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A computer science undergrad at Montreal’s Dawson College was recently expelled after stumbling across — and reporting — a coding flaw that compromised the security of the personal information of the college’s students.
Ahmed Al-Khabaz, 20, found the security leak while working on a mobile phone app for students. Thanks to “sloppy coding,” he says, anyone with basic skills could have accessed “personal information of any student in the system, including social insurance number, home address and phone number, class schedule, basically all the information the college has on a student.”
Al-Khabaz reported the flaw to Dawson’s Director of Information Services and Technology on October 24, and was assured that the college and Skytech, the company that had written the software, would take immediate action to plug the leak. Several days later he ran a test of the system from his home computer to see whether the students’ information — including his own — had in fact been secured.
Within minutes Al-Khabaz received a phone call from Edouard Taza, president of Skytech. (He had made no attempt to conceal his identity while running the probe, he says.) Taza accused Al-Khabaz of launching an attack on the system, and demanded that he sign a non-disclosure agreement covering the incident. (Skynet later declared that Al-Khabaz’s test had compromised the responsiveness of its site.)
Not long afterwards, Al-Khabaz was called into a meeting with top college officials, after which — with no notice to Al-Khabaz and without hearing his side of the story — the faculty of his department voted 14-1 to expel him. Two attempts to overturn the decision were rejected, and now Al-Khabaz is out of college with a semester’s worth of failed classes and a dismissal for academic misconduct on his transcript.
Since this story broke in the National Post on Sunday, however, Al-Khabaz has seen his fortunes begin to change. His plight was featured in Boing Boing, the Twitter hashtag #HamedHelped began to blow up, and the Canadian — and global — media began to knock on his door.
A large portion of this attention came from the Student Union at Dawson College, which set up a website providing resources relating to his case, a petition calling for his reinstatement, and assistance to media looking to talk with Al-Khabaz. At this writing, 7,763 people have signed the Student Union petition, with tens of thousands more visiting the site.
Dawson College, however, shows no signs of backing down. A statement posted to their website asserts that “the reasons cited in the National Post article for which the student was expelled are inaccurate.” In an interview yesterday, Dawson director general Richard Filion called Al-Khabaz’s actions “a criminal act,” though the college has not contacted police about the incident.
Obama chief of staff Jacob Lew, who multiple media reports say will shortly be named Secretary of the Treasury, led New York University’s campaign to break its graduate student employees’ union eight years ago.
Lew was hired as NYU’s chief operating officer and executive vice president in 2004. Shortly thereafter the National Labor Relations Board, newly stocked with Bush appointees, reversed a Clinton-era ruling that graduate student employees were entitled to collective bargaining rights under the National Labor Relations Act.
NYU’s graduate student union, GSOC, was recognized by the university in 2001, and nothing in the 2004 ruling prevented the university from continuing to do so. When the union’s contract expired the following year, however, NYU withdrew recognition and unilaterally imposed a new, dramatically more restrictive, “paradigm” of the GSOC’s role in graduate employee affairs.
The memo announcing that decision was co-signed by Jacob Lew, who the head of the GSOC’s local now describes as “the point person” in enacting the university’s new policy.
GSOC declared a strike that fall, which NYU met with threats, intimidation, and firings. The strike ended in failure in May of 2006, and Lew left NYU a month later — to become the chief operating officer of Citigroup Global Wealth Management.
A GSOC petition to overturn the National Labor Review Board decision denying them collective bargaining rights is currently pending before the NLRB, which now has a majority Obama-appointed membership.
University of Rhode Island labor historian Erik Loomis has garnered a lot of conservative attention in the last few days.
After the Newtown shootings, Loomis tweeted that he wanted “Wayne LaPierre’s head on a stick.” (LaPierre is the head of the NRA.) Though this statement was obviously metaphorical, some high-profile conservatives pounced on it, and gave it a lot of attention. Loomis has since been visited by the police and called in for a meeting with his dean. You can find the whole story — along with an ever-growing list of Loomis’s academic supporters — here.
The whole thing would be silly if it weren’t potentially so damaging to Loomis’s career.
How silly? Well, there’s this, for starters. Robert Stacy McCain has been one of the more vocal conservative bloggers on the Loomis beat. As part of his campaign, he invited someone named “Badger Pundit” to guest post about Loomis’s dissertation — a history of union organizing among loggers in the Pacific Northwest.
That post wound up giving prominent play to a few paragraphs in which Loomis discussed homosexuality among early 20th century loggers. Unsure what to make of the discussion, but eager to pass it along, Badger Pundit quoted liberally from the brief passage, linked to the Monty Python “Lumberjack Song,” then tossed in an aside about how reading the material left him feeling like “I needed a shower.”
But not as classy as commenter Danby, who opined that given the sleeping arrangements in logging camps of the era, any “homosexuals” among the loggers “would soon be found out and beaten with axe handles within an inch of their worthless lives.”
