Professor Shares Suicide Note on Blog

Friends and colleagues of Will H. Moore, a professor of political science at Arizona State University, were shocked and saddened Wednesday to read an apparent suicide note posted to his personal blog. A university spokesperson confirmed late Wednesday that Moore had taken his life that morning.

“Assuming I did not botch the task, by the time this posts I will have been dead via suicide for several hours. Nope, that’s not a setup to a joke,” Moore wrote. “Why would someone who is healthy, employed, has every outside appearance of success and so on, take their own life? In my case the answer is simple enough: I was done, but my body wasn’t. But that answer isn’t satisfying, so, for those who are aggrieved, upset, saddened, etc., let me do my best to try to explain.”

Moore said that he’d enjoyed every “conceivable advantage a human might hope for” and “lived a rich, rewarding life of which I am, I confess, quite proud.” Yet he described never quite growing out of his “misfit” childhood identity and feeling grave discomfort with everyday social interactions. “Far too often I angered, insulted, offended and otherwise upset people, without expecting or intending to,” he wrote, elsewhere noting that he was on the autism spectrum. “I rarely felt that I was successful explaining my ideas, perceptions, understandings to others.”

Anticipating arguments that he had “so much to live for,” Moore wrote that he had many hobbies, from reading novels to hiking. They all provided limited pleasure, however, in that “they are consumption,” he said. And to “feel good about myself -- to be able to look myself in the mirror -- I needed to produce. I learned long ago that producing something I found useful/valuable did not mean anyone else would see it as useful/valuable. One must market it: show others its use/value. And that may seem straightforward, but it isn’t.”

Moore said he’d first considered suicide when he was a teenager, but quickly learned that it was “taboo” and therefore not to be discussed. His suicidal thoughts retreated when he had children, but they eventually returned. Saying that “perhaps some of you who are hurting will find something useful here,” Moore thanked “each and every one of you who interacted with me, in person and/or virtually, and especially those who I interacted with frequently and came to know.” He ultimately implored readers to “Go hug somebody!”

Arizona State in a statement sent “deepest and heartfelt condolences” to Moore’s family, describing him as a “respected, valued member of our faculty, who was engaged in multiple endeavors within and outside the university, and was beloved by his students.” Moore’s “relentless pursuit of knowledge in the field of politics and human rights contributed to volumes of insightful research to help us better understand the world around us,” it said. “The knowledge and passion Will imparted on his students, colleagues and many others is one of his legacies and will live on for decades to come.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a free, confidential 24-7 service that can provide people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress, or those around them, with support, information and local resources. 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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Faculty Vote No Confidence in Rider President

Members of Rider University's American Association of University Professors chapter have voted no confidence in President Gregory Dell'Omo.

Faculty members are unhappy with what they called “a series of rash actions” by Dell'Omo shortly after he started at the university in 2015, as well as a decade of financial management that predates his tenure. They also criticized his leadership style as autocratic and ignoring faculty input.

Dell'Omo has been under fire for a controversial decision to have the university try to sell Westminster Choir College and rocky contract negotiations with the faculty union. He has been a controversial figure at Rider nearly since the moment he was hired, as he attempted to cut majors and jobs shortly after taking over -- although the faculty union agreed to a deal to stave off layoffs in exchange for a wage freeze and other concessions.

The vote asks Dell'Omo to act to regain faculty members' confidence. It is the first time the AAUP at Rider, which represents 500 full- and part-time faculty members and other university employees, has voted no confidence. The vote passed with 75 percent in favor.

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Science, Engineering and Health Ph.D.s: Where Are They Now?

The National Science Board, the policy arm of the National Science Foundation, Wednesday released an interactive infographic designed to help educators, students, policy makers and business leaders understand career opportunities for those with doctorates in science, engineering and health fields. The graphic allows users to see the number of Ph.D.s working in 26 fields within academe, government and industry, and how career paths change over time. Demographic breakdowns include those by gender and ethnicity. Data on job duties and satisfaction also are available.

Geraldine Richmond, Presidential Chair of Science and professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon and chair of the board’s National Science and Engineering Policy Committee, said during a news conference that she and her colleagues believe the nation benefits from having trained scientists working in all sectors of the economy, and that the graphic will hopefully shed light on the “wide variety of career paths” scientists may pursue. Data are taken from the National Survey of Doctorate Recipients, 1993 to 2013. Key findings include that more than half of science, engineering and health doctorates are employed outside academe within 10-14 years of graduating -- and that’s been true for more than 20 years. Some 90 percent of respondents report job satisfaction 15 years or more after getting their Ph.D.s. The majority of recent doctoral graduates engage in research and development, regardless of employment sector, while their more senior counterparts engage in other activities, such as management.

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Professor Who Tweeted on Trump Takes Leave

Lars Maischak, the untenured lecturer in history at California State University, Fresno, who is under investigation by the Secret Service and his institution for tweeting that President Trump “must hang,” will take what the university described as a voluntary leave of absence for the rest of the semester, effective immediately. “The agreement for the paid leave was reached in accordance with provisions in the collective bargaining agreement with the California Faculty Association, the union that represents all faculty,” the university said in a statement. “During his leave of absence, Maischak will no longer have a teaching role but will be conducting research off campus.” Maischak’s courses were canceled Monday and Tuesday, according to the university, but substitute faculty members have since been assigned to his five classes. Maischak did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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Creative Course Finder: students train on with realistic 3D organs

University of Rochester provides graduate students clinical training using 3D organs. The body parts are so realistic they fool skilled surgeons.

New academic programs online

Introducing a new feature: a list of new online programs colleges and universities are starting.

Three ways to humanize online class

Kit Kittelstad says instructors should reply quickly, start a new discussion every week and offer all types of help and guidance. 

Answering that last-minute question that can make or break a job interview (essay)

At some point toward the end of a job interview, you may suddenly understand what people are really hoping to find in a candidate, writes Jesse Strycker.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017
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Review of Keith Devlin, 'Finding Fibonacci: The Quest to Rediscover the Forgotten Mathematical Genius Who Changed the World'

Picture yourself as a commercial traveler in Venice during a trade fair at the end of the 12th century. Business is booming, so you have to tune out a cacophony of accents and tongues while haggling with a merchant over a lot of well-made boots.

He agrees to a very good price if you buy a half dozen pairs. Jotting down a note to himself about the transaction -- VI shoes at IV gold coins each -- he then moves stone around on his abacus before recording the total price. (His abacus is a board -- the kind used in the Orient, with beads, strings and a frame, are rare but supposedly much more efficient.) You dig the necessary XXIV coins out of your purse and decide to keep one pair of boots for yourself.

Assuming the rest will sell for twice as much when you get back home, what is your profit on the transaction? Enough, you hope, to buy a secondhand abacus and hire someone to tutor the kids. Otherwise, there's a strong chance that you just know it was a good deal but not that you stand to net XVI coins from it.

Within a few years, the whole process of calculating and recording business transactions will change, thanks to one Leonardo of Pisa, who was born circa 1170 and alive as late as 1241. He is not to be confused with the considerably more famous Leonardo, who comes along in the 15th century. Indeed, for long time, there is all too little danger of mixing them up. The mathematician from Pisa's reputation fades into near total oblivion, even as his influence grows, almost exponentially, from one century to the next. For he not only advocated the Hindu-Arabic numerical system so effectively that it was adopted in Europe, but he also provided a comprehensive course of instruction on its use in performing calculations.

The advantages proved considerable. Roman numerals were ill suited for arithmetic (as our marketplace example may suggest) and well-nigh useless for solving the kinds of problems that the Islamic savants knew as al-jabr (algebra). The Hindu-Arabic system was, by contrast, a marvel of efficiency and processing power. Hence the title of Leonardo's enormous treatise Liber abbaci. First available in 1202 and issued in a revised edition in 1228, it was not a manual for using the abacus but rather a method for turning any blank piece of paper into a calculating machine. Conveying Liber abbaci’s impact to the general reader is Keith Devlin’s mission in Finding Fibonacci: The Quest to Rediscover the Forgotten Mathematical Genius Who Changed the World, from Princeton University Press. (Devlin is a senior research scientist at Stanford University and appears on National Public Radio as the Math Guy. Further, Liber abbaci is the title as Devlin gives it, though the doubled B is debatable. A quick JSTOR search shows Liber abaci used about three times as often.)

