Saturday, 22 May 2004

The sound of silence

Mainly this is a post to say “I’m not dead.” But it will also contain a few random thoughts:

  • Ole Miss beat LSU 7–6 tonight in the first of a three game weekend series. The Rebels are hoping to finish the regular season with an outright SEC regular season title, a high seed in the SEC tournament, and positioned to host an NCAA Regional in early June.
  • I’m almost done reading Measuring America, probably the first recreational book reading I’ve done in about a year.
  • Never in my life has the term “fabulous” been applied (by me or someone else) to scheduling a meeting, but it happened this week. This was the result. Ok, it’s not the world’s spiffiest website, but it’ll do.
  • The Power of the Blogosphere: it’s pretty safe to say I’d never have pondered this question (probably NSFW) at Note-It Posts without Dana’s prompting.
  • The Power of the Blogosphere Part Deux: Russell Arben Fox has some typically thoughful comments on public education in Arkansas and in the nation.

Oh, last, but not least: I would have posted this several hours ago but my DSL connection went down inexplicably.

Thursday, 20 May 2004

Harold Ford, Jr., denies being at Moonie event

Back in March, I reported that Memphis Congressman Harold Ford, Jr., was among those in attendance at a coronation ceremony for the Rev. Sun Myung Moon in the Dirksen Senate Office Building in Washington.

According to local reporter Jackson Baker, Ford is denying having been at the ceremony. Baker quotes Ford as saying, “Unfortunately, public officials’ names often get used without their permission.”

Be sure to check out the blog of Moon-watcher John Gorenfeld.

Thursday, 6 May 2004

Not my president (but for the grace of God)

Stephen Karlson has the latest missive from Shelby Thames to his faculty, staff, and students at Southern Miss. With any luck, maybe the four new members of the IHL board will decide this stooge is far more hassle than he’s worth.

Friday, 30 April 2004

USM: No, really, WTF?

Well, the settlement between Thames and Glamser and Stringer is out (full text here) and I find it completely baffling, and borderline inexplicable. HNN’s update from yesterday seemed to anticipate—as most would have, given Thames’ pathetic performance at the hearing on Wednesday—a settlement much more favorable to Glamser and Stringer.

Update: More from Robert Campbell. Time to drop the hammer on that letter to USM withdrawing my application for employment…

Thursday, 29 April 2004


Well, this is about the oddest thing possible to have expected to come out of the brou-ha-ha down at Southern Miss: USM President Shelby Thames and fired professors Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer reached a settlement after yesterday’s hearing in Hattiesburg. Extra bonus: good ole Shelby also spies on his employees’ email.

And, I’d like to declare advantage on this tidbit:

Testimony showed Stringer said he was chairman of the English department, a claim he later refuted.

Good money says the settlement is to ensure that Thames doesn’t get his derierre sued off, and that both professors will be reinstated, but we’ll see when we see…

Tuesday, 20 April 2004

Driven to drink

Sid Salter had a piece in Sunday’s Jackson Clarion-Ledger on the byzantine structure of Mississippi’s alcohol laws—so byzantine, in fact, that the state tax commission (or the paper) apparently doesn’t know that Lafayette County, with the exception of the city of Oxford, is dry, not wet.

Wednesday, 31 March 2004

Taking its toll

Today’s Jackson Clarion-Ledger reports that a bill authorizing toll roads in Mississippi is working its way through the legislature, and seems to have a pretty good chance of passage this year—it has the support of the entire (separately elected) Transportation Commission, and it’s already passed the full Senate and the House Transportation Committee.

So far, the only two projects singled out for tolling are a seven-mile connector between the state port at Gulfport and I-10 on the coast and the proposed airport connector between downtown Jackson and the metro airport in Rankin County. However, the bill opens the door for other projects to be tolled as well, provided there is a nearby free alternative, which means Mississippi’s part of the Memphis Outer Beltway, new Highway 304 between Collierville and Hernando, is a serious candidate, as the tolls would enable construction to begin years sooner than otherwise planned.

Tuesday, 30 March 2004

Keeping up with the Johnses

The Commercial Appeal (reg. required) yesterday took the admirable, if belated, stand that tossing a ton of public money at yet another publicly-funded sports facility wouldn’t be a great idea (at least, not for now). At issue is the deteriorating 1965 Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium (which dates from prior to my parents’ attendance at then-Memphis State University). The editorial says:

A major overhaul could cost 125 million or more. …

Councilman Rickey Peete suggested spending 5 million for minimal repairs if the work would buy a few more years of use.

