On responsibility

Selena Roberts has the “Point After” column again in Sports Illustrated this week, and she uses it to check in on the widow of Korey Stringer, the Minnesota Viking who died of heat stroke during a preseason practice.  It turns out that Kelci Stringer is doing terrific educational work, drawing attention to the importance of hydration, even within the macho world of football.

In soccer, we’re pretty good about the hydration thing.  On hot days, we limit activity–we even called a practice once because of heat, which I can’t remember *ever* happening when I was a kid in the South–and all coaches call formal water breaks during practices.  And the handout that all parents receive lists a water bottle as one of the mandatory things your child needs in order to play.  (Last season, a sponsor even donated water bottles for all the kids.)  So we take it pretty seriously.

I think that’s why this paragraph rubbed me the wrong way:

“I’ll never forget it,” says Kelci. “Kodie came home from practice [last summer] and said, ‘Oh, Mom, we didn’t have water today.’ I’m trying not to be the spooked widow mother, but I asked a coach, ‘Why didn’t he have water?’ You wouldn’t believe what he said to me: ‘Why didn’t you give him any?’ I’m thinking, How many other coaches think this too?”

Um, I think this!  It is amazing to me that parents will send their kid to a sports practice without water.  (Kids in my league are old enough to know better, too.) And yet, every practice or game, at least one or two kids won’t have anything to drink.*

You cannot seriously tell me that it is my job to provide water for my whole team.  Do I always have an extra water bottle or two?  Yes, of course.  But I can’t be expected to bring water for 10-14 kids, 3 times a week.  (Six times a week if we add in baseball here.)  Obviously we’re talking about youth sports here–once you get to high school, things are different.

Coaches have the responsibility to:

  1. Set the expectation that players will recover and hydrate during practice. (Or, “rest and drink,” as I would’ve said before getting certified.)
  2. Reinforce that expectation by regularly providing water breaks, by making sure that kids drink during said breaks (because “I’m not thirsty yet” is what that kid over there with heat exhaustion said), and by *never* withholding water as a disciplinary mechanism.
  3. Monitor the physical well-being of their players during practice.

Players, even in an under-8 league, have the responsibility to:

  1. Know that a full water bottle is something you bring to practice as automatically as your soccer ball or your cleats.

And parents are responsible for:

  1. Making sure their kid has water, because kids will be kids, and might forget.  And your volunteer coach has a dozen other kids to look after.
  2. Watching practice closely enough to notice if your kid seems lethargic.

It’s possible Stringer meant that her son’s coach didn’t give them a water break, which would in fact be crazy.  But it seems like she means “the coach didn’t provide water.”

Posted in coaching | 4 Comments

Local legend in the NY Times

George Vecsey’s column this Sunday is about Steve Dalkowski, the fireballing pitcher who struck Maris out on three pitches, convinced Ted Williams to bow out of trying to hit him, and served, in part, as the inspiration for Nuke LaLoosh.

Turns out he’s living in New Britain:

After decades of alcohol abuse, Dalkowski lives in Walnut Hill Care Center in New Britain, Conn., a block from the park where he was a high school star and a bonus baby in the mid-1950s.

His story’s a sad one–he hurt his arm in an era before the surgical reconstruction of pitchers’ arms was commonplace–but it’s a treat to know that he’s living here!

Posted in connecticut, new britain | Comments Off on Local legend in the NY Times


In his mailbag yesterday, ESPN’s Bill Simmons offers up a taxonomy of the different ways athletes can be–or, painfully, not be–funny.  For example:

5.0 — Learned Funny
Humorless people who learn how to be adequately sports-funny in the right situations by mimicking the behavior of others, whether it’s by developing an overboard fake laugh, yelling “Daaaaaaammmmmn!” after someone else makes a joke, repeating funny jokes that other people said first, or making virtual videos of ideas that other people wrote. They can fool you on the right day. Example: Kobe Bryant (for every non-Lakers fan).

