Columbia becomes first U.S. university to divest from prisons – By Wilfred Chan, CNN Updated 9:26 AM ET, Wed June 24, 2015

Members of Columbia Prison Divest hold protest signs at a University Senate meeting on April 2, 2015.

Members of Columbia Prison Divest hold protest signs at a University Senate meeting on April 2, 2015.

(CNN)Columbia University has become the first college in the United States to divest from private prison companies, following a student activist campaign.

The decision means the Ivy League school — which boasts a roughly $9 billion endowment — will sell its estimated 220,000 shares in G4S, the world’s largest private security firm, as well its shares in the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the United states.

The campaign began in early 2014, when a small group of Columbia students discovered the school was investing in the two firms, which run prisons, detention centers, and militarized borders.

The group, called Columbia Prison Divest, launched protests and meetings with administrators, arguing it was wrong for the elite school to invest in a “racist, violent system.”

“The private prison model is hinged on maximizing incarceration to generate profit — they’re incentivized by convicting, sentencing, and keeping people in prison for longer and longer times,” Dunni Oduyemi, a 20-year-old organizer, told CNN.

“We don’t think about how the privileges and resources students get access to are premised upon violence done to people by virtue of their race, class, or citizenship status.”

In an emailed statement, a Columbia spokesperson said the university’s trustees had decided to divest from private prison companies and would refrain from investing in such companies again.

“This action occurs within the larger, ongoing discussion of the issue of mass incarceration that concerns citizens from across the ideological spectrum,” the statement said. “The decision follows … thoughtful analysis and deliberation by our faculty, students, and alumni.”

The spokesperson would not confirm how much Columbia had invested in the two companies.

In 2007, Farallon, a company managing part of Yale University’s endowment, also divested from CCA after a student campaign, though it did not rule out future investment in prison stock.

History of controversy

Oduyemi said activists targeted CCA for its “horrific” human rights record. A 2014 ACLU investigation found abuse and neglect in CCA-run prisons where guards used “extreme isolation arbitrarily and abusively,” exposed prisoners to contaminated water, and delayed medical care of inmates, causing “needless suffering.”


Article continues:

This video by a Columbia University neuroscientist​ might be the best case against the drug war ever made

“I grew up in the hood in Miami in a poor neighborhood. I came from a community in which drug use was prevalent. I kept a gun in my car. I engaged in petty crime. I used and sold drugs. But I stand before you today also — emphasis on also — a professor at Columbia University who studies drug addiction.”

That’s how Dr. Carl Hart, a neuroscientist and professor of psychology and psychiatry, opened a recent TED talk he gave about his research into addiction. After his difficult youth, Hart said he toed the drug war line for a number of years: “I fully believed that the crime and poverty in my community was a direct result of crack cocaine.” He bought into the notion, pushed by policymakers in the 1980s and 1990s, that you could get hooked on crack and other drugs after just one hit.

But his research has disabused him of these notions. He recruited cocaine and meth users into his lab, and over a period of several days offered them some options: they could either receive hits of their drug of choice, or they could take payments of five dollars instead. Crucially, the payments offered were less than the value of the drugs they could consume.

Contrary to the notion of the craven drug fiend who will do literally anything for one more hit, Hart found that half of cocaine and meth users opted for the money over the drugs. And when he increased the payments to 20 dollars, closer to 80 percent of meth users chose the money. The lesson? “Attractive alternatives dramatically decrease drug use,” he said in his talk.

This speaks to another point Hart made, which is worth quoting at length:

80 to 90 percent of people who use illegal drugs are not addicts. They don’t have a drug problem. Most are responsible members of our society. They are employed. They pay their taxes. They take care of their families. And in some cases they even become president of the United States.

He’s right, of course. Among people who have ever used marijuana, only 9 percent become addicted. That rate is 11 percent for cocaine and 17 percent for stimulants like meth. Even the vast majority of people who use heroin — 77 percent of them — never get addicted to the drug.

When it comes to his own kids, Hart, who is black, is less worried about drugs and more worried about the people who enforce drug laws. He says that the effects of drugs at the individual-level are predictable and easy to understand: you smoke some weed, you will experience X effects after Y amount of time. But interactions with the police are a different story. “I don’t know how to keep my children safe with the police because, particularly when it comes to Black folks, interactions with police are not predictable,” he said in a recent Q&A hosted by the Drug Policy Alliance and reported in Ebony magazine.

Hart says that many recent high-profile police killings have occurred under the aegis of the war on drugs. “In all of these cases, authorities suspected that the deceased individual was either intoxicated from or selling an illicit substance,” Hart writes. Overinflated claims about the dangers of drug use have “created an environment where unjustified police killings are more likely to occur,” he says. They’ve also created a world where DEA agents can interrogate public transportation passengers and take all their money when they don’t like their answers. Or where IRS agents can empty your bank account because they don’t like how you deposited your money there.

