In Other Ivory Towers

Northern Illinois shooting kills six

A former graduate student in sociology opened fire on a large class at Northern Illinois University (NIU) last Thursday. Sixteen were wounded, and six were killed, including the gunman.

University officials confirmed the identity of the gunman as Stephen Kazmierczak of Champaign. Four of his victims were female and one male. They were between 19 and 32 years old.

At approximately 3 p.m., Kazmierczak entered through the auditorium where a large lecture class was taking place and began firing. He was armed with a shotgun and two handguns.

NIU police officers were on the scene in minutes, and Kazmierczak was found dead from a self-inflicted wound.

In campus-wide e-mail, the University urged students to “get to a safe area and take precautions until given the ‘all clear.’” The University also instructed students and employees to avoid the area of campus where the shooting had taken place. A staff member reported that there were e-mail and voice-mail alerts, along with a siren that ran for about 30 minutes.

NIU President John Peters described the attack as a “very brief, rapid-fire assault.” At the first news conference on Thursday, the University’s police chief, Donald Grady stated that the University was unaware of possible motives.

Kazmierczak had been a student at the 25,000-student campus in the spring of 2007 but later enrolled at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the victims and their families,” Peters said, “We thank the community for the outpouring of sympathy during this terrible time of tragedy.”

All classes at NIU have been cancelled until the memorial service scheduled for Feb. 24.

The Chronicle of Higher Education

University of Washington monitors students

At the University of Washington computer science building, volunteer students, engineers and staff are wearing electronic tags on their person and belongings. These electronic tags are part of a project to create the “Internet of things” where people and objects are connected through a virtual network.

The project, RFID Ecosystem, studies the use of radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags in a social environment.

“Our goal is to ask what benefits can we get out of this technology and how can we protect people’s privacy at the same time,” said project leader Magda Balazinska, a professor of computer science and engineering, “We want to get a handle on the issues that would crop up if these systems become a reality.”

The RFID tags, which look like thin flexible credit cards, can be read by a specialized reader through any non-metal barrier and from up to 30 feet away, depending on the type of tag. The information from the RFID tags is saved to a database and published to Web pages. Information can also be used in various custom tools to send instant alerts to participants’ e-mail addresses or cell phones, telling them when friends are in certain places.

Beyond data collection, the project has raised issues about privacy. Information from an RFID card can be read from a distance and without the knowledge of the wearer.

“What if RFID readers were everywhere, and everything had RFID tags? What are the pluses and minuses? What do you do with all that data?” said Gaetano Borriello, another professor of computer science and engineering. He added, “In computer science, we try to create a future world that doesn’t exist yet. We’d like to get some experience rather than just conjecture about this.”

The Chronicle of Higher Education and UWnews.org

At least a “C” or say “C-ya” to campus housing

State University of New York at Old Westbury has removed 87 residential students from its dormitories for having grade point averages that fell below a 2.0.

The 2.0 rule appears to be one of its kind on Long Island, but the school administration stands by it. The rule is meant to “inspire higher academic achievement” and remind students that dorm living is a privilege, not a right, said college spokesman Michael Kinane.

“If you want to live in the dorms, you have to be serious about studying,” Kinane said, adding that students may be readmitted to campus housing if they bring their averages back up. Thirteen of the 87 have returned after taking a special course over winter break.

However, 23 students have also dropped out because of the difficulties involved in commuting to school.

The school’s position has generated criticism from students and professors. The Faculty Senate unanimously passed three resolutions seeking to suspend the policy, saying it was “overly punitive and counterproductive.”

Kevin Kruger, a spokesperson for the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators, noted that many educators share the “philosophy that students who are struggling academically should remain in an academic environment and close to advisers and study groups.” Kruger said, “Students living on campus have a higher academic achievement rate.”

The student body is also split over the rule. Ashley Brinson, a junior majoring in business, said that many students from lower-income urban areas especially valued dorm life. “A lot of people come here to get out of the ’hood,” she said, “and this rule sends them back to the ’hood.”

Prince Simon, a junior majoring in psychology with a 3.1 average, agreed with the policy. “If you want to live on campus, you have to keep your grades up and not party too much,” he said.

– The New York Times