Dr. Michael Forster

Healthy school lunches for healthy kids

[Lynn Pye – this one is just for you! :-)]

Nobody – but nobody – is going to argue that America’s kids shouldn’t be following healthy diets, especially in school.  Yet, a bill moving along in the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives would let school districts off the hook for upgrading to healthier lunches (i.e. fewer calories in sugar, salt and fat, more in fruits and veggies) if they’re losing money in the shift.

The bill’s proponents argue that cash-strapped schools need “flexibility” in the type of lunches they provide, and hence would waive the healthy lunch mandate.  Leave aside the hypocrisy of lawmakers who would impose austerity budgets on public programs while shedding crocodile tears over the fiscal challenge of providing good food to poor kids.  As Mark Bittman writing in the New York Times put it, the certain result of this bill becoming law will be more junk food – supplied by a rapaciously profit-seeking junk food industry – “flexibly” offered to our nation’s children.

Mandated nutrition standards are the best thing that have happened to childhood nutrition in a long while.  We cannot afford to backslide.  President Obama should clearly signal that any bill dampening progress in childhood nutrition reaching his desk is dead-on-arrival.


Dr. Michael Forster

Social Work graduates are prepared to lead positive change

The School of Social Work held pre-commencement pinning and hooding ceremonies last week at the Trent Lott Center.  Following is part of my address to the graduates:

Do we – does the state of Miss, does the U.S. of A., 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 are – without exaggeration – enormous.  Poverty rates are soaring, unemployment remains far, far 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 – live in poverty.  Hundreds of thousands of our citizens 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.  “Safety net” services have been cut, cut, and cut again, as the result of a long-running public budget crisis.  Individuals, families, and communities are stressed as available support and resources diminish.  And politicians pushing for “austerity” measures would further shred our already tattered social safety net.

That’s the bad news.  But fortunately there is good news too .  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 hear new criticisms of “corporate welfare,” and calls for Wall Street bank accountability.  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 “go green” on their own.

This is all 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. Indeed, why shouldn’t social workers go beyond just being involved, to take the lead in movements to build a more fair, just, and sustainable world?  It is our heritage and our responsibility to do so, is it not?

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 to start with?  And why, just as importantly, would the profession have chosen you? Yes, I say chosen you – because social work is not so much a job as it is 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.


Dr. Michael Forster

“Open forum” shows that campus reorganization well underway

On the eve of President Bennett’s inaugural events, I think today’s faculty-staff open forum at the Gulf Park campus – hosted by the Academic Deans Leadership Team (ADLT) and skillfully facilitated by College of Business Dean Gilbert – showed excellent progress toward implementing the president’s decision to reorganize intercampus relationships.

Today’s focus was on reviewing currently available programs and identifying real and potential growth opportunities.  The broader context, however, concerns cultivating trust, “building bridges” to a full realization of the “one university” ideal.  This will take time, as well as a firm adherence of everyone to the ADLT values of transparency, communication, and accountability.  But we most definitely have traction.

Dr. Michael Forster

Celebrate diversity, work for justice

This morning USM School of Social Work students sponsored a “Diversity Dash” 5K run.  I was invited to make a few brief opening remarks on the significance of celebrating diversity.  Those remarks follow.

Good morning!

So – We are here to “celebrate diversity.”  But why should we celebrate human diversity, anyway?  Let’s consider a few reasons:

Because, first of all, diversity is good in itself, just as the qualities of healthiness, of rich variety, of depth and beauty, or the experiences of joy, or belonging, or accomplishment, are good in themselves.  As these good things are ends in themselves, so is human diversity an end in itself.

But diversity is also “useful”; it serves other important human and social purposes.  We know, for example, that:

In communities, diversity builds social capital – it forges connections and shared commitments, its many strands increasing the strength of the whole community.

In organizations, diversity makes for better decisions and better outcomes – decisions and outcomes reflecting alternative points of view and experience, and pointing to alternative and otherwise foreclosed possibilities.

In interpersonal relations, diversity encourages tolerance and empathy, undergirding the expansion and broadening of our caring capacity.

In politics, diversity expands democracy and the promise of equality, pushing us toward the fulfillment of the democratic project – which we all well know is “one nation…, with liberty and justice for all.”

But let’s us not delude ourselves into thinking that any of these good things are simply given.  Without a firm and sustained commitment to justice, the phrase, “celebration of diversity,” can too easily ring hollow, can too easily degenerate into banal bromide or superficial slogan.  We must never forget that the ancestors of today’s native Americans were victims of a genocidal march of conquest across the continent; or that most of the ancestors of today’s African-Americans were brought to this country in chains and condemned to slave labor; or that among the extensive diversity of our brothers and sisters and fellow citizens alive today, far too many have been and continue to be victims of exclusion, exploitation, marginalization, or oppression of one kind or another.

Diversity and justice should, therefore, indeed must therefore go hand in hand.  In the words of Rev. King, the marriage of justice and diversity turns “lip service” into “life service”; this marriage is our best, our truest, basis for celebration.  As Dr. King also said, “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

On this wonderful Saturday morning, then, let us dedicate ourselves simultaneously to the celebration of diversity and the struggle for social justice.

Katherine Nugent

Encouraging News for BSN Graduates

Last month, the American Association of College of Nursing (AACN) released data that showed that graduates with a baccalaureate or master’s degree in nursing are more likely to have job offers at the time of graduation or within 4 to 6 months following graduation (Journal of Professional Nursing, 2014).   That is encouraging news amidst concerns about new college graduates finding employment in today’s job market.

This is not only encouraging news for the graduates of our program but for the current and future population who access healthcare.  For the past decade a significant body of research has demonstrated that nurses with a baccalaureate-level preparation are linked to better patient outcomes.  Based upon these studies, the faculty at Southern Miss has designed the curriculum to prepare graduates who have strong clinical decision making skills and are prepared to practice from a culture of patient safety.  The use of simulation and case studies in the classroom enhance the acquisition of the knowledge and competencies needed for successful nursing practice.

In a recent conversation with an administrator at one of our health care agencies, I was inspired to hear the success of our recent graduates who are working together in a patient care unit and making a difference in the quality of care in that agency.  Just one example of our baccalaureate nurses making a difference in the State of Mississippi.