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Thursday, February 28, 2019

No deal with Elsevier

Maybe a deal with Elsevier would be easier
From Inside Higher Ed: The University of California System and Elsevier are still at an impasse over the negotiation of a new journal subscription deal. 

The system has threatened not to renew its contract unless Elsevier, a major academic publisher, makes substantial changes to the way it charges authors to read and publish research.

The system’s subscription with Elsevier ended on Jan. 1, but UC access to journals has been extended while negotiations are ongoing.

In an email to editors of Elsevier journals who are part of the UC system yesterday, the publisher said that discussions with system representatives have been “close and productive” but have not yet resulted in a deal.

Elsevier has offered UC a deal that provides a “clear path to facilitate substantially more open-access publishing by UC authors” but still gives authors the option to publish articles in subscription journals, the email said.

"Despite our best efforts, it is still possible we may not reach an agreement," Philippe Terheggen, managing director of Elsevier journals, said in the email. "Given the flexibility and uniqueness of our offer, this would be disappointing and not the outcome we want."

Jeff Mackie-Mason and Ivy Anderson, UC's lead negotiators, said they had responded to Elsevier's latest offer in writing on Monday. "We are disappointed to see from their letter to UC editors today that they are not considering the conditions that we shared with them in that communication, and that we have been steadfast in for months." 

Source: https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2019/02/28/elsevier-u-california-still-yet-reach-deal

Things seem to be happening at Berkeley - Part 2

From the Washington Post, 2-27-19: Activist Hayden Williams was recruiting students for a grass-roots conservative organization at the University of California at Berkeley last week when he was confronted by two men, one of whom pushed him repeatedly and punched him in the face.

Tuesday night, a week after the incident, UC Berkeley officials announced that police were preparing to apprehend a suspect, who has not been publicly named, on a felony charge once they were issued an arrest warrant.

The news comes after a seven-day campaign by conservative activists both at Berkeley and nationally, who have argued, on social media, right-leaning political websites and Fox News, that because of liberal bias, the attack garnered what they perceive as a delayed response from the police and university and a muted response from the public...

But university spokesman Dan Mogulof said that characterizations that the university and the police department acted with a liberal bias were unfounded.

"We have a police force that is dedicated to one thing and one thing only, and that is enforcing the law and bringing people to justice,” Mogulof said. “They operate independently, and they are professionals.” ...

Full story at:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2019/02/27/conservative-activist-was-punched-face-uc-berkeley-response-enraged-right/

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

More IX Problems

From the Daily Cal: A UC Davis student filed a petition Thursday in the Alameda County Superior Court to the UC Board of Regents after he was issued a two-year suspension from the UC system for allegedly violating the UC Davis Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment, or SVSH, Policy and the UC Policy on Student Conduct and Discipline.

The student, who is identified by the pseudonym “John Doe,” aims to “redress the improper administrative findings and decisions made by a single investigator,” according to the petition filed by Doe and his legal team.

Doe’s lawyer, Mark Hathaway, declined to comment about the petition.

Doe received a letter Feb. 6, 2018 informing him of reports that he had allegedly violated the UC and UC Davis policies Dec. 2, 2017. The Title IX investigation was completed May 23, 2018, and Doe was found more likely than not to have engaged in nonconsensual oral sex and sexual intercourse with a UC Davis undergraduate student. On June 29, 2018 Doe appealed these findings, and after an Aug. 27, 2018 hearing, Doe was issued a two-year suspension from the UC system...

The petition argues that this decision should not be left to a single person acting as an “investigator, prosecutor, and fact-finder.”

Full story at http://www.dailycal.org/2019/02/26/uc-davis-student-files-petition-to-uc-board-of-regents-regarding-title-ix-case/

Note: Yours truly has noted in past blog posts that the key problem that occurs with Title IX investigations is the lack of an independent, neutral "judge" at the end of the process. External courts, when they look at situations such as the case described above, are likely to be troubled by lack of a neutral decision maker. The court system itself is founded on a separation between prosecution and decision maker. As has also been noted, union grievance systems - such as are found at UC - ultimately bring in a neutral arbitrator.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Paying for the Broken Path

Capitol Alert of Sacramento Bee

A $162,000 mistake: University of California to pay student victims of faulty payroll system

By Andrew Sheeler, Feb. 25, 2019, 03:01 PM

The University of California will pay out more than $162,000 in “make whole” payments to student workers who received delayed, missed or smaller-than-expected paychecks as a result of the university’s new UCPath payroll system.

Affected students will receive $150 for every month of payment irregularity, up to $450. The UC system also will cover the taxes incurred by the payout. This will lead to a total bill of $162,375.94, according to Alex Bush, finance secretary for UAW 2865 and a graduate student instructor at UC Berkeley.

This payment is in addition to whatever wages the UC system still owes.

This settlement follows months of back-and-forth between the university system administration and student leaders.

“It’s been a long fight,” Bush said in an interview Monday.

The UC system has gradually rolled out its UCPath payroll system, which aims to provide a unified system to replace the system’s aging payroll structures, first with the UC system itself and then with UC Merced and UC Riverside. In fall 2018, UC Santa Barbara and UCLA became the latest to see the change.

More than 760 students responded to a UAW online survey seeking accounts of payment problems, and about half of them “UC didn’t know about until we informed them,” Bush said.

“UC greatly appreciates the UAW’s partnership in identifying and working through these issues,” a spokesperson for the university system said in a statement following announcement of the settlement.

A spokeswoman for the UC system declined to comment further on the settlement, or the plan to continue implementing UCPath.

Bush credited student protest action for motivating the UC system to pay up.

“I think they saw we were building pressure on them,” Bush said. “Our members were working hard to hold them accountable.”

That included marching into chancellors’ offices, and in one case handing over a bill for all the expenses incurred by students as a result of not getting paid properly, she said.

Students also contacted their legislators; Bush said that the attention of lawmakers, and media coverage of the UCPath problems, also helped to motivate the UC system to settle.

But while Bush hailed the settlement as a major victory, she said the fight is far from over.

On April 1, UC Davis and UC Berkeley will roll out UCPath.

