Wednesday, September 18, 2013

My Clemson Rat Pact

I found it! 

When I discovered the box with my Rat Hat, I knew it had to be in there somewhere.  I finally found my Rat Pact. It was handed to me (it’s not like I had a choice) when I arrived on the Clemson campus in 1966 as a new student. 

Every male Clemson freshman in those days received these three things upon arrival: a buzz cut haircut (within 1/16th of an inch), a Rat Hat, and a copy of the Rat Pact.  The women wore a ribbon in lieu of the haircut, but otherwise had the same Rat (freshmen) rules. The Rat Hat was to be worn at all times during “Rat Season,” and the contents of the Rat Pact were to be memorized, including all 17 requirements of Rats. The Rat Pact also described all the school traditions, cheers, alma mater, campus landmarks, and Clemson’s “unwritten rules.”  You’d better know everything in it, I was told in no uncertain terms.

And I did. Still do. To this day, you can ask me anything about Clemson traditions, landmarks, etc.

But I have never forgotten my first experience with an upperclassman during Rat Season.  Needing to run an errand in the early evening of the first day of class, I ventured out of my dorm (against the advice of my roommate) and headed across campus.  I didn’t get very far before hearing those dreaded two words. 

“Hey Rat,” someone shouted from behind me.  “Do you know your Rat Pact?”

“Yes sir,” was my confident reply, expecting a question about the alma mater, the statue of Thomas Green Clemson, a campus building, or something along those lines.

The burly fellow came closer and sized me up before he asked his question.  I suspect he was given a hard time when he was a Rat and this was payback.  I still wasn’t too worried because there wasn’t a kid on campus who knew the Rat Pact better than me.

Then I heard the question:

“How many periods are there on page 3 of the Rat Pact?”

I don’t remember how many pushups I had to do or how many shoes I had to shine as a result of not knowing my Rat Pact.  But I do remember celebrating when the 1966 Rat Season ended at midnight on September 24.

I was sure glad when Rat Season was over. 

But I’m even more glad we had it! 

That’s why I saved my Rat Hat and Rat Pact all these years.

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Some thoughts on college move-in day

Last weekend was “move–in” time for all Clemson students, as the 2013-14 academic year is about to start.  My little college town of 13,000 suddenly became a bustling community of 30,000 over a two-day period.  In a couple of weeks, the first home football game will temporarily swell the total to more than 80,000.

On my daily walk, I passed through the quaint downtown area and picturesque campus that adjoins it, soaking up the sights on Move-In Day 2013.

I made a few mental notes:

Clemson (and I suspect most other colleges) has really figured out this move-in thing.  What looked like chaos at first was actually very well organized, with signs and attendants cheerfully greeting the long line of cars and directing all to the appropriate areas for unloading at campus residence halls.  Everyone seemed very patient and in good spirits.  There was definitely excitement in the air.

It wasn’t hard to spot the incoming freshmen.  They were the ones with parents helping.

The parents are looking younger and younger each year.

Some students have really nice cars.

They came from all over. I spotted license plates from California, Nevada, Wyoming, New Hampshire, and other distant states. There were lots of international students too.

There was nowhere to park in the downtown area or campus.

Almost everyone was wearing orange. College sports and school spirit really do draw people together.

There could be a few parties in the works, since classes don’t start for a few days.

Somewhere in the mass of new and returning students is a future leader who may change everything in his/her chosen field of study.

The freshmen seem excited, confident, and not intimidated at all. (As a male freshman in 1966, my head was shaved and I was required to wear a “rat hat” for six weeks, performing menial tasks for upperclassmen.)

Times have changed.

It’s all good.

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Monday, July 8, 2013

On the traditional college experience

Watching parents and new students arrive for orientation this summer in my small college town got me thinking.

Incoming students and their parents are all over campus and the small downtown area in the classic college town that I am blessed to call home. They are wearing the school colorsparents tooand seem eager to learn their way around campus and prepare for the adventure that will begin next month.

It wont come cheap.

College costs have been skyrocketing for years.  The average college graduate in the U.S. leaves with over $26,000 in debt.

They could do college online for a fraction of the cost.

But they are here for a reason.  The reason must be that they value the traditional college experience, and are willing to pay for it.

