“When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry,” Geraldine  Largay, 66, wrote in her diary after she became lost while hiking in Maine.”

Geraldine Largay

Dear Commons Community,

Today is the beginning of the Memorial Day Weekend when many Americans will be traveling around the country for mini-vacations and visits with family and friends.  A popular activity will be to enjoy the outdoors for hiking, camping, boating, etc.  Various media are reporting the sad story of 66-year old Geraldine Largay, who became lost and died while hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Her body was not found until two years later.   The last entry in her journal was:

“When you find my body, please call my husband George and my daughter Kerry,”

As reported by the Washington Post:

In the summer of 2013, officials in Maine launched one the most exhaustive missing person searches in the state’s history

They were looking for Geraldine Largay, a 66-year-old hiker who’d gotten lost while traveling the Appalachian Trail.

Sadly, she wasn’t located until years later. Among the deceased woman’s belongings was a note reading, “When you find my body, please call my husband and daughter.”

That and other tragic details about what ended up being her final days were recently revealed in a more than 1,500-page report about the incident, according to the Boston Globe.

Among the more shocking discoveries is that Largay lived for nearly 4 weeks after she’d lost track of the trail.

Though she’d tried to send text messages to her husband, she was unable to get a strong enough signal.

It’s believed Largay died “from exposure and lack of food.”

Both her remains and the campsite she’d set up atop a knoll were found by Maine wardens over 2 years later.

A sad story indeed!



New Pew Research Center Study:  More Young Americans Living with their Parents!

Dear Commons Community,

A new Pew Research Center report says young adults are more likely to live with their parents than as part of any other housing arrangement. Over 32 percent of young Americans, ages 18 to 34, lived with their parents, instead of living with a partner or spouse, with 31 percent of young adults choosing to live in a household with a partner.  To put it into perspective, just over 55 years ago, 62 percent of young adults were living with a partner, now only 31 percent live with a partner.

Why the change? For one thing, fewer Americans are getting married before 35. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the median age of Americans first getting married has been steadily rising for several decades now.

“The really seismic change is that we have so many fewer young adults partnering, either marrying or cohabiting,” Pew Research Center senior economist Richard Fry told The New York Times. “In 1960, that silent generation left home earlier than any generation before or after, because they married so young.” 

Employment trends also have contributed to the shift, with lower employment levels — as well as lower wages for younger workers — putting independence further out of reach for young people, according to Pew. 

Young men are more likely than women to live with parents, as women are still slightly more likely to live with a partner. 

Other living arrangements in the report included those who are living alone, with roommates or as single parents, and those who lived with another family member, non-relative or in group housing.

Interestingly, the trend seems to extend beyond our borders. Just under 50 percent of European young adults live with parents — though it varies country by country. But similar trends have also been seen in Canada, Japan and Australia. 


Elizabeth Warren Destroys Trump Calls Him “A small, insecure money-grubber who doesn’t care who gets hurt, so long as he makes some money off it.”

Elizabeth Warren May 2016

Dear Commons Community,

Donald Trump has found his match in the give and take department with Elizabeth Warren.    She amplified her recent attacks on The Donald and admonished him by calling him “a small, insecure money-grubber.”

In a speech yesterday, she recounted the story of a Nevada family whose home was foreclosed at the height of the 2008 economic crisis while accepting an award from the Center for Popular Democracy, an economic justice organization. The story served as a segue into an excoriation of comments Trump made before the crisis, hoping the housing market would crash so he could profit from it.  

“Donald Trump was drooling over the idea of a housing meltdown because it meant he could buy up a bunch more property on the cheap,” Warren said. “What kind of a man does that? Root for people to get thrown out on the street? Root for people to lose their jobs? Root for people to lose their pensions? Root for two little girls in Clark County, Nevada, to end up living in a van? What kind of a man does that?