“We’ve had no word of any intention to delay it,” Bush said. “We really don’t want to see this happen to any more people.”

Source: https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article226776544.html

As noted, because of the rollout to UC-Davis and UC-Berkeley, there will be a period when W-2 forms needed for income taxes won't be available. But you knew that, right?
http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2019/02/blocked-path.html

Anyway, we're all in this together. You are not alone:

Stanley Albert Wolpert

Continued teaching at UCLA to age 90
LA Times, 2-25-19, p. B5

Monday, February 25, 2019

CRISPR Follow-Up

Patent Office: 1924
Finally, a piece that is less about the CRISPR patent dispute and more about actual use (below).

Faster, better, cheaper: the rise of CRISPR in disease detection

Powerful gene-editing tool could help to diagnose illnesses such as Lassa fever early and rein in the spread of infection.

Amy Maxmen, Nature, 2-19-19
 
An epidemic of Lassa fever in Nigeria that has killed 69 people this year is on track to be the worst ever recorded anywhere. Now, in the hope of reducing deaths from Lassa in years to come, researchers in Nigeria are trying out a new diagnostic test based on the gene-editing tool CRISPR.

The test relies on CRISPR’s ability to hunt down genetic snippets ― in this case, RNA from the Lassa virus ― that it has been programmed to find. If the approach is successful, it could help to catch a wide range of viral infections early so that treatments can be more effective and health workers can curb the spread of infection.

Scientists in Honduras and California are testing CRISPR diagnostics for dengue viruses, Zika viruses and strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) associated with cancer. And a study to explore a CRISPR test for the Ebola virus is pending in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

A robust, user-friendly test could reduce the death rates from Lassa fever, which can be as high as 60%, says Jessica Uwanibe, a molecular biologist developing a Lassa diagnostic at Redeemer’s University in Ede, Nigeria. “I’m working on something that could save a lot of lives.”

Trial runs

For most infectious diseases, diagnosis requires specialized expertise, sophisticated equipment and ample electricity ― all of which are in short supply in many places where illnesses such as Lassa fever occur. The CRISPR tests offer the tantalizing possibility of diagnosing infections as accurately as conventional methods, and almost as simply as an at-home pregnancy test. And because CRISPR is engineered to target specific genetic sequences, researchers hope to develop a tool based on the technology that can be fine-tuned to identify, within a week, whatever viral strain is circulating.

“This is a very exciting direction for the CRISPR field to go in,” says Jennifer Doudna, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley, who is developing some of these tools.

Uwanibe and her team are running trials of a CRISPR diagnostic developed by researchers at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, who had paired CRISPR with the Cas13 protein. Unlike Cas9 — the enzyme originally used in CRISPR gene editing — Cas13 cuts the genetic sequence that it’s been told to target, and then starts slicing up RNA indiscriminately. This behaviour presents a problem when trying to edit genes, but it’s a boon for diagnostics because all that cutting can serve as a signal.

In 2018, the Broad team updated its test, called SHERLOCK, by adding RNA molecules that signal when they've been sliced by Cas13. The cut RNA triggers the formation of a dark band on a paper strip — similar to the visual cues in a pregnancy test — that indicates the presence of whatever genetic sequence CRISPR was engineered to find.

The team in Nigeria is now testing how accurately a version of this diagnostic, engineered to find the Lassa virus, flags people whose infections have previously been confirmed with the conventional lab-based approach, called polymerase chain reaction (PCR).

SHERLOCK is roughly half the price of PCR tests in Nigeria and takes half the time to return results ― around two hours compared with four, says Kayla Barnes, a geneticist at the Broad who is collaborating with the group in Nigeria. Both diagnostics require electricity to process samples, but SHERLOCK isn’t as sensitive to power outages — which are ubiquitous across Nigeria ― as PCR is. “We want to be able to rely on just a heat block that you can run off a car generator,” says Barnes.

Expanding the toolkit

Other CRISPR tests developed by Doudna and her team at Berkeley use Cas proteins with different properties and patents to target various illnesses. Their diagnostic for HPV uses the Cas12a protein, instead of Cas13. Cas12a also cuts indiscriminately after locking onto its target, but it slices DNA instead of RNA. The test distinguishes between two types of HPV that studies have linked to cervical or anal cancer.

Doudna hopes it will be able to help curb the rising death toll from cervical cancer in African countries where the disease is frequently diagnosed too late for treatment. She co-founded a San Francisco-based startup called Mammoth Biosciences last year to further develop the diagnostic. The company is testing it on blood samples from people in California.

The Berkeley and Mammoth researchers are looking to expand their CRISPR toolkit by adding newly discovered Cas14 and CasX proteins, whose small size makes them easier to incorporate into diagnostic technologies.

Market forces

“These are exciting innovations,” says Dhamari Naidoo, a technical officer at the World Health Organization, based in Nigeria. But she adds that for CRISPR tests to have the impact in low-income countries that their developers hope they will, researchers must ensure that the technology is licensed, manufactured and priced affordably.

Researchers often fail to think about this side of the equation, Naidoo says. For instance, about a dozen diagnostic tests for Ebola have been developed, but only two have been deployed in the current outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The rest have been held up because of economic obstacles, including the lack of a market large enough for manufacturers to justify the expense of making and distributing the tests.

In light of the ongoing patent battles between Berkeley and the Broad, CRISPR-based diagnostics could be particularly troublesome from an economic standpoint. But Doudna and Pardis Sabeti, who leads the SHERLOCK project at the Broad, say they’re committed to licensing their tools so that the people who need these diagnostics can use them.

For Uwanibe, that day cannot come soon enough. “I wish we could do this even faster,” she says.

Source: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-00601-3

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Things seem to be happening at Berkeley

Reaffirming our support for Berkeley’s international community

Feb. 21, 2019

Dear campus community,

In recent weeks, the Berkeley administration has received several reports of negative comments directed at our Chinese-American faculty, as well as at researchers engaged in collaborations with Chinese companies and institutions, implying without basis that these scholars could be acting as spies or otherwise working at odds with the interests of the United States. We have heard reports of similar messages directed at Iranian-American faculty and others with academic or personal ties to the Middle East.

