What does it mean to do something “on your own”?

I’m in an interesting Facebook discussion with someone I’ll call Hockey Dad — HD is a smart, capable, caring person and we disagree politically.  It started because I posted something critical of Mrs. Romney.  I brought up the fact that I took on substantial student loan debt AND worked off-campus during all of my education.  In contrast to Mr. Romney’s ability to sell some stock to pay living expenses and tuition.  My point was that Mr. Romney’s struggle and mine were not comparable..

HD’s response included the idea that I got my Ph.D. on my own — which I completely disagree with.  I had a lot of help, from society, family, friends and bosses.  It wasn’t something that I did “on my own”.  Sure, I did my own homework and wrote every flipping word of the dissertation, but my academic accomplishment wasn’t a solo gig.

To start with, I went to an excellent public school — I learned to read, write, and probably to think critically by the time I graduated (thanks again, Ms.Moniken).  I went to two excellent public universities to finish my BA and a third excellent public university for my MA and Ph.D.  All of my education was subsidized by state and/or local tax dollars…. just like the facilities necessary to build a business.

I also had the support of my parents, friends, spouse and employers.  Especially important are the last two — my (now ex) husband enlisted in the military for another term so that we could have the financial stability necessary for me to work fewer hours. The hours I worked were flexible because I had a boss (and owner of the company) who wanted to encourage me — and, probably didn’t like the idea of trying to replace me… so, my work hours were flexible and varied according to my school schedule.  Without that level of accommodation and flexibility, I never would have finished a BA, say nothing of an MA or Ph.D.

In a macro-view of the world, I can be thankful that I had good health insurance because of my public employee job and that insurance paid a wonderful oncologist who literally saved my life… he went to a public school as well and founded an amazingly good and supportive cancer clinic.  So reaching back as far as Dr. W’s med school education at the University of MN, I had help to get to where I am today.  I also had a good union that insisted on excellent medical insurance, a situation that is becoming more and more rare as time goes on.

In my job as a community college faculty member, I see people with a wide variety of levels of support for their education and corresponding problems finishing it.  Yesterday I had coffee with D.  D is a former student of mine who is now applying to grad schools — all of which will make him great deals if they have any sense at all.  D’s thinking is that he is grateful for the support he got at my college and he wants to give back, by creating a philosophy scholarship to help students who need it.  He saw that he didn’t do it “on his own”, and he feels the need to give back to a college that helped him out.  To say that I’m proud of D is an understatement… I won’t claim to have given him his excellent value system or sense of perspective, I just graded some papers and gave him the opportunity to think about things — plus, the proper spelling of “Mill”…

So, in both the micro and the macro sense of things, neither D’s accomplishments nor my own were accomplished “on our own” — and to think otherwise is so arrogant and myopic as to be offensive. In fact, I should give HD props for prompting this post… thanks a bunch  :).


Political fights aren’t actually Debates…


Tis the season of the political “debate”… every time it rolls around it makes me want to pull my ears over my head until after the election… it’s almost as bad as when someone calls “Mill”, “MillS”…or claims Mill thought that utilitarianism is “the greatest good for the greatest number of people”… grrr…

For those of you joining late, I have some experience with academic debate… as in, many years of coaching, judging and organizing a national debate tournament.  What politicians do isn’t anything close to a real debate.

Today I was driving and listening to NPR cover a “debate” at the state fair between a couple of MN Congressional candidates.  Every once in a while they would actually answer the points made by their opponent — and I was startled to realize that they were doing it, they ALMOST had a debate… almost.

The thing is, in an actual debate, opponents respond to one another — we call it “clash” and it’s a good thing.  When one candidate says “they want to raise your taxes” and the other says, “they hate women” in response, there is no clash.  If “they want to raise your taxes” were met with “no we don’t” or “we need to raise taxes to do this good thing”… then there’s clash.

When one candidate throws out a laundry list of allegations against the other one and the response is an unrelated laundry list of allegations in return, you have no clash.  Today, Keith Ellison actually selected a few points his opponent raised to answer… I cheered so hard I nearly rear-ended someone… issue selection, YEA!!!

Televised “debates” are the worst — I vividly recall yelling at Sara Palin to answer the f-ing question… in debate lingo, she was seriously non-topical.  She was also non-responsive to Joe Biden’s points, but that kind of shoddy argumentation goes both ways.  Frankly, I had to wonder if she understood the questions… then again, she can see Russia from her house… (which she didn’t say… but still).

