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Claire Gillen - Notre Dame

A controversial vending machine will remain—at least for the present—at Shippensburg University. The Pennsylvania school recently drew national attention for offering the emergency contraceptive Plan B through a vending machine.

According to University Spokesman Peter Gigliotti, the university has made Plan B available for the last three years, after a student survey revealed that 85 percent of the student body approved.  The school reports selling between 300 and 400 doses per year.  About 7,200 undergraduate students and 1,300 graduate students attend Shippensburg University.

Plan B is available for $25 per dose, and university officials say that the university does not profit from sales.  The vending machine also dispenses condoms, pregnancy tests, and nasal decongestants.

According to the FDA, if fertilization does occur, Plan B works by preventing a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb. Critics argue that disbursing Plan B through a vending machine trivializes a drug with life-ending potential.

Commonly referred to as the “morning after pill,” Plan B is prohibited without a prescription or parental permission for girls under seventeen.  University President William Rudd responded to concerns that underage students may use the machine.

“The machine, which vends only health-related items, is in a private room in our health center and the health center is accessible only by students 17 and older and not the public,” Rudd said. “Students proceed to a check-in desk in the lobby and after checking in using appropriate identification are granted access to the private treatment area.”

In a February 9 statement, Rudd said that the university will review the method of dispensing Plan B and continue to offer the contraceptive via vending machine during the review processes.  Further discussions will involve Food and Drug Administration officials in addition to university faculty, officials, medical staff, and students.

According to Gigliotti, university officials have not reached a final decision.

The recently publicized decision has garnered a wide range of responses.  Many students report appreciation for the privacy the vending machine allows.  Shipnewsnow.com reported a campus protest of about 20 people who object to the university’s decision to offer Plan B on the basis that the pill also acts as an abortifacent.

When questioned about the controversy, Heather Shumaker, community affairs manager for Planned Parenthood of Northeast and Mid-Pennsylvania, described this type of contraception as “basic preventative care.”

“We know that virtually all women use birth control – and the Institute of Medicine recommends that birth control be included as a preventive health care benefit, because it is fundamental to improving women’s health,” Shumaker said.  “It saves lives, helps prevent unintended pregnancies, improves outcomes for children, and reduces abortion. Planned Parenthood believes all women – including college women – should have access to affordable contraception.”

Gerard Bradley, Notre Dame law professor who specializes in constitutional law and the study of law and religion, described the university’s decision as “reprehensible even if it is not entirely surprising.”  According to Bradley, university administrators should fight the trivialization of sex by trying “to teach students about the profound meaning and beauty of the sexual act.”

Bradley also tied the controversy to the U.S. Department of Health and Human services mandate which requires nearly all religious employers to offer health insurance covering contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs.

“[The controversy] may be a perfect example of what the Obama administration is hoping to bring about via its own contraception mandate, namely, to make contraception a familiar piece of cultural furniture, no more remarkable but no less ubiquitous than chewing gum and bottled water,” he said.  “It is not that long ago when contraception was widely available, but considered to be a private matter, and not nearly trivial.”

Fix Contributor Claire Gillen is a senior at Notre Dame. 

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Is college worth the cost? The answer depends on which major you choose, according to a recent study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

In the current tough job market, a college degree still provides a critical advantage. Newly minted college grads face an unemployment rate of around 8.9 percent, while those with high school degrees only are facing a much higher rate of 22.9 percent.

However, not all college majors are equal. Choosing the wrong major can make you twice as likely to end up unemployed. Researchers found that the highest rates belong to recent graduates in architecture (13.9 percent), the arts (11.1 percent), and the social sciences (8.9 percent). The undergraduate degrees with the lowest rates of unemployment are health (5.4 percent), education (5.4 percent), and agriculture and natural resources (7 percent).

Likewise, median earnings vary according to the degree earned. Engineering majors earn a median salary of $55,000 per year, while arts, social, and psychology majors’ median earnings are $33,000.

Drawing on data from 2009 and 2010 data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, researchers Anthony P. Carnevale, Stephen J. Rose, and Ban Cheah found that some majors with higher unemployment could be linked to careers within suffering industries. For example, the low demand for architecture majors corresponds to the recent collapse of the housing market.

