International Women’s Day, 2015

Oh what to say on this Sunday morning? I could say that I’m tired and worn from the stresses of a career in education. I could say that the spite of strangers can make a person cry. I could say that my time in the Ohio Education Association was much better than the women who had to sign this contract:

I could say, should say, and WILL say that my complaints and stressors could be so much worse. I have money in the bank, the right to vote, and can walk around a house without fear of abuse or violence. On this, International Women’s Day, I will remember and lift up the students who make my life’s vocation a joy, and ignore those who claim the joy that belongs to others. I will do my best to view these latest impediments to my eyes, mind, and heart as mere distractions. Here’s to lessons learned.


Guides for Better Writing

Sometimes I find myself reverting back to Strunk and White when grading student papers, writing in the margins that the best writing is efficient writing. As a college student, I was a member of the nationally respected (and feared? 🙂 ) Morehead State University Individual Events speech team. Luckily, I learn efficient writing early on and practiced it, literally, every weekend as I delivered all of those speeches at colleges and universities around the midwest. With only 7 to 10 minutes to speak, every word was carefully chosen and powerfully concise. If you’re looking to improve your various writing styles, one of these books may be the ‘coach’ you need.


Dear Students… e-mail edition

Dear Students,

I feel compelled to remind you that I teach communication courses and pay close attention to the nuances of the various types of communication in which we engage. Our abilities to communicate are, in part, what makes us human beings. Too often in our professor-student communication, I find myself frustrated, put off, and generally discombobulated because our interaction isn’t as competent as it could be. Please consider this my request for you to reconsider your communication with me more carefully.
An increasing percentage of mishaps occur via e-mail. Please consider what e-mail stands for— electronic mail. If letters are an important form of written communication, e-mail is then an electronic form of important, written communication.

When writing e-mails, please familiarize yourself with the different parts of the e-mail.
• The subject line is the area that you can alert the recipient what your message will be about. Please make sure that this subject line is pertinent to the message you are writing. When you simply reply to previous e-mails I have sent you, you may send me a message the week of final exams that reads “Welcome to COMM 110.” I will undoubtedly scratch my head as to why you’re just now responding to a message I sent at the beginning of the semester and may not open it immediately since it’s not pertinent to the end of the semester.
• The salutation is the greeting of a message. Traditionally this would be: Dear Dr. Darnell, Dr. Darnell, or Professor Darnell. Hey! is not an appropriate salutation. I’m your professor, not your b.f.f..
• The next section of the e-mail is the body. This is where you address the subject with which you are concerned. Please make sure that in the body of your e-mail you are not showing that you either did not read the syllabus, grading philosophy, or honesty agreement, or simply chose to ignore those documents all together. For example, I do not ‘take doctor’s notes’ yet I get doctor’s ‘excuses’ e-mailed to me all the time.
• The ending of the e-mail includes a closing and a signature, or just a signature. A traditional closing is “Sincerely,” with your name as the signature. Given the medium of e-mail writing, a closing is not necessary in my opinion. When signing your name, make it your complete name. 🙂 S. is not an appropriate signature.

If you’re still confused by the format, consult this image of a traditional letter.

In general, please show common sense when you e-mail me.
• Do not ask “Did we do anything important while I was absent?” If you can’t figure out why you shouldn’t ask this, I’d be happy to explain this in person.
• If you want ‘my notes,’ come to class and listen to them. Ask your peers for their class notes. Class discussions are more than my lecture notes. Understand the difference.
• Spell words correctly. Proofread and then proofread again.
• Do not expect a response to your e-mail immediately. I’m not up at 2:30 a.m. checking my e-mail. You shouldn’t be either.
• Do not demand things of me or use your e-mail to angrily vent. Be careful of your tone. If you don’t mean to be aggressive and inappropriate then do not write an e-mail that can be interpreted that way.
• I do not need to know why you weren’t in class. Your personal life is yours, not mine. I don’t need to know that you were up all night throwing up, that your child had diarrhea all night, or that you’ve just felt really crummy with all your coughing and sinus infections and body aches. E-mailing me doesn’t mean you get ‘more’ excused absences. I understand that you may consider this a courtesy, but I don’t think you’re a bad person if you’re not in class.
• Don’t ask me to ‘look over’ your assignments, via e-mail, since you can’t make it to office hours because you’re too busy. If you can’t talk to me during office hours, then arrange a time to see me in person. You’re not the only person who is busy.
• When in doubt, come see me rather than e-mailing me from your Android/iPhone/smart phone/Segway/Whatever-you-call-the-technological-gadget-of-the-moment.

All of these things relate to our personal encounters as well. When you come to my office, do not walk in and say “I need you to sign this” while shoving a piece of paper in my face. Instead, let’s have a conversation after you have knocked and asked “May I come in?” You can choose to stand or sit while we talk about your speech, your desire to drop a course, or your travel plans that may affect class.

