February 9 , 2006
Austin Sarat, the William Nelson Cromwell Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought and Five College Fortieth Anniversary Professor at Amherst, comemnted in a story titled "The Needle and the Damage Done" about the death penalty in The New York Times Magazine (Feb. 11). Writer Elizabeth Weil ended her story with this:
"Austin Sarat, the Amherst professor who has tracked the history of the death penalty, speculates that states may grow tired of trying to solve the puzzle of a humane execution. “The European path was de facto abolition before de jure abolition,” he told me. “So maybe what happens is we just stop using the death penalty very much, and it gradually withers in ways that make more and more places resemble Pennsylvania — lots of people on death row, very few executions. And at that point, maybe we look around and realize we can live without it.” "
As part of a seven-part series that "explores the human side of income inequality in the United States," NPR's "All Things Considered" (Feb. 6) visited Amherst College and spoke with students, physics professor David Hall '91 and President Anthony W. Marx. Marx noted "everyone in higher education is aware of the growing economic divide in this country and the challenges that divide creates for institutions that want the best students from across the society, " and that "it is our responsibility to meet [all students'] educational needs. And those vary at different levels. We have to have the resources, particularly in the classroom, but also outside of the classroom, to support those students in the ways that they need so that they can succeed."
More college students are spending a "junior year abroad" right here in the United States, according to the Wall Street Journal (Feb. 6). But "Some academics say domestic programs should not replace overseas study, which can bring cultural respect and understanding. Amherst College's study-abroad adviser William Hoffa says U.S. programs don't give students the chance to confront their own "American-ness," which he calls an important if sometimes uncomfortable task."
The execution of Saddam Hussein drew comment from Austin Sarat in the Toronto Globe & Mail (Jan. 16). A knowledgeable critic of the death penalty in the United States, Sarat was also quoted in the New York Times (Jan. 3) when the New Jersey ended executions there. "''We're in a period of national reconsideration of the death penalty,'' said Sarat. ''I believe what's happening in New Jersey will have a tremendously galvanizing effect.''
In a story about the increasing pressures of college admissions, Alan Finder writes in the New York Times (Sept. 19) that “the nation’s top colleges and universities have deep misgivings about the sanity and fairness of the annual admissions frenzy.” Nevertheless, Finder discovers encouraging signs as schools try to deal with early decision, merit aid and magazine rankings. “At Amherst College, officials increased to 20 percent from 15 percent the number of working-class and low-income students in the freshman class that enrolled weeks ago.”
But the colleges are mainly acting as single players, not as a team. Colin Diver, president of Reed College, Amherst College trustee and graduate in the Class of 1965, says, using an arms race metaphor , “I know lots of presidents who would love to disarm, but they’re afraid to do it unilaterally.”
And yet, the article continues, “It is far from clear whether the college presidents can act in concert without being accused of collusive behavior, in violation of federal antitrust laws. Two dozen elite universities signed a consent decree in 1991, in which they promised no longer to exchange information on the amount of financial aid being offered to specific students. The Justice Department had been investigating the sharing of such information as a possible antitrust violation.
Anthony W. Marx, the president of Amherst College, said he thought the group should initiate a discussion with the Justice Department about what forms of collective action might be permissible.
“Competition is important and strengthens us and can spread our net,” Mr. Marx said. “But if it’s designed to drive us in a way that’s self-serving and not in society’s interest, then that’s a problem.”
The story ends with a thoughtful challenge from Amherst College:
“Not all of the presidents agree on what needs fixing in college admissions. Many of the most prestigious colleges do not offer merit aid, and some of the less selective institutions are still determined to increase their number of applicants each year, to find more good students and achieve a broader mix in their freshman classes. But many of them believe it is time to take some risks. “If we can’t behave well,” said Thomas H. Parker, dean of admissions and financial aid at Amherst, “then who can?”
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