Administration

The Week: What You Need to Know About the Past 7 Days

July 17, 2016

Gun Violence, Again

The fatal shootings of five police officers and the killing of the sniper who gunned them down engulfed El Centro College, a community college in downtown Dallas. The urban campus, which serves some 10,000 students, had locked down before the shootings began, a precaution in what was to have been a peaceful protest of the killings of two black men by police officers in Louisiana and Minnesota. The victims in Dallas were patrolling the demonstration in an effort to keep protesters safe.

El Centro, whose students are largely Hispanic and African-American, had also canceled late-evening classes. The lockdown trapped 58 people — some taking exams — inside the main building. A campuswide alert did not go out right away, but the pre-emptive closure may have kept some out of harm’s way. Two El Centro police officers were wounded by shrapnel and broken glass, but no one at the college was seriously hurt. The downtown campus is scheduled to remain closed until July 17.

Do colleges have to lock down now whenever there’s a protest? In Texas, bringing guns to public-college campuses will be legal on August 1. Will that mean fewer gun deaths, or more? Philip J. Cook, a professor at Duke who studies guns and violence, has written that "guns don’t kill people. They just make it real easy." Texas professors who share that impression are calling for the right to gun-free offices.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association is trying to break the stranglehold of the gun lobby on further research, and the University of California system hopes to set up a center to do what the federal government can’t: fund more studies of gun violence. To many in academe, those are hopeful signs. But until research informs more-effective policies, better lock your doors.

A Study’s Surprise

The economist Roland G. Fryer Jr. was so angry over the deaths of Michael Brown and Freddie Gray that he decided to study data on shootings by cops in 10 communities, to determine whether racial bias played a role. The Harvard professor found an unexpected pattern: In more than 1,300 shootings in Austin, Tex.; Dallas; Houston; Los Angeles; and Orlando and Jacksonville, Fla., as well as in four Florida counties, officers fired their weapons, without having been attacked, more often if the perpetrator was white.

Mr. Fryer, who last year won the American Economic Association’s John Bates Clark Medal for significant contributions by an economist under age 40, called the finding "the most surprising result of my career," according to The New York Times. When it came to nonlethal use of force by the police, however, he found that black suspects were more likely to be pushed against walls, handcuffed without being arrested, or pushed to the ground than were whites. "Every black man I know has had this experience," Mr. Fryer, who is black, told the Times.

Critics complained that Mr. Fryer had failed to account for the fact that the police stop African-Americans more than they stop whites. But the economist pointed out that his analysis focused on what happens after a police officer stops a suspect, since it’s well known that blacks are stopped more often. He surmised that African-Americans bear the brunt of nonlethal police force because cops are rarely scrutinized or penalized for that behavior, while they can face legal or psychological costs for needlessly firing their guns.

Broken Window

Corey Menafee, an African-American dishwasher at Yale’s Calhoun College, was arrested after smashing a stained-glass window that depicted slaves carrying cotton, the Yale Daily News reported. "It’s 2016, I shouldn’t have to come to work and see things like that," Mr. Menafee said. The window fell to the street, where it nearly injured a passerby. Mr. Menafee was charged with second-degree reckless endangerment and first-degree criminal mischief, a felony.

The incident continues the controversy over Calhoun College, named for the vice president and slavery advocate John C. Calhoun, an 1804 Yale graduate. Students’ efforts to change the college’s name appeared to have failed in April, when President Peter Salovey announced it would stay, a decision that touched off more protests. The stained-glass panel was part of a series of works depicting Calhoun’s life; they will now be removed. Mr. Menafee apologized and resigned, while students and community members championed his civil disobedience (above). According to a statement from Yale, "The University has requested that the State’s Attorney not press charges. Yale is also not seeking restitution." As The Chronicle went to press, nearly $22,000 had been raised by a GoFundMe campaign to help Mr. Menafee and his family.

Campus Reformer

John Brademas, the former Indiana congressman who transformed New York University from a commuter college into an internationally known research institution, died in Manhattan, at age 89. Although the Democrat was known as "Mr. Education" when he represented Indiana from 1959 to 1981, he had no experience leading a university when he became NYU’s president just afterward. He stepped down a decade later, having nearly doubled the endowment, to $540 million; landed internationally ranked scholars; and added new academic divisions. Leading a trend that would be emulated by urban institutions like Northeastern, George Washington, and DePaul, he oversaw the construction of new dorms to house more students. Today nearly half of NYU’s students live on the Greenwich Village campus. Some can even boast, maybe for the only time in their lives, a Fifth Avenue address.

Cheating Gets Ludicrous

Suppose you are a law student so stressed out that you resort to buying an essay online. It arrives riddled with errors. What to do? Ask for a refund, naturally. Refund denied, the student, identified only as "MM, London" (because this really happened) took the complaint to a consumer-rights column in The Guardian: "I was sent an appalling essay which I do not believe could have been written by an English speaker," MM lamented, "someone who appeared not to have a law degree."

"Help me," the miffed cheater asked the editors, "to protect other students from being caught."

The editors chided MM: "We were shocked by your complaint because you were clearly prepared to cheat to get through your legal studies." Then they warned readers of a "burgeoning but controversial industry, with online forums littered with complaints about poorly written essays full of spelling mistakes which don’t match the promised grade." They were not in a hurry to help MM get his or her money back. "(Sorry)," they wrote. "Students, avoid these websites — you will not only lose money but could also jeopardise your academic career. You have been warned."

Signs of the Times

New and returning students at the University of Iowa will be allowed to use their preferred names and pronouns on their student records. Three years ago, Iowa was one of the first institutions to allow students to identify as transgender on their applications. … If you’ve noticed students tripping over steps and curbsides, eyes glued to cellphones, they’re probably playing Pokémon Go, the smartphone craze in which players collect animated characters reborn from a popular 1990s video game. But beware: On the University of Maryland’s flagship campus, three students were relieved of their phones at gunpoint while playing the game just after dark. Despite the potential it creates for theft and distraction, Pokémon Go has been downloaded more times in one week — it was released on July 5 — than has the dating app Tinder in four years. … July 13 was the first anniversary of the death of Sandra Bland. She died in a county jail cell after having been arrested in a routine traffic stop. She had just arrived in Waller County, Tex., to take a job at Prairie View A&M, her alma mater. Her death was ruled a suicide, but family and friends are still questioning that.

 

Heidi Landecker is deputy managing editor for copy at The Chronicle and editor of Lingua Franca, a blog about language in academe. Follow her on Twitter @heidilande, or email her at heidi.landecker@chronicle.com