But black families and communities typically bear the brunt of these harsh measures. Hart offers a troubling statistic in his talk: 1 in 3 black men can expect to do some jail time over the course of their lives. This reality has hit him right at home: “I’m a father of three black sons,” he said. “One has spent time in jail for drug laws.”

What Dr. Oz Teaches Us About Americans’ Uneasy Relationship With Science by Tara Culp-Ressler Posted on April 22, 2015 at 1:36 pm


Dr. Mehmet Oz

The man who calls himself “America’s doctor” has recently found himself at the center of a considerable controversy over his scientific credibility. Dr. Mehmet Oz, best known for his very popular television show and his enthusiastic endorsements from Oprah Winfrey, recorded a special episode of his show this week to speak directly to his critics. Oz wants his detractors to know that he “will not be silenced.”

The forthcoming episode, which is set to air on Thursday, is a direct responseto a group of doctors who have raised concerns about Oz’s affiliation with Columbia University. Last week, ten physicians from around the country wrote a letter to the university saying that they’re “surprised and dismayed” that Oz retains a faculty position, accusing him of an “egregious lack of integrity by promoting quack treatments and cures in the interest of personal financial gain.”

Oz has become infamous for promoting unproven natural remedies and weight loss products that aren’t necessarily grounded in scientific evidence. Observers are increasingly raising questions about whether Dr. Oz, who is one of the most recognizable celebrity doctors in the country, is doing more harm than good.

Last year, Oz was hauled before Congress to testify about potential weight loss fraud, in a tense hearing during which Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) slammed him for giving scam artists a platform for “false and deceptive ads to sell questionable products.” Soon after, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that half of the medical advice on his TV show is either baseless or incorrect. More recently, WikiLeaks released a series of emails that suggest Oz makes decisions about which products to promote based on business considerations — and the financial backers who support his show — rather than on the best medical evidence.

Article continues:

Rolling Stone and the Media’s Glass House – By JACK SHAFER April 06, 2015

Journalism lessons are so basic—and so easily forgotten.

Lead image by AP Photo.

There is nothing like a journalistic plane crash to inspire newsroom loudmouths to jump on their desks and lecture colleagues about the collapse of standards and crow that they’re such exemplars of the craft that never in a trillion years could they or their publication be snookered by a fabulist, a hoaxer, a dissembler or a liar.

Thanks to the release of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s authorized and comprehensive report on Rolling Stone’s horribly flawed (and now officially retracted) exposé “A Rape on Campus: A Brutal Assault and Struggle for Justice at UVA,” this sort of posturing is clogging the Web today. I, too, would be doing a condemnation-dance on my desk to celebrate Rolling Stone’s stupidity if I wasn’t so certain that the lessons the Rolling Stone debacle teach us are fleeting. The time may soon come that the pontificators flop as miserably at the fundamentals of journalism as reporter Sabrina Rubin Erdely and her Rolling Stone editors have.

May Satan capture your soul and make it his plaything if you think you and your publication are incapable of such journalistic malpractice. Editors and producers at the highest ranks of journalism have fallen again and again during the past few decades, committing crimes against journalism that match or surpass those of Rolling Stone and Erdely. Here’s just a partial list: Janet Cooke at the Washington Post; The Hitler Diaries (various publications); Stephen Glass at the New Republic, George, and, um, Rolling Stone; Jayson Blair at the New York Times; Jack Kelley at USA Today; NBC’s “exploding pickup truck”; CNN’s Tailwind story; CBS’s “Rathergate” coverage; Mike Daisey’s Apple story on This American Life; Jonah Lehrer (fabrication in his book), and CBS again (Lara Logan on Benghazi). And as long as we’re building out a listicle, let me mention that when I worked at Slate, I edited and published a sham story by a liar.

Article continues:

Read more:

What is network neutrality? – By Timothy B. Lee Feb 24 2015

Network neutrality is the idea that internet service providers (ISPs), including cable companies like Time Warner and wireless providers like Sprint, should treat all internet traffic equally. It says your ISP shouldn’t be allowed to block or degrade access to certain websites or services, nor should it be allowed to set aside a “fast lane” that allows content favored by the ISP to load more quickly than the rest.

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at Feb 25, 2015 12.22

The term was coined in 2002 by Tim Wu, who is now a law professor at Columbia University. In a 2003 paper explaining the concept, Wu argued for a non-discrimination rule that would ensure a level playing field among Internet applications.

Ever since then, the term has been at the center of the debate over internet regulation. Congress, the Federal Communications Commission(FCC), and the courts have all debated whether and how to protect network neutrality. Advocates argue that network neutrality lowers barriers to entry online, allowing entrepreneurs to create new companies like Google, Facebook, and Dropbox.

