Tuesday, March 31, 2009

T - 7 and counting

In just seven days the much anticipated election for the COD board of trustees (in most years a yawn of the century) will reach the inevitable denouement. The big question is, who will be in and who will be out? Will the forces of good prevail over those of evil? If it was one of those cookie-cutter popular movies, the answer would be clear. Unfortunately, real life is not normally so predictable.

There was a forum for the candidates at the COD today, organized by some of the groups on campus. A pretty sparse showing from the electorate, given that there are some 30,000 students in any given term, and some 2,000 employees of one form or another. 40 or so took time out of their busy days to attend. Evidently, some of the candidates were also too busy to attend, and the pattern is beginning to emerge. There are the invisible candidates who will never appear at anything, and have little more than a name on a ballot. One might even question whether they could spell the school's address or name its arts center. The two incumbents again showed their contempt for their own institution by not showing. Micheal "Mike" McKinNOn and Mark NOvak (there appears to be a glitch in my CAPS key). It's not as if the faculty (portrayed by these two as the inmates attempting to run the asylum) had organized this one.

At one point, LeDonne, firm of voice and bristling with enthusiasm, hails me from the podium as having a nanotechnology department (moment of embarrassment here) - an example of the kind of thing we should be doing - that I can agree with. This was in response to a question about his previously stated desire to get rid of "academic" courses. Things must be "relevant" to the community, he says. Fair enough I think, but why are not academic courses relevant to the community? How does one decide "relevance"? I guess the more significant question is, what exactly is meant by academic? Perhaps Mr. LeDonne's definition is different from mine. Nonetheless, I am flattered that he would think I have a nanotechnology department, and sad to face the reality of there not being one - unless you count a course on nanotechnology that has not yet actually been offered as being equivalent to a department. Maybe one day...

After the statements and the questions, I hung about for a bit and chatted and met a formidable, and somewhat terrifying, woman who identified herself as a member of Taproot. For those not in the know, Taproot is a collective of local conservatives, and I mean real conservatives - the kind that would find most moderate conservatives unacceptably liberal. So I enquired innocently, feigning ignorance, if Taproot was a group interested in growing vegetables like carrots - about the only taproot with which I am familiar. She responds with vigour, in the manner of a greying, but still energetic, drill sergeant, that Taproot gets its meaning from burrowing deep down (slightly unnerving idea), which means stability, and that's what conservatives are, like the people that founded this country (like only Taprooters are true Americans). She turns to Mr. LeDonne and asks, "Do they get it?" meaning me, implying I didn't. Well I did, only too well. Hmmm. Neither being a historian nor a student of the genesis of America, I am ill-equipped to respond to that assertion. Nonetheless, I am not entirely convinced that Jefferson would readily identify with the baying, jingoistic, shrill voice of the "true" Republican (the types that slaver over the repellent Limbaugh) that fraternizes with taproots. I gesture towards the refreshments and make my escape.

Friday, March 27, 2009

(DuPage) United we stand

The organization DuPage United has been very active and vocal in the past several months at board meetings and more recently in the board of trustees election race. Candidates who shunned their forum a few days ago have tried to tar this group as a tool of the IEA. I'm not so familiar myself with DuPage United so I took a closer look. Listed below are the members as shown on their website.

Access Community Health Network
Benedictine Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Lisle
Congregation Etz Chaim, Lombard
DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church, Naperville
Faith Lutheran Church, Glen Ellyn
First Congregation United Church of Christ, Naperville
First United Methodist Church, Downers Grove
Illinois Education Assoc., Regions 32 & 50, Naperville
Islamic Center of Naperville
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant & Refugee Rights
Islamic Foundation, Villa Park
Muslim Society, Inc., Glendale Heights
Northern Illinois Conference, United Methodist Church
Peoples Resource Center
Resurrection Catholic Church, Wayne
St. Joseph Catholic Church, Downers Grove
St Luke Evangelical Lutheran Church, Glen Ellyn
St. Mary’s Catholic Church, West Chicago
St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Wheaton
St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church, Naperville
Second Baptist Church, Wheaton
St. Andrew United Methodist Church, Carol Stream
Wheaton Franciscans
Wesley United Methodist Church, Naperville

At first glance it looks more like an ecumenical religious organization; but buried deep in the list one does find the root of all evil, champions of indolence, grabbers for wealth and cosy conditions, scourge of DuPage taxpayers, the Illinois Education Association.

