Beavers on Probation

Philosophical ruminations.
July 27 1999 3:30 AM

Beavers on Probation

News from academe.

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Beaver She-Men

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.

School's Out, Forever?

Despite achieving their primary goals, Mexican students are still on strike. Nearly three months ago, when the administration at the National Autonomous University of Mexico proposed a raise in student tuition from 2 cents to about $150 a year, students closed down the classes with a strike, affecting 267,000 students and 30,000 professors. So why are students still occupying the campus's major buildings? The Washington Post reports that the students have escalated their demands to include the rollback of half a dozen changes the university has imposed in recent years, including limits on the number of years students have to earn degrees and tougher enrollment standards. With negotiations at a stalemate and summer vacations removing the motivation for an immediate solution, both sides appear to be settling in.

Cybercheating

The Scotsman reports that Edinburgh University is withholding exam results from 90 computer science students while the administration determines whether or not they used the Internet to cheat. Graders became suspicious that students were sharing answers via e-mail and using the World Wide Web to search for information when they noticed similarities in the students' work--some to the point of being identical. Although the incident has raised questions about whether electronic cheating is commonplace, a spokesman for the university asserts that "there is no evidence this is a more serious and widespread problem."

Mau Mauing Goes to College

Following a bloody assault by students at Nigeria's Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, last month, students are calling for the dismissal of a top administrator, who they hold responsible for lax campus security. According to the Associated Press, the attackers belong to a campus secret society that functions like a gang, retaliating against students and teachers who oppose them. The melee left at least seven students dead and incensed fears that cult-related violence is rising on Nigeria's university campuses. The student union president has promised a continued boycott of classes until campus security is improved and the vice chancellor dismissed. The societies, which have been blamed for dozens of rapes, murders, assaults, and arson attacks over the years, are widely considered to be the most serious problem facing Africa's largest university system.

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Packing Heat

According to a study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, as many as 400,000 undergraduates in the United States own a handgun. The study also shows that student handgun owners fit the profile of the average American gun owner: white men who live in the South and West or in rural areas. The Chronicle of HigherEducation also reports from the study that it points to a "worrisome association" between gun possession and student drinking. Henry Weschler, one of the report's authors, warns, however, against overreacting to the study: "We're not pointing to hordes of drunken college students running across campus armed," he said. "I don't want to give that impression."

Chinese Threat

Top U.S. schools and laboratories are worried that repercussions from the alleged theft of nuclear secrets will hamper the recruitment of talented Asian and Asian-American researchers, says the Wall Street Journal. Since the charges in May that China gathered a rich harvest of nuclear secrets from ethnic Chinese lab workers, the U.S. government has slowed the visa approval process, making academic exchanges with China more difficult. In addition, low morale is evident among Asian and Asian-American scientists, since suspicions abound in the workplace. Dahwey Chu, a spokesman for the Asian-American personnel at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, commented, "Today it would take a brave lab administrator to hire someone with a Chinese name."

Scientists Who Thawed Their Work Destroyed

New York City's power outage in early July may have damaged hundreds of experiments that Columbia University medical researchers were conducting at laboratories in upper Manhattan. The backup generators designed to power the various machinery and refrigerator units failed. Currently, researchers are trying to determine the extent of the loss.

Comings and Goings

Stanley Fish, formerly of Duke University's English department and now dean of liberal arts and sciences at the University of Illinois at Chicago, has lured two more high-profile scholars to join his ranks--the transsexual economist Deirdre McCloskey from the University of Iowa, and Gerald Graff, a professor of English and education at the University of Chicago. ... Elsewhere, the University of Pennsylvania has finally lured provocative criminologist John J. DiIulio Jr. from Princeton. DiIulio will take his endowed chair in August. ... The North Carolina-based National Humanities Center has announced its fellows for 1999-2000. Scholars will investigate a range of subjects including techno music and globalization, avarice in the late middle ages and Renaissance, and African-Americans and foreign affairs.

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