Archive for the 'Maryland' Category

Professor Rockstar

Friday, February 15th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the twelfth of my opinion columns, Professor Rockstar, originally published December 1, 2006.


A bit of a kerfuffle recently spilled across The Diamondback’s pages regarding athletics funding – in particular, coaches’ compensations. A lot of people are questioning Ralph Friedgen’s high salary, especially when compared with the median salary of academic professors. But that comparison is a bit misleading.

The fact is, our football team brings in a lot of publicity and money by attracting tens of thousands of paying fans to each home game and earning the ad revenue and national profile that come from our games being nationally broadcast on ABC and ESPN. You cannot get these things without a strong football program, and to get a strong program, you need to spend the market price on a good coach. So the amount we are spending on Friedgen is at least somewhat justified.

I think our problem lies not in the fact that we have a superstar coach, but that we lack superstar professors. This isn’t just a Maryland problem, of course. It affects the entire collegiate system. Why can’t there be more people like Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan or Isaac Asimov? Where are the engaging, brilliant professors with the ability to draw huge crowds and inspire interest among the general public? In a nutshell, where are the highly profitable professors?

Read the rest of this entry »

A buried gem (how winning a Nobel Prize is a big deal)

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the eleventh of my opinion columns, A buried gem, originally published November 17, 2006.


Tuesday night, I had the privilege of attending the first public talk on the campus by John C. Mather since it was announced that he had won this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics for his groundbreaking experimental research into the beginning of the universe. The event was well attended by student, faculty and community members alike. Mather was treated as a hero, receiving standing ovations both before and after his talk.

I say I had the privilege of attending because there were many more people who would have liked to attend, but either because they didn’t know about it or because the hall ran out of standing room, they couldn’t. Having one of our professors win a Nobel Prize is a big deal. This is only the fourth time it’s happened. I would have expected a bit more effort to be put into it.

I cannot fault Mather, as he did a great job, giving carefully considered answers to off-the-wall questions. I also cannot fault the physics department, as it opened up its biggest lecture hall and did the best job it could trying to promote the event. But I can fault the university at large, as this monumental academic event wasn’t given the attention it deserved. No single department can handle putting together a really large event like this deserved to be. The university needs to run the show in events of this magnitude or, at the very least, provide heavy assistance.

Read the rest of this entry »

No true Christians

Saturday, February 9th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the tenth of my opinion columns, No true Christians, originally published November 3, 2006.


Last week, Donnie Morris, a traveling Christian evangelist with the Word of Truth campus ministry, demonstrated at the Nyumburu Cultural Center against all the sorts of people he considers to be sinners – pretty much everyone but him. He was obnoxious, vicious, hypocritical, racist, sexist and homophobic. Most of the people in the crowd were there to either laugh at or yell at him or to simply enjoy the circus-like atmosphere. He certainly didn’t seem to win any hearts or minds.

It was during this spectacle that I found myself turning my back to the preacher and helping to hold up a “Hate is not a UMD value” banner provided by the Pride Alliance. I had many deep discussions with other students on the various topics brought up by the preacher, and at least in this way, the preacher’s visit to the campus did serve a purpose, even if that mainly involved students finding common ground on how much they disagreed with him.

One event in particular stuck out in my mind. As I was holding the banner, a student who identified herself as a member of the Campus Crusade for Christ came around and said something to the effect of, “I just want to apologize to you guys about this; his views don’t reflect real Christian values. He’s not a true Christian.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Avoiding helicopter hell

Thursday, February 7th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the ninth of my opinion columns, Avoiding helicopter hell, originally published October 20, 2006.

Needless to say, I had someone very specific in mind while I was writing this column, but I’ve since forgotten who it was! But everyone who went to college knew someone like this: someone whose parents were far, far too involved in their lives.


Have you ever known a student who is so dependent on his parents, it seems as though they might as well move into the dorm room with him? The one whose parents are constantly calling, sending packages or even coming by to drop off stuff, helping out with homework and basically refusing to leave him alone? If so, you know all too well the pitfalls of helicopter parents.

Helicopter parent are those who constantly hover and obsess over their children. Helicopter parents insist on intervening in their children’s lives long after they are old enough to take care of things on their own. In other words, helicopter parents are simply unable or unwilling to let their children grow up.

Helicopter parenting is at its worst when it continues into college. This is the time for most high schoolers to grow up to become independent adults. Many of the most important lessons in college aren’t taught in the classroom: learning how to live on your own, how to manage your finances, even how to take care of yourself because there isn’t always a nearby parent you can turn to. But helicopter parents take away all of these valuable lessons and reduce college to just the academics.