Connected with this group, a very clear piece about the issues at COD appeared on a local blog.

Much criticism has been leveled at Friends for Education 502 for being a union-inspired group trying to elect candidates that will be friendly come contract negotiation time. While I can see how this can appear so, I profoundly believe that most of its members are motivated by less self-serving interests, and wish to return the institution to a model of shared governance, where the education of students is the primary mission. There will always be those like my friend in Roselle (I'm still trying to get over myself, but it's hard) who believe otherwise. I am encouraged by the weight of comments at the feet of Herald articles that are sympathetic to Friends. There appears to have been a mood swing over the course of the year as the institution has reeled from one public embarrassment to another; none of which, I should add, has been due to the actions of the faculty.

At least the Friends make no attempt to disguise their identity. Far murkier is the group "Citizens for COD." According to the paper, it's only donor, so far, is Crowe Horwath LLP - the college's accounting firm. No special interest there of course...Echoes of the days of Macblugo.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Thoughts on the campaign trail (not that I am exactly)

The SSCP has just returned from a brief sojourn in Salt Lake City where he attended the American Chemical Society spring meeting. The drooping economy combined with the threat of conversion by the always friendly Mormon population served to render the attendance lower than is customary at these meetings, for which I was not unappreciative; shorter lines in the registration, free hors d'oeuvres (for what they were worth)and the restrooms being among the more pleasant consequences of the low turn-out. Some of my ardent readers will probably be outraged at the idea of community college professor (I bet the very word sticks in the craw) attending a conference which is the usual turf of captains of industry and faculty from real universities. "Get over yourself!" they might say. "Community colleges are the minor leagues." Smoke would likely issue from there ears to learn the tab was paid by the federal taxpayer. So thanks to all of you.

Anyway, I have rather digressed from the original intent of observing upon the happenings around the COD election. It is now less than two weeks to go. I noticed the proliferation of yard signs in some areas as I drove back from the airport. Some quite hideous large orange ones about the size of fence, rammed into the ground by pieces of scaffolding: the seamier side of campaigning. It's all about the name.

From articles in the paper and elsewhere, it appears that some candidates have been quite active, while others have been totally invisible. The four candidates endorsed by Friends for Education, Sandy Kim, Kim Savage, Tom Wendorf and Nancy Svoboda have been among the most active, accessible to media and forums in the area. Only a moment ago I was very gratified to learn that the Daily Herald has endorsed three of the four. Poor Nancy left out in the cold, but I hope she will prevail. Oddly, one of the more significant candidates, the current COD board chair has been strangely silent and has been, shall we say selective, in his choices of where to make statements. You might think it appropriate that a COD trustee, a representative of the college, should talk with the student newspaper, even if he doesn't like the people who run it. Instead the paper was disdained, dismissed as a vehicle of the faculty. It is worth pointing out that the faculty at COD comprise only about 300 people out of a far larger workforce. I think it is fair to say that the majority of that workforce are at a lower ebb in their collective morale than at any time in the college's history. DuPage United was similarly shunned - a tool of unionists supposedly. Funny, I didn't think the many churches and synagogue that comprise much of DuPage United were members of the IEA. In any event, make your case if you are worthy of it.

Other candidates have been completely invisible; I know not even their names at this point and of course would not wish to dignify them by mentioning them. If not a word is spoken by these shadows, will they still receive any votes? The answer is quite likely yes. Worse, could they be elected? Possibly. For one wonders the degree to which the electorate really educates itself about elections of this sort. History is full of examples where the recognition of a surname, even if that surname recognized actually belonged to someone else, is all the trigger a person needs to make a selection. Not a word about issues, experience, vision, plans etc. While modern republics tended to decry the existence of royal families where succession is determined by birth (the divine right of kings), in America the political landscape is littered with similar dynasties even though no divine rights are invoked. Their successors are more grimily ensured, with the great assistance of name recognition. What's worse is that these political families have real power, whereas the remaining monarchies are largely tourist attractions.