“I’ll tell you exactly what kind,” Warren continued. “A man who cares about no one but himself. A small, insecure money-grubber who doesn’t care who gets hurt, so long as he makes some money off it. What kind of man does that? A man who will never be president of the United States.”

Warren also slammed Trump’s recent proposal to eliminate Dodd-Frank financial reforms that were designed to curb Wall Street abuses and prevent future financial crises. 

“Donald Trump is worried about helping poor little Wall Street? Let me find the world’s smallest violin to play a sad, sad song,” Warren said.

Warren’s speech filled out a line of attack she has waged against Trump in recent weeks, often on Twitter. Her willingness to target Trump has not gone unnoticed by Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Warren on Tuesday also laid into Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, which makes him the first major party nominee in more than 40 years to hide the documents from the public. Trump has claimed the returns would reveal nothing. Trump’s 1978 and 1979 returns, which he filed with New Jersey casino regulators, indicated that he paid little to nothing in taxes.

“I want to make just one last point about Donald Trump that won’t fit into a Twitter war, one last point that sums up what Donald Trump is all about — his taxes,” Warren said. “Trump likes being a billionaire and doesn’t think the rules that apply to everyone else should apply to him. But let’s be clear: Donald Trump didn’t get rich on his own.”

Warren argued that Trump, by not paying taxes, has reaped the benefits of services and people that taxes fund.

“Donald Trump thinks supporting them is throwing money down the drain,” Warren said. “I say we just throw Donald Trump down the drain.”

Go Elizabeth!



Ken Starr, Independent Counsel During Bill Clinton Impeachment, Fired As President of Baylor University!

Ken Starr

Dear Commons Community,

According to several news sources, Ken Starr, has been asked to step down as president of Baylor University over the way sexual assaults are handled on the campus.  During the Bill Clinton/Monica Lewinsky scandal in the late 1990s, Starr was the face of the investigation and impeachment proceedings.  Reuters reported yesterday:

“Baylor University declined to comment on reports on Tuesday that Kenneth Starr, the former independent counsel charged with investigating Bill Clinton during his presidency who is now the president of the world’s largest Baptist college, has been fired over sexual abuse scandals at the school.

In the past several months, the central Texas university has faced criticism of not doing enough to investigate reports of rapes of female students by its male athletes.

Local TV broadcaster KCEN reported on Tuesday that Starr had been fired, citing sources close to the Board of Regents.

“We will not respond to rumors, speculation or reports based on unnamed sources, but when official news is available, the University will provide it. We expect an announcement by June 3,” the school said in a statement.

In March, a former student at Baylor brought a negligence lawsuit in federal court against the school, claiming it acted callously and indifferently after she was raped by a Baylor football player.

In a separate scandal, Baylor football player Sam Ukwuachu was sentenced last year by a Texas judge to six months in jail for sexually assaulting a fellow student in 2013.

That incident raised questions about how Baylor investigates sexual assaults. The judge in the trial deemed the school’s investigation so insufficient that he barred defense from citing it.

Following that case, Baylor asked for an independent investigation of its handling of sexual assault accusations. A report, yet to be made public, was recently submitted to the Board of Regents, the group that can fire Starr.

Starr became the 14th president of Baylor in 2010.

Starr, a former appeals court judge, in the mid-1990s was appointed as a special counsel to investigate then President Clinton over a real estate investment and other matters. His probe widened to include Clinton’s sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, and led to Clinton’s impeachment by the House of Representatives.

Republicans could not muster the two-thirds majority in the Senate needed to remove Clinton from office and Republicans were later punished at the polls for what many of them conceded was a perceived overzealousness in pursuing Clinton.

This month, Starr offered enthusiastic praise for Clinton, especially his years of philanthropic work after leaving the White House, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

“His genuine empathy for human beings is absolutely clear,” Starr was reported as saying at a panel discussion in Philadelphia. He referred to his investigation and the impeachment process as “the unpleasantness,” it said.”

Starr was in the middle of a sad chapter of United States history.  The country was not served well by this “holier than thou” episode.


