Saturday, September 22, 2007

Professor says he was fired for thoughts on Adam and Eve

A professor at Southwestern Community College in Des Moines contends he was recently fired for teaching students in his western civilization class that the story of Adam and Eve is a myth and not something to be taken literally, the Chronicle of Higher Education news blog reported. The college wouldn’t reveal whether or not the professor, Steve Bitterman, was fired, but he says the college took the side of students who were upset by Bitterman’s comments. Bitterman talked to the Des Moines Register and had this to say:

“I’m just a little bit shocked myself that a college in good standing would back up students who insist that people who have been through college and have a master’s degree, a couple actually, have to teach that there were such things as talking snakes or lose their job.”

I may be a little biased because I don’t believe in organized religion, but I totally agree with Bitterman on this one. That he was allegedly fired for giving his opinion on a story from the Bible is completely ridiculous and shows the beating freedom of speech has taken over the last few years.

It reminds me of Andrew Meyer being tasered last week at the John Kerry forum at the University of Florida for getting riled up when he was asking the senator a few questions. Meyer was doing nothing unconstitutional and wasn’t a danger to anyone, but paid a price for expressing himself, just as it seems Bitterman has.

The college, located in an historically Republican state, apparently feels it's dangerous to take into account the viewpoints of others and let professors deviate from the mainstream thought. I like to think nothing like this would ever happen in liberal Massachusetts, but with the state of this country right now, I’m not so sure.

Friday, September 21, 2007

No more boring application essays! Well, hopefully...

I know my last post was also about Tufts, but this story was too interesting to pass up. According to an article on the NPR website Tufts, in an attempt to stem the tide of boring, generic college essays, has begun offering optional essay questions on its application that are far from the norm. One of the options is to write a short story titled "The Disappearing Professor" or "The End of MTV." Tufts officials feel this will give the admissions employees better clues to who the student is and his or her creativity.

Some say this admissions process doesn't work and isn't a good tool for evaluating leadership, like Howard Gardener, a Harvard professor and author:

"The essays might indicate whether you have a quirky kind of mind, whether you can think about things outside-the-box, so to speak, whether you might be an interesting person to have on campus. But it's probably not the right way to assess leadership or practicality or creativity, in my view."

I don't see how this wouldn't be an excellent tool for assessing creativity and since these essays are optional, an applicant who chooses to take a chance instead of going the typical safe route, could be more of a leader and independent thinker than those who choose the traditional questions.

I would have loved to answer a more creative question when I applied to Northeastern. My essay, about how my dad has been one of the most positive influences in my life, was well-written but mundane and generic. It's hard to answer a boring question creatively and I felt like I couldn't express who I really was through that essay. It was more about detailing events of life and how they affected me.

For those who say leadership and other important qualities can't be assessed from these creative essays, I say look at the student's extracurricular activities, like if the student was on student council or the captain of a sports team. I would love to see more colleges start instituting this policy and give applicants the chance to stand out.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Tufts travel arrangements

Tufts University just announced that it will no longer let outside companies pay partial or full fees for employee trips to overseas study sites, which is a common practice at many universities, an article on the Chronicle of Higher Education website said. Last month the New York State attorney general's office subpoenaed several universities and independent travel companies to investigate whether these trips influence the travel choices available to students. Tufts said it changed its policy in order to avoid inappropriate appearances and the treasurer and vice president of finance also said: “We've been really silent on the issue of these relationships and felt we needed to specifically provide guidance to everyone at the university” and that there was no evidence of offense by Tufts. Practices similar to these were recently uncovered at some colleges that were making arrangements with student loan companies. The deals worked well for the colleges and loan companies, but unfairly limited options for students.

This leads me to wonder how many other colleges around the Boston area still receive funding from outside travel companies and if that limits the travel options available to students. Tufts claims it has done nothing wrong and I have no evidence to prove otherwise, but it seems somewhat suspicious for the university to suddenly change its policy a month after these investigations began. It will be interesting to see if other Boston-area colleges follow suit or if any sort of wrongdoings will be uncovered in the coming months or years. It seems to me like universities would be likely to give an extra plug to the companies that pay for trips for employees over those who don’t. I think it’s unfair to students but also understand the world that we live in. It’s just business.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Heisman hopeful

The last time a football player from the Boston-area won the Heisman trophy was before I was even born, when Doug Flutie won it at Boston College in 1984. But that could all change this season. Quarterback Matt Ryan, who threw for 985 yards and seven touchdowns over Boston College's first three games could bring some pride back to Boston this year. With Ryan at the helm, the Eagles are now 3-0 in the Atlantic Coast Conference to begin the season.

It's interesting that coming out of high school, most major colleges didn't give Ryan a second look, but Boston College was one of the few to give him a chance. That just goes to show how you don't always know someone's true potential from the numbers they put up on paper, in sports or in academics. Ryan's now on pace to throw for 3,940 yards and 28 touchdowns over BC's 12-game schedule. Let's hope he's good enough to bring that trophy back to Boston.

(All information courtesy of Sporting News).

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Torch Scholars Program

Northeastern recently instituted a new scholarship program called the Torch Scholars Program. After reading about the program on the Chronicle of Higher Education website , I loved the idea and wonder why more schools don't offer such a scholarship, especially schools around the urban environment of Boston. The Torch Scholars Program is for high school students who normally wouldn't meet Northeastern's admission standards.

The applicants are typically part of the first generation in their families to go to college and some have tragic life experiences that may have hindered their on-paper success in high school. With this scholarship, Northeastern hopes to increase the socioeconomic diversity among its students, the Chronicle of Higher Education article said.

Some may be opposed to this scholarship because they feel students should have to meet the same requirements they did to get into Northeastern, but I am not one of those people. These prospective students have their own criteria to meet that most Northeastern students do not, such as undergoing a series of intense interviews and take a personality test, among other requirements. Reading the stories of some of the recipients on the Torch Scholars Program website is heartbreaking and a true testament to how much these students deserve the scholarships.

I say more colleges should follow Northeastern's lead and identify those high school students who may not have the highest high school GPA, but deserve the chance to prove themselves at a school like Northeastern and rise above the disappointing circumstances of their lives.