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Light & Verity

The long-running dispute over whether graduate teaching assistants are students or employees will go on at least a little longer. In December, a National Labor Relations Board panel considering the case of the Graduate Employees and Students Organization at Yale decided not to resolve that question, leaving it to NLRB judge Michael O. Miller. After hearing from University and GESO representatives, Miller may finally settle the question of whether private universities must recognize a TAs’ union.

It was Miller who ruled in 1997 that GESO’s 1995–96 “grade strike” was a partial strike, and thus not a protected labor action. The NLRB upheld that part of the ruling, but instructed the judge to “provide the board with e conclusions of law on the issue of the employee status” of TAs. They also ordered that the judge consider allegations he had earlier dismissed that Yale faculty members had made “overbroad threats” regarding attempts to form a union.

Both University and GESO officials found reason to applaud the decision. Yale attorney Edward Brill said the rejection of the grade strike was good news. “I think it’s important that the board has taken this tactic off the table for Yale and other institutions,” he said. But David Sanders, a GESO organizer and a graduate student in history, looks forward to hearings on the alleged threats and on TAs’ employee status. “We’re very excited about it,” says Brill. “The University will have to defend itself, and faculty will be called to the stand.”

But the Yale case, once seen as the one that would resolve the employee-student question, may be outstripped by others in the works. A case involving New York University is currently before the regional NLRB, and a recent decision regarding medical interns and residents at the Boston Medical Center, a private hospital, held that such personnel are employees with a right to organize, reversing a 23-year-old precedent.


New Find Rewrites Origin of ABCs

Nearly 4,000 years ago on the limestone cliffs just off an ancient road through the Egyptian desert, some travelers carved a record of their passage. But this graffiti, which was discovered in 1998 by John Coleman Darnell, assistant professor of Egyptology, and his wife Deborah, a doctoral student, has proven to be more than just an ancient variation on the “Kilroy Was Here” theme.

“These are the earliest alphabetic inscriptions, considerably earlier than anyone had thought likely,” said Darnell. “They seem to provide us with evidence to tell us when the alphabet itself was invented, and just how.”

An alphabet is a kind of shorthand in which a relative handful of symbols that represent sounds can be used to form words. Previous research had suggested that alphabetic writing was first developed around 1600 B.C. by Semitic people who lived in the Sinai-Palestine region of the Middle East. But scientists who have examined Darnell’s discovery at the Wadi el-Hol—the name means “Valley of Horrors” and is appropriate to the 120-degree temperatures, scorpions, and poisonous snakes found in this remote region of southern Egypt—believe that the curious inscriptions, which have yet to be fully translated, essentially rewrite notions about the origin of the alphabet.

The carvings have been dated at about 1800 to 1900 B.C. and show that people in the area had already figured out how to use an alphabet. The area, explains Darnell, had become a crossroads in which Asiatic mercenaries and Egyptian bureaucrats found themselves working together, both in the military and in mining operations. The alphabet, which could be mastered far more quickly than hieroglyphics, was critical for communications. “Think of it as the first information revolution, a time when the need to communicate by written form really explodes,” said Darnell.


Missing Senior Ruled a Suicide

The family and friends of a Branford College senior had their worst fears confirmed on December 17, when his body was identified in a New York City morgue. Gregory Norris of Omaha, Nebraska, had been missing since October 31; his body was found on the shore of the Harlem River on November 16.

The New York City medical examiner’s office ruled that Norris committed suicide by drowning. “His intentions were made clear to his family,” said a New York police detective, referring to notes Norris left in his swing-space dormitory room.

Norris was last seen on campus on the night of October 30. Early the next morning, police found him at Union Station intoxicated and in apparent need of medical attention. He was taken to Yale–New Haven Hospital, and left “on his own accord” that afternoon, according to hospital officials, who said that they could not discuss whatever treatment he may have received.

Norris’s funeral was held on December 23 in Omaha. A memorial service was held on campus in January.


Studio Puts Yale Profs on the Air

It’s not that unusual to see a Yale faculty member offering expertise during a television interview show, as Law School postdoctoral associate John Lott did on the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer in November. Lott, the author of More Guns, Less Crime, was adding his perspective to a discussion on violence. But what was notable about his appearance was that Lott was speaking to the nation from the basement of Street Hall; he was the first “talking head” to take advantage of a new studio built to link the University to television and radio networks around the world.

The studio is a response to the problem news organizations and Yale have had in getting together for interviews, especially on short notice. Networks typically arrange to interview people at their local affiliates, which often meant a trip to Hartford or New York for Yale opinion leaders such as School of Management dean Jeffrey Garten or School of Medicine dean David Kessler. Now they can appear on network television without leaving the campus, making Yale officials as accessible as those from universities located in major media markets. “We are now a very attractive resource when TV requires expert commentary in response to breaking news,” says director of public affairs Lawrence Haas.


Tour the BAC From Your Own PC

It’s not that the Center for British Art doesn’t want to see you in person. But between visits, you might want to check out the collection—and watch some of its curators give you a short talk about some of the highlights.

That’s the idea behind the Center’s new Web site, which allows viewers to browse through a simulation of its Louis Kahn-designed galleries and examine reproductions of its paintings. And if you want to know more about, for example, George Stubbs’s Horse Attacked by a Lion, the site offers a two-minute video of director Patrick McCaughey explaining its significance in the collection.

