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2015 May 28

I’m proud of UCSC undergrads

I recently got an administrative e-mail, pointing me to the results of the recent student elections at UCSC (Campus Elections). There were 3 undergraduate fee measures on the ballot for undergrads:

  • Measure 61.CruzCare Access for All—Injury and Illness Health Center Fee: Shall the undergraduate students of UCSC provide funding for on-campus medical and mental health care for all undergraduate students by implementing a compulsory fee of $110.00 per student per quarter, starting Fall 2015?FAILED: 51.58% No, 48.42% Yes.
  • Measure 62. Athletics Operations Enhancement Fee: Shall the undergraduates of UCSC provide funding for the operations for Intercollegiate Athletics by implementing a compulsory fee of $117 per student, per quarter, starting in the fall of 2015?FAILED: 60.33% No, 39.67% Yes.
  • Measure 63. Amendment to Measure 30: Strengthening Access to Learning Support Services: Shall the undergraduate students of UCSC provide funding for Learning Support Services, including tutoring and Modified Supplemental Instruction by increasing Measure 30 by $5.36 per student per quarter, resulting in a total fee of $12.00 per student, per quarter?PASSED: 84.99% Yes, 15.01% No.

The undergraduates clearly understood that it is not the point of the University to support varsity athletes in their pursuit of pleasure (and UCSC is unique among the University of California campuses in this recognition), nor to require everyone to further subsidize a student health care system (students are already required to have health insurance, and the student health center is available to all who choose the UCSC student health insurance—the measure was intended to open the services to students who opted to have other, less-expensive health plans), but it is appropriate for students to tax themselves modestly to increase the availability of tutoring and other learning support for those who need it.

I believe that even much lower-cost student athletic fees have failed in the past, but that fees for increasing recreational facilities or opportunities for all students have passed fairly easily.  The students are not opposed to sports, just to subsidizing play for a tiny elite, rather than opening it up for participation by all. One outcome I expect to see from this election is the withdrawal of UCSC from the NCAA Division III and a return to club sports and a focus on intramural athletics for everyone, as there was when I first started teaching at UCSC.

2015 January 23

Dress like it’s 1965 Winner

In Dress Like It’s 1965, I showed the clothes that I wore for UCSC’s “Dress Like It’s 1965” Day on Thursday, 15 Jan 2015, to help celebrate the 50th birthday of UCSC (including the marvelous shoes my wife painted). Today I found out that I won 1st place in the men’s category! Pictures of the other winners can be found at http://50years.ucsc.edu/kick-off/.

Here is the picture they took of me, which was used for the judging:

Copied from http://50years.ucsc.edu/css/assets/images/kick-off/winners/1-guy.jpg Sorry, I can't find the photographer's name on the 50th anniversary website to give proper photo credit.

Copied from http://50years.ucsc.edu/css/assets/images/kick-off/winners/1-guy.jpg
Sorry, I can’t find the photographer’s name on the 50th anniversary website to give proper photo credit.

I feel like I cheated a bit, as I was reproducing what I wore in 1969–1971, not 1965. Also I’m wearing a modern digital watch, since I no longer own any analog ones and forgot to take the watch off. But the judges obviously weren’t too fussy.

2015 January 17

How big is a course?

Filed under: Circuits course,freshman design seminar — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 10:42
Tags: , , ,

One of the questions that comes up when designing a course is how much work the course should be. When deciding whether to include a particular topic, exercise, reading assignment, project, test, paper, or whatever, there is always the question whether there is enough time for it, and whether it is important enough to be worth the time.  So how much time is there to allocate for a course?

In the UC system, most of the campus are on a quarter system (UCB and UC Merced are on semesters), with approximately 10 weeks of instruction followed by one week of exams. The exact number of instructional hours varies a bit from quarter to quarter, and between MWF and TTh classes, thanks to almost all holidays now being scheduled for Mondays.  All the quarter-based campuses have a 180-unit graduation requirement, where a unit is supposed to represent 3 hours of work a week for the 11 weeks of the quarter, so the 180-unit graduation requirement is supposed to mean 5940 hours of work (about 1485 a year).

