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Saturday letters: University tenure deserves to get more scrutiny

The tenure bogeyman | Feb. 26 and At universities, the tenure track goes off the rails | Feb. 21

Tenure deserves to get more scrutiny

Two very different versions of the meaning and importance of tenure were recently presented in the Times. One version, by professor of journalism William McKeen, at the University of Florida, provides considerable damning evidence that the state of tenure as currently practiced in higher education is broken and has been reduced, almost exclusively, to the pursuit of a "lifetime job" and the belief that "I can do whatever I want."

He follows up with numerous examples, some devastating, to support his position. One example: Because a college teacher's effectiveness is principally measured, apparently, by student evaluations, there is much pandering going on to achieve a high enough student evaluation score to earn "distinction in teaching," one of three requirements that can lead to tenure. In other words, his score may be more a reflection of popularity than a measure of teaching effectiveness.

McKeen also points out that a second requirement for tenure can be distinction in research and publishing of the results. According to the professor, this tenure track is also off the rails because the research is often irrelevant and is published in academic journals that almost no one reads. Has, as McKeen says, "tenure outlived the valid reason for its inception" and does it only ensure mediocrity?

The other view of tenure, by Sherman Dorn, president of United Faculty of Florida chapter at the University of South Florida, provides us with several good examples of the importance of tenure in protecting academic freedom and also in "attracting the best faculty in the world." Unfortunately, Dorn ignores most of the serious criticisms raised by professor McKeen, or diminishes them with the comment that there may be "an occasional colleague who doesn't pull his weight. But that is not the biggest problem at USF and other public colleges and universities."

Maybe not, but the huge gap between these two perspectives on tenure needs much more public attention because the stakes are high for the quality of education and the future of our country. The questions of what changes should be made and who should do it must be addressed soon.

John Farnham, St. Petersburg

Needed protection

William McKeen's antiacademic screed suggesting we abolish tenure isn't helpful, given that, as Sherman Dorn points out, "the majority of faculty … do not have tenure."

It's much worse: More than 50 percent of our faculty across disciplines are being paid the equivalent of about $10 per hour without benefits, while another 20 percent are full-time but filling one- or two-year slots. Up to 70 percent of contingent faculty teach with master's degrees, not Ph.D.s, and they have neither offices nor clout.

They are permanent part-timers, and when the work of the profession is outsourced, we shouldn't be surprised at falling literacy rates, poor "product," and the erosion of our young people's basic abilities to function in a democracy.

Academics have had an intimate acquaintance with the new economy for a decade now, and though the tenure system is far from perfect, it has provided professors with the basic security and equity necessary to do their jobs well.

Melanie Hubbard, Ruskin

Can the courts prevent abuse? | Feb. 27, story

System must do more to stop domestic violence

The recent tragic murder of a woman and the charging of her "paramour" in her death make it vitally important for us to look at the way that domestic violence is dealt with in the Pinellas criminal justice system. The Times' headline asked: "Can the courts prevent abuse?"

The Pinellas National Organization for Women contends that if the criminal justice system holds the batterers accountable, there will be less domestic violence. If the police make more arrests, if the state attorney prosecutes more batterers, and if the courts sentence more abusers to the Batterers Intervention Program, there will be less violence.

Last year the Sheriff's Office and multiple police departments averaged an 82 percent arrest rate for domestic violence. That shows a steady improvement from 63 percent in 2004. In contrast, the state attorney's prosecution rate for the most serious felony domestic violence cases was only 24 percent last year. The five years before that it was between 26 percent and 19 percent. Thus, the statements made by the state attorney in the Times' article sound like excuses.

The State Attorney's Office needs to improve its prosecution rates. Another area that needs improvement is for judges to sentence batterers who receive final injunctions to the Batterers Intervention Program. This program is run by trained experts on domestic violence to teach batterers to relate without abusing.

The judges' rate for sentencing batterers to the intervention program for the last few years was less than 10 percent. Thus, the State Attorney's Office and judges missed crucial opportunities to stop domestic violence.

Linda Darin, president, Pinellas NOW, Seminole

Censured doctors on drugmaker payrolls March 1

Keeping doctors informed

Your story on doctors participating in pharmaceutical company-sponsored speaker programs overlooks the valuable role these physicians can play in assisting their peers with understanding treatment options.