Let us be clear that comments of this sort breed hurt and distrust, discriminate against members of our community, and run counter to our well-established Principles of Community. At a time when national security issues involving foreign countries make the front pages of our newspapers, it is critical that we not become any less welcoming to students, staff, faculty, visiting scholars, and other members of our community who come from those countries, or for whom those countries are an ancestral home. As California’s own dark history teaches us, an automatic suspicion of people based on their national origin can lead to terrible injustices.

We therefore write to reaffirm that Berkeley remains open to people from all over the world, and ask that you continue to make all members of our community feel welcome and respected. In this regard, please be mindful that even off-hand remarks made in jest can be harmful to building the inclusive environment we wish to have on campus.

Beyond all this, as a general rule, Berkeley faculty and graduate students do not work with sensitive technological secrets or sensitive knowledge. Since the 1930s, University of California policy has made it clear that campuses will not engage in any research whose results cannot be openly and publicly disseminated.

If you have concerns about any aspects of the research partnerships taking place at Berkeley, we encourage you to contact the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research at vcr@berkeley.edu. Thank you for endeavoring to make our campus a place where all members of our community feel welcome.

Sincerely,

Carol Christ, Chancellor

Paul Alivisatos, Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost

Randy Katz, Vice Chancellor for Research

Source: https://news.berkeley.edu/2019/02/21/reaffirming-our-support-for-berkeleys-international-community/

===
A message from campus leaders in condemnation of violence

Feb. 21, 2019

To the Berkeley Campus Community,

Yesterday, UCPD sent out a notice and request for information related to a reprehensible incident that occurred on Sproul Plaza earlier this week. According to the police, an unknown, unidentified assailant attacked a Berkeley student engaged in political advocacy. Let there be no mistake, we strongly condemn violence and harassment of any sort, for any reason. That sort of behavior is intolerable and has no place here. Our commitment to freedom of expression and belief is unwavering. At this point, we have no information indicating that the perpetrators are affiliated with the university, and I join our police department in urging anyone with information about the incident to come forward, so we can apprehend and bring the perpetrator to justice.

I want to make sure everyone is aware of services available on campus if you are in any way affected by these incidents...

I also urge you to read and understand our carefully crafted Principles of Community and trust that they will be a valuable guide to how we should treat our fellow community members.

Sincerely,

Carol Christ, Chancellor
Stephen C. Sutton Vice Chancellor, Student Affairs

Source: https://news.berkeley.edu/2019/02/21/a-message-from-campus-leaders-in-condemnation-of-violence/

The first incident seems to involve faculty in engineering and some joking, but apparently offensive, comments.

The second incident appears to involve a non-university victim at a table for a conservative cause and a non-university perpetrator.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Yet More CRISPR

Patent Office 1924
University of California's Fresh CRISPR Patent Could Revive Gene-Editing Row

The University of California (UC) will soon gain its third patent on the gene-editing technology knows as CRISPR, four years after it entered into a legal battle with the Broad Institute due to a crossover between patents filed by the two parties.

UC has obtained a notice of allowance from the US Patent and Trademark Office, meaning the patent will likely be received in eight weeks. CRISPR is a natural mechanism that prokaryotes use to defend themselves against viruses. Prokaryotes are unicellular organisms whose cells lack membranes. Eukaryotes are multicellular and their cells have membranes.

The CRISPR-Cas9 system, developed first by the University of California, combines CRISPR with Cas9 – a protein – to create a molecular tool. This tool can pick out and cut specific sections of a gene, removing it from the genetic sequence. It can be used to remove faulty genes that result in undesirable mutations.

Because of this, patent rights to the technology are likely worth millions of dollars as it can revolutionise the treatment of diseases and assist with genetically modifying crops. CRISPR-Cas9 has proved to be more efficient that other gene-editing technologies.

The new patent was awarded to UC in collaboration with Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umeå University and Krzysztof Chylinski of the University of Vienna. According to the university’s CRISPR lead patent strategist Eldora Ellison, the newer version of CRISPR is more careful about where the genetic sequence needs to be cut.

According to Reuters, the fresh patent stems from an application filed in 2012 by microbiologists Jennifer Doudna of the University of California at Berkeley and Charpentier.

This application was the first ever for a CRISPR-related patent. The scientists discovered that CRISPR-Cas9 could be used to edit the DNA of prokaryotic cells.

The Broad Institute, a research centre affiliated to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, also applied for their own patent that could edit the DNA of eukaryotic cells...

Full story at https://thewire.in/the-sciences/university-of-californias-fresh-crispr-patent-could-revive-gene-editing-row

Friday, February 22, 2019

Thursday, February 21, 2019

New LAO report on Higher Ed Budget

Figure 20 from LAO report
The Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO) has released an analysis of Gov. Newsom's higher ed budget proposals.

Excerpts from the LAO report:

Compensation Decisions Are a Key Part of University Budgets. The largest of the Governor’s proposed augmentations for the California State University (CSU) and University of California (UC) are increases in employee salaries and benefits. The Governor’s budget, however, supports increases for all CSU employees whereas it supports increases only for represented employees at UC. We encourage the Legislature to consider the extent to which the segments are attracting and retaining employees when evaluating CSU’s and UC’s compensation decisions. (p. 1)

Recommend Increasing Transparency and Accountability for Student Success Initiatives. The Governor proposes funding student success initiatives at both segments ($45 million for CSU’s Graduation Initiative and $50 million for a new UC initiative). Were the Legislature interested in supporting these initiatives, we recommend linking the funding to the segments achieving certain performance expectations (such as improving graduation rates, reducing excess units, and narrowing achievement gaps by specified amounts). (p. 2)

Many Proposed Capital Outlay Projects Have Merit, but Some Not Justified. We have concerns with 4 of CSU’s 18 proposed projects and 2 of UC’s 7 proposed projects. We have concerns when projects are especially costly without justification, when the space requested is not warranted given existing facility utilization, and when promising, less costly alternatives exist. We recommend the segments not proceed with these six projects, though the segments could resubmit project proposals if they found ways to lower costs or better substantiate need. (p. 2)

