The Fiske Center Blog

Weblog for the Fiske Center for Archaeological Research at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

December 14, 2017
by John Steinberg
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Taxing Science?

One of the piles constructed as part of the Manhattan Project

Two interesting opinion pieces in the Washington Post gave complementary perspectives on the UMass opposition to the Federal Tax Reform package. Both opinion pieces focus on the House of Representatives’ proposal of taxing graduate student waivers.

The first, by vice provost David Nirenberg at the University of Chicago, highlights the critical role that graduate students play in American prosperity.  Interestingly, he specifically calls out universities for not doing “a very good job of explaining the importance of graduate education to society.”  The second, by graduate student Sarah Arveson at Yale, argues that the charging and subsequent waiving of tuition that would now be taxed is part of a Yale University “pretense” that graduate students “are students liable for tuition, rather than employees, creating value for the institution and our fields of knowledge.”

I think some explanation is in order and since one of the assignments in David Landon’s Archaeological Methods graduate class was a proposal that includes a budget, I thought I would use these opinion pieces about the potential tax package as an opportunity to talk about some of my favorite subjects: grants and budgeting, and how they relate to tuition waivers.

There is some logic to the tuition and waiver process.  That process takes into account that the resources for students come from a variety of sources including grants, university funds, and endowment funds.  There is lots of room for improvement in how we budget and account for grant money, and the way we explain that to students. But the basic premise of tuition and waivers does work across educational institutions, whether in underfunded small state schools or large well-endowed private schools.  To make the system work, the tuition and waivers are variable, and they can be cobbled together in many different combinations.

Some funding agencies, across the spectrum of private, local, state, and federal, require cost matching or cost sharing to be eligible for their grants.  In these grants, a university would have to pay, or get from some other source, 10 to 50% of the budget.  Conversely, some agencies prohibit cost sharing (what the National Science Foundation calls “voluntary committed cost sharing”) so that the full cost of the grant is obvious.  Prohibiting cost sharing can help to reduce the advantage of richer schools in getting grants.  However, cost sharing demonstrates a university’s commitment to the specific research enterprise.  Often, the university uses tuition waivers as a portion of cost sharing.

Funding agencies also have overhead rates, sometimes referred to as “facilities and administration” or “indirect costs”.  Overhead is a part of the budget of a project, but is not used directly for the project but goes to the university to keep the lights on and fund other general expenses, that would be prohibitive to enumerate in a project budget.  Overhead rates vary dramatically; for some nonprofits the university rate can be as low as 10% but can be as high as 100% of the direct budget costs.  Overhead rates also depend on where most of the work is performed–on or off campus.  A small portion of the overhead may be given to the recipient and/or their department for other research expenses not outlined in the budget.  Generally, tuition waivers, while part of the direct costs, are not included in the total grant cost from which the overhead is calculated.

In a 1995 paper, that folks interested in grant budgets will find enthralling, Carol Gruber argues that the practice of universities contracting with the government, and the resulting overhead that came out of the “no-profit-no-loss” for universities approach, profoundly altered the research university landscape. The contract for research approach that provides overhead, an arrangement that was created during World War II, has helped to create the US university system as we know it today.  The principle behind no-profit-no-loss fits right into a university’s nonprofit status and like it or not—and Arveson clearly does not like it—students are part of that nonprofit approach.  Taxing graduate students’ tuition waivers is not just cruel to graduate students and harmful to academic pursuits, but a fundamental rebuke to the no-profit-no-loss university-government contracting relationship that was born out of the Manhattan Project.

 

Carol Gruber
“The Overhead System in Government-Sponsored Academic Science: Origins and Early Development”
Historical Studies in the Physical and Biological Sciences Vol. 25, No. 2 (1995), pp. 241-268

 

 

UPDATE:  December 17, 2017 –
The final draft of the Republican tax bill kills a proposed tax on tuition waivers.

December 4, 2017
by John Steinberg
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Fiske Center in Cooperative Agreement with the National Park Service

Fiske Center Director Steve Mrozowski looks at an eroding beach bluff on Great Island.

The Fiske Center has recently entered into a cooperative agreement with the Cape Cod National Seashore to conduct environmental monitoring, geophysical survey, coring, and limited excavations at several archeological sites on the Outer Cape. The project focuses on the history and prehistory of the Wellfleet area, the threat of coastal erosion, and methodologies of archaeological site assessment. This exciting project will add to the broad range of Fiske Center funded projects that investigate the cultural and biological dimensions of colonization.

One of the goals of the project is to complete an intensive inventory of archaeological sites threatened by significant erosion and inundation due to climate change located along the bluffs above the Atlantic Ocean at Great Island and Great Beach Hill.

As part of this cooperative agreement with the National Park Service, the Fiske Center will have Graduate Assistantships for students in the  Historical Archaeology MA program for work on the cooperative agreement. Duties for the Research Assistants will include performing background research, processing data and artifacts in a laboratory setting, and entering data into computer programs. The Research Assistants will also participate in the fieldwork and aid in report preparation. It is hoped that student research that takes place as part of this agreement will produce conference presentations, papers, and master’s thesis topics.

Fiske Center conservator, Dennis Piechota, examines the bluffs on Great Island for potential micromorphological samples.

Steve Mrozowski will oversee the project and direct the fieldwork in collaboration with John Steinberg (geophysical survey), Dennis Piechota (micromorphology), and Christa Beranek (historic period deposits). Students applying to the Historical Archaeology Master of Arts program who are interested in working on the Cape Cod project should mention it in their personal statement. For more information contact John.Steinberg@umb.edu or see the Fiske Center Website.

January 24, 2017
by John Steinberg
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Archaeological Organizations Concerned about Funding for National Endowment for the Humanities

The Hill has published an article describing the Trump Administration’s plans for the 2017 budget.  They explain that the plan is close to the Heritage Foundation’s “Blueprint” (summary and full document).  The author, Alex Bolton, cites “Staffers for the Trump transition” as the source of the information on using the “Blueprint”  for the new administration’s plans.   On Page 79  of  the blueprint , it outlines eliminating the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), stating that “the government should not use its coercive power of taxation to compel taxpayers to support cultural organizations and activities.”

This concerns us greatly since NEH funds spectacular archaeology, including our Plymouth excavations.  The recent discoveries at Plymouth have received substantial media attention.

The Hill’s article has received widespread attention from lots of outlets (e.g., Time, Salon, Art News, Huffington Post, Snopes, Washington Post, Vanity Fair, Independent, Fortune & Chicago Tribune) and the Hill has published a follow-up.

Most of the professional archaeological organizations and societies have sent letters  (SHA, SAA) to members, or posted on webpages (AIA, AAM), or Facebook (AAA) describing this threat to NEH (as well as NEA & CPB).  All of them direct to the National Humanities Alliance which describes the efforts and has a page that allows you to send an email to your officials.

There is also some petitions (and here), at whitehouse.gov, but they do not appear to be accepting signatures.

November 24, 2016
by John Steinberg
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Plymouth Excavations in the News

plymouthThe press release put out by Colleen Locke from the Office of Communications has been picked up by a number of news organizations. The main story is in the Boston Globe by Brian MacQuarrie.  From the Globe, the DailyCaller,  AP and  Archaeology picked up the story. CNN, Fox News, Metro, Cape Cod Today, and the Daily Mail (UK) also expanded the story.   Travel & Leisure also did a write up on the piece.  On TV, WCVB (Chanel 5) aired a nice story and Sue O’Connell on the Take (necn) also has a sit down pieceDave Landon did a great job explaining the significance of identifying the exact location of the Plymouth settlement, which is recreated at the Plantation.

Google has a list of all the items.

 

May 16, 2016
by John Steinberg
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Four MA thesis defenses in May

A lot of scholarship being presented in the next week or so:                                               

Drew Webster

“Ceramic Consumption in a Boston Immigrant Tenement”

Wednesday, May 18 @ 1:00 pm in M-1-503

 

___________

 

Katherine Evans

“Chase Home for Children: Childhood in Progressive New England”

Thursday, May 19 @ 10:00 am in M-1-503

___________

            

Janice Nosal

“‘Improvement the Order of the Age’: Historic Advertising, Consumer Choice, and Identity in 19th-Century Roxbury, Massachusetts”

Thursday, May 19 @ 1:00 pm in M-1-503

 

___________

                                                 

Richard Roy

“The Martha’s Vineyard Experience: A Zooarchaeological Analysis of Diet and Environment”

Monday, May 23 @ 12:00 pm  in M-1-503

May 13, 2016
by John Steinberg
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Plymouth 400: Story Map

The story map for Plymouth 400

The story map for Plymouth 400

We have been working on additional ways to present the results of the research in Plymouth to the public and are happy to share a StoryMap, a web-based virtual exhibit, that we have developed.   You can find the webpage here:

StoryMap presents a sequential, place-based narrative in the form of a series of geotagged photos and captions linked to an interactive map
The link is https://umb.maps.arcgis.com/apps/MapSeries/index.html?appid=f11848bc84bf465792a798358899a718

April 9, 2016
by John Steinberg
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GPR-Slice animation from 72 Dale St. (Malcolm X’s boyhood home)

Brian Damiata and I put together a quick slice animation of the GPR results from our joint project in Roxbury with the City of Boston. The GPR readings help mapped the subsurface in the yard around the house, therefore the house, carriage house, and dirt pole are in white.   The house is the central white block and the dirt pile extends out  of the carriage house in the southwest.   If you look closely, there are many pipes running east-west.  The block to the north, in the neighbors yard, could show a circular feature that may be a well. The deepth of the slice is listed on the upper left (in cm).  Areas that reflect GPR energy (microwaves) are in red.  Where there was not reflection, the map is blue.  Based on these results  the excavations can be interpreted with better accuracy.

April 7, 2016
by John Steinberg
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Brown Bag Talk (Tues April 12@12:30) Sigríður Sigurðardóttir – From Text to Trowel: how a local rural heritage museum thrives in the 21st century

Coring in the ash midden outside the turf house museum

Coring in the ash midden outside the turf house museum

Sigríður Sigurðardóttir, Director of the Skagafjörður Heritage Museum will give a Brown Bag talk on  Tuesday, April 12 at 12:30 t UMass Boston in McCormack 1/503. The talk is  titled “From Text to Trowel:  how a local rural heritage museum thrives in the 21st century.”

The talk will describe the diverse portfolio of activities that the Skagafjörður Heritage Museum conducts that make it a vibrant center of cultural life for a valley in northern Iceland that has 6000 people and is located 60 miles south of the artic circle.  The Museum mixes local and international projects with traditional and cutting edge approaches to work in areas that require knowledge of hard science and local legend. The museum embraces 40,000 or so tourists every year but has a café frequented by locals. The Museum also offers international courses that take advantage of the regional knowledge of the traditional craft of turf house building.  Finally, she will describe how the small archaeological department has become one of the largest recipients of Icelandic government grants.

The Skagafjörður Heritage Museum is UMass Boston’s Partner in the National Science Foundation funded Skagafjörður Church and Settlement Survey (SCASS).  That project will run for 3 years and has received well over $500,000 in grants.

March 31, 2016
by John Steinberg
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Geophysics at 72 Dale St – Malcolm X’s boyhood home

GeophysicsMX1a

Brian Damiata and Katie Wagner using the GPR at 27 Dale St in Roxbury

GeophysicsMX2

Jared Muehlbauer, Brian Damiata, and Joseph Trebilcock running a GPR transect

Our joint project with the City of Boston Archaeology Program has been getting a lot of press. You can see some of the articles using a google news search.  One of the more in depth articles is by Sylvia Cunningham for NBCBLKJoe Bagley, the City Archaeologist, has been posting many pictures on Twitter, Instagram  and Facebook.

We have now finished the geophysical portion of the project.  Excavations, will begin next week.  We will post some of the results soon.

March 10, 2016
by John Steinberg
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How Chocolate Came to Be – first Brown Bag talk Thursday, March 10 at 12:30

2016 Sampeck Chocolate

How Chocolate Came to Be

Dr. Kathryn Sampeck

 

Thursday, March 10, 2016 at 12:30

McCormack, first floor, room 503

 

Chocolate is a fairly unremarkable part of daily life today. We have fairly clear ideas about what color it is, how it should taste, and what kinds of foods it should be part of. All of these qualities seem natural, unremarkable. Little would you suspect that chocolate has a colonial past that involved some of the greatest horrors of colonialism in Spanish America. The fascinating journey from these early colonial encounters with chocolate to the more modern experience of it had much to do with who produced chocolate, where, and when and for whom–in other words, labor relations in Latin America, local politics, and Atlantic World trade. It is a story of struggles against abuse and marginalization, covert and overt resistance, victories both small and large despite changes in the political economy designed to thwart those very efforts.

Dr. Kathryn Sampeck who is a visiting scholar at Harvard this semester will be coming to talk about her archaeological and ethnographic research on chocolate and the people who produced and consumed it.

 

 

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