The recently revised PhRMA Code on Interactions with Healthcare Professionals addresses this issue as part of an ongoing effort to ensure that pharmaceutical marketing practices comply with the highest ethical standards. The voluntary code, which has been adopted by all our member companies and many nonmembers as well, clearly states:

"Company decisions regarding the selection or retention of health care professionals as speakers should be based on defined criteria such as general expertise and reputation, knowledge and experience regarding a particular therapeutic area, and communication skills. Companies should continue to ensure that speaking arrangements are neither inducements nor rewards for prescribing a particular medicine or course of treatment."

Considering the level of expertise required to discuss treatment options, safety information and new developments, it is reasonable to recruit qualified health care professionals to communicate FDA-regulated information to their peers. What's more, it's appropriate to provide reasonable compensation, based on fair market value, for their time.

Ken Johnson, senior vice president, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, Washington, D.C.

Oil reserves off Florida coast are called minuscule | Feb. 27, story

Drilling seems insane

This article was about a report prepared for the Legislature by the Collins Center for Public Policy. The report said that "estimated reserves in Florida waters would provide the United States with less than a week's worth of oil and have no discernible effect on prices at the pump or reliance on foreign oil." Do we really want to endanger our beaches for this?

Prodrilling people point to the use of new high-tech drilling methods to protect us from oil damage. Let's remember, though, that the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, which dumped 11 million gallons of crude into pristine Prince William Sound, wasn't a result of failed technology but rather dumb human error. The results were devastating to local economies. And a recent study in 2007 by NOAA determined that, 16 years later, "more than 26,000 gallons of oil remain in the sandy soil of the Alaskan shoreline." Imagine only a small fraction of the Valdez gallons washing up on our world-class Gulf Coast beaches! You can bet that might cause a significant dent in our tourist industry, not to mention our own quality of life.

It seems that alternate energy sources represent the wave of the future. Is there not some way we can devote our creative energy to capitalizing on this? We do have a lot of sun here in Florida. Why gamble away our most glorious natural resource, the gulf beaches, for five days of oil supply? Would it not be insane to do so?

Theodore DeCorso, Dunedin

Oil reserves off Florida coast are called minuscule | Feb. 27, story

A different kind of gas

Well, there it is in black and white, the oil off the coast of Florida would power the country for a whole week. Drilling offshore will not bring down the price of gasoline and will do nothing toward making the United States more energy independent. For this amount of oil we should risk our beautiful beaches?

We have the means right now with what we have to make a large move toward energy independence: Repower our current cars with compressed natural gas. One country that is moving in this direction is Australia. Australia does not have a lot of oil but they do have a lot of natural gas. The Australian government gave their citizens a $2,000 rebate to change their cars over to run on CNG. My Aussie friends have had this done to both of their cars and report it works perfectly. With a flip of a switch their cars go from running on petrol (what they call gasoline) to running on CNG. All we need is the infrastructure to deliver the CNG.

This plan would create a whole new area for jobs: the retrofitting of millions of cars on the road right now. Also when our current cars are run on CNG they produce almost no pollution. Every car we take off oil is money that doesn't go the Middle East.

F.M. Younglove, Brandon

Protect Peace River from strip-mining Feb. 27, editorial

Phosphate hazards

It is good to see more attention being directed at phosphate mining in Florida. The excessive levels of strip-mined phosphate wastes in our waters create an imbalance in the overall ecosystem which directly reduces our water quality.

When overused in agriculture, phosphate comes back to haunt us even more. This is evidenced by the Mississippi River dumping upriver agricultural fertilizer pollutants into the Gulf of Mexico, creating an up-to-7,000-square-mile marine "dead zone" seriously impacting the seafood industry.

Perhaps if the phosphate industry took more of the many tens of thousands of dollars it spends on lobbyists and feel-good, warm-and-fuzzy TV ads — courtesy of Mosaic and others — and invested the money on being better environmental stewards, we'd all be better off.