UCSC is different from the other campuses, in that our courses are by default 5 units, while the other campuses generally have 3-unit or 4-unit courses. What I was not aware of until recently, however, is that UCSC also differs from the other campuses in terms of how many contact hours the students get with the professors per unit. UCSC 5-unit courses meet for 210 minutes per week. A full course, including exam, is 2100+180=2280 minutes, or 456 minutes per credit. Not counting the exam, there are 420 minutes per credit.  (In actual schedules, there may be up to 105 minutes of lecture missing due to holidays, reducing the time to as little as 399 minutes of lecture per credit.)

According to a proposal about changing class scheduling at UCSC, written in 2011, the other quarter-based campuses have at most 375 lecture minutes per credit, which lets them pack more class credits per classroom seat than UCSC does. (UCSC suffers a double whammy here, as it has the fewest classroom seats per student, thanks to former chancellors who grew the student population rapidly, on the theory that this would force the state to provide the needed infrastructure—the administrators who made this bone-headed prediction have since gone elsewhere, while the faculty are left with too many students and too few classroom seats.)

Of course, some classes involve far more contact hours. I’m a great believer in high-contact courses, where the students spend time with the faculty. For example, my Applied Circuits class in the spring has me in the classroom with the students for 3.5 hours a week, and in lab with them for another 6 hours a week, for 5700 minutes—at 7 credits that’s 814 minutes per credit,  80–90% more than the usual course. The senior design seminar I’m teaching this quarter has 1155 minutes of class for 2 credits plus 180 minutes per student of one-on-one meetings, or 668 minutes per credit—50–60% more than normal.  (Note: my time for 19 students is 76.25 hours for that class—over 5 times the usual contact hours for a 2-unit course, and that’s not counting the grading time for reading 4 drafts each of 19 theses, nor prep time.)  The freshman design seminar I’m also teaching  this quarter has 2030 contact minutes, for a 2-unit course, or 1015 minutes per credit (2.2–2.4 times normal contact hours). Those are just the scheduled contact hours—I also generally have 2–3 hours a week of office hours, and during the circuits course, I often have to stay late in the lab to help students finish.

So when I’m deciding how much homework to assign in, say, the freshman design seminar, I have to start with the 66 hours that the students are supposed to work for a 2-unit course, then subtract off the 33.83 hours of class time, and divide by 10 weeks to get about 3.2 hours of homework a week (or 3 hours a week, if some is done during exam week).  That is not a lot of homework, particularly if I want students to do some web searching and reading on their own, or do design tasks, which tend to be rather open-ended. It’s a good thing that the freshman design course doesn’t have any specifically mandated content—I can take the classes wherever student interests and abilities lead, without having to worry about whether I’ve covered everything.

Note that engineering students typically take a 17–18-unit load at UCSC (3 5-unit classes, plus labs), which comes to a 51–54-hour week, if they are doing what they are supposed to for all their classes. This workload does not allow much time for students to do a part-time job, and certainly not a full-time one. Some students, forced by the legislature’s defunding of the University to work to pay their tuition, end up with 20-hour work weeks on top of the 54 hours they are (or should be) putting in as students. The legislators may have partied their way through school and think that all students do, but the engineering students I see don’t have that luxury—being a full-time engineering student is not compatible with more than 5–10 hours a week of non-class-related work.

Engineering students at UCSC are usually advised to take two technical courses and one non-technical one. The justification is not that the students need the humanities for intellectual balance (even if it is true, students wouldn’t buy into that justification). Instead, the justification that the students accept is that grade inflation has gotten so extreme in the humanities that they can get an A– doing only half as much work as a 5-unit class should require, so that they have enough time to work on their technical courses or hold a part-time job to pay for college.