In this technological age where you may be used to communicating n shrt wrds w/no punct & less than 140 charactrs, you need to set yourself apart and show the world that you do indeed know how to communicate appropriately and effectively.

Please understand that I write this for you, not in retaliation against you. Please be mindful of your communication with all professors. We all want you to leave Columbia College with the best possible skills to help you achieve your personal and professional goals. Competent communication skills are key to achieving those goals.


Students and Writing

A first-of-its-kind study has revealed the obvious– U.S. students aren’t very good writers. This is in addition to our 17th worldwide ranking in science and 25th in math. Our highest ranking is 14th in reading literacy, but this most recent study shows that literacy doesn’t equate to skill in written communication. As my students and I were talking yesterday morning, they admitted that they memorized lots of words in their English classes but that didn’t mean that they actually used them in conversation.


SIU Strike– Day Two

It was a small gesture, but today I wore all maroon, thinking of my friends, faculty, and former academic community at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. The faculty and administration still appear to be unable to reach an agreement that would return the faculty to the classroom. Following the strike on social media sites like Twitter and Facebook, the frustrations of all involved are already incredibly large. Students aren’t receiving instruction. Graduate teaching assistants are being asked to ‘substitute teach’ for the professors who are on the picket line. Rumors circulate that qualified ‘substitutes’ will be flying in next week to teach the students.

In short– what a mess.

I was introduced to Shaheen A. Shorish via the share function on Facebook. A dear faculty member I studied with had met Shaheen on the first day of the strike. Her testimony to the SIU administration and for quality education at SIUC was moving and inspiring. I asked if I could share her thoughts with you and she graciously agreed.

Student Veteran at SIUC Demands Leadership

November 2, 2011

Dear Chancellor Cheng,

I am a service-connected disabled veteran of the Navy. I was involved in the Gulf War and Operation Provide Promise, one of the largest humanitarian airlifts in history. Those experiences taught me well, especially about leadership, which I now find lacking with your administration.

As a veteran with educational benefits earned from my service, I could choose any state university in Illinois. I could also have chosen The Art Institute or University of Phoenix, both for-profit institutions that market heavily to veterans. However, AI is currently being sued for $11 billion for fraud by the US government, and the University of Phoenix settled a fraud whistle-blower case for $78 million in 2009. These cases dealt with profiting from government funds in creating degree mills. Clearly, these were not institutions that respected veterans, and were in fact all about the dollars, not about the students.

I instead chose SIUC. The program I was interested in initially, Cinema, came with a respectable reputation for excellence. I am now a triple major (Cinema, Philosophy Pre-Law, and General Studio in Art and Design, with a minor in Art History) and in the Honor’s Program. I chose this academic track due to the amazing display of knowledge and leadership shown by SIUC’s professors.

This brings me back to leadership. As Chancellor, it is your duty to ultimately serve the University’s interests. The University’s interests are to serve the students. The students are best served by having quality faculty. I think most would agree that the reputation of a University rests upon the shoulders of their professors. One in the military might say that the University has a mission objective: to educate, and educate well. All other mission objectives are used to support the primary objective.

During the Gulf War, we called one of the factors that ensure mission success “command climate.” Given that four unions on your watch have agreed to a strike, I would say that you have a toxic command climate as a result of a failure to lead. Your inability to maintain unit cohesion in the face of adversity, your inability to create trust in command, your inability to foster an overall communication between “Officer Leadership” (administration) and “Immediate Leadership” (faculty and staff) are outward signs of your lack of skills in negotiating. You offer excuses to justify the situation you are currently in.

In the military, we have an expression: “Excuses are the tools that built the house of failure.” What you have here is a failure to communicate, and you should be offering solutions instead of excuses. Snarky emails and messages on your Chancellor webpage about how the unions are behaving instead point to your inability to contain the situation, not to anything else. I challenge you to ask any veteran what happened to them when they gave excuses either in Basic Training or during a military operation. Why should your excuses pass review when your own veteran students would never tolerate such lax standards?

Every veteran on your campus is here because SIUC has prided itself both in academic excellence and in creating a welcoming environment for those returning from war. This means that every veteran on your campus desires that a degree from SIUC hold merit, to be competitive in the job market, and to be worth the government funds SIUC reaps from our service defending this country.

We all arrived at SIUC with the expectation that the professors with whom we register for classes would be the professors we actually get. Your statements, and the statement from university spokesman Rod Sievers, “We think we can fill the classrooms with qualified instructors in almost every case,” informs us veterans that our professors are wholly replaceable, and therefore your university does not stand on its own merits of accomplished professionals in specific fields of study, but is in fact a degree mill.

This brings me to fraud. I enrolled as a student in SIUC due to the curriculum and the quality of the professors upon which the reputation of this university rests. When you and Mr. Sievers make statements that say your entire faculty are nothing but widgets, then I begin to think I have been lied to by your recruitment literature. If replacement is so easy, what then could make SIUC any different from any other university? Or is SIUC just after my government benefits after all? Like University of Phoenix? Like The Art Institute?

