Apr 172014


By Lyndsey Layton

April 17, 2014

Virginia Tech has paid $32,500 to satisfy federal fines lodged by the U.S. Department of Education, which charged that the university did not adequately warn its campus community at the beginning of a 2007 rampage that became one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history.

The university paid the penalty in February after Education Secretary Arne Duncan ruled that Virginia Tech had violated the Clery Act, a 1990 federal law that requires colleges and universities to provide timely warnings about a range of crimes, including homicides. The Associated Press first reported the payment Wednesday, the seventh anniversary of the shootings.

Institutions are required to notify their campus communities about a “significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees occurring on the campus.”

In 2012, Duncan fined Virginia Tech $27,500 for a violation of the law after finding that the school failed to promptly warn the campus in 2007 when a gunman was on the loose. In January, Duncan added a second fine of $5,000 after determining that the university had inconsistent policies on the timely warning of safety threats and failed to disclose one of them as required by the Clery Act.

On the morning of April 16, 2007, student Seung Hui Cho shot a man and a woman in a dormitory; both died from their wounds. Police initially believed the case was a domestic dispute and that there was no threat to the rest of the university, so school officials did not warn the rest of the community.

By the time Virginia Tech officials sent a warning hours later, Cho had stormed through Norris Hall, killing 30 others and himself.

The families of two of the slain students successfully sued the university, arguing that had it warned the campus immediately after the initial slayings, it might have prevented the additional deaths and injuries.

But in November, Virginia’s Supreme Court reversed the lower court’s ruling and sided with Virginia Tech, saying the facts of the case were not strong enough to “conclude that the duty to protect students against third party criminal acts arose as a matter of law.”

Duncan concluded the opposite and ordered the federal fines.

“It is alarming that [Virginia Tech] argues that it had no duty to warn the campus community after the Police Department discovered the bodies of two students shot in a dormitory, and did not know the identity or location of the shooter,” Duncan wrote in his decision. “Indeed, if there were ever a time when a warning was required under the Clery Act, this would be it.”

The university considered a legal challenge to the fine but ultimately decided to pay it, said Lawrence G. Hincker, associate vice president for university relations. “While we believe that the [U.S. Department of Education’s] actions against Virginia Tech are inconsistent with their earlier guidance and policy, further litigation was not prudent in light of the various costs — emotional impact on the community, time lost, as well as financial,” Hincker­ wrote in an e-mail.

The $32,500 fine Virginia Tech paid is less than the maximum $55,000 penalty that could have been levied, and it is one of the smallest fines imposed on an institution for Clery Act violations in the past 15 years.

In the other case resolved this year, Oregon State University agreed to pay $220,500 in fines after the Education Department determined that it had provided “extremely inaccurate” crime data for its Corvallis campus, significantly underreporting­ violations including a sex offense, an aggravated assault and numerous burglaries, auto thefts, and liquor law and weapons violations in 2007.

Apr 172014


By Michael Abramowitz

April 17, 2014

Parishioners on Wednesday at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Greenville followed the tradition of an old legend to raise money to feed hundreds of hungry people who come weekly to the church.

Participants in the St. Paul's Episcopal Church "Stone Soup" look over a table of clay bowls designed by local potters that were available for a donation Wednesday. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

Participants in the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church “Stone Soup” look over a table of clay bowls designed by local potters that were available for a donation Wednesday. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

They collaborated with neighbors, friends and artists at East Carolina University to hold a benefit lunch and dinner for St. Paul’s Community Pantry. The idea for the fundraiser was based on the legend of “Stone Soup,” wherein hungry neighbors with little to eat each manage to contribute a small bit of food that would not constitute a meal, but combined produced a pot of soup large enough to feed them all, with each bringing a bowl to fill.

The ECU students threw clay bowls into artistic pottery and donated them to the cause for sale to luncheon guests who purchased meals and the bowls in which they were served, event coordinators Ann Whichard and Suzanne Pecheles said.

Apr 172014


By Nathan Summers

April 17, 2014

From station to station, Farmville Middle School sixth graders got some eye-opening information about the risk of injuries many of them will face when they get to seventh grade and join organized sports teams.