Opportunities Exist for Making Tuition More Predictable. The Governor calls for more fiscal predictability for students and their families. The best way to promote such predictability is through sizeable state reserves—sufficient to sustain university spending during an economic downturn and prevent steep tuition hikes. One way to free up General Fund for higher reserves is to have student tuition cover a share of proposed 2019-20 cost increases. In tandem with building higher reserves, we encourage the Legislature to adopt a policy explicitly establishing what share of cost nonfinancially needy students should pay. Such a policy would improve budget transparency and aim to treat student cohorts similarly, whether enrolling in college during good or bad economic times. (p. 2)

UC Drawing From Beyond Its Traditional Eligibility Pool. According to the state’s most recent eligibility study, UC drew from 13.9 percent of high school graduates in 2015-16. This is higher than UC’s traditional pool (12.5 percent). More recent studies undertaken by the UC Academic Senate also conclude that UC is drawing from beyond its traditional eligibility pool. Given UC is already meeting its historical commitment to freshman access, the Legislature could treat further enrollment growth at the university as a lower priority. (p. 43)

UC Debt Service Costs Rising in 2019-20. According to the Office of the President, the university plans to issue bonds in March 2019 to finance several previously approved projects. The bond issuance will increase the University of California’s (UC’s) debt service costs. To cover these costs, the university has requested $15 million in additional state General Fund. The Governor’s budget proposal does not include funds for this cost increase. The Legislature may wish to factor this higher cost into its budget decisions for the university.

Other elements in the report argue that UC faculty are paid more than other top public universities. (The report stops short of saying UC faculty are overpaid.) The skepticism about two UC capital projects seems based on the idea that instead of more classrooms, there should be more online education.

You can find the full report at:
https://lao.ca.gov/reports/2019/3946/higher-ed-analysis-022119.pdf

Private Student Housing Complex - Part 3

From the BruinStudent government endorsed a high-rise housing project in Westwood on Tuesday. The Undergraduate Students Association Council voted unanimously, with four abstentions, to support The Agora, a proposed 16-story high-rise project on Hilgard Avenue. 

The project has been met with both support and opposition from different neighborhood councils and community groups.
USAC heard presentations by opponents and supporters of the project during their meeting Feb. 12, but was unable to vote because it did not have a quorum.
Esther Chung and Esther Magna, advocates of the Save Hilgard Avenue group, spoke in opposition to the project. They said the project would cost too much, according to an estimation they got from an outside consultant.
Aaron Green, a spokesperson for The Agora, said he objected to the validity of the estimation because he thinks an accurate estimation could not be done this early into the development.
Magna added that the Westwood PodShare, a hostel-style living community that offers 90 beds at the current location of the proposed high-rise project, already provides affordable housing in the area.
Chung also said she thinks professors and young families who live in the area would be disrupted by noise, pollution and trash during construction.
Green and Eraj Basseri, co-principal developer of The Agora, spoke in support of the development and said the project would provide students with more access to housing.
The Agora would offer 462 beds priced at $1,000 to $1,200 a month. The developers also plan to provide more affordable housing by including 52 beds priced at less than $500 a month, in accordance with Measure JJJ. This means the beds would be priced less than the proposed standard rent range for Westwood.
Green said the pricing of the 52 beds is contingent on Los Angeles’ process for approving low-income units, which is different for private housing compared to university housing...

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

In loco parentis

The Chronicle of Higher Ed has a history of the ups and downs of the "parental" role of higher educational institutions.

Highlights:

  • After the legal demise of in loco parentis, in the 1960s, colleges went in the opposite direction, viewing their role more as bystanders. Now they seem to have found a middle ground.
  • The new in loco parentis is driven by tuition-payers’ expectations, colleges’ concerns about legal liability, shifting cultural and social norms, and an evolving understanding of human development.
  • Increasing competitive pressure on colleges is encouraging them to exercise their supervisory and decision-making roles more aggressively.
  • You can see that in many forms, including more-intrusive advising and crackdowns on fraternities and sororities.

Back to the future?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Harvard Admissions - Part 18

From Inside Higher Ed: Now it's all up to Judge Allison Burroughs. Thousands of pages of documents have been submitted to the federal district court judge in the lawsuit charging that Harvard University's admissions policies favor black and Latino applicants at the expense of Asian American applicants. Whatever Judge Burroughs rules, an appeal is expected, likely to the Supreme Court, which, with the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, lacks a majority of justices with a record of supporting the right of colleges to consider race and ethnicity in admissions.

Already both sides -- and others in higher education -- appear to be thinking both about the appeal and the public debate about colleges' admissions policies. The case in theory is about Harvard alone. But if it is appealed and results in a new federal standard for consideration of race (or a ban on such consideration), it could affect most colleges. While only a few have Harvard's level of admissions competitiveness, many colleges with competitive admissions do consider race and ethnicity, and many other colleges consider race or ethnicity in financial aid or enrichment programs...

On the issue of an Asian American witness, the issue raised by Judge Burroughs points to a difference between this case and others that have challenged the right of colleges to consider race in admissions. From Allan Bakke, who was rejected by the medical school at the University of California, Davis, to Abigail Fisher, who was rejected for admission as an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin, these cases have been based on individuals who claimed that they were rejected because of their race, and their stories were a key part of the evidence. Bakke and Fisher are white.

Students for Fair Admissions says it is suing on behalf of many Asian American students, but there has been much less focus on (and no testimony from) an individual who was rejected. It is unclear how crucial an issue this will be, but Harvard's lawyers have said from the start that they do not believe there is a basis for the Asian Americans to sue.

The personal ratings issue is one that has resulted in widespread criticism of Harvard -- even from some who are supportive of the right to consider race and ethnicity in admissions. The plaintiffs -- after years of court fights -- obtained documents from Harvard that modeled various considerations in the admissions process. Harvard says that the table below is flawed and inaccurate, even if the data come from the university.

[Click on image to enlarge]
But it shows how in a given year, various factors in admissions would have produced different shares of the freshman class. Consideration based on academics alone would have yielded a class with more Asian American students than from any other group. But when other factors (first status as an alumni child or athlete), then a personal rating and finally consideration of race and ethnicity are factored in, the share of Asian American slots goes down dramatically...

