Tag Archives: csuf

How the athletic tail wags the academic dog at the new “Fresno State”

As of yesterday, I no longer work for California State University, Fresno. I got my tenure at that institution almost two years ago and have been an Associate Professor in the Biology Department ever since. I still have my lab and office in the same Biology building, and I still have that view from my window of the Sierras, currently hiding under ominous dark clouds as the state reels under today’s rainstorm. But our campus too is under some dark clouds these days. So I’m still here. But I’m not at California State University, Fresno any more.

You see, amid continuing budgetary woes, fee hikes, classes being cut, labs straining to accommodate too many students desperate to graduate, understaffed offices, faculty unrest over stalled labor negotiations… a whole litany of troubles, the powers that be on our campus decided that what we really needed was a makeover!! Who doesn’t feel better after getting a fresh haircut, a snazzy dress, and some makeup, right? Maybe a spa treatment (and a colonic cleansing… nah, scratch that) too? What better way to cheer oneself up? So, while we faculty have been struggling to maintain the quality of education in our overcrowded classrooms (e.g., I’ve currently got 72 students in my upper division writing- and experimental-labs-intensive Ecology course this semester – up from the normal cap of 48!), and fighting off attempts to dissolve our entire college of science and mathematics and other “reorganization” plans, those powers-that-be were working with a makeover team to cheer us all up!

Who knew?! You guys… you shouldn’t have!! 

No, really: you shouldn’t have.

But – Surprise!! – you did it anyway. And so, with much fanfare, our new face was unveiled yesterday: all tarted up in skimpy red and white (our “traditional colors”) with a bulldog’s paw (from our sports teams’ mascot, a bulldog) tattooed across our cheeks, and brand new triple-Ds sticking out beneath our chin, like the cheap cheerleaders we are now for the all important athletic brand of Fresno State! Hurray!!


Feel better now? You sure? You really should, you know! After all, they’ve been deliberating on this re-branding for three years (the same three years that the university has been sinking under the budget cuts… but don’t think about how many people were working on this makeover during that time!). Further, they reassure us, it was truly a cheap makeover too (can’t you tell?), because they couldn’t hire an outside consultant to do a professional job either! Over these years, focus groups and surveys apparently kept telling them that the brand identity people associate with this campus is “Fresno State”, which has been the brand of our athletics division, along with the bulldog as our mascot. And they really identified us with those three D’s too: “Discovery. Diversity. Distinction.” Not, as a wag has it: “Denial. Desperation. Despair.” Call it the three stages of academic grief, and we’re clearly in the desperation stage of hoping for miracles from a makeover, even if much of the faculty is already in despair. But this is the age of education as a free-market commodity, so branded we must be!

The provost does reassure us though that we haven’t officially changed our formal name – but you’ll be hard pressed to find the old formal name on the new website. And with perception governing so much of reality these days, how long before that formal name is forgotten too? Indeed, we no longer even have the word “University” in our new brand name at the top of our new website! I wonder what those focus groups thought we do around here if they no longer think “university” when they think of this campus! So, after celebrating our centennial year just recently, that word doesn’t even fit in our new “brand identity” any more. 

Last November, during one of the series of open forums we had on campus over the proposal to dissolve the College of Science & Mathematics (among other colleges/departments also under similar axes), when someone on the Budget Task Force said that the reorganization plans under discussion only affected the “instructional side of the university”, one of my senior colleagues in the college stood up to remind the provost and everyone else assembled that “we are not simply the ‘instructional side of the university’ – we are the university.” Our passion managed to save the college, for now, but we may be losing the whole game. For little did we know, as we applauded that quaint sentiment that afternoon, that soon we would have to stop calling ourselves a university at all!

Why didn’t they go the whole hog though, I wonder, and actually sell out to a real brand name and bring in some real hard cash? Wouldn’t we have been better off branded as, say… the Doritos Locos Taco State? After all, Fresno was also one of the test markets that launched that exciting new product into the national fast food chain! Looks like consumer focus groups in the valley sure can pick winner brands… maybe there is hope for us after all in an exciting new world of branded drive-through fast-food style “education”! Who needs the sad old “university” any more?

Thus do we begin our second century, no more a university, but a brand, one that came branded in the minds of our sports fans, who apparently think nothing of the thousands of students we graduate from our classrooms every year, or the reams of scholarship we produce. Never mind that, during my tenure on this campus, my department alone has, under shrinking budgets, faculty attrition (down from 22 to about 16) and staff cuts, managed to not only hold the line, but raise the quality of our education. Or that my (shrinking body of) colleagues and I have produced (since 2006) with our hardworking graduate and undergraduate students: 128 peer-reviewed publications, 431 research presentations at conferences, and raised over $10 million in external grants; all while maintaining heavy and increasing class loads under a sharply higher student to faculty ratio. All this, at a non-research (non-RO1) campus where the running joke (on us, surely… hahaha…) is that research is a “required hobby” because we only get paid to teach (and serve on committees), but if we want to get tenure and promotion, why we must produce research and scholarship! Talk about an unfunded mandate. And these numbers are right at the tip of my typing fingers because just this week we had to submitt a deprtmental self-study as part of our 7-year program review where our entire department will be scrutinized to make sure we are up to snuff and maintaining standards on par with other biology programs at other universities. I wonder if the reviewers will notice that we’ve actually dropped the word “university” from our campus name, which should raise the question: what standards should we be upholding really? The normal academic ones? Or some new free-market benchmarks gleaned from some focus groups? Uh-oh… we forgot to do focus groups in our self-study! I hope we don’t get dinged because of that.

While we academics have been sweating to keep up our research productivity and make sure our students graduate successfully, the athletics guys must’ve been really burning up the tracks and fields something fierce, eh? Do tell me if that is the case, for I’ve been too busy in my classes and labs to notice the smoke. Until now… when I look up and realize that they’ve got their brand burned into our flesh now, and in the process have even burned off the word “university” from our “brand identity”. Oops!

We do get to keep the dog’s paw tattoo and the triple-Ds, though! At least Zaphod Beeblebrox may like us more now – and ain’t that something?

But I protesteth too much, for the only thing worrying local news organizations about our new branding ad logo is that Timeout, the campus mascot, isn’t featured in it more prominently! Time for mere academics like me to accept the writing on the wall, perhaps. For this is how the athletics tail wags the academic dog on our campus now. Enjoy the branding. Don’t mind me if I feel like a little flea about to be swatted off the fur of this overly-made-over bulldog.

The Rap Guide to Evolution returns to Fresno State! March 4th! Be there!!


Tri-Beta is thrilled to welcome Baba Brinkman and his acclaimed peer-reviewed hip-hop show “The Rap Guide to Evolution” back to the Fresno State campus once again. A regular performer at Fresno’s Rogue Festival, Baba first came to the valley with his Rap Canterbury Tales,  catching the attention of some of my English faculty colleagues who brought him to campus to perform to a limited audience. I first heard about his rap when he came back to the Rogue shortly after the Darwin Bicentennial to give us one of his early public performance of The Rap Guide to Evolution. We managed to bring him to campus where he rocked the house (although I don’t know if rappers rock houses, what with my general ignorance of musical genres). This modern-day bard, this Rapconteur, has since made quite a name for himself with his hip-hop takes on such erudite subjects as evolution, medieval poetry and human nature.  The Rap Guide to Evolution won the prestigious Scotsman Fringe First Award in Edinburgh in 2009, was written up in the New York Times,  and went on to tour the USA, Australia, and the UK, including appearances  at the Hammersmith Apollo in the UK, off-Broadway, and a TV appearance on The Rachel Maddow Show. Baba’s hip-hop tribute to Charles Darwin is set to transfer to New York City this spring. As I blogged here recently, Baba is currently producing a DVD version of the Rap Guide to Evolution, complete with fancy hip-hop videos of every number in the album and additional material.
He is back in the valley next week to perform on our campus and at the 2011 Rogue Festival where he will do his new show as the Rapconteur – you will want to catch that show as well, so check out the schedule in that link. But before he kicks off his Rogue show, we will get to see him on our campus, on Friday, March 4th, at 7:00 PM in the Peters Auditorium within the new Student Rec Center near the Save Mart Center. You can read/download/print the full flyer about this event attached below. Note also that this is a free show for students, faculty, and the general public, sponsored by the Tri-Beta biology student club, who continue to bring fascinating lectures and performances to our campus, like the recent Darwin Week festivities. So if you know any of the club members, or run into them somewhere, do give them a shoutout to thank them for enriching campus life for all of us! (Disclosure: I happen to be faculty advisor to the club and have played my role in instigating them to do all this stuff).
I look forward to a full house next friday joining in to chant I’m a African with Baba…

Download this file

Wouldn’t it be cool to have a real Community Garden @Fresno_State?

Here’s your chance to help make it happen: participate in this survey which is being circulated via email today – and let your friends know too!

Begin forwarded message:

From: Jennifer Sobieralski <jsobieralski@CSUFRESNO.EDU>
Date: November 12, 2010 3:35:55 PM PST
Subject: [BULLETINBOARD] Fresno State Community Garden Survey – Please complete
Reply-To: Jennifer Sobieralski <jsobieralski@csufresno.edu>

Terri Payne and Lindsey Hughes are Fresno State Dietetic Interns working under the direction of Mollie Smith, Fresno State Dietetic Intern Coordinator.  As part of our rotation at the Gibson Farm Market we are conducting a survey to determine interest in starting a community garden. Please take a few moments to complete the survey by Wednesday, November 17th at noon.  If you complete the information at the end of the survey your name will be added to a random drawing to win a $25 gift certificate to the Gibson Farm Market.  We appreciate your response.


Please click on the link below to participate in our survey



Gibson Farm Market

Race to Nowhere | Changing lives one film at a time

This seems to be the season for documentaries on the education system in the US, what ails it, and how we might fix it. You’ve probably heard of “Waiting for Superman“, the blockbuster of the fall in this genre, getting all the rave reviews (and some brickbats too), and probably showing at some multiplex near you right now! Race to Nowhere actually came out in 2009, and also got good reviews, but didn’t make anywhere near as much of a splash as Waiting for Superman is making currently.

I haven’t seen either film yet, but will get a chance to see Race to Nowhere on our campus tonight. It is being shown by my colleague Dr. Lara Triona (from Psychology) at 7 PM in the Industrial Tech Building, room 101 (on E. Barstow Ave. at Campus Dr.), at 2255 East Barstow Avenue, Fresno, CA. Go here for more information and to RSVP.

“Call of Life: Facing the Mass Extinction” – Film showing at Fresno State this Friday

This Friday, Oct 22, our campus’s Cineculture series is bringing us a film is about the mega-extinction event we are now living through – and they’ve roped me in to facilitate the discussion afterwards, along with the filmmaker. If you are looking for something thought-provoking (if depressing too) for a friday evening, please come to campus and join us for this film. Here are the details, with a flyer attached beneath: 


Film Screening 5:30 P.M Friday, October 22, McLane 121

Call of Life: Facing the Mass Extinction (2010) is the first feature documentary to investigate the growing threat to Earth’s life support systems from this unprecedented loss of biodiversity. Through interviews with leading scientists, psychologists, anthropologists, philosophers, and indigenous and religious leaders, the film explores the causes, the scope, and the potential effects of the mass extinction, but also looks beyond the immediate causes of the crisis to consider how our cultural and economic systems, along with deep-seated psychological and behavioral patterns, have allowed this situation to develop, continue to reinforce it, and even determine our response to it. Call of Life tells the story of a crisis not only in nature, but also in human nature, a crisis more threatening than anything human beings have ever faced before. 80 min


Discussants:  Monte Thompson (filmmaker) & Dr. Madhusudan Katti

Co-sponsored by WILPF


CineCulture Club: http://cineculture.csufresno.edu/

Parking is relaxed after 4 p.m.

