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Quick Takes: Obama on Science, Grassley Probes U. of Chicago Hospital, Al-Arian Is Out of Jail, Georgia Adds Posts to Help Harassment Victims, McGill Accused of Ignoring Plagiarism

September 3, 2008
  • Sen. Barack Obama has pledged that, if elected president, he would support increased federal investment in science and use "scientifically valid evidence and not the ideological predispositions of agency officials or political appointees" to make decisions. The pledges come in his answers to ScienceDebate2008, an effort by a group of scientists to get issues related to research and education on the agenda for the presidential campaign. In his answers, Obama also pledges to seek improvements in science education, to focus federal attention on climate change and energy research, and to back stem cell research. Sen. John McCain has pledged to also answer the questions, but has not yet done so.
  • Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa has used his position as ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee to scrutinize leading colleges and other nonprofit institutions. His latest target is the University of Chicago Medical Center -- and its ties to Sen. Barack Obama, whose wife worked there before the campaign, The Washington Post reported. Grassley is seeking various financial reports, board minutes and information on allegations that the university tried to steer poor patients elsewhere. The medical center said that it was replying to the request for information. The Obama campaign and the university said that it in fact has a strong record of serving low-income patients.
  • Sami Al-Arian -- who has been at the center of protracted debates over civil liberties and academic freedom -- is out of jail for the first time in five years. Immigration authorities had been holding him most recently for refusing to testify before a grand jury about some Muslim organizations in Virginia, but released him on Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. Al-Arian was fired by the University of South Florida in 2003 amid reports that he was being investigated for ties to terrorist groups. He was subsequently indicted, cleared of some charges, and pleaded guilty to some lesser charges. Many faculty groups said, however, that when the university acted, it did not respect Al-Arian's rights, noting that South Florida's actions followed controversial comments he made, not any federal action.
  • The University of Georgia on Tuesday named two administrators and a law professor -- all women -- to act as ombudsmen for students or employees who feel that they have been the victims of sexual harassment, Online Athens reported. The move comes after a year in which the university was criticized repeatedly for not doing enough to protect victims of harassment.
  • Jeremey Cooperstock, a McGill University engineering professor, has created a Web site -- Degrading McGill -- in which he describes a series of incidents in which he says he tried to punish students for plagiarism and was undercut by administrators fearful of student suits. The Web site features examples and details of the cases and Cooperstock says he felt he had no choice but to go public, given the way the university has responded. Morton Mendelson, deputy provost of student life and learning at McGill, told a local radio station that the university takes cheating very seriously, and decides cases based on the facts.
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