Sunday, March 27, 2011

Monmouth Alums in Japan Feel The Pain

By Wesley Teal
When the earthquake struck, Yoshiaki Obara, a Monmouth alumnus was chatting with a colleague. At first, he was not overly concerned. After all, a fifth of the world’s major earthquakes happen in or near Japan.

“We are (so to speak) used to the earth shaking,” said Obara via email, but he soon realized the March 11 quake was much worse than normal.

With the ground quaking under his feet, Obara and his colleagues began to evacuate their building. As they made their way to the evacuation area, he narrowly missed being hit by siding falling from the building.

The March 11 quake registered a magnitude of 9.0 on the Richter scale and left much of northern Japan in shambles. According to UPI reports, 9,080 people have died as a result of the quake and ensuing tsunami. Another 13,561 are missing. In addition, 270,000 have been forced to evacuate their homes.

The CEO of Tamagawa Academy and University in Tokyo, Japan, Obara was spared the worst of the destruction. Tokyo was 231 miles from the epicenter of the quake.

In central Japan, the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant suffered serious damage during the earthquake and tsunami, resulting in the release of radioactive material On March 12, the Japanese government ordered the evacuation of all those living within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the plant. Radiation from the plant has also contaminated parts of the Japanese food supply.

“The nuclear accident has turned out to be a good occasion for us to realize how much we have depended on electric power and unless we cut down our level of living standard we keep depending on nuclear power,” said Obara. “We have to realize that it means a departure from US style [of] life, mass-production, mass-consumption style economy,” said Obara.

Quake reaches Monmouth

As repeated aftershocks continue to shake Japan, some Monmouth students are doing their parts to aid relief efforts.

When Yohei Yasukawa, a computer science major from Japan, heard about the disaster he began to contact his friends and family back home. After finding out his family and friends were OK, Yasukawa wanted to do something to help the people of Japan.

“What can I do with my specialty in computer science?” Yasukawa asked.

With some friends, Yasukawa began to develop an app for Android-based phones and iPhones. The app is known as “Whistle on Android” and simply “Whistle” on the iPhone.

“It’s an alarm for signaling S.O.S. in order to notify people around that there’s a person who needed help,” he said.

Yasukawa’s app has been downloaded over 10,000 times since it was posted on the Android platform on March 12, but is still waiting to be approved by Apple before it is added to the iPhone app store.

Others have turned to fundraising. Over the past two weeks, International Club has been raising money by giving away painted Japanese characters and dorm storming. The proceeds they receive will go to the American Red Cross Japan fund in Galesburg to aid relief efforts.

For the club’s three Japanese members, their efforts are especially important.

“We can’t do anything for Japan except for this,” said Ryo Tsumura.

Club president Scott Haynes said the response from students and faculty had been strong. In their first two days of fundraising, Haynes said the group had raised about $500. As of Tuesday, March 23, the group had raised over $930.

College Newspaper Reveals Privacy Violations

By Andrew Drea
Junior Jackie Deskovich spent the past semester abroad in Thessaloniki, Greece. While she walked the streets of the city and focused on her studies, private information including her social security number and Monmouth transcripts were available on the Monmouth network for any incoming or current student or faculty member to view.

Due to a wrongfully clicked security option on a directory on the school’s public folders system, anyone with a Monmouth College email address could log in to see any study abroad applicant’s entire application instead of a preselected list that was created but not activated. The applications included professor recommendations, transcripts, grade point averages, home addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers. All applicants who had applied to go off campus from 2008 to those applying for next year were open for public consumption, including those who were denied the chance to go.

“It was an honest error,” said Vice President for Student Life Jacquelyn Condon. “It was believed that only certain people had access to this and that it was not available to just anybody who wanted to look at it. We feel terrible about it.”

The problem was brought to the attention of the Office of Student Affairs on Monday after an investigation by the the staff of the Monmouth College newspaper The Courier. Applications for Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 were promptly deleted but the majority of applications from years past were still available. Those documents were closed to student access by Tuesday night and apology emails were sent out to affected students on Wednesday. However some, like Deskovich, are upset with the entire issue.

“That’s not really OK,” Deskovich said. “I would not like that on the internet. The fact that my social is on there is not OK. There’s no academic reason to have my social security anywhere on your website. None. Transcripts, that’s an academic thing that nobody can steal my identity from.”

While applications for off campus study often require a social security number on the cover sheet of the application, Monmouth College’s official transcripts only list the last four digits of a social security number, questioning the need for such an important number to be required for an application.

“I don’t trust anybody at this school enough to give them my social security number,” said Deskovich. “I don’t care; look at my grades. You’re my professors, you can see my grades but the only other people that ought to know my social security number are my parents. Other than that, no one needs to know that unless I’m filling out an application or something.”

An underlying issue is a violation of FERPA, the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Students are protected from having their documents released to anyone other than faculty and staff. Students must even sign a form to allow parental access to files.

“Only people with legitimate educational interests should have access to information that’s in a student’s file,” said Condon. “And a file is either the paper or the electronic.”

Condon explained that legally, a school that violates FERPA could be fined through the withholding of federal financial aid. Normally, schools are alerted to FERPA violations by the Department of Education and are only fined if no action is taken to correct the violation, so Monmouth College will not be fined or even required to report the offense to the federal government. In addition, legal action cannot be brought against individuals at a school.

“This is not something that someone has done maliciously,” said Condon. “This is clearly an error.”