Quick Takes: Postdoc Participation Up, Latest on Blackboard vs. Desire2Learn, Apology Over Obama Skit, Scrutiny of Tobacco Funding, Another Ben Stein Clash, Copying an Honor Code, ACE Fellows Named, Crocodiles Enroll at U. of Miami

March 31, 2008
  • Increasing percentages of new Ph.D.'s in science, engineering and health are moving to postdoctoral fellowships, according to new data from the National Science Foundation. About 45 percent of recent recipients of doctorates in 2006 had completed or were participating in a postdoc, the study found, up from 41 percent in 1995 and 31 percent 25 years ago. The median length of the fellowships has of late been holding constant at two years.
  • In the latest development in the patent war between Blackboard and Desire2Learn, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has rejected Blackboard's patent claims, but the ruling is preliminary and in part procedural. A statement from Desire2Learn -- which also posted the ruling -- noted that appeals are likely, but said that the company was "still pleased." A statement from Blackboard noted that such rulings in part just indicate that there are issues that merit consideration. The company characterized the ruling as expected and said it would have little long-term impact on the case.
  • North Dakota State University officials are apologizing for a student skit, at the Mr. NDSU pageant, in which a white student in blackface and with a wig portrayed Barack Obama receiving a lap-dance while two other students dressed as cowboys simulated anal sex while holding up an Obama sign, The Forum reported. In a statement, Joseph Chapman, the president of the university, said: "NDSU does not and will not ignore acts of intolerance at our institution and or in our community."
  • Scientists at Boston and Harvard Universities, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Massachusetts have received grants from Philip Morris USA, The Boston Globe reported. Scrutiny of such research support is increasing because many scientists and public health experts believe it taints research. Last week, The New York Times reported on lung cancer research at Cornell University's medical school that was supported by a foundation that was supported by a tobacco company.
  • A tightly managed conference call with Ben Stein and producers of the upcoming documentary "Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed" became the scene of yet another clash between proponents of intelligent design and defenders of evolutionary theory. Fresh from a botched attempt to crash a screening of the movie at the Mall of America last week, PZ Myers, a biologist at the University of Minnesota at Morris, had more success on Friday when he interrupted the call midway through a discussion of whether Darwinism inspired the Holocaust. Soon after one of the producers described ignoring Darwin's influence on Hitler a "special form of Holocaust denial," Myers offered some thoughts of his own (one participant in the call muttered, "You are very persistent"). "The idea that Nazism is derived from evolutionary theory is pretty bogus," he said. "Have you heard of a pogrom? Those have been going on for centuries.... You're trivializing the whole thing to blame Darwin." After one of the call's organizers politely asked Myers to "do the honorable thing" and stay silent, the professor invited media to contact him for any clarifications about the producers' "policy of lies." (A recent blog post mocks Stein's views by explaining why Newton's theory of gravity is to blame for all force- and mass-related deaths.) Given that Stein's new movie and campaign have him attacking higher education and pushing views that are widely seen as absurd by scientists and historians alike, he might not seem an obvious choice to speak at a major gathering of university leaders. But he is one of the featured speakers on the program of this summer's annual meeting of the National Association of College and University Business Officers. A spokeswoman for the group said officials there were unaware of his latest cause when they invited him to appear.
  • Honor codes are designed to encourage academic integrity and define standards of honest work. Students preparing a code at the University of Texas at San Antonio apparently plagiarized their new code, including the definition of plagiarism, The San Antonio Express-News reported. Students said that the problem was an oversight and that those preparing the original draft apparently found material online and didn't credit it.
  • The American Council on Education has named a new group of fellows -- senior faculty members or administrators who gain the chance to work for a president or executive of another college for a year, to learn about running colleges and universities. The 34 new fellows may be names to watch, given the program's success at producing future academic leaders. More than 300 alumni of the program went on to hold presidencies and hundreds of others became provosts or other top administrative positions.
  • Students at the University of Miami who want to relax on the grass near Lake Osceola may run into one or more crocodiles, and university officials aren't happy about the situation, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported. Police officers have been assigned to monitor the area, to prevent students from getting too close to the crocs, which while sunbathing look sedentary, but which can be quite dangerous. According to the article, the crocs have gained notoriety because of YouTube videos showing one crossing a campus road and then fighting with a fellow croc in the lake, and another, titled appropriately: "UM (idiot) student startles a crocodile."
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