Thursday, July 12, 2012

How pervasive is the 'Penn State culture' in college athletics?

How pervasive is the 'Penn State culture' in college athletics?
By Karin Klein
LA Times
July 12, 2012

By this point, it comes as no surprise that an exhaustive inquiry into the sexual abuse scandal involving Penn State University and former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky found that it wasn't just a matter of people high and low in the hierarchy who didn't do the right thing. The failure to end the long-term molestations resulted from a university culture in which athletics reigned supreme, football coaches were revered and even feared, and the foremost concern among top officials wasn't to protect children or do the just thing but to protect the university.

I don't doubt any of this, but I can't help wondering whether Penn State was some kind of anomaly in the world of universities with major team-athletics programs. If we looked with equal intensity at the top 50 or so universities in this group, would we find similar disproportionate power among key coaches, similar fear among the people who work for them and a similar culture of protecting the institution above all else?

This isn't to let Penn State off the hook in any way, or to imply that sexual abuse of children is a problem in the world of higher education; the question is whether universities have overlooked longstanding cultures that have the potential to hide a wide range of problems. Have we bowed too much to the mighty athletic program?

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

14 mothers sue LAUSD, charging 'Culture of Silence' hides teacher misconduct

The suit also seeks reforms to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which "has a practice and custom of maintaining a 'Culture of Silence' to hide teacher misconduct, and to ignore teacher misconduct," the suit said.

Mothers in Los Angeles school child sex abuse case sue district
By Michael Martinez, Natalie Brunell and Jaqueline Hurtado
July 11, 2012

Fourteen mothers, whose children prosecutors say were sexually abused by a Los Angeles teacher facing 23 felony charges, sued the school district on Tuesday seeking damages for "generalized shock and trauma."

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, also seeks unspecified "compensatory economic and special damages for medical expenses," which include psychological therapy, according to court papers and attorneys for the plaintiffs.

The suit also seeks reforms to the Los Angeles Unified School District, which "has a practice and custom of maintaining a 'Culture of Silence' to hide teacher misconduct, and to ignore teacher misconduct," the suit said.

The legal action stems from a criminal case against former teacher Mark Berndt of Miramonte Elementary, who is being held on $23 million bond and faces 23 felony counts of lewd acts on children.

Berndt, 61, pleaded not guilty in February to allegations he bound young students, then photographed them with semen-filled spoons held at their mouths and three-inch cockroaches crawling across their faces, among other graphic depictions.

L.A. schools review past 40 years of teacher discipline cases in misconduct crisis The 23 victims were between 7 and 10 years old, and all but two of them were girls, the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office said.

The 14 mothers' lawsuit says Berndt took photographs of their children "with cookies in the mouths of plaintiff's children, and/or blindfolded the children, and/or placed cockroaches on the bodies of plaintiff's children, for the intent of arousing and gratifying the lust, passions and sexual desires of Mark Berndt."

One of two mothers who spoke at a press conference on Tuesday said her now 10-year-old daughter was victimized by Berndt while a student at Miramonte from 2009 to 2010. CNN, which has interviewed the mother in recent months, isn't identifying the mother or other parents in order to protect the identities of the children.

"I am asking for justice and I want justice to be done to this man," the mother, 43, said. She wants the district to be held accountable for its "negligence," she said. In a recent CNN interview, the mother said her daughter went to Berndt's classroom, where "he would give her some cookies. My daughter told me that the teacher would say the cookies had sugar and some white stuff that was on it," the mother said.

In that CNN interview, the mother was joined by her daughter, who told CNN: "We would help him clean his class and he would give us cookies.

"They were white and they had a white stuff on top, and he would put some sort of powder" on the cookie, the girl said. The parents told CNN they didn't tell their daughter what could have been on the cookie.

The girl's father, 46, who joined his wife at Tuesday's press conference, told CNN the couple doesn't want money but rather justice, so other families won't "suffer what's happening to us," the dad said. Their daughter is now enrolled at another school. The daughter and mother are both in counseling, he said.

"We don't want money, because our children's health physically and mentally is not going to be the same," the father said.

The other mother at Tuesday's press conference told reporters that her daughter is now rebellious and is also in counseling.

Five of the children in the civil lawsuit are among the 23 alleged victims in the criminal case, said Luis A. Carrillo, the attorney for the 14 mothers.

Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives are investigating the accusations of the nine other children identified as victims in the civil suit, Carrillo said.

Sheriff's Lt. Carlos Marquez, the lead investigator in the case, said Tuesday that detectives interviewed more than 100 Miramonte students and have presented all those cases to the Los Angeles County District Attorney's office for review.

It's up to the district attorney whether to bring charges on behalf of additional victims, beyond the current 23, Marquez said.

Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the district attorney's office, declined to comment Tuesday on whether additional charges would be filed.

Berndt's attorney, public defender Victor Acevedo, declined to comment Tuesday because he hadn't seen the lawsuit.

David Holmquist, general counsel for the Los Angeles school district, said student safety was the system's "paramount priority."

