Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jury Finds Muslim Students Guilty of Disrupting Speech

Jurors found 10 Muslim students guilty Friday of disrupting a lecture by the Israeli ambassador at a California university in a case that stoked a spirited debate about free speech.

Jurors delivered the verdicts in Orange County Superior Court in the case involving a speech by Ambassador Michael Oren in February 2010 at the University of California, Irvine.

The students were also convicted of conspiring to disrupt Oren's speech. The students were charged with misdemeanor counts after standing up, one by one, and shouting prepared statements at Oren such as "propagating murder is not an expression of free speech."

Prosecutors say the students broke the law by interrupting Oren's speech on U.S.-Israel relations and cutting short the program, despite calls to behave from campus officials. Defense attorneys argued the students had a right to protest.

Nearly 200 people packed the courtroom to hear closing arguments at the trial that some community members called a waste of taxpayers' money and an effort to single out the defendants because they are Muslim.

Prosecutor Dan Wagner told jurors the students acted as censors to block the free flow of ideas and infringed upon the rights of 700 people who had gone to the Irvine campus to hear Oren.

Wagner showed video footage of university officials pleading with students to behave but said they kept interrupting the lecture. Wagner also showed emails sent among members of UC Irvine's Muslim Student Union planning the disruption and calculating who was willing to get arrested.

Defense attorneys countered there were no hard rules for the speech, and the students may have been discourteous but didn't break the law. Lawyer Reem Salahi, who represents two of the defendants, said the demonstration was modeled after a series of protests at UC Irvine and elsewhere in which students shouted at lecturers but weren't arrested. She said the students never intended to halt Oren's speech entirely but wanted to express their views on the Israeli government's actions in Gaza.

During the case, attorneys showed dueling pie charts breaking down how much time the students demonstrated, how long their supporters cheered, and how much time Oren spoke. The evidence was intended to show whether the meeting suffered a significant disruption.

Attorneys for the students -- who attended UC Irvine and nearby University of California, Riverside -- argued before the trial that charges should have never been filed and that the issue was already handled on campus. In 2010, the students were cited, released and disciplined at UC Irvine, which revoked the Muslim Student Union's charter for a quarter and placed it on two years of probation.

Earlier this year, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas filed criminal charges against 11 students, prompting an outcry from the American Civil Liberties Union and a host of Jewish, Muslim and campus groups. Charges against one defendant were later dropped.


Standardized Testing Under Attack ... Again

As predictably as fall marks the beginning of the new school year in campuses across the country, so, too, does it usher in new attacks on standardized testing. The 2011 version comes in the form of a new book, "SAT Wars," a collection of essays that purports to be an authoritative account of the controversy over one particular test used by most selective universities in their admissions process. But far from being an unbiased account of the pros and cons of using any standardized test -- much less the SAT, one of the most thoroughly studied, modified, and continuously validated tests in history -- the book is really an attack on standardized testing per se.

Currently, the overwhelming majority of selective schools require that students submit their SAT scores or the alternative ACT, when they apply for admission. The test is used as one measure among several -- usually including high school grades, class rankings, teacher recommendations, extracurricular activities, application essays, and other factors -- to choose among applicants. But a move to make the SAT optional has taken hold at some selective schools. At Bowdoin College in Maine and Mount Holyoke in Massachusetts, those students who choose to do so still submit their scores, but those who don't wish to, do not. Naturally, students who score less well than they had hoped are more likely to opt out of submitting scores.

The movement away from requiring the SAT has picked up steam in the last few years, ostensibly driven by the desire to increase racial and ethnic diversity at colleges. If it's true, this would be troubling enough, since the desire to achieve a predetermined ethnic or racial mix should play no role in determining who gets into college. But, in any event, the real motive behind the SAT-optional movement is more complicated and self-serving.

It is true that, on average, SAT scores for whites and Asians exceed those for blacks and Hispanics. The mean combined SAT score for math and reading for whites in 2010 was 1064; for Asians, 1076; for Hispanics, 914; and for blacks, 857. For years, critics of the test have argued -- without much evidence -- that these score disparities prove that the test is biased. The Education Testing Service, which administers the SAT, as well as other standardized tests used in college and graduate school admissions, has worked strenuously over the years to ensure that no racial or cultural bias creeps into the questions on the test. Moreover, ETS has spent a great deal of time and money recalibrating the tests and validating them to prove that test scores accurately predict academic success in college.

Although some of the essays in "SAT Wars" argue that both racial and gender bias is built into the test, there is little hard evidence to back the claim. Not only do SATs predict first-year college grades reasonably well, but their predictive value also continues throughout students' tenure, according to a carefully done meta-analysis of several studies by M.A. Vey and others in 2003. And rather than underestimating subsequent performance for minority students, SAT scores actually slightly over-predict how well black students will perform once in college.

So why are increasing numbers of selective schools deciding to make the test optional for applicants? The motive may have less to do with promoting diversity than it does with promoting higher college rankings by the schools that have gone SAT-optional.

Since the 1980s, U.S. News & World Report's annual issue announcing the rankings of competitive colleges and universities has become the most popular way to determine the quality and standards of America's colleges. Although SAT scores ostensibly count for only 10 percent of the overall ranking, a study of the correlation between average SAT scores and college ranking showed that there was an almost perfect correlation (.89) between the two. Thus, if lower-scoring students choose not to submit their scores at schools that permit it, the school's ranking may stay artificially high, even as the quality of the students admitted drops.

Standardized testing for college admissions began as way to level the playing field for students of ability to overcome whatever social or economic disadvantages they might have had when applying to elite schools. Traditionally, elite schools relied less on how academically promising the applicants were and more on whether they were well-connected. It is high irony now that those who most want to eliminate standardized testing do so claiming that they are promoting fairness -- when in fact they're still only promoting themselves.


Degrees in "Management" versus "Business administration"

Some British developments

What happens if you are not good at people management

What’s the use of having a first-class degree in law/maths/economics if you don’t have a clue how to get the best out of the people working for you? It is your management skills you need to develop and, increasingly, providers of distance learning courses and other vehicles of executive education are developing products which address that deficit. There is more to business than poring over spreadsheets. The human landscape is far, far more important.

At Ashridge Business School in Hertforshire, the uptake for the new 'virtual’ Masters in Management course, introduced in April 2010, has been so good that the current 70 students are expected to expand eight-fold in the next four years. It is a remarkable rate of growth, but not untypical of the fast-moving business-studies environment of 2011, where good managerial skills are increasingly prized and education providers are falling over themselves to come up with attractive products.

"About a third of our students are from the UK, the rest from overseas," says course director Roger Delwes. "Some are from Australia, where we have a reciprocal arrangement with the Melbourne Business School at Mount Eliza, and others from emerging economies, from Nigeria to Eastern Europe."

Competitively priced at £16,000, less than half what you could expect to pay from an MBA from a good business school, the course comprises a three-term postgraduate certificate, a three-term diploma, a six-month special project and five days of face-to-face teaching at Ashridge. Although there is some flexibility, the full masters qualification is achievable in 2-3 years and would require an estimated 12-15 hours’ work a week over that period.

"Some of our students already have a first degree," says Delwes, "but most already have several years’ working experience, in fields ranging from financial services to sports administration to the hydrocarbon industry."

Although most of their students tend to come from the private sector, Ashridge has identified several public-sector areas of work, notably the health service, where enhanced management skills are likely to be in demand.

"Take GPs," says Delwes. "Ten years ago, they would have spent 99 per cent of their time exercising their clinical skills. With the re-organisation of the health service, they are going to have to learn to be managers as well as clinicians, understanding budgets as well as anatomy. Courses like ours can help them achieve that."

If the MBA is a familiar part of the education landscape, and can involve some quite rarefied theoretical study, masters degrees in management have a more practical relevance. "People doing MBS are typically investing in their intended future, whereas those who enrol for degrees in management are investing for the present," says Delwes. "They may have been frustrated by the day-to-day challenges of creating an effective working environment, and want the tools to improve their performance."

The Masters in Management is the first 'virtual’ course offered by Ashridge and, in terms of content, is learning-driven rather than curriculum-driven – in other words, students need to relate their studies to their own working situations, rather than get bogged down in abstract theory.

"A lot of distance learning courses require long, uninterrupted hours in front of a computer," Delwes explains. "We want to vary the mix and get students to apply what they have learnt to their own workplaces, particularly during the special project with which the course concludes."

If Ashridge has identified a lucrative niche in the market, it is not alone. More and more UK universities now offer masters degrees in management, delivered either on campus, through online courses or through educational models which blend the two.

"The MBA may remain the gold standard in business circles, but the value of strategic management skills is increasingly being acknowledged," says Barry Blackham, head of curriculum and student experience at the Derby Business School, part of the University of Derby. "There are just so many people in different stages of their careers who need to be taught to look at problems in the workplace in the round, not just make things up as they go along."

The Derby Business School has a proven track record of delivering online degrees, adding new courses every year. Its MSc in Strategic Management has proven particularly popular in southern Africa, notably Botswana, where there are 45 students enrolled on the course, and Malawi, where there are 80.

Whereas UK students enrolled on the course study entirely online, students in Botswana and Malawi benefit from what Blackham calls "the flying faculty model". Most of the time students have to work on their own, from textbooks or online materials; but two or three times a year, teachers from Derby will fly out to Africa to field questions and deliver face-to-face classes. In countries where internet usage is not widespread, the human touch is often vital in helping students achieve their full potential.

"They are a very mixed lot, and at very different stages in their career," says Blackham. "One of the students is the Malawi Minister of Transport, one of the most senior members of the government. Another is a chicken farmer. NGOs, we have found, are also prepared to fund key staff in their extra-curricular studies. But, if the students have arrived at us via different routes, they all seem to benefit from the course, mainly because it has direct application to their work."

One of the key modules in the course, which typically takes between two and three years, is Decision Analysis, which focuses on long-term strategic planning, particularly its financial aspects. "You’re not going to turn people who are not mathematically gifted into brilliant statisticians," says Blackham. "But what you can do is help them find their way around statistical reports prepared by others, and give them the intellectual confidence to deal with accountants, economic analysts and the like."

And it is not just individual managers and would-be managers benefiting from the new trends in executive education. Large and medium-sized companies are increasingly turning to business schools to help them resolve organisational and managerial issues that would once have been handled in-house.

'Our clients include some of the top FTSE companies, as well as major companies in the USA, Australia, Canada and other countries,’ says Bill Shedden, director of the Centre for Customised Executive Development at the Cranfield School of Management, part of Cranfield University in Hertfordshire, the UK’s only wholly postgraduate university.

Companies which use Cranfield’s services are typically looking for a strategy for developing a cadre of middle and senior managers or for implementing major organisational change. "They don’t expect us to tell them what they do," says Shedden. "They expect us to work with them to come up with solutions that are tailored to their needs. Those solutions, increasingly, will involve such teaching tools as network learning and 'webinars’, where you can work face-to-face with someone on the other side of the world."

A once leisurely world of residential staff colleges and week-long conferences at five-star hotels has been superseded by a much more concentrated form of executive education"Companies are under pressure to show tangible results quickly,’ says Shedden. 'They have also had to cut down on travel costs and are reluctant to let key staff take time off for study purposes."

It is a fast-changing environment and, as Shedden acknowledges, business schools have to learn from the mistakes of the past. "With the emergence of the net, a lot of schools thought e-learning was the future and put a lot of effort into developing appropriate online material. But that’s where they came unstuck. All they were basically offering was sophisticated books which were readable on a computer. But how many senior bankers or businessmen would have the time or inclination to read such books?"

Flexibility is the new by-word, with increasing emphasis on interactive forms of learning. A company in the United States or Australia which deployed Cranfield’s services might start off with a short immersion period, with managers studying podcasts and online material, but after that the group would be as important as the individual in the learning process.

"We recently did a full-blown business simulation with a company in Miami," says Shedden. "The entire exercise was virtual, with nobody having to move from their desks. But it was a huge success in education terms."

In a complex business world, learning the art of good management has never been harder. The good news is that there have probably never been more diverse or innovative ways to teach managers to manage.


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