Friday, December 23, 2016

Alumnus gives university £4m to "lead the charge against a “post-truth” world"

We read: "St Andrews will use the money to recruit world-leading staff to its school of English and school of philosophical, anthropological and film studies".  I must say that I don't think you will get much truth out of that lot

Scotland’s oldest university intends to lead the charge against a “post-truth” world with the help of a multimillion- pound donation from a former student.

Christopher Davis has given the University of St Andrews $5 million (£4 million), allowing it to establish a chair in philosophy and public affairs, as well as an endowed lectureship in American literature.

The university said that the windfall was an important boost to the enduring values of academia. The gift came after Sally Mapstone, the university’s new principal, used her recent installation address to issue a rallying cry to her colleagues in what she said was a climate of hostility to experts.

She characterised recent political developments, such as the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election, as “convulsions” in a “post-truth climate in which expertise is derided”.

The gift from Mr Davis, who graduated from the university in 1987 with a degree in moral philosophy and practical theology, is believed to be one of the largest single gifts received by a Scottish university. After leaving Fife, Mr Davis worked for the Episcopal Church in Paris before returning to his native United States, where he worked in investment management.

Mr Davis arranged the donation from the Shelby Cullom Davis Charitable Fund, which is named after his grandfather, an investment banker and philanthropist who died in 1994 after serving as American ambassador to Switzerland under the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Mr Davis said: “I owe more to St Andrews than I can say. The university’s ethos embodies values that are increasingly rare on campuses and in society: academic rigour, informed and open-minded debate, internationalism, good-willed collegiality and simple decency. In today’s world, what could be more deserving of support?”

“Post-truth” was named recently as word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries, an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”.

St Andrews will use the money to recruit world-leading staff to its school of English and school of philosophical, anthropological and film studies.

The creation of an endowed lectureship in American literature tightens St Andrews’ ties with the US. It was the first British university to teach American literature.


Colorado State Hires Counselor To Treat ‘Racial Battle Fatigue’

Colorado State University (CSU) has hired a counselor to assist students suffering from “racial battle fatigue,” the school announced Monday.

The hire was made last summer, but publicized Monday when the school published an update on its response to a series of student recommendations regarding diversity. The list of recommendations, which resemble a set of demands, were issued in November 2015 when student activists marched in solidarity with Concerned Student 1950, a black protest group at the University of Missouri. Since receiving the list, CSU says the requests have served as a “touchstone” for its actions over the past year

One of the recommendations called for the school to dedicate more resources to treating “mental health issues specifically dealing with racial oppression and racial battle fatigue.”

In its Monday announcement, CSU gleefully announced it had met this request.

“This summer, the Counseling Center hired a psychologist whose specialty is working with racial battle fatigue for students of color on predominantly white campuses,” the school said.

“Racial battle fatigue” is a concept coined by University of Utah professor William Smith. Smith argued that non-white people suffer an accumulation of fatigue from trying to overcome microaggressions, stereotypes, and misconceptions in their day to day lives. This accumulated fatigue supposedly causes headaches and exhaustion, which help to perpetuate the alleged systemic advantages of white people.

“This has been a great step, but we still have a lot of work to do,” Vice President for Student Affairs Blanche Hughes said in the school’s update. “Our plan over the next few years is to continue to increase staff and programming where needed to meet the needs of students and the university.”

The school boasted about other ways it is meeting last November’s demands. Several student senate seats have been allotted to specific groups and organizations based on “diversity,” and the school is also crafting a wider diversity plan with an eye towards increasing the overall population of “diverse” students. The school also says it is considering making Introduction to Ethnic Studies and Introduction to Women Studies required courses for all students, though it may find a broader means of increasing diversity within the curriculum.


Middle School Girl Gets Suspended for Possessing a Butter Knife

Who would have thought a butter knife could become the center of a school controversy?

Last month, officials at Silver Trail Middle School near Miami, Florida, suspended an 11-year-old honors student for violating a county policy strictly prohibiting weapons on campus. The girl’s weapon of choice: a butter knife fit for a toddler.

To highlight the dangers of having this dull knife on campus, the police noted to state prosecutors that the girl used it to cut a peach. Such is the folly of overcriminalization: Every minor mishap gets crammed into the criminal justice system when it could be easily resolved by other means.

In defense of their daughter, the girl’s parents explained that they gave her a set of utensils “made for children to learn how to eat properly.” But despite this educational purpose behind the possession, school officials pounced when the girl brandished the short, dull, rounded utensil, cut a peach in half, and shared it with a hungry friend during lunch time in the school cafeteria.

A commonsense response? Give the girl a gold star for sharing. But instead, the county’s zero tolerance policy toward weapons required punishment.

The zero tolerance policy prohibits possession of a Class B weapon on school premises. This includes such items as razor blades, nunchakus, shotgun shells, and knives—including “blunt-bladed table knives.” Possession of these weapons is considered a criminal incident and can trigger a host of consequences, including not only a minimum six-day suspension from school, but also a mandatory report to law enforcement.

That’s failure No. 1 by the adults in the room. A student using a butter knife is not an incident that requires the time and attention of law enforcement.

And here is failure No. 2: After examining the evidence—a single butter knife—the police department turned over the investigation to the local Florida state attorney’s office, which is now weighing whether to bring criminal charges against the student.

A spokeswoman for the school district maintains that the school followed district policy throughout the incident, while pointing out that the district is working with the family of the suspended student by agreeing to reduce her suspension from six to three days. Needless to say, the family is not satisfied with the ongoing investigation and has hired a lawyer to represent them in the matter.

Surely, there must be someone along the chain of command with the requisite discretion to understand that an 11-year-old cutting a peach with a child’s butter knife is not the type of evil that a school weapons ban is intended to protect against.

The rigidness of a zero tolerance policy that requires taxpayer dollars to fund a criminal investigation into a student who simply cut a peach illustrates a systemic flaw in school discipline procedures.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident, but yet another example of an overreaction to minor infractions due to a zero tolerance school weapons ban, which can have serious consequences.

In Ohio, 10th-grader Da’von Shaw gave a class presentation on how to make a healthy breakfast, which included an apple that he sliced in front of the class. Da’von received a five-day suspension for possessing a weapon on campus due to his demonstration.

In California, high school senior Brandon Cappelletti was not nearly as fortunate. He faced a misdemeanor charge after school officials discovered pocket knives left over from a family fishing trip in the console of his car, which was parked on school grounds. Cappelletti narrowly avoided expulsion due to community outrage against the disproportionate punishment.

Cappelletti’s football coach opposed the severity of potential consequences by sharing, “I’m willing to stick my neck out for these kids because they are the kind we want representing us in society … I hope their lives won’t change because of an innocent mistake.”

Criminal charges carry a multitude of collateral consequences, which could have prevented Cappelletti from following in his father’s footsteps and joining the Marines. He enlisted shortly after charges were dropped.

In all of the aforementioned incidents, schools relied on zero tolerance policies that can produce harmful and unexpected results. To be sure, schools must take weapons seriously, but in a way that requires educators to exercise discretion in evaluating what is in fact a weapon, as well as the nature of an offense.

This one-size-fits-all approach to discipline is a significant contributor to overcriminalization, which is the effort to punish every mistake and attempt to solve every problem through the use of the criminal law and penalties.

This ill-suited suspension and investigation into an 11-year-old with a butter knife is an apt opportunity for school districts and localities to use a little common sense and re-examine how to handle rules violations in a more constructive and equitable manner.


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