The Impractical Professor

Philosophical ruminations.
Feb. 29 2000 3:30 AM

The Impractical Professor

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Street Smart in the U.K. British Secretary of State for Education David Blunkett is urging academics to "get streetwise." Stop doing research that is "perverse, driven by ideology paraded as intellectual inquiry," and devote yourselves to work that is "directly relevant to the policy debate," he said. Although academics have spoken out against the minister, Blunkett has announced the opening of six new centers to promote "practical research" that would inform policymaking, according to the London Independent. "We are not," said Blunkett, "interested in worthless correlations based on small samples from which it is impossible to draw general conclusions."

St. Louis Historical District

This year's convention of the Organization of American Historians in St. Louis will double as a protest against racism. The OAH considered canceling its annual meeting scheduled to take place at a hotel in the Adam's Mark chain when five African-Americans and the NAACP sued the company for racial discrimination. Projected financial losses from cancellation made it impractical, so the OAH decided instead to relocate most of the sessions, exhibits, and meals out of the hotel and onto the campus of Saint Louis University. (Click here for an OAH statement on the decision, and here for an Adam's Mark press release.) The organization also plans to demonstrate against Adam's Mark from an adjacent park.

Kerrey Fulfills Presidential Ambitions

Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., will become president of New York's New School University in 2001, when his Senate term expires. Kerrey, who has represented Nebraska in the Senate since 1989, does not have a background in academe—he earned a bachelor's degree in pharmacy—but observers say that his work on distance education in the Senate and his fund-raising prowess caught the attention of the New School trustees.

Food for Thought

Each year, students at Union College in Schenectady, N.Y., get a break from cafeteria fare when food-service vendor Sodexho Marriott cooks from the family recipes it solicits from diners. The idea of the "Recipes From Home" program is to ease the transition to "dorm food." According to a Sodhexo press release, one of the favorite recipes of 1999 was "Jed Cahill's Favorite Authentic Regulation Down Maine Fish Chowdah."

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Spilling Their Seed

Earth Liberation Front has claimed responsibility for the destruction of experiments on genetically altered crops at the University of Minnesota in St. Paul. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 800 oat plants engineered for resistance to fungus and viruses were overturned in a university greenhouse, and the acronym "ELF" and the phrase "Free the Seed" were spray-painted on the greenhouse walls. The San Francisco Chronicle reports that at least 18 separate sites have experienced eco-vandalism since last July, including the University of California at Berkeley and the University of California at Davis.

I Quit. Not

After quitting her post as director of Yale's African-American studies program, Hazel V. Carby returned six days later. Carby was prompted to resign after Yale President Richard C. Levin made comments at a dinner for Henry Louis Gates Jr., the head of Harvard's Afro-American studies department, which she felt insulted her program. In her letter of resignation, obtained by the Hartford Courant, Carby wrote, "To be jealous of [Harvard's] department is to invite a comparison that can only be interpreted to mean that we do not reach a standard of which you can be proud." When Levin drafted an open letter stressing his support for Carby's program and apologized, she returned.

Cow Pie Press

Iowa State University Press is mulling over a business consultant's suggestion that it sell itself to private investors. The specialized publisher brings in about $4 million a year on the strength of titles in the veterinary and agricultural fields, as well as essays by Robert James Waller of The Bridges of Madison County fame. The suggestion was spurred by the press's failure to hire a new director.

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Flaming Monkey Papers

A fire at Dayton, Tenn.'s Bryan College—named after William Jennings Bryan—caused $6 million-$10 million in damage, reports the Associated Press. (Click here for a Bryan College press release on the fire.) Hit by the blaze was the college library, which holds papers from the Scopes "monkey" trial, which was held in Dayton in 1925. Most of the collection survived, as did most of the library's books.

Shelter From the Storm

Cambridge University students and faculty who volunteer at the local wintercomfort homeless shelter are rallying behind the shelter's directors—Ruth Wyner and John Brock—who were convicted under the Misuse of Drugs Act. The case followed the purchase of heroin from shelter residents by undercover policemen. The judge, unpersuaded by the shelter's anti-drug-use precautions, sentenced the directors to five and four years in prison, respectively, reports the Times Higher Education Supplement. The community has launched a "Free the Cambridge Two" campaign.

Physical Graffiti?

Former Emory University professor Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, who resigned in 1997 after allegedly vandalizing the walls of the Emory business school, won an early court victory against the university when a judge ruled that key parts of his case must go to trial. Among the questions that will be addressed in court is whether Emory, through its use of campus police officers, violated Sonnenfeld's civil rights and intimidated him into resigning. (The judge dismissed his slander and infliction of emotional distress claims.) The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a jury will also decide whether Emory played a part in persuading Georgia Tech to retract a deanship it had offered Sonnenfeld just before the purported vandalism occurred. 

—Hillary Frey