NOTE:  On May 26, 2016, it was announced that Ken Starr was stripped of his title as university president and would no longer have any operational responsibilities.  He would remain Baylor’s chancellor and a professor at the law school. The chancellor position is “centered around development and religious liberty.”

“The Bad-Ass  Librarians of Timbuktu”  by Joshua Hammer!


Bad-Ass Librarians

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer.  The title is a bit distracting but the book itself is worth a read.  Hammer tells the story of how a small group of individuals took on the task of saving hundreds of thousands of ancient scrolls from possible destruction by invading militant jihadists.  The book is in three parts. 

First, it tells of how Timbuktu became the cultural capital of sub-Saharan Africa.  Second, it provides accounts of the allure of militant jihadism to Muslim families who eke out hardscrabble existences and believe that when they give up their children to train as terrorists, they are “given them to God”.  Third, is the Herculean effort to move hundreds of thousands of scrolls out of Timbuktu to safety before jihadists could destroy them.  The hero of the story is Abdel Kader Haidara, a gentle, scholarly man who began gathering manuscripts in the 1980s on behalf of the Ahmed Baba Institute of Higher Learning and Islamic Research in Timbuktu. 

Here is an excerpt from the New York Times book review that appeared on April 28, 2016.

“While Europe was still groping its way through the dark ages, Timbuktu was a beacon of intellectual enlightenment, and probably the most bibliophilic city on earth. Scientists, engineers, poets and philosophers flocked there to exchange and debate ideas and commit these to paper in hundreds of thousands of manuscripts written in Arabic and various African languages. The British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper once remarked: “There is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness.” Timbuktu’s staggering manuscript hoard is the most vivid proof of how wrong he was.

That ancient literary heritage, and the threat it faces from radical Islam, is the subject of Joshua Hammer’s book The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu, part history, part scholarly adventure story and part journalistic survey of the volatile religious politics of the Maghreb region.

Hammer delights in the explosion of medieval scholarship that took place in Timbuktu. By the 16th century, a quarter of the 100,000-strong population were students, drawn from as far away as the Arabian Peninsula. As one proverb puts it: “Salt comes from the north, gold from the south, and silver from the country of the white men, but the word of God and the treasures of wisdom are only to be found in Timbuctoo.” As well as religious texts, those treasures included works of poetry, algebra, physics, medicine, jurisprudence, magic, mathematics, history, botany, geography and astronomy. Ethicists debated polygamy, usury, conflict resolution and the ­morality of smoking…

The city’s scribes wrote in a variety of calligraphic styles, inks and colors: the African tradition of Hausa with thick brush strokes, the angled Kufic script from Persia and the curved and looping Maghrebi style. The city was a readers’ paradise, its inhabitants “searching with a real passion for volumes they did not possess, and making copies when they were too poor to buy what they wanted.” Eclectic scholarship thrived under the mystical, tolerant form of Sufism that dominated what is now Mali. The city, as Hammer puts it, was an “incubator for the richness of Islam.” But the tradition of open-­minded academic inquiry was also subject to periodic attack from bigots and looters, and the ­anti-intellectual rigidity of successive waves of jihadis.”

At two-hundred and seventy pages, it is a quick read but filled with interesting kernels of information about this part of the non-Western world.



Screening College Applicants with Criminal Records!

Dear Commons Community,

A New York Times editorial this morning raises an important issue regarding screening college applicants who have criminal records. Referring to recent statements from President Obama, the editorial makes several important points:

“The Obama administration is rightly urging colleges and universities to re-evaluate how they use criminal-record information in admissions decisions. By asking about criminal convictions on their applications, the schools discourage applicants who are capable of performing academically at college and who present no danger to campus safety. The remedy is to stop asking about these records or at least delay the question until the applicant has received a provisional offer of acceptance.

