All posts by Andrew Mytelka


U.S. Cancels Funds for Controversial Studies of Infectious Diseases

The White House announced on Friday that it would temporarily block federal financial support of controversial biomedical research in which scientists seek to learn about the potential dangers of infectious diseases by intentionally making them more hazardous, The New York Times reported.

The move, announced by the Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Department of Health and Human Services, came just weeks after the Obama administration issued regulations permitting such research but requiring stricter federal oversight of it and active disclosure by scientists of the risks inherent in their work.

The Times quoted a White House statement attributing the moratorium to “recent biosafety incidents at federal research facilities,” a reference to mistakes this year by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention involving anthrax, bird-flu, and smallpox samples.

Critics of the research, who have said it could help terrorists or unscrupulous scientists unleash a lethal epidemic, hailed the White House move. The Times was unable to obtain comment from two scientists—Ron Fouchier of Erasmus University, in the Netherlands, and Yoshihiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconsin at Madison—who claimed, in 2011, to have created a more easily transmitted strain of a type of bird flu. That discovery set off a controversy over the wisdom of such research, and whether it should be permitted, financed, or published, that continues to this day.

The moratorium is only on research on influenza virus and the coronaviruses that cause SARS and MERS. It made no mention of Ebola or any related filovirus. Ebola is already extremely lethal, but it is not easily transmissible.

No scientist has publicly announced an attempt to make Ebola as easy to transmit with a sneeze as flu is. Given the current panic around Ebola, and congressional anger at federal health agencies, it is unlikely that federal funding for such a project would be given out.

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Supporters of U. of Oklahoma Band Sound Off in Ads Attacking President

Full-page advertisements that were published on Friday in major newspapers across Oklahoma and Texas accused the University of Oklahoma’s president, David L. Boren, and the director of its marching band of creating an “environment of mediocrity and complacency” in the band, and of clamping down on criticism, the Tulsa World reports. The ads, which feature anonymous comments by band members, single out for criticism a policy under which members can be kicked out if they say anything negative about the band.

One critic quoted by the World lamented a decline in “marching and musicality” in the band, whose size has dropped from 280 to 225 members. President Boren, in a written statement quoted by the World, declined to respond to “anonymous personal attacks” in the ads. “It’s a shame that people would waste their money on such ads,” he said, “instead of supporting scholarships for our students.”

Nick Nicholson, a former Pride member who lives in Houston, said Friday’s letter was penned by a group of band students. He helped raise money for the ads, which were placed in at least a half-dozen Oklahoma and Texas newspapers, including the World, The Oklahoman, The Norman Transcript, The Dallas Morning News and Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Close to $20,000 was spent on the ads in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Norman, alone, Nicholson said.

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Thai Historian Faces Complaint for Doubts About Ancient Elephant Battle

A leading Thai historian has been accused of defaming the monarchy—a serious charge in Thailand—over his skepticism about whether a 16th-century duel between a Thai king and an invading Burmese general, both mounted on elephants, actually took place as it has long been portrayed in textbooks and movies, reports Khaosod English, an English-language website of a Thai newspaper.

The accusation of defamation, known as lèse majesté, was made by a group of ultra-royalists against Sulak Sivaraksa, who is 82, based on his remarks this month at a Thammasat University seminar. If officially charged and convicted, the historian could face up to 15 years in prison.

In official Thai histories, the king is said to have killed the general in the elephantine encounter, persuading the Burmese army to retreat.

Lt.Gen. Padung Niwetsuwan, a member of the group, said the 82-year-old writer insulted the Thai monarchy by questioning the accomplishments of King Naresuan, who ruled ancient Thailand – known then as Ayutthaya Kingdom – between 1590 and 1605.

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Missing Mexican Students Are Not Among Remains in Mass Grave

Mexican officials said on Tuesday that DNA testing indicated that none of the 43 students who went missing two weeks ago were among the 28 bodies exhumed from a mass grave near where they disappeared, The Wall Street Journal reported. Also on Tuesday, security forces killed the alleged chief of a criminal gang that the authorities had suspected of playing a role, along with corrupt police officers, in the disappearance of the students. The DNA findings were unexpected because the mass grave had been identified by a police officer who admitted he had participated in killing the students.

MEXICO CITY-Mexican security forces killed the alleged head of Guerreros Unidos, the criminal gang accused of colluding with police in the recent disappearance and presumed deaths of 43 college students, a federal official said Tuesday.

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Hocking College’s President, a Victor in 2011 Battle With Trustees, Retires

Ron J. Erickson, whose five years as president of Hocking College were marked by an unusual dispute with the Ohio institution’s Board of Trustees—in which he was fired and then reinstated—resigned on Thursday, according to the Athens Messenger.

After a two-hour meeting, the board announced that Mr. Erickson would become special assistant to the board chair for special projects, and that the two-year college would hold a reception on Friday “to see him off.”

Such a warm farewell seemed unlikely b…


Catawba College Draws Scrutiny Over Sexual-Assault Case Against Ex-Coach

Ralph Wager, a popular and successful coach of men’s soccer at Catawba College from 1983 to 1990, is facing criminal charges of sexually molesting two boys on the North Carolina campus, and according to an in-depth report on the case by The Charlotte Observer, prosecutors plan to introduce evidence that the college attempted to cover up the allegations against Mr. Wager.