The traditional college experience is much more than courses and job preparation.  For many its a socialization and maturation process that prepares students for life. 

Life preparation certainly includes career skills, but theres a lot more to it. It also involves becoming independent, developing the whole person, understanding the world around us, acquiring and honing communication and critical-thinking skills, appreciating other cultures and viewpoints, understanding the importance of life-long learning, appreciating the importance of serving others, learning to be a team member and a team leader, etc., etc.  There are also parties, football games, and opportunities to make friendships that last a lifetime.  Many traditional college grads are forever connected to their school.

Given the ever-growing online alternatives, is the traditional college experience worth the significant extra cost?

I think so, but I know more and more people are beginning to question it.

I guess Ill find out if they stop showing up in the summer for orientation.

Here's hoping that day never comes.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

My Dog Story

I recently read a newspaper article about colleges creating a dog-petting space to relieve stress for students during final exams. Groups bring in dogs and allow stressed-out students to play with them on their way to and from classes, study sessions, and exams. Judging from the picture in the article, it seems to work. The students--and the dogs--looked like they were really enjoying it.

We didnt have anything like that during my campus days, and its probably just as well. I would have had to make a detour around the petting area.

I hate to admit it, but its true.  Connecting with dogs has been a real challenge for me.

You see, somewhere during my life I must have offended a dog. I dont have any idea where, when, or how.  But it must have happened.  The dog I apparently offended, for whatever reason, must have told every other dog on the planet.  I have come to believe there is a canine version of LinkedIn, Facebook, or Twitter that allows dogs to network and share information.  For some reason unknown to me, I am on their s-list.

I dont deserve this because I have never mistreated a dog in any way. It must all be a big misunderstanding.

As a youngster our family owned a dog, and I played with and loved her. When the family moved from West Orange, NJ to Greenville, SC our little Duchess didnt make the traveling squad. My parents said it was best to give her away. It wasnt my decision or my fault. I was just a kid.

As a parent, I agreed (reluctantly) with my wife to buy my older son a dog as a birthday present. Frisky was a handful, but we all loved him. After a few years we agreed to let Frisky go live with my mother-in-law, who had taken a special liking to him and was in poor health and in need of companionship. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Frisky seemed to be fine with it.

No, it cant be Duchess or Frisky. Some other dog must have it in for me, and put out a network alert to all other dogs.

Trust me when I tell you this dog network is extensive. I cant claim to be a world traveler, but I have been all over the U.S. and out of the country a few times. Everywhere I go, the dogs have been alerted.

Over the years Ive tried my best to make friends with a few dogs, hoping to get an answer to my question, What have you heard? They just give me an angry growl.

I know Im missing out by not connecting with dogs. I see my friends and neighbors walking their dogs every day, and they seem to be having so much fun. 

I hope one day to clear up this misunderstanding and restore my good name in the dog world. Until then, if I pass by you on my daily walk, please tighten your hold on your dog leash.

Your dog is probably on the network too.

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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

My 3 R's of Retirement

Im no expert on retirement and wellness, but I have learned a few things since hanging up my professor cleats in July 2011.

Whether fully employed or fully retired, keeping an active and balanced lifestyle seems to be the way to go.

Thinking about this with all my extra time has led me to formulate what I call my 3 Rs of retirement. Unlike the stuff I was supposed to write as a professor, my 3 Rs of retirement are not research based. Theyre gut-feeling things, no more and no less.  They just feel right, make sense, and seem to work.

Each one of my 3 Rs is important, and it seems to me that they must be done in some fashion together. 

My 3 Rs of retirement are simple:  Read, wRite, Run.

As I will attempt to explain below, they should be interpreted in the broadest possible context.

Read: Expand your horizons by enjoying the creative output of others. This doesnt have to be reading per se. It could also be watching and appreciating movies, plays, or concerts. It could be listening to and appreciating music of all kinds. It could be learning through travel and first-hand observation.

wRite:  Develop a creative output of your own. Do something creative that you enjoy and keep working on it. It could be writing but doesnt have to be. It might be learning a musical instrument, sewing, painting, woodworking, or anything that draws on your creative juices and challenges your mind. You dont have to market your creative output for it to be successful. You dont even have to be good at it as long as you enjoy the challenge of improving.