Many Choose Easy Majors

George Leef, director of research for the Charlotte-based John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, dismissed the study as “much ado about nothing.”

“It only tells what virtually everyone knows already: that students who go in for serious college degrees like scientific fields and computer science are apt to do much better in the job market than those who choose soft, easy majors,” he said.

Leef argued that the federal government should stop subsidizing all student loans, “especially given the evidence that many students are actually learning very little.”

“Kids will continue going into math, science, and engineering…because they accumulate knowledge and skill that will serve them well and pay off in the job market,” Leef said. “Students shouldn’t be pied-pipered into attending college.”

Too many high school students attend college and just “coast through,” Leef said, due to the “wrong-headed” idea that “college is good for just about everyone.”

“The majority of high school students don’t want to do the work that goes along with college,” he said. “They just want the credential of a college degree, the key to a lot of employment opportunities. For employers, a degree is a screening device, a mechanism that allows them to judge that certain people are probably more trainable.”

Knowledge For Its Own Sake

When it comes to choosing a major, the relevance of a liberal arts education has increasingly been called into question as college tuition and the average levels of college debt have risen dramatically.

Mark Roche, Notre Dame professor German language and literature and of philosophy, recently wrote the award-winning book Why Choose the Liberal Arts? He claims that humanities majors provide the skills employers want.

“If you look at something like the annual publication Job Outlook, for 11 years running (this year is an exception), employers have been asked, What skills do you most want to see in a future employee?’ and answered, ‘Communication skills,’ said Roche. “[The book} Academically Adrift, for example, makes the case that college students are not learning as much as they should — that they’re spending too much time in group projects and so forth and not studying enough hours, reading enough pages, writing enough, or developing key skills. The capacities that you need in the long run — speaking, writing, critical thinking, research skills, breadth, language skills and experience with diversity, an eye for complexity, a passion for learning and the capacity to continue to learn — are all developed in liberal arts classes.”

Roche criticized the survey on methodological and theoretical grounds.

“The study completely brackets degrees beyond the B.A. A certain percentage of arts and letters majors, of course, will go to graduate school, to law school, and so on, and this percentage is exempted from the study,” he said. “Another problem is that the study is based on national data, and it’s very important to look at individual schools.” Roche pointed out that that at Notre Dame, the same percentage of both business and arts and letters graduates — a “very low” 2.8 percent — are still seeking employment.

Roche said the study bracketed the most important questions in favor of purely economic gain, which is “the trend of the age.” Emphasizing the unique nature of Catholic universities, he said, “The study ignores the intrinsic, moral, and vocational aspects of education… According to surveys, first-year students today want above all to ‘be very well off financially.’ Whereas a generation ago, ‘developing a meaningful philosophy of life’ was the highest ambition of students entering college. When President Obama speaks of education, he speaks of education as serving practical economic ends.”

Fix Contributor Claire Gillen is a senoir at Notre Dame.

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A professor is accusing a workshop sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities on World War II of having a blatant anti-military bias.

In Summer 2010, the NEH sponsored two one-week workshops for community college faculty members with a $142,000 grant. Held at the University of Hawaii’s East-West Center, the conference was entitled “History and Commemoration: Legacies of the Pacific War.”

One conference participant, Rock Valley College Professor Penelope Blake, believes that the NEH should cease funding for such workshops. In a letter to her Illinois congressmen and NEH Chairman James Leach, she proposed “a complete overhaul of the East-West Center program, along with a suspension of funding until the NEH guidelines are satisfied.”

“What I experienced at the East-West Center Conference was a sustained, biased and politically-motivated attack on the U.S. military, American valor and the symbols which commemorate it, and World War II veterans,” she wrote.

Both the conference readings and speakers, Blake claimed, presented the US military as “an imperialistic, oppressive force which has created and perpetuated its own mythology of heroism and liberation.”

“(Since) veterans’ memories of their own experiences in the war are suspect and influenced by media and their own self-delusion,” Blake said, the conference suggested that historians must “correct” their stories. Americans, for example, should recognize that the Japanese attack on Peal Harbor was the result of Japan’s status as “a victim of western oppression.”

