Major Setbacks

Philosophical ruminations.
April 3 2000 11:30 PM

Major Setbacks

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The New New Left Review After decades in the California sun, the eminent historian Perry Anderson has returned to London to reinvent the New Left Review, the influential Marxist journal he founded 40 years ago. A sweeping editorial by Anderson lashes out at trendy cultural studies scholars, defends the "classical courtesy" of the traditional footnote, and calls for right-wing critics of NATO (but no Clintonites or Blairites) to join the journal's ranks. An article by Columbia University professor Franco Moretti argues for the replacement of "close reading" with "distant reading": To make the study of literature truly scientific and systematic, literary scholars must abandon the quaint aspiration to actually read all the books they write about.

Major Problems

Kentucky's Council on Postsecondary Education wants the state's eight public colleges and universities to cut back on the number of majors they offer, because its study found that 47 percent of the state's 1,120 degree programs don't meet minimum standards for producing well-informed graduates. The council has given the schools until May to decide whether underachieving programs such as geology and drama studies should be dropped, altered, continued, or given more time to show results.

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Corporate Speech

The president of Hastings College, a small liberal-arts school in Nebraska, resigned after he was accused of plagiarizing a former Coca-Cola executive's speech. Richard Hoover explained that a relative e-mailed the speech to him, and that because no author was listed, he believed the speech was in the public domain. Although Hoover had been planning his retirement, he told the Associated Press that the scandal had "compromised" his leadership position and prompted him to resign.

Game Over

Dartmouth Collegecharged 78 students with cheating on their computer science assignments after a visiting professor claimedthat at least 15 students had downloaded the solution to an assignment directly from his (accidentally unsecured)Web site and then e-mailed it to their classmates. Shooladministratorsdropped charges because the high number of suspects made ittoo difficult toseparate the cheaters from the innocent. Some students speculate that Professor Rex Dwyer set a trap for students because they were disrespectful. And they were. "We were blatantly rude to him," student Julie Green told the Boston Globe. The students considered Dwyer incompetent, and they let him know by reading newspapers during class, making audible jokes about him, and passing around porn magazines. Dwyer has since resigned and returned to North Carolina State University. Dartmouth administrators doubt that he sought to entrap students.

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Smashed to Bytes

The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by several educational organizations and Ralph Nader's Public Citizen to preserve electronic copies of government documents. Currently, federal agencies may destroy computer files as long as paper and microfilm copies are retained. The public interest groups point out that electronic records are easier to search than paper ones. However, National Archivist of the United States John W. Carlin, who was named in the suit, told the Associated Press that he is considering revising the current policy.

That's the Way the Hamentash Crumbles

To celebrate Purim, the University of Minnesota conducted an interdisciplinary debate over whether the lumpish latke  is superior to the three-cornered hamentash, two foods consumed during Jewish holidays. Chemical engineer Ken Keller advanced the case of the latke, emphasizing the potato pancake's helpful role in the understanding of electron charges, heat transfer, population dynamics, and chaos theory. Law professor Carol Chomsky promoted the cookie qualities of hamentashen, reports the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "Law, like the hamentash, depends upon structure: straight edges, sharp corners. ... The latke is like those infuriatingly shapeless arguments that wander from here to there." No winner was declared, but the more than 300 people attending the debate got to decide the question for themselves with a taste test.

Don't Leave It to Beaver

Pennsylvania's Beaver College is contemplating a name change. Administrators and students say that they're tired of being the butt of sexual jokes and worry that the name turns prospective students off. Then there is the Web problem: Some software filters block the access to the schools site, www.beaver.edu, because its address looks like a porn site's. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, administrators are expected to make their recommendation to the board of trustees in a few months.

The Chinese Invented the Burrito

Mike Xu, a professor of Chinese studies at Texas Christian University, believes that Asians sailed the Pacific Ocean 3,000 years ago and landed in southern Mexico. He bases his theory on similarities between the writing system of Mexico's first society—the Olmec—and the one favored by the Shang Dynasty, which ruled northern China in 1000 B.C. Mainstream scholars dispute Xu's claim, but Betty Meggers, a research archaeologist at the Smithsonian Institution, is convinced of the contact. "No one can suggest that the same writing system was invented twice," she told the Texas Times-Picayune.

Rubdown Rub Out

Sports massage may actually provide few benefits, reports the British Journal of Sports Medicine. Researchers set out to measure the dispersion of lactate—the substance released to help muscles recover after prolonged periods of exertion. Amateur boxers receiving 20-minute massages immediately after leaving the ring were compared to those who had 20 minutes of rest. Researchers assumed that a massage would increase blood flow and spread lactate around the body. Instead, they found no difference in blood lactate levels. However, the massaged boxers reported feeling better than their peers, suggesting the psychological benefit of sports massage.

Loaded on HIV

A study of more than 400 couples in rural Uganda suggests that viral load—the concentration of HIV in a person's blood—is the most important predictor of HIV transmission between men and women, regardless of the gender of the transmitting individual. The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, focused on participants in the Rakai Project, a large-scale HIV prevention study. Although they were given condoms, voluntary and confidential counseling, and treatment and health education directed at preventing HIV transmission, 22 percent of the previously uninfected partners became HIV positive. Dr. Thomas C. Quinn, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins and the article's senior author, notes that "with every 10-fold rise in the concentration of HIV in the bloodstream, transmission more than doubled." (Click here  for a press release on the study.)

The Trinity Stoners

Four roommates celebrated spring break at Connecticut's Trinity College by ingesting heroin, Xanax, Valium, butalbital, and sleeping pills—a deadly mix that killed one and made the others very sick. Following the incident, Trinity administrators polled its dorms to make sure students were OK and informed students and parents of the disaster. While several Trinity students told the New York Times that drugs are common at school parties, Senior Vice President Linda S. Campanella pointed out that what happened at Trinity is hardly unique to the school: "I don't mean to sound defensive," she said. "But this is something that could have happened on any campus."

Remedial English for Professors

A poll taken last month at the University of Missouri  found that 15 percent of students are taking classes with a professor whose English they find hard to understand. Students at the system's four campuses have complained to state legislators, who proposed bills that would require all the state's public and private institutions to test their faculty members for English skills. The university opposes the legislation and would like to solve the problems internally. Vice President for Academics Stephen Lehmkuhle told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that while students may struggle to understand some professors, "the incidental learning about language and cultural differences associated with taking a course from an international faculty member may be as important as learning the specific content of the course."

—Hillary Frey

 

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