Emeritus Faculty Association news November 2011
Friday November 4th, usual time and place 10.30am Javits Room, 2nd floor library.
Various speakers will address the legacy of John S. Toll who was president from 1965-78 and shaped the university through a period of explosive growth. He took a school of 1,800 students and built it into one of 17,000 students, in the process turning a small liberal arts college into an internationally recognized research university. In addition to arts and sciences and engineering, he added schools of public affairs, medicine, dentistry, nursing, allied health professions, basic health sciences, and social work.
Speakers will include Francis Bonner of Chemistry, Norman Goodman of Sociology, and Linwood Lee of Physics. We will not enumerate the scholarly credentials of these distinguished professors here except as it relates to the Toll story at Stony Brook. Bonner was founding chair of Chemistry from 1958 to 1970 during the formative period of that department. Goodman arrived at Stony Brook in 1964, was chair of Sociology from 1973 to 1989, and twice President of the University Faculty Senate. Linwood Lee came to Stony Brook in 1965, was founder of the Nuclear Structure Lab and its director from 1966-1982.
Update of the contract negotiations (Judy Wishnia)
When you retire with NYSHIP (Empire) coverage the state pays 90%, and 10% comes out of your accumulated sick leave funds. Several weeks ago, NYSHIP raised the contribution from our sick pay to 12% (in essence, a 20% increase) This will cut into our sick leave fund and will affect how long it lasts. In addition, there were increases in some of the co-pays for prescription drugs. NYSHIP said this was a result of "a collective bargaining agreement", but only CSEA has signed such an agreement. What happened was that the legislature was given a bill one day before the session ended which was supposed to be a sign-off on the the CSEA agreement but instead had a proviso added by the governor that allowed Civil Service to extend the increase to ALL state employees. As is customary in the rush of the last day, legislators just voted it without scrutiny and it is now law. Needless to say, the unions are up in arms and our union, UUP, along with NYSUT, is looking into the legal aspects. I have been assured by the UUP president Phil Smith that the union will pull out all stops to get it rescinded, but this will be difficult. In addition, there is another worry - since there will be the usual re-examination of medical costs in January, it is possible that there will be another increase..
As to whether we might be better off with an advantage plan, the answer seems to be no. First of all, since it is our accumulated sick leave which pays for NYSHIP, if you joined an advantage plan, it would cost you up front. But also, if you have to go to the hospital NYSHIP covers what Medicare does not and that can be significant. Most of us pay nothing for hospital costs. There is also a certain amount of nursing coverage and, very important as we get older: hospice care. One of our upstate members is now getting Hospice care at home, including meals, wheel chair access, etc. Another advantage is that if you wish to go to a special hospital (say Sloan-Kettering) there is no cost. Finally, they pay toward physical therapy.
The speaker was Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science. Evelyn Bromet speaking on the Psychological Consequences of Nuclear Disaster. When she spoke to us she had just returned from another trip to Japan.
When the partial core meltdown happened at the Three Mile Island plant in March 1979, the governor advised pregnant women and small children living nearby to evacuate and although optional, most people living within 5-10 miles fled. People in the surrounding communities were frightened and bewildered by the confusing and contradictory information being disseminated about what exactly was occurring at the reactor and whether their health was at risk. Thankfully, in the end, Three Mile Island proved to be a near miss, and the level of radiation was not sufficient to cause cancer. But the fear engendered by the perceived exposure to radiation had long-term consequences.
At the time, Prof Bromet was a young researcher who had started a new mental health research program at the University of Pittsburgh. She was asked by the National Institute of Mental Health to investigate the psychological consequences of the accident. Ultimately, her group identified a very high risk group--mothers of young children living near the plant. They interviewed them several times in the first few years and found rates of depression and anxiety double that of a comparison group. At the 10th anniversary, they again inquired about their mental health and their beliefs about how the accident affected their health. On average, the level of depression and anxiety was as high as it had been shortly after the accident, and worse than expected based on community studies.