Thanks to a visit from injury prevention specialists from Vidant Medical Center, the dangers of concussions and other sports-related health concerns are being brought to some Pitt County students before they can even become part of their school districts’ respective varsity or junior varsity teams.

“We felt there was an urgency to have this program and to get to kids at a younger age,” said event organizer and Vidant injury prevention program coordinator LaTangee Knight, who spoke at one of four stations set up in the school’s gymnasium, where students rotated and learned something different at each one. “The students are very receptive, and their attention span is good and that’s why we do it in stations. They learn about something for about 10 or 15 minutes at a time instead of in a big assembly.”

Six-grade students at Farmville Middle School practice their balance during a sports safety clinic Wednesday afternoon. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

Six-grade students at Farmville Middle School practice their balance during a sports safety clinic Wednesday afternoon. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)

The stations included representatives from East Carolina University, the Brain Injury Association of North Carolina and Pitt County Schools. The ECU station, in fact, was headed by Pirate women’s basketball player and former South Central High School standout Janesha Ebron, who imparted her knowledge of life as a college athlete, scholarships and how grades are the backbone of it all.

From discussion on actual concussion symptoms and treatment to the importance of communicating injuries to coaches and good eating habits for young athletes, the aim of the seminar was to give students some valuable information before they actually need it.

“We target sixth graders because they can’t participate in organized sports until seventh and eighth grade,” Knight said.

Understandably, the day has some of its roots in the death of J.H. Rose football player Jaquan Waller in 2008.

Waller died from second impact syndrome, a fatal swelling of the brain that resulted from multiple head injuries in a short period of time.

Learning from that tragedy, which later became the focus of a CNN special on the subject, will always be one of the focuses for Vidant and local schools.

“There have been a lot of injuries the past few years in Pitt County, and a death from second impact syndrome, so we’re trying to get to them before they start playing sports so they know a little bit about it, and if they do get injured they won’t be completely lost,” Vidant injury prevention program specialist Allison Smith said. “But they’ll also learn about sports nutrition, so hopefully they’ll get something out of it on concussions, eating well, training and also the academic side of it.”

Apr 172014


By Jay Price

April 17, 2014

RALEIGH — N.C. State University has won the lead role in another major federal grant, this one for $25 million for a consortium of universities and national laboratories to improve the means for detecting international nuclear proliferation.

The grant is from the National Nuclear Security Administration, which announced it Wednesday.

It follows two announcements of larger federal grants in the past eight months: $140 million from the Department of Energy in January to develop next-generation power electronics and $60 million from the National Security Agency to advance the science of “big data.” University researchers also lead a national team that won $25 million in 2011 to study ways to control and prevent foodborne viruses such as noroviruses.

NCSU’s proposal beat out 22 others to win the nuclear proliferation effort, which is called the Consortium for Nonproliferation Enabling Capabilities, or CNEC.

“It’s the dedicated leadership of the faculty that’s working hard to bring in these big projects,” Chancellor Randy Woodson said in an interview. “With the nuclear proliferation project, for example, ours is one of the top nuclear engineering programs in the country, and that’s not something that just happens overnight. It relates serious investment by the state over a long period of time and many years of extraordinary effort by the faculty.”

Woodson said the grants also show how the faculty has focused on areas where the university has a strong competitive advantage.

The NNSA is a semi-autonomous agency within the U.S. Department of Energy. It manages the nation’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, works to prevent nuclear proliferation and reduce the danger from weapons of mass destruction, develops nuclear propulsion for the U.S. Navy and responds to nuclear and radiological emergencies in the U.S. and elsewhere.

NCSU’s partners in the consortium include the University of Michigan, Purdue University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Kansas State University, Georgia Tech University and N.C. Agricultural and Technical State University in Greensboro. Various national laboratories also are partners, including Los Alamos, Oak Ridge and Pacific Northwest.

The new consortium involves six departments in three colleges at NCSU and will start a graduate fellowship program that will sponsor six fellows per year.

Robin Gardner, a professor of nuclear and chemical engineering at NCSU and director of the Center for Engineering Applications of Radioisotopes, will lead the consortium. John Mattingly, an associate professor of nuclear engineering, is co-principal investigator.

Gardner’s own work includes a focus on developing alternatives to radioactive material used in instruments, such as those lowered into oil wells to analyze the geology of the bore hole. Such material is a potential target for theft by terrorists, who could use it to craft radiological “dirty bombs.”

