Quick Takes: $16M Hazing Verdict, Autism Comments Divide Emerson, Another Ayers Dispute, Protest on Obama Supporter's Talk, U.S. Loan Rules, Georgia Fires Prof Over Sex Crime, Board Chair Sues Ex-Trustees, Explaining Bear Incident, Standards Fall in UK

October 24, 2008
  • A state judge has ordered the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity's national organization and chapter at the University of Texas at Austin to pay $16.2 million to the parents of a freshman pledge who died two years after falling from a balcony following what his parents said was an intense period of hazing, The Austin American-Statesman reported. The fraternity did not respond to the suit in court or provide comments on the order. According to the parents of the late Tyler Cross, he died after hazing that included beatings with large sticks of bamboo and paddles, being forced to drink large amounts of alcohol and sleep deprivation.
  • Some Emerson College alumni want the college to stop using Denis Leary, a comedian and alumnus, to raise money, because of comments he made about autism in a forthcoming book. The Boston Globe said that Leary wrote that "inattentive mothers and competitive dads" were in part responsible for the rising rates of autism. Many alumni are outraged and say that these comments make it inappropriate for Leary to make fund raising appeals. The college is preparing a letter to alumni asking them to judge Leary by all of his actions, not just those comments.
  • Some legislators are asking why the University of South Carolina invited William Ayers to give a series of talks. Ayers is the University of Illinois at Chicago education professor whose past as a founder of the Weather Underground and whose brief (post-Weather Underground) associations with Barack Obama have made him the professor that the McCain campaign and others have been talking about at great length. The Associated Press reported that a state senator called for the university to spend the same amount of money it had spent on Ayers to promote instruction on the U.S. Constitution or to have professors who invited Ayers read the founding documents of the United States. Harris Pastides, president of the university, issued a statement in which he noted his opposition to the Weather Underground's actions, but went on to say that Ayers had spoken on education issues, not his past politics, on his visits to the university. "Our university, like all great universities, must serve as a place where the free exchange of ideas is not just encouraged but guaranteed," he said.
  • Seton Hill University, in Pennsylvania, faced student protests and a rebuke from the local bishop for a speech this week by Douglas Kmiec, a supporter of Barack Obama. Kmiec is a law professor at Pepperdine University and his backing of Obama has been notable because he is a prominent Republican Roman Catholic thinker who has worked for two Republican administrations. The Rev. Lawrence E. Brandt, bishop of Greensburg, Pa., issued a statement in which he called Seton Hill's decision to let Kmiec speak "an offensive trivialization of the institution's declared Catholic identity." The university defended the speech, saying that students were within their rights to invite Kmiec, that his appearance didn't constitute an endorsement of his views, and that McCain supporters had also brought speakers to campus.
  • The U.S. Education Department on Thursday published final regulations to carry out changes made to federal student loan programs by the College Cost Reduction and Access Act that Congress passed in 2007. While the rules address many issues, they focus heavily on carrying out the new income-based repayment program that was created by Congress to help students repay their loans.
  • The University of Georgia is firing Cecil Fore III, a tenured associate professor of special education, because he told the institution that he had never been convicted of a crime when he had served jail time for sex crimes in Alabama, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Fore was convicted in 1991 of sexually abusing three special education students in junior high schools, the newspaper said. Fore and his lawyer declined to comment.
  • The chair of the board of the College of DuPage, in Illinois, has sued three former board members, charging them with defamation in their allegations of sexual harassment against him, the Chicago Tribune reported. The former trustees stand by their allegations, which the chair says were false. The former board members reported their views to the college, which investigated, but the Tribune said that the results of that investigation are unclear.
  • One of the more bizarre incidents in this election season -- at least of those on campuses -- was the discovery this week of a dead bear at Western Carolina University with Obama posters on its head. On Thursday, two students were charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and committing a wildlife act without a license or permit, The Asheville Citizen-Times reported. A total of seven students were reportedly involved in the incident, in which the students apparently found the dead bear while they were camping and after finishing their trip, returned to get the bear and bring it to campus. Some on the campus have criticized Chancellor John Bardo for characterizing the incident as "a stupid prank," feeling that the remark did not convey the seriousness of the situation, the Citizen-Times said. Bardo has made additional comments criticizing the actions of the students, and saying that they did not reflect the views of the university or its students.
  • A poll of British academics by Times Higher Education has found that many fear for the future of academic standards. About 77 percent saw plagiarism by students as a growing problem; more than 70 percent agreed that the need to maintain acceptable retention rates had led to lower failure rates on courses at their institution; and more than 80 percent felt that resourcing constraints were adversely affecting academic standards, while just 11 percent disagreed.
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