CineCulture is a film series provided as a service to the Fresno State campus students, faculty, and staff, and community, at no charge. In addition, CineCulture is offered as a 3 unit academic course in the Mass Communication and Journalism Department.

CineCulture Club promotes cultural awareness through film and post-screening

For further information, contact Professor Mary Husain at mhusain@csufresno.edu
Club President: Maggie Simms maggies@mail.fresnostate.edu

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Mary Husain mhusain@csufresno.edu


Andrew Jones’s presentation on Socio-ecological Systems


Those are the slides Andrew used for his talk in the Biology Colloquium on Friday. I have recorded audio of his talk as well, and will try to add it here ove the next few days.

Think college has become too expensive in California? Think again.

Here’s an infographic to set you straight! It turns out that California is near the low end (7th) when it comes to how much debt the average student accumulates by the time they get out of college. More than half of California’s students graduate without any debt at all! And within California, the CSU system (of which I am a part) remains among the cheaper options, so our graduates’ average debt is quite likely even lower than the state average (likely making up a bulk of the 52% debt-free CA graduates). Although the CSU system is one of the biggest university systems in the world, try finding any CSU campus on this list, for instance. Given the state’s ongoing fiscal woes, when we’re being squeezed to the point of having to turn scores of students away from our classes, are students willing to pay a little bit more for college education? Especially if it means we can keep those extra class/lab sections open to let them finish their degrees on time? They’ll still come out ahead of graduates from more than half the other United States, no?

See for yourself, and read more on the Mint blog:


Overlooking the familiar in cataloging biodiversity


ResearchBlogging.orgFamiliarity, they say, breeds contempt. Or, even if we aren’t actually contemptuous of the familiar, we often simply ignore it. It is not surprising, then—although it should be—that Tapinoma sessile, the odorous house ant of North America, the very same little brown one that is pictured above, and that you may well have swept off your kitchen counter today, remains relatively poorly studied! It is so widespread and common across a variety of habitats in North America, it seems, that entomologists haven’t really bothered to study it all that much since it was first described by Thomas Say, considered a father of American entomology. 

So much so, that they even lost track of the original type specimen used to describe the species. How odd is that, for a widespread species not to have its identity securely moored to a type specimen enshrined in a museum somewhere? Almost like a nation’s President not having a birth certificate!

When I accepted the offer of a faculty position in my current department here at CSU-Fresno six years ago, among other items on the startup list of equipment for my laboratory, I had (only half-jokingly) requested an espresso machine to boost my productivity. Hey, it had worked for my last postdoc advisor! But my then department chair, Dr. Fred Schreiber, only got a chuckle out of that one, and we moved on. A couple of years later, Fred called me up one afternoon to ask if I still wanted that espresso machine! A graduate student working in his lab had left one behind while moving on to the next stage of his career, and Fred had no use for it. That Starbucks Barista has since sat on a counter in my lab keeping me caffienated enough to get tenure and keep a research program afloat.

It so happened that, Chris Hamm, that graduate student who is now in the Ph.D. program at Michigan State University, had been studying the common odorous house ant, that same rootless species, for his masters thesis. While collecting specimens in California, he discovered a two-toned (or bicolored) variant that looked similar, yet rather different from the descriptions of T. sessile. So he carefully measured the two different morphs and compared their morphologies to find that they differ consistently (and statistically significantly) across a range of characteristics. So much so, that the bicolored morph must be recognized as a new species of ant!