At Family Weekend last weekend, I was shocked to hear Mary Matalin’s (James Carville’s wife) comments on helicopter parenting. She was speaking to a crowd consisting mostly of parents of students. She went through a laundry list of typical symptoms of helicopter parenting – all of which she appears to have – and offered her rationalization on how each was actually a good thing. She admits that it might seem like she is a servant to her children, but she prefers to think of herself as “executive assistant.”

Granted, Matalin’s children aren’t yet of college age, but she was consciously offering up reasons for her behavior to parents of college students, and she made no indication that she would act any differently as her kids got older. Helicopter parenting (or “smothering mothering,” as she also referred to it) is not a good thing, and she shouldn’t be encouraging it merely because she cannot help herself. I only hope that none of my fellow students experience a sudden increase in parental intrusion because their parents attended this event and took the advice to heart without considering the downsides.

If you are the unfortunate victim of helicopter parenting, there are some things you can do. Take charge of everything in your life your parents are handling, such as your finances. Don’t let your parents constantly “help” you with homework, studying or setting your schedules. They don’t have to know every little detail about what you were doing at 3 a.m. on Saturday morning. Gently remind them you’re old enough to be drafted into the armed forces, and that if 18-year-old soldiers can handle the constant danger of improvised explosive devices in Iraq you can certainly handle the constant danger of improvised pop quizzes in college. All parents realize that part of rearing children is eventually letting them go; some just have tighter grips than others.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with talking with your parents. You probably have some sort of a connection with them. And there’s nothing wrong with asking for money (let’s face it, college is expensive, and we all need all the help we can get). But don’t allow them to run your lives. Sure, it may be convenient in the short term, getting them to do all of that menial work you’d rather not do on your own, but how are you going to feel when you’re 30 and your parents are still managing your bank account?

Bike theft shouldn’t be overlooked

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the eighth of my opinion columns, Bike theft shouldn’t be overlooked, originally published October 6, 2006.

I don’t have much to add in terms of commentary on this column. It was one of the worst in terms of choice of subject matter that I wrote. I just couldn’t come up with anything better that week. There weren’t any good campus news stories to go off of.


Tuesday’s Diamondback article, “Students put bikes inside, avoid theft,” detailed the vastly increased bike theft rate on the campus. Just last month, 58 bikes were reported stolen, three times more than in the same month last year. College Park is in the middle of a crime wave that is seemingly only getting worse, consisting of a lot more than just an increase in the number of high-publicity armed robberies.

Most bikes are stolen from a relatively small number of locations on the campus, including the bike racks outside of McKeldin Library, the Stamp Student Union and the engineering, chemistry and physics buildings. I can verify that McKeldin Library is a target for bike theft because my sister’s friend lost a really nice (and presumably expensive) mountain bike there earlier this week. The problem is that we have a handful of locations on the campus that are routinely targeted by criminals because of lax enforcement.

One of the bad aspects of crime (besides the obvious, like people getting killed) is that some crime breeds more crime. Once an area has a general reputation for being unsafe or providing easy targets, word gets out and the area becomes even more attractive to criminals. Thieves are regularly coming onto the campus to steal students’ and faculty members’ bicycles. And while they’re here, because they’re already disposed to stealing from people, who knows what else they’re up to? They’re definitely more dangerous than the average person on the campus. They’re also more likely to carry weapons.

Read the rest of this entry »

University of Maryland to lighten some of its housing penalties

Sunday, February 3rd, 2008

It looks like the University of Maryland, College Park is finally going to lighten up some of the penalties for violating dorm rules. For too long ResLife has used a nonsensical system that has two, and only two, severity levels of penalties. A-level penalties, which include arson, rape, assault, and somehow marijuana use, generally lead to immediate and irrevocable loss of on-campus housing. B-level penalties on the other hand, which include underage drinking and minor vandalism, just lead to citations or housing probation. While I was living in the dorms, four people I knew got kicked out on a first offense of smoking weed. It was totally unfair that they were treated the same as arsonists, and it was much more harsh than students caught drinking underage (which is also illegal, of course).