The CA endorses the third option. But let’s go look at the benchmark for comparison:

It should be noted that the University of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium, one of the largest stadiums in the country, has seen 16 renovations since 1921, according to the school’s web site. Renovations apparently have served UT well, since there are enough seats for 104,079 fans.

By comparison, the 62,380-seat Liberty Bowl has been twice renovated since it was built, according to the university.

To the best of my recollection, Neyland’s renovations were financed with money from boosters… and UT, which attracts 100,000 fans per game, needs the space—heck, they could probably sell another 20,000 seats if they had the space to install them. The Liberty Bowl, however, is lucky to attract 30,000 fans per Memphis home game in a typical season: last year, the team set a record by attracting an average of 40,262, a figure skewed by both the presence of the Ole Miss home game on the schedule (which attracted 51,914 fans, many of whom weren’t big Tigers supporters) and the Tigers’ atypically good performance in 2003. Don’t count on more than 35,000 per this year. (Stats from here.)

More to the point, the editorial doesn’t mention the real driving force behind a new stadium for the Tigers: keeping up with the Joneses. Or, in their case, keeping up with the Louisville Cardinals and their privately-financed Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, which manages to seat 42,000 fans in comfort (i.e. still above the realistic attendance level the Tigers can expect regularly) at the bargain price of $65 million—half the estimated cost the CA cites for an all-new stadium. (Louisville’s stadium is actually a “horseshoe” that can eventually be expanded with additional end-zone seating, similar to the current configuration of Ole Miss’ larger 60,580-seat Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, also paid for by private donations.)

Unlike Louisville’s boosters, however, the Highland Hundred want to dig into their fellow citizens’ pockets to pay for their new deluxe stadium. Why shouldn’t they? Michael Heisley, a man with no ties to Memphis at all, was able to schmooze and finagle his way into getting taxpayers to pony up for the FedExForum, leaving the Pyramid (which, admittedly, is a horribly designed basketball arena building) to do nothing except blind passing airline pilots with the reflection from its roof. Now all the Hundred have to figure out is how to shoehorn a football stadium west of Danny Thomas Blvd. and they’ll be all set!

Monday, 29 March 2004

Ford for Senate

Mike Hollihan of Half-Bakered links a pretty good Nashville Scene bio/interview of Memphis’ Harold Ford, Jr., a likely candidate for U.S. senator in 2006.

Sunday, 28 March 2004

USM Update

Sunday’s Clarion-Ledger has three articles on the ongoing Southern Miss saga:

  • USM director of resource and risk management Jack Hanbury gives slightly more detail on the background of the investigation of suspended professors Glamser and Stringer; key quote:
    Hanbury said Thames asked him to investigate the professors only after Hanbury received information that indicated “very serious misconduct.”

    The information came from Kentucky and arrived after the issue went public, Thames has said.

  • USM’s Angie Dvorak sits down with the Clarion-Ledger to clarify her curriculum vitae.
  • Ole Miss journalism professor Joe Atkins has an op-ed on the regional antipathy to unions that ties in Thames’ bogus allegation that the AAUP is a labor union.

In other USM news, the school hired disgraced former Iowa State coach Larry Eustachy as its new basketball coach on Thursday, replacing fired coach James Green.

More updates at Liberty & Power and the Fire Shelby Thames! website.

Sunday, 21 March 2004

Trolley boondoggle

Mike Hollihan pretty much sums up my feelings about the Madison Avenue trolley light rail line, a taxpayers’ boondoggle to end all boondoggles and a classic example of GNDN. Of course, the worst—a $400 million extension to the airport, with $100 million to come from both state and local government (and $200 million from Uncle Sam via your federal 18.4¢/gal gasoline tax)—is yet to come.

There is one bit, though, that I disagree with Mike on: he says the project is “a windfall for road builders.” Considering that the $100 million the state could kick in would match $400 million of federal money for a highway project (rather than $200 million for light rail), any sensible roadbuilder would favor building a highway. At $10 million per mile, the going rate for a rural Interstate highway, $500 million would build most of I-69 between Memphis and Dyersburg—and leave Memphis and Shelby County with $100 million in capital improvement funds for something else, like pretty much every road project on the Memphis/Shelby County long-range transportation plan. And, of course, the road-builders are getting their cash either way.