Research suggests that colleges that admit students with criminal histories are no less safe than others. This makes sense because campus crimes are typically committed by outsiders — or by students who do not have criminal records. Yet colleges have reacted hysterically to a handful of high-profile crimes in recent decades by trying to screen out applicants with criminal convictions.

This screening became easier in 2006, when the Common Application, now used by more than 600 schools, added questions about criminal convictions and even disciplinary records. In addition to excluding people for minor offenses, some colleges did so for disciplinary violations as far back as ninth grade that led to probation, suspension or expulsion. This especially hurts minority students, who are disproportionately — and unjustifiably — subjected to those penalties or arrested in cases of nonviolent offenses that should have been handled at the principal’s office.

A study last year by the Center for Community Alternatives, a nonprofit group that focuses on alternatives to imprisonment, showed clearly that the criminal-conviction question discourages people from attending college. The study, which looked at 60 of the 64 campuses of the State University of New York, found that nearly two-thirds of applicants who answered “yes” to the felony question never completed the application process. The City University of New York, with 24 campuses, does not ask the question, and says this approach has posed no safety problem.

The Obama administration has taken several steps to combat discrimination against the more than 70 million Americans with criminal records. For example, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission bars employers from automatically denying jobs to people based on arrests or conviction records. The commission explained that employers needed to take into account the seriousness of the offense, when it had occurred and whether it was relevant to the job. The federal government has also warned landlords that blanket bans on renting to people with criminal convictions violate the Fair Housing Act.”

I believe that college policy makers will continue to be careful about how they approach this issue. While President Obama has good intentions, student safety and security has risen high on the lists of priorities for most colleges and especially those that provide on-campus housing.


University of Iowa Investigating Cheating in Online Classes!

Dear Commons Community,

The University of Iowa is launching an investigation into cheating in its online classes.  The issue has long been a concern in academia as more and more colleges have begun offering online education. As reported by the Associated Press:

“The University of Iowa says it is investigating whether more than 30 students cheated in online classes by having others take exams for them.

The school said Friday that it is reviewing each case of possible academic misconduct and will take disciplinary action against any students who are guilty.

The issue came to light after potential irregularities were identified by ProctorU, a company the university uses to provide identity verification for online courses.

ProctorU said that discrepancies in identification were provided by test-takers in one or more exams and in some cases, in multiple courses.

The school says sanctions could include expulsion or suspension.”

The cheating issue will continue to raise its head in online education but let’s not forget that cheating has always been an issue in traditional, on-ground courses also.


Donald Trump Paid No Income Taxes in the 1970s!

Dear Commons Community,

The last time information from Donald Trump’s income-tax returns was made public, he  paid the federal government $0 in income taxes as reported by several media sources including ABC News and The Washington Post.

Trump, who has declined to release his tax returns during the campaign season, incurred no tax liability in 1978 and 1979, New Jersey gambling regulators found, when they looked into his tax returns and personal finances in connection with the Trump Plaza Corporation’s 1981 application for a casino license.

Trump claimed negative income in both those years: losses of $406,379 in 1978 and $3,443,560 in 1979. In 1975, 1976, and 1977, he claimed $76,210, $24,594, and $118,530 in income, respectively, paying $18,714, $10,832, and $42,386 in federal taxes, according to the document, the Report to the Casino Control Commission.

The regulators “did not ascertain any inconsistent or questionable matters” in Trump’s returns, they wrote.

The findings were included in a report obtained by ABC News and verified by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission. Although the regulators viewed Trump’s tax returns from 1975 to 1979, they did not include the actual returns in their report to the commission.

Today, as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Trump regularly denounces corporate executives for using loopholes and “false deductions” to “get away with murder” when it comes to avoiding taxes.

“They make a fortune. They pay no tax,” Trump said last year on CBS.

The contrast highlights a potentially awkward challenge for Trump.

He has built a political identity around his reputation as a financial whiz, even bragging about his ability to game the tax code to pay as little as possible to the government — a practice he has called the “American way.” Moreover, he has aggressively pursued tax breaks and other government supports to bolster his real estate empire. But that history threatens to collide with his efforts to woo working-class voters who resent that they often pay higher tax rates than the wealthy who benefit from special loopholes.



The Secret Life of the Doctoral Student!

Dear Commons Community,

Below is a short piece entitled, The Secret Life of the Doctoral Student,  written by Katie Rose Guest Pryal,  a columnist for The Chronicle of Higher Education and a former clinical associate professor of law at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  It rightly suggests that faculty have to be alert to signs of distress in our students.  While the article focuses on doctoral students, it might apply to all students.



The Secret Life of the Doctoral Student

Katie Rose Guest Pryal

The Chronicle of Higher Education Vita Section


When I was in graduate school in English, my fellow students and I worked hard on our studies. We worked hard to earn our graduate stipends, teaching three or more courses a year. Many of us also worked extra jobs to make ends meet — at Starbucks, law firms, used book stores, and more. Many of us partied like it was 1999. (It was not, in fact, 1999. It was the early aughts.)

Now and then, some of us struggled personally — with addiction, mental illness, cognitive issues, major health crises and tragedies, and domestic violence.

We kept these struggles among ourselves. We didn’t want our professors and advisers to know about our less-than-perfect private lives. We didn’t want them to know if a fellow student was drinking too much or struggling with a bad relationship. Instead, we graduate students huddled together and helped each other privately. We didn’t want to risk hurting a fellow graduate student’s reputation in the department.

Because that’s what was at stake: our reputations. We put on our professional masks for seminars, teaching, and meetings with advisers. And we kept up a barrier, for as long as we could, between what we knew was going on among “us” and what “they” would know about it. We believed “they,” for the most part, didn’t want to know.

We were living a secret life about which our professors knew very little.

Why a Secret Life?

Most professors have a vision of how an ideal graduate student performs. When I was in graduate school, some professors even told us, in great detail, descriptions of their ideal. Some of us believed that if we deviated from that ideal, we would have trouble getting funding or finding jobs. We were often proven right: With few exceptions, the closer we tracked the ideal, the more we were rewarded.

Likewise, we believed that if a friend deviated from the ideal, it was our duty to help that friend get back on track. We circled the proverbial wagons and helped each other as best we could. Help included giving a woman who’d lost her home to an unstable partner a place to sleep — and keeping her secret from faculty who might see her as an unstable victim if they found out. It included helping a friend with his seminar papers when he was having cognitive difficulties. In retrospect — knowing what I know now about disability — his cognitive difficulties would likely have been aided by disability services had he sought those accommodations. But seeking accommodations when you aren’t an undergraduate can be rough, indeed.

After teaching at the graduate level for many years, I realize that faculty, for the most part, aren’t equipped to know about graduate students’ struggles. Put simply, most professors are not prepared to aid students in distress. If indeed it’s true that graduate students in the United States (and elsewhere) are struggling with mental health and addiction issues at high rates — and it appears that it is — then we need to rethink whether graduate schools have a duty to accept the full person (the nonideal) and whether departments are inadvertently creating disabling environments in which graduate students feel forced to hide their struggles to everyone’s detriment.

A Professor’s Point of View

I interviewed a fellow professor to seek another viewpoint on this issue. Maggie (a pseudonym), a humanities professor at a large, research university, works in a department with many graduate students. She directs dissertations and sits on dissertation committees — the total number of graduate students whose work she closely advises hovers in the double-digits. Indeed, I selected her as an interview subject because of her close involvement with a large number of graduate students.

I asked her first about whether she received training — either in graduate school or on the job— in how to help graduate students struggling with personal crises. “There is little to no training that focuses on graduate students in particular, either in graduate school or as part of professional development for faculty,” she noted. “Most faculty, I’d say, don’t really know what to do or how to handle students in distress.”

