Obsession with World Leaders
Official e-mails are often amusing. For example, the mail center recently got their e-mail notification system working again, and sent out an announcement, which you probably got if you live on campus. They threw in a sentence stating that the maker of the new system "is a world leader in mail and package processing."
Perhaps the software license agreement required the mail center to engage in gratuitous advertising. But this style of message should be familiar to everyone at RPI. We're always hearing about how the school will be recognized as a world leader in some field, or how pleased we are to be working with other recognized world leaders. Now this attitude has pervaded all the way down to the mail notification system.
Why all the obsession with "world leaders"? These aren't the heads of national governments. Cut through all the wording, and these "world leaders" are nothing but companies with a lot of market share. They do not actually lead the world or any meaningful subset thereof. The title is only thrown around to glorify RPI by association.
I've seen this pattern often at this school. Some dignified position proclaims meaningless nice-sounding words to make us all happy and hide the lack of substantial benefits. Even the mail center has picked up on the strategy.
Maybe I should pick up on it too. I'll add a line to my resume: "World Leader in the Promotion of Absurdity."
Arthur Galpin Has Not Resigned
Despite any rumors you may have heard, I have not resigned from the Inanimate Objects Party. I still plan to run for everything next GM Week, and my Ioperatives continue to combat uselessness and stupidity. Keep your eyes open- you never know what we might have planned.
May the fork be with you,
I know they're paranoid about security. I know strange things are always going on here. But this is just weird. A siren and loudspeaker that can be heard over the entire campus? What are they expecting, an air raid? A Faculty Senate raid? Mobs of angry albino squirrels? Whatever its purpose, it should be impressive when they test it tomorrow.
About a year into the new campus security program, we are getting closer to mandatory card access for every building. The VCC and library require it for an "indefinite period." As I've never heard of security policies being relaxed, I assume this is permanent. If anyone doesn't think that using your card all the time is annoying, please let me know.
It's interesting to see what areas of campus have adopted the system. The Biotech Center, of course, is protecting their new equipment, and the VCC has newly installed workstations. On the other hand, people in the Science Center don't seem to be worried about their broken oscilloscopes and caseless Windows 3.1 computers. The technological departments don't seem to trust the system; at least, there are no card readers on Carnegie, Amos Eaton, and Lally, yet. As for cameras, they're mostly watching the Biotech Center and the Troy Building. There might be some use for them in the dark area south of Freshman Hill where all the attacks on students seem to be taking place. But why put "security" to practical use?
Teach-in: An Inflated Perspective from Arthur Galpin
It feels good to be inflated again. Hello everyone, it was nice to see some of you at the Teach-In in the C+CC on Wednesday. Perhaps you noticed me hiding between the tables in the middle.
The Teach-In was a series of short lectures by various faculty members, most but not all from RPI. They talked about democracy, autocracy, and other ways that animate objects organize themselves. The talks were meant to be lessons applicable to the current situation at RPI. I particularly remember a few of them which I want to talk about for anyone who couldn't be there.
Professor Winner's subject was autocracy. He pointed out that people under tyranny often do not realize their lack of freedom. After all, autocracy always has a Great Leader with a Plan that Allows Us to Move Forward to A Bright Future. Propaganda can be convincing and suppression of dissent can be ignored. But an autocratic society rarely produces anything of value.
Professor Bill Puka then delivered an address via a TA. He mentioned that it would make sense for the Faculty Senate to represent the student body. (Thanks for sticking up for students, but we already have quite enough animate representation.) He then suggested some strategies for seizing power, including scaring away parents of prospective students and making Troy residents even more unhappy with the Institute. Interesting ideas, these...
Another message was from Professor Sharon Anderson-Gold. She quoted some ideas from a now inanimate philosopher named Kant. He thought that if animate objects had freedom, especially freedom of thought, they would become enlightened and discover knowledge. I thought they usually developed stupidity and discovered ways to take freedom away from each other, but animate objects often have an inflated view of their own nature. She also said that freedom of the academic world is especially important because that is where enlightened people are developed. I don't think understanding the method of variation of parameters is exactly what she meant by enlightenment. She made the point that academic freedom requires academic self-governance in order to fulfill its purpose.
After all the scheduled speakers, there was a response by Charles Carletta, Secretary and General Counsel for the Institute. He was very nice and patted my fin. He then tried to convince the faculty that the Faculty Senate didn't do a good job of representing them and that the Faculty Governance Review Committee was better for them. I don't think he succeeded.
Altogether, this was a relatively polite and subdued assembly. Nobody accused anybody of smoking crack, swindling students, or similar nonsense. No one threw rotten vegetables or even toast. Of course, we did hear allusions to famous dictators, some people called each other outrageous, and there was plenty of general complaining, but that hardly counts. True, many of the faculty are angry now, but there seem to be angry people whenever I make an appearance on campus. That might have something to do with hanging around IOP subversives.