Friday, 19 March 2004

Supreme Dildos

Happily, Mississippi—like Texas—remains safe from the scourge on society known as the sex toy, thanks to our beloved state Supreme Court.

Amusing passage from the story:

Presiding Justice Bill Waller Jr., writing Thursday for the court, said state law provides that physicians and psychologists may prescribe sexual devices for their patients, and the patients may buy them from the physicians and psychologists.

I dare anyone in Mississippi to go to their doctor and ask to be prescribed a vibrator. Hell, if I had insurance that would cover such a frivolous use of the health care system, I’d go do it myself just for the sheer entertainment value.

The whole ruling is here, and almost certainly is fisk-worthy.

Update: Conrad reacts strongly:

Having met Bill Waller, all I can say is that, if dildos are illegal, Waller ought to have himself impounded immediately.

Thursday, 18 March 2004

College board discusses “potential litigation” involving USM

The Clarion-Ledger reports that the IHL board is meeting behind closed doors today, one day after IHL university presidents met in a closed-door session with USM president Shelby Thames:

Citing “potential litigation at USM,” Mississippi College Board members today went into closed-door session at about 8:50 a.m. as dozens of faculty and students from the University of Southern Mississippi campus milled about the board’s offices off Ridgewood Road.

Both supporters and detractors of USM President Shelby Thames made the trip to Jackson as the board that oversees the state’s universities discussed Thames’ decision to oust tenured professors Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer and the resulting campus uproar.

More from Ralph Luker, who continues his browbeating of OxBlogger David Adesnik (whose ignorance of Mississippi geography is forgiveable, coming from someone who’s studying in the fens of East Anglia on the banks of the River Cam*) for his inattention to matters that might be of concern of a future Ph.D., even one coming from such high stations as Yale and Oxford and who might not deign to accept a job in the primitive backcountry that is 21st century Mississippi.

More USM

Scott has a roundup of Tuesday’s developments at his blog, including an extended discussion of the C.V. of Angie Dvorak, one of the peripheral issues in the situation.

Also of note: Clarion-Ledger columnist Eric Stringfellow thinks Shelby Thames is in over his head as USM president, and the Hattiesburg American wants an open hearing for Glamser and Stringer, rather than the closed hearing their attorney has requested.

Wednesday, 17 March 2004

Mississippi justice

Kate Malcolm (to whom I owe a NCAA tourney bracket) wonders if I have any perspective on the ongoing legal machinations surrounding Justice Oliver Diaz of the Mississippi Supreme Court. What’s perhaps most interesting is the necessary footnoting that NYT reporter Adam Liptak omits from the article. For example:

In court on March 5, Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Mr. Minor, said the government’s theory made routine conduct by lawyers and judges in Mississippi into a federal felony.

Fun fact: Lowell served as Democratic counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings against Bill Clinton.

[Paul] Minor, a former president of the Mississippi Trial Lawyers Association, contends that the United States attorney here, Dunn Lampton, a Republican, singled him out for prosecution for political reasons, because he is a big contributor to Democratic candidates and a vocal opponent of efforts to limit injury awards.

Minor’s father—whose libel case was at issue in the prosecution—is a political columnist for Mississippi newspapers; his politics are just slightly to the right of those of Paul Krugman.

His papers focus on what he says is similar conduct by Richard Scruggs, another prominent plaintiffs’ lawyer in the state, though one with ties to the Republican Party. Mr. Scruggs and Senator Trent Lott, Republican of Mississippi, are married to sisters.

Richard “Dickie” Scruggs was the main beneficiary of the state’s separate settlement agreement that his college roommate, former Democratic attorney general Mike Moore, negotiated with Big Tobacco. Scruggs raked in hundreds of millions of dollars of contigency fees, while Moore got to oversee a parallel shadow government under the aegis of the settlement trust fund that, to this day, remains unaccountable to the state legislature (and which spends millions of dollars per year on an anti-tobacco campaign for Mississippi youth that has been shown to be almost completely ineffective, rather than contributing to the better-known and more reputable “Truth” campaign funded by the MSA with Big Tobacco that most of the states arrived at later).

