Behind the News

Behind the News

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Who will control broadband access?

A bill to help ensure the continued open architecture of the internet was voted down in the U.S. House of Representatives last month, leaving content providers, educators, and consumers in a pitched battle with the telecommunications industry over the question of who controls broadband access.

The so-called "Net Neutrality" bill, aimed at preventing broadband carriers from discriminating against competing web content or services failed in committee on a vote of 34-22. The bill was still awaiting a full floor vote as this issue went to press, though some observers say the GOP-controlled rules committee was unlikely to let it get that far.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) introduced a similar bill in the Senate that awaits committee debate, while James Sensenbrenner (R-WI) and John Conyers (D-Mich.) introduced yet another version of the bill in the House.

At stake is a potential sharp increase in the cost of using broadband services, and the concern of favoritism in the form of faster speeds for content providers willing to pay the price.

A Verizon Communications official dismissed such claims as "Chicken Little" stories, saying that the telecomm industry needs to charge users for services such as high-quality video to be able to finance the cost of upgrading its network-to-fiber links.

But neutrality proponents argue that they already pay high prices for broadband access, and failure to protect the system would essentially be paying twice for the same services.

Unfortunately, for an issue that has the potential to leave dramatic changes in its wake, it is quickly shaping up as another partisan tussle, with Republicans largely siding with the telecomm interests and most Democrats supporting fair access.

Education groups put a positive spin on the bill's committee defeat, reasoning that the vote was closer than expected. "We didn't expect it to pass, so we weren't terribly surprised that the bill was defeated," says Wendy Wigen, a policy analyst at EDUCAUSE who covers internet and telecommunications policy issues. "We feel we're making progress, but we still have a long way to go. Now we are focusing most of our efforts on the Senate. There are still a lot of senators who haven't made up their minds, so we feel we have the ability and the time to make more of an impact on that side."

If the bill fails, Wigen says campuses will likely face increased costs to send high-quality video content for disciplines such as telehealth, and distance education. "If we aren't willing to pay more for premium services, we'll see the quality degrade to the point where we won't be able to use our high-end applications," she predicts. "It will get to the point where the applications are ahead of what bandwidth is available, and if we don't pay, we'll be out of luck. I think it will really have an impact on innovation and applications." -Tim Goral

The ruckus over Harvard sophomore Kaavya Viswanathan has gone silent in recent weeks, but it will brew anew if the college makes a decision to discipline her. Accused of plagiarizing material in her chick-lit book, How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got a Life, Viswanathan defended herself by saying that she did not intend to snag words from other authors. "When I was writing, I genuinely believed each word was my own," she said on NBC's The Today Show.`

Since the alleged word-borrowing did not take place in a Harvard course, guidelines on the school's actions are unclear. In 2001, a student was forced off two student publications after she plagiarized material from Forbes, according to The Harvard Crimson. Harvard did not take disciplinary action against that student.

According to a spokesman, the college may or may not choose to put the Viswanathan matter before its disciplinary body. "We would never discuss an investigation by the Administrative Board of any student," says Robert Mitchell, director of Communications for the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. "We would not discuss whether an investigation exists or not." -Caryn Meyers Fliegler

HIGHER GROUND: ETHICS AND LEADERSHIP IN THE MODERN UNIVERSITY

By Nannerl O. Keohane

Duke University Press, dukeupress.edu; 2006; 304 pp; $24.95

Things couldn't be more controversial for Durham, N.C.-based Duke. White members of the men's lacrosse team are being accused of raping a black woman from North Carolina Central University. An independent study of the incident accused Duke officials of failing to understand the gravity of the situation when the incident was first reported to police. The upshot has been non-stop media coverage that has surpassed any received by a higher ed sports scandal in recent memory.

Enter former Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane. Her writings on leadership-created during her 11 years in office-have been compiled into a new book that, while not being able to calm the waters, will remind higher ed leaders about the importance of mission and decision-making.

While at Duke, Keohane launched the Women's Initiative, which reported on the stress for Duke's young women to be perfect-academically outstanding, fashionable, and attractive. This research, along with the new developments, makes some passages in the book especially poignant.

Keohane is a former president of Wellesley College (Mass.). She is currently a distinguished visiting professor at the University Center for Human Values at Princeton. -Jean Marie Angelo

When Winston Brown, diRector of Admissions at Xavier University (La.), makes cellular calls these days, the line often cuts out unexpectedly-that's just life in New Orleans. But Brown pushes on, and so do admissions at colleges in the Crescent City.

Applicant pools have shrunk in NOLA (except for Tulane's, which grew by 11 percent); administrators are hoping yield figures for the fall will be higher than usual since applicants have a clear idea of what they're getting into. Xavier will enroll a freshmen class about half the size of last year's group of 1,104.

Yet Xavier, Tulane, and Louisiana State University all received a boost this spring when the Middle Eastern country of Qatar (pronounced "cutter") announced several donations: $5 million to Xavier for scholarships and $12.5 million to expand the university's pharmacy school; $3.3 million to LSU for its Hurricane Student Relief fund; and $10 million to Tulane for scholarships. The donations show students who were affected by Katrina that they can afford to go to college, says Brown. "We are going to get the funds in their hands." -C.M.F.