Finally, on behalf of the Inanimate Objects Party, I would like to welcome the Faculty Senate to the ranks of suppressed representative voices at RPI. Feel free to adopt the spoon as your logo and call yourself "the intelligent alternative to brand-name Institute policies."
Predictable General E-mail Episode 2
It seems that the Faculty Senate situation is developing into dangerous dissent. Samuel Heffner, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, has issued a rare address to the entire "Rensselaer Community". On a side note, I first thought he and President Jackson use the same ghostwriter, but after reading through again I see there are just coincidental similarities.
Anyway, the purpose of the letter is to remove the misconception that the Institute is a cooperation between the administration and the Faculty Senate or anyone else. Under New York state law, the Board of Trustees owns the whole thing.
The Act provides that Rensselaer is a corporation governed by the Board of Trustees.
So RPI is a corporation. Well, we fit the stereotype.
He goes on to remind the Faculty Senate that they have no real power and that they exist by permission.
The existence and structure of faculty governance are subject to the approval of the Board of Trustees. The faculty and the governance structure are not independent legal bodies. The faculty governance structure is not authorized to determine its own membership, or eligibility for voting, except as authorized by the Board of Trustees. The faculty governance structure does not define the duties or responsibilities of the President or administrative staff reporting to the President.
Maybe we are in need of faculty governance review. The Board should make some sort of commitment to the existence of the Faculty Senate, which needs a more stable position than an "advisory body" that is never listened to. And while they're at it, they should promise not to ignore the Student Bill of Rights.
The letter restates the same plans for the Faculty Governance Review Committee and finishes up with the usual congratulatory messages.
This shared responsibility and cooperative action among key members of the Rensselaer community are instrumental to [Good Things].
Ironic, since the rest of the letter was all about there not being shared responsibility and cooperative action. Oh well. Such is logic.
In addition, there is going to be an address and discussion on democracy and citizenship by various faculty members, possibly related to RPI. It's at 5 PM on Wednesday the 24th, in the Alumni House. It sounds interesting; think about attending.
Predictable General E-mail
You have probably seen the e-mail sent out by the President's office today which describes the the Faculty Senate situation. The message should be read carefully. I happen to be in an argumentative mood, which is fitting for writing IOP material. This article may turn out to be blunter than usual.
If you are at all familiar with the way RPI works, you could have predicted the message's point without reading it. If you want a quick summary, here's mine: "Board of Trustees to Faculty: We won't budge." There, you can get back to studying. For those not yet familiar with administration methods, you could have figured that out from the first paragraph, which ends with "move forward within Board of Trustees constraints."
The point is reached quickly:
The Trustees are firm in their resolve that the faculty governance review be conducted by the Faculty Governance Review Committee, as earlier delineated. They will not reinstate the Faculty Senate, or consider creation of a new representative body, until this faculty governance review is complete.
There you have it: the Faculty Senate asked to be reinstated, and they have been denied. So much for "the increasingly important leadership and advisory roles of the tenured and tenure-track faculty." Perhaps their role is to approve whatever decisions they are allowed to know about ahead of time. Of course, that doesn't require tenure. Any CS1 student can write a program that turns "Should I ...?" into "You should ...!"
She goes on to describe a meeting with the faculty that took place last week:
I emerged from the meeting convinced of two truths: one, that, as a community, we have not been able to reach agreement on matters of importance to all of us in our academic community...
Remarkable. I figured that out last February.
...and two, that there is a way forward that will enable us to overcome that.
Of course. "Everyone do what I say" is a solution to nearly any problem.
I know that the Board of Trustees suspended the Faculty Senate for legitimate reasons, including the Faculty Senate's rejection of the Board's directive on the definition of the faculty.
Nonsense. Suspension of a democratic representative body is never legitimate. Even if the Faculty Senate was plotting an armed raid on the Troy Building, the administration would be obligated to allow the remaining faculty (after the conspirators were arrested) to rebuild the senate.
The message lists three actions to take place, which are that the review committee will decide what to do with the Senate, the faculty governance documents will be rewritten, and a new place will be found for clinical faculty. These are the same things the Provost was saying last month, so nothing has changed, which should surprise no one.
One thought to finish up with: in December 1998, an inflatable whale by the name of Arthur Galpin was presented to the assembly in DCC 308 as RPI's next president. Unfortunately, the people running the ceremony had different ideas, and Arthur did not become leader of the Institute. Perhaps this historical event has some relevance to where we stand today. Though inanimate objects do have a few disadvantages, using their power to make everyone else angry is not among them.
Compete with MIT?
I've been reading the Poly again, and I noticed something odd. During "Pizza with the President", President Jackson apparently mentioned that she wants RPI to "compete with MIT as it once did." This isn't the first time recently that I've heard comparisons with MIT.
It's interesting that the current policies want to return to sometime in the past; this isn't common nowadays. I thought the goal was for RPI to compete with the Ivy League and become a widely recognized university in many different fields. I didn't read the Rensselaer Plan very thoroughly, but I don't remember it saying anything about increasing our concentration in technical areas. MIT's a technical institute like us, not the research university that the Plan talks about. This is all very confusing, and not even Arthur has been able to explain it to me.