Rick Carson, St. Petersburg

Climate change in our own back yard March 2, commentary

Valuable information

I applaud the two Ph.D. candidates at the University of South Florida, Phil Thompson and Paul Suprenand, for their articles on climate change and its long-term effects on our future. The scientific data are there for all to see.

The sea level is rising and the acidity of the ocean continues to increase as we burn more and more fossil fuels to run our cars and to generate electricity. The economic impact is sobering and cannot be overemphasized. Coastal homes will disappear and fishery and tourism industries will soon be gone.

Let these articles be required reading at all schools and at all government bodies, especially at the state Legislature. I am not optimistic that the politicians, or the corporations, will do anything to remedy the situation, but I do hope the articles will inspire young students to take up scientific research as their career. We must count on them to find sustainable alternate energy sources and to change our lifestyle so that our grandchildren will have a habitable planet to live on.

The two Ph.D. candidates, and the St. Petersburg Times, have done an admirable service to educate the general public on this important issue of climate change. Please continue to publish similar articles that affect our long-term well-being. The public needs to know.

Omar Wing, St. Petersburg

Climate change in our own back yard March 2, commentary

Cause for skepticism

Anybody with a television or with Internet access knows that the Earth's climate is an incredibly complex, dynamic, interactive mechanism that changes over time. Regardless, in its ongoing campaign to advance the global warming agenda, the Times trots out a couple of USF graduate students to provide a couple of local observations that seem to support their foregone conclusions.

Sea levels and the acidity of the oceans rise and fall over time in response to a variety of influences. Some believe that man's carbon contribution to the atmosphere is one of them. But recent ice core samples at both the North and the South Poles suggest that rising atmospheric carbon concentrations lag rather than precede warming periods. The planet has undergone many long-term heating and cooling cycles. This a fact based on geological, fossil and historical anecdotal evidence.

The real argument is the effect, if any, of human activity as it influences climate change, and the skeptics have good reason to be suspicious. Follow the money. Every proposal from Kyoto to the current "cap and trade" legislation in Congress involves massive wealth transfers. Global warming alarmist in chief Al Gore has made millions pushing his global warming agenda. Climate scientists like NASA's Dr. James Hansen have built careers and reputations in pursuit of proof of man-made climate change.

But the alleged scientific consensus began to unravel when a court in the United Kingdom undermined the credibility of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and accelerated with the revelations from the East Anglia University Climate Unit e-mails.

The debate on man-made climate change is not over. The research should continue until the facts, not a phony consensus, are established before we devastate our battered economy with draconian nonsolutions to what is arguably a nonproblem.

Timothy S. "Mac" McDonnell, St. Petersburg

Revisiting a bully's pulpit | Feb. 21

Coughlin did much good

I knew a very different Father Charles E. Coughlin from the one your article portrayed as the bully in the pulpit.

I knew Father Coughlin as a pastor who founded an elementary school and a high school where, aided by the Sisters of Charity, he inspired students to excel and to serve others. He did not try to indoctrinate the students with his political views.

The Shrine of the Little Flower Church he built continues to draw pilgrims from many parts of the United States and the world. The shrine schools continue to educate and inspire today's students, and the world is a better place because of this legacy of Father Charles E. Coughlin.

Connie Cylkowski, St. Petersburg

Drivers' licenses

It's a pleasant experience

Recently I have seen many articles in your paper about the horrors of getting drivers' licenses renewed or getting new ones.

The the other day I went to the DMV in Pinellas Park to get my license renewed, and I was really apprehensive after all I had heard.

I was very pleasantly surprised. I was greeted with a smile and everyone I dealt with was very helpful and extremely polite. I was in and out of the office in less than an hour. In defense of the DMV, I must say it was a very well-run operation.

Betty Lucas, St. Petersburg

Big, bold "green" plan not so bold anymore Feb. 26, Sue Carlton column

Another bag problem

Sue Carlton's column does not to mention one of the larger sources of plastic bags in our county, namely the plastic bags used to deliver the daily newspapers.

Does the St. Petersburg Times have an idea for elimination of that part of the problem? Will there be reuseable bags for newspapers?

Palmer O. Hanson Jr., Largo

Saturday letters: University tenure deserves to get more scrutiny 03/05/10 [Last modified: Friday, March 5, 2010 7:12pm]
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