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Selected Media Coverage: March 29, 2007

Expect Williams to expand UAH ties with Army
03/29/2007 - Birmingham News (cir. 150,174)

Wheels: Automating Wheelchair Loading
03/29/2007 - New Mobility (cir. 25,000)

PAKISTAN: Bajaur peace deal signed with tribal elders
03/29/2007 - Radio Australia (cir. )

Lehigh U. Conducts Battlefield Videoconference
03/29/2007 - WPVI-TV (cir. )

Grade Inflation: High Schools’ Skeleton in The Closet
03/28/2007 - Education Week (cir. 51,186)

How Not to Manage a Crisis
03/26/2007 - U.S. News & World Report (cir. 2,022,383)


Expect Williams to expand UAH ties with Army
03/29/2007 - Birmingham News (cir. 150,174)
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Dr. David Williams survived his first reception Wednesday afternoon, just hours after becoming the new president of the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

He hasn't run for the border yet, although it probably occurred to Williams that a good university research topic might be why people, even smart people with lots of college degrees, seem compelled to tell their entire life stories in a receiving line.

Williams was flawless in his own brief remarks to faculty, staff and students gathered at the Tom Bevill conference center. He promised to learn to say "y'all" and praised Dr. Frank Franz, his predecessor. No surprise there. Williams has been pitch-perfect from the start, and the UAH community seems almost giddy with its new man.

He should enjoy the honeymoon. College presidents often find that the marriage deteriorates into a fight over the remote control more quickly than they hoped.

UAH liked all of its top presidential contenders this time around. They knew the place better than we did, one insider said Wednesday.

The finalists, including Williams, researched UAH extensively and were prepared to say exactly what it needs to become a top American university.

Signs of what Williams will do were everywhere this week. He's talked about research and the importance of liberal arts, about building bridges to private companies and about expanding government contracts.

It's all good, but don't be surprised if Williams' tenure boils down to his grades in three areas: enrollment, research contracts and endowments. He needs to build all three.

It's the middle leg of that three-legged stool - research - a lot of people will be watching closely.

UAH began as a place NASA engineers could gain technical knowledge and burnish their credentials, and it has always enjoyed a special relationship with NASA.

By contrast, the Army at Redstone Arsenal, while not shunned, was never part of the UAH identity the way NASA is. Even Williams knew of the UAH-NASA partnership before coming here, but he was pleasantly surprised to find Army links, too.

It is precisely Williams' experience building ties between Lehigh University, his last post, and the Army that gave him an edge in the presidential search, some believe. They are looking for big things for UAH as the Army expands here because of BRAC recommendations.

Is there any reason big Army contracts won't come? Probably not. UAH research chiefs are reportedly eager to tap into even more of the estimated $22 billion in government contracts that flow through Redstone every year.

Don't expect everyone on campus to stand up and cheer. "Academics and war-fighters have never mixed," one longtime Huntsville leader said Wednesday. "There has never been an eagerness in some parts of the university to support the war-fighter, to make a better war-fighter."

That pushback by academia is one reason UAH isn't more in the Army camp, this person suggested. It will be a source of friction for Williams as well, he said.

In the end, look for money to triumph. The Defense Department has a lot of it, and some universities will get it. Better it go to Auburn and Georgia Tech?

Why not UAH?


Reach Lee Roop at 532-4423 or lee.roop@htimes.com.


Wheels: Automating Wheelchair Loading
03/29/2007 - New Mobility (cir. 25,000)
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Freedom Lifts will begin offering a loading system that blends Star Wars technology with available lifts and transer seats. [NOTE: To view the complete article, please click on the paperclip]


PAKISTAN: Bajaur peace deal signed with tribal elders
03/29/2007 - Radio Australia (cir. )
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Raj Menon, professor and interim chair of international relations, was interviewed by Radio Australia on the recently forged peace pact with tribal elders along the Pakistani border, in a bid to close down terrorist safe havens. The latest pact was signed in Bajaur, one of seven federally-administered tribal frontier regions on the Afghan border. See the transcript below, or click on the paperclip to visit Radio Australia's Web site, on which you can listen to a recording of the interview.

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MENON: You use the cliche' the "proof of the pudding is in the eating," but one has to say based on prior experience, particularly the deals you mentioned in Waziristan, one cannot hold out much hope. In the case of the Waziristan deal, as you know, there was no enforcement provision of the army, and Waziristan became what it has been, an open haven for Al-Qaeda and Taliban militants. So I expect the same thing to happen here.

LAM: What do we know about the Bajaur region, is it a Taliban-friendly area?

MENON: Bajaur is adjacent to one of the most violent areas on Afghanistan, Kunar. There's been heavy fighting between American forces and the Taliban and al-Qaeda. And therefore, Bajaur is supply point. Bajaur is also a training ground and safe haven for al-Qaeda and Taliban elements and one of the reasons why it's able to operate so effectively there is there is a local Pakistan organisation, TNFM - Tarik Inefasi Shariat Muhamadi, which is led by one Fakir Muhamad who has been an outspoken supporter of the Taliban and the al-Qaeda elements. So there is as it were domestic infrastructure and a significant degree of support amongst the local population.

LAM: Just how much influence do these tribal leaders have in the region?

Yet, rather than doing something to correct the problem, high schools in both the public and private sectors have developed cover-up strategies to game the system. These artifices include dropping class rank, quietly changing to a 5- or 6-point scale, and purportedly retaining a 4-point scale but providing for weighted grades, so that the top students have GPAs that well exceed 4.0. To illustrate, a friend of mine recently asked me to “put in a good word” to the admissions office of the university where I teach about his granddaughter, who was applying there. When I asked the girl for some information about her academic profile, she told me that she had a 3.89 average. Only after a conversation that escalated into a probing cross-examination did I find out that this grade point average was on a 6-point scale, and that her school did not use class rank.

Moreover, high school teachers and administrators, mimicking their higher education counterparts, have concocted various rationales to deflect attention away from the trend. The defenses include the need for student self-esteem; the competition for college; state policies for financial aid based on GPA, such as Georgia’s HOPE Scholarships; and the denigration of competitive grades altogether. High schools in California have been experimenting with deleting D’s, since this grade, like the penny, has arguably become valueless. Others have experimented with mastery learning while retaining the normative grades of A through F, rather than switching to a pass-fail or “mastery-nonmastery” scale. Euphemisms abound, such as the category “basic” for those who do not obtain the minimum passing level on NAEP and its No Child Left Behind law equivalents in each state.

If high schools seek to drop grades or substitute another approach to measuring learning, such as narratives, portfolios, criterion-based mastery, or a new series of numbering or letters, fine. Just let them be clear and open about it, so that the public is not duped with the false expectations that arise from the traditional, normative A-F or 0-4 grading system. The problem is that high schools want to eat their cake and have it too, which causes the public to eventually become fed up. Whether it’s the Super Bowl, the Oscars, the Pulitzer Prize, or a 4.0 GPA, the distinction is only meaningful for the exceptional ones at the very top. If a majority of the students in a high school are in the honor society, it is no longer an honor.

Perhaps inadvertently, then, the federal the No Child Left Behind law aids and abets the diluting, deceptive effect of grade inflation. While insisting on objective tests of achievement, Congress has joined the deceit by using normative language for a standards-based approach: As in Garrison Keillor’s fictional Lake Wobegon, no child is left behind and, thus, all the children are “above average.”

Unless and until high schools, along with the levels of schooling above and below them, are willing to provide a more honest and publicly understandable system of grading, we will continue to pay the price in terms of national and state insistence on standardized high-stakes tests to measure students and schools. The long-standing and unmitigated pattern of grade inflation is a major contributor to the latest call for high school reform. Now the time has come for school boards, administrators, and teachers to make a coordinated, concerted, and courageous effort—something akin to an Alan Greenspan approach—to reverse this devaluing trend.

Perry A. Zirkel is the university professor of education and law at Lehigh University, in Bethlehem, Pa.

Vol. 26, Issue 29, Pages 30,40


How Not to Manage a Crisis
03/26/2007 - U.S. News & World Report (cir. 2,022,383)
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As senior Justice Department officials and its communications office struggle to regain control of the spiraling U.S. attorney crisis, they could learn some valuable public relations lessons from a biblical tale of deception and redemption, crisis management experts say.

When Eve, snookered by that wily serpent Satan, ate the forbidden fruit and shared it with Adam, and God figured out he'd been crossed, says crisis management consultant Eric Dezenhall, that first couple had pretty much the same response that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and senior Justice officials did when Congress confronted them about the federal prosecutor firings.

"An organization under attack is like an individual under attack; the response is visceral, not strategic," says Dezenhall. "That response goes back to Adam and Eve. What do you do when you get caught? You cover up."

In this case, officials first used a fig leaf of an excuse by asserting that the dismissals were based almost exclusively on performance and not at all on politics. But that fig leaf was quickly stripped bare when they kept burnishing the original account, just as Milton did.

Now, it's unclear whether Adam and Eve colluded and tried to get their story straight before 'fessing up to God, and how he first figured out that they had been very naughty. But in this case, the scores of E-mails between Gonzales's chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, and other senior Justice and White House officials gave the long paper trail the "whiff of malice," says Dezenhall, which in turn assigned a certain "narrative locomotive" to the convoluted saga.

"When you lie, it causes a chemical reaction, almost a biological hostility, so much so that you don't really have the opportunity to say, 'Let me revisit why I gave you bad information,' " he says. "Nobody cares at that point because there has been a primal betrayal. It's almost like adultery."

The Justice Department's mishandling of the U.S. attorney firings is a case of Crisis Mismanagement 101, Dezenhall and other crisis management experts say. For one thing, senior communications officials made the rookie mistake of caving to the incredible media and congressional pressure to "purge the story," even before they themselves knew what that story was, says Dezenhall. Instead, someone at the senior level, perhaps even Gonzales himself, should have admitted that even he didn't realize the scope of the problem. They should then have assembled a blue-ribbon panel to investigate it and promised to find out the answers and get back to Congress and the American public. "The problem with this one is in their effort to make it go away quickly," says Dezenhall, "they violated the PR Hippocratic oath of crisis management, to do no harm."

If not from Genesis, senior Justice officials should at least have borrowed from Benjamin Franklin's sage warning, "Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead," says Carole Gorney, founder and director of the Center for Crisis Public Relations and Litigation Studies at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa.

In this case, Gorney says, the situation also offers some parallels to the mishandling of the 1969 Chappaquiddick tragedy, in which a car driven by Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts went off a bridge, killing a young woman, and the senator's staff and family failed to acknowledge the tragedy for hours.

Gorney has coined a term called the Chappaquiddick Theorem: "If a little bit comes out today, a little bit tomorrow, and they keep changing the story to address new information, they just dig the hole deeper and deeper," says Gorney. "People make up their minds, and pretty soon, you have people's opinions being reported, and it's very hard to get rid of that. You need to nip it in the bud as quickly as possible."

But the White House quickly distanced itself and President Bush from the whole scandal. And even if Bush and Gonzales had spoken out, they had a huge hurdle: the steep erosion of trust and credibility both men have suffered in the wake of their "war on terror," legal strategies, and the war in Iraq.

"We don't like to think that something as schoolyard as likability plays a role in this," says Dezenhall. "But I've got to tell you, it plays a huge role." Dezenhall, who worked in the Reagan administration, says that's what helped the president's communications strategists.

"When Reagan said something incredibly stupid, how did we spin it?" says Dezenhall. "We picked up the phone and said, 'he says things like that,' and people didn't care, because people liked him." And that's why, despite the incident of the Blue Dress, President Bill Clinton is an international icon, the world's most popular elder statesman.

Which leads to the final question: what to do?

Someone, says Dezenhall, has to be banished from the Garden of Eden.

"As shallow as it sounds, there is no more powerful human impulse than the impulse to blame, and to figure out, what is the price to be paid?" he says. "That's what brings the narrative arc to its conclusion."

But who should it be? Gorney thinks it should be the man with the lowest likability rating in this administration: Karl Rove, she concludes, because the apparent involvement of Bush's political adviser in the deliberations has stoked the fire.

"He's very controversial and has already raised the ire of a lot of people in Washington," says Gorney. "It looks like another one of those manipulation things going on."

Once someone is punished, says Dezenhall, there will undoubtedly be redemption. That's why Martha Stewart is back on top, he says, earning the big bucks, because she did her stint in jail.

"We're willing to let you up again, provided you demonstrate pain," says Dezenhall. "The problem with modern America is everyone wants redemption without the pain. But it doesn't work that way."

Posted on Thursday, March 29, 2007

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