Furthermore, in her department, graduate students tend to keep their struggles secret from faculty until the secrets can’t be kept any more: “In my department, we often only find out about these kinds of issues when it reaches a crisis point.” She described one incident in which a faculty member “found out that a graduate student hadn’t been attending any classes for … weeks,” and “didn’t respond to phone calls or emails.” Only after someone actually went to the student’s apartment did the professor realize that the student was dealing with severe depression and had dropped out of the program. The department “could have maybe helped the student and the student might still be enrolled,” she said, had they known of the problem earlier.

What Maggie describes is similar to my own memories from graduate school. We all tried to handle problems privately until they were too big for us to handle any more. Sometimes — similar to the situation in Maggie’s department — our fear of reprisals had terrible consequences.

Maggie gave another example: Upon finding “out that a student had been staying in his office … instead of going back to his apartment because he was afraid of harming himself,” faculty took him to the local hospital and perhaps saved his life. “This was another case where faculty only found out when it had reached a crisis point.” Basically, Maggie said, “I don’t think faculty have a good sense of what their graduate students are going through unless it reaches one of these boiling points.”

Break the Silence

How can faculty help break down barriers of communication to encourage students to come forward? How can we encourage communication before a crisis becomes a crisis? After all, as Maggie pointed out, “At least in my experience, the majority of faculty would want to know about issues affecting their students’ lives and would be willing to help. They just don’t always find out about what is going on until things have gotten very serious.”

So what can faculty do to help students understand it’s OK to come forward?

First, show students that you’re willing to help. At a basic level, for example, put a sign on your office door — “I’m a friend of neurodiversity”— that indicates your openness to discussing unconventional struggles. Then see what happens. Students with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder, and more might, with luck, decide that they can trust you with their secrets. You don’t have to be an expert to help students in distress. You just have to be willing to listen and know whom to call for help.

Second, during orientation, have faculty and senior graduate students talk openly about collaboration in personal — not just professional — challenges. From Day 1, establish, a culture in which these struggles are shared among faculty, staff, and students. Build trust by promising students that they won’t be penalized for failing to meet some fictional “ideal” model of graduate student. And then, keep that promise.


New U.S. GAO Report: American Schools Increasingly Separate and Unequal!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. General Accounting Office issued a report this past Tuesday (May 17th) that found that American schools are increasingly becoming more segregated. It has been 62 years since Brown v. Board of Education made segregated schools unconstitutional. Yet the number of black students attending separate and unequal institutions is on the rise, according to the U.S. GAO report. In addition, these institutions also routinely fail to provide students of color with the same resources given to their white counterparts.


“The percentage of K-12 public schools in the United States with students who are poor and are mostly Black or Hispanic is growing and these schools share a number of challenging characteristics. From school years 2000-01 to 2013-14 (the most recent data available), the percentage of all K-12 public schools that had high percentages of poor and Black or Hispanic students grew from 9 to 16 percent, according to GAO’s analysis of data from the Department of Education (Education). These schools were the most racially and economically concentrated: 75 to 100 percent of the students were Black or Hispanic and eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—a commonly used indicator of poverty. GAO’s analysis of Education data also found that compared with other schools, these schools offered disproportionately fewer math, science, and college preparatory courses and had disproportionately higher rates of students who were held back in 9th grade, suspended, or expelled.”

The law no longer condones segregated schooling like it did in the days before Brown, but an insidious system of stratified schooling exists all the same. What’s more, the report says governmental agencies such as the Department of Education and Department of Justice are not doing all they could to dismantle this system.

“More than 60 years after the Brown decision, our work shows that disparities in education persist and are particularly acute among schools with the highest concentrations of minority and poor students.” the report’s conclusion says.

This backwards procession toward  school resegregation is a relatively new phenomenon after years of progress during the late 1960s,’70s and ’80s. While advancements were slow in the immediate years following Brown, legislation like the Civil Rights Act of 1964 helped speed up desegregation. However, court decisions and federal inaction during the late ’80s and ’90s helped undo much of this progress.