But critics warn that regulations could be counterproductive, discouraging investment in internet infrastructure and limiting the flexibility of ISPs themselves to innovate.

On February 26, the FCC is expected to vote on new, stronger network neutrality rules that regulate internet access like a public utility. Network neutrality supporters have hailed the proposal. But Republicans in Congress argue that it will lead to excessive regulation of the internet, and are working on a legislative alternative to the FCC proposal.

Community College: Surprisingly Useful? | Acumen | OZY – December 2014 BY MEGHAN WALSH


When it comes to higher education, we’ve all heard the talking points: More people than ever are pursuing four-year degrees. At the same time, college has never been more expensive. Students pay the skyrocketing tuition costs because they don’t have many other choices if they want to be competitive in the workforce. Now, researchers are suggesting there may be another legitimate option: community college.

Analyzing data from more than 20,000 students who attended Washington state’s 34 community and technical colleges, researchers from Columbia University and the Career Ladders Project in Oakland, California, found that over a seven-year span, long-term certificates, which take more than a year to complete, and associate’s degrees lead to better employment odds and higher wages — sometimes even more so than a bachelor’s degree.

… salaries above $50,000 …

Until now, there has been scarce research on community colleges, leading to the assumption that they’re less valuable than they really are, says Mina Dadgar, one of the study’s lead authors and director of research at the Career Ladders Project. It’s in part because many associate’s degrees, particularly in humanities, are meant only to get students in the door at four-year colleges, so they aren’t useful by standard measures. But it turns out health care, technology and skilled labor are just a few of the sectors that students with community college credentials can make their way into and immediately start making salaries above $50,000 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor.

“This is an affordable investment,” Dadgar says. “For many students, community colleges are a way to earn a family-supporting wage, but we don’t really think of them that way.”

Students have to be careful, though. Not all short-term certificates, which take less than a year to pursue, are beneficial on their own. The study, published by the American Educational Research Association, found that on the whole these types of fast-turnaround credentials don’t lead to significant economic return — unless they’re combined with deliberate foresight about what comes next. “The challenge is many credentials are not well thought through,” says Dr. James Stone, director of the National Research Center for Career & Technical Education. “They’re dead ends.”

Both Stone, who had no affiliation with the study, and Dadgar stressed two main points: First, policymakers need to start making it so that certificates can build off one another. And second, high school counselors — who, they say, for the most part promote only the four-year tract — need to use this data to present community college as a legit option for students. “We still have this belief that the four-year college is the only pathway,” Stone says. “This is the perfect time to promote these opportunities.”

Teachers Are Losing Their Jobs, But Teach for America’s Expanding. What’s Wrong With That?

Wendy Kopp

Wendy Kopp, Teach for America’s founder, has called it a “leadership development organization, not a teaching organization.” (Photo by Sebastian Derungs, courtesy World Economic Forum, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

This story was produced in collaboration with the Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University.

For the second week in a row in his new home, Kenneth Maldonado’s evening ritual began with lumping sweaters and sleeping bags into the shape of a mattress in his otherwise empty bedroom. It was late September of 2011, the end of his first month as a Teach for America instructor. Having been only recently approved to teach in the Seattle school district, he was broke. But Maldonado and his two roommates—also TFA teachers—were among the lucky ones. Just a few weeks earlier, a half-dozen of their fellow recruits had been camped out on the hardwood floor of the unfurnished common area, homeless and unemployed.

The Teach for America program, now twenty-four years old, selects and sends young college graduates (referred to as “corps members”) to teach in schools serving primarily disadvantaged children of color, after giving its recruits five intensive weeks of training over the summer. Like the Peace Corps, TFA is a résumé booster, and its alumni have gone on to successful careers from the White House to Wall Street.

The 2011–12 school year was the organization’s fledgling year in Seattle, and Maldonado, then 24, initially felt excited to be one of the first thirty-eight recruits. His family didn’t have much when he was growing up in Los Angeles—his father, a former teacher in Guatemala, took on maintenance jobs after fleeing to the United States to escape the country’s civil war. But Maldonado excelled in school, graduating from the University of California, Santa Cruz, with a theater major and an education minor. He soon got a job with a San Jose–based nonprofit that helps people find low-income housing.

Although TFA requires only a two-year commitment, Maldonado was serious about a teaching career, and he saw the program as a guaranteed way into the profession without the time and expense of grad school. He especially appreciated its focus on disadvantaged schools. So when he learned of his acceptance into the program, he quit his job in California and prepared to move to the Pacific Northwest. “I wasn’t stressed out, I wasn’t worried,” he said. “I fully trusted Teach for America had everything figured out.”

Article continues: