Kiera Butler

Kiera Butler

Senior Editor

A senior editor at Mother Jones, Kiera covers health, food, and the environment. She is the author of the new book Raise: What 4-H Teaches 7 Million Kids—and How Its Lessons Could Change Food and Farming Forever (University of California Press).

 

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Did Disney Dump Toxic Waste?

| Thu Jun. 11, 2009 2:00 PM EDT

From the annals of the dark side of Disney, we bring you news that citizens of Burbank, California, are suing the media giant for allegedly dumping toxic chemicals, including a known carcinogen, in their community since 1998.

According to the Burbank Leader, citizens hired Delaware-based watchdog group Environmental World Watch Inc. to test local waterways for chromium 6 (also known as hexavalent chromium), which increases risk of lung cancer in those who inhale it. The group reported “significant quantities” of the toxin downstream from Disney's facilities.

Unsurprisingly, Disney has been tight-lipped about the case so far, but a spokesperson did call the allegations "completely baseless."

This all comes on the heels of the company's big we're-going-green announcement earlier this year, when execs outlined plans to conserve energy and reduce emissions and waste. If it turns out the dumping accusations are legit, Disney'll have quite the PR problem to imagineer its way out of.

 

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Strapped Colleges Spurn Students

| Wed Jun. 10, 2009 3:30 PM EDT

Things are not looking good for needy college applicants. Last week, I blogged about how the USNWR rankings rat race gives first-generation college students the short shrift. Today, the NY Times reports that because of financial problems, Reed College plans to substitute 100 of its poorest eligible applicants for potential students who don't require aid. Admissions officers at Reed were admirably candid with the Times about the painful nature of the decision:

The whole idea of excluding a student simply because of money clashed with the college’s ideals, Leslie Limper, the aid director, acknowledged. “None of us are very happy,” she said, adding that Reed did not strike anyone from its list last year and that never before had it needed to weed out so many worthy students. “Sometimes I wonder why I’m still doing this.”

The private college in Oregon isn't the only one making tough admissions decisions because of the recession. Here's how budget cuts are affecting needy students at some other schools:

Could the Clemson Scandal Kill USNWR?

| Sun Jun. 7, 2009 1:41 PM EDT

Last week, Clemson University admitted to manipulating U.S. News and World Report's college ranking system. The scandal was embarrassing for Clemson, but it also put the magazine on the defense. Not a great place for a publication to be these days. So what does this mean for the future of USNWR?

By some measures, the magazine is not doing particularly well. In the beginning of 2008, it had  lower sales than the other two leading newsweeklies. In June of 2008, the magazine's publishing schedule went from weekly to biweekly; by November it was down to monthly. 

Death knells for USNWR? Probably not, for one simple reason:

USNWR: Clemson Can't Fool Us

| Thu Jun. 4, 2009 4:30 PM EDT

Earlier today, Clemson University tried desperately to save face by claiming it had not tried to manipulate the U.S. News and World Report ranking system after all. Now, USNWR's trying to unsully its own reputation by saying it's up to Clemson's tricks, particularly the one where they rate other universities lower than themselves on the reputation survey:

In terms of the reputation survey, U.S. News has safeguards in place to prevent strategic voting from affecting the results. We subtract a few of the highest and lowest scores from respondents before the results are calculated in order to prevent downgrading or upgrading from altering the results. We are confident that such voting practices by respondents are not affecting the results of the reputation survey in any meaningful statistical way.

But Inside Higher Ed quoted Catherine Watt, Clemson's director of institutional research, as saying everyone cheats on the reputation surveys:

And to actual gasps from some members of the audience, Watt said that Clemson officials, in filling out the reputational survey form for presidents, rate "all programs other than Clemson below average," to make the university look better. "And I'm confident my president is not the only one who does that," Watt said.

If everyone does it, then simply throwing out the highs and lows won't fix the problem, right?

Update: Could the Clemson scandal kill USNWR?

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