Ivory Towers – 23 April 2008

Miscarriage content in Yale art project sparks national outrage

Yale senior Aliza Shvarts is at the center of national controversy for her senior art project that supposedly involved nine months of self-inseminations and subsequent induced miscarriages.

A 4-foot-wide cube wrapped with plastic sheeting with blood from her miscarriages, Shvarts’s project was designed to hang from the ceiling. Video recordings of her miscarriages in a bathroom tub were to be projected onto the sides of the cube.

According to Shvarts, she required donors of the sperm to take periodic tests for sexually transmitted diseases. Shvarts added that she used herbal and legal abortifacient drugs and did not consult a doctor about the effects of the forced miscarriages.

Amid national media attention, the University claims that Shvarts’ project is a “creative fiction.” The University is refusing to allow Shvarts to install her work unless she issues a “clear and unambiguous written statement” acknowledging that her project is a “work of fiction.” Two faculty members involved with Shvarts’s project have also been disciplined.

Shvarts, however, maintains that these allegations are “ultimately inaccurate.” She claimed that the goal of her project was not “shock value” but to “inspire some sort of discourse.” “Sure, some people will be upset with the message and will not agree with it, but it’s not the intention of the piece to scandalize anyone,” Shvarts said.

Yale Daily News

Virginia Tech victims and families receive settlement from state

Survivors and family members of those killed in last spring’s Virginia Tech shooting will receive a measure of closure in an $11 million dollar settlement from the Commonwealth of Virginia.

In numbers from last month, 22 families of the victims killed by gunman Seung-Hui Cho had filed claims against the state, indicating potential lawsuits. In total, 32 students and professors died in the shootings, while 23 others received physical injuries.

The settlement, which offers financial compensation, disclosure of information relating to the incident and healthcare benefits, precludes lawsuits against the university and the state for those who accept. However, families who decline the arrangement will still be able to file in court.

Official details of the settlement, including names of the families that accepted the offer, remain under wraps.

Still, The Virginian-Pilot, a newspaper in Norfolk, Va., claimed that the state had offered $100,000 to the family of each victim. This is in addition to a total fund of $800,000 to be split between individuals who were injured. The Virginian-Pilot added that proposal included meetings with the governor and university officials, a $3.5 million fund for campus safety projects, memorial events, payments to those suffering severe hardships related to the shootings and opportunities to receive reduced-cost health insurance and medical treatment.

The settlement follows last summer’s state panel report that criticized the school’s prior behavior and handling of the incident. According to the report, university officials did not adequately address prior signs of Cho’s psychological problems. The report additionally censured the school for not alerting the campus quickly enough after the initial shootings in a residence hall.

Chronicle of Higher Education

Student files lawsuit against affirmative action at UT Austin

Affirmative action is again in the spotlight as a federal lawsuit filed against the University of Texas at Austin seeks to eliminate the school’s race-conscious admissions process.

The plaintiff Abigail Noel Fisher is a white 18-year-old applicant from Richmond, Texas. According to the lawsuit, her grade-point average of 3.59 out of 4.0 and combined SAT scores of 1180 were comparable to those of accepted students. The lawsuit also listed her extracurricular participation and top 12 percent class ranking.

If successful, Fisher’s application will be re-evaluated with race-neutral criteria. In addition, the filing asks the University to forgo race and ethnicity considerations in undergraduate admissions decisions.

A 1996 federal appeals court decision, Hopwood vs. Texas, banned universities in Texas from considering race in admissions. However, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2003 ruling in Grutter v. Bollinger involving the University of Michigan Law School allowed Texas schools to reinstate racial considerations in the absence of effective race-neutral policies.

Based on this condition, the Project for Fair Representation, the pro bono legal defense fund backing this lawsuit, argues that Texas’s 1997 law guaranteeing acceptance to any
public university in the state for students in the top 10 percent of their high school class provides the counter race-neutral policy. “The top 10 percent plan has proven more successful in achieving diversity than did race-based affirmative action,” said Edward Blum, director of the Project on Fair Representation. “Because of that, we believe the University of Texas is foreclosed from even considering a student’s race.”

The lawsuit argues that the University’s admissions policy “has had a pervasive negative effect on non-minority applicants, while producing only marginal increases in minority admissions and enrollment” at the university’s flagship campus.

Chronicle of Higher Education