State University23 Dec. 2013

Dear Kansas Board of Regents,

As University Distinguished Professors at Kansas State University, we write to call for the immediate repeal of the new social media policy, and to ask that you instead work together with elected faculty representatives and administration to craft a social media policy that best serves the interests of Kansas universities, their faculty, staff, and students. By revoking the faculty and staff’s right to freedom of speech, the new social media policy is an affront to academic freedom and academic excellence.

Furthermore, it undermines Kansas State University’s 2025 plan by driving away both potential hires and current faculty.  Social media covered by the new policy include cutting-edge venues valued for the dissemination of research, scholarly and creative activity, and development.  The free and open exchange of ideas is essential to fulfilling the mission of any university. As a group recognized for our contributions to and support of the essential research work of our university, we look forward to your response.

Sincerely yours,

Christer Aakeroy, Chemistry
John Blair, Biology
Frank Blecha, Anatomy & Physiology
Susan Brown, Biology
Edgar Chambers IV, Human Nutrition
M. M. Chengappa, Diagnostic Medicine
Gary Conrad, Biology
Rob Denell, Biology
Elizabeth Dodd, English
Walter Dodds, Biology
Michael Dryden, Diagnostic Medicine & Pathobiology
James H. Edgar, Chemical Engineering
Brett Esry, Physics
David Hartnett, Biology
John Hatcliff, Computing & Information Sciences
Dale Herspring, Political Sciences
Ryszard Jankowiak, Chemistry
Anthony Joern, Biology
Michael Kanost, Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics
Ken Klabunde, Chemistry
David Littrell, Music
Daniel Marcus, Anatomy & Physiology
James Marsden, Animal Sciences & Industry
Richard Marston, Geography
Nancy Monteiro-Riviere, Anatomy & Physiology
S. Muthukrishnan, Biochemistry & Molecular Biophysics*
T.G. Nagaraja, Diagnostic Medicine & Pathobiology
Philip Nel, English
Harald Prins, Anthropology
Chuck Rice, Agronomy
Juergen Richt, Diagnostic Medicine & Pathobiology
Jim Riviere, Anatomy & Physiology
Tom Roche, Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics
Ted Schroeder, Agricultural Economics
James Shanteau, Psychological Sciences
Chris Sorensen, Physics
Brian S. Spooner, Biology
Xiuzhi Susan Sun, Grain Science & Industry
Michael Tokach, Animal Sciences & Industry
Philine Wangemann, Anatomy & Physiology
Ruth Welti, Biology
Dean Zollman, Physics*
 
University Distinguished Professors
Kansas State University
Manhattan, KS

cc: Governor Sam Brownback, President Kirk Schulz, Provost April Mason, Faculty Senate President Julia Keen, Director of Government Relations Sue Peterson


Updated 23 Dec. 2013, 10:36 am: Since I sent this out, several UDPs have emailed asking to be included. I’m adding their names above, with an * to indicate that they weren’t on the original letter. But they’re very much in support, and asked that I record their support here.

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Kansas, the banana republic

It’s an anti-free speech manifesto that sounds like a pronouncement from the government of a banana republic.

The Board of Regents truly should back up, take a deep breath, and decide on something that meets the needs of its great universities.

This first try was ghastly, pure and simple, and should be stricken down immediately.

— “New Regents policy really bad idea,” Manhattan Mercury, 22 Dec. 2013.

Since the Mercury is subscriber-only (in its on-line version), I’ve taken the liberty of posting a photograph of the full editorial below. If the Mercury would like me to take it down, I’m glad to comply.


"New Regents policy really bad idea," Manhattan Mercury, 22 Dec. 2013


Link to piece on Manhattan Mercury website (subscribers only).

Further information:

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Kansas State University Faculty Senate Responds to Kansas Board of Regents’ Social Media Policy

With permission from Kansas State University Faculty Senate President Julia Keen, I am posting the email she sent to the faculty and staff this morning.


Kansas State University

Dear Faculty and Unclassified Professionals:

As you may have seen in the news or through other media outlets, the Kansas Board of Regents (KBOR) approved a new policy which defines and regulates improper use of social media (see attachment).  This policy change affects all Kansas Regent Universities’ employees, including faculty and staff at Kansas State University.  The creation of this policy was done with no input from university faculty or administrators; it was put near the end of an 84-page agenda without notification or announcement.  The Council of Faculty Senate Presidents made a statement at the KBOR meeting on Wednesday, December 18, voicing our concerns about both the content and the timing of the policy change.  We asked that the vote be delayed to a future KBOR meeting to allow for faculty input.  The KBOR chose to proceed with a unanimous vote to pass the policy language.  The Chair of the KBOR, Fred Logan, clarified that all policies are dynamic can be reviewed and changed as needed.