The new system is going to do away with the separate levels of penalties and just treat everything on a case-by-case basis. Arson and assault will thus still be grounds for immediate loss of housing, but marijuana usage will probably be somewhere in between them and underage drinking, leading to probation but not loss of housing on the first violation. And of course, it’s about damn time. During the 2006 Student Government Association elections, the student body overwhelming supported a referendum proposed by Students for Sensible Drug Policy calling for a reduction in the severity of marijuana use penalties. It looked like the University wasn’t going to act on it, but a year and a half later, we learn that the gears were simply grinding slowly rather than not at all. Is the university looking to preserve their highly coveted ranking as #1 Counterculture School by High Times Magazine?

The major problem with minors

Tuesday, January 29th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so the readers here can get a glimpse of my writing from college. Here is the sixth of my opinion columns, The major problem with minors, originally published September 8, 2006.


The academic world is experiencing increasing growth in multidisciplinary studies. Once disparate fields are coming together in previously unforeseen ways, producing such hybrid offspring as astrobiology, bioinformatics and computational linguistics. Current university students will go on to provide the bulk of the workforce in these nascent fields. So why does this university make it so hard for students to get recognized experience in multiple fields at once?

In the absence of devoted majors for multidisciplinary studies, a student’s best bet to combine two disciplines is to double up and take on two separate majors. It’s simply impractical to expect the university to add new majors for all of the emerging multidisciplinary studies, as there are so many of them (although I am looking forward to the eventual creation of the College of Computational Cryptoxenocartography).

The problem with double majors, though, is they are not realistically achievable for the average student within a four-year timeframe. I’ll admit, I’m not sure if I’d be able to tackle two full course loads and still maintain what little social life I have left. The solution is to allow students to get certification for dabbling in another field outside of their major without forcing them to work themselves to death. What I’m talking about, of course, are undergraduate minors, which are within the grasps of most students.

So why is it that so few colleges offer minors? You can’t get a minor (or “certificate of merit” as it’s sometimes called around these parts) in any of the subjects under the jurisdiction of the College of Chemical and Life Sciences, including chemistry or biology. Out of more than a dozen departments of the A. James Clark School of Engineering, International Engineering is the only minor program. Nor are there any minors offered from the School of Business. All of these subject areas can be synergistically combined with other distinct areas to form cutting-edge multidisciplinary fields, but they are mostly out of the grasp of the average student.

Read the rest of this entry »

A wrenching decision

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so the readers here can get a glimpse of my writing from college. Here is the fifth of my opinion columns, A wrenching decision, originally published May 9, 2006.


Recently, it was revealed that at least six people knew information about a high-profile murder for the better part of a year without anyone going public with it. Though everyone has been paying attention to what the murderer, his friends and the family of the victim may have been thinking, not many seem to wonder about the anonymous tipster, who, upon learning of this secret, made the incredibly difficult decision to go public with it. What internal wars might he or she have waged? What follows is a possible account of his or her story.

Have you ever been let in on a terrible secret? One so dark and wrenching that lives hang in the balance? We’re not talking about trivial bedroom squabbles – we’re talking about arson, death – yes, even murder.

You’ve become friends with a tight-knit group of people. You like them and seem to be fitting in well. You thought you knew all there was to know about them, but one drunken, dreary night, something you were totally unsuspecting of comes up: One of your friends knows a murderer. And all the rest of them know it.

You remember hearing about an off-campus house catching fire last year. One student was killed and another seriously injured. It was ruled an arson shortly thereafter and buzz flew across the campus. But in the months to come, no new leads presented themselves and the case was nearly shelved, unsolved. Yet half a dozen people knew the truth and did nothing.

Read the rest of this entry »

Evaluation process flawed

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so the readers here can get a glimpse of my writing from college. Here is the fourth of my opinion columns, Evaluation process flawed, originally published April 25, 2006.

Admittedly it isn’t the most interesting of topics, but I feel that I at least presented a good argument.


If you’re like me, you’ve been getting spammed recently with e-mails urging you to fill out your course evaluations for this semester. You may even be getting verbally spammed by your professors. And if you’re like me, you bothered with course evaluations once during your first semester freshman year and then never again. The reason is simple: Course evaluations don’t count for much, and thus, many students don’t take the time to fill them out.

First, let us remember the primary goal of professors here at the university. Contrary to popular opinion, many consider themselves researchers first and teachers second. That’s okay; obviously we need researchers to keep the wheels of progress spinning. But I know most students don’t appreciate it when a research-oriented professor comes in and does a half-assed job of teaching.

Luckily, we do have many good (and even some great) professors here at the university. These are most often the ones who urge everyone to fill out the course evaluation form. Why? Not because they want to look good to their superiors, but rather because they want to get real feedback directly from their students on how their teaching is going. I’ve even had professors who, on their own, made up and gave out a course evaluation in the middle of the semester to get ongoing feedback about how the class was progressing. Now that’s dedication to teaching.

