The Colgate Scene
March 2001
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In the news

by Sarah Jarvis

William H. Peck, assistant professor of geology
A speck in time
It may be only a fraction of an inch in size, but a speck of zirconium silicate has the power to push back the time of Earth and its tides. Smaller than two human hairs put together, this bit of zircon shows that the Earth's oceans and continents were created hundreds of millions years earlier than previously considered. "The oldest bit of Earth" was introduced in the January 11 issue of Nature by an international team of scientists. William H. Peck, assistant professor of geology, is a member of the team whose work made news throughout the United States and in Australia, France, Scotland and South Africa.

     Upon analysis, the matter uncovered in western Australia serves as microbial proof that conditions existed to support life on Earth 400 million years earlier than previously determined. Although a graduate student at the time, Peck worked to identify the zirconium's atomic and isotopic characteristics as well as the conditions under which it was created. Using laser and ion beams and mass spectrometry, Peck dated the tiny bit back 4.4 billion years ago, to a time when liquid water existed and continental and oceanic plates were part of the planet. According to Peck, the finding "gives us a new view of the early Earth, where the Earth cooled very quickly . . . all to be obliterated by meteorites, with almost no record left except these zircons."

     According to Richard A. Kerr, a reporter for the magazine Science, who covered the proceedings where the matter was first brought before the scientific world, "The zircon's mere existence shows that the planet was separating out lighter continental crust at its surface 4.4 billion years ago, just 100 million years after Earth had formed -- when it was barely a toddler, in human terms. More surprising, its isotopic composition implies that liquid water -- perhaps an ocean of it -- was around shortly after a planetary rime of rock had solidified and while huge rocks were pummeling Earth, regularly vaporizing both water and rock." Kerr's article appeared in the December 22 issue of Science.

Need and aid
The rