Sunday, November 13, 2011

On Campus, a Law Enforcement System to Itself

With its first priority being to protect the reputation of the university

After the body of an Eastern Michigan University freshman was found in her dorm room in December 2006, naked from the waist down with a pillow over her head, the chief of the university police said there was “no reason to suspect foul play,” and let her parents believe she had died of natural causes.

That silence held for more than two months. In that time, the student who was eventually convicted in her murder had free run of a campus where he was previously caught climbing into a window of a university building.

In recent years Marquette University has been accused of mishandling accusations of sexual assault by four athletes, and Arizona State has been faulted in handling a student’s rape, allegedly by a football player with a history of sexual aggression on campus.

The Penn State scandal has ended the reign of the university’s patriarch and longtime football coach, Joe Paterno, amid national expressions of shock. But the case is also emblematic of a parallel judicial universe that exists at many of the country’s colleges and universities.

On most of these campuses, law enforcement is the responsibility of sworn police officers who report to university authorities, not to the public. With full-fledged arrest powers, such campus police forces have enormous discretion in deciding whether to refer cases directly to district attorneys or to leave them to the quiet handling of in-house disciplinary proceedings.

The Penn State police did investigate a complaint in 1998 about Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant coach who was charged last week with sexually abusing eight boys, and turned it over to the district attorney, who declined to prosecute.

But many serious offenses reach neither campus police officers nor their off-campus counterparts because they are directly funneled to administrators.

That is what happened at Penn State in 2002, according to a grand jury report, when a graduate assistant to Mr. Paterno reported that he saw Mr. Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the locker room showers.

“I think we’re just on the cusp of breaking the silence,” said Colby Bruno, the managing lawyer at the Boston-based Victim Rights Law Center who specializes in cases of sexual assault on campus. “But there are a lot of very invidious ways that a school can go about squelching these reports. This is everyone’s problem; it’s not just a sports problem or a sports-icon problem.”

Like the Eastern Michigan case, which brought a federal investigation and a lawsuit that forced the university to pay the victim’s family $2.5 million, the Penn State case is expected to intensify the federal Education Department’s recent push to enforce laws that require public disclosure of such crimes and civil rights protections for victims and witnesses.

The department is investigating whether Mr. Paterno and other Penn State officials violated the reporting and disclosure requirements of one of the laws, known as the Clery Act. Separately, the scandal puts Penn State on the radar of the department’s Civil Rights division, which this April issued a tough letter to all 6,000 colleges and universities that accept federal money, spelling out how they must handle cases of sexual violence under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act to prevent the creation of “a hostile environment” for accusers that would violate equality of access to education.

“Obviously, when things of this nature come to our attention, we have a duty to look into the matter,” Russlynn Ali, the department’s assistant secretary for civil rights, said of the Penn State scandal.

The law that first demanded colleges disclose potential crimes dates to 1990 and has been amended several times to close loopholes. Named after Jeanne Clery, a student murdered in her dorm room at Lehigh University in 1986, it requires the reporting of crimes to law enforcement agencies and the publication of crime statistics.

Paul Verrecchia, president of the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators, defended the professionalism of campus officers, who, just like other police officers, he said, “raise their hand and swear to uphold the laws and protect the Constitution.” Local law enforcement officials can also be influenced by the power of the university, he added.


Obama defends HeadStart, despite decades of evidence that it achieves nothing

The most recent evaluation

US President Barack Obama Tuesday used "huggable" young children as a backdrop for his latest bid to make Republicans pay a price for blocking his economic and education reforms.

Obama traveled to Pennsylvania, a state which he must win if he is to win reelection next year, to tout his job creation plans and to unveil a new effort to improve early childhood education.

The president met children and teachers in a Head Start program, which offers education, health and nutrition to children from low income families and prepares them for kindergarten in the state school system.

Obama argued that early education for America's kids was vital as the United States competes with China, South Korea and European nations which he said were "serious about education."

He complained that Republicans in the House of Representatives earlier this year voted for a budget that would have reduced funding for Head Start and had blocked aspects of his jobs bill designed to keep teachers in work.

So, saying he was bypassing a constructive Congress, Obama said that he would introduce a new rule that would require low performing Head Start programs to meet new standards to get continued federal aid.

"After trying for months to work with Congress on education, we've decided to take matters into our own hands," Obama said. "Can't wait for Congress any longer."

The president, however, argued that Congress, which has so far failed to pass any pieces of his $447 billion jobs bill designed to cut 9.0 percent unemployment and revive the economy, still needed to act.

Before his speech, he toured a classroom filled with colorful signs and drawings and filled with children aged three to five years. One child wore a shiny red T-shirt, bearing the slogan "Black President" bearing a picture of Obama.


New British teachers have poor knowledge of the subjects they teach

Children risk being left with a poor understanding of key subjects because of failures in the way teachers are trained, according to a leading headmistress.

Bernice McCabe, head of fee-paying North London Collegiate School, said many new teachers were struggling to communicate fundamental academic disciplines in the classroom.

She said training courses increasingly emphasised trendy teaching skills and different approaches to learning over the application of traditional subject knowledge.

Mrs McCabe, director of the Prince's Teaching Institute, a charity founded by the Prince of Wales to encourage teachers to rediscover their passion for subjects, said the content of lessons was too often seen “a secondary consideration”.

The comments come just days after the charity launched its own master classes to give newly-qualified teachers expert tuition in English, history, geography, physics, biology, chemistry and mathematics. Some 160 staff from state schools took part in the first sessions last weekend.

It also follows the Government’s proposed shake-up of teacher training in England. From next year, more primary school teachers will be trained as subject experts – to give children as young as five specialist lessons in areas such as maths, science and foreign languages.

In a further move, the standards that all new teachers must meet before being allowed into the classroom have been rewritten – focusing on tackling behaviour and the basics of teaching.

In an interview with the Telegraph, Mrs McCabe said: “There is a striking change of emphasis from those teaching standards introduced in 2007 that are currently enforced and those being proposed. The first requirement of teachers in the future will be that they should ‘inspire’ their pupils. “That word was very much absent from the 2007 core standards which don’t place an emphasis on subject knowledge.

“The emphasis at the moment is very much on 'processes' – an awareness of different kinds of skills and learning approaches to suit children – rather than subject content.”

In addition to the Saturday classes, the PTI – established by the Prince a decade ago – is introducing a part-time Master’s degree course through Cambridge University. It will give top teachers an award in “advanced subject teaching”.

Mrs McCabe, who is also a member of an expert panel currently reviewing the National Curriculum in England, said: “Often, when I’m interviewing newly-qualified teachers, they talk about processes in the classroom rather than the subject they are going to teach. “The quality of teaching has to start with good subject knowledge.

“I think the focus on 'process' and the skills that pupils need is starting from the wrong place. I don’t think the children can always hold on to what’s being taught with this approach.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education spokesman said: “Bernice McCabe is absolutely right that we need to ensure we have teachers with a deep subject knowledge.

“That’s why we’re already reforming teacher training to make sure that those who become teachers, especially in secondary schools, have a deep and expert understanding of their subject.”


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