There are two significant issues related to this policy:

1) the KBOR passed a significant and unprecedented change with no faculty input, usurping the concept of shared governance, and ignoring my personal objections at the KBOR meeting

2) the policy clearly infringes on university employees’ First Amendment freedom of speech rights, and ignores completely the concept of academic freedom, which is vital for the free exchange of ideas that defines the very essence of a university

Faculty Senate Leadership encourages anyone who feels they do not agree with this policy to communicate their thoughts to the KBOR President and CEO, Andy Tompkins (atompkins@ksbor.org), and ask that the communication be forwarded to each of the 9 regents.  Since the regents are appointed by the governor, I also encourage your correspondence to be sent to Governor Brownback (https://governor.ks.gov/contact-the-governor/contact-governor) and Kansas State University’s Director of Governmental Relations, Sue Peterson (skp@k-state.edu).

The timing of the introduction of this policy is unfortunate; the end of the semester and the holiday season can be intensely busy for university faculty and staff.  Faculty Senate will be working on a document articulating our opposition to this new policy following the holidays, but we strongly encourage individuals to express their position independently.  We hope that substantial input from university faculty and staff will help convince the KBOR that this not an acceptable policy.

I wish health, safety, and the creation of wonderful memories for you and your family over the holiday season!

Julia Keen, P.E., HBDP, PhD
Faculty Senate President
Associate Professor
Bob and Betty Tointon Engineering Chair
Architectural Engineering and Construction Science
Kansas State University
248 Seaton Hall

Manhattan, KS  66506
785.532.3575

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Higher Education is Not a Reality TV Show; or, How A&E’s “Duck Dynasty” Differs from the Kansas Board of Regents

Free Speech ZoneOn Facebook, a friend recently asked me how the recent controversy over the Kansas Board of Regents’ new social media policy differs from A&E’s suspending of Phil Robertson from the Duck Dynasty reality TV show. I see why she asks: The Kansas Board of Regents has rescinded faculty and staff’s right to free speech, just as A&E has rescinded Phil Robertson’s right to free speech.

First, let me go on record as saying that I support Phil Robertson’s right to express his belief that homosexuality is immoral, and to use the language of Christianity to do so. I think that using religion to advocate bigotry dishonors the Christian faith, and I wish that he would express his ignorance in a different way. But the First Amendment grants him the right to express foolish ideas, and I support that right.

A&E, however, is a corporation. If it chooses not to grant Mr. Robertson a venue for his homophobia, he can still express it — just not on the Duck Dynasty television program.

But here’s where reality TV and academia part ways. The free and open exchange of ideas is at the core of the academic enterprise, and one venue for that exchange is social media — blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and so on. The Kansas Board of Regents’ new social media policy says that faculty and staff can be fired for impairing “discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers,” or for doing anything “contrary to the best interest of the university.” In addition to being both broad and vague, that language hampers our ability to do our jobs.

cartoon by Ann Telnaes

A university is different from a corporation. Academics who work for universities exchange ideas because it’s our job to exchange ideas. It is at the core of what the academic enterprise is all about. Thanks to this new social media policy, we now lack some of the basic tools for sharing research.

For example, the Kansas Board of Regents is appointed by Governor Sam Brownback, who believes that gay and lesbian people do not deserve human rights (such as, say, the right to marry). What if you’re doing research on human rights? Or teaching Walt Whitman, Alison Bechdel, or Oscar Wilde? Would that be “contrary to the best interest of the university”? Would it foster disharmony? If your university president is as prejudiced as your governor, talking about these ideas openly might give you pause. I am pleased to report that Kansas State University’s president supports the rights of LGBTQ people, but university presidents come and go. Policies last for a long time. And this sort of policy impedes the exchange of ideas.

In crafting this policy, the Kansas Board of Regents did not consult the faculty, staff, or administration of the Regents institutions. Had they done so, they might have avoided this debacle. Indeed, the most productive way forward would be for them to rescind the new social media edict, and instead work with elected representatives from the faculty and university administrations, to craft a sensible social media policy.

Further information:

Image credits: cartoon by the great Ann Telnaes; “Free Speech Zone” map from UpperLeft.