"The district is committed to working with the Miramonte community and everyone impacted by these incidents to improve trust and promote healing," Holmquist said in a statement. "While the district has yet to receive the latest complaint, we are continuing our efforts to ensure that we are doing everything possible to provide a safe learning and working environment for our students and staff."

In May, another civil lawsuit was filed against the school district on behalf of 22 children who claimed they were sexually abused by Berndt, said Carrillo, who also is the attorney for the plaintiffs in that case.

The lawsuit, also filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, alleged that Berndt "engaged in sexual assault, sexual harassment, which includes sex discrimination per LAUSD's policies, and/or sexual exploitation of the plaintiffs that included lewd, obscene and/or lascivious acts" with the 22 children age 6 to 9 years old between 2002 and 2011, court papers said.

The children of the 14 mothers in Tuesday's lawsuit are also part of the May lawsuit, Carrillo said.

In December 2010, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department began investigating Berndt after authorities learned of hundreds of "questionable photographs of children on film that Mr. Berndt had brought (to) a local store to have developed," according to Tuesday's lawsuit.

Berndt was removed from his teaching job in January 2011 after school officials learned of the police investigation, authorities said.

Authorities have said they have discovered roughly 600 images allegedly taken by Berndt in his classroom.

A teacher for 30 years, Berndt initially challenged the school district's decision to dismiss him. But he eventually dropped his appeal and resigned in spring 2011. His arrest in January led to broader fallout over the adequacy of safeguards for the school's students and the prospect of more victims.

Days after Berndt was taken into custody, another Miramonte Elementary teacher -- Martin Springer, 49 -- was arrested and charged with three felony counts of lewd acts with a girl younger than 14. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Los Angeles Unified School District board subsequently shut Miramonte for two days, during which the board reconstituted the entire staff in the 1,400-student school. Miramonte is in unincorporated Los Angeles County within the Florence-Firestone area, about six miles south of downtown Los Angeles.

Misconduct scandal prompts L.A. schools to send 604 teacher discipline cases to state

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Bridgepoint shares fall on accreditation denial

Bridgepoint shares fall on accreditation denial
AP News
July 09, 2012

Shares of Bridgepoint Education Inc. dropped more than 30 percent Monday after the for-profit education provider said a group that certifies schools denied an accreditation for one of its institutions.

THE SPARK: Bridgepoint's Ashford University, which has a campus in Clinton, Iowa, but mostly serves online students, was denied accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Without accreditation, a school can lose its access to federal financial aid, which can comprise as much as 90 percent of for-profit schools' revenue.

THE BIG PICTURE: The Western Association of Schools and Colleges is one of seven regional accrediting commissions. It has jurisdiction over schools located in California. Bridgepoint is based in San Diego.

In its letter to Ashford denying accreditation, the association said it found that the university hadn't shown substantial compliance with its accreditation standards related to student retention and graduation, the alignment of resources with educational objectives and the implementation of a core of full-time faculty that can oversee the university academic policies and ensure the integrity of its programs.

WASC noted that a large number of students who start degree programs at the university drop out, most within a short period of time. It said that over the past five years, 128,000 students have withdrawn from the university, while 240,000 new students have enrolled.

In addition, the university needs to put in place an effective system for assessing student learning and an "empowered and independent" governing board that has an acceptable relationship with Bridgepoint, WASC said in its letter...

‘Twilight’ fan struck and killed by car--Why doesn't Comic-Con just give tickets to the people who are camping in line?

San Diego Comic Con rocked by tragic death: ‘Twilight’ fan struck and killed by car outside convention center The 53-year-old woman, identified as Gisela Gagliardi of Kingston, N.Y. - was racing against the light to get back to the line of Twi-hards, which had started to move, that she had been on since Sunday.
JULY 10, 2012

A "Twilight" fan was struck and killed by a car in front of a horrified crowd of fellow Twi-hards camping out two days ahead of the opening of San Diego Comic-Con.

The 53-year-old woman was running across a busy crosswalk against the light at 9:20 a.m. She was racing to return to her group on a line organizers were moving, when she was hit, the San Diego Union Tribune reported.

A police spokesman told the newspaper that the woman - identified as Gisela Gagliardi of Kingston, N.Y. - had tried to stop herself before she stumbled and fell into the side of a Suburu Outback.

Gagliardi was unconscious and bleeding from the head when an ambulance arrived. She was later pronounced dead at an area hospital.

“If you pray pls do so now for Twi fan G! She was just hit by a car in front of the convention center! She was unconscious when taken hosp,” one fan (@RobKris13) tweeted.

Fellow Twi-hards mourned the death on Twitter with the hashtag "IPTwiFanG" and have started an online petition to have a moment of silence before Thursday's panel for "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2," which will feature stars Kristen Stewart, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner.

The Outback's driver, an unidentified 67-year-old San Diego man, was questioned by police, but not charged.

“It is with tremendous sadness that we offer our heartfelt condolences,” San Diego Comic-Con spokesman David Glanzer said in a statement. “Our sincere thoughts and prayers go out to all those involved in this tragic incident.”