It turns out that Leonardo of Pisa was not quite erased from the history of mathematics after all. His posthumously bestowed nickname, Fibonacci (“son of Bonacci”) has been affixed to a well-known and much-studied numerical sequence that begins with zero and one and continues with each subsequent term being the sum of the previous two. Like so:

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89 …

This series corresponds to certain patterns in nature; the number of petals on a flower, for example, will tend to be a Fibonacci number. And the longer the sequence goes on, the ratio between each term and its predecessor gets closer to an important constant (phi = 1.618 …) sometimes called the divine proportion or the golden ratio.

Leonardo of Pisa didn't discover the series (Indian mathematicians had been aware of it for centuries), nor did he single it out for particular attention -- and Devlin, for his part, regards it as an injustice of sorts that the greater accomplishment of Liber abbaci should be little known except to historians of mathematics. In 2011 he published a biography, The Man of Numbers: Fibonacci's Arithmetic Revolution, followed the same year by a Kindle ebook original called Leonardo and Steve: The Young Genius Who Beat Apple to Market by 800 Years.

With this third outing, Devlin has taken advocacy for the Italian mathematician's reputation as far as it can go, and then some. Reprising what he's written in the past, he adds the findings of subsequent scholarship on Fibonacci's likely influence on the world of finance and works up entries from his diary into a narrative of research that someone with a red pencil (or two) could have improved a great deal. By the end of the book -- when, apropos of not much in particular, Devlin reprints in full the first article on mathematics he ever published in a newspaper -- it seems clear that Finding Fibonacci has been padded as heavily as a box full of Fabergé eggs.

A fair analogy, I think: parts of the story are priceless, perhaps especially the chapter on how it came to pass that the late Laurence Sigler's translation of Liber abbaci was published in English in 2002 (800 years after the first version appeared in Latin) despite dire and even catastrophic developments that might have spelled the doom even of a project with much wider scholarly audience. Devlin also communicates something distinctive and remarkable about that book: how laboriously the author went about explaining how to write Hindu-Arabic numbers, carefully spacing the digits, lining them up neatly when making calculations … In short, instructing the reader at great and exacting length on skills it is now the job of primary-school teachers to impart.

"It is perhaps inevitable, though to my mind a little sad," Devlin writes in one of his book's best passages, "that the creations that turn out to be the most profound for our lives eventually become so commonplace that we no longer see them for the huge accomplishments they are." True -- when we even notice them at all.

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'Takeover' at Utah Research Center Stuns Faculty

Mary Beckerle, CEO and director of the University of Utah’s Huntsman Cancer Institute, was removed from both roles this week, effective immediately, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. "It was totally surprising," Beckerle told the newspaper. "I didn't expect it at all." David Pershing, university president, and Vivian Lee, senior vice president of health sciences, announced the move internally Monday but did not provide a reason.

Professors criticized the change at a meeting Tuesday, with one calling it a "coup," and launched a petition to reinstate Beckerle. Members of the Huntsman family, after which the institute is named, also spoke out against the move, with Jon Huntsman Sr. calling it a "power grab" by Lee. He said that he’ll make sure Beckerle is back in charge "one way or another," according to the Tribune. His wife, Karen Huntsman, called the move "a hostile takeover. … This is just the beginning, the war."

Kathy Wilets, university spokeswoman, declined comment, saying the change was a personnel matter. Beckerle, who has led the institute since 2006, will remain a distinguished professor in biology, according to administrators. Kathleen Cooney, a clinical oncologist and prostate cancer researcher, was appointed interim center CEO and director.

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