Everyone knows Earth Day is April 22, but certain circles also celebrate Hemp Day on April 20. The date corresponds with 420, the code a group of high school students developed in 1971 to meet at 4:20 p.m. to smoke marijuana. When University of Colorado at Boulder, students tried to gather on Farrand Field on April 20 this year, they were greeted by signs announcing the field was closed and under video surveillance. Some went onto the field anyway. CU-Boulder's police posted these students' pictures on a website and offered a $50 reward for positive identifications. CU spokesman Barrie Hartman says identified students are being cited for violating student conduct rules for trespassing. Last year, officials turned on the sprinklers during the 420 gathering. "Our first priority is the safety of our students," he says, adding that the 2,500 students who gathered behaved very well. Because of the public's ambiguous view of marijuana, Hartman calls the event a lose-lose situation for public perception, saying it would be easier to respond if underage drinking were occurring, but "when they violate the law, we have to have a response." Three students have responded by suing the university for violating their First Amendment right to peacefully assemble. The university has been quoted as saying it has the right to close buildings or fields and will fight the lawsuit. -Ann McClure

Getting on the Same (Recycled) Page

Sustainability: Not exactly the new kid in higher education circles, but certainly gaining in popularity. In March, for example, members of the media spent several hours talking with 11 college and university presidents at a dinner organized by The Science Coalition. Discussions centered on IHEs' responsibilities and ideas for respecting the Earth and its systems. Two months later, the new Higher Education Associations' Sustainability Consortium, or HEASC, launched with its first official meeting in Washington, D.C.

30% of students and 25% of parents say the cost of textbooks is the most shocking campus expense. -Survey on campus spending issued by Key Education Resources

Efforts to implement sustainable practices on campus are growing around the country, with more schools taking steps like buying foods from local growers or relying on wind power to fuel energy needs. Getting everyone on the same page takes work, and that's where HEASC comes in. The new consortium brings higher ed associations together on issues of sustainability, according to Anthony Cortese and Debra Rowe, who are co-coordinating the efforts. "If we are going to truly have the campus as a lab for sustainability, it needs to be integrated into the facilities, the curricula, the community partnerships, the research," says Rowe, who also oversees the U.S. Partnership for the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. "If those are all done in silos, not only is it inefficient but it's a terrible waste of opportunity."

Seventeen different higher ed associations now have sustainability programs. "A lot of these organizations are doing significant things, yet they recognize this is the ground floor of things that need to be done," says Cortese, who is president of Second Nature, a non-profit that helps colleges and universities turn ideas on sustainability into actions. "The whole idea is that by pooling resources and knowledge, hopefully we can take a quantum leap forward. The kind of synergy that happens when people put their heads and resources together can create a whole that's much greater than the sum of its parts." -C.M.F.

Two professors walk into a classroom...

We've all heard that laughter is the best medicine, but at Randolph-Macon College (Va.) they're trying to prove it in a course on the nature of humor.

Going by the rather unfunny name, "The Human Comedy: Cultural and Neurobiological Perspectives on Humor," the freshman course combines neuroscience and humor in an effort to study how humor and laughter positively impact health.

"It's important that we stress humor and laughter in the context of social science. I want the students to not just assume that laughter is the best medicine, and that it's great for our health, but to support that with evidence," says psychology professor Kelly Lambert, who teaches the class alongside humanities professor Tom Inge.

The class studies the effects of laughter on the brain and the body, using everything from scholarly research and Charlie Chaplin films to Calvin and Hobbes comics, and field trips to comedy clubs. They even get a chance to try out their own standup routines.

So what's the punchline to all this funny stuff? The students put their knowledge to work by opening the "Laughing Place" at Children's Hospital in Richmond, a refuge where hospitalized children can temporarily escape from the pressures of their illness.

Student teams designed every aspect of the space based on their research into what colors, d?cor, and objects trigger positive feelings. The teams were responsible for various tasks, such as purchasing "tickle-your-funny-bone" items for the room.

"Even if the Laughing Place simply distracts a child's attention away from their pain and illness for just a moment, the project will be worthwhile-in fact, it might be just what the doctor ordered," says Lambert. -T.G.

Johnson & Wales University is known for its education in the culinary arts and hospitality, but its new program is only for those who have a taste for adventure. J&W students can receive 13.5 credits for whitewater raft guiding, leading hikes, and camping. It is all part of the month-long Adventure Sports and Nature-Based Tourism summer program that teaches students about this growing vacation travel trend. The program was created just last year via a partnership between the Rhode Island-based university and Northern Outdoors, an adventure resort located in Maine.

The hands-on curriculum teaches students about all facets of adventure travel, notes Paul Vanlandingham, a professor at J&W's Hospitality College. Programs at other IHEs may take students off campus for a week or so, he says. His program requires students to manage the resort for almost one full month.

Students majoring in travel, marketing, lodging, sports and entertainment, or food and beverage can enroll in the program, which works in conjunction with five campus-based courses on adventure travel.

The adventure sports program is considered "study abroad" and students are charged higher tuition to attend. -J.M.A.


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