San Diego Comic-Con, running from July 12-15, is considered the biggest event on the sci-fi, fantasy and comic book lovers' calendar, regularly drawing 250,000 attendees to the four-day event. A seat inside the Convention Center's Hall H, where Hollywood studios often fly in A-list actors to unveil footage of upcoming movies for the 6,000 fans that can cram inside, is especially coveted.

Gagliardi had been with a group of Twi-hards that had been camping out since Sunday.

“It’s such a sad loss for our community,” a fellow fan, Melissa Sandate of Tucson, told the Union Tribune.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Higgs Boson: Why You Should Care About the God Particle. And, Sadly, Why You Don't

Ainissa Ramirez giving a TED Talk. Photo: James Duncan Davidson

Ainissa Ramirez, a Yale University materials scientist, likes to call herself a science evangelist, and her passion and expertise at science education is unparalleled. So this week, with the announcement about the discovery of the Higgs Boson, was both exciting–because of an amazing opportunity–and frustrating–because she thought the science world largely blew it.

The Higgs Boson: Why You Should Care About the God Particle. And, Sadly, Why You Don't
By Ainissa Ramirez

Here’s what you need to know about the God Particle.

The Higgs boson (Higgs is a guy’s name, BTW, and a boson is a particle that’s smaller than an atom) is the biggest scientific discovery of the 21st Century. Period.

This discovery is up there with Copernicus. If we did not find the Higgs boson, everything that we understood about how the universe works would have been wrong. We would have had nice equations that describe things we observed in the world, but they would have been crap. That would have been $10 billion flushed down the toilet with the creation of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and we would have gone back to the drawing board with our tail between our legs after fifty years of an aimless pursuit.

It was a big gamble, and we won. It is that big...

So what’s the problem?

One of the founders of the Higgs theory, Gerald Guralnik, was quoted in the New York Times saying he was glad to be at a physics meeting “where there is applause, like a football game.”

The problem is that it’s only physicists that are excited. A few thousand scientists (less than 1 percent of the population) are losing their minds, not taking any calls, getting buzzed in the middle of the day, and crying and hugging each other.

The rest of society is trying to figure out why this is a big whoop.

The biggest discovery of the 21st century, which connects you (and the world and the universe) to the Big Bang, was barely a whimper to over 99 percent of the population.

As Strother Martin said in Cool Hand Luke, “ What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

I think the nerds got it wrong by not inviting everyone to the party. The biggest discovery of the 21st century may actually widen the gap between scientists and the general public...

I think we should do a better job at teaching science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) using events such as this as a catalyst. Since science is right now part of the national conversation, let’s strike while the iron is hot and create ways to get more people excited about science...

CERN should have hired a PR firm to develop a website for the general public on the Higgs Boson. Maybe CERN should have hired a TV personality to be a spokesperson...

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Disturbing e-mails could spell more trouble for Penn State officials

As I have said for a decade, there is too much secrecy in schools, including K-12 public schools.

Disturbing e-mails could spell more trouble for Penn State officials
By Susan Candiotti
July 2, 2012

With convicted serial child sex abuser Jerry Sandusky behind bars, new questions are surfacing about what Penn State officials knew about a 2001 incident involving the former assistant football coach's encounter with a boy in the shower -- and whether they covered up the incident.

Sandusky sexually abused other boys in the years after the 2001 incident and before his arrest.

CNN does not have the purported e-mails. However, the alleged contents were read to CNN.

The messages indicate former Penn State President Graham Spanier and two other former university officials knew they had a problem with Sandusky after a 2001 shower incident, but apparently first decided to handle it using a "humane" approach before contacting outside authorities whose job it is to investigate suspected abuse.

"This is a more humane and upfront way to handle this,' Gary Schultz, who was a university vice president at the time, allegedly wrote.

Sandusky e-mails revealed Sandusky still eligible for pension Attorney: Sandusky disappointed in son Analysis: Jerry Sandusky verdict

Records show no authorities were ever contacted and Sandusky was eventually charged with having sexual contact with four more boys after the 2001 incident. On June 22, Sandusky was convicted of abusing 10 boys over 15 years.

Painful chapter closes with Sandusky's conviction

In an exchange of messages from February 26 to February 28, 2001, Spanier allegedly acknowledges Penn State could be "vulnerable" for not reporting the incident, according to two sources with knowledge of the case.

"The only downside for us is if the message (to Sandusky) isn't 'heard' and acted upon, and we then become vulnerable for not having reported it," Spanier purportedly writes.

The alleged e-mails among Spanier, Schultz, 62, and former Athletic Director Tim Curley, 57, never mention Sandusky by name, instead referring to him as "the subject" and "the person." Children that Sandusky brought on campus --some of whom might have been victims -- are referred to as "guests."

The purported exchanges began 16 days after graduate assistant Mike McQueary first told Head Coach Joe Paterno on February 9, 2001, that McQueary believed he saw Sandusky make sexual contact with a boy in a locker room shower...