All posts by Dr. Michael Forster

Dr. Michael Forster

Bennett makes the right call on Gulf Coast issue

After an extended process of listening, debate, and deliberation, President Bennett made a tough – and I’m convinced, correct – call on the university’s organization of its Gulf Coast operations.  Pending final approval by the IHL (Mississippi’s higher education governing body), Southern Miss will soon be working with a unified, “one university” administrative structure.  Roles and responsibilities of a number of personnel will adjust to align with the new arrangements.

While some colleagues on the coast pushing for greater local autonomy are no doubt disappointed with this outcome, academic chairs and college deans strongly advocated the unified approach, believing it the most resource efficient, most clear in establishing lines of authority and accountability, and most likely to ensure sustained enrollment growth.  With this long-lingering uncertainty resolved, the university is free to move forward on another critical task – strategic planning.

Dr. Michael Forster

Mississippi moves to enact overdue concussion policy for young athletes

The good news is that Mississippi is unlikely to long remain the only state in the nation without a youth athlete concussion policy.  Under leadership of Public Health Committee chairman Sam Mims, House Bill 48 sailed through the House, and should do likewise in the Senate, where health leader Brice Wiggins has pushed for concussion legislation in the past.  One less black eye for Mississippi on the health front.

The news would be better still if the legislation incorporated ongoing educational and research efforts.  Getting a policy in place is a good first step, but as we move forward we’ll need comprehensive training based on current knowledge for those responsible for concussion prevention, mitigation, and intervention, coupled with a centralized capacity to track and report the incidence of concussion in youth athletics.  The College of Health, and specifically colleagues in the School of Human Performance and Recreation with specialized knowledge of brain injury, is in an excellent position to offer the state these resources.

Concussion is a critical and widespread public health concern.  The more we understand it and its long-term consequences, the more we realize how serious it is.  The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine estimates that nearly four million concussion injuries occur annually in the U.S., with as many as half going unreported.  We can’t move too quickly to address the need for training and incident tracking in this area.  Until we do, our young athletes will remain at an unnecessarily high level of risk.

Dr. Michael Forster

HP&R reorganizes and launches planning effort

A new team of administrators in the School of Human Performance and Recreation – the largest unit in the college, with approximately 1000 undergraduate and graduate majors across seven professional areas – was installed in November, and is doing a bang-up job.

Nancy Speed, Gary Krebs, and Scott Piland, all veteran faculty members with deep USM roots, are working well both in relatively distinct functional areas – student success, curriculum and assessment, and faculty development/research promotion, respectively – and as a team bearing collective responsibility for realizing the instructional and research missions of the school.  (If there’s a weak link in this team, it’s me, serving this year as acting school director after our new director hire fell through.  But that’s another story….)

The reorganization of administrative operations is a major step in moving the School of HP&R forward.  Another big one – in fact crucial, in my view - is underway in the form of a strategic planning effort.  Starting off with faculty contributions to a SWOT (strengths-weaknesses-opportunities-threats) analysis, this effort kicks into high gear tomorrow, when Gil Reeve, a facilitator with the American Kinesiology Association, leads a daylong planning workshop with all members of the corps of instruction.

Dr. Michael Forster

Social Work graduates progressive change agents

Following are remarks I made at the School of Social Work’s pre-commencement recognition ceremony on December 12:

Good evening.  For quite a long time now, I have been fond of saying that Social Work is the “greatest profession in the world,” for two reasons:

  1. Social workers have both a mission and an ethical responsibility to change the world for the better, AND
  2. They have the tools – the knowledge, the skills, the values – to do it.

Do we – does the state of Miss, does the U.S., does the world? – need social workers today?  You bet!  In fact, the need for social workers fired by the mission to change the world for the better, and armed with the tools to do it, has never been greater.  The challenges facing us today are – without exaggeration – enormous.  Poverty rates are soaring, unemployment remains much too high, homelessness and hunger are widespread.  The wealth inequality gap in the U.S. is greater today than any time since the 1890s.  In Mississippi, fully 1/3 of our children – disproportionately children of color – are poor.  Hundreds of thousands go without accessible and affordable health care, with strong political resistance to taking advantage of opportunities to extend it to the poor and the near-poor.  Social services have been cut, cut, and cut again, as the result of a long-running public budget crisis.  Individuals, families, and communities are under growing stress as available support and resources diminish.  Now, you may have noticed a very recent “thaw” in the Washington gridlock around budgetary matters – evidently no one wants another government shutdown, and this is a good thing – but those pushing for “austerity” measures which would further shred our already weak social safety net are still calling too many shots in the ideological wars being waged.