Blake asserted that war memorials were portrayed as “symbols of military aggression and brutality ‘that pacify death, sanitize war and enable future wars to be fought.’” The view advanced by the conference was that war memorials should be “recast as ‘peace memorials’ sensitive to all viewers from all countries, especially the many visitors from Japan,” Blake said.

In some case, Blake accused the seminar speakers of blatant “anti-military propaganda.” One speaker and author referred to “‘the practice’ of the U.S. military in WWII to desecrate and disrespect the bodies of dead Japanese.” Although this claim appears in his scholarly work, Blake said, the speaker admitted when pressed that this is not a practice of the US military.

Though appalled by what she took to be the conference’s overall message, Blake acknowledged that a few presentations and articles were “truly excellent” and that a panel of World War II veterans comprised a “highpoint of the conference.”

Geoffrey White, Director of the NEH Landmarks and professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii, Manoa, disagreed strongly with Blake’s analysis. He also pointed out that 41 of 42 workshop participants reviewed the workshop favourably.

“Our program put WWII veterans in a position of honor and respect throughout–inviting members of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association to our opening reception and featuring several in a panel of ‘veterans voices’ the first day of the program,” White said. “We also spent two days of the program visiting memorial sites with National Park Service personnel to assist in interpretation the importance of those places for American history.”

Multiple requests for comment by the NEH on both the workshop and funding for similar events have gone unreturned.

In a response to Blake dated November 1, NEH Chairman James Leach emphasized the need to consider “contrarian perspectives.” He also stated that the NEH intends to strengthen their “review process regarding non-partisanship” through four specific actions.

According to Leach, the NEH will make the participant evaluations available to panels that are evaluating wether or not to repeat that event and strengthen and display more prominently “NEH’s commitment to nonpartisanship.” The NEH will also provide program directors and participants with a “one page Rules of Civility statement.” Finally, once funding for a project has been secured, the program director will receive a reminder of these policies.

In his response, Leach also reflected on the role of the NEH.

“NEH is mindful of its obligation to stand as a guardian of intellectual freedom and the free flow of ideas,” he wrote. “Freedom, including the right to dissent, is what the World War II generations fought for.”

In a November 6 letter to Leach, however, Blake expressed her dissatisfaction with Leach’s response to her concerns.

“Unfortunately the four actions you propose at the conclusion of the letter, which consist mostly of reminders and rewording of already clear guidelines, will not produce any meaningful change, as I am sure you know,” she countered.

According to their website, the NEH still plans to fund several upcoming seminars at the East-West Center, entitled “Pearl Harbor: History and Memory Across Asia and the Pacific” and “Southeast Asia at the Crossroads of World War II.” These programs have been allotted $180,000 and $180,900 respectively.

Multiple requests for comment by NEH Communications Director Judith Havemann were unanswered on Blake’s views and whether or not these seminars would still be funded by the NEH.

Claire Gillen is a junior at the University of Notre Dame, where she is executive editor of the Irish Rover. She is a member of the Student Free Press Association, and was a 2010 summer fellow at the Washington Times.

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Recruiters would rather hire a student from Penn State than Harvard — or so a well-publicized Wall Street Journal survey said earlier this month. After a hard look at the data, though, some are suggesting the survey’s methodology is flawed.

Using data compiled from 479 of the largest public and private companies, nonprofits and government agencies, the survey ranked Pennsylvania State University, Texas A&M University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign the top three schools favored by recruiters.

Lee Svete, director of the University of Notre Dame’s Career Center, cautioned that the Wall Street Journal study focused on quantity, not quality.

“These particular schools that are highly ranked have huge student populations, but they never even asked them what their placement percentage is in the article,” Svete said. “They asked companies only ‘how many graduates did you hire?’”

When the results are adjusted for student population, Svete said, for example, that only three schools were ahead of Notre Dame.

According to Svete, the study also failed to take other aspects of the recruiting process into account.

“They also didn’t ask the number of companies that recruit at a given school — just pure hires,” he said.

Svete drew attention to other aspects of the employment process neglected in the study. A large portion of Notre Dame’s 95 percent success rate for the class of 2009 included graduates who went on to graduate school, medical school and service programs like the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) and Teach for America.