Mr. Minor is also accused of guaranteeing loans and making payments to two former lower-court judges, John H. Whitfield and Walter W. Teel.

Lawyers in Mississippi routinely appear before judges to whose campaigns they have made financial contributions.

Don’t you just love institutionalized corruption? Still, that’s an interesting juxtaposition—essentially equating personal gifts and loans (i.e. possible bribes) with campaign contributions.

I’ll leave the detailed legal analysis to Scipio. As Liptak notes, the case is somewhat tied into the ongoing mess over tort reform and “jackpot justice” (absurd non-economic damage awards) in the state, which has been a battleground between Mississippi Democrats and Republicans—and arguably is the only substantive issue in the state that white politicos disagree on, given the roughly tripartite division of the legislature into black (Democrat), white Democrat, and (white) Republican voting blocs.

Monday, 15 March 2004

USM Day 7: Scott has the goods

I’m enjoying massive shoulder pain today, so blogging isn’t exactly at the top of my list of priorities. Thankfully, Scott has the rundown of events as of this morning.

Saturday, 13 March 2004

USM Day 6: Go read Cliopatria

Ralph Luker has the latest, saving me the effort of having to sum it up myself.

However, there are some bits Luker overlooked: Thames is now going after the Mississippi chapter of ACLU for its decision to provide counsel to aid the appeals of Glamser and Stringer, and the USM faculty senate will consider a resolution calling on Thames to resign at its next meeting.

Friday, 12 March 2004

USM Day 5: The conspiracy theory emerges

Scott of I Know What I Know has an email that gives one perspective on the “big picture” of what’s going on at Southern Miss:

Word on the street is that the attempt to decimate liberal arts at USM is very calculated and is indeed one of the reasons Thames was given the job. IHL had a very tangible agenda for putting him in there against protests from the faculty. They were operating under pressure from “the business community,” or a handful of powerful people who have the goal of reducing education spending in the state by cutting duplicate programs from the various universities. They consider strong graduate programs in liberal arts at more than one university in the state to be wasteful duplication.

First, the obligatory disclaimer: I’m strongly in favor of rationalization and consolidation in Mississippi higher education. This state doesn’t need 8½* public universities, especially when you consider that half of them were created as a result of racial and gender segregation in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Nor does it really need half of its universities to be classified as doctoral institutions by the Carnegie Foundation.

That being said, while I favor better allocation of the limited resources the state can bring to bear on postsecondary education, I don’t think an overall cut in the IHL budget would be productive. And, were I to start cutting at individual institutions, it wouldn’t be at USM—rather, I’d focus on the four institutions (ASU, DSU, MUW, and MVSU) with a combined enrollment smaller than the individual enrollments of Mississippi State, USM, and Ole Miss. This state runs two sets of four-year institutions (DSU-MVSU and MUW-MSU) that are geographically closer than the two campuses of USM. While there are sound political reasons for this arrangement, there are no good pedagogical or financial justifications for this duplication of effort.

Turning back to the “conspiracy theory” explanation: in general, I am disinclined to believe grand, overarching explanations for human behavior. The more plausible explanation, from what I can piece together from this account, is that the professors involved engaged in some sort of (potentially illegal) misrepresentation† in their correspondence with the University of Kentucky to further their investigation of Angie Dvorak, and Thames decided—since he didn’t particularly like professors Glasmer and Stringer in the first place—to use evidence of that misrepresentation to force them out. This theory has the benefit of generally fitting the observed facts, although it is undoubtably wrong on some of the particulars, and is generally speculative in nature.

Thursday, 11 March 2004

USM Day 4: From bad to worse

Events are now on an inevitable collision course down in Hattiesburg. Today’s developments:

  • The Hattiesburg American interviews University of Southern Mississippi president Shelby Thames. Thames did not back off his assertions that the AAUP was a union or his criticism of history professor Doug Chambers for allegedly cancelling class in response to Thames’ actions.
  • Thames also went after the president of the USM faculty senate today, accusing him of hypocrisy.
  • Thames suggests that criminal charges may be in the offing against fired professors Glasmer and Stringer. The professors deny they engaged in any illegal or unethical conduct.
  • 69% of USM faculty voted on the no confidence motion; 64% of the entire faculty (including those who didn’t vote) voted in favor of the no confidence motion.
  • USM provost Tim Hudson says he’s not stepping down, despite disagreeing with Thames’ actions in the case.
  • Thames will not resign in the face of the overwhelming no confidence vote.

