Higher Education Quick Takes
Fifteen British universities have joined other science and charitable organizations in pledging to be more open about the use of animals in research and to promote public discussion of the ethical issues involved, Times Higher Education reported. The pledge follows concern by some scientists and others that support in Britain is dropping for the use of animals in research.
Six Italian scientists and a former government official were convicted of manslaughter on Monday for playing down the risk of a 6.3-magnitude earthquake that killed 309 people in L’Aquila in 2009. The scientists were sentenced to six years in prison, and must also pay $10.2 million in court costs and damages, The New York Times reported. The scientists -- seismologists and geologists -- plan to appeal.
Academics around the world have condemned the prosecution of the Italian scientists as not only unfair but also unfounded, scientifically speaking. Earthquake prediction is a famously inexact science, with increases in risk measured in thousandths or hundredths of a percent. Although a series of tremors preceding the L’Aquila tragedy indicated increased hazard, the risk of a major earthquake remained very low, on the order of 1 percent, explained Tom Jordan, director of the Southern California Earthquake Center and a professor of earth sciences at the University of Southern California. Jordan wrote a report commissioned by the Italian government in which he offered recommendations for how scientists could more effectively communicate the risks of seismic events to policymakers and the public.
The verdict, he said, could derail efforts to improve communication. “People are worried that this verdict could throw a lot of cold water on the relationships that scientists have with the public,” Jordan said in an interview with Inside Higher Ed.
Louisiana State University on Monday apologized for its recent action to remove crosses from a photograph of a group of LSU football fans who paint their bodies in various ways, including the placement of crosses above their hearts. The university used Photoshop to remove the crosses from a photo of the Painted Posse before using the photograph in a newsletter. (This article on WGNO's website includes the actual photograph and a version in which the crosses were removed.) Facing growing criticism, the university posted this statement on its Facebook page: "LSU sent out a promotional message on October 15 to its sports fans asking for feedback on their experience at the LSU-South Carolina game on October 13. In messages to sports fans we attempt to convey no religious or political messaging. We did not intend to offend anyone by the editing of this photograph and in the future we will use another photo rather than make a similar edit. We erred in our judgment and we have communicated our apologies to the group of young men represented in the photo whose school spirit is second to none."
Both male and female scientists believe that gender discrimination is one reason why some women avoid careers in science, and why some who opt for science careers pursue biology as opposed to physics, according to a new report published in the journal Gender and Society. The authors say that they want to understand why women are making certain choices, and how those choices are perceived. In interviews, male scientists tended to refer to past discrimination as a factor while women were more likely to cite current discrimination as a factor.
"College 101" courses -- in which students learn how to be effective students -- have strong campus support, but need to improve if they are to have a long-term positive impact on students, says a new report by the Community College Research Center of Teachers College of Columbia University. While the information the courses provide is "valuable," the courses typically "did not offer sufficient opportunities for in-depth exploration and skill-building practice," the report says. The analysis was based on an investigation of the courses at three community colleges in Virginia.
California's budget cuts to public higher education are leading more students to look at private colleges and universities, the Associated Press reported. Some public students, frustrated by being closed out of sections of courses, are transferring. Others, hearing such reports, aren't going public in the first place. Enrollment at the University of La Verne has increased 70 percent in the last five years. Saint Mary's College of California has seen a 51 percent increase in applications since 2009.
The Arizona Daily Wildcat, the student newspaper at the University of Arizona, has fired a cartoonist, whose depiction of a conversation between a father and a son has been denounced as anti-gay. The cartoon is visible on an online petition calling for the dismissal not only of the cartoonist but of editors who approved the work's publication. The cartoon shows the father saying, "You know son.... If you ever tell me you're gay... I will shoot you with my shotgun, roll you up in a carpet and throw you off of a bridge." The son replies "Well I guess that's what you call a fruit roll up." The newspaper published a letter apologizing for publishing the cartoon and pledging that procedures would be changed so that such a cartoon would not appear in the future.
Iranian students enrolled at universities outside Iran are struggling with the impact of the collapse of the value of their country's currency, Reuters reported. As Western nations have strengthened sanctions against Iran, the Iranian currency lost one-third of its value compared to the dollar in just 10 days this fall. For some students abroad, they suddenly lacked enough money to pay tuition. Iran's government estimates that it has 35,000 students enrolled in other countries.