But the survey’s emphasis on certain career fields may reflect the path to employment in the difficult economy.

According to Richard Jensen, a professor of economics at Notre Dame, the importance of so-called “hard skills” — technical skills like those gained in engineering, mathematics and science departments — showed in the survey.

“Fully half of the universities on the list, including Cornell, are land grant institutions,” he said. “These institutions arose from the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890, which gave each state a grant of federal land intended to be used to develop educational institutions to focus on teaching agriculture, science and engineering.”

Recently, the National Association of Colleges and Employers released a list of the top employer-fields for 2010 graduates. Accounting, financial services, engineering and education were all in the top ten.

“Each year we ask employers what they are looking for in graduates,” NACE Spokeswoman Mimi Collins said.  “The first thing they list is always people with the specific skills for the job.  If the position’s an engineering job, they’re looking for engineers.  If it’s in finance, they hire a business major.”

Jensen said larger schools were able to offer a larger variety of majors catered to the fields that were surveyed.

“For example, number one Penn State offers degrees in health policy and administration, nursing and nutritional sciences. This may be significant in this survey because 9.6 percent of the responding firms were in health care,” he said.

Still, undergraduate population may rule the day. Jensen also pointed to the size as a major factor in the survey.

“Firms always have limited recruiting budgets, and they probably have been smaller in the recession,” he continued. “From this perspective, state universities are attractive because they have very large applicant pools.”

Jensen concluded his comments by discussing the extent to which the study’s rankings reflect the value of the education students received.

“I think that this survey has more to say about recessionary hiring practices than the value of an education from a well-respected private university like Notre Dame or the Ivies,” he said.

Claire Gillen is a junior at the University of Notre Dame, where she is executive editor of The Irish Rover. She is a member of the Student Free Press Association, and was a 2010 summer fellow at the Washington Times.

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Former University of Notre Dame professor Oliver Collins allegedly spent more than $190,000 in federal grant money for photography equipment for personal use—including making and storing pornographic images.

Now, Collins, a formerly tenured professor of engineering, is suing Notre Dame for breach of contract.

The university’s formal response filed in South Bend’s U.S. District Court alleges that Collins purchased multiple cameras, lenses, a printer and computer equipment with a National Science Foundation grant and university funds.

“Collins took many of these cameras and accessories to his home and used them extensively in pursuit of his personal hobby of photography, including taking landscape and pornographic photographs,” the university’s response states.

According to the university, pornography was also found on university computers to which Collins and others had access. The university seeks payment from Collins for over $140,000 in damages, investigation costs, and attorney fees.

Collins, however, insists the images were stored without his knowledge. He also claims that the equipment he bought may be used for legitimate academic research.

Notre Dame’s dean of engineering, Peter Kilpatrick, reiterated the rationale found in the university’s filed documents.

“The primary reason the university moved to dismiss Professor Collins was that, in our careful and considered opinion, he used federal grant monies to purchase equipment for personal use,” Kilpatrick said in an email response. “He then misrepresented the expenditure of these funds to the National Science Foundation. Both of these actions constitute serious wrongdoing and justified dismissal with cause.”

Collins was suspended with pay, but without access to his lab or office, as of Aug. 24, 2009. The university formally dismissed him on June 2, 2010. Collins filed his suit in July.

The former electrical engineering professor maintains that he was wrongfully terminated, citing the policies outlined in the university’s academic articles. Included in the $75,000 figure for the lawsuit are damages for what Collins says is serious damage to his personal and professional relationship.

The university believes the process behind their dismissal of Collins was just.

“We’ve made our position on this matter clear through our response to his lawsuit. We’re confident in that position and equally confident that our process in this matter was thorough and fair,” said university spokesman Dennis Brown.

Collins had taught at Notre Dame since 1996. In 1998, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) awarded Collins the Judith A. Resnik Award, “for the development of coding for space communications which contributed the success of the Galileo mission.”

Collins now lives in Key West, Florida. His telephone number is unlisted.

A pre-trial conference before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christopher Nuechterlein will be held on September 21.

Claire Gillen is the executive editor of the Irish Rover and a junior at the University of Notre Dame. In the summer of 2010, she was the SFPA fellow at the Washington Times.

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