Fall 2017 at JC

My son and I with aspirations of a great term approaching.

It is that time of the year when we are all excited and ready to rack up the 4.0 grades, the start of term.

This year is a little bit different for me.  Due to staff retirements and the new HLC (Higher Learning Commission) requirements for highly qualified faculty, I have shifted around my schedule a little.  I will be teaching CEM131 (Introductory Chemistry), CEM241 (Organic Chemistry I), and BIO220 (Introductory Microbiology).  This goes back to my graduate degree in Microbiology and specialization in Bioorganic Chemistry (chemists who take to many biology classes and realize bacteria are better at organic chemistry than me).

Important Dates:

REFUND/DROP NO W BY:  9/14/2017

DROP WITH W BY: 9/15/2017


Thoughts and Grading exams for CEM131/BIO220

First a note about my drop test policy.  While I may make exceptions in a VERY limited fashion to things that occur before a test is given, I do not make post-test accommodations.  The dropped exam policy was specifically put in place to allow the normal issues that come up in life to not adversely affect your grade (illness, car trouble, etc.).  It was NOT put there to help you make up for a poor performance, if it does do this in the end that is a benefit, but not the aim of the policy.  You are expected to attend every class and take every exam, but if you can’t the occasional miss will not hurt the grade you have, that grade that you earned.

Second, on cheating, don’t do it.  There was a recent rash of cheating in one of the JC programs, resulting in a number of students being removed from said program.  I am not nearly as lenient.  Some may call me hardass, but I look at it as simply recording your lack of ethics for future posterity.  When several of the cheaters in the above scandal were questioned their response was “everyone does it, so you have to work to stop us from doing it.”  No, you do not just cheat, you choose to pursue an unethical and morally corrupt decision and then blame society for your failures.  Remember, I am judge, jury, and executioner with regards to cheating and I DO NOT TOLERATE IT.  Don’t give me a reason to have to deal with it.

Finally, the exams yesterday and today in CEM131 and BIO220.  I will not get to grading them until at least Sunday.  I am presently working on a large administrative project dealing with aligning the curriculum to the new Pathways initiative and this is taking a large amount of my “free time” (yeah, I just stifled a laugh) till Sunday.  So don’t wear the refresh button out on your browser hoping for early results, you can wait… if you really want to know after you take it that is.

Benefits and Pitfalls of the Internet Age

I remember when I was in college and professors would post your grades after the midterm and final (if you were lucky).  This isn’t to say we didn’t fret about our grades, we obsessed about them, but we also knew exactly how they were calculated (from the syllabus) and were expected to figure them out if we wanted an up to the minute detailed grade.  Yes, even I think that is a little extreme, but at the same time I think we have gone the other direction too far, people get obsessed now with knowing every grade at every minute, and having the “what do I need to pass” number calculated for them.

When I construct my classes I have a few choices on how to calculate and to record grades.  Obviously many of you would love me to use the JetNet system so you can just pull up everything on a moment’s notice, but that isn’t going to happen and here is why.  JetNet is feature poor, the system has very rudimentary grading system that are not that well geared towards classes that use numerous types of assessments, weight them differently, and account for drops.  I’ve extensively trained on the system, and as the platform stands now, I do not think it is that good.  Sure, if I graded you like many of my college classes were (60% for the final, 40% for the midterm) I could make it work, but I don’t think you guys would like that.

A few semesters ago I took the time to reformat my system to a total points system (not a trivial endeavor) rather than the previous weighted average system I used.  I did this to make total calculations easier for the students, you take the sum of your points divide it by the total number possible and get your percentile grade.  This also makes calculating “what do I need to get” totals easier too.  All of my grading is transparent, you get back everything I assess, and nothing is set into the JC system till the end (in fact 48 hours after I post the final grades on my own site).

The downside to all this, from your perspective, is that you have to wait for me to post the grades, and doubly so on the first one since you don’t know your student number.  I make every effort to get major assignments (exams and such) and most minor assignments back by the next time we have that type of class (lecture to lecture, lab to lab), but it is not always possible.  After you have the student number from the first exam you can freely check the website for the grades as often as you want, but I will not rush grading (free response answers are not trivial to assess) simply to meet an arbitrary deadline.  I also don’t post grade updates (with exceptions for egregious errors) except after every exam (when the numbers are most likely to significantly change).

I hope you all enjoy the first round of exams and that they are not too stressful.  Now, just go have a beverage of your choice and forget about it till next week because you won’t know anything till then.

Exam Day!