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Kansas Board of Regents Revokes Right to Freedom of Speech

Kansas Board of RegentsAs faculty grade their last student papers and exams before leaving town for the Christmas holidays, the Kansas Board of Regents quietly — and unanimously — voted to revoke their academic freedom and basic right to freedom of speech.  As the Lawrence Journal-World reports this evening, “The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday approved a policy that would allow the firing of university employees if they communicated through social media in a way that aversely [sic] affects the school.”

According to the new policy, “improper use of social media” includes any “communication through social media that”:

“ii. when made pursuant to (i.e. in furtherance of) the employee’s official duties, is contrary to the best interest of the university”

“iv. subject to the balancing analysis required by the following paragraph, impairs discipline by superiors or harmony among co-workers, has a detrimental impact on close working relationships for which personal loyalty and confidence are necessary, impedes the performance of the speaker’s official duties, interferes with the regular operation of the university, or otherwise adversely affects the university’s ability to efficiently provide services.”

“In determining whether the employee’s communication constitutes an improper use of social media under paragraph (iv), the chief executive officer shall balance the interest of the university in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees against the employee’s right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern, and may consider the employee’s position within the university and whether the employee used or publicized the university name, brands, website, official title or school/department/college or otherwise created the appearance of the communication being endorsed, approved or connected to the university in a manner that discredits the university.  The chief executive officer may also consider whether the communication was made during the employee’s working hours or the communication was transmitted utilizing university systems or equipment.  This policy on improper use of social media shall apply prospectively from its date of adoption by the Kansas Board of Regents.”

In essence, anything can be grounds for firing. And the Board of Regents has defined social media very, very broadly:

 “Social media” means any facility for online publication and commentary, including but not limited to blogs, wikis, and social networking sites such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.

So, for example, if the university decides that this blog post is “improper use of social media,” it can fire me.  Posting a link to this blog post via Twitter and Facebook (which I will do as soon as I finish writing it) could, if deemed “improper use of social media,” also be grounds for firing me.  (I hope GooglePlus and Academia.Edu do not feel slighted by the Regents’ omission, but rest assured that I’ll push this link out via those means as well.)

I understand why the Kansas Board of Regents would want to encourage responsible use of social media.  However, I find it harder to understand how a body that oversees an educational system designed to foster free and open exchanges of ideas would seek to impede free and open exchanges of ideas. I also wonder how it expects to enforce a policy that violates the first Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits laws “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”  I suppose the fact that a state has far deeper pockets than any individual does will be the Board of Regents’ strongest means of enforcement.

At any rate, if you also find this decision troubling, you might let the Board of Regents know.  The telephone number is 785-296-3421.  Here is the contact information for Fred Logan (Chair of the Board of Regents), and contact information for all ten members of the Board of Regents.

Further information (updated 10 Apr. 2014, 3:40 pm, CST):

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Mock Caldecott 2013: Manhattan, Kansas Edition

Time again for the Mock Caldecott Awards, at which we convene not to mock Caldecott-winners, but to predict what the winners will be.  This year, we’re of course predicting the 2014 awards, which will be announced next month. A big thanks to Kansas State University’s Children’s and Adolescent Literature Community (especially Allison Kuehne and Melissa Hammond) for organizing this event, and to the Manhattan Public Library for hosting it.

The Winner:

Aaron Becker, Journey (2013)Aaron Becker, Journey

An homage to Crockett Johnson‘s Harold and the Purple Crayon and (as some of my colleagues pointed out today) to David Wiesner‘s work, Aaron Becker‘s Journey invites us to travel along the line of our imaginations, transporting us into a world of Miyazaki-esque wonder.  According to our votes, it was the winner by a good margin.  My own opinion is that I’d be surprised if the Caldecott committee failed to grant this at the very least an Honor.

The Honor Books:

Drew Daywalt and Oliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons QuitOliver Jeffers, The Day the Crayons Quit (text by Drew Daywalt).

As one of our group observed today, the Caldecott is about telling a story through pictures, and in this book the tools of art are our narrators.  They write letters of protest to their owner, citing misuse (often overuse), and seek redress.  Spoiler alert: By the end of the tale, the child artist hears their grievances, and finds a new way of using color in his work.  Like the above book, Jeffers and Daywalt’s The Day the Crayons Quit is also a meditation on the artist’s process.  Only this one is funnier.