A brand new species that was being trod underfoot daily in households across California, but had apparently never been looked at all that carefully by any entomologist in a region full of so many biologists! And we fret about losing biodiversity in remote corners of the world.

Chris has honored Fred by naming the new ant after him. Tapinoma schreiberi will forever mark the legacy of the man who has mentored so many in our department (including me as a greenhorn faculty member) over the past 3+ decades. How fitting that the paper was published the very year that Fred has taken early retirement, as of last week.

In the process of searching for the identity of this new ant, Chris also discovered the shaky foundation upon which rested the identity of T. sessile—and has done his bit to correct that injustice as well. He collected a new type specimen, from near the grave of its original discoverer, Thomas Say, to fill that huge hole in its taxonomic origin, even as he was giving it a new cousin! Alex Wild has more on that story at Myrmecos.

Now I find myself looking closely at ants around here, even as I sip my espresso and thank Chris for a good story, and for my morning/afternoon cuppa joe!


Hamm, C. (2010). Multivariate Discrimination and Description of a New Species of Tapinoma from the Western United States
Annals of the Entomological Society of America, 103 (1), 20-29 DOI: 10.1603/008.103.0104

Earth Day Celebration at Fresno State

Earth Day Celebration April 22

Earth Day Celebration April 22

Event Date:

April 22nd

Earth Day Celebration April 22

40th Anniversary
Fresno State Earth Day 2010 Celebration
April 22, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.
Sustainability Fair and Panel Discussions

Sustainability Fair: Fresno State Peace Garden
What: Exhibits with information, resources, demonstrations related to sustainability and green living
Where: Fresno State’s Peace Garden adjacent to Henry Madden Library
When: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Panel Discussions: Madden Library Auditorium #2206
What: discussion, debates, Q&A about important sustainability topics to our region and planet

11 a.m. – 12 noon   
Jesse Morrow Mountain: Which Priorities Should Prevail?
Moderator: Peter McDonald Dean, Henry Madden Library.
Panelists: Audrey Osborne, Traditional Choinumni Tribal Council, and Robert Takacs, Friends of Jesse Morrow Mine.

12-1 p.m.     
Urban Planning & Transportation: Managing Change
Moderator: Andrew Jones Fresno State Sociology Dept & Sustainability Subcommittee.
Panelists: Kristine Cai, Fresno COG; Derya Ozgoc-Caglar, Fresno State Geography Dept.; Eric Fredericks, California High Speed Rail Authority; John Dugan, Director of Planning and Development Department, City of Fresno; and Rollie Smith, Sustainable Communities, Housing and Urban Development.

1-2 p.m. 
Climate Change: Mitigation & Adaptation for Fresno
Moderator: Peter Van de Water Fresno State Earth & Environmental Science Dept.
Panelists: Donald Hunsaker, Director Fresno State Institute of Climate, Change Oceans, & Atmosphere; Tom Cotter, Co-founder Fresno Green; Joseph Oldham, City of Fresno Sustainability Manager.

2-3 p.m. 
Water – The Lifeblood of the Community
Moderator: Lanny Larson, Fresno State University Communications
Panelists:Nora Laikam, City of Fresno Water Conservation Supervisor, and Calliope Correia, Fresno State Horticulture Nursery Technician.

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Yes, Fresno State is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Earth Day with its second Sustainability Fair! As you can see above, panel discussions will hit several hot-button environmental issues both local and global in scope. There will also be several exhibits/tables (download a flyer for more information) where campus and off campus groups will share information relevant to local and global environmental issues – and I’ll be there sharing info about the Fresno Bird Count and Fresno Audubon. So come by if you are on campus around the middle of the day tomorrow. We’ll be at the Peace Garden – unless the wet weather continues, in which case the fair moves indoors to within the library.

(And don’t ask why none of the panels mention a certain urban ecologist on this campus who happens to be studying urban water use…)