Seven years later in what is now Ukraine, the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded. A 30 km zone around the plant was permanently evacuated, and pregnant women were told to have abortions. The refugees were not welcomed by their new communities. Rather, they were stigmatized and initially feared, even though there were no official statements that anything had actually occurred at Chernobyl. However, some people had access to radio broadcasts from outside the Soviet Union. And then the rumors started to spread and be reported in the media -- stories about birth defects, hundreds of thousands of deaths and cancers arising in countries miles away. Eleven years later, in 1997, and then again 19 years after the Chernobyl catastrophe, Prof Bromet and her colleagues, together with researchers in Ukraine, interviewed evacuees who were resettled in Kiev. They came there with small children, who were given full medical examinations and basic blood tests. Compared with a similar group of women who lived in Kiev when Chernobyl exploded, twice as many evacuees had post-traumatic stress disorder and major depression. Many women and their children sought help from their doctors and were given diagnoses linked to their Chernobyl exposure. To this day, these diagnoses have not been verified by impartial doctors. Yet the more such diagnoses the mothers and their children received, the worse their mental health. An enquiry commission concluded that the dangers were minimal but it turned out that the individual in charge was one who had also been a high level official of the Chernobyl complex.
In the past few months, hundreds of thousands of people in Japan have lived through horrendous disasters and are now homeless. Some will develop significant post-traumatic stress symptoms from these experiences. Many have been and will continue to be exposed to radiation and will develop both persistent fears about their health and long-term depression, regardless how much actual radiation exposure they received. Therefore, future research in Japan should focus on vulnerable populations, such as mothers with young children evacuated or remaining near Fukushima or in Tokyo, pregnant women and small children living in towns found to have high levels of contamination, nuclear plant workers and their families, the elderly living in shelters, and evacuees who lost their jobs and livelihoods. Based on previous research, the most salient aspects of mental health will be health-related anxiety, somatic complaints, anger, sense of abandonment, stigma, and distrust in authorities, particularly in the case of the mothers. Nonetheless, most survivors of extreme events are resilient, and the good news is that our research at TMI and Chernobyl has shown that the children mostly did not in fact have long lasting after effects.
In conclusion, medical practitioners need to understand the true health effects of radiation exposure, and to treat mental and physical health with equal respect. Mental health matters. It leads to anxiety, depression, decreased physical health, and shortened lifespan, even if there was no real cause for the fears that generated it. To mitigate it, the first rule of epidemiology is to be straightforward and tell the truth from the beginning. Yet time and time again we have seen this rule broken.
In Memoriam: Bertha Dresden
passed away Sept 9 in Athens, GA, 14 years after her husband. They were members of the Stony Brook community from 1964 until 1989, after which Max taught history of science at Stanford until 1997. Bertha was an avid participant in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (click pointer on our website), and an active supporter of area arts and culture. Her ashes will be interred at a service on October 22 at Holyrood, Kansas, where she was born in 1924.
The Future of University Education
In case you missed it, on Oct 3rd the NY Times op-ed page had an interview with the Stanford president (now looking much older than when he was a student here at Stony Brook) discussing their Artificial Intelligence course with 130,000 remote registrants, and the future of the virtual versus the bricks and mortar university. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/03/opinion/the-university-of-wherever.html?_r=1&hp
I Am Very Well Thank You
There is nothing the matter with me,
I'm as healthy as can be.
True, arthritis creaks in both my knees,
I limp with sciatica and speak with a wheeze,
My recall is failing, my head's in a spin,
But I'm awfully well for the shape that I'm in.
Though I cannot concede that my youth is all spent,
My get-up-and-go has got up and went.
With no brace for my knees and no arch for my feet,
I wouldn't be safe to be out on the street.
So easy to bruise with tears to the skin,
But I'm awfully well for the state I am in.
Old age is golden, and while often its said,
I do sometimes doubt as I get into bed,
My hearing all shelved and my teeth in a cup,
And my specs on the sideboard, til its time get up
and check the obituaries in Emeritus News.
If my name is still missing, I put on my shoes.