One of the alleged victims was on a swimming team that practiced in the Catawba pool; he was allegedly assaulted several times between the ages of 9 and 11, in Mr. Wager’s office and his on-campus apartment. The other alleged victim was the son of a college employee.

When the mother of the first alleged victim complained, Mr. Wager was barred from the pool area when the team practiced. When the mother of the second alleged victim complained, the college’s athletic director demanded and received Mr. Wager’s resignation, an abrupt move that raised questions on the campus. The police were not contacted about any of the allegations.

Mr. Wager, who is now 71 and was inducted into Catawba’s Sports Hall of Fame in 2008, declined to comment. A date has yet to be set for his trial in the case, which is reminiscent of child-sex-abuse scandal that rocked Pennsylvania State University three years ago.

College administrators also declined to comment to the Observer, other than to say they had cooperated with law-enforcement officials and had conducted an internal investigation. The results of that inquiry have not been disclosed.

Fred Corriher, a trustee at the time, said the board was not told. … Asked whether college administrators should have reported the allegations, Corriher said, “Things have changed a lot since those days. Hindsight is a wonderful thing. You can say that, ‘Yes, they should have.’ But again I don’t know if it was something that could have been expected.”

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Southern Utah U. Removes Sen. Harry Reid’s Name From Center

Southern Utah University’s president said last week that he had been under pressure from local conservatives to remove Sen. Harry Reid’s name from a center on the campus, the Associated Press reported, but he insisted that politics was not a factor in the decision to do so.

Senator Reid, a Nevada Democrat and the Senate majority leader, is an alumnus of the university, and he agreed to lend his name to the Outdoor Engagement Center three years ago in order to help raise money for it. But several months ago, a group of conservatives told the president, Scott Wyatt, that they had raised $40,000 in pledges to remove Senator Reid’s name from the center.

Mr. Wyatt said he had told the group he would not accept the money. But the week before last, the name was removed—because, Mr. Wyatt said, it led to confusion over the center’s purpose since Mr. Reid is not associated with the outdoors. Mr. Wyatt also said that the center’s naming for Mr. Reid had drawn no donations.

In a statement quoted by the AP, Senator Reid seemed not to object to the removal of his name, saying he’d been “happy” to let the university use it to raise money. But “I’m not going to raise money to have my name placed on anything,” he said.

“The decision has nothing to do with politics,” Wyatt told The Associated Press. “We’re a university. We’re full of Democrats and Republicans and Green Party members and Libertarians. We don’t make partisan calls with regard to our esteemed alumnus.

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Board Chair at N.J. Community College Resigns Amid Ethics Inquiry

Glenn Gavan, chairman of the board of New Jersey’s Sussex County Community College, resigned last week following the release of an external report that found he and two other trustees had conflicts of interest in the hiring of an engineering company for a renovation project on the campus, The Star-Ledger reported. One of the other two trustees, Glen Vetrano, resigned in July. The external report said the three trustees, who never disclosed their relationships with the engineering company, were unaware of their ethical obligations under state law and the college’s code of ethics. Mr. Gavan had been appointed to the board by county lawmakers; Mr. Vetrano and the third trustee, Ed Leppert, had been appointed by Gov. Chris Christie.

Vetrano was a paid lobbyist for CP Engineers when he voted to give the firm a $142,300 contract for master-plan work last year, the report found. Gavan voted to approve pro-bono work for the firm weeks before becoming their paid attorney in April 2013, and later moved his law practice into the same building as CP Engineers, it also concluded.

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Army War College Will Investigate Plagiarism Accusation Against Senator

The U.S. Army War College said on Thursday that there was “reasonable cause” to refer accusations of plagiarism against a U.S. senator to its Academic Review Board, which has the authority to revoke the graduation status of a former student. The accusations against the senator, John E. Walsh of Montana, a Democrat, were laid out in a lengthy article published on Wednesday in The New York Times.

Senator Walsh, who was appointed to the U.S. Senate this year to fill out an unfinished term, has said he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder from military service in Iraq at the time he wrote and submitted the 14-page paper, a quarter of which the Times said was taken without attribution from other works. The paper was the final requirement for his master’s degree from the War College, a graduate-level institution in Carlisle, Pa., for Army officers selected for leadership training.

The review board, consisting of faculty members, will convene next month to assess the accusations and recommend action to the college, the Times reported.

There have been 8 cases since 1990 for which the Army War College revoked the graduation status of a former student after graduation: 6 for plagiarism and 2 for misconduct. If the plaque bearing graduates’ names has already been hung in front of the college, they have had their name removed from the metal plate.

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Cal State Cuts Planned Growth in Enrollment for Lack of Funds

The California State University system has lowered its plan to accommodate more students this fall after receiving less than expected in state appropriations, the Los Angeles Times reported. The 23-campus system, which drew 761,000 applications for admission this fall, a 2-percent increase, will be able to enroll 9,900 more students than last fall, but will have to turn away about 10,000 who are qualified to enroll.

Cal State Chancellor Timothy White spoke about the difficulty of balancing access with the need to provide academic support to current students.

“From an integrity point of view, when we open our doors, we want to be able to serve that student. If that means we have to leave another qualified student out, we need to do that, as tough as that may be,” White said.

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