Monday, August 24, 2009

Why Won't Yale Identify the 'Experts' Who Advocated Pulling the Illustrations of Muhammad?

Why is Yale hiding behind the decision of anonymous "experts" to defend its decision to pull all illustrations of Muhammad from Jytte Klausen's forthcoming book, The Cartoons that Shook the World? What does it have to hide? Who was behind the decision?

Yesterday's New York Times reported Yale University Press's (YUP) decision to pull both the Danish cartoons of Muhammad along with all other illustrations of him slated to appear in Klausen's book, which examines—remarkably—the very controversy the 12 cartoons sparked in 2006, five months after their publication in the Danish newspaper Jylland- Posten in September, 2005.

The Times said that YUP and Yale University "consulted two dozen authorities, including diplomats and experts on Islam and counterterrorism, and the recommendation was unanimous" that no illustrations should appear. It quotes John Donatich, YUP's director, as saying the experts recommendation to withdraw all images of Muhammad was "overwhelming and unanimous."

Not only is Yale withholding the identity of the experts from the public; it refused to share them with Klausen herself. According to the Times, Klausen was told she could read a summary of the experts' opinions "only if she signed a confidentiality agreement that forbade her from talking about them." She refused and called it a "gag order."

A Yale spokeswoman added that some experts wished originally to keep their identities secret, although some "subsequently agreed to be identified."

The American Association of University Professors issued a strong statement condemning YUP. The first line sums up their opinion of what Yale's actions, in effect, say about its commitment to academic freedom: "We do not negotiate with terrorists. We just accede to their anticipated demands." Inside Higher Ed, a web-based publication, today published a statement released by Yale--perhaps in response to the AAUP statement--defending its actions. Note the attempt to shift responsibility away from Yale and onto the backs of the experts:
As an institution deeply committed to free expression, we were inclined to publish the cartoons and other images as proposed. The original publication of the cartoons, however, was an occasion for violent incidents worldwide that resulted in over 200 deaths. Republication of them has repeatedly resulted in violent incidents, including as recently as 2008, some three years after their original publication and long after the images had been available on the Internet. These facts led us to consult extensively with experts in the intelligence, national security, law enforcement, and diplomatic fields, as well as leading scholars in Islamic studies and Middle East studies. All confirmed that the republication of the cartoons by the Yale University Press ran a serious risk of instigating violence, and nearly all advised that publishing other illustrations of the Prophet Muhammad in the context of this book about the Danish cartoon controversy raised similar risk. We recognize that inclusion of the cartoons would complement the book's text with a convenient visual reference for the reader, who otherwise would have to consult the Internet to view the images

This statement smells of cowardice and compromise. We wanted to do the right thing, it claims, and publish the illustrations which, after all, are the subject of the book. But after we spoke to these experts (and you can't just ignore the advice of experts), we figured we'd skip out on our obligations to our author and readers and hide behind their advice, which we appreciate an awful lot.

It may also reveal an internal disagreement at Yale, with YUP personnel who favored inclusion of the illustrations overridden by higher administrators fearful of appearing insensitive to Muslims or being held responsible for any violence resulting from the publication of the cartoons.

If that's the case, let me invite anyone with access to the list to send it my way ( Confidentiality—and satisfaction—guaranteed.


Oxford admission tutors discriminate against private pupils

Resulting in many high achieving students now being unable to get a place in a university

Oxford academics have admitted they routinely “discount” the grades of privately educated applicants in an attempt to increase the numbers of places they award pupils from state schools. The university staff told researchers that when assessing the GCSE grades of applicants, they assume those who are privately educated should score A*s and so mark them down if they score “only” an A.

One tutor interviewed for the study, funded by Oxford and two government bodies, said he saw it as part of his job to “compensate for the failures of civil society” by tempering the privileges of private schooling. The research, to be published next year, comes amid fresh concern over “social engineering” by universities, sparked by last week’s A-level results.

Two pupils at Bury grammar school for girls in Greater Manchester were rejected by all their chosen universities despite winning six and five As respectively. Oxford turned down Amelia Al-Qazzaz, a privately educated physics candidate with 10 As from Stockton-on-Tees.

The study casts fresh light on the attitudes of tutors beyond the published admissions criteria, which give extra credit to candidates from poorly performing schools and with other disadvantages.

Anna Zimdars, the researcher, interviewed 23 tutors in 2005-6. She described “broad consensus” on a “discounting weight” against private school applicants. She concludes: “Tutors’ discretion appears to be at least part of the explanation of the bonus in admissions decisions for state school applicants ... and the discounting of the performance of private school applicants.”

A separate study by Zimdars and two other sociologists — Professor Anthony Heath and Thomas Ogg — backs the tutors’ approach. They find that to have an equal chance of a first-class degree, a privately educated student at Oxford would need eight A*s at GCSE compared with six A*s and two As for those from state schools. The academics say this justifies slightly lower offers to state school applicants to Oxford, where this year 44.6% of new admissions were privately educated.

Mike Nicholson, its director of admissions, said the findings were out of date, as Oxford had adopted new methods for taking into account students’ backgrounds. “These studies rely on fairly old data and from 2006 Oxford made changes to ensure consistent and transparent admissions practice. One of the changes was to agree and publish a policy on using contextual information,” he said.

Roberta Georghiou, co-chairwoman of the main independent school universities’ committee, said: “All selection processes take into account previous education, but crude generic discrimination against any kind of school is wrong.”

The task of choosing candidates has been made harder by the surge in A grades at A-level to 26.7% of all papers sat. A 10% rise in applications has not been matched by new places. The scramble through clearing was shown when 3,000 candidates applied for 25 vacancies at Southampton. Those without a place include Philippa Scott, 18, a pupil at Bury girls’ grammar. She was rejected by Cambridge, Durham, Bristol, Warwick and University College London (UCL) despite scoring six As at A-level. “I don’t really know what else they wanted,” she said. Scott, who applied to study English, has no argument with Cambridge. Of the others only Durham gave any explanation, saying her personal statement may have let her down. [She's probably better off not wasting her money studying such a useless subject as English. Such courses are just a frivolity. And I say that depite the fact that my own best subject was always English. She would probably learn more useful stuff by waitressing]

Georghiou, also Scott’s headmistress, said another pupil had been turned down by all her chosen universities for medicine despite having five As. “The answer from most is that they are oversubscribed. That is not a proper answer, it just acknowledges it’s a lottery.” She added: “If another youngster is in difficult circumstances, I want them to be given a chance, but if they have knocked Philippa off because their grades have been [artificially] enhanced, it doesn’t seem fair.”

Universities which rejected Scott said many well qualified candidates were turned away. English is a popular course. At Bristol, 23 applications chased every place; at UCL, 20.


Dumb teachers mean dumb students in Australia

Lack of discipline in the classroom has made teaching an unattractive occupation in Australia so finding capable teachers in maths and science is often impossible. Many teachers dragooned into teaching Maths and science have virtually no background in it.

AUSTRALIAN primary school students are worse at maths and science than pupils in Latvia, Kazakhstan and Lithuania, new figures show. An exclusive analysis of the Trends in International Maths and Science Study rates Australia behind at least 14 of 36 countries.

The report comes as the State Government announced $46 million to hire 200 specialist maths and science coaches to improve teachers' skills and students' results.

Almost one in 10 year 4 students in Australia are failing maths, compared with 3 per cent of Latvian students, 5 per cent of Kazakhstan students and 6 per cent of Lithuanian students. Seven per cent of Australian year 4 students have no basic science skills, while Lithuania and Kazakhstan both had a 5 per cent failure rate and Latvia 2 per cent. The US and England also had less students failing maths and science.

A quarter of Australian primary school teachers do not use a standard maths text book when teaching, while 98 per cent of teachers in high-performing Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong stuck to a rigid curriculum.

Education consultant and maths teacher Russell Boyle said governments failed to attract enough qualified maths and science teachers. "It just does not make sense, something has to change," he said. Australian Education Union state president Mary Bluett said students were missing out because of a "chronic" shortage of maths and science teachers.

Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said as well as the 200 specialist coaches there would be $7.6 million to encourage high-performing maths and science graduates to become teachers.


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