As the Naperville Sun pointed out in its column today, "The controversies swirling around the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn make this campaign more like an episode of "The Hills" than a typical ho-hum community college election." Humerous but sadly spot on. There are matters of huge import at stake here. It is greatly to be wished that the electorate educate themselves on the candidates, and that means only considering candidates who have bothered to create a manifesto. And that of course really only leaves one with four options: Sandy, Kim, Tom and Nancy.

April 7th. It's soon.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Reformed environmentalists

I think I had mentioned in my Yucca (RIP) note that even former environmental activists had begun to reassess their opposition to the nuke in the light of the even more calamitous potential consequences of global warming. As if on cue, I came across a quote in New Scientist from Stephen Tindale, former director of Greenpeace UK, saying that he and other environmentalists now backed nuclear power. He is quoted as saying, "It was kind of like a religious conversion."

In the same issue was a rather frightening piece about the possible consequences of the planet rising by 4 degrees Celsius this century - a possibility some say. A map reveals the new deserts and the new fertile areas. Much of the United States and Europe (except Great Britain I was happy to note) would become deserts, not to mention South America and Africa, India, Pakistan, Indonesia and China. Canada and Siberia will become the desirable places to live, though the living conditions may not appeal to those currently enjoying the comfortable suburban lifestyle where 4,800 square feet is just not enough room. The world population could indeed move en masse and occupy Canada with room to spare, provided each individual occupied only 20 square meters - more than double what is accepted under English planning regulations apparently. Of course this would mean transforming the vast emptiness of Canada into a forest of high-rises. One suspects that the Canadian government would take quite a bit of persuading to buy into the idea. It makes the point though that any solution to global warming will naturally be a global one and that national interests and local politics will present the greatest obstacles to legitimate success.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Yucca too yucky

It came as something of a surprise to learn last week that, after years of study, planning, debate, controversy and largely politically motivated opposition, the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository plan has been deep-sixed by our new messiah. Could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that the senator for Nevada is a certain Harry Reid; you know, the one who made such an ass of himself over Tombstone Burris, first defiantly saying no, then all-of-a-sudden (after getting the message from the messiah) welcoming the latter with open arms into the little club known as the Senate?

All those science books will now have to be rewritten, because the Yucca Mountain repository tends to feature as the place where all the nuclear waste was going to live happily ever after. If that would in fact be true of course we will now never know. Would the stronger-than-anticipated flow of water through the mountain really have had a significant impact on the integrity of the waste? Was that concern the reason for its abandonment? I suspect not. The new messiah says that a "better" plan is needed. Easy for him to say, though I submit that it pays little respect to all those who had worked on the Yucca one. Should I mention at this point that about $10 billion had been spent on the project to date? Is there an implication here that these people had deliberately chosen a bad plan? Would they not have had the sense to select the best available option? There is a kind of arrogance associated with that kind of sweeping decision made within moments of taking power. In a very tiny parallel example, at the COD we have learned that, after some forty years, the COD colors will no longer be the green and gold of the Green Bay Packers, but will change to some combination of green and gray. What has been good enough for the Packers is no longer up to snuff for COD, or so says one individual.

But I digress. The nuke presents a problem for those embracing alternative (to fossil fuel) energy because for so many years it has lingered, rightly or wrongly, in the environmental dog house. One big bang in Chernobyl (how many decades ago?) had a fall-out of far greater proportion than perhaps deserved. When I organized a "town hall" meeting at the COD a couple of winters ago with Environment Illinois, their representative asked me if I knew anyone at Argonne I could invite. I duly did, but when the chap discovered his pro-nuke stance he promptly uninvited him in a rather embarrassing turn. No, it all had to be about wind and solar and CFLs.

Yet, even now, the tide is changing. Those Euros, who are all-seeing and all-knowing, who have embraced the wind and built their super-insulating homes, are facing the realities of energy and letting the nuke back in. Of course in France it never went away; and one has to wonder how in France it has always gone so smoothly with never an accident or a controversy over waste disposal. The reality is that the wind is good but it is not enough by itself. Thus the Italians, who dumped all their nuclear plants post-Chernobyl, are planning new ones, as are the British and other nations.

In their haste to embrace new alternative energy sources, many people overlook the fact that all of them have their environmental costs. With the nuke, the cost is obvious: the storage of waste. With others the costs may be more subtle: wind farms will leave the country carpeted with dead bats; solar plants will produce large quantities of hazardous waste.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

SSCP exposed

Regrettably, the SSCP has been distracted of late and has not been able to contribute to the surfeit of opinions coursing through the veins of the world-wide web. Would that some of it was actually worth reading. Anyway, I am back and hope to keep you both informed and entertained.