So that’s the bad news. But there is good news too, fortunately.  The good news is that across the country (and the world), we see progressive movement and reaction, even resistance, to much of the bad stuff happening.  We see challenges to cuts that hurt the poor and disadvantaged.  We see demonstrations against destruction of the environment, new and well organized efforts to raise the minimum wage, to extend unemployment benefits, to increase health care access.  We even see very innovative and creative efforts to “reinvent” community and political economy – to form housing cooperatives, for example, and self-reliant economic arrangements of various sorts, to establish democratically run worker-owned businesses, to repossess public land for common purposes, to produce food and energy on a localized basis so that communities can get out from under corporate control and “go green” on their own.

This is good, and social workers need to be involved, deeply involved.  Social work needs to be part of progressive movements to democratize, to share wealth, to re-include and empower the excluded, to save the planet from ecological degradation.  It needs to form part of the resistance to forces of destruction, inequality, oligarchy, and exploitation of vulnerable populations.  In fact, nothing less than leadership in such efforts should be asked of us, because nothing less will do if we are to remain faithful to our heritage, our mission, and our ethical commitments to work for justice and a better world – a more fair, more inclusive and egalitarian world.

So graduates, this is your charge, to stand up and stand out, to lead in making progressive change. It is a heavy charge, but I have no doubt you are up to the task.  Why, otherwise, would you have chosen this profession?  And why, just as importantly, would the profession have chosen you?  Yes, chosen you – because social work is not so much a job as a vocation, and that is how it is with vocations – they choose you as much you choose them; they issue the call, and you decide only to answer or not.  Clearly, social work – the greatest profession – has called you, and you have chosen to answer; you would not, otherwise, be here tonight, prepared to “commence” to the next phase of your professional life.

Let me close by saying that as both a professor of social work and as dean of the College of Health, I am immensely proud of the wonderful work the School of Social Work does, and most especially of their contribution to this wonderful moment – the graduation of so many new professional social worker-change agents, fighters for social and economic justice.  Graduates and families, I applaud your accomplishment.  Faculty and staff, I applaud yours.  It is a single and singular accomplishment – important, timely, and indispensable – to Mississippi, the US of A, and, indeed, our ever-shrinking planet.  Thank you.

Dr. Michael Forster

Colin Powell comes out for universal health care

Maybe we’re nearing a tipping point in support for a genuine form of universal health care after all.  What else to make of Colin Powell, former general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, former Secretary of State, longtime Republican, and (perhaps importantly) a prostate cancer survivor, recently speaking out in favor of universal coverage?

Headlining a Seattle prostate cancer fundraiser, Gen. Powell spoke plainly and from the heart (quotations from an article by Valerie Bauman in the Puget Sound Business Journal):

“We are a wealthy enough country with the capacity to make sure that every one of our fellow citizens has access to quality health care… (Let’s show) the rest of the world what our democratic system is all about and how we take care of all of our citizens.”

“I am not an expert in health care, or Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, or however you choose to describe it, but I do know this: I have benefited from that kind of universal health care in my 55 years of public life.  And I don’t see why we can’t do what Europe is doing, what Canada is doing, what Korea is doing, what all these other places are doing.”

Powell shared a story about his wife, Alma, and Anne, a woman who does yard work for the Powells.  When  Alma Powell had a scare with aneurysms and a blocked artery, she received rapid and effective treatment covered by health insurance.  Anne, by contrast, had no coverage and couldn’t afford the MRIs doctors needed to perform surgery for a growth on her brain.  Out of compassion, Powell gave Anne the money she needed.

“After these two events, of Alma and Anne, I’ve been thinking, why is it like this?” Powell said. “Every country I’ve visited, every developed country, they have universal health care. They don’t understand why the United States of America, which uses more health care than just about anybody else, still (has) 40 million people not properly insured.”

“I think universal health care is one of the things we should really be focused on, and I hope that will happen.  Whether it’s Obamacare, or son of Obamacare, I don’t care. As long as we get it done.”

Get it done.  Now that sounds like a real leader talking.