This reminds me of a distinction I’ve often talked about with various people–the difference between a professor who’s funny, and one who’s professor-funny.  (I know I’ve written about this before, but I can’t find it.) Unfortunately, the former are wildly outnumbered by the latter.

People who are professor-funny are typically only good at two kinds of jokes: wordplay, and mercilessly unpacking the stupidity of others.   Their humor always has the same message: “Look at how smart I am.”  (A subcategory of ‘professor-funny’ is the panderer–the person who trots out broad comedy simply because “that’s what the kids these days understand.”  That’s just the inverse of the professor who mocks the stupidity of others.)  And, look, who doesn’t love a pun?  And sometimes, well, sometimes people really do stupid stuff, and it’s fun to take it apart.  Colleagues who are professor-funny can almost always make laugh.  But I find an exclusive diet of this humor sickening. It’s like Drake’s apple pie.  I love ’em–but, if I had ’em every meal?

I think students recognize this humor for what it is, and generally aren’t particularly fond it.  To put it slightly differently, while they might laugh at a particular joke, it’s always tempered by the possibility that the prof’ll turn on them next.

Professors who are genuinely funny are harder to sum up–after all, many of them also enjoy puns, or occasionally mocking the ignorant.  But the most salient characteristic of this group is a willingness to tolerate self-mockery, or having the class occasionally laugh *at* them, rather than just *with* them.  It signals humanity, because, as Scott Adams once said, “everybody is an idiot.”  I actually believe that at least *some* heirarchy in the classroom is important, but owning your own idiocy shows the truth: that such heirarchy is temporary and local, rather than, like, ontological.  You’re not claiming to be a better person, just to know more about topic X.

Lord knows there’s no need to be funny.  And if you’re not funny, you shouldn’t try. (There are lots of ways to signal humanity.)  And this is, obviously, a touchy subject.  But if humor is part of your pedagogical toolkit, I do think that there’s something to be said for occasionally letting the students have a laugh at you.  Not all the time, and sometimes the rapport with a particular class just isn’t right–but every now and again.

Posted in academe, higher education, humor, teaching | 1 Comment

I may have watched too much Friends

People who follow me on Twitter know that this week has been contractor week at chez Salt-Box, with the focus of most efforts being the upstairs bathroom.  (You can see evidence on Flickr: “Things That Are Busted in Our Bathroom“; “Day 2: Return of the Contractor“; and “Day 3: Still Contractin‘.”)

The bathtub’s not cast-iron or porcelain or anything . . . it’s a composite material called “Vikrell,” which is why we could afford it.  I have no idea if this is a good decision, or not–frankly, it’s the best we could do now–but the name is unfortunate.  All I can think of is this episode from Friends, when Ross invents a former boyfriend for Phoebe, named Vikram.

Posted in connecticut, family, silliness | 3 Comments

As goes California . . .

The California budget crisis, and its impact on the state’s higher ed system, merit close attention, as well as support where possible.

Right now, one of the best resources is Remaking the University (via Barbara Hui on Twitter), which aggregates news and analysis, with smart commentary on the implications of the various proposals.

I’m not confident at all that current models of state funding are sustainable.  I remember faculty members at William & Mary talking about withdrawing from state funding when I was an undergraduate in the late 1980s/early 1990s–and now things are worse.

Update:  Also via Twitter (this time, Bill Wolff): “NJ state college & uni employees will have 7 unpaid furlough days & ’09-’10 3.5% salary increase deferred till ’11.”

Posted in AAUP, academe, higher education | 1 Comment

I guess the website upgrade didn’t come with a spellcheck

[Again, bitchy grammar scold posts brought to you by “contractor week” at the house]

Today the local credit union unveiled their new website, which nicely brings the aesthetic up to the mid-2000s.  And what do you do when you upgrade your web site?  You take a poll!  Unfortunately, whoever wrote it has forgotten that ‘alright’ isn’t:


(What I really want is for the credit union to play nicely with Mint.com, but that’s still a dream, I guess.)