Full article at https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2019/02/18/critics-and-defenders-affirmative-action-submit-their-closing-briefs

Monday, February 18, 2019

Kondos Field

How a Ballet Dancer Brought Balance to U.C.L.A. Gymnastics

Valorie Kondos Field, known to many as Miss Val, has created something of an oasis in a sport often characterized by intense turbulence.

By Carla Correa, Feb. 18, 2019, NY Times

LOS ANGELES — By now, it’s clear from a number of investigations that women’s gymnastics in the United States has been tarnished by administrators who overvalued winning and coaches who did not know where the line existed between developing gymnasts and abusing them.

And yet while much of the gymnastics world has been spinning out of control, rocked by sensational courtroom testimony and other revelations, there has been a seeming oasis tucked into the campus of U.C.L.A. Many outside the sport learned that last month when Katelyn Ohashi stunned millions of YouTube viewers with her strength, sassiness and thrilling tumbling.

To those in the know, there was little surprise that Ohashi, once not far from an Olympic berth, rediscovered her joy of gymnastics at U.C.L.A., under a coach who cannot do a single pull-up.

Valorie Kondos Field, known as Miss Val to basically everyone, is the first to admit she is not a perfect coach. She is her own sort of taskmaster, and she has a number of rules for her student-athletes. No chewing gum. No hair-ties on the wrists. But she has long presented an alternative to the often joyless training environment that has become associated with the elite levels of the sport.

In Kondos Field’s gymnastics program, there is more talk about what the young women want to do after gymnastics rather than why they did or did not make an Olympic team.

To teach gymnasts to speak up and defend a point of view, Kondos Field arranges for debates about topics, such as, “Should U.C.L.A. become a nudist campus?” The routines become a vehicle for self-expression, which is how you end up with Ohashi moonwalking her way through a floor exercise.

“I know what it’s like to have to go through puberty in a leotard,” said Kondos Field, a former professional ballerina who had little experience in gymnastics instruction when she joined the program nearly four decades ago. “I know what it’s like to have disordered eating. I know what it’s like to have to go out there by yourself.”

Kondos Field’s presence has special import right now, and not simply because another routine by a U.C.L.A. gymnast became an internet sensation. She is retiring at the end of the season.

In 2014, Kondos Field learned she had breast cancer. She let her gymnasts feel the tumor in her breast because she wanted to help them understand that a setback was not an end. During chemotherapy, she worked on reframing her circumstances and considered what else she could accomplish. She is now considered cancer-free.

In her office, guests are encouraged to get comfortable on a worn, mustard-yellow couch that once belonged to Kondos Field’s hero, the U.C.L.A. basketball coach John Wooden. The guests tell her what is going on in their lives as she sits in Wooden’s old captain’s chair. The word “gymnastics” may not even come up. That is fine.

Margzetta Frazier, a U.C.L.A. freshman and recent member of the United States national team, said Kondos Field and her staff were the only prospective collegiate coaches who spoke to her about life after gymnastics when she was being recruited.

Kondos Field during a U.C.L.A. gymnastics competition last month. The team has won seven national titles in the last two decades.

“They didn’t bring up the Olympics,” she said. “They were like, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’”

And where her gymnasts go, she will go, too, if necessary. At least eight gymnasts who were abused by Dr. Lawrence G. Nassar, the former U.S.A. Gymnastics team doctor, later competed or worked for the U.C.L.A. team. Two of them, Madison Kocian and Kyla Ross — the only women to have won Olympic gold, world championship gold and N.C.A.A. titles — shared their stories on national television in August, with Kondos Field by their side.

Like any coach, Kondos Field may have her detractors, though they are not that easy to find. She and other N.C.A.A. gymnastics coaches adhere to methods that may be standard operational procedure in their sport — and other college sports, too — but might strike outsiders as overbearing. She monitors what the gymnasts eat for breakfast and how much they sleep. Those who break too many rules may be suspended from the team.

After the 2016 season, she railed against her team’s conditioning.

“I am not degrading you,” she recalled telling the gymnasts. “One reason why we’re not scoring higher is we’re not able to do better gymnastics because of our physical fitness.”

They won a national championship two years later.

Ohashi, who as a young teenager suffered from an eating disorder and was compared to “a bird that was too fat to lift itself off the ground,” called Kondos Field “my mentor, my mom, my sister, my best friend.’’

“She’s literally everything to me,’’ she added.

The team, like its counterparts at many other universities, participates in a grueling 14-meet schedule. Its scores are sometimes a point of contention. Some contend the U.C.L.A. gymnasts get a “leotard bonus” — a higher mark — simply because of the program’s status and its seven national championships since 1997. Others argue that Kondos Field’s intricate choreography can blind the judges to flaws.

Still, U.C.L.A. executes  some of the most difficult and artistic gymnastics in the N.C.A.A.

Kondos Field, 59, was never a competitive gymnast. In a recent Instagram post, she hung from a set of chalky uneven bars, her feet cautiously tapping a mat as her Pilates instructor tried to encourage her to use her lat muscles when attempting that elusive pull-up.

Knowing where she needs help, Kondos Field relies on her assistants, including the Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber, to refine her athletes’ technical skills.

Kondos Field grew up in Sacramento and first set foot in a gym in 1976. The instructor did not need a dance instructor, but he hired her to play piano for the floor exercises.

“I couldn’t keep my big mouth shut as I’m playing,’’ she said. “I’m telling them: ‘Point your feet! Get your legs straight! Get your head up!’’’

U.C.L.A. eventually hired her as a choreographer in 1982. After the 1990 season, the senior associate athletic director, Judith Holland, dismissed the coach and decided that Kondos Field was the best person to take on the job and reinvent the gymnastics program, which had yet to win a national championship.

“I remember laughing out loud and saying, ‘You know I don’t know the first thing about gymnastics,’” Kondos Field recalled. “That came after I was catatonic for about 30 seconds.”

At first, she became a stereotype of a coach, acting as if she were always right. She continually demanded more from her athletes, but the team floundered and she planned to resign. Then she happened upon some of Wooden’s teachings. His words resonated, just as they do with nearly every coach who works at U.C.L.A., where, nearly a decade after he died, he remains the Wizard of Westwood.

