Dr. Michael Forster

Funding crisis permeates public education

Both the Hattiesburg American and the Clarion-Ledger front-page a story today on Mississippi’s “long history of lousy education and a bad habit of not paying for it” in the K-12 public education system.  But informed readers know that the funding crisis extends to higher education as well, where a retreat from even “adequate” public funding has been underway for a long while now.

Different states, and even individual institutions, will reach the tipping point of possibly irreversible decline on different dates.  But Mississippi supporters of public education will want to pay close attention to the experience of the University of New Orleans, just more-or-less 100 miles south or west of USM’s campuses in Hattiesburg and Long Beach.

At UNO, President Peter Fos, my predecessor in the College of Health dean’s office, has been pushed into the fiscal corner of proposing elimination of otherwise healthy and valuable academic programs for no reason other than that the combination of state funding (dramatically reduced under Gov. Jindal and a compliant Louisiana legislature) and tuition won’t sustain them.  Other programs are on the bubble for possible similar treatment, as workloads of faculty and staff rise, and employee morale plummets.

Let’s hope a similar fate does not await USM or any other Mississippi institution of higher learning.

Dr. Steven Moser

Preconceptions by Dr. David M. Holley

Beginning this December, I’ve asked faculty in the college to serve as guests contributors to the college blog.  David M. Holley, Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion begins this series.

Steven R. Moser, Dean


Holley, David (8-2014)Surprising facts can overturn your preconceptions, but only if you let them. Sometimes we deny or ignore things that don’t fit into what we already think. Here is a surprising fact:

A study reported in the Wall Street Journal a few years ago compared salaries of people between ten to fifteen years after leaving college. The comparison involved a ranking of salaries according to undergraduate majors (considering only people without a graduate degree). Out of a list of 50 undergraduate majors, philosophy majors had the 16th highest salary. Degrees such as engineering and computer science were ahead of philosophy in the mid-career salaries ranking, but philosophy was ahead of business majors such as management, accounting, and information technology. Starting salaries for philosophy majors were lower than for many of these fields, but eventually philosophy majors were making higher salaries.

When you have a surprising fact, the explanation may not be simple. There could be many factors at work. One factor that comes to mind is that there are fewer philosophy graduates than graduates of many of the other fields to which they were compared. It is also relevant that philosophy majors on the average tend to be pretty bright, so we can’t attribute the advances in salary only to the fact that they studied philosophy in college.

Even so, it seems startling that a college major we wouldn’t associate with making money leads to this kind of result. So how can it be explained? I think the most obvious explanation is that philosophy majors are pretty good at learning new things and that some of the skills they developed are helpful for succeeding in a variety of fields. If you can learn to read and understand a complex philosophical text, you can probably learn to digest the information in business reports. If you can find the logical flaws or questionable assumptions in a defense of a philosophical position, you should be able to recognize the weaknesses of a new administrative proposal. If you have formed the habit of looking at things from a variety of perspectives, you may be able to come up with novel approaches to an organizational problem.

I don’t mean to minimize the importance of technical knowledge. People who do advance in their fields have to acquire quite a bit of that. But anyone who thinks that you can learn what you need in college to be successful seriously underestimates the importance of learning on the job and being able to adapt to the unexpected. When we think of preparing for something other than an entry-level job, we need to be thinking of things like the capacity for being creative and analytical and adaptable.

One of our recent philosophy graduates who went on to a major law school in another state wrote back that he knew hardly anything about the law when he arrived, but that did not matter because his philosophy major had taught him how to think. That’s the sort of thing we like to hear, and faculty in our department hear something like it often enough that we’re inclined to think there is some truth in it.

Most people don’t choose philosophy as a major because they think it will help them earn a high salary. I would be startled if someone came to us acknowledging this kind of motivation. But when I think of the kinds of things we teach our majors to do, it seems clear to me that the skills they learn can be adapted to many types of work, and sometimes a byproduct of doing a job well is financial success.

 

 

 

 

– Dr. David M. Holley, Chair
Department of Philosophy and Religion

Dr. Michael Forster

Climate change, health, and the mid-term elections

The political media-sphere is awash in speculation struggling to make sense of the Republican electoral rout this past week.  The political right, especially the “establishment” right, naturally figures it a vindication of relatively moderate, i.e. non-Tea Party, policy preferences for smaller government, lower taxes, less regulation, reduced social supports that “promote dependency,” etc.  Those leaning left are more likely to see more sinister forces at work – the distorting intrusion of “dark money,” negative voter ID impacts, superficial issue coverage by media, high voter alienation/low voter turnout.

Since speculation is the order of the moment, permit me to add my own to the pile.   Quite simply – The segment of the citizenry paying attention, and therefore most likely to trek to the polls to exercise the democratic privilege, is scared nearly senseless.  (It is alarming indeed to note how many of the voting-eligible – a majority in fact – seem not to be paying attention.  On Wednesday, I asked a number of students what they thought of the election outcome; the most common reaction was, “there was an election? – when”?)  And when you’re scared, you run for safety – or whatever looks like safety at the moment.

