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Letters: Professor productivity, a vocabulary lesson

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Kai Ryssdal: There was a lot of talk about our story on college professors last week, and how the University of Texas is coming up with a system to track faculty productivity.

Karen Gunther of Crawfordsville, Ind., says a quantitative approach to learning like that just doesn’t work.

Karen Gunther: Lots of studies have shown that students learn better in small classes — they can’t slip through the cracks, they get more attention from the professors, they do more writing and thus improve on their writing. Yes, larger class sizes might allow us to crank through more students, but at what cost?

Christopher Bird of Dallas, Texas, wrote about the bigger picture.

Christopher Bird: There’s a lot of bureaucracy, and there’s a lot of overhead associated with the universities. And so simply measuring the productivity of the professors is looking at only one piece of it.

Our series on the military and energy use wraps up today. Lee Kasner from Tampa, Fla., wanted to add a historical note about the United States cutting off its shipments of oil to Japan in the lead-up to World War II.

Lee Kasner: This was one of the first times an oil embargo was used as a weapon in peacetime. It became such a potent weapon in the 1970s that there was a great fear it would be used against us by the Soviets. The Carter Doctrine was developed to make clear that interfering with the oil supplies of the United States was practically equivalent to a declaration of war.

Last word this week goes to the grammarians, and our use of the phrase “completely decimated” in a story Monday talking about the effects of Hurricane Irene on businesses in Vermont. Joe Kesselman of Arlington, Mass., was one of several to correct us. Decimated, he wrote, means literally to reduce by one-tenth. By definition, there is no such thing as “completely decimated.”

Send us your history lessons, dictionary entries, whatever you like.

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