Quick Takes: Injunction Blocks NASA Rules, Another Loss at Virginia Tech, UMass Alumni Dispute, Research Digs at South Pole, Recruiting Blacks to Computer Science, Semester May Be Doomed in Israel, 'American Idol' Scholarship, British Lecturer vs. Google

January 14, 2008
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on Friday ruled that scientists and other employees at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory should receive an injunction to block enforcement of new security investigations of workers in "low risk" -- non-classified -- work. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is run by the California Institute of Technology, which hires employees. The institute opposed the new NASA rules, but also said it would enforce them, and effectively deny employment to those who couldn't or wouldn't comply. Friday's ruling is on an injunction only, pending final resolution of the case on its merits. But the appeals panel's ruling strongly suggested that the scientists and others had strong arguments on their behalf that NASA hadn't shown the necessity for the significant security investigations in wants to undertake. Those who brought the suit, the court found, "face a stark choice -- either violation of their constitutional rights or loss of their jobs."
  • At least one friend of a Virginia Tech student who killed himself last month notified the university that he had purchased a gun and was talking about suicide, but the university referred the report to the police department (which reported that the student said he was fine), not to the counseling center, The Washington Post reported.
  • The alumni association of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is refusing to turn over a list of its members to the university, citing privacy concerns, The Boston Globe reported. The association is trying to preserve its independence amid a university campaign to centralize fund raising and some other operations across system campuses.
  • The National Science Foundation has opened a new research station on the South Pole. An article in the Chicago Tribune explores the work done there and special features of the station. Like the previous two constructed by Americans, it will eventually get buried in snow and ice, but special design features -- including 50-ton hydraulic jacks that can raise the facility by 24 feet -- are expected to enable it to last for 50 years.
  • A new consortium of research universities has been created to promote robotics and computer science to black students in elementary and secondary education, and at historically black colleges. The consortium grows out of collaboration in which a Carnegie Mellon University professor helped establish robotics labs at Spelman College and several other historically black institutions. The broader effort will involve research programs and summer internships for students at black colleges, outreach to high schools in the communities of the black colleges, and national efforts as well. The participating black colleges are -- in addition to Spelman -- Florida A&M, Hampton, Morgan State, Norfolk State and Winston-Salem State Universities; and the Universities of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and of the District of Columbia. The participating research universities, in addition to Carnegie Mellon, are Brown and Duke Universities; the Georgia Institute of Technology; and the Universities of Pittsburgh and Washington.
  • Israel's National Labor Court late Sunday night refused to order striking faculty members to return to work at the country's universities, Haaretz reported. Prior to the ruling, university presidents said that if they did not win a court order to end the strike -- which started in October -- they would officially cancel the last semester. However, one president indicated that there might be "a few days" to work out a settlement before such a move would be made.
  • West Virginia Wesleyan College is offering a four-year scholarship, worth $90,000, in an "American Idol" style competition, The Charleston Gazette reported. A local radio station is posting video interviews with 12 finalists and their parents -- and the scholarship goes to the winner selected by voting from station listeners. The college selected 25 applicants for the station to consider, and the station selected the finalists.
  • Some professors ban their students from citing Wikipedia in papers. Tara Brabazon of the University of Brighton, bars her students from using not only Wikipedia, but Google as well, The Times of London reported. Google is "white bread for the mind," Brabazon said. "Google offers easy answers to difficult questions. But students do not know how to tell if they come from serious, refereed work or are merely composed of shallow ideas, superficial surfing and fleeting commitments," she said. "Google is filling, but it does not necessarily offer nutritional content."
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