Sunday, July 22, 2012

Our Third Foreign Country (part three)

In an earlier post I talked about the honeymoon period one gets when moving to a new country. Well, the love in with Plattsburgh has begun!!! Here is my list of things I love about this place:

1) It is stunningly beautiful. The lake, river and country side is amazing. There are lots of outdoor activities and you can be in the middle of nowhere with a short drive out of town.

2) The people still have the small town friendliness and openness about them.

3) Humongous parking spaces, wide roads and the town is small enough that traffic is never bad.
4) The University is right on the Saranac River and river trail.

5) It's summer! Even this heat wave has been a huge relief compared to the weather we left behind.

6) They speak American English. Awesome!

7) The Koffee Kat coffee shop. I had the most AWESOME raspberry coffee milkshake ever.

8) Good Mexican food (at Pepper's Restaurant)

9) The wildlife, we have already seen a woodchuck (ground hog) behind the hotel and a beaver during a test drive while car shopping. A giant raccoon scared Karen nearly to death when we went for a walk a few mornings ago. Never know what is going to pop up next.

10) We are near our old friends Ken and Sara, Ken barbeques like a pro and his homemade beer number 17 is so good it would sell well in a British pub.

11) The birds, I have seen Cardinals, Blue Jays, Ospreys, Gold Finches and many other old favorites. I even have two new ones for my life list, the Common Grackle (the iridescent blue head is amazing in the right light) and Eastern Blue Bird. I can't wait to hit the major birding sites in the area!

12) Riding the ferry across Lake Champlain.

13) There is a mall and nice grocery stores with an awesome range of choices.

14) Cheap gas. Americans don't appreciate that anything under $8 a gallon is a steal where we were living.

15) Common sense seems to rule at the university. Very little bureaucracy at work compared to Britain and a senior management that so far is more interested in the practicalities of making things work than with appearances.

16) Lot's of free parking downtown.

17) I might actually be able to practice my French giving lost Canadians directions to the Wallmart.

18) They don't drive too fast here like they do in Britain. 

19) Poptarts on sale 2 boxes for $4.

20) In Southampton the Ford Focus was everywhere, in Plattsburgh it's the Ford Mustang. I think that pretty much says it all.

Note that I decided to skip part 2 because whining about cell phone companies, cable companies and the DMV is predictable and boring.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Our Third Foreign Country (part 1)

We are in the throes of our third move across international borders, moving back to the United States. My wife is calling it “our third foreign country”. We have arrived and surprisingly what has struck us most strongly isn’t what has changed, but what has remained the same and unappreciated before our European adventure began almost 13 years ago.
I have read in several guide books about the key characteristics of pioneer societies like the US that differ from Europe. The biggest one is how new comers are treated. In Europe, with its history of invasions by neighbors, newcomers were historically greeted with suspicion and left alone. The walled cities of the past and the heavy security shutters on most houses in Europe are the architectural expression of this sentiment. In stark contrast, the next immigrant coming into a frontier society on the edge of existence is a boon and needs help to survive. This historical artifact is why Americans are so friendly, helpful and for Europeans, annoyingly too interested in other people’s business. Since arriving in Plattsburgh, we have been greeted and offered extensive assistance and advice from everyone from the university, to total strangers we have encounter while getting set up. The level of aid is beyond anything imaginable that one would get in a European nation. This has left us sometimes surprised and feeling a bit uncomfortable at times until we remember that we were like that too before we left. Indeed, I think we went out of our way to make new arrivals feel welcome and offered aid to several new comers in Lausanne and Southampton. It is simply something Americans tend to do, particularly those from the west and from small town rural areas. There were one or two locals who helped us out with our moves to Switzerland and to England, but we never experienced the grand welcome and genuine aid from so many that we are getting here from nearly everyone we interact with on and off campus. There are always exceptions, and oddly they tend to occur in certain organizations across all countries. I will save that for part 2 and just give a big thank you to everyone in Plattsburgh who has been so helpful.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Academic Declaration of Independence

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for academic scholars to openly defy the generous patrons of their arts and sciences, it is necessary for our own integrity that we declare the causes of our dissent. 

We hold these aims to be self-evident, that all persons have an equal right to access truth, that the pursuit of knowledge is necessary to secure a decent standard of living, and that a free society can only exist based on truth. To secure these goods, members of higher education institutions (hence forth the academy) depend upon the support of the enlightened wealthiest classes and our governments. When any group or government becomes destructive of these ends through direct or indirect manipulation of the academy to the detriment of the public good, to the extent of hindering the pursuit of knowledge, eroding the future of our arts and sciences, and threatening every citizens’ liberty by supressing truth and blocking social mobility, it is the right and responsibility of the academy to openly question and defy our benefactors.

Such has been the suffering and demands placed on the academy by Her Majesty’s government.

Her government is effectively dictating academy membership by forcing universities to hire, retain and promote staff based on government imposed fiscal pressures (the REF) rather than on overall scholarly contribution to the academy.

Her government has required the academy to prostrate itself and compromise its integrity by compelling it's members to write insincere “impact statements” when requesting support, thus attempting to divert academics from the unfettered pursuit of knowledge to the end of validating partisan political goals.

Her government has cut all funding for teaching of non-STEM subjects effectively pressuring universities to eliminate and retain disciplines on fiscal rather than academic grounds, thus effectively restricting access to the history, knowledge and language of power to the privileged upper classes.

Her government has imposed a system requiring excessive student fees suddenly and without proper planning denying equal access for qualified students and making responsible long term decision making about the fiscal management of universities impossible.

Her government imposes excessive state regulations in the name of standards that are effectively stifling teaching innovation under the guise of maintaining quality and equality of degrees across the university sector thus impinging on the academy’s freedom to educate the next generation of our respective discipline’s academy members.  

Much of this government attack on the academy is a part of an ideological and economically motivated attack on liberty, equality and freedom being waged by the wealthiest of the priviledged upper classes who believe that no one should arise above their station

This culture of profiteering is working to corrupt the senior management of our universities through outrageous salaries as a reward for dutifully imposing her majesties government’s destructive anti-scholarly policies. If these managers can earn the same in industry then public charities like universities should not be keeping them from helping the private economy in these dire times.

Profiteers have succeeded in diverting public research money to subsidize for profit industry research and development through ring fencing co-funded industry/university training schemes.

Profiteers are demanding that universities make up for under-funded school systems, diverting resources from discovery and higher education, to remedial training in transferable skills. This effectively converts higher education from supporting social and economic mobility to maintaining servitude to the wealthiest leaders of industry by setting employability as the highest aspirtion.

These attacks on our academic and public freedom and the resulting damage they will cause to the academy’s ability to pursue the truth and produce the discoveries necessary for the long term public good require strong response.  

The British academy should unite across the university sector and refuse to participate in the REF by not submitting any returns or paperwork, refuse to assess or participate in research council impact statements by boycotting those sections of grant applications and refusing to provide reviews based on impact, ignore HEFCE and QAA regulations and rules imposed on their teaching and degree programs, and the people of Britain should choose to support their young people in the hopeful pursuit of knowledge instead of condemning them to training for a lifetime of indefinite servitude punctuated by periods of unemployment.

As it does not appear to be in the nature of the British academy to defy their class system or their government pay masters, even in light of these egregious assaults on academic freedom and threat of destruction of all they say they should be working for, I have  left for the United States, where although rumours indicate an academy moving in similar direction, a revolutionary tradition of standing up for truth, the public good, and academic freedom may yet prevail.