Beavers on Probation

Philosophical ruminations.
July 27 1999 3:30 AM

Beavers on Probation

News from academe.

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Beaver She-Men

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According to the Ottawa Citizen, Canada's national animal is sexually confused. A research team at the University of Guelph's Ontario Veterinary College recently dissected 11 male beavers that were native to Spencerville, just south of Canada's capital, and found that they all had uteruses. They found the same curious biology in the majority of beavers from three other locations as well. The finding wasn't such a surprise to the researchers, whose routine post-mortems in the last few years have turned up a very high percentage of such "pseudo-hermaphrodite" beavers. Ken Fisher, a professor of biomedical sciences at the veterinary college, believes that the development of a uterus is a normal part of a male beaver's genetics and embryology: But "I wouldn't bet the farm on that," he says. "I'd bet a cup of coffee."

Smart Banking

Is it too soon to prepare for a glut of academically inclined babies from China? The newly opened "Notables' Sperm Bank" in Chengdu accepts donations only from scholars who are under the age of 60, have no history of congenital diseases, and are at the very least an associate professor. Of course, as the Independent of Bangladesh points out, it has yet to be scientifically proved that "intellectual quality can be enhanced by cattle breeding techniques." But in the next few years, new data should be available.

Shoot the Loon

An economics professor at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia is urging Canadians to ditch the "loonie," as the country's dollar is fondly called, and join a monetary union with the United States. A report, co-authored by Richard G. Harris and Queen's University's Thomas J. Courchene, argues that such a partnership would be economically advantageous for Canada. But what about Canada's national pride? "All the hang-ups that we now have about our paper money are going to ... go the same way as the buggy whip and typewriters," says Harris. The Canadian government and the Bank of Canada aren't biting, the London Independent reports. Harris has found one supportive group, however: Quebec separatists who believe that the currency union would ease Quebec's own transition to sovereignty.

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Kangaroo Saviors

A computer science professor has designed a "marsupial" to help search-and-rescue teams in times of crisis. The robot, designed by Robin Murphy of the University of South Florida, has a pouchlike cavity inside of which a smaller "daughter" robot is stored. The mother and daughter robots work as a team--the mother carries a load of communications equipment and battery power into the search site, then deploys the daughter to poke through the debris and rubble for evidence of survivors, the Washington Post reports. (Click here for a video clip of the "launch" of the daughter robot.) The robot system is safer than dispatching human rescuers and, when space is tight, more effective.

Probation Officers

Since 1936, the American Association of University Professors has censured universities that do wrong to their faculties. This year's additions to the hall of shame are Johnson and Wales University and Mount Marty College. The AAUP charged J and W with wrongful termination for not renewing the one-year appointments of two professors teaching in a doctoral program in educational leadership. Mount Marty administrators allegedly violated the due-process rights and academic freedom of an English professor, who had been trying to revive a local chapter of the AAUP, when they fired him a few months ago. Does the AAUP censure matter? Some say the mark is "a serious stigma, others call it a joke," reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. Most administrations do their best to reform after receiving the citation. This year, a record number of institutions (seven) were able to persuade the AAUP that they had cleaned up their act and should be removed from the list; 50 schools still remain under censure.

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