BEHIND the NEWS
WHILE A GUBERNATORIAL PANEL'S REPORT CRITICIZED DECISIONS made by Virginia Tech before, during, and after last April's shooting, three university-conducted overviews sought to determine how to better protect students. They examined communications and security operations, and assessed interactions among departments on campus, including academic affairs and student counseling services.
President Charles W. Steger told the media, "I asked for the creation of two different but concurrent review processes. The external review, commissioned by Gov. [Tim] Kaine, is essentially investigatory in nature, while ours is a forward looking review of university policy, resources, and infrastructure through the prism of April 16." Virginia Tech's internal overview recommended additional security measures and more counseling for mentally troubled students. It cites that there was "good cooperation and sound agreement" between emergency workers and that cellular and phone systems on campus should be upgraded to avoid being overloaded in emergencies. Some suggestions have been carried out, such as replacing the types of door handles gunman Seung-Hui Cho chained during his rampage and instituting an emergency alert system.
Critics, however, say the university's internal review does not cover the much-debated decision to keep the campus open after the first set of shootings. The Virginia Tech Review Panel's report states that university officials could have saved lives by notifying students and faculty members earlier about the killings and missed numerous ways to address Cho's mental health problems.
Colleges nationwide have responded to the tragedy by installing new emergency notification systems, reinforcing current procedures, and better informing students about seeking counseling. The University of California, Santa Barbara, is expecting to have a text messaging system in place no later than January 1, 2008, according to Paul Desruisseaux, associate vice chancellor for Public Affairs. UCSB already has an on-campus emergency task force that centers on preparing for earthquakes and other disasters. A parents' handbook, distributed at summer orientations, features new material on campus preparedness. UCSB had a tragic experience in 2001, when a freshman with a history of mental illness plowed his car into a crowd of pedestrians, killing four people.
AS EXPECTED, INVESTIGATIONS INTO the mismanagement of student loans are expanding into the study abroad sector. In August, New York state's Attorney General Andrew Cuomo served subpoenas to 15 study abroad providers. The new round of investigations are digging into allegations of free trips provided to university officers who work with certain study abroad companies and special loan rates offered in exchange for exclusive access to student borrowers.
Officials in the student loan sector aren't sitting idle. Nor are other organizations in higher ed. NAFSA: Association of International Educators has formed a task force to examine financial aid and management issues, including ties to third-party providers. Tufts University (Mass.) has changed its policy, saying that it will pay full fare on trips taken by the foreign-study advisor. (Previously, vendors helped subsidize such travel.)
About 200,000 U.S. college students study abroad annually. The majority, 72 percent, are enrolled in programs offered by their own colleges or universities, according to the Institute of International Education; the remainder enroll in programs provided by outside vendors.
"Cuomo himself has said that colleges and universities need to be prepared," notes Mitch Zarnoff, deputy chairman of Hogan & Hartson's White Collar Criminal Defense and investigations Group. Cuomo has suggested that as many as 25 other states are getting active on this issue, he notes. Zarnoff estimates that there are as many as 10 active investigations chasing down one aspect or another of student loan practices.
"Over the next months we will hear more about settlements and codes of conduct."-J.M.A
GREEK ORGANIZATIONS OFFER INSTRUCTION, but not the sort found in a textbook or classroom. Fraternities and sororities teach students what it really means to be a man or woman in our society, notes author Alan DeSantis, also a communications professor at the University of Kentucky. But after all their years on campus-the first social Greek organization was founded in 1776- they are still perpetuating such erroneous beliefs that a real man is competitive and always on the hunt for sex, while the perfect women is pleasant and ever protective of her virtue. Also, DeSantis writes, they remain largely racially segregated.
DeSantis divides the Greeks into three groups: elites, aspirers, and strugglers. The more elite the organization the more rigid its views. Such beliefs have a profound impact on young adults. Women-and a growing number of men-feel they must be perfect to be sexy and attractive. Eating disorders and hypercritical views are rampant on campuses.
DeSantis adds, though, that the influence of Greek membership cannot be ignored. Connections made in the frat or sorority house can open professional doors decades later.
A NEW NATIONWIDE TOLLFREE number for people to report hazing had already received two anonymous calls by Labor Day, says Dan McCarthy, an attorney at Manley Burke. The Cincinnati law firm is monitoring the voicemail for the 21 international fraternities and sororities sponsoring the hotline. The information, along with relevant hazing laws, was sent to the appropriate national organizations, and it is their responsibility to investigate. Although callers have the option of leaving their contact information, there is no caller-ID or other way to trace calls. Sponsoring organizations are distributing information about the hotline to current and potential pledges and parents.
"We encourage as wide a distribution as possible," says McCarthy. "I've been contacted by several administrators and however they want to spread the word we welcome that." He says the number is one more option for people to report hazing. "The goal is to eliminate hazing," he concludes. -Ann McClure
AT UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, Dearborn, not only can you use the bathroom to wash your hands; soon you'll be able to wash your feet as well. Recently, the university announced plans to install two foot-washing stations on campus, in hopes of addressing a difficult sanitation problem regarding students washing their feet in bathroom sinks.
