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Friday, October 17, 2008

Putting on the Breaks

This weekend Trinity students take a long-needed break as fall recess kicks into gear. Interestingly, no one is sure how long Trinity has had this traditional one-day Friday break, why it is in place at this time of year (mid-October), or what purpose it serves.

No doubt it is well-deserved and important to students, despite it offering only a three-day respite. At one time, mid-semester grades were clustered into early October. Today's students, however, find that once tests begin, there is really no let-up until finals end in December.

Over the past several years the University (students, faculty, staff, administration) has explored changing the Wednesday before Thanksgiving from a class day to a day off, to allow students to travel and arrive at their destinations prior to the Thursday holiday. In order to change the calendar, and have enough class days to retain accreditation, the University cannot simply lop off a day from the calendar. The day needs to come from somewhere.

Some of the options that have been explored include scrunching a day in at the end of the semester (creates problems for submitting senior grades before commencement), adding a day in August (which actually would require a seismic shift in the move-in, orientation, and faculty calendars - and require additional work days missed by parents traveling mid-week to deliver new students), or to exchange the day for fall break.

Understand that a Wednesday really should be replaced by a Monday/ Wednesday/Friday, because classes are only offered on that sequence, alternating with Tuesday/Thursday classes. Switching out the Wednesday before Thanksgiving for fall break is attractive to the faculty because it doesn't disrupt the calendar at either front or back end.

There are also concerns shared by faculty and students that a two-day week prior to Thanksgiving would become a de facto week off. Indeed, some schools offer such a break, though the timing is odd, given that Trinity's semester beak follows Thanksgiving in three to four weeks.

Students have strongly opposed swapping out these days. It is a no-brainer for them. Most take off the Wednesday before Thanksgiving anyways, as only about half of the classes actually meet, based on a recent survey. To lose a day the students are ducking out on anyways AND lose fall break is unpalatable. Though the fall break seems too short to be effective, it does offer a huge psychological target for students to reach for. The intensity of the semester ramps up then, and just having that break on the horizon often relieves enough stress heading into finals to pull students through.

The people who struggle with our current set-up the most are parents of new students. New students have not yet figured out the nuances of how to decide to skip the November Wednesday or not, and parents are anxious about flights for many of them.

So where does that leave things? No one is really fighting for change. For the time being, that means Trinity has a fall break, and holds classes on the busiest travel day of the year. And somehow... it works.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Winters at Trinity - Hall of Famer Added

A group of faculty and staff members has been playing "Noon Ball" basketball on campus going back at least as far as the 1970's. The group was even covered in the San Antonio Express News back in 1998. George Winters began playing in 1975 and "retired in the mid-90's. On October 9, 2008, he was inducted into the Trinity "Noon Ball" Hall of Fame. Above left, George receives his plaque from Maury Eggen, the Hall's second inductee.

When Pete Neville, former Director of Student Activities, moved to California in 2004, the Noon Ball guys honored him by creating the Noon Ball Hall of Fame, with Pete as the first inductee. A plaque is displayed in the Webster Sports Forum of the Bell Athletic Center and now lists eight inductees. Above right, George's name is added to the Bell Center plaque.

Current Noon Ball-ers Rick Roberts and Mike McKinnerney also joined in at the Coates Center Tigers' Den for the ceremony. Recounting stories of old characters, down to the colors of their shoes, the hand they shot with, and the ways they got under someone's skin was a fun way to reminisce. The award has been a fun, light way to commemorate old friends but has been a touching honor for them as well. You learn more about guys than their skills at Noon Ball.

George has taught Trinity students music and currently offers private lessons on campus. A semi--retired bass player for the San Antonio Symphony, George also headed the Winters Chamber Orchestra, a regular Ruth Taylor Theatre fixture for 25 years.

George used to hoop it up with Professor Bob Blystone, who along with Doug Brackenridge and Walt Hargraves advised the basketball-lovin' Omega Phi's. When Doug stepped down in 1981 George was invited to be an advisor to the group and was told it would not be a significant time commitment. He still advises the group today, 27 years later.

George was a good player and a true gentleman and statesman on the court. Also inducted, in absentia, was John Bentley, alumnus. He will have his own story in a subsequent post when he comes to town and receives his plaque.


Everybody loves the Trinity House of Liberal Politics (THOLP). This is a self-governed Community Initative floor that is organized around the theme of politics in the context of this year's election. The students were placed on the first floor of Murchison Hall where they are very visible on the trek from lower to upper campus.