“Success is a peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming,” Wooden once wrote. That mind-set became the ruling principle of Kondos Field’s program. Its effect is easy to detect.

“I’m willing to go out of my comfort zone,” said Gracie Kramer, who joined the team as a walk-on.

And Frazier, the U.C.L.A. freshman and national team member, has become increasingly open to discussing the pressures that her sport places on teenage girls.

“Elite gymnastics is messed up,’’ Frazier said. “I don’t care how many people come at me for that. Because they know it’s true. It’s decades of evil. And I feel bad saying that, because I love gymnastics and I’ve had some great coaches.”

Kondos Field does not disagree. She is appreciative when her gymnasts speak their minds. Sometimes, she said, when they arrive on campus, they think her basic questions are “a test” and they will get in trouble for answering them honestly.

Kocian, the Olympic gold medalist, agrees that happens. “I had always followed that elite mind-set of this is what you’re doing, you don’t have much of a say,” she said.

But Kondos Field does not want it to be that way. And she has developed a cult following among gymnastics fans. At a meet last month against Arizona State, they looped a concourse, waiting for Kondos Field to sign copies of her book, “Life Is Short, Don’t Wait to Dance.” Some own “Miss Val” PopSockets. One Twitter user even made a version of “The Last Supper,” with Kondos Field as Jesus and gymnasts as disciples.

The last meets are approaching, too, the last opportunities for Kondos Field, usually in inches-high heels, to lead the student section in mimicking the most memorable movements on the floor.

“I’m not retiring because I don’t like my job or I’m bored,” she said as she rattled off her goals: speaking engagements, promoting her book, maybe creating a Broadway musical. “But ever since I got cancer, I realized that we all have an expiration date. I just don’t know when mine is.”

Two Presidents Visit



No, Presidents Washington and Lincoln did not visit UCLA (for obvious reasons). However, President Lyndon B. Johnson and Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos did visit UCLA to celebrate "Charter Day," Feb. 21, 1964. Charter Day is the anniversary of the chartering of the University of California (Berkeley). The year 1964 was the 96th anniversary date. In the center picture, we see UC President Clark Kerr on the extreme right and UCLA Chancellor Franklin Murphy on the extreme left. (Although he is not identified in the picture, the fellow in the center looking up towards the sky looks a lot like Governor Pat Brown.)

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Decision and a Decision to be Made

Organized disruptors — both students and non-students — who shut down a pro-Israel gathering at University of California Los Angeles in May 2018 might not be prosecuted, according to information from LA City Attorney Mike Feuer’s office. Instead, they will be called to a confidential but mandatory proceeding called a “City Attorney Hearing,” an alternative to prosecution that can be described as a “warning” not to repeat the conduct in question.

One legal expert compared it a “deferred prosecution,” but stressed that a full trial could still result. Victims generally do not appear at such a hearing, the City Attorney’s office explained, and usually no criminal record is attached. Still, the prosecutor retains the right to issue charges later if he feels the illegal conduct has recurred or may recur. Los Angeles conducts hundreds of such closed-door hearings each year to dispose of minor misdemeanors arising from, for example, neighbor disputes, domestic disharmony, or curfew violations.

To the south of Los Angeles, newly-installed Orange County Prosecutor Todd Spitzer is still undecided about prosecuting rambunctious disruptors of a pro-Israel event at the University of California Irvine that also took place last May, according to official university sources. Spitzer’s office has asked for additional police investigation to develop more facts...

Full story at https://www.algemeiner.com/2019/01/17/mixed-reactions-after-prosecution-efforts-against-anti-israel-disruptions-at-ucla-and-uci/

Note: The item above is the only account yours truly could locate, albeit a month after it appeared.

Friday, February 15, 2019

More Title 9 Problems in Court (and a reminder of our earlier suggestion) - Part 2

Yours truly has noted in prior posts that universities, including those in the UC system, would do well to follow the precedent they themselves have set with regard to union grievances, namely using an outside neutral to decide Title 9 cases.* A system cannot be unbiased if the prosecutor and the decision maker are one and the same. You can fiddle with rules of evidence, etc., but combining the two roles is a fundamental flaw. Below, an article from the LA Times notes that university administrators are now scrambling to revamp their decision systems in the light of a recent court decision - previously referenced in this blog - and possible new rules from the U.S. Dept. of Education.

Colleges and universities across California are scrambling to revise the way they handle sexual misconduct cases after a state appellate court ruled that “fundamental fairness” requires that accused students have a right to a hearing and to cross-examine their accusers.

The decision last month came in a USC case but applies to all California public and private colleges, and prompted many to immediately halt Title IX investigations while they reshape their procedures. California State University, the University of California and USC, Claremont McKenna and Occidental colleges confirmed that they have made or soon will be making changes...

Suzanne Taylor, University of California’s interim systemwide Title IX coordinator, said UC began exploring how to create a “fair and compassionate” hearing model after DeVos unveiled her proposed rules, but Taylor said the court ruling has given that effort “more urgency.” She said the process will take time, but the university expects to issue an interim policy in the next few weeks...

“Obviously we have to comply with the law, and we will,” Taylor said. “We’re really going to do everything we can to protect both our community and the integrity of our process.”...

Full story at https://www.latimes.com/local/education/la-me-california-universities-title-ix-20190215-story.html

It's likely that even with revamped procedures, courts - which are steeped in the idea that prosecution and decision maker should be separate - will continue to second guess university decisions when they involve significant penalties.

===
*http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2019/01/more-title-9-problems-in-court-and.html

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Blocked Path

From an email circulating at UCLA. It might be noted that many employees will be preparing tax returns in the period covered and will need access for their W-2 forms:

During the month of March 2019, UC Berkeley, UC Davis and Agricultural Resources will transition to UCPath. Due to the transition, the UCPath system (including UCPathOnline) will be unavailable to all UC employees. Please keep in mind that during the outage periods, you will not have access to your check advice, W-2 (print/view), benefits information, etc., so please plan ahead.

Since new employees cannot be entered in UCPath during the outage periods, employees hired during this time will not receive Employee ID #’s, have access to their benefits, nor receive payment until after the outage.  
Following are the dates UCPath will be unavailable:

·         Outage 1: Friday, March 1st at 5 p.m. until Thursday, March 7th at 8 a.m.
·         Outage 2: Thursday, March 14th at 5 p.m. until Wednesday, March 20th at 8 a.m.

Collateral Damage

In Merced, some are bewildered by Newsom’s high-speed-rail decision

...University administrators have long advocated for the statewide project. In a recent opinion piece in a valley newspaper, Chancellor Dorothy Leland said that UC Merced, known for its strong science and engineering programs, was poised to gain from “technology transfer” and private-sector partnerships with Silicon Valley.

She declined an interview on the subject this week.

Full story at https://www.sfchronicle.com/news/article/In-Merced-some-are-bewildered-by-Newsom-s-13614875.php

Our annual Valentine's Day posting

No, I don't know how Trang and Nam are doing at present. But they got off to a good start in 2011:

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

A Billion+ Didn't Arrive

Actually, he probably never said it. But anyway, according to the latest cash report through January from the controller, state revenues to the general fund are running something over $1 billion below estimates made last June when the current budget was enacted.

Note that the state is not facing a crisis. It has, according to the same report, unused borrowable reserves of over $42 billion. These reserves include the various accounts directly related to the general fund plus other accounts from which internal borrowing is allowed. And April, for obvious reasons, remains a very important month for yearly revenue. So we will see.

The controller's latest cash report is at:
https://www.sco.ca.gov/Files-ARD/CASH/January%202019%20Statement%20of%20General%20Fund%20Cash%20Receipts%20and%20Disbursements.pdf

One liner

In Tuesday's State of the State address, Governor Gavin Newsom talked about all kinds of topics.

He truncated Jerry Brown's high-speed rail so that it would be confined to the Central Valley. He cut Jerry Brown's twin tunnel water project in half (one tunnel only). He talked about immigration, K-12, and various other matters for a total of about an hour.

He did talk about creating a new Master Plan, but it was a Master Plan on Aging, not higher ed.

There was in fact only one line in the address about higher education:

We have more scientists, researchers, and engineers, more Nobel laureates, and the finest system of higher education anywhere in the world.

Source: https://www.gov.ca.gov/2019/02/12/state-of-the-state-address/

Well, we can hope that the neglect was benign.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Listen to the Regents' Health Services Committee meeting of Feb. 11, 2019

We continue our practice below of archiving the audio of Regents meetings below since the Regents preserve their recordings for only one year.

At yesterday's meeting of the Regents' Health Services Committee, there was an extended period of public comments. (There were probably more comments than occurs when the Committee has met at a less accessible location than the UCLA campus.) Public comments covered food security of students, UCLA patent rights to drugs in India, sexual assault policy, cost of student health insurance, the Hawaiian telescope, gender pronouns, and bicycle and other transportation on campus and other issues.

A budget report and strategic plan were the next topics. One regent pointed out that the strategic plan was so complex that it was unclear what the priorities were. There was then discussion of student mental health services. A program for dealing with doctor burnout was outline.

You can listen to the session at the link below. Note that there is a silent period in the recording from about 2:42 to 2:59 for a lunch break.

Or direct to:
https://archive.org/details/RegentsHealthComm21119

Vacant Westwood

The endless tale of vacant storefronts in Westwood continues. From the Bruin:

Westwood Village may be able to fill vacant storefronts and bring in new businesses by loosening restrictions on dining and parking requirements. The Westwood Village Improvement Association, a nonprofit organization tasked with improving the state of the Village, submitted amendments to the Westwood Village Specific Plan, the master planning document that outlines zoning regulations. The amendments seek to relax food definitions and parking requirements for current and prospective businesses in Westwood Village. The Los Angeles City Council voted Jan. 30 to approve a motion directing the Department of City Planning to conduct a review of the Westwood Specific Plan and the WVIA’s amendments. The council’s decision was finalized Feb. 1, and the Department of City Planning has 90 days to report back regarding its recommendations for the plan and the WVIA’s amendments. Andrew Thomas, executive director of the association, said the motion signals a significant achievement for the WVIA and the Village...

Full story at http://dailybruin.com/2019/02/12/potential-zoning-revisions-to-beckon-business-to-villages-vacant-storefronts/

Isn't the real problem that commercial retail rents being demanded are too high? There seems to be a collective failure in Westwood. Empty stores make the overall business location less desirable, reducing demand for space in the face of too-high demands for rents. Filling the spaces through a cooperative and coordinated rent drop would make Westwood more vibrant and attractive. Empty stores produce no revenue. Realistic rents are better than zero revenue. Is zoning really the key issue? Just asking.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Things to Come This Week

Various events will be occurring this week with potential impact on UC. The California Supreme Court will be hearing a challenge to the "California Rule," a longstanding court decision that prevents retroactive reductions in public pensions. Although the case involves CALPERS, a ruling will likely affect UC's pension system. Blog readers will know that former Governor Jerry Brown was pushing for a decision to modify the California Rule before leaving office. However, the Court did not move fast enough for his taste.

The Court's hearing will be live-streamed and eventually put on the web.*

In addition, the Regents' Health Services Committee will be meeting later today at UCLA.** We have already posted the agenda.*** As usual, yours truly will later post the audio of the meeting.

Finally, Gov. Newsom gives his State of the State address on Tuesday, 11 AM. Possibly, there could be some components that affect UC.****
===
*http://majlabor.com/pension-case-oral-argument-this-wednesday-watch-live/
**https://regents.universityofcalifornia.edu/meetings/agendas/feb19.html
***http://uclafacultyassociation.blogspot.com/2019/02/some-regents-are-coming.html
****https://www.gov.ca.gov/2019/02/04/sots/

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Another Donation Salute

We periodically salute donations to the university that don't involve construction and do involve research, teaching, scholarships, etc.