Molly Idle, Flora and the FlamingoMolly Idle, Flora and the Flamingo

With beautifully expressive drawings, a line as smooth as Al Hirschfeld’s, and a magnificent use of white space, Molly Idle‘s Flora and the Flamingo offers much to admire.  Flora, a little girl whose physique does not suggest “ballet,” aspires to that sort of physical grace. With the help of the flamingo, the two dance a sublime, gently comic, duet.  Lifting the flaps (on the pages on which they appear) allows the reader to better “see” the movements of both girl and bird.  I’d read nearly all of our finalists prior to the Mock Caldecott conversations, but today was my introduction to Idle’s work. I look forward to reading more of it.

Should’ve Been Contenders!

Peter Brown, Mr. Tiger Goes WildAs is always the case, there were many great books that don’t get the votes.  Peter Brown‘s Mr. Tiger Goes Wild came in fourth in our voting.  It’s an hilarious, well-designed story of the need to, well, go a little wild every now and then.  (I read it is a kind of a riff on Where the Wild Things Are.)  Our other finalists were Melissa Sweet‘s Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers’ Strike of 1909 (text by Michelle Markel), Jon Klassen‘s The Dark (text by Lemony Snicket), and Eliza Wheeler‘s Miss Maple’s Seeds.

I really wanted to see Bob Staake‘s Bluebird, Frank Viva‘s A Long Way Away, and David Wiesner‘s Mr. Wuffles among the contenders, but none of these garnered a majority’s worth of votes.  Nor, sadly, did Lizi Boyd‘s Inside Outside, and, ah, I could go on.  But I won’t.

There were many beautiful picture books published in the U.S. in 2013.  As my colleague Joe Sutliff Sanders observed, this has been a great year for book design.  I’m paraphrasing him — but that was the gist of his comment.  And he’s right.

People reading picture books, at the Mock Caldecott, Manhattan, KS, 7 Dec. 2013

What are your favorite picture books from 2013? Which one do you think deserves the Caldecott Medal?

Related links:

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This Is Not a Muppet: Jim Henson, Avant-Garde Filmmaker

Brian Jay Jones, Jim Henson: The Biography (2013)“Back in the sixties . . . I thought of myself as an experimental filmmaker. I was interested in the image for its own sake — different ways of using it — quick cutting and things of that sort. . . . I loved what one could do with the montaging of visual images, so I was playing with that in several experimental projects”

— Jim Henson, quoted in Brian Jay Jones’ Jim Henson: The Biography

One of the many fascinating things I’m learning in Brian Jay Jones‘ magnificent Jim Henson: The Biography (Ballantine, 2013) is that, in the mid-1960s, Jim Henson also made avant-garde films.  He’d been working in puppetry (and Muppetry!) for a decade, and had learned much about how the perspective of the camera shapes the viewer’s experience.

Time Piece (1965)

Here’s the beginning of Time Piece, which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1967. That’s Jim Henson himself in the leading role.

Here’s another clip, from near the end of the film.

You can learn more about Time Piece in Jones’ bio and on The MuppetWiki.  The entire 8-minute film is available on iTunes.

The Organized Mind (1966)

Starring a somewhat thin-boundary’d character known as “Limbo,” here’s The Organized Mind in its entirety. The music is by Raymond Scott!

Did you notice the brief image of Where the Wild Things Are, during the last minute of the film?  More on this film at the MuppetWiki, also.

Idea Man (1966)

Like Organized Mind, this film is also from the Limbo series. It’s a meditation on inspiration, creativity, and the difficulty of profiting from your ideas — a challenge Henson faced on a regular basis.

There’s a very brief appearance from Kermit, near the end of the film. As the MuppetWiki notes, The Idea Man was “used for a live performance with Limbo on The Mike Douglas Show on July 20, 1966.”

Ripples (1967)

Also scored by Raymond Scott, this film made its premiere at Montreal’s Expo 67.  Jon Stone, who would work with Henson on Sesame Street projects, plays the central chararacter.

The Paperwork Explosion (1967)

Believe it or not, IBM once sponsored creative, long-form commercials… like this one.  Again featuring the music of Raymond Scott, this 5-minute advertisement has lots of quick cuts between images, and that old stand-by of Muppet segments: explosions!

Though this is ostensibly selling IBM’s Magnetic Tape Selectric Typewriter, it speaks more eloquently to the hectic pace of modern life.  There’s a little more information about this short on the MuppetWiki.

The “Jim Henson’s Experimental Films” page (on the MuppetWiki) has more information on these and other films. Turn to the Jones biography for more about the man and his remarkable work. Indeed, if you’ve any interest in the Muppets or Henson, I highly recommend Jim Henson: The Biography.  It’s a well-written, well-paced excursion through the life of one of the great creative minds of the twentieth century.

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