A letter I had written to the Daily Herald about the sham objections to the candidacies of several candidates for the board of trustee elections in April (see earlier posts about this) finally got published this week, about two weeks after I had first submitted it. I got wind of this when I received an e-mail note from a member of the community, who seemed to take exception to the fact that I had not explicitly identified myself as a member of the faculty. If you care to read the letter, and the even more entertaining comments that it provoked, you can do so here.

Here is the note that my letter provoked. Its author wanted me to share it with my colleagues, so I guess I can share it more widely than that.

Mr. Jarman,

I would like to state that you do have a right to your opinion and did so today in the Daily Herald. What I find completely distrubing is the fact that you submitted the letter under the guise of just being an ordinary citizen of the community who didn’t like the way a protest of candidicy was handled. If you are going to have any legitimacy at all, at least have the balls to acknowledge that you TOO have a vested interest in the outcome of the election, as you and the entire faculty, hiding behind your PAC – “Friends For Education”, are trying to get a number of left-leaning liberals elected to the board so that we the taxpayers of this county can pay even more to hire a bunch of teachers who think they work for Harvard, when its just a 2-year community college! Your salary sir, (modesty has moved me to remove the figure but feel free to insert enormous number (ed)), is a disgrace to all the taxpayers of this county! There are professors at 4 year schools in this state and around the country not making that! Yet you and your comrades believe the school should hire only PhD’s to work there?! Right! As a taxpayer, I wouldn’t hire any. A 2 year school should be a training ground to move on to a four year institution. Similar to the minor and major leagues in baseball. COD is the minors and as such, minor league players make less, not more or “equal” to their major league conterparts.

You, all of your liberal fat-cat comrades, have all opened the door to further scrutiny about what is going on at COD, and for that I thank you. It is high time that the residents of this county realize what a Black-Hole that place is for money. You work at a Community College, not an Ivy League school. Get over yourself! Thank God for people like Mr. Atknison, who I know personaly, for making sure people are following the law. Trust me sir, had it been another conservative voice attempting the very same thing, I’m sure you and your comnrades would have risen up against them for the very same thing. Don’t think for one minute you can hide behind the idea that you are supporting “Democracy” when that is the very thing you are trying to squelch.

COD is going to be under a new watchful eye by concerned citizens in this county. We are going to expose any and all waste that occurs at the school. I look forward to the challenge and I plan on assisting Mr. Atkinson in the future on protecting the rights of the voice’s and the hard earned tax dollars of the citizens of this county.

You have been exposed for what and who you are, and I recommend you let all of the other teachers there know that when they come out under the appearance of the “ordinary citizen”, they will be exposed too.

Good Day sir!

My new, not-so-secret admirer, a certain Terrence Wittman turns out to be a trustee of the board of Roselle. He was a member of the rent-a-crowd that showed up at the college to protest the invitation to William Ayers (which had already been rescinded). He knows Kory Atknison personaly (sic). When the latter (I am counting the days) takes his leave of the college, he will be paling around with with Mr. Wittman on the Roselle board. I shudder for the citizens of that fair burgh.

Apart from the author's obvious shortcomings when it comes to spelling, I am offended by his pejorative remarks about the quality of a community college. Okay, Harvard we are not, though I refer to COD affectionately as the Harvard of South Glen Ellyn. Who can brook that argument? We are, it seems, the minor leagues, a training ground; as such we should not have any expectation to earn a decent living? Of course it is pointless in engaging the likes of Mr. Wittman in any kind of constructive discussion; I suspect that Mr. Wittman has low regard for intellectual pursuits of any kind. I would put it to him though, that when it comes to the teaching part of education, in which the community college faculty are more completely engaged than their glamorous counterparts at real universities who are dedicated to research for the most part, the challenges presented by under-prepared students far exceed anything that a typical university professor has to worry about. Teaching really gets pretty easy when you have the best students. Fortunately, most of my students, regardless of their preparation, have minds more susceptible to learning than morons like Mr. Wittman. Roselle's loss with the arrival of the Objector will undoubtedly be COD's gain.