From the Bruin:

A philanthropist donated $1 million to provide scholarships for art and music students, a university press release announced Thursday.
Jerry Moss, who co-founded A&M Records with Herb Alpert, gifted the donation to UCLA’s Moss Scholars program, which has awarded full-tuition scholarships to art and music students for 15 years.
The UCLA Chancellor’s Centennial Scholars Match program matched the donation with a $500,000 gift to the program.
The Moss Scholars program has provided scholarships to 30 undergraduate and graduate students in the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music and UCLA School of the Arts and Architecture. The scholarships cover the full tuition costs of the students’ degree programs.
The recipients of the scholarship meet with Moss and fellow beneficiaries each fall. Moss has funded the scholarship since it was founded in 2004...

Saturday, February 9, 2019

More CRISPR

Patent Office: 1924
From Science Magazine: The University of California (UC) has received good news on a patent for the invention of the genome editor known as CRISPR—and it likely moves a fierce legal war over who owns the valuable intellectual property for this powerful tool closer to a peace treaty. ...(T)he U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in Alexandria, Virginia, posted a “notice of allowance” on Friday for UC’s CRISPR patent, which it applied for in March 2013. The patent should be officially issued to the school within 8 weeks.

The fight over who invented CRISPR has raged for several years, and many scientists predict its creation will lead to a Nobel Prize. UC earlier lost a high-profile fight over a CRISPR patent issued to a team led by the Broad Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Various companies have licensed the CRISPR-related intellectual property of Broad and UC, even as the patents have been in dispute. The invention of CRISPR technology spawned a multibillion-dollar industry as it promises to lead to new medicine, crops, and fundamental insights about biology...

Full story at https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/02/new-patent-win-university-california-upends-crispr-legal-battle

Friday, February 8, 2019

Loquacious Verbosity

From Inside Higher Ed:

A new study in the Journal of Language and Social Psychology analyzed the words used in the abstracts of National Science Foundation grants. The analysis found that projects received, on average, larger awards when abstracts were longer, used fewer common words and were written with "verbal certainty." In some ways, the findings raise questions about NSF requests that scientists "communicate in a plain manner," the study says.

Source: https://www.insidehighered.com/quicktakes/2019/02/08/study-words-used-nsf-grant-proposals

Well, with Valentines Day coming up, perhaps verbosity pays off in more ways than one:

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Private Student Housing Complex - Part 4

From the Bruin: A student coalition endorsed a high-rise housing project in Westwood in response to various community organizations that have opposed the development.

The Westwood Forward student leadership committee endorsed The Agora housing development, a proposed 16-story apartment complex on Hilgard Avenue, at their meeting Jan. 31. The developers filed the plan for the housing project with the city of Los Angeles in November and have since spoken to stakeholders and advisory boards on the project.

Michael Skiles, a leader of Westwood Forward and its student leadership committee, said the committee voted in support of the project because they recognized the need for student housing in Westwood. Skiles said the only way to raise the quality of housing and increase the quantity of affordable housing is through large housing projects like The Agora. Westwood Forward is a coalition of students and stakeholders who aim to revitalize Westwood.

The current tenant of the site The Agora aims to develop, PodShare, has 90 beds and charges residents $840 a month, PodShare Manager Ashley Miniard said. However, the location is only 60 to 70 percent occupied each day. If The Agora’s application is approved by the city, PodShare’s lease would end prematurely to accommodate the new housing development.

Aaron Green, a spokesperson for The Agora, said the development will offer 462 beds for $1,000 to $1,200 a month, with at least 52 beds offered for less than $500 a month in accordance with Measure JJJ, meaning the beds will be priced less than the proposed standard rent range for Westwood.

Skiles said he thinks The Agora would allow more people to benefit from affordable and high-quality housing than PodShare, based on information provided by Green.

In addition, PodShare’s longest rental period is eight months, Skiles said. Miniard confirmed that most people don’t stay at PodShare for more than eight months.

Skiles added PodShare’s housing is more suitable as a temporary residence than as permanent student housing.

Skiles said his coalition’s platform aims to provide student housing in Westwood.

“If we don’t rally behind this single attempt to build student housing, then it will signal to the community that even with Westwood Forward and all the progress we’ve made, there’s no political difference in the reality that it’s impossible to build housing in Westwood,” Skiles said.

The Holmby Westwood Property Owners Association voted in opposition of the project while the UCLA Graduate Students Association endorsed it. The Westwood Neighborhood Council voted against the housing project as well at their January meeting, but now plans to repeal their initial vote...

Full story at http://dailybruin.com/2019/02/07/westwood-forward-endorses-the-agora-citing-potential-as-affordable-student-housing/

Uniting

From Science Magazine: After 5 years as a postdoc—four of them at the University of California (UC), Los Angeles—molecular biologist Christina Priest hit the university’s time limit for postdoctoral appointments and transitioned to a university staff position as a project scientist in the same lab. Now an at-will employee in a job with no set end time, she says she finds her work “continuing the project I initiated as a postdoc … not enormously different, [despite] more responsibility.”

But she has less of something important: income. “I was making more as a fifth-year postdoc than I am making as a project scientist,” not to mention a “huge increase” in health insurance premiums, “from about $40 a month to about $260 a month,” she says. Beyond that, she has lost some of the fringe benefits she enjoyed as a member of the union that has represented the roughly 6000 postdocs in the 10-campus UC system since 2008, when it succeeded in a years-long effort to create the nation’s second, and by far its largest, union of postdocs. (UC graduate students are also unionized.) “It seems unfair to be doing a similar job and to lose benefits,” Priest continues.

The illogic of gaining experience and responsibility while losing pay and fringe benefits she had as a “trainee” inspired Priest to sign on as soon as she heard, in 2017, that the same union that represented her as a postdoc, UAW Local 5810, had a campaign underway to establish a new bargaining unit for people like her. The proposed new unit, Academic Researchers United (ARU), hopes to represent people who, like Priest, are UC professional researchers but neither postdocs nor tenure-eligible faculty members. These workers hold a variety of titles, including project scientist, specialist, and researcher, and people like them work under still other designations at other institutions. All, however, share a common goal: doing research and “contributing to the main mission of the university,” says Priest, who serves on the proposed union’s bargaining committee. A number “are also bringing in grant money” as principal investigators on their own grants...

Full story at https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2019/02/university-california-staff-researchers-opt-form-union-joining-postdocs