The staff has tried to curb this group's tendency toward sloppiness, but they are a great advertisement for what college should be. Students sitting around, talking politics, wasting time, smoking, greeting others coming up the hill, and even sleeping. Here's to you THOLP!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

My Tiger Talk Odyssey

Sophomore Pat Donahue decided something was missing at Trinity. He did something about it, developing an on-line forum specifically for Trinity students. The forum, My Tiger Talk, which is not sanctioned by the University, has been featured in the Trinitonian and become quite popular with a segment of the student body. From a technical standpoint, it is masterfully run. It is current, well-organized, and Mr. Donahue (one of the few who attaches his names to his well-argued posts) has proven to be an excellent moderator, though as far as I know - anything goes.

I was first introduced to the list by Mr. Donahue himself, when he shared, in a show of fair-play, a post of his, critical of University policy and, by inference, me. I went on the list and responded, only to find my response was not positively accepted by the masses. After reading some posts that I found disheartening, I swore off ever returning. Mr. Donahue and I met for a cup of coffee to discuss the list in person rather than over e-mail. Since he and I agree on practically nothing, it was a spirited conversation. My goal was to explain why the list didn't deserve my attention. Instead, he convinced me to keep reading and posting, though my cyber trips to the list often seem to ruin my day.

I have stuck with it for now. It's maddening, crude, lacks reason, is bereft of substance, and is misogynistic. It is also interesting, clever, and laugh-out-loud funny. At its best, it has drawn some new students to the Trinity Alcohol Coalition.

My Tiger Talk keeps drawing me in. I have become somewhat addicted. At first, that addiction was really about damage control and defending myself. (My colleague, Ben Newhouse, thinks someone has been posting under my name by the way, but I haven't seen that. Mine are from me.) Eventually, I was drawn into the more tawdry topics too. It is no surprise that one of the topics with the most hits is simply "Sex." The biggest hit on the list so far? "The Maid Caught Me..." at over 1,200 hits. And it is a particularly unsatisfying post. Even the posts on politics, the ones intended to be substantive, deal more with the likes of Sarah Palin's beauty pagent resume than her views.

At a time when Trinity University is being lauded for its work on information literacy, this list can be viewed as its opposite. If logic doesn't work, name-calling can put a wrap on any conversation. Most posts that lead with "I heard..." are generally full of falsehoods if not downright lies. Yet they are taken as the truth unless otherwise challenged. And even then, they can be dismissed by those who are negative or critical.

What's missing are the contrary voices to the... contrary voices. One post-er asks for the positive reasons to attend Trinity (for a transfer friend) and the few responses question why anyone would transfer to Trinity. That seems peculiar to me. I could give a dozen reasons without thinking about it, but would be seen simply as a Trinity mouth-piece. I heard many tales at Family Weekend about the students here, and their love for their experience. If I were to only read this list I would want to transfer too though.

I like that there is a forum like this. It's raw, unedited, and dynamic. To not be on is to not be heard, in my opinion. But where are the other voices from this campus? For this list to realize its potential it can - and should be - an honest forum with civil discourse. The conversation so far seems pretty one-sided. I suspect Mr. Donahue would agree with me on this, if nothing else. Voices of reason: get involved on this list.

Family Matters

The October 3-4 Fall Family Weekend was a huge success. The FFW committee put together a terrific program that included a lecture from faculty marshal and education professor Dr. Angela Breidenstein, a faux Nacho Hour to replicate the weekly Wednesday event, a reception in the Library with faculty members from every academic department, a talk by top administrators, and a ParentTalk reception at the home of the Dean of Students. (See the slide show at right to view the ParentTalk reception.) At that reception George McLellan made an encore appearance, staffers Gary Neal (Counseling and Health Services), Brian Hirsch (Career Services), Ben Newhouse (CCI), the Morgan's arrived separately - each lamenting that this was their LAST PT reception - and even Nutmeg, the resident Golden Retriever, came out to greet the parents.

Parents and other family members travelled from as far as Washington, New York, England, and even Houston to attend scheduled events, other campus activities such as the play and the soccer games, and mostly spend time with their loved ones.

Connections Made

The annual San Antonio Making Connections program attracted over 100 alumni and an additional 100 students on September 25 in the Great Hall on campus. The Making Connections series also takes place across several other cities over the winter break.

At left, Griffin Leen-Sohl, almnus and successful businessman dispenses career advice to students. See the slide show at the very bottom of the blog. In addition to a general reception in the Great Hall, people are also split out by interest areas in different classrooms in the same building.

This program is sponsored from the hard-working staff at Career Services with support from the Alumni Office. The event was a huge success this year as measured by the attendance from alumni (such as Ben Newhouse) and students and the level of conversation.