Being as well known as MIT would be nice, but imitating them would cause some problems. One unarguably beneficial recent change at RPI is cutting the 80 percent dropout rate. If we imitate MIT's infamously difficult course of study, it's likely that freshmen at convocation will once more be told, "Look to your left. Look to your right. Two of you three will not be here at graduation."
Oh, and if you thought IOP dissent and troublemaking was a problem, just wait until Richard Stallman starts hanging around the VCC.
More Faculty Senate
The saga of the body formerly known as the Faculty Senate goes on. The Provost has decided to give the students an explanation which appears in last week's Poly. He starts out explaining how important the tenure and tenure-track faculty are because of their advising the administration. I don't remember the administration valuing faculty advice so highly before. Even now, they don't seem to be paying much attention to what the faculty has to say. Perhaps they will begin talking about the value of student dissent and the importance of including different viewpoints when they put me on disciplinary probation.
He then justifies the current situation by alluding without elaboration to many inconsistencies which were discovered in various faculty governance documents. It seems to me that it would have been more efficient to send the Faculty Senate a list of issues to look into, instead of dissolving it and creating chaos.
The Provost then ends his message with the confidence that everyone will now do what we say and all will be well with Rensselaer. For more detail on what's actually happening, there's an article about the general faculty meeting on the front page. It seems there's a vote going on now. The question before the faculty is whether or not they should ask to have the Senate restored. It's ironic that a representative body has to ask for permission to even exist.
The Class of 2011 elects officers tomorrow, and Arthur Galpin's supporters have finally been announcing his presence with posters. We've been a little slow, but so have the animate candidates. Download some signs from the posters section and put them up yourself to help spread the word.
An important article appeared on the front page of the Poly last week. I've been meaning to comment on it for a few days. It's the one relating to the Faculty Senate.
The article deals with the problems caused by the administration's new definition of faculty. In case you don't remember, the Board of Trustees declared last winter that professors not on tenure track are not faculty and should not be represented by the Faculty Senate. They are now planning to reorganize the Faculty Senate in order to remove these members.
When reading the article, I became wary of what seemed to be a one-sided disenfranchisement of the disputed members. Perhaps it was just the tone of the article, but it seemed ominous. "...the Board requested modifications to the Faculty Senate's constitution to comply with that definition." They plan to change to a "transitional faculty governance" where new vacancies will be filled by the provost "after discussing possibilities with committee members and other tenured and tenure-track faculty"- i.e. with no input from the non-tenure track members. The Faculty Senate will be reviewed by a committee chosen by President Jackson, again without input from non-track members. They will work on "developing a plan on how best to achieve a structure that both complies with the Board's definition of faculty and can work with the administration on behalf of the faculty." Read that sentence again; the "both" wasn't introducing a compromise. Once the plan is made, the tenure faculty only will review it, and the Board of Trustees will have the final say.
Reading on, I see that "the Faculty Senate is not recognized as a formal body and has been 'temporarily supplanted,' according to a resolution of the Board of Trustees." So the administration won't work with the Senate until they get rid of the unwanted members. Then the article closes with a quote from the president: "Not all universities have a faculty senate; no one can truly know what will happen to the Senate until after the review is completed." Maybe she doesn't know, but it sounds like she wants to get rid of it entirely. Maybe you can do that at a university, but the Institute ought to treat its professors better.
So that is how the administration is remaking the Faculty Senate with the membership it approves of. Maybe the Student Senate will be next.
Congratulations class of 2011, by now you should all have your new laptops. From what I've heard, they look neat. Important point: you may play with them all night, but at some point tomorrow, you will have to stop playing and go to class. It is not possible to do both at once.
Also, if any of you need help removing Vista, I've got Ubuntu and Fedora disks.
Summer's over and most of us have returned to campus. The Student Senate site is back up, reminding us that the Class of 2011 elections are coming. You should also visit the RNE site and look at last year's results. (Despite what the download instructions say, there do exist alternatives to Adobe Reader.) You will see 219 write-ins/abstentions under the Grand Marshal category. I'd give Arthur Galpin credit for at least a hundred of them.
After several weeks' delay, I have created some organization for this site. There is a Posters section, which is an archive of a few of the IOP signs. There is also a News section, where we will notify you of anything we consider important. A welcome to the Class of 2011, which has already completed Student Indoctrination. We will see you on campus in a few weeks when the fall semester starts. Then IOP activity will start to pick up.
The IOP site has been located at www.inflatablewhale.com for years, so why the move? The domain name inflatablewhale.com was owned by an IOP alumnus until several weeks ago, when it expired. I was intending to renew it, but someone else registered it before me. The new owner seems to be a company which gathers recently expired names and points them to advertising space. Fortunately, inflatablewhale.org was available, so I took that instead. You can read the old site's content at the Internet Archive. Beware: content is highly volatile and possibly damaging.