Monday, March 31, 2014

McMaster students support Israel boycott in tense meeting

The thorny issue of Israel and Palestine came to McMaster University Wednesday in a heated meeting where students voted to boycott any business with ties to Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories.

About 500 students voted during a McMaster Students Union (MSU) general assembly for the union to join a pro-Palestinian movement called BDS — boycott, divestment and sanctions.

However, the assembly did not have quorum at the vote  — 633 students were needed to have quorum, and only 518 were present — making a non-binding resolution.

Students on both sides of the debate have commented on the tense atmosphere and at times feeling unsafe and uncomfortable.

“I can tell you it was a toxic environment in the room tonight,”  said Raphael Szajnfarber, director of Jewish Student Life at McMaster​ told CBC Hamilton. “I know that some students did indeed feel targeted.”

BDS is a global campaign designed to pressure Israel to end its “occupation and colonization of all Arab lands,” says the website for the BDS movement. It also calls on Israel to recognize the rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel, and to “respect and protect the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.”

BDS supporters call it a human rights movement akin to the fight against South African apartheid. Those against BDS say it aims to weaken and delegitimize Israel.

Wednesday’s meeting was tense too, from “no to BDS” supporters leaving en masse to a student at the microphone asking security to stand between him and another student. “I’m actually feeling a little unsafe right now,” he said.

MSU brought in extra security for the meeting, said Spencer Graham, MSU’s vice-president education.


 ‘WE CHEATED’ — At UNC, whistle-blowers expose a sickening athletic scam

At the University of North Carolina, the extent of a shocking con — which involved dozens of athletes who for years were deliberately enrolled in fake classes and awarded passing grades to keep them eligible for sports — has now been fully publicized thanks to the confessions of two whistle-blowers.

Deans, coaches and professors at certain sham academic departments of the university were complicit in placing basketball and football players with underdeveloped learning skills in classes that didn’t exist and never actually met. The only requirements were that the students write final papers consisting of a few sentences — a task too difficult for some, who could only read and write at a second grade level. Still, they all received As or Bs.

Mary Willingham, a UNC academic adviser since 2003, became increasingly uncomfortable with the administration’s willingness to lie and cheat in order to keep its athletes eligible. After working with students who could barely read or write — but were still somehow passing their classes with flying colors — Willingham finally decided she had had enough, and began leaking information to news reporters.

UNC retaliated. Now, Willingham has come public with her shocking story of corruption right at the heart of the university. In an interview with ESPN, she detailed the extent of the scandal.

“Athletes couldn’t write a paper,” she said. “They couldn’t write a paragraph. They couldn’t write a sentence yet.”

But cognizant advisers had a habit of placing them into classes that didn’t require much writing, or even attendance.  “Students were taking classes that didn’t really exist,” she said.

These so-called “paper classes” never actually met. Students only had to turn in a final paper, and they would pass — even if that paper was illegible. An example provided by Willingham and linked on IMGUR shows how bad these “A” papers actually were.

The fake classes were mostly in the African-American studies department. Department head Julius Nyang’oro was listed as the instructor for the classes, but he was typically abroad. He has been charged with a felony for defrauding the university, and is currently fighting the charge in court.

Deunta Williams, who played football at UNC from 2007 to 2010, also denounced the scam, which he now says he is ashamed to have been involved with.  “[The advisers'] job isn’t to make Deunta Williams a smarter person, a better person,” he said. “Their job was to make sure I was able to play.”

“It was just a scam, the whole thing,” added Willingham. “It was a joke. It was so obvious. … We cheated.”


From Helmand to Blackpool: Struggling school calls in the MARINES to patrol classrooms and playground to combat unruly pupils and mischievous behaviour

A struggling school plagued by unruly pupils has called in the Royal Marines to patrol classrooms and the playground to help curb disruptive behaviour.

Staff at South Shore Academy in Blackpool are hoping the military presence in the corridors will improve discipline and attendance.

Three former Marines and Navy personnel will take part in one-on-one sessions, teach physical activities and remove disruptive pupils from class.

Staff at South Shore Academy in Blackpool are hoping the military presence in the corridors will improve discipline and attendance

The war heroes have swapped the battlefields of the Helmand province in Afghanistan for the school playground, as they prepare to wage war on bad behaviour.

The move is part of a £40,000 plan to improve pupil discipline at the academy.  A recent Ofsted report found baheviour at the school 'required improvement' and that pupils' achievement was 'inadequate'.

The school has enlisted the help of Commando Joes, a company which recruits former military personnel to work with challenging children.

The three former servicemen and women will be at the academy for the next 39 weeks, keeping pupils in line.

Students said they respect the camouflage-wearing teams, who they claim are 'scary'.

Year Seven pupil Jake Heathwaite, 12, said: 'They're scary if you're badly behaved but people are better behaved in the classes they're in.

'If someone's bad in lessons then theyll take us out so the teacher can get on for the rest of the class. We respect them because they're here to help us, not just to teach us.'

Dave Aston, 51, was in the Royal Marines for 30 years, serving everywhere from Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo to Northern Ireland, and now works with Year 11 boys two days a week.

Michael Todd, 24, was a helicopter pilot in the Royal Navy for four years, working under the official secrets act, and now works with all Year Seven pupils twice a week.

And former army trainer Becky Turner works with Year 11 girls on Monday mornings.

The trio do not teach lessons but work alongside teachers and run out of class activities.

Mr Todd said: 'Some children think teachers are just there to hassle them, we can work with them from a different angle but they see we're here to work alongside the teachers.

'We're trying to instill in them some respect, for school and for other people, those things that children don't necessarily get these days.'

Vice principal Graham Gerrard said: 'The idea is to motivate students, we're just hoping they're someone else who can create that spark in young people to ensure they can succeed.

'They're working to improve health and wellbeing as well as attendance and punctuality.'

A previous Ofsted report for Palatine Sports College, the school before it converted to academy status in January, noted behaviour required improvement and achievement of pupils was inadequate.

Year 11 pupil Robert Markillie, 15, said: 'We look up to them because they've been in the military, they've got a different status. I'd say they're well worth the cost.'

Classmate Hamza Shah, also 15, added: 'We respect them. When they're sitting next to you in class you feel like you have to do your work, you know someone's looking out for you.'


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