BAC computer support specialist David Lavorgna says the site, with its animated version of the museum’s actual gallery spaces, was adapted from computer simulations used to lay out the galleries during the Center’s 1998 renovation (see Apr. 1999). “Since some of our paintings weigh 500 pounds,” Lavorgna says, “it was useful to move them around virtually before we did it for real.” So far, the Web site includes only a fraction of the works on display at the Center. But it is an enticing suggestion of what museums can do to make their collections more accessible to art lovers around the world.


Biomed Is a Hit With Undergrads

Traditionally, Yale College has been seen as especially attractive to students interested in the humanities, and while English, history, and other humanities subjects remain popular among applicants who indicate a choice of a potential major, a recently minted discipline is posing a surprising challenge to their popularity. Last year, biomedical engineering, which became a major just three years ago, moved into second place. (English was first.)

“This field is hot,” says James Duncan, a professor of diagnostic radiology who serves as the director of undergraduate studies for the biomedical engineering program. “We have 70 or so freshmen showing up for the orientation meetings we put on for prospective majors, and we expect that about 20 in each class will continue with the program.”

That, of course, is a far cry from the numbers of the most popular majors. But Duncan suspects that there’s room for growth, particularly if, as appears increasingly likely, the program becomes a formal department. (Last November, President Levin announced an initiative aimed at adding four professors to the program, which is currently seeking funding for a new engineering facility.)

“Biomedical engineering represents a way of integrating the life and physical sciences, and it’s attracting some of the top students,” says Duncan, who ex- plains the major’s popularity by noting that it offers undergraduates a good entry point for medical school, industry, or engineering research. “Our people are in demand,” he says.


Yale Protester Targets WTO

Early in November, senior Terra Lawson-Remer helped launch the Student Alliance to Reform Corporations (STARC)—a student activist group calling for socially responsible investing—at a three-day conference at Yale. A month later, Lawson-Remer was in the news again, this time as one of about 500 people who were arrested and tear-gassed while protesting the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference in Seattle. The widely publicized events in Seattle focused attention on a movement that has been growing on college campuses in recent months.

More than 400 people—representing more than 100 colleges—attended the Yale conference, where STARC developed its manifesto. “We’re trying to force corporations to be more responsible,” says Lawson-Remer. “So far, we’ve fought against the use of sweatshop labor. We’ve succeeded in making sure Yale doesn’t contribute to the problem.” At the group’s urging, Yale now requires manufacturers of goods with the Yale insignia to report where the clothes are made.

STARC now wants the University to disclose its investment portfolio, so that the group can review companies’ records on human rights, animal rights, and environmental issues. But director of public affairs Lawrence Haas says the University opposes such disclosure. “It makes no sense in a highly competitive financial environment to tell the rest of the world where the best investment opportunities are,” says Haas.

But Lawson-Remer sees more success ahead for the student movement. “People are certainly talking about setting rules for a global economy now,” she says. “And after seeing what happened in Seattle, I don’t know any city that would want to host a WTO conference again. That’s a victory in itself.”


Reunion for “Poor Little Lambs”

More than 350 past and present members of the Yale Whiffenpoofs found their way to New Haven in November for a reunion to celebrate the group’s 90th anniversary. Representing groups from the Class of 1936 to the present, the Whiffs spent the weekend singing in master classes, rehearsals, and a performance in Battell Chapel. More than a few also made it to Mory’s, the bar with which the group is forever linked in song.

The reunion, which is held every five years, is an occasion for Whiffenpoofs to meet their counterparts from other years. “We have all these wonderful traditions,” says Dennis Cross '65, president of the Whiffenpoof alumni group, “but while they’re passed down, each group only gets to know their own class in the course of their year. Events like this help people see the lineage come alive.”

At the Battell concert, for example, a giant poster was unveiled with portraits of almost every Whiffenpoof since the first group was formed at Mory’s, in 1909. The alumni group has plans to publish a book on the group’s history and a three-CD set of songs taken from the recordings made by groups dating back to 1927.


Campus Clips

A trio of generous gifts made for special cheer around the University this holiday season. The Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment announced a $6-million grant to support the $38-million Divinity School renovation plan; former U.S. Treasury secretary (and Yale squash captain) Nicholas Brady '52 revealed that he is giving $3 million for the renovation and expansion of the squash courts at Payne Whitney Gymnasium; and Forrest Mars Jr. '53 and John Mars '57E established a $2-million endowed professorship in ethics, politics, and economics in the name of their father, Forrest Mars '28S.

Among this years 32 Rhodes Scholars are three Elis (two graduates and one current senior), a number equaled this year only by West Point. The winners are Ariel Adesnik '99, Jennie Han ’00, and Rachel Kleinfeld '99. The last time Yale produced three Rhodes winners was in 1992.

The Yale Co-Op filed for federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November, declaring that it owes $1 million to some 300 creditors. The store remains open, and officials say they hope to be out of bankruptcy by next spring or summer. They also say the debt is a result of the move from Broadway two years ago and the subsequent renovation of its Chapel Square Mall space.

Yale’s licensing income in 1998 ranked fifth among American universities—ahead of research leaders such as MIT and Johns Hopkins—largely on the strength of revenues from the anti-AIDS drug Zerit. Yale earned more than $33 million during the fiscal year on the income from 84 licenses; Zerit accounted for about 95 percent.

The first anniversary of the slaying of Suzanne Jovin '99 passed in December with New Haven police chief Melvin Wearing telling reporters that he still believes they will solve the case. As yet, no one has been charged with the crime. The chief says former political science lecturer James Van de Velde '82 remains among about ten suspects; Van de Velde maintains his innocence and calls his treatment by Yale, the police, and the media “trial by innuendo.  the end


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