He said that some of the topics of research for the consortium will include the hardware and software for detection sensors, improvements in remote-sensing capabilities, and the use of data to better characterize and detect nuclear materials.

Another goal is to create a larger pool of future nuclear nonproliferation and other nuclear security professionals and researchers.

NCSU was home to the nation’s first university-based nongovernmental nuclear reactor for teaching and research, and it still has a small reactor on campus that is a centerpiece of its nuclear engineering program.

NCSU is also the lead university in the Department of Energy-funded Consortium for Advanced Simulation of Light Water Reactors, which aims to use computer simulations to create safer, most cost-effective nuclear power plants.

Apr 162014


April 16, 2014

A review of the document of proposed changes at ECU shows a large number of potential changes, some of which involve fairly large changes in organizations and/or procedures. Most students of organizations would conclude that too much is proposed for too short a period. Unless administrators at all levels are willing to put a great deal of time into the new effort, not much will happen.

The other inescapable conclusion from the long list is that ECU has been poorly administered for some time. On the academic side, some 20-plus years ago minimum enrollment levels were enforced. State-funded release time was limited, and teaching loads were appropriate for a largely master’s-level institution. Faculty frequently substituted for colleagues unable to meet a class, while now classes are simply canceled.

While freshman composition had a variable effect on writing skills then as now, many lower-level courses had essay exams and papers to teach and reinforce those skills. Now, a growing number of courses are of the textbook/multiple-choice exam variety. The use of final exams, and especially cummulative final exams, continues to decline.

Elsewhere, fundraising remains a weakness (except for athletics and the medical school), and the adoption of the provost model has not produced overall the results anticipated. Many administrators are unknown by the faculty and staff who work for them. In the organizational jargon of a few years ago, the “administation” is in its own “silo,” separate from and rarely interacting with faculty, staff and students.

The university survives due to the efforts of faculty, staff and administrators who manage to make things work. Until leaders make the effort to develop a truly shared vision of the future, things like the reform plan with its two public meetings and an email address will be seen as just another top-down command by distant people who “don’t understand.”



Apr 162014


By East Carolina University News Services

April 16, 2014

GREENVILLE — A Lejeune High School graduate now studying at East Carolina University has been selected as one of 10 students nationwide to serve on a “Dream Team” at an international education and training event.

Courtney Church will participate in Cisco Live, an event for customers, experts and partners of Cisco, a multinational corporation that designs, manufactures and sells networking equipment. More than 20,000 people are expected to attend the event, which will be held in San Francisco from May 18 through May 22.

Church studies in the Department of Information and Computer Technology at ECU.

The Dream Team will work alongside industry leaders to support the Network Operations Center and assist Cisco customers at the Help Desk during the weeklong event. IT support is crucial to the success of the event, according to Cisco Live organizers, and the opportunity provides invaluable experience for those selected.

The team works directly with Cisco engineers and has full access to the event. They also have the opportunity to take a Cisco certification exam at the end of the week.

Church was chosen from a pool of 80 applicants who were each required to submit a written application, a video explaining why they should be selected and a written recommendation from an instructor.

Church is a nontraditional student taking a full course load both on-campus and online. She also works full time as a co-op in customer advocacy laboratory operations at Cisco in Research Triangle Park. Church first attended ECU in 2001 but did not finish her degree and instead began working at electronics retailer Best Buy. She was quickly promoted to various positions in their Geek Squad, a support group for the retailer’s customers.

“I felt stuck and in a rut,” Church recalled. “While I loved electronics and being around them, I was more interested in fixing them and figuring out how they worked. It was then I decided to go back to school and get a degree in ICT.

“I have always had a heart for purple and gold and knew I would return to finally finish my degree in something I was passionate about.”

She re-enrolled at ECU in fall 2013. With a 3.5 grade point average and an instructor’s encouragement, Church decided this year to apply for the Dream Team.

“I think what made me stand out compared to other applicants is my motivation and drive to succeed,” she said. Her willingness to work 72 hours straight at Cisco to support lab operations during a recent snowstorm helped to seal the deal.

