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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

What Would Justice in Garrett Chapel Vandalism Look Like?

By Dr. Janine Bower, associate professor of criminology/criminal justice

News of the Garrett Chapel vandalism broke early last week. Images of the destruction — the gaping hole and shards of broken glass that remain of the exquisite stained glass window — symbolize the shock and outrage over this egregious act to a chapel with such historical and cultural significance. The estimated $25,000 in damages doesn’t include the priceless emotional and spiritual harm caused to victims and members of our community. When it comes to crimes that capture the public attention, people always ask “Why would someone do something like this?”

From a purely theoretical perspective, there are many reasons for vandalism and property destruction. Economic strains, negative family relationships, and conflict in the neighborhood can all produce anger and frustration. For some, criminal acts of vandalism are ways of coping with these emotions or solving problems. For someone with a strong family relationship, the fear of violating a norm endorsed by people they care about, whose opinions they value, and whose respect they wouldn’t want to lose is a powerful deterrent. In contrast, those with weak relationships are less constrained and in essence freer to violate norms.

Of course, some acts of vandalism merely reflect an attempt to alleviate boredom and experience excitement and thrills. There may be little-to-no forethought on the part of the perpetrator to the costs of their conduct, the consequences of getting caught, or harm to those impacted.

The majority of arrests for vandalism are of people over age 18, and about 40 percent of those are between 18 and 24 years old. Property crimes such as this unfortunately often go unsolved and don’t result in arrest. This means that the risk of getting caught is fairly low, and that threats of fines or incarceration may not be very effective for preventing this type of behavior. But in the event the perpetrator is apprehended, what would justice for the victim and community look like?

I would argue this to be a good case for restorative justice — a non-adversarial and voluntary process through which the victim and the accused are given the opportunity to meet with a facilitator and, in some cases, affected members of the community. Many cities, towns, and schools have adopted this practice as either an alternative to, or in conjunction with, a traditional approach because it has been shown to decrease repeat offending and enhance victim and community satisfaction.

In restorative justice, the goal is not to punish, but to reach an agreement that allows the offender to take responsibility for their actions, make efforts to repair the harm done, and be provided the opportunity to be reintegrated into the community. The process seeks to involve those affected by the crime, and it gives victims a more active role in communicating the impact of the offense to the accused and deciding upon a solution. This is not to say that punishment is ruled out, but this approach recognizes that punitive measures alone are not very effective in reducing the likelihood of future antisocial behavior and too often does not satisfy victim and community needs for healing and restoration.

This vandalism damaged the hearts and spirits of so many in our community. If the Garrett Chapel vandal is ever apprehended, I believe that those affected should have the opportunity to explain that it was far more than just glass that was damaged, and that the victim, community, and perpetrator have a chance to work through the consequences in order to repair the harm done.

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Extreme Increases to Minimum Wage Could Do More Harm Than Good

By Ann M. Tuttle, professor of management

Few people would argue that it is a wonderful goal to increase the standard of living for all employees at the lowest income levels. The strategy to achieve this and to increase the standard of living for working poor is where the debate begins.  This is a longstanding and very divisive issue as highlighted in many news stories and magazine articles.  The complaint that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer has brought the discussion of unequal distribution of income and the income gap to the forefront of political agendas all over the country.  From Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City to the fast food worker wage rallies in Los Angeles, Chicago and Baltimore, people have united in the desire for the lowest earners to get a bigger slice of the income pie.

Governor Andrew Cuomo responded to this political pressure by raising the minimum wage for state workers to $15.00 per hour.  He is using his executive authority to phase in the full $15 per hour in New York City by 2018, and then statewide by 2021.  He also included a minimum wage increase for fast food workers which phases in at $9.75 per hour this year and increases to $15.00 per hour by 2021.  There was even an increase in the minimum wage for tipped workers from $5.00 per hour to $7.50 per hour.

