College of Letters and Science faculty at the University of California at Los Angeles have voted against a proposal that would have required undergraduates to take a compulsory course called “Community and Conflict in the Modern World” as part of their general education requirements. A total of 404 ballots, representing about 30 percent of the faculty members, were submitted, with 56.1 percent voting against the requirement. Critics of the proposal said before the vote that the proposed requirement was similar to a 2004 “diversity requirement” proposal that was rejected.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement after the results were announced that he was disappointed that the requirement wasn’t approved. "I’m especially disappointed for the many students who worked with such passion to make the case for a change in curriculum set by faculty,” he said.
In today’s Academic Minute, James Hanson of Seton Hall University explains efforts to reduce unwanted encounters between humans and sharks by developing an effective repellent. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
The Morehouse School of Medicine announced last week that it has raised $2 million to endow a chair that will focus on sexuality and religion, the Associated Press reported. The chair will focus on ways to train physicians and theologians on sexual health issues that include contraception, rape prevention, unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. A spokeswoman for the Association of American Medical Colleges said she did not know of a similar endowed chair at any other medical school.
Enrollments in graduate science, engineering and technology programs have grown sharply over the last decade but slowed in 2009-10, according to new data from the National Science Foundation. The NSF study, drawn from the Survey of Graduate Students and Postdoctorates in Science and Engineering conducted by the foundation and the National Institutes of Health, shows that enrollments in graduate programs in STEM fields grew by 30 percent from 2000 to 2010, and that the growth was even larger -- 50 percent -- in the number of first-time, full-time enrollees in such programs. Enrollments of women grew at a faster pace than those of men (roughly 40 percent vs. 30 percent), and the rates of enrollments by underrepresented minority studies outpaced those of white and Asian Americans (though their actual numbers were much lower).
While enrollments continued to rise in 2009-10, hitting a historical peak, the rate of growth slowed significantly, particularly among full-time, first-time students. The enrollment of such students fell to 1.7 percent in science programs and 4 percent in engineering programs, compared to 8.2 percent and 6.2 percent, respectively, in 2008-9.
A new poll by Gallup has found that 46 percent of Americans believe that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." Another 32 percent believe that humans have evolved over millions of years but "God guided the process." And only 15 percent believe that humans evolved without help from God. The breakdown is similar to that Gallup found in 1982, when it started asking about evolution. But in the last year, the percentage who believe in a creationist view increased from 40 to 46 percent, with the other two categories dropping.
Other findings of the new poll:
Among those who attend church weekly, 67 percent hold the creationist view.
Among Republicans, 58 percent hold the creationist view. (The figure for Democrats is 41 percent.)
By educational status, those with some postgraduate education are least likely (25 percent) to hold the creationist view, but among college graduates, the share (46 percent) matches that of the general population.
The analysis by Gallup states: "Most Americans are not scientists, of course, and cannot be expected to understand all of the latest evidence and competing viewpoints on the development of the human species. Still, it would be hard to dispute that most scientists who study humans agree that the species evolved over millions of years, and that relatively few scientists believe that humans began in their current form only 10,000 years ago without the benefit of evolution. Thus, almost half of Americans today hold a belief, at least as measured by this question wording, that is at odds with the preponderance of the scientific literature."
The Colorado Supreme Court has agreed to hear an appeal from Ward Churchill, formerly a professor of ethnic studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder, who sued the university challenging his firing,The Denver Post reported. Churchill was fired after faculty committees found that he had engaged in repeated instances of scholarly misconduct. He denied the charges and said he was really being fired (illegally) for his controversial political views. The Supreme Court agreed to hear an appeal on three issues: whether a university's investigation into the writings of a faculty member, and subsequent termination of that faculty member, violates the First Amendment; whether university regents are immune from lawsuits; and whether -- if regents are immune from lawsuits -- Churchill can win his job back.
Irish historians have watched the legal case relating to the witness statements from participants in the conflict in Northern Ireland held by Boston College with great interest and with no little trepidation.
Regardless of the ultimate outcome of the case, there are real fears that the controversy has already jeopardized the collection and preservation of historical material relating to the conflict in Northern Ireland.
One friend, who was instrumental in helping University College Dublin Archives to secure a significant collection of private papers that includes material relating to the Northern Ireland peace process, remarked recently that it would have been more difficult to convince the donor to preserve his papers and donate them to an archive if the controversy at Boston College had previously been known.
The great difficulty here is that any comprehensive history of the Northern Ireland conflict will be very dependent on statements from the men and women who were directly engaged in the events: republicans, loyalist paramilitaries, police, British army personnel, politicians, public servants, and the ordinary people whose lives were shaped by the conflict. The nature of the conflict in Northern Ireland was such that no existing archive can expect to stand as sufficient sources for the writing of plausible history; the words of the people who lived through (and participated in) the conflict need to be preserved to allow for the creation of a more meaningful historical record.
The Boston College interviews are one of several series of interviews that currently exist, or are now being collected. Oral history is especially important if we are to tell the story of everyday life during these years, and the motivations and reflections of men and women who did not hold positions of leadership.
Irish historians are very conscious of the importance of such testimonies, because a comparable archive exists relating to the 1916 Rising and the Irish war of independence. In the 1940s and early 1950s the Bureau of Military History – funded by the Irish government – collected statements from men and women who participated in these events. Some of those men and women engaged in violence or other acts about which they might not have been willing to speak publicly. The statements were finally released in 2004, 50 years after they were collected, when all the witnesses had died.
Although this delay has been criticized, it shows a respect for the witnesses and indeed for all who were affected by the events narrated in these testimonies. These statements, and the anticipated release shortly of thousands of Military Pension Files, containing further firsthand statements from those involved in the War of Independence, provide a permanent and valuable record of a critical period in the emergence of contemporary Ireland.
These firsthand accounts have transformed the understanding of these years, bringing it to life in a manner that more formal records cannot do.
The oral statements of participants in the conflict in Northern Ireland offer a similar potential to provide a rounded account of these years. This will only happen, however, if those making statements can trust the record-taker, and trust the place where these records are deposited.
This trust requires firm assurances that the statements will not be released prematurely, or divulged other than under the terms agreed. The witness statements should be collected with the intent of creating a long-term historical record; while there may be an understandable eagerness to gain access to them, in order to be first with the story – they are best left undisturbed for a significant period of time. Essentially, they should be collected and protected for posterity – not for the present.
University College Dublin (UCD), in common with other research universities, has a clear code of ethics that applies to all material that relates to identifiable individuals; securing their consent to any use that permits them to be identified is a key requirement.
In addition researchers and archivists must observe the requirements of the Data Protection Act, which precludes the revealing of personal information – relating to matters such as health, family circumstances or financial records, and these regulations are strictly enforced. Many of the private collections deposited in UCD Archives can only be accessed with the permission of the donor.
While testimonies relating to paramilitary activities are obviously of a particularly sensitive nature, there are recognized laws and procedures in place that protect the witness, the archive, the archivist and the researcher – provided that they are observed.
The issue may become more complex when records are transferred from one country to another, if the legal framework relating to data protection and disclosure is different, but again, a robust protocol and clearly-determined governance – agreed before any records are compiled – should reduce these risks.
Oral histories are extremely valuable sources for posterity, and they are becoming of still greater importance in an age when communication increasingly takes the form of telephone conversations, e-mails, texts, tweets and other means; these are obviously less easily preserved than letters or written memorandums.
Ultimately, there will be lessons to be learned from the specifics of the Boston College case. The overarching ambition must remain unchanged: to ensure that a trusted record of the past can be compiled and preserved for posterity.
Mary E. Daly is professor of modern Irish history at University College Dublin.