“By participating on the team, I hope to accomplish several things,” Church said. “I want to define myself as a person and as a female in a very male-dominated field. Second, I want to put ECU out there. ECU’s ICT program is one of the best. Lastly, I want to build my resume. This opportunity stands out to recruiters and shows that I am not afraid to take on a challenge.”

Church will receive an all-expense paid trip to San Francisco for the event, traveling a few days before the event to help set up the operations center.

Apr 162014


April 15, 2014

With Republicans now controlling who sits on the University of North Carolina system’s Board of Governors, it’s not surprising that changes would follow.

And changes are needed. A little fresh perspective and an overview of long-standing policies can be valuable.

But it appears members of the new board are considering a change in financial aid that won’t be helpful. The UNC board is considering ending a policy that takes money for financial aid out of the tuition pot to which all students contribute. Some board members are concerned that using regular tuition money to provide aid to others hurts middle-class students.

The truth is, tuition in the UNC system is too high for everyone. Although a state constitutional mandate requires that an education should be as close to free as “practicable,” the UNC system has had multiple hikes in recent years and drifted from that principle.

Yes, taxpayers subsidize the education the system provides, though not as much for out-of-state students, who pay closer to the actual cost of their educations.

But there would be multiple problems with eliminating tuition revenue as a source of financial aid.

First, what would happen if the system lost the $126 million in financial aid that came out of the tuition pool last year? The money would have to be made up or the university system would have to reduce scholarships and other forms of assistance. Most help, by the way, comes from the federal government in the form of Pell grants and loans.

Second, board members have to consider the larger picture: Providing aid, which allows lower-income students and even many middle class students the opportunity to attend a good university in the system, means the student bodies in the schools are diverse and reflect the overall population of North Carolina. That diversity enriches all students by exposing them to a student population that reflects the world into which they’ll graduate.

UNC system President Tom Ross rightly said that cutting off tuition as a source of financial aid wouldn’t affect just the students from lower-income households. “Some of this very aid,” Ross said, “supports the middle class, so that’s a dilemma. If you take it away, then you actually may be hurting some of the middle class that way as well.”

The cost of attending the research institutions in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, for example, runs around $17,000 a year for all expenses, and that’s on the low end. Many families that may own a home and have two incomes in North Carolina couldn’t take $17,000 out of their take-home income. Thanks to financial aid packages, they find a way to afford it, though to be sure parents still have to come up with a pretty hefty amount.

So let’s look at the longer-term benefit. More North Carolina students getting to college – and many of them will be the first in their families to attend – is good for the state. Better-educated workers with higher lifetime earnings strengthen the state’s economic foundation.

Those graduates, in turn, will raise families in which a college education is emphasized. And so on.

Financial aid, then, is an investment more than some kind of giveaway, and it’s one that produces dividends that make a positive difference for everyone, not just those who receive it.

Before Board of Governors members make, or even contemplate, a change in the financial aid formula, let’s hope they look not just at the books, but at the consequences.

Apr 162014


The Associated Press

April 15, 2014

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — The reading specialist who questioned the literacy level of athletes who were admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has met with an investigator looking into academic fraud at the school.

In an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday, Mary Willingham said she met with Kenneth Wainstein for more than two hours Monday in Chapel Hill.

UNC hired the former U.S. Justice Department official to conduct a review of possible fraud in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The alleged irregularities, dating to the 1990s, included lecture classes with significant athlete enrollments that didn’t meet and were instead treated as independent studies requiring only a research paper.

Willingham has said those “paper classes” were designed to keep athletes academically eligible to remain in school.

Monday’s meeting came three days after three experts hired by UNC issued reports saying Willingham’s research data doesn’t support claims of low athlete literacy levels here. She had told CNN in January that her research of 183 football or basketball players from 2004-12 found 60 percent reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels and roughly 10 percent below a third-grade level.

Wainstein’s investigation is the latest to look into the AFAM fraud. One conducted by former Gov. Jim Martin in 2012 assigned blame to former department chairman Julius Nyang’oro and retired administrator Deborah Crowder. Nyang’oro has been indicted for being paid $12,000 to teach one of the paper classes filled with football players in the summer of 2011.

Brian Vick, Crowder’s attorney, said his client met with Wainstein on March 19. Crowder hadn’t cooperated with earlier investigations.

It was unclear when Wainstein would complete his investigation.