These increases are likely designed as a way to generate momentum in the quest to give our lowest earners more buying power and a better standard of living, but they could result in an increase in the unemployment rate instead.  For those who agree with the laws of supply and demand, the notion of increasing the minimum wage more than 70% for fast food workers and 50% for tipped workers might result in more supply of workers but less demand for them.  If you happen to be a fast food or tipped worker, you may believe that these increases are long overdue, but from the perspective of many of those industry employers, they are viewed as way too extreme and potentially devastating.

When speaking to the owner of a local restaurant about this issue, she indicated that she has already cut her wait staff and is now taking on a server role herself, a position for which she used to employ others to fill. When asked why she didn’t just increase her prices to cover the additional costs, and she replied that she would lose her customer base if she raised her prices.  Her next response was “If they follow the fast food minimum wage hike to $15.00, I will have to put the for-sale sign out and close my business.” A very sad outcome and one that I am sure the governor did not intend.  It may seem extreme, but when speaking to three other restaurant owners on this topic, similar responses were given.

If the labor expense for businesses becomes too high, they may choose to contain that expense by cutting back on the number of people that they employ. We have already begun to see McDonald’s installing kiosks for ordering, which replaces the need for human employees.  It is only a matter of time before all of the big fast food chains follow suit.  Even Chili’s and Applebee’s are integrating table tablets for customers to order and pay their bill, making the need for servers obsolete.  One would think that this is not the outcome that Governor Cuomo and other national leaders were hoping to achieve.

The minimum wage is the lowest wage rate that one can be paid, and a rate that according to Pew Research is earned by less than 5% of the nation’s hourly-paid workers and less than 3% of all wage and salary workers.  Most employees are paid at a rate higher than the minimum, a fact that should not be lost in this discussion.  If the market can bear higher wages, unemployment will not be affected, but if not, these increases may do much more harm than good.

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Don’t Let the Sun Set on Perkins Loans

By Dr. Jorge L. Díaz-Herrera, president

The clock is ticking on our nation’s longest-running student loan program.

Without Congressional action, the Perkins Loan Program, which began 57 years ago and provides need-based, low-interest loans to 500,000 low-income college students at some 1,500 colleges and universities each year, will expire Sept. 30.

The Perkins Loan Program is an important piece of our campus-based federal aid model and is  vital to keeping College affordable. The program provides federal funds to colleges and universities in order to offer five percent interest loans of up to $5,500 per year to students. Institutions must match at least 33 percent of the funds appropriated by the federal government.

During the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, lawmakers included a “sunset” date of Sept. 30, 2015 for the Perkins Loan Program. Institutions will be forced to slowly end their Perkins Loan programs and begin returning their federal disbursements from their institutional revolving funds to the U.S. Treasury beginning Oct. 1.

Further threatening the Perkins Loan Grants Program is the “one grant, one loan” policy proposal floating around Capitol Hill. Assuming that the single loan is a version of the Stafford Loan program, which accounted for $77 billion of the $96 billion of federal loans disbursed in 2013-14, a move to “one grant, one loan” would spell the end of the Perkins Loan Program.

While the Perkins Loan Program is on shaky footing, it has garnered support from many legislators, including two close to home. In July, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-25th District) sent a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the House Committee on Education & the Workforce calling on the committee to reauthorize Perkins before the Sept. 30 expiration.

Wrote Slaughter: “Perkins loans provide necessary flexibility to colleges and universities, which can use Perkins loans in conjunction with other forms of financial assistance to help students afford the cost of higher education. Perkins loans also act as a lifeline when unforeseen disruptions, such as a parent’s job loss or student’s inability to work enough hours, jeopardize a student’s ability to pay for college. Because they do not accrue interest while a student is in school and maintain a fixed five percent interest rate when repayment begins, Perkins loans often offer a much more affordable alternative to private student loans. Furthermore, the Perkins Loan Program encourages graduates to serve their country and communities by offering partial or full loan forgiveness to borrowers engaged in various types of public service.”

One of the legislators signing onto the letter was Rep. Tom Reed (R-23rd District). The 23rd district is one of the top recipients of Perkins loans in the country; in the last school year, a total of $21.8 million in Perkins loans were distributed to 10,810 students at 11 schools—including Keuka College— in the 23rd. Reed also signed on to a House resolution introduced by Rep. Luke Messer (R-6th, Ind.) that expresses the House of Representative’s support for the Perkins Loan Program.

Private, non-profit colleges such as Keuka College awarded nearly 50 percent of all Perkins loans in 2014-15. However, eliminating the Perkins Loan Program will affect private and public schools alike. Many students will be forced to secure private, higher-interest loans in order to attend college or not attend college at all.

We have heard a lot on the campaign trail about America falling behind its economic competitors. While it is hard to distinguish rhetoric from reality in politics, there is no doubt we must provide more of our citizens with high-level math, science, and literacy skills in order to stay competitive in the global economy. We can’t do that by limiting access to the colleges and universities that teach those skills, which will happen if the Perkins Loan Program is not renewed.

In addition, the failure to reauthorize the program “would eliminate billions of dollars in student aid from the revolving funds that institutions use to disburse Perkins loans,” according to Slaughter. “These revolving funds are what make the Federal Perkins Loan Program self-sustaining, with student loan repayments paying for new loans. The continuation of the program would not cost the government any additional money but its elimination would cost participating colleges and universities millions.”

I commend Reps. Slaughter, Reed, and others for their efforts to keep the program alive. I join them in urging their colleagues to not let the sun set on Perkins loans.

Why People Mistrust Science

An editorial by biology major Kelsey Morgan ’15

It is largely undisputed that advancements in science and technology are extremely important to life as we know it. However, with the way science and technology are represented in the media and popular culture, it can be difficult to distinguish between science and science fiction. Will the Ebola virus become an airborne super plague and kill us all? Are GMOs really safe? Should we be worried about climate change? And who can we trust to give us the answers?

The answer to this last question should be science, because it is designed to help us answer questions in a systematic, evidence-based way. Unfortunately, people often take a cynical attitude toward science, unfoundedly rejecting its discoveries. A Pew Study published in January reports that while people think science is a good thing, there is often a gap between scientists’ attitudes regarding hot-button issues and those of the general public. While a strong majority of scientists agree that genetically modified foods are generally safe to eat, global warming is a serious problem, and vaccines are safe, only a small part of the general public tends to agree. These gaps in understanding show that despite people reporting that they trust science, there is a large amount of disbelief and mistrust surrounding scientific consensus.

While there are many factors that determine whether or not a person accepts scientific evidence, general mistrust in science can be boiled down to three categories: religious and political affiliations, confirmation bias, and the need for an emotional appeal.

Religious beliefs or political associations can have a profound effect on whether or not a person accepts scientific principles. Some people refuse to accept theories such as the Big Bang and evolution because these theories go against religious doctrines. Politicians also likes to take sides regarding science, often debating issues when there aren’t even two different sides to the issue. For example, the original source of the idea that vaccines cause autism and other harm was an extremely flawed and unethical study that was later retracted. However, this idea gained momentum when it was supported by U.S. Rep. Dan Burton (R-Indiana). Burton and other public figures allowed the “debate” on the MMR to spread, which was a factor that led to a serious mistrust in vaccinations in general.

The “Badge of Membership” principle—membership is more about wanting to belong than what you believe— can help us understand how these affiliations shape our view of science.  It’s like we are still in high school; no matter how old a person gets, he or she still feels the need to agree with his or her peers, and many times the need to fit in trumps science.

A study performed by Dan Kahan of Yale University found that understanding science results in polarization rather than consensus. This finding can be explained by confirmation bias. When people have an opinion about a scientific issue, showing them a collection of facts won’t change it. Shouting a bunch of complicated astrophysics and Darwinian natural selection theory at them isn’t likely to get them to believe in the Big Bang or evolution. Instead, people tend to pick out evidence that supports their preconceived notions.Anecdotal evidence that appeals to our emotions often holds more weight than facts, regardless of the source. We don’t like to rely on cause and effect because true causes can be hard to find and understand, and therefore we rely on people’s personal stories to come up with our own explanations and create meaning where there is none. A case in point:  the causes of autism are not well understood, and science provides little reassurance, in terms of treatment, to parents of autistic children. Therefore, in spite of the understanding that vaccines do not cause autism, the public often turns to parents and grandparents who blame vaccines rather than trusting medical professionals because it gives them something to blame, too.

Life today depends heavily on complex science and technology that only a small group of experts can thoroughly understand, and it is therefore important that people trust and support these experts. While there is certainly reason to be skeptical when looking at new scientific findings, Science editor Marcia McNutt said it best in an interview for the March 2015 edition of National Geographic: “Everybody should be questioning… But then they should use the scientific method, or trust people using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall…”

Looking at science with skepticism is not the same as unwarranted distrust and rejection of consensus. In order for advancement in science to continue, the public must step away from scientific cynicism and put its trust in scientific consensus.

Editor’s Note: Kelsey Morgan ’15 of Lakeview, N.Y., holds a biology degree from Keuka College and has received a $28,000 fellowship stipend to attend Duke University Graduate School in the fall of 2015 to pursue a Ph.D. in chemistry. A research study she co-wrote with Dr. William Brown, assistant professor of environmental science and biology, was published in the Journal of American Animal Welfare Science (JAAWS) in the spring of 2015. She is one of three science majors featured in the spring 2015 edition of Keuka College Magazine as an “academic all-star” for earning the unique distinction of publishing in an academic journal as an undergraduate student. 

A Tribute from One “Literary Cobbler” to Another

By Dr. Sander A. Diamond, professor of history

Dr. Sander Diamond

Germany’s best known contemporary writer and winner of the 1999 Nobel Prize in Literature died in a clinic in the German city of Lȕbeck April 11. Gȕnter Grass was 87.

The photo that accompanied his obituary in The New York Times captured the man the German world knew so well: black hair with dashes of gray, trademark walrus moustache, and ever-present pipe, which he puffed from morning to night. I was saddened by the news, the death of a mentor from afar. His writings have been part of my life since I first read his masterpiece, The Tin Drum, as a college student more than 50 years ago.

Born in Danzig (today Gdansk in Poland) in 1927, he was the son of a grocer named Willie. His mother was a Slav who hailed from an indigenous people in the region similar to the Sorbs in Germany. His family could barely make ends meet. Pugnacious as a kid, he was a fighter most of his life, a public intellectual who never walked away from controversy. When the war broke out in September 1939, he was 12 and soon found himself in the Hitler Youth Movement like most of his generation, including Pope Benedict.  At 15 he was called up to serve in the Wehrmacht.  Instead, he was recruited by the elite 10th Waffen-SS Panzer division Frundsberg, after giving up the hope of joining the U-Boat fleet.  This decision to serve in a Waffen-SS Division would haunt him for the rest of his life, and for many darken what was a stellar literary career.

Not long ago, I finished reading one of his last books, Peeling the Onion, his memoir. The title is appropriate, not only for his life but also many Germans, who hide their past activities during the Third Reich.

He wrote: “What I had accepted with the stupid pride of youth I wanted to conceal after the war out of the recurrent sense of shame… I will have to live with this for the rest of my life.”  And he did.  It was the first thing mentioned in The New York Times obituary, much to the annoyance of his dedicated followers. For a man The Wall Street Journal described as “a vivid and controversial chronicler of German guilt,” at age 79 Grass finally peeled back the onion skin that surrounded his life. While some called him a hypocrite, others felt that the action of a 16-year-old in no way tarnished his long career as a writer about German guilt and efforts to bury and conceal the past. His biography was, in many ways, the biography of an entire generation.

While I was appalled but not surprised to learn of his wartime record—there had been hints for years—it in no way tarnished my view of him as a literary master craftsman. His books and articles impacted me in ways unimaginable when I first read The Tin Drum in the early 1960s. I credit Gȕnter Grass for helping shape my world as a practitioner of German history, as well as my work as a writer, especially my last major book, The German Table: The Education of a Nation. It tells the story of how my generation in Germany tried to avoid the past while their elders attempted to bury it under the stainless steel buildings that dot the landscape of the new Germany. The past always resurfaced and we can credit Grass for helping force the Germans to deal with it. He once wrote of Germany:  “The history of my people is like a clogged toilet; no matter how hard you flush, the waste keeps coming.”

After the war, he trained as a sculptor and joined Gruppe 47, a group of postwar German intellectuals. He never lost his interest in the plastic arts or abandoned the habit of writing at his stand-up desks, which were the centerpieces in his several studies in Portugal, Berlin, and late in life, Schleswig-Holstein. Once the initial draft of a manuscript was completed in longhand, he sat down and typed it out on one of his many electric typewriters. Pecking away on a blank sheet of paper taught him patience and if you typed with the window open, he wrote, “at least people know you are still alive.” The pecking away has ended but not his influence on literature.

The recurrent theme in each of his books is the complicity of the Germans in the Third Reich and Germany’s complacency in the postwar world. Grass held a position in German society many aspired to but few gained, a public intellectual who believed that a person with his status had the obligation to speak out on the major issues of his time, the ebb and flow of politics and social issues.  In his later years he wrote a poem about Israel and what he perceived as its aggressiveness. He had hoped to write this long ago, but feared being called an anti-Semite, a very delicate issue for the Germans. The fighting spirit of his youth lasted to the end of his days, and for many he was a thorn in the saddle of the nation. When Germany was reunified in October 1990, he was against it, calling it the Second Anschluss, a reference to the first when Hitler annexed Austria.

As can be imagined, he had his share of detractors, which apparently he loved, whetting his appetite for controversy. Such was the price of a lifetime of work and dealing with issues most Germans wanted to avoid in the 1950s and 1960s. As Germany’s leading public intellectual and greatest living writer in the last 30 years, his huge collection of writings was read not only in Germany but overseas as well. It would not be an exaggeration to write that he achieved almost god-like status among his followers, which was confirmed when the Nobel Committee awarded him the Prize for Literature in 1999. He joined two other Germans who received the literary prize since the war: Hermann Hesse (1946) and Heinrich Bȍll (1972). These awards did much to restore Germany’s literary reputation that was destroyed by the Nazis and sent many of the country’s leading writers into exile or worse.

Most of Grass’s major books cannot be read in a few days, especially in German. He was a literary cobbler and it was often hard to follow his army of characters. In the fabric of each page is woven the history of Germany’s conflicted past. Grass never asked “what if.” He dealt with what was. His books have a special place in my study. After The German Table was published, I sent him a copy with a polite thank you for addressing those issues that have been the central constellations of my intellectual and professional life. A reply never arrived. Grass was a very busy man to the end, giving his last interview to a Spanish newspaper. In it he expressed his fear that all of the latest chaos could easily lead to a world war.

As he grew older, a younger generation of Germans viewed the war as ancient history and his wartime service did not seem so extraordinary. Younger Germans are mindful of the past but do not wish to be engulfed by it. Grass was appreciative of this and his later books dealt with contemporary issues, as was the case with Crabwalk and Novemberland.

The world has lost a great man and an outstanding author, a giant in the context of German literary life with his trademark Holmesian pipe, walrus moustache, and bi-focal always on the tip of his nose. Gȕnter Grass, R.I.P. You will be missed. Every time I peck away at my venerable old IBM Selectric I will think of you and your influence on this modest cobbler of words.