Ivory Towers

Animal rights group activists firebomb home of UCLA professor

The house of Edythe D. London, a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), was firebombed last Tuesday by animal rights extremists. The house was empty at the time of the attack, and damage was restricted to the exterior. London, who teaches both psychiatry and medical and molecular pharmacology, uses primates in her research.

Gene Block, the chancellor of UCLA, condemned the attacks on behalf of the University. “These kinds of deplorable tactics have no place in a civilized society,” Block said, calling London’s research “beneficial” and the attackers “a handful of extremists.”

This is not the first attack on London’s home. Last October, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF) broke a window and flooded the house with a garden hose, resulting in damages amounting to more than $20,000. The North American Animal Liberation Press Office announced that this same group claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s firebombing. According to UCLA officials, the ALF had unsuccessfully targeted two other professors in the past.

Following last October’s attack, the American Association for the Advancement of Science issued a statement decrying the actions of the ALF. “If intimidation drives scientists from their valuable efforts and discourages young scientists from pursuing fields of inquiry that require the use of animals, medical progress will be seriously impeded,” said the statement.

According to coverage by the Los Angeles Times, London uses primates in the study of “how nicotine, methamphetamine and other drugs can hijack brain chemistry and leave the affected individual at the mercy of his or her addiction.” She mentioned her own father’s death, which was tied to nicotine dependence, as a driving force behind her research. “We must not allow extremists to stop important research that advances the human condition,” she said.

The firebombing occurred on the same day that the Utah Senate passed a bill allowing animal researchers’ personal information to remain secret, in response to concerns of researchers in the state that their lives might be threatened by groups like the ALF.

-The Chronicle of Higher Education

Columbia student apprehended in identity theft scam

Esther Reed, a graduate student at Columbia University, was arrested last week in a case of identity theft. Reed had applied to the University using the identity of Brook Henson, a South Carolina woman who has been declared “missing” for over nine years. Reed studied criminology and psychology at the University for two years and received over $100,000 in financial aid before police discovered her scheme.

Authorities became aware of Reed’s crime after she attempted to apply for a summer job using Henson’s name. While performing a background check, the employer discovered Henson’s missing person website. He then sent the missing woman’s family a notice that their daughter was enrolled at Columbia and contacted the police.

Reed fled from police after she was asked to appear for a DNA test. She then spent a month on the run before being traced to a hotel in a Chicago suburb. After her arrest, she was put in custody of the Secret Service.

Police later discovered that Reed had stolen over six identities in addition to Henson’s. She had used several of those identities to gain acceptance to multiple universities, including Harvard and California State University, Fullerton.

A high school dropout from Townsend, Montana, Reed had been missing from her family since 1999. In a New York Post interview, Reed’s father blamed “profanity and nudity” in Hollywood films for his daughter’s behavior.

Reed faces up to 30 years in prison and is currently charged with aggravated identity theft and wire fraud.

-New York Post

University denies tenure to professor who supports intelligent design

Iowa State University voted to deny tenure to Guillermo Gonzalez, an assistant professor of astronomy who supports the concept of intelligent design, the belief that an intelligent force is responsible for life on Earth. Gonzalez had previously been denied tenure by the Board of Regents in May 2007, but had appealed to the university for a review of its decision.

University officials insisted that Gonzalez was denied tenure because of his declining scholarship record, but e-mail records suggested that professors in the department were more concerned with his views on intelligent design. Several department members said that they found his beliefs troubling. “This is not a friendly place for him to develop his intelligent design ideas,” one colleague wrote in an e-mail. Other professors feared that granting Gonzalez tenure would assist the creationist movement and be “harmful to science in general.”

Proponents of intelligent design are speaking out against the University’s decision, calling it a clear case of discrimination. One advocacy group, the Discovery Institute, claims that Gonzalez’s many research publications qualify him for tenure. In addition to his academic papers, Gonzalez co-authored the book, A Privileged Planet, in which he discussed the “evidence of [intelligent] design in nature.” Aside from his book, the professor claims that none of his other articles mention intelligent design.

As of yet, Gonzalez has not pursued legal action.

-The Chronicle for Higher Education

American Universities Expand Abroad

New York University (NYU) will soon set up a comprehensive liberal-arts branch in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The campus, set to open in 2010, follows a $50 million donation in November 2007 from the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi.

John Sexton, president of the NYU, spearheaded the effort initiated by a private investment company. “We’re going to be a global network university,” Sexton said. “This is central to what NYU is going to be in the future. There’s a commitment, on both sides, to have both campuses grow together, so that by 2020, both NYU and NYU-Abu Dhabi will in the world’s top 10 universities.”

NYU follows other institutions to the Persian Gulf, including Carnegie Mellon, Virginia Commonwealth, Texas A&M and Cornell’s Weill Medical College. Overseas campuses are also becoming increasingly common in countries as diverse as South Africa and China. Science, business and technology degree programs are by far the most prevalent.

However, concerns remain over the quality of education offered abroad. Most faculty are hired locally on a short-term basis. At George Mason University in Ras al Khaymah, another emirate state, neither faculty nor funding comes from the home campus in Fairfax, Virginia. The tuition, at $5,400 each semester, is too steep for most students, and the University has had difficulty in finding students with adequate SAT scores and English language ability.

One skeptic is Representative Dana Rohrabacher, a California Republican, who criticized the movement to build overseas campuses as “aimed to making money.” Amy Gutmann, president of the University of Pennsylvania is also cautious when assessing global programs. “I still think the downside is lower than the upside is high,” Gutmann said, “The risk is that we couldn’t deliver the same quality education that we do here.”

Nevertheless, global campuses can increase prestige as universities look toward international ratings, including those by the Times Higher Education Supplement in Britain and Jiao Tong University in Shanghai, China. Colleges and universities also hope to build international relationships and train a new generation of top research talent.

-The New York Times

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