 

2015 January 16

Dress like it’s 1965

UCSC had a “Dress Like It’s 1965” Day on Thursday, 15 Jan 2015, to help celebrate the 50th birthday of UCSC.  I participated in the festivities by dressing as I did in high school, with bright red pants, orange shirt, white belt, and Campbell soup tie.  The tie, tie bar, and glasses were the ones I wore in high school, but the rest of the clothes I had to reconstruct, as I weigh about 60lbs more now than I did in high school. My head is also wider, which means my old glasses don’t fit very well.  (They’re less than 1 diopter off in the prescription, though—good enough to get around in, but headache-inducing.)

The red pants should have been denim, but I couldn’t find any red denim pants—the red polyester from MoonZooom was the best I could do. The pants were the only purchase—everything else I wore we already had in the house. I was also cheating a bit, as the clothes I wore reflected 1969 or 1970, rather than 1965.  I was in 6th and 7th grade in 1965, and I did not wear anything interesting then.

Here are some photos of what I wore:

The woman is the manager of the engineering advising office—she normally has short hair and dresses very professionally—but she looks good in the 1965 styles also!

The woman is the manager of the engineering advising office—she normally has short hair and dresses very professionally—but she looks good in the 1965 styles also!

The most distinctive part of my outfit was the shoes, which my wife painted (the color is mostly Sharpie, though as she didn't have time for paint to dry).

The most distinctive part of my outfit was the shoes, which my wife painted (the color is mostly Sharpie, though, as she didn’t have time for paint to dry).

shoes_heels shoes_instep

These shoes are not like anything I wore in the 60s, but I would have, if they'd been available!

These shoes are not like anything I wore in the 60s, but I would have, if they’d been available!

The festivities were interrupted by a student protest:

One of the protestors with a cardboard sign saying "COPS OFF CAMPUS   CAMERAS OFF CAMPUS" A larger banner calling for firing the President of UC can be seen on the stage in back.

One of the protestors with a cardboard sign saying “COPS OFF CAMPUS CAMERAS OFF CAMPUS”
A larger banner calling for firing the President of UC can be seen on the stage in back.

The front of the protestors' parade, with a cowbell.

The front of the protestors’ parade, with a cowbell.

I was quoted in the Santa Cruz Sentinel:

Kevin Karplus, biomolecular engineering professor, wore his old high school 1960s tie and taped glasses. He said he was glad the event was interrupted by a student demonstration.“It wouldn’t be the 60s without one,” said Karplus, who said in his 28 years at UCSC, he’s watched enrollment and fees grow and student resources and state funding drop.

I actually said a good deal more than that to the reporter—I’m actually in agreement with the students that raising tuition is the wrong solution to the continued reduction in state funding for the University of California, and that the game of chicken that Janet Napolitano has decided to play with Jerry Brown is not in UC’s best interests. But I don’t expect anything to change as long as we have such a dysfunctional legislature—I don’t expect to see UC’s financial situation to improve before I retire in a few years. I also gave more specific instances: that the enrollment has grown threefold while the number of librarians has been cut in half.  (I now think that the actual numbers may be slightly more extreme than that.)

I doubt that firing Napolitano would do any good, though, as she is pretty much following exactly the same script as her predecessor. It would take an wholesale turnover of just about all the senior executives in the UC Office of the President (or firing and not replacing them) to get any significant change in policy there. It might also take replacing most of the Board of Regents, who seem hell-bent on privatizing the University—I don’t know if that originates with them, or whether they are just rubber-stamps for UCOP, but I suspect that the Regents and UCOP are in close agreement.

2015 January 7

Bait and switch health insurance

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 21:49
Tags: , , , , ,

I just started a new health insurance plan at UCSC this month, one that costs me $549.67 a month in premiums, that I selected specifically because it would let me continue with the family doctor we’ve had for years. Note that this plan is essentially the same as the one that was free 10 years ago—they keep raising the prices to the faculty without improving the product.

Today, I was very surprised and distressed to get the following message:

January 7, 2015

To:  UCSC Academic and Staff Employees
From:  Lori Castro, Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor, Staff Human Resources; Pamela Peterson, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Academic Personnel
Re:  Blue Shield of California and Sutter Health Provider Negotiations – Contract Termination and Transition Period

As you may have heard, Blue Shield of California and Sutter Health were unable to agree on a contract for 2015, which affects many UCSC employees using the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.  On January 5th, 2015, Blue Sheild of California sent letters to more than 140,000 members state-wide who are users of Sutter Health in Northern California, informing them that the Blue Shield/Sutter Health contract was terminated, effective Dec. 31, 2014.  However, there will be a six-month transition period for UC Blue Shield plan members.

University of California employees (and retirees) are affected by this development if they use Sutter providers, including Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF), and if they are enrolled in the following UC health plans:

  • Blue Shield Health Savings PPO
  • Core Medical PPO
  • UC Care PPO

Blue Shield has directly contacted members in the aforementioned plans, but we would like the campus community to be aware of the situation.

From January 1, 2015 thru June 30, 2015 there will be a six-month transition period to allow UC Blue Shield plan members time to find an alternative provider.  During the transition period UC plan members will continue to receive services at the UC Select level at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation.  Blue Shield Health Saving Plan and Core Plan members will continue to have the preferred 80% coverage at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation but can anticipate a higher cost due to the fact the 80% coverage will now be on a non-contracted rate.

Contract negotiations are ongoing, and it is our hope that Sutter Health and Blue Shield will come to an agreement before the transition period ends. If the parties do not come to an agreement, we anticipate the University of California will announce a plan but for now there is no additional information. The UC is not authorizing a special opportunity for employees to change medical plans at this time.

Last year I used a different insurance plan (UC Core instead of UC Care—a confusingly similar pare of names) that cost me nothing, but that had high deductible and co-pays. Because I’m overdue for a colonoscopy, I decided to switch plans this year, though the premiums may still be higher than the expected medical expenses for the year.

Both the plan I was on last year and the plan I switched to this year are saying that I can’t keep my family doctor—when I selected those plans specifically because they would cover that doctor!  UC should be suing Blue Shield for bait-and-switch tactics and refunding the health insurance premiums collected under false pretenses from the faculty and staff.  But I don’t expect UCOP to do a damned thing about it—they’ve taken the attitude that as long as they have their Kaiser plan in Oakland, the rest of the University can pay through the nose for inadequate health insurance.  UCSB got screwed last year, so it is UCSC’s turn this year.

Perhaps the faculty union (the Santa Cruz Faculty Association) could protest the change? No—they have a memorandum of understanding that they will remain toothless about anything UC does to the faculty.  They might write a politely worded note expressing their dismay.

Of course, this game of chicken between Blue Shield and Sutter Health doesn’t affect just the UCSC employees. A Santa Cruz Sentinel article points out

In Santa Cruz County, an estimated 4,500 policyholders who signed up with Covered California last year and picked Blue Shield are affected along with many more who purchased an unsubsidized Blue Shield policy on the open market.

UPDATE January 30, 2015:

To: UCSC Academic and Staff EmployeesFrom: Lori Castro, Interim Assistant Vice Chancellor, Staff Human Resources; Pamela Peterson, Assistant Vice Chancellor, Academic Personnel

Re: Blue Shield of California and Sutter Health Provider Negotiations

The University is pleased to announce that as of late last night, Blue Shield and Sutter Health have settled on a two-year contract.

Blue Shield of California today, January 30, 2015, announced the signing of a new, two-year contract with Sutter Health. Blue Shield is pleased to offer members access to Sutter Health providers and facilities as participating providers through December 31, 2016. Blue Shield apologizes that the contract negotiation took longer than expected and that customers and members experienced uncertainty or disruption. We also regret the worry that this has caused the campus community.

Blue Shield will be notifying all of its members of the development.

Thanks for all of your patience on this matter.

 I’m very relieved.

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