Some of you may think I sound evil on Exam Days, but the truth is that I am honestly excited.  It is through the exams that I get to learn how effective our collaboration has been.  I really do want every one of you to earn a passing grade, but the key word is “earn.”  Your grade is your own and only you are ultimately responsible for the performance you give today.  As my past grades show the class as a whole is very successful and I want all of you to be in that group.

Best of Luck.

HQV and Nonparticipation

Each of my classes has a stated nonparticipation policy and the consequences of that policy.  I am serious about this.  If you are not participating in the course I will drop you (as I did with a couple of people after today’s second exam in Chemistry), and no I don’t care how it affects your loans/grants/housing.  You get loans/grants/housing on the assumption you are actually going to class, if you are not, you are simply cheating the system and pissed that someone called you on it.  I will send you a courtesy email when I do ‘Q’ you out, but remember, only I can let you back in.

That is the end of my soapbox rant.

Jackson TRiO Pizza Benefit


My Colleagues in the TRiO Program asked me to post the following announcement.

Tonight is our Marino’s Night for TRiO at Jackson College. We will receive 10% of the proceeds from orders placed between 5 – 8 if you say Jackson College. Marino’s is on Horton Road, phone # 783-1433. Please spread the word!

You can get more information about the TRiO program at JC here.


Happy Nobel Prize Week


This is the week where the Nobel Prizes are announced in Sweden every year.  The Nobel Prizes are given for Medicine/Physiology, Chemistry, Physics, Literature, Economics, and Peace to commemorate significant achievement in these areas of human pursuit.  The prizes are funded by a fortune left behind by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite.  Many prizes have been given for questionable discoveries (there are some real doozies in the early twentieth century with regards to Physics and numerous Peace prizes have been questioned), but the majority represent significant achievements for mankind.

The gentleman pictured above, Julius Wagner-Jauregg, received the prize in 1927 in Medicine, for what I feel is the most impressive feat.  The official citation for the award is as follows, “for his discovery of the therapeutic value of malaria inoculation in the treatment of dementia paralytica.”  You have to know that dementia paralytica is an old term for tertiary syphilis, or neurosyphilis.  Yes, Wagner-Jauregg won the prize for treating syphilis by giving the patient another disease malaria.  As is said in the presentation speech, “one  must expel evil with evil.”

It is hard for us to imagine why this idea would even make sense, but we don’t live in the world of 1927 (and before).  Syphilis came in Europe most likely as a passenger aboard Columbus’s return voyages, an unwelcome side effect of his sailors’ liberties with the natives of the Americas (The Columbian Origin Theory) and burned through Europe from then on.  Even in the early twentieth century there was no completely effective or safe treatment available, only organo-arsenic compounds that were toxic and difficult to dose correctly.  The idea of treating syphilis with malaria was born out of the twin facts that high fevers were caused by malaria (and deadly to syphilis) and that malaria was treatable.  It seems weird to us, but to the people of the time suffering through the agony of malaria was preferable to untreatable syphilis.  One has to wonder what types of solutions we will develop to treat the increasing incidence of drug-resistant STI now?

Apologies and Explanation

I would like to say I can do everything I think I can do but I cannot and I think it has come time that you guys deserve an explanation.  I’ve mentioned in class that I am suffering from a muscle problem but haven’t specified what type, today I got my diagnosis confirmed by a second doctor as a rare condition called dermatomyositis.  It is an autoimmune condition (meaning it is caused by my own immune system attacking me) that attacks my skin and muscle tissue.  On the outside, if you look closely you will see a dull red rash across the back of my knuckles and on my face (the hallmark of the disease), but internally I am undergoing a slow destruction of my core muscle groups.  As of right now the muscle damage is manageable and can be forestalled (though not cured), but it does make it more difficult for me to climb stairs and stand for long periods of time.  The disease mechanism is such that it also makes me overly worn out (imagine how you feel after a long day at the gym, that is my normal state).  Within the next month I will be starting a low dose immune suppressant to try and stop the progression of the disease, but that comes with its own side effects.

I am not telling you this for sympathy or as an excuse per se, but rather to make you aware why I might not be going the many extra miles I normally would like to.  In a normal semester I would be reworking all my PowerPoints with new materials, making up pages of practice problems and working up new labs… this semester I just don’t have the energy.  So this term I am relying on some older PowerPoints, maybe not making as many practice problems and such, but I will always get the core of the material across.  I will always be in class unless I physically cannot be there and will always be available for questions.  As much as I hoped to not have this influence my classes I know it has and thought you all deserved an explanation.