The decision was made after the university realized that Muslim students, who comprise approximately 11 percent of the university's student population, needed a safe way to wash their hands, feet, and faces several times during the day. The washing is part of Muslim religious practice.
Concerns arose when students and faculty members expressed discomfort with having to use sinks in which others had washed their feet. In addition there was a safety hazard from accumulated water on the bathroom floors created slippery and dangerous conditions. To remedy the situation, the university decided to spend $25,000 to install two footbaths.
UM-Dearborn expressly noted that taxpayers would not be the ones funding the new additions. Instead, money drawn from student fees for infrastructure and campus maintenance will foot the bill. The university also was quick to address the reasons behind installing the footbaths, none of which include a religious bias. A statement on the university website explains: "The university is not promoting a religion. It is taking steps to assure the health and safety of all members of the campus." The Dearborn campus isn't the only one to offer foot-washing facilities. More than a dozen schools nation-wide, both private and public, offer such accommodations.
Most students and faculty are supportive, says Terry Gallagher, spokesman for UM-Dearborn, reiterating that the university is "not creating a religious facility but looking for a prudent way to address a plumbing issue." The foot-washing facilities should be fully functional by the end of the academic year. -Eileen Mullan
THE PROFILE OF online students is similar to that of community college students. These are adult learners who have too many commitments to attend school full time. Online courses are one way to serve them, and Colorado State University has jumped into the market in a big way, allocating $12 million to a new venture. CFO Richard Schweigert says the initial budget should cover the estimated costs of building an IT backbone and providing adequate staffing for the venture to stand on its own. CSU-Colorado is expected to begin enrolling students in 2008. Courses will be acquired from the brick and mortar campuses, and the online venue will share revenue with CSU campuses. Since the targeted students aren't currently coming to campus, Schweigert doesn't anticipate the online venture effecting traditional enrollment. But the Colorado Community College System, which already has an online presence, should not be negatively impacted. Through a partnership, students will start with the community college program and then transfer to the new university online program if they wish. "As a land grant institution, part of our charge is to disperse education to all parts of the state," Schweigert explains as the motivation behind the program.
OFFICIALS AT THE CONSUMER PRODUCTS Safety Commission are issuing warnings about the increase in campus housing fires and the inherent danger they bring. Data released by the National Fire Protection Association shows that the estimated number of fires in campus housing, which include dorms and fraternity and sorority houses, has risen from a low of 1,800 fires in 1998 to 3,300 fires in 2005. Also, between 2000 and 2005, 39 fire-related deaths and nearly 400 injuries were reported.
The CPSC has noted that cooking equipment-such as hotplates, microwaves, and portable grills-causes 72 percent of dorm fires, while most deaths and injuries occur in sleeping areas. It is also noted that housing fires are more common during the evening hours and on weekends when students are in their residencies. -E.M.
GHOSTS AND OTHER THINGS THAT GO BUMP in the night get an academic once over from the Paranormal Research Society, an officially sanctioned student club at Pennsylvania State University. Founder Ryan Buell explains PRS is a research group that investigates actual cases and has worked with the police and Roman Catholic Church. When on a case, the group tries to rule out mental illness and other natural logical explanations rather than instantly crediting a paranormal source. They also draw on experts ranging from neuroscientists to engineers, many of whom are affiliated with the university in some fashion. Buell says being an officially sanctioned club gives them some initial credibility and at the same time "we take the reputation that Penn State gives us and we want to honor it and do something reputable." They will get to show the world how reputable they are when their new A&E TV show Paranormal State premiers in December. "At the beginning I said, 'I want to prove there are ghosts,'" says Buell. But now his goal is to make it acceptable to talk about the supernatural and let people being haunted know they aren't alone. -A.M.
THERE IS GENERAL CONSENSUS that colleges and universities-including the community college sector-are becoming much more sophisticated about alumni relations. The effort to turn graduates into life-long constituents and donors is well underway. But getting alumni to answer the mail solicitations, telephone drives, and to attend fundraising events takes a concerted effort. That could explain why full-time employment has remained the same during the past two years for 60 percent of the 60 IHEs that participated in a recently-released survey conducted by Primary Research Group. Employment has increased for 28 percent of alumni offices, and has decreased for only 12.5 percent. The average number of employees in the alumni office: 3.22.
The report includes other tidbits: Most of the IHEs participating in the survey have non-dues based associations. Only 21 percent charge dues to alumni to belong to a club or an association. Twenty percent of respondents have a presence on the social networking website MySpace, while 17 percent of alumni associations use blogs, listservs, or other internet tools for outreach. Many offer financial services, such as credit cards and auto insurance, although the mean for alumni carrying an IHE-related credit card is 4 percent. The impetus to hold alumni reunion events is probably almost as old as higher education itself. PRG reports that institutions holding 10-year reunions drew an average of 16 percent of their alumni.
Other tools, such as database marketing, are growing in importance. Close to 9.5 percent of respondents maintain files on grandparents of alumni.
As for how much alumni are giving, the details will be in the report, which contains 400 data tables. The price is $295. "What needs to be highlighted is the incredible rate of success," says James Moses, research analyst for PRG. "Some institutions get more than half to give. Some are way ahead of others in dealing with alumni. Some understand relationship marketing."
A summary of the 115-page report can be found at www.primaryresearch.com/200707161-Higher-Education-Reports.html. -J.M.A.
THERE IS NOTHING MORE PROFOUND than transforming a bitter situation into something better. That is what Rita Geier and the University of Tennessee are doing. The higher education system in Tennessee, once Geier's legal adversary, will now become her employer. Geier, a civil rights veteran of 39 years, is now working as the associate to the UT Knoxville chancellor.
In her new role, Geier will lead diversity efforts and support UT's Ready for the World initiative. She also will serve as senior fellow at the Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy.
The appointment represents a significant shift for Geier and UT. In 1968, when Geier was a 23-year-old faculty member of Tennessee State University, she sued UT when the university announced plans to expand into Nashville.
The lawsuit was Geier's effort to stop UT Nashville from becoming a predominantly white school with top-notch faculty, while historically black TSU struggled. Her actions resulted in the 2001 Geier Consent Degree, which provided $77 million in state funds for six years to further diversity efforts in the state.
"In the course of nearly 40 years many things tend to change and evolve, and one of them is that legal adversaries turn into friends and eventually partners in common cause. That is what has happened with my relationship with the University of Tennessee," says Geier.
HE'S NO HOUSE CAT, THAT'S FOR sure. Mike VI, a Bengal/Siberian tiger who lives large at Louisiana State University, is the embodiment of the beloved sports mascot. In early September 2007, the two-year-old male tiger arrived at his new digs-a 15,000 square-foot, state-of-the-art, outdoor habitat that once housed his predecessor, Mike V. Mike V had lived there until May, when he passed away from renal failure at the age of 17.
Named after LSU athletic trainer Chellis "Mike" Chambers, who was largely responsible for finding him, the first-ever Mike the Tiger arrived at LSU in October 1936. His original habitat consisted of a cinderblock night house attached to a 400-square-foot cement slab with fencing around it, according to Dr.David Baker, his personal veterinarian.
In 1981, the habitat underwent a $175,000 renovation, which made it three times larger, and introduced a pool, climbing rocks, and a scratching post. The outdoor portion of the second enclosure had a small grass area, Baker explains, which led to problems. First, the space caused physical constraints for Mike, only allowing him to pace back and forth, says Baker. Second, the tiger's urine would change the grassy spot into mud patches, which led to foot infections.
FUNCTION: To make a better environment for Mike and to reflect more of a natural habitat, the enclosure was torn down and rebuilt. Construction spanned from November 2004 through August 2005. The new, expanded enclosure incorporates natural materials such as grass and sand and enables Baker to keep a close eye on Mike, especially when he may be sick, with its open view setup. "Cats mask their illnesses really well," Baker explains, in that a seriously ill tiger would find a hiding place and remain there until death.
A large oak tree provides shade, and a stream, complete with a waterfall running through lush vegetation, encourages Mike VI to go swimming or just cool off. He can also swipe a paw against one of three scratching posts.
With a 60-foot tower as a backdrop behind the arches of a viewing wall, the habitat reflects elements of LSU's Italian Renaissance architecture. Educational plaques provide facts on tigers. A woven, stainless steel mesh spans the wall's arches, enabling visitors to observe Mike through windows. A mesh top was added to give Mike some extra protection and to prevent objects from being thrown into his enclosure. The habitat is next to LSU's Tiger Stadium. State-of-the-art technology features include timed watering systems and underwater lighting. In his now climate-controlled night house, Mike VI receives medical care from Baker, who pays weekly visits, and gets daily attention from two students in LSU's School of Veterinary Medicine.
CHALLENGES AND SOLUTIONS: Blueprints for the night house intended for Mike to be led through a door in order to go inside a squeeze cage. The doorway was not wide enough, so its width was expanded. An ozone-based water purification system was determined to be too expensive, so a bromine-based system was substituted.
COST: $3 million. The Tiger Athletic Foundation raised funds through "I Like Mike," a grassroots campaign/collaboration between TAF and student organizations. Fundraising methods included taking up collections at home games and selling engraved bricks to be used in a walkway, as well as signed and numbered art prints, according to Bobbie Grand, TAF public relations officer. "We provide funds for the upkeep of the facility," she says.
PROJECT TEAM: Contractor: Gibbs Construction, LLC, New Orleans, La. Architect: Torre Design Consortium Ltd., also located in New Orleans. -M.H.