Run: Keep moving. You can run, walk, do the treadmill or exercise bike, or whatever. But you must work up a sweat on a regular basis.

I have implemented the 3 Rs by reading fiction (something I never had time to do while working), writing and self-publishing stories that draw on my career experiences, and getting in a solid power walk almost every day through the great college town of Clemson, SC.  

As I said, Im no expert on wellness and retirement. But I think Im onto something.

You are invited to follow my writing activities and connect with me on my Short Stories Facebook Page.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

A Sunday Writer

Im what acclaimed author Lawrence Block calls a Sunday Writer.

In his book for aspiring fiction writers, TELLING LIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT, Block envies Sunday Writers.

Sunday Writers do it for fun and enjoyment, not for profit. We sit at our word processors when the mood strikes. Its a hobby, not a job.

Sunday Writers enjoy the process. Otherwise, we wouldnt do it. There are no daily word-count targets or mandatory writing hours.  There is no market analysis for the final product.  We write what we think is important or interesting or fun, and are elated if others find it useful as well.

Every writer, including the Sunday Writer, likes to see his/her work jumping off the bookshelves to eager readers.  But the Sunday Writer knows this is icing on the cake.  The fun for a Sunday Writer is mixing just the right ingredients and baking the cake.

Sunday Writers should be held to high standards as authors. We don't face deadlines and don't have editors and publishers demanding things from us. We should take our time and get it right. We have access to similar resources as full-time, professional writers.  The Sunday Writer can easily find editorial or proofreading help if needed, as well as assistance with cover designs.

My Sunday writing is mostly about things I experienced in my 35 years as a college professor.  The cake I bake is short prose, with each story (ranging from 2,500 to 14,000 words) addressing an issue in higher education or college sports.  I enjoy all aspects of each story, from developing the idea to the challenge of creating a cover design. I also dabble in flash fiction, posting 100-word stories about life and growing old on The Adventures of Ed and Edna. Many of these short, short stories are in response to weekly writing prompts from the Carrot Ranch Flash Fiction Challenge.

Electronic publishing has opened doors for many Sunday Writers like me.  I use an e-book aggregator called Smashwords to distribute my short stories to as many e-book retailers as possible. 

When allowed by the retailer, I typically set the price as FREE for my individual short stories.  After all, the fun was baking the cake -- and sharing it with as many people as possible.

Almost every day I thank my lucky stars that Im not a full-time writer trying to put bread on the table from my literary pursuits.

Thats because being a Sunday Writer is a blast.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

What is academic integrity?

Several years ago I attended a campus event at my university on academic integrity.  The speaker was a nationally known expert in the field.

He opened the session by posing the question: “What is academic integrity? Numerous hands went up in the audience -- more than he could call on.

Students, faculty and staff in the packed auditorium eagerly gave their take on the subject. Almost all of them said the same thing.  Some answers were more sophisticated and better articulated than others, but they were pretty much the same.

In a nutshell, the audience members defined academic integrity as doing your own work.  The speaker generally agreed with this notion and took that as the starting point for his excellent presentation.

I should have spoken up.  I certainly dont disagree that academic integrity requires us to do our own work.  But that is only part of it.

The part that wasnt mentioned is just as important.  Academic integrity is not just the honest submission of work; it is also the honest evaluation of that work.

By honest evaluation of work, I mean rigor in the presentation and assignment of work and in the grading of it.  If courses and assignments lack appropriate rigor, I dont see how one could claim academic integrity.

For this reason, I am always cautious about drawing conclusions about colleges and universities from their published graduation rates and academic honors.  I am especially cautious when it comes to graduation data of athletes published by individual schools and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

Dont get me wrong.  I believe the numbers and know that the overwhelming majority of schools have policies and processes to ensure that students are doing their own work.  The very public cases of academic fraud in athletics are the rare exception rather than the rule.

However, even with honest submission of work, I still dont know if schools with high graduation rates really have academic integrity.  Thats because graduation rates and academic honors of various colleges or sports teams tell me nothing about appropriate rigor in courses, assignments, and grading.

Most schools with high graduation rates, both for athletes and regular students, are probably doing things the right way.

We just dont know for sure.


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