Read the rest of this entry »

Voting sure doesn’t matter

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

I was an opinion columnist for University of Maryland’s student newspaper The Diamondback for three semesters before I graduated. The columns I wrote are still up on the web archive, but I’d rather not depend on The Diamondback to host them indefinitely. Thus, I have decided to repost them on this blog, not only to archive them in a place under my control, but also so you readers here can have an idea of my writing in college. Here is the third of my opinion columns, Voting sure doesn’t matter, originally published April 11, 2006.

I should point out that this opinion column was quite controversial, with many readers unable to tell that I was being sarcastic. Many students (and some professors) angrily wrote to and called The Diamondback’s offices. I was even contacted by Emma Simson, the candidate for SGA President who went on to win the election and who I knew from high school, asking if I was seriously discouraging people from voting. In hindsight, though, my sarcasm still looks incredibly obvious (the argumentum ad hitlerum really gives it away). I cannot believe anyone took me at face value. Still, my editor prohibited me from using sarcasm throughout an entire column ever again, even if it was an effective rhetorical device.


There’s an election today, but like the national elections in 2000 and 2004, it doesn’t matter one whit. It’s just an SGA election, and we all know that the Student Government Association does absolutely nothing. So don’t bother wasting five minutes of your precious time logging into the site and voting, because voting is worthless and one vote really can’t make a difference anyway.

The SGA has several trivial issues ahead of it this year that anyone with half a brain can figure out to everyone’s satisfaction (just like this past year’s SGA President Andrew Rose). Yeah, crime may be increasing in frequency and severity, but that doesn’t mean you should vote, because, hey, you haven’t been the victim of a crime yet. And for the few hundreds of who have, I’m sorry, but lots of people voted for previous candidates and that never helped solve crime. How about we try a new tactic: Don’t vote and hope that decreases crime rates. That’ll show those criminals.

The SGA is in charge of distributing over $1 million in student activity fees every year. But that’s really a trivial amount of money compared to, say, the U.S. National Debt. And keep in mind how many thousands of students go to the University of Maryland. On average, you spend more money each day for clothing than you do on student activity fees … on the days you do buy clothing, anyway. One million is just a one with six zeros after it. And six is just a number with zero zeros after it. By this brilliant mathematical logic, anyone can see that a million dollars really isn’t a big amount at all.

Rioting also seems to be a big issue this election cycle (thank you, women’s basketball team; men’s basketball team, not so much). The University Senate recently enacted legislation allowing the expulsion of students who haven’t actually been convicted of doing anything illegal. But this certainly shouldn’t make you want to vote. It’s the Senate, not the SGA, that deals with these issues, and in this new era of Orwellian university management, just voting for an anti-expulsion SGA candidate might leave you up against the wall when the expulsions start getting handed out. Better not risk it.

It look like we’re going to have an artist whose name you’ve never heard of playing Art Attack, but that really doesn’t have anything to do with the SGA. Sure, Student Entertainment Events, the group responsible for putting on Art Attack, may be composed of students in elected positions, and technically it is an “arm of the Student Government Association” – but let’s be real here. SEE is just like Dubai Ports World and United Arab Emirates; they’re totally separate. Who cares if we get to hear Common play this year instead of, say, the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Since neither is your absolute favorite band you’re not going to be satisfied either way. And if you are a huge Red Hot Chili Peppers fan, I’m sorry, but you’re outnumbered.

Voting has a long and sordid history. Some of history’s greatest dictators (including a certain leader of the National Socialist Worker’s Party) were voted into power. You really don’t want to associate yourself with a crazed institution like that. If you do vote for a candidate you always run the risk of making a bad choice you may regret.

But if you don’t vote for anyone, no matter how things turn out, you can always be smug and self-satisfied and tell people, “See, this is why I didn’t vote for him.”

And for all of the potheads out there, there’s no reason whatsoever you should get up off your lazy, pot-addled asses today and shuffle over to your computer to vote, because there’s absolutely nothing of interest for you in this election. At all.


Note: There was, in fact, a student referendum on lessening university penalties for marijuana on the ballot. Its effect would have been to decrease penalties for marijuana usage in dorms from expulsion from on-campus housing to something more on par with how alcohol citations were handled. It ended up passing with two-thirds of the vote, but the University Senate never acted on it. Still, it did cause University of Maryland, College Park to be ranked the #1 Counterculture College in America by High Times magazine.