That comment has at the time of this writing received nine upvotes and just one lonely downvote. It’s also attracted a reply from Badger Pundit himself, who called it “fascinating,” “a great read,” and “a real contribution to the understanding of U.S. history.”
To recap: Calling for a political enemy’s “head on a stick” is a firing offense. Imagining gays “beaten with axe handles within an inch of their worthless lives” is just good writing.
As the occupation continues at Cooper Union, a new action has propped up further down the Eastern seaboard — students and faculty at Emory University are currently sitting in to protest what activists call “devastating” cuts to academic programs. From a statement released yesterday:
“These cuts, which are occurring against the backdrop of a budget surplus and a $105-million growth in the school’s $5.4 billion endowment, include the total elimination of Emory’s renowned Division of Educational Studies, the Institute for Liberal Arts, Journalism, and more. … These cuts were enacted in secret, without any pretense of systematic or transparent review, and in direct defiance of Emory’s own governance protocols. Moreover, the administration’s own data reveals that these cuts have a grossly disproportionate impact on minorities and women. …
“The Emory community has had enough. … Time and again, the University has doubled-down on the cuts without engaging in any candor whatsoever about its decision-making processes – leaving Emory community members with no other option than to see their leaders’ actions as the products of racism, sexism, cronyism, and greed. …
“Tomorrow, Tuesday, December 4th, Emory will see its first campus-wide work stoppage and walkout in forty years. Students, faculty, and staff from both affected departments and others standing in solidarity with them will converge on the quad to voice their outrage and demand answers. … Tuesday’s action represents a pivotal moment in the history of Emory.”
At the time of this writing (4:30 pm Eastern) students and faculty have been occupying the hallway outside of Emory president’s office for several hours. Six demonstrators are meeting with the president, and have been for some time. Local media reports that some 150 students are participating in the action. Arrests have reportedly been threatened, but have not yet taken place.
More as the situation develops.
7:30 pm | The occupiers left the building voluntarily after representatives held a lengthy meeting with the college president. Though police locked down the occupation site at one point in the early evening, there were no arrests and the occupiers apparently face no legal or disciplinary sanctions. Reports on Twitter say that the president has committed to a future meeting with the demonstrators, but the specifics of what was agreed to have not yet been made public.
The CUNY administration may have been forced to back down (for now) from their threats to dismantle the Queensborough Community College English Department, but they’ve launched a new attack in their effort to bring the rebellious department to heel.
On October 24 the QCC English faculty voted to remove chair Linda Reesman. Throughout the department’s battle over the administration’s Pathways initiative, many faculty regarded Reesman as an administration ally and an impediment to effective organization on behalf of the faculty’s interests.
The vote to remove Reesman was lopsided, as was the vote in favor of her replacement, deputy chair David Humphries. But at a meeting on November 6, QCC president Diane Call informed the department that she would not endorse Humphries’ appointment. Instead, a former faculty member would be brought on to perform the chairs administrative functions while the administration conducted a “national search” for a new chair.
According to a memo from one QCC faculty member (page one, page two), President Call justified the decision by claiming that the department was “deeply divided” over the chair issue, and that they had been improperly influenced by “outside forces.” According to my sources, however, the vote to remove Reesman was 21-7, and the subsequent vote to install Humphries was at least as decisive. And the only “outside forces” the faculty had consulted with during the process were their labor union representatives.
Compounding the faculty’s fear and outrage over this move is the fact that the administration’s chosen chair will not, according to President Call, be representing the department in hiring, tenure, and promotion matters in the Queensboro Personnel and Budget Committee. Instead those duties will be performed by interim vice president Karen Steele, the very administrator whose threats to dismantle the QCC English Department sparked the current scandal.
One final chlling insult: According to the faculty memo linked above, current QCC faculty will not even be eligible for consideration for the department chair position in the upcoming national search.
This attack on academic freedom and faculty governance has implications far beyond Queensborough. The Pathways dispute is heating up in departments across CUNY, and if the administration is able to bully QCC English, other departments throughout the system will think twice about standing up for themselves and their students.
This isn’t just a scandal. It’s a crisis.
Tuesday Update | The CUNY Advocate is reporting that QCC president Diane Call has reversed her decision to reject David Humphries as chair of the college’s English Department. More when I get it.
Second Update | Diane Call has sent an email confirming the news of her reversal to QCC faculty:
It is my decision to accept the recommendation forwarded by the English Department for Dr. David Humphries to serve as its Chairperson, effective November 14, 2012.
In a lengthy meeting with Dr. Humphries yesterday, he expressed his willingness and ability to advance the important work of the English Department in curricular and personnel matters. I have confidence in and appreciate his sincerity to unite the department as a community, in the best interests of the College and our students.
As the GC Advocate notes, Call’s email is silent on the question of whether she is similarly reversing her decision to appoint interim vice president Karen Steele to represent the English Department on the QCC Personnel and Budget Committee in place of the department’s chair.
This is, nonetheless, very good news.