The Paris talks on climate action by the world’s nations start today in the shadow of the recent terrorist attacks. It’s safe to say that anxiety is running high, for a number of reasons.
To be sure, Parisian/French security concerns, with scores of diplomats gathering in one place, are at center stage. Scheduled public demonstrations by groups pressing for strong climate action have been banned, and for the most part the ban has been respected by climate activists.
But anxiety is apparent elsewhere, as well, with large popular demonstrations demanding climate action cropping up across the globe. As climate scientists attest that destructive climate change is already well underway – melting glaciers and massive storms get top billing, but damaging health effects due to ecological disruption are also coming more and more into news focus – the sense that “time is running out” appears to be gaining in the popular consciousness.
If so, it is arriving none too soon.
It was a tough slog reaching this point, but President Bennett selected Steve Moser, former dean of the sprawling and diverse College of Arts & Letters, as the “new” provost and senior vice-president for academic affairs.
Steve can hardly be considered “new,” of course. Not only had he served as interim provost since Denis Wiesenburg’s departure from the post in mid-summer (and for all practical purposes, at least for a month prior to that), but he has a decade of combined dean and associate dean experience under his belt, and at least double that as a USM faculty member. So he certainly knows the institution better than most, and if anyone deserves to claim “I bleed black-and-gold,” it’s Steve; he’s proved it by his long and dedicated service to our plucky but often sputtering institution.
Now a new chapter opens. Dr. Moser has the deans scheduled for an all-day planning retreat on December 15, a prelude, I hope, to grappling with long-lingering critical issues, such as putting academic affairs budgets aright. That can’s been kicked down the road so long it’s hardly even recognizable as a can any longer. Time to turn the page on that one, for sure.
Exploring opportunities for collaboration on research, instruction, and advocacy, Rene’ Drumm, Tim Rehner, Danielle Fastring and I met this morning with Robert Morris, field director for the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Action Network, at the Social Work House on the Gulf Park campus. Mr. Morris, two times a USM alumnus and a graduate of our Master of Public Health program, is enthusiastic about forging new connections with Southern Miss. I have a good feeling about it; I’ll think we can do some good business together.
Reminder – Today is Great American Smokeout Day. If you smoke, snuff it out for at least one day; it’s a healthy start!
The Mississippi Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (MAHPERD) wisely brought their 82nd Annual Convention to Southern Miss this past Thursday and Friday. Faculty members and staff in our School of Kinesiology – notably Asst. Prof. Rob Doan and communications staffer extraordinaire Hanna Knowles – helped host the meeting with style and professionalism. On Friday morning, President Bennett followed KIN director Scott Piland in delivering thoughtful welcoming remarks that showed real appreciation for the critical contribution that health professionals make to the educational process and our collective well-being overall (always music to this dean’s ears). All the informal feedback I picked up was very, very positive. I won’t be surprised if MAHPERD comes knocking on our door again real soon.
And oh, yes, I got to teach all 60 or so students attending workshops on Thursday a line dance (to”Mojo Mambo” music) that they later performed in competition. I can’t wait to see the video. :-)
I spent a good chunk of yesterday at a meeting in Jackson of the Mississippi Tobacco Control Advisory Council, of which I’m a member by virtue of my position as dean of the college. Chaired by former attorney general Mike Moore, famous for the unprecedented litigation victory over Big Tobacco in the 1990’s, the Council monitors and advises tobacco mitigation efforts of the Mississippi Department of Health.
Unfortunately, the hundreds of millions of dollars paid out to Mississippi in settlement and originally committed to a “trust fund” to advance the health of Mississippians has long been spent on other things. How that happened (not only in Mississippi, but around the nation in states sharing in the litigation settlement) is a fascinating, if disheartening, story. But here the question is different: Why isn’t Mississippi – in a real sense ground zero in the fight against the health ravages of tobacco – doing more?
In case you think the battle against tobacco has been won in our state, think again – Mississippi ranks 6th among the 50 states and Washington, D.C. in prevalence of adult smoking, and 8th in high school seniors’ smoking. We need to do two things now above all – (1) raise the tax on cigarettes further (it was raised in 2009 from 18 cents to 68 cents per pack, one of the lowest tax rates in the country); (2) pass a statewide public smoking ban. Evidence suggests both that these methods are effective, and that further reduction in smoking would pay heavy dividends in terms of reduced disease prevalence and medical costs for treatment.
The irony of Mississippi’s lethargic approach to tobacco control – in the hands of the legislature, and not those of either the Department of Health or the Division of Medicaid – is that Mike Moore’s successful lawsuit argued that Mississippi should not be forced to pay for the health damage caused by the tobacco manufacturers. The fact is, we’re still paying.