Since virtually every headline carries a heavy fright factor, there’s plenty to be scared of – from endless legislative gridlock, to ISIS beheadings and escalating U.S. war-making trying to contain a new surge of terrorism, to stubbornly persistent high unemployment and declining economic prospects for all but the top echelon of earners.  Even a drop in gasoline prices has an alarming underside – economic slowdown in the rest of the world, which will eventually boomerang our way.

But above all – and here’s the truly speculative part – I think most of all people are scared of the coming effects of climate change, whether they’re ready to admit it or not.   The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) delivered the grim news last week that we’re dangerously close to exhausting our capacity to kick the climate change can down the road. And there are precious few encouraging signs that we’re ready to stop kicking. In fact, global emissions rose 2.3% to a record in 2013 – the biggest year-to-year change in three decades. At the same time, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Earth is headed for the hottest year ever recorded, and will reach the highest level of atmospheric carbon dioxide in 800,000 years.

By now, everyone paying attention knows that climate change does not mean we’re looking at just a few more days each summer running the AC on “high.” We’re looking at major, and in many instances irreversible, ecological disruptions of a wide variety – sea level rise sufficient to drown coastlines, mass species extinction, oceanic acidification, degradation of food crop growing conditions, and on and on. Much of the disruption, moreover, will spell grave human health threats – from killer heat waves and devastatingly destructive storms, to exhaustion of potable water supplies and new disease pandemics. Dengue fever and the Ebola virus, once confined to the tropics, are gaining footholds in the so-called temperate zones; these may be nothing more than the advance troops of a new army of sickening invaders.

So what does this have to do with a Republican sweep of the midterm elections? Call it a kind of political comfort food. The Republicans may be moving out of strict climate change denial, but they assure us that it really isn’t all that bad climate-wise, and that whatever problems we face can be solved by getting back to basics – free markets and free enterprise, individualism and self-reliance, perhaps gradually becoming ecologically “green” and sustainable, but only by squeezing more profits out of fossil fuel extraction – in short, by doubling down on what we’ve been doing for the past two centuries. Even if I have severe doubts that they’re right, I want to embrace that message; I like it a whole lot more than the distressingly disturbing message that I have to change my way of life, radically and permanently. So, instead: Spank the Democrats, put the Republicans in charge of two-thirds of the legislative process, and believe that things are bound to get better.

It’s a comforting notion, perhaps. Too bad it’s dead wrong.

Dr. Michael Forster

Between a rock and a hard place

The formula is easy enough to endorse in the abstract – “Balance the budget in line with priorities.”  The problem is that even academics – and especially academic administrators – don’t live in a world of abstractions.  They live with the concrete, day to day realities of teaching and graduating students, recruiting and developing faculty, conducting research and disseminating findings, and carrying on the indispensable grind of university governance.

USM – starting at the top and filtering steadily outward from the “Dome” – must now come to grips with a sobering new reality of shrinking revenues, largely the result of flagging enrollment, and escalating costs over which it has scarce control.  Budget challenges, of course, are far from “new” to Southern Miss.  As dean I’ve experienced seven budget cycles, four of them marked by cuts. But the past couple of years have seemed remarkably stable, encouraging belief that the bad days were all behind us, and even hope that historical budget problems could be corrected.  If only it were so.

An attractive option under conditions of financial duress is to spread the pain as evenly as possible.  Everyone, including Academic Affairs (i.e. mainly, if not only, the colleges and departments) must shoulder their share.  After all, as an organization we sink or swim together, so it seems only fair.  Moreover, Academic Affairs, home of all the faculty ranks and their supporting staff, is where most of the money resides.

But here’s where the “rock and a hard place” component kicks in, with a vengeance.  Academic Affairs is, simultaneously, the primary “cost center” and the principal economic driver of the institution, which increasingly depends on tuition revenue for its survival.  Cut too much, or too incautiously, from Academic Affairs and you risk losing your life blood – which is, at once, our lifeline to the future.

Katherine Nugent

New Academic Year

Once again, it is the beginning of a new academic year at The University of Southern Mississippi and the College of Nursing. We had a busy summer school session with a very large enrollment in our nursing programs. Even though we barely had time to catch our breath from the end of the summer term to the beginning of the fall term, we are excited and prepared to begin the new academic year.

This summer, work began on preparing the site for construction of our new College of Nursing building. On September 17th, at 10:00 AM the formal ground breaking ceremony for Asbury Hall will occur. We are so grateful to all the donors who have invested in the College’s future and made this dream a reality. This past July, through a competitive grant process, we received over a million dollars to implement an accelerated baccalaureate program for Veterans. The program is designed to provide academic credit for previous medical experience and training and provide a mechanism for removing barriers that impede our veterans from obtaining a baccalaureate degree.

Another new program that is being implemented is a new leadership tract for the BSN graduate that will culminate in a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. This program is offered in collaboration with the College of Business who developed a business certificate that will enhance the competencies of the graduates in their administrative positions.

So, we enter the new academic year anticipating the opportunities that will advance our vision, Breaking New Ground; Transforming Health Care.

Groundbreaking Ceremony