If you allow a strike to happen on your watch, I will rightfully assume the scabs you permit to teach my classes will not have any knowledge about where we are in our class work, and I will hardly waste taxpayer money to teach the teacher in catching up. I have a degree to attain; I am not here to waste my precious class time in educating someone who does not even know my name, much less the material.

Fraud. Failure to lead. As a veteran, I am insulted. My benefits have a time limit, as is the case with every veteran here. How dare you waste our hard-fought benefits by incompetency and mismanagement. We have come from battlegrounds and war zones. We know leadership but have also seen incompetence, usually at the cost of someone’s life. We survived horrors just to get here. And now we are faced with unprofessionalism and incompetence from the highest point in leadership.

You need to rectify this situation. You need to create a healthy command climate. Your mission objective has been compromised. Abide by your duty.


Shaheen A. Shorish

USN 1990-1993

ATAN,Plane Captain: CH-53e

Helicopter Combat Support Squadron 4

Junior at SIUC

GPA. 3.77

Dean’s List

Minority Filmmaker Award Recipient

Military Awards

Navy Unit Commendation,

Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation

National Defense Service Medal

Southwest Asia Service Medal with 1 Campaign star

Armed Forces Service Medal

Humanitarian Service Medal

Sea Service Ribbon

Liberation of Kuwait Medal (Kuwait)

Certificate of Completion for Avionics Technician Course, A1, NATTC Millington, TN.

Certificate of Commendation for Outstanding Performance on Physical Readiness Test.

Certificate of Recognition for Cold War Service

Honorably Discharged

My resume

For more information concerning the strike, you may want to consider these sources.

SIU Official Site

Occupy SIU Blog

@OccupySIUCTeam on Twitter

Facebook page protesting student censoring


Which Side Are YOU On?

I’ve been thinking a lot about my Ph.D. alma mater, Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Today, as of midnight, the Administration of SIUC and the Faculty Association could not reach an agreement thereby resulting in a strike. The issue is NOT as simple as higher salaries for tenured and tenure-track faculty.

The statement by Faculty Association David Johnson President makes the issues at hand abundantly clear. The University has made their position abundantly clear also– opposition to their desires will not be tolerated or given even the simplest regard or courtesy.

SIUC has resorted to juvenile and, ultimately, disheartening silencing techniques to those that support the faculty in their strike. I am one of many who posted my support of the faculty on the SIUC facebook page. Once personnel in charge of the site came to work today, my message was deleted and I was blocked from posting any other messages to their facebook page. In the past hour I have watched comment after comment appear on the page, only to be deleted from the page minutes later. What an embarrassment!!! A public institution of higher learning blatantly censoring messages from its community of current students, faculty, staff, and alumni?

Now granted I expected the University to put its public relations team into overdrive to make the faculty look like the bad guys, especially when three out the four unions considering a strike settled yesterday. But those of us who are able to understand the situation know that this is classic spin that only contributes to the lack of transparency the faculty are fighting for, in the first place.

Perhaps what is most frustrating is to follow the strike on sites like YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter. This morning on Twitter @mattmoberly posted this: Glad to see @SIUC professors striking at 630 am. When is the last time that they got up at 630 for their students benefit? Never! #firethem
I quickly tweeted to him that he has no idea of the number of hours his professors spend on his education. He’s certainly not alone in voicing their distaste for the strike. In the comments section for the above video, on YouTube, someone offers, “This is what parents are paying for?” And on Twitter a student admitted that he had just crossed a picket line for the first time, but was excited that he got extra credit from his professor. “Thanks Dr. Ruffner,” he tweeted.

These anti-faculty comments are the same types of comments that were used against the unions in Wisconsin and Ohio. And they’re the same comments that permeate the Occupy Wall Street pushback. Unions are not evil, nor are they perfect. Unions protect those who have little to no other form of protection. Through all of these incidents I’ve had two mediated messages running through my mind. The first is the coal mining union song written in 1931 by Florence Reece of Harlan County, Kentucky.

“Which Side Are You On” was written on the back of a calendar that hung in her home when authorities invaded her home looking for her husband, a union member. Quite simply, the question “Which side are you on” is a life mantra. Which side of any issue, any problem, any solution– Which side are you on?

The second piece of media is a speech delivered by President Andrew Shepherd in the film The American President. After attacks on his personal character, all for the purpose of political gain, Shepherd finally has enough with the bureaucratic machinations of Washington D.C. and delivers an impassioned speech about those times when we ‘blame them’ for ‘our’ problems.

We do have serious problems that demand serious solutions. I believe in the faculty of SIU and their ability to educate their students. They deserve better. The students deserve better.

I stand, in solidarity, with the faculty of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. That is the side I am on.