Southern Illinois: Worst University Ever?

I've been noticing a bunch of news relating to Southern Illinois University lately.

  • Its president is one Glenn Poshard, a Democrat ex-Congressman who was given his initial SIU trustee position by everyone's favorite governor, Rod Blagojevich. (Poshard had earlier lost his bid for Illinois governor to Blagojevich's Republican predecessor, the currently jailed George Ryan.) Poshard was soon enmeshed in a plagiarism controversy. This was kind of the norm at SIU; two former chancellors had been investigated for plagiarism before that.

    Poshard was "cleared" in an investigation that some billed as a whitewash. But SIU has taken action; they've emitted a shiny new draft plagiarism policy that allows swift action:

    It shall be a violation of this policy to allege, file or raise frivolous or malicious claims against members of the Office of the President or the Chancellors of the SIUC or SIUE campuses. If a violation of this section is committed, the University may initiate any and all appropriate action, including but not limited to disciplinary action against an employee or civil action against a member of the public.
    Frivolous and malicious claims are bad, of course. But do Presidents and Chancellors really need to have special protection against them? Or is the whole point to stifle investigations before they start? I know which way I'd bet.

  • In the meantime, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has been busy pointing out SIU's unconsitutional sexual harassment and free speech policies. They even got involved in an amusing war of words with SIU-Carbondale Chancellor Samuel Goldman, who blustered about FIRE's "baseless" claims, while—by sheer coincidence, no doubt—SIU was quietly taking down one of its more ludicrous "free speech zone" policies.

  • And, to put some statist icing on the cake, Dr. William A. Babcock, claiming to be a "senior ethics professor" at SIU-Carbondale, penned an opinion column for the Christian Science Monitor advocating, well, involuntary servitude:
    Every young American citizen, once he or she graduated from high school, would have the responsibility to complete two years of public service. National need would define the nature of such service, but at any given time the variety of jobs likely would be in education, infrastructure repair and maintenance, construction, healthcare, the military, and the arts, for example. Participants, most age 18 to 20, would be provided with room and board and given minimum wage during this two-year period.
    Professor Babcock's arguments in favor of this are embarrassingly bad, primarily evidence-free assertions of vague benefits (For example, it would "spawn a new breed of citizens" who (among other things) would "Be more worldly [sic] wise" and "Better understand how various aspects of the nation work.")

    Nowhere, of course, is the petty little Thirteenth Amendment mentioned; it's not just SIU administrators who hold the Constitution in contempt.

    And you might expect a "senior ethics professor" to devote—Constitution aside—at least a few thoughts to the morality of demanding that individuals sacrifice their own plans and projects to the will of the state. Not Prof Babcock, though.

So, if we have any readers among faculty or administration at SIU, Pun Salad says: Keep up the good work! You're making the rest of us look good, if only in comparison.

And if we have any readers among current or prospective SIU students, Pun Salad says: Are you nuts? Run away!

Rest In Peace, John Updike

John Updike has passed away. Philistine that I am, I am in near-total ignorance of his work, other than being able to recognize some titles. (Basically: anything with the word "Rabbit" in it.)

With one exception: in the physics circles I once frequented, his 1960 poem Cosmic Gall was famous. And thanks to the miracle of the interwebs, here 'tis. Enjoy:

Neutrinos, they are very small.
They have no charge and have no mass
And do not interact at all.
The earth is just a silly ball
To them, through which they simply pass,
Like dustmaids through a drafty hall
Or photons through a sheet of glass.
They snub the most exquisite gas,
Ignore the most substantial wall,
Cold-shoulder steel and sounding brass,
Insult the stallion in his stall,
And scorning barriers of class,
Infiltrate you and me! Like tall
And painless guillotines, they fall
Down through our heads into the grass.
At night, they enter at Nepal
And pierce the lover and his lass
From underneath the bed-you call
It wonderful; I call it crass.
Note his careful avoidance of "ass", even though it would have been easy to fit in there.

[Also: since 1960, it's been discovered that neutrinos probably do have a teeny-tiny mass. But everything else is pretty much on-target.]

The Foot Fist Way

[Amazon Link] [3.5
stars] [IMDb Link]

My second movie in a row with principal characters who are flawed in any number of ways. Oddly enough, I enjoyed The Foot Fist Way quite a bit more than The Darjeeling Limited. Go figure.

The main character here is Fred Simmons, portrayed by Danny R. McBride. Fred is a Tae Kwon Do instructor, running a small dojo. He has little respect for anyone save B-movie star Chuck "The Truck" Wallace, who he idolizes. He is a foul-mouthed martinet to his students. He has (to put it mildly) an exaggerated self-confidence, and he's clueless in interactions with, well, normal people. Unfortunately, things begin to unravel when his slutty wife is indiscreet enough to make Fred aware of her sluttiness. ("I was so drunk - like, Myrtle Beach drunk," she pleads.) This topples several pillars holding up Fred's self-image, and the results are pretty funny.

This worked for me. Danny McBride somehow manages to make Fred appealing with all his flaws; I think you have to be a pretty good actor to thread that needle well.

Last Modified 2012-10-08 8:29 PM EST