So, call them what you will, but don’t call them “debates”, please…

Happy First Day of School!


Today is the first day of school for Century folks… and the first Fall semester since 1993 that I haven’t had classes to teach and/or attend.

A few tips for students…

  • It’s on the syllabus — really, just read it.
  • Plan to actually go to that class, all the time.
  • Do your reading — really, it will make class more interesting.
  • Ask when you have questions.
  • Go to office hours — especially if it’s a huge class (I went to the U of MN and Nebraska… I know huge classes)
  • Enjoy your time as a student, it turns out that the “real world” is overrated.

Tips for new Professors/GTAs etc..

  • Don’t bore them the first day by reading the syllabus — tell them there will be a quiz on it.
  • Enjoy teaching — if you let them, your smarties will shine and you’ll enjoy having them in class.
  • If this is your first ever semester teaching, relax and know that it gets easier.
  • Don’t plan on anything too thought-intensive for the first week. Getting back in the swing of things isn’t easy.

Now — I’m going back to bed, because I’m on Sabbatical!!!!


Every August I find myself missing my pal Sara.. she died in a car accident a couple of years ago in September.  I miss her in August because she spent a chunk of August with me — she needed a soft place to land and re-group, and I was happy to give it to her.

Sara loved Colorad0 — this is a photo I took of her at Loveland pass (11,990 feet) while we were in Denver for a debate tournament.  It was her first time in the Rocky mountains and she loved it…

I know Sara would have loved Salida… it’s a fun, funky, artistic town with just the right vibe…


We’re having a great vacation!!  The scenery is amazing down in Salida..  Andy is cooking good food, and we finally found a couple of places to eat that weren’t mockable..

We have two more days before we leave the area — then a few in Denver before the trek across the great plains to home.

When we get home, Andy will be starting school and I’ll be starting my sabbatical — until then, we’re having a blast!

On Sabbatical…

And… as of about 2:00 central time, I’m on sabbatical…

I posted the last grades I’ll submit for almost a year from Salida, CO.  If you haven’t been here, you should make it a point to come on down… It’s a fun, funky mountain town.  We spent the non-rainy part of the afternoon exploring near our loft in downtown Salida.  One of our goals on this trip (the main one being taking mountain photos..) is to buy some local art.  Andy will frame it for the new place — and we’ll have some really amazing souvenirs..

We’ll be here until the end of the week, then we’ll spend a bit more time in Denver before heading home so Andy can start school.

For those of you who aren’t academics — a sabbatical is a paid period of time faculty use to focus on other kinds of projects.  At one point, my sabbatical plan was to finish my dissertation — turned out that I didn’t get to do that — so now I’m going to be working on developing two new online classes.  I’ll do environmental ethics and business ethics… so most of my days will be spent reading articles and deciding what needs to be in the class… I really can’t wait.

Many academics have had at least one extended period of time to work on their own stuff.  Usually the first time they get to do it is during the dissertation writing process — they’re done with classwork and their main focus is writing.  After that they often have summers, release time, fellowships or other ways to pay the bills.  I managed to make it all the way to being Dr. Patty without any of these things… the one summer I took off to finish my dissertation I had breast cancer instead.  yep, that was a bummer and an unexpected turn of events.

So, I’m very excited to actually get to focus on what interests me….  and to spend some time in the dark room… because, I’m an addict.

But, all of that will start when I get home, for now — I’m on vacation in the mountains, we have a couple of fun, funky pizzas ordered and a few beautiful drives planned for the next few days.

What’s next?

Our new place is partially unpacked — the end of the move went well, the truck was returned before I told them it would be and now Andy, the cats and I are in the “what box is _________ in” phase.

Yesterday we found the coffee maker — woot!

We have three days to get organized before our vacation in Colorado — wow… Our plan is to spend some time with family in Denver, then a week in Salida and then eventually meander home.  I’m excited because I haven’t spent much time in the Salida area — Lots of Colorado is familiar to me, I lived there for a couple of years, I visited there often for a variety of reasons, but I never managed to spend much time in the south part of the state.

I’m loving my new place.  It isn’t as fancy as the old one, but it feels like home.  The deck is a perfect place to relax.  It seems to have enough storage, the bedroom comfortably fits my king sized bed, and the living room is spacious — plus, there’s room for the frame shop in the second bedroom — so what more could a gal ask for?