Archive for the ‘University’ Category

Service of Two Sides of the Story

Monday, November 11th, 2019

Photo: hvinnovationgroup.com

A news story should represent both sides of a story and a reporter owes it to readers to attempt to shoot for this balance. Let the readers decide. As a public relations practitioner there are times where the most I can hope for in a negative story is the chance for my client to share his/her point of view and I am grateful when the reporter gives my client the chance.

That’s why this debate at Harvard caught my eye and surprised me.

Marc Tracy wrote “Harvard Newspaper Faces Backlash Over ICE Article” for The New York Times. Criticism against the 146 year old daily was made by campus groups Act on a Dream and Harvard College Democrats. They reprimanded The Harvard Crimson for writing that the reporter had contacted for comment Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] for the article “Harvard Affiliates Rally for Abolish ICE Movement.”

Photo: thecrimson.com

The editors wrote: “ICE did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday night.”

Act on a Dream had organized the rally described in the Crimson. Furious, the group launched a petition “demanding that The Crimson vow to never contact ICE again and to apologize for the ‘harm it has inflicted.’ ” They gathered 650+ online signatures.

One grievance by Act on a Dream was that ICE had a “long history of surveilling and retaliating against those who speak out against them.”  Even though the rally had already taken place when the story ran, they claimed that tipping off ICE could endanger undocumented immigrants on campus. Harvard College Democrats said “It’s very much in line with our values. It lines up with our commitment to protecting these movements, making sure people’s voices can be heard, that intimidation from ICE doesn’t prevent these students from exercising their right to mobilize and organize.”

Photo: wsaz.com

Tracy wrote “It is one of the first tasks a journalist learns on the job, a routine aspect of reporting: asking for comment from people or organizations that are mentioned prominently in an article, especially those cast in a harsh light.”

The Crimson “stood by its reporting.” The paper’s president and managing editor “wrote that ‘every party named in a story has a right to comment or contest criticism leveled against them.'” They cited approval of the practice by the Student Press Law Center and Society of Professional Journalists.

Tracy quoted University of Michigan law professor Margo Schlanger “who specializes in civil rights and prison reform.” He wrote about Schlanger that “while she understands the protestors’ concerns, the paper had done nothing unethical.” Quoting Schlanger: “They’re trying to make ICE a pariah agency” and that it was “not responsible journalism not to call the agency to ask them to respond to things.”

Where do you stand: Should a newspaper reporter always try for comments from people representing all sides of a story or are there exceptions and have the rules changed?

Photo: tes.com

Service of Research

Thursday, November 7th, 2019

Photo: stemcell.com

I admire researchers for so many reasons. It can take decades for them to make a discovery and years more to prove it. Diligence, the ability to fight frustration and dissent are just three characteristics of this valiant group.

I was distressed to read Noam Cohen’s New York Times article, “M.I.T. Shuts Down ‘Food Computer’ Project” about the world-renowned research citadel. The allegedly promising venture–The Open Agricultural Initiative [OpenAg]–involved greenhouses, called food computers, designed for crops that grow in air–without soil or sunlight. In addition to those in food computers at the university there were larger greenhouses in shipping containers in Middletown, Mass.

M.I.T. Media Lab. Photo: news.mit.edu

Cohen wrote: “The once-celebrated M.I.T. Media Lab micro-greenhouses were supposed to grow food under virtually any conditions. In the end, they worked under almost none. And now, M.I.T. has turned off the lights, possibly for good.”

He added “The project has been accused of misleading sponsors and the public by exaggerating results while the Media Lab has been under scrutiny for its financial ties to the convicted sex offender and financier Jeffrey Epstein.”

The director of the OpenAg program, Caleb Harper, posted images and videos on social media “that looked like experiments” and exaggerated or made false claims. Former researchers said he bought plants and put them in the “food computers” pretending they’d grown there. They said that data would have “little scientific significance” because they could not “control the conditions within the boxes.”

The Middletown containers were closed down recently because they dumped wastewater “with 20 times the legal limit of nitrogen underground.”

M.I.T. Photo: news.mit.edu

According to Cohen, Harper boasted that food computers he’d sent Syrian refugees in camps gave them “the means to grow their own food inside the camp.” Instead, these computers ended up “in a Jordanian research lab where they faltered because of hot, dry conditions and technical failures.”

The project attracted $millions in sponsorship funds and heaps of positive publicity including the likes of “60 Minutes” and a TED Talk.  I wager it received the acclaim and financial support based on its affiliation with M.I.T. Such shenanigans can’t help the university’s reputation and I wonder who minds the store in such institutions to prevent this kind of tempting fabrication from happening more often.

Photo: twitter.com

 

Service of When Should an Organization Give Back Tainted Money?

Monday, October 7th, 2019

Photo: moneymastery.com

By now most have heard about the wealthy parents who in all spent $25 million to ensure their offspring were accepted to US colleges. Some faked athletic expertise and others had someone fiddle with their kids’ SAT and ACT scores. William “Rick” Singer was the mastermind/broker who hid behind his Key Worldwide Foundation.

Coaches who played ball gave some of the money to their athletic departments according to Louise Radnofsky in her Wall Street Journal article, “Many Colleges That Got Money Tainted by Admissions Scandal Still Have It –Unlike political campaigns which routinely return controversial donations, colleges are holding funds.”

Photo: web.stanford.edu

According to Radnofsky there are no rules that cover colleges under these circumstances. A former education policy aide to the Democratic party said while he’d wished that low-income students had been given the money, he thought that the decision of what to do was up to prosecutors and courts–not the schools. Most–not all–of Radnofsky’s examples show that schools made that decision.

“Stanford University, the University of Southern California, the University of Texas at Austin and Wake Forest University were directly identified by federal prosecutors as recipients of payments made by Mr. Singer or his clients, sometimes through his charity in connection with specific admissions,” she wrote.

Wake Forest University. Photo: wfu.edu

Radnofsky added that Stanford is in touch with the California attorney general to pass on the approximately $770,000 that Singer directed to the sailing program. The sailing coach pleaded guilty to accepting the money.

“USC said that ‘because of the ongoing U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation, we are unable to discuss details related to it.'” The university may have received as much as $1.3 million, and its water-polo program was enriched with $250,000 more.

University of Texas received money in 2015 which it used to renovate its tennis facilities.

Wake Forest redirected $50,000 to its Magnolia Scholars program for first-generation college students. Its volleyball program was the original recipient of most.

Chapman University [$400,000] is waiting on the California attorney general to approve its donation to organizations “focused on helping at-risk youth and low-income students gain access to higher education.”

DePaul University, where Singer’s son graduated, is not returning its $150,000.

Two colleges– Georgetown and the University of Miami–identified as involved from public tax records said they found no link to Singer for any donations. NYU’s athletics law firm is still reviewing the circumstances around $338,379 donations. “Representatives for Baruch College, listed as a recipient of $50,000 in 2015, didn’t respond to emails and telephone inquiries about the money.”

Should colleges donate their ill gotten gains to student-focused charities? Should they keep the money?

Photo: depaulbluedemons.com

Service of Everybody Gets a Trophy: College & University Academic Honors Galore

Monday, July 16th, 2018

Photo: debate.org

Not short of recognition in my professional life, in college I was a dorm officer and on the college student council but I wasn’t much when it came to academic honors. [I made Dean’s List one semester, a shock to me most of all.] I’m impressed with my Phi Beta Kappa friends and with anyone who graduated with academic honors.

Photo: rochester.edu

I was not happy to read Melissa Korn’s Wall Street Journal article, “You Graduated Cum Laude? So Did Everyone Else.”

Korn wrote: “Nearly half of students who graduated from Lehigh University, Princeton University and the University of Southern California this year did so with cum laude, magna cum laude or summa cum laude honors, or their equivalents. At Harvard and Johns Hopkins, more got the designations than didn’t.” Over 50 percent of Middlebury’s graduates and at Wellesley, 41 percent were so honored, up from 1/3 in the past 10 years.

Korn quoted former Duke professor Stuart Rojstaczer: “A 4.0 does signal something significant, that that student is good. A 3.7, however, doesn’t. That’s just a run-of-the-mill student at any of these schools.” Rojstaczer has focused on grade inflation for years according to Korn.

“Most elite schools cap the share of the graduating class that can receive academic honors. But the caps vary widely, from 25% at Columbia University to up to 60% at Harvard,” she wrote.

Excerpts from the article:

  • “Harvard’s number hit 91% in 2001, as highlighted at the time in a Boston Globe article about generous honors policies. Soon after, the school revised its selection process.
  • “Academic researchers say that uptick is a sign of grade inflation, not of smarter students.
  • “A handful of schools, including the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, have tried to rein in the awards.
  • “Derrick Bolton, dean of admissions for Stanford University’s Knight-Hennessy Scholars graduate program, said application readers may glance at honors designations, but don’t dwell on them.” The program that accepted 50 and rejected 3,451 students, “looks more for candidates who challenge themselves academically, even if that means a B grade along the way.”

To be eligible for academic recognition the GPAs required by the colleges and universities in the article started at 3.5 and 3.6. At Tufts, which wouldn’t share with the Journal the percentage of students awarded academic honors, you needed a 3.2 in engineering.

Harvey Mudd College

If someone is paying yearly almost $70,000–$52,666 tuition and $17,051 room and board–at Harvey Mudd College, Claremont, Calif., they might expect an award, don’t you think? Harvey Mudd was the first in a list of the 50 most expensive colleges and universities in Business Insider published in February 2017.  The publication credited “Trends in College Pricing” as its source. Brown was the least expensive charging $64,566 for tuition and room and board. I went to Boston University, number 38, now at $65,110 per year, whereas Yale, number 47, where my husband graduated, cost $64,650.

Do colleges and universities think that they are doing students a favor by lowering the bar in handing out academic honors by the pound? Are they being smart? Is the likely chance a student or child will be so honored a selling point to attract candidates?

Photo: dentaltechnicianjobs.net

Service of Discoveries

Thursday, February 16th, 2017

DiscoverySharing a few things I’ve learned or noticed within the last week.

Shoe Shine

The Hudson Yards subway station on the number 7 extension over by the Javits Center is buried deep underground so to reach the street you take Subway escalator Hudson Yardstwo very steep escalators. On either side of the moving stairs are one-inch brushes. If I had on leather shoes–even better with shoe polish handy–I could shine them simply by sidling to the left and then right of the step. I wouldn’t try it on the way down–it’s too steep. No doubt the brushes are on all the subway escalators…but they are not new and clean nor is the ride as long as at Hudson Yards.

If You Have to Ask You Can’t Afford It

I received a request to become a member of an internationally recognized NYC museum on an expensive, color 20″ x 6″ card folded in half. Nowhere were membership rates listed. “Is this the latest trend in fundraising?” I thought as I tossed the card, “or a mistake?” Or perhaps they don’t want members who care about cost.

Oh?

GraduationI graduated from the College of Liberal Arts [CLA] of an east coast University and discovered, when filling out a personal information update, that CLA no longer exists.  It’s called the College of Arts & Sciences these days. I mentioned this to a savvy friend and fellow graduate who keeps up on all things and she wasn’t aware of the change. Suggested to the alumni office that they make clear, when asking “which college did you attend?” that they add “formerly CLA” opposite the arts and sciences reference.

Have you made any surprising discoveries lately?

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Service of Specificity: Bias-Free Language and Politics

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

 

 

Photo: sacnas.org

Photo: sacnas.org

I first read about this University of New Hampshire language guide kerfuffle on The Daily Beast and then linked to Holly Ramer’s Associated Press story, “UNH president offended by bias-free language guide,” on the pressherald.com.

Ramer wrote: “The president of the University of New Hampshire says he’s troubled and offended by many parts of a ‘bias-free language guide’ developed by students and staff, particularly a suggestion that using the word ‘American’ is problematic because it fails to recognize South America.”

She added: “He [Mark Huddleston] says it’s ironic that a well-meaning effort to be sensitive ended up being offensive to many people, including himself.” He made clear that “free and unfettered speech” is the policy of the university, not the language guide.

UNH unh.eduA few days later The Washington Post’s Janell Ross picked up the story in her “The Fix” column. She added a layer to the story that explained why we are now reading about a guide first published two years ago. “What has followed is a takedown of what a young conservative journalist and his editors regarded as a kind of fiendish political correctness happening at the University of New Hampshire. Of course, the guide at the center of this story is itself intended as a takedown on cultural insensitivity. Wheels within wheels.”

Peter Hasson is the “young conservative journalist,” a Texas correspondent for a conservative online publication, CampusReform.org, “wholly funded by the Leadership Institute, a Virginia-based nonprofit that aims to equip and train young conservative activists, journalists and future candidates, Morton Blackwell, a Reagan White House aide and the institute’s founder and president, told me.” [Janell Ross is the “me.”]

In addition to “American,” according to Ross, Hasson listed other words he “deemed problematic” that were flagged in the guide: homosexual; illegal alien, Caucasian, mothering, fathering, foreigners. Quoting the university’s website, the purpose of the guide is to “invite inclusive excellence in [the] campus community.” Instead of homosexual the guide recommends “same gender loving.” Preferable to “illegal alien,” is “undocumented immigrant” or better yet, “asylum seeker.”

I’m all for changes that help improve communications, which by that definition, also removes the sting of bigotry from language and maintains accuracy and clarity. Not all these examples do that. Does “Asylum seeker” address people who only come here to find seasonal work so as to send money home?  What to do with Caucasian, defined by Google as “white skinned of European origin,” which I am. As Seinfeld and his cronies used to say, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” so if it applies, what is?

I first became sensitive to the American North/South issue after spending a summer in Chile, Brazil and Argentina as a teen. There, which America I was referring to mattered. But why delete the word “American” from everything? Isn’t the audience pertinent? If I’m writing about a family-owned company with headquarters in the same Massachusetts town for its 100 years, and I’m sending a press release about it exclusively to media in the U.S., a subsequent reference to “American company” is clear, accurate and unbiased.

Where do you come out in all of this: Should the president of a university know what’s on the institution’s website long before a controversial part of it hits the press? Are liberals the only ones who are sensitive to the impact of words? Is the converse true—that conservatives don’t care? Isn’t “bias-free language” a less opinionated description of what is also called political correctness? Do other countries associate word-choice with politics?

 

Photo: worldofmaps.net

Photo: worldofmaps.net

 

 

Service of The Who in Who’s Who

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

Who are You

Following are two “Who’s  Who” scams. The first was created by lazy folks. It came by email and may, in fact have been a front to encourage people to click on a poisoned link without promise of a listing in an unrecognized research tool. The folks directing the second went to more trouble, first forming a fake university alumni group which then offered the “benefit” of joining a pricey impersonator “Who’s Who.”

Simple Scam

A message in my SPAM file began: “You were recently chosen as a potential candidate to represent your professional community and be ranked along side of our industry experts.” It was in the SPAM file for good reason.

SpamAn additional excerpt: “Through our publishing alliance we select potential candidates based not only on their credentials but also focusing on criteria from professional directories, associations, and trade journals…..This time honored tradition has become a hallmark revered by the upper echelon throughout Corporate America; A virtual ‘Who’s Who’ of prominent professionals.”

I have until August to respond and there’s a characteristic scam alert: I must verify the information they have about me by clicking the link they provide. Sure: Hold your breath.

Faux Alumni Group Who’s Who Come-on in Sheep’s Clothing

Photo: wikimedia.org

Photo: wikimedia.org

We all get scams like this but a friend told me of a double scam also involving a “Who’s Who” clone that she might easily have fallen for but didn’t. She thought she was signing up for her university’s alumni association group on LinkedIn.  She filled out her information for the “closed group” and awaited word on admission.

She soon heard from a representative of the group (aka salesman) who introduced himself as “the senior director with who’s who distinguished individuals alumni of the university of ____.” He asked her to answer some questions to verify that she was an alum and told her that one of the perks of joining this group was that members would be added to “Bristol Who’s Who.”

He pressured her to sign up for the Who’s Who double—which cost plenty–adding that it would be most beneficial to her personally and professionally, and specified she had to do so by a deadline–a possible clue that something’s amiss. What’s the rush?

She became more suspicious when at first she understood she’d have to pay a fee for the LinkedIn group membership and then, when she asked again, he said she didn’t. He even floated the promise of new business saying he was on the board of a company that was a fit with her specialty.

He consistently left messages on her mobile and work phones to get her to agree to be included in the Who’s Who “honor.” When she inquired if she needed to pay the hefty sums for the Who’s Who inclusion to be a member of the alumni group on the social networking service he said “No.”

She phoned the University Alumni office and learned the correct name of the official LinkedIn  group which she joined free, with no strings.

Will the Real Who’s Who Please Stand Up?

Who's who in AmericaMarquis Who’s Who publishes the flagship and well known “Who’s Who in America” and the others—“Who’s Who in American Politics;” “Who’s Who of American Women;” “Who’s Who in Science and Engineering,” to name a few. According to Wikipedia, “Marquis requires no publication or processing fees from the persons selected as biographees [sic].”

Have you been approached or tempted by publishers of ersatz “Who’s Who” directories? Have you found online a company or organization you thought was legitimate and it turned out its name was deliberately close to what you wanted to first dupe and then pull you in?

Wolf in sheep's clothing

 

Service of Speaking Your Mind

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

speak up 2

Saying what’s on your mind rarely makes you the most popular person. I admire those who do, especially when they chose a venue where their words will be heard and an audience that’s the target of their criticism.

When former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg received an honorary degree from the Harvard Law School on May 29, part of his address covered the topic of freedom of expression. The New York Post shared an excerpt on PostOpinion: “Killing the Campuses–The Intolerance Menace.”

free speechThe heart of this part of Bloomberg’s message: “The role of universities is not to promote an ideology. It is to provide scholars and students with a neutral forum for researching and debating issues–without tipping the scales in one direction or repressing unpopular views.”

He continued by listing the college commencement speakers who either pulled out or whose invitations were withdrawn because of student protests joined by senior faculty and administrators. The pressure by the latter groups shocked him more as they “should know better.” The colleges he listed: Brandeis, Haverford, Rutgers, Smith this year and last year, Swarthmore and Johns Hopkins. He also referenced an incident last fall that was unrelated to commencement time when his police commissioner was shut down by students at another Ivy League institution. [It was Ray Kelly at Brown.]

censorship2Bloomberg said: “In each case, liberals silenced a voice–and denied an honorary degree–to individuals they deemed politically objectionable. That is an outrage and we must not let it continue.” He said that when this happens “censorship and conformity, the mortal enemies of freedom win out.”

In “Two Cheers for Bloomberg A liberal politician denounces leftist ‘McCarthyism'”

James Taranto in The Wall Street Journal applauded a different part of Bloomberg’s address where he said: “There is an idea floating around college campuses–including here at Harvard–that scholars should be funded only if their work conforms to a particular view of justice. There’s a word for that idea: censorship. And it is just a modern-day form of McCarthyism.”

Even though his words won’t affect his livelihood, his future or that of his family, [unless he’s again running for office, this time on a conservative ticket], Bloomberg didn’t have to do this. Do you agree with his positions?

 

Commencement at Harvard Law School

Commencement at Harvard Law School

 

 

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