Wednesday, 10 March 2004

USM Day 3: Faculty tell Thames to shove off

I Know What I Know and the Hattiesburg American are both reporting that the faculty of the University of South Mississippi voted overwhelmingly in favor of a no confidence motion against USM president Shelby Thames, and voted overwhelmingly in favor of reinstating ousted professors Frank Glamser and Gary Stringer.

Tuesday, 9 March 2004

USM: Thames blames the AAUP

USM president Shelby Thames is now blaming the whole mess on the American Association of University Professors, a group whose combined national membership isn’t that much bigger than his campus’ student enrollment.

Ah, well, it could have been worse; he could have blamed outside agitators and sicced the Sovereignty Commission on them.

USM: Thames fisks self

Forgive me for saying it, but the latest news from Hattiesburg seems just a wee bit odd:

University of Southern Mississippi President Shelby Thames said Tuesday he is considering whether or not to allow two dismissed professors back into the classroom to serve out the semester.

If he makes the decision, the reprieve would only be temporary. Thames said he would initiate termination proceedings at the end of the semester against Gary Stringer and Frank Glamser, two outspoken critics of his administration and leadership.

Thames, mind you, is the same guy who on Friday considered Stringer and Glamser such a threat to the university that he had the university’s custodial staff cart off stuff from their offices and change the locks while he was meeting with them. My bogosity meter is rapidly approaching 11 here, folks.

Thames’ meeting with USM students today didn’t exactly go well, either, according to the Jackson Clarion-Ledger.

More on this topic here; this is my entry in today’s OTB Traffic Jam.

USM Day 2

Stephen Karlson and Eugene Volokh have followups on their posts from yesterday on the ongoing kerfuffle at Southern Miss. Quoth Volokh on the importance of the case:

[T]he faculty—as joint governors of the school—must have the right to criticize the administration, which must of course include the right to investigate alleged resume fraud by the University’s vice president of research. If the University is right that the faculty members whom it’s trying to fire engaged in defamation (i.e., were themselves lying) or real misuse of university facilities, then its actions might well be proper. But if the University is just trying to silence faculty members whose criticisms it sees as disruptive, that’s very dangerous indeed. Shared governance, whether in Washington, D.C. or in a university, necessarily involves some disruption and tension. Trying to eliminate that disruption and tension is impossible unless one abandons the shared governance project.

Meanwhile, I Know What I Know is still on the case; as Scott notes, The Student Printz is all over this, and it isn’t looking pretty for USM president Shelby F. Thames.

Monday, 8 March 2004

R.I.P. Radio Pig

WMPS 107.5, a.k.a. “The Pig,” has undergone a format transmogrification, becoming “Hit Radio Q107.5,” which is just as awful as it sounds.

The Pig was a breath of fresh air in the all-too-stale atmosphere of Memphis commercial radio. It was a station on which you could hear Johnny Cash and Peter Gabriel in the same set. A station where they’d dig up a slightly cheesy song with high nostalgia value from the 80s, like Men At Work’s “Land Down Under,” put it in the rotation for a few weeks, and then pull it before you had a chance to get sick of it. A station where the programming decisions seemed driven by love of music, not by marketing statistics.

But nothing lasts long in the Flinn Broadcasting empire.

Good-bye, Radio Pig. Memphis radio won't be the same without you.

UPDATE: Tim at Lean Left has almost exactly the same thoughts, except he pairs Peter Gabriel with Patsy Kline. It is more alliterative, I suppose.

USM fires two tenured faculty members

There’s a big brou-ha-ha down in Hattiesburg at the University of Southern Mississippi: two tenured faculty members are being terminated by the university administration, apparently for speaking out against a university vice-president. More details at Critical Mass, I Know What I Know (just start at the top and keep scrolling down), The Volokh Conspiracy, the Chronicle of Higher Education, and the Clarion-Ledger.

Update: More at Crooked Timber and Opiniatrety, as well as Cliopatria (I take issue with the latter’s characterization of higher education in Mississippi in general, however) and Stephen Karlson.

I promised myself earlier this weekend that I wouldn’t blog about this, because I have a pending application at USM for a tenure-track faculty position, but there’s no way I will accept a job at a university that apparently has no respect for the tenure process.