Posted in usage | 2 Comments

Why we need to think about PhDs & the job pseudo-market

This article about Fort Hays State University’s decision to outsource gen ed courses is frustrating an harbinger of doom.  According to the reporter, “the school will accept credits from a private company that runs introductory courses in subjects such as economics and English composition — listing them on transcripts under the Fort Hays name.”  I was especially disappointed to see Carol Twigg, of the National Center for Academic Transformation, essentially endorse the model.  I’ve been to an NCAT conference, and know that they propose using a variety of different classroom structures–hybrid, face-to-face, and fully online–as ways of addressing courses with high DFW (drop/fail/withdraw) rates.  But this goes too far.

A few thoughts:

  • First, this can’t possibly be legit from an accreditation perspective.  If the courses really are indistinguishable on the transcript, then I hope that Fort Hays loses its accreditation.
  • The MLA, 4Cs, AAUP, and AFT need to condemn this.
  • That said, this will be awkward to do because the R-1 university system has for so long relied upon graduate and contingent labor to do the heavy lifting in gen ed courses.  This needs to be rethought.
  • Relatedly, perhaps stories like this will get faculty members to pay attention to the “job market” more seriously.  Who is staffing companies like StraighterLine?  If it’s ABDs and unemployable PhDs . . . well, fate, it seems, is not without a sense of irony.
  • I would also hope that this is an opportunity for faculty to think about two related problems: self-governance, and the role of faculty at the university.  A full-throated defense of academic life as interweaving teaching, service, and research is absolutely necessary–but such a defense is only credible precisely to the extent such interweaving is both demonstrable and demonstrably useful
Posted in AAUP, academe, academic freedom, higher education, things that should stop | Comments Off on Why we need to think about PhDs & the job pseudo-market

Known-new contract FAIL

From the AAUP’s “Things to Know Before You Go” page for this summer’s institute:

 There is also a public wireless network available in any building on campus for those with laptops. Please remember to bring your cables. [emphasis added]

Either there’s been a breach of the known-new contract here, or someone doesn’t understand the concept of a “wireless” network. (Because when contractors are ripping apart your house, nothing soothes quite like grammatical snark.)

Snark aside, I am looking forward to this institute!  Apparently I will emerge with the collective bargaining agreement tattooed, in its entirety, on my skin–which isn’t bad, conference-swag-wise.

Posted in AAUP, academe, higher education, silliness | Comments Off on Known-new contract FAIL

Working the bureaucracy

Seth Godin (via BoingBoing) offers some cogent reflections on “the art and skill of working with bureaucrats,” pointing out that the reason you tend to see the same companies in all the airports is that they’ve optimized for tolerating municipal bureaucracies.

The applicability to working at a public university is left as an exercise for the reader.  There’s the Platonic Idea of a university as it exists in your head, and there’s the university where you actually teach.  A gap probably exists between these two models.  You can:

  1. Complain bitterly about about the gap, or
  2. Figure out how to make the real university work for you.  It won’t be perfect, but it will sometimes be pretty cool.

Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t try to reduce the gap, of course.  But a complex thing like a university will never be what *you* want it to be.

If you walk through door #1, congratulations, you remain pure and intellectually awesome.  Of course, your colleagues probably hate you, and at least some opportunities, for yourself, for your students, and for your campus, will be sacrificed on the altar of your purity.

Door #2 requires a bit more tolerance for the fact that things won’t go “right.”  You won’t get what you wanted, exactly.  But you can still do things that are cooler than you might expect, and you can build on those experiences to do still more cool things.

Arguably related: this CNN.com/Oprah.com article on surviving difficult coworkers.

Posted in academe, productivity | Comments Off on Working the bureaucracy

Happy birthday . . .

. . . to her:

Promoted and tenured a year early . . . not too shabby for [redacted].

Posted in family | 2 Comments