Unions on campus

The organizing push at UMN continues (Minnesota Daily).  From MPR:

By the end of the year, a group of faculty at the University of Minnesota hopes to get authorization to hold a union vote.

“It’s really about the loss of the mission of public higher education and just a concern that because of the trends in higher education where there’s more contingent faculty, there’s fewer tenure line positions, there’s less involvement of the faculty in the governance of the university,” [professor of science history Mark] Borello said.

Simultaneously, the university clerical and maintenance workers (organized with AFSCME and Teamsters, respectively) are in contract negotiations  (Minnesota Daily).  Cherrene Horazuk, the president of AFSCME Local 3800, has a real talent for picking out anecdotes that tell a clear story.  Among them:

  • the university gave a larger raise to the basketball coach after one disastrous season than it’s offering to all 1000+ clerical workers;
  • the union has been pushing for an anti-bullying provision in the contract; the administration’s counter-offer is to pay for “resiliency training”;
  • Horazuk ended the rally by saying, ‘In its strategic plan, the university is asking its best researchers and brightest minds to solve society’s grand challenges, and hopes to answer the question, “How will we ensure just and equitable societies?” The administration should start by ensuring a just and equitable university.’”


A bunch of good letters to the editor have been appearing in the Daily:


Posted in Academia, What's the news? | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“A Void” by George Perec (translated by G. Adair)

I knew about this book for a long time before I read it: it’s one of several translations of La Disparition, a French novel (really, a sort of detective thriller) written without the letter “e.”  The English translation holds to the same restriction.  I found the first few chapters (they are numbered 1 to 26, but there is no chapter 5) very confusing, before I realized that the entire novel is a big, self-referential joke; with that framework, the whole thing made much more sense and is a lot of fun. It was more work than anything I’ve read recently (unsurprisingly, the vocabulary is sometimes baroque), but I thought in the end that it was worth the effort.  Several moments sparkle brilliantly: the first character to whom we are introduced is named Anton Vowl; Chapter 10 ends with a series of famous poems, including William Shakspar’s “Living or not living” soliloquy and “Black Bird” (“Quoth that Black Bird, ‘Not Again’“); and a section titled “On Groups (by Marshall Hall Jr),” which includes the following paragraph:

It’s said that, just prior to dying, at night, at about 4 or 5 a.m., Galois put in writing on his jotting pad (Marshall Hall Jr, op. cit, folio B) a long, continuous chain of factors in his own form of notation.  To wit:

aa − 1 = bb − 1 = cc − 1 = dd − 1 = ff − 1 = gg − 1 = hh − 1 = ii − 1 = jj − 1 = kk − 1 = ll − 1 = mm − 1 = nn − 1 = oo − 1 = pp − 1 = qq − 1 = rr − 1 = ss − 1 = tt − 1 = uu − 1 = vv − 1 = ww − 1 = xx − 1 = yy − 1 = zz − 1 =

As part of his manuscript is missing, though, nobody knows to this day what conclusion Galois was hoping to draw from his calculations.

I think it would be interesting to compare other translations (according to Wikipedia, there are at least three others).


(I read another of Perec’s books a few years ago.)

Posted in Book reviews, Books, Math | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Things I don’t really believe, even though I know they are true

  1. Multi-ton hunks of metal and carbon can fly through the air via their own propulsive forces.
  2. Two people, conversing openly in public, can establish a code that is not breakable by someone overhearing the entire conversation.
  3. The University of Minnesota gave a larger raise (in dollars) to its mediocre basketball coach than it is offering to its 1600+ clerical workers



On contract negotiations, see also this.

Posted in Academia, What's the news? | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Erdős FBI file

A cute little article here about Paul Erdős’s FBI file.  The short version is … that it’s not very interesting; the FBI routinely (and correctly) determined that he was just interested in doing mathematics.  In a Minnesota-centric note, it was Hubert Humphrey who helped him get a visa after several years of being blacklisted by the INS.  The writer of the linked article does get in a good punch-line.

Posted in Combinatorics, Math, What's the news? | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Therapy” by David Lodge

I enjoyed Paradise News, so I thought I’d try another. Basically, I think Therapy is the same novel as Paradise News, but not quite as good. I have been promised that some of his others are better, and am planning on trying one or two of them out later this summer.

Posted in Book reviews, Books | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Back-of-the-envelope calculation


Image | Posted on by | Leave a comment

4/15 for $15

I spoke at our local solidarity rally:

I’m here today because I believe all workers at the University of Minnesota deserve a fair shake —
whether they’re the maintenance or clerical workers who keep the U running every day,
or whether they’re our students, many of whom work at low-wage fast food jobs trying to pay their high tuition and stay out of debt,
or whether they’re the teachers and researchers like me whose work gives this university its academic strength —

all of us deserve fair treatment, decent working conditions, and a living wage.

For those of us who research, that means a reasonable path for career development and advancement;
for those of us who teach, it means job security, so that we can improve a course without worrying about being hired again next year;
for fast food workers, it means $15 and a union.

Seventy years ago, Albert Einstein wrote,
“[I]ntellectual workers should unite, not only in their own interest but also and no less importantly in the interest of society as a whole.”

That is no less true today.

That’s why UM Academics United are joining together to fight for a strong, democratic university.

And that’s why we stand here today in solidarity
with the students and employees of the University of Minnesota,
and with fast food workers in their fight for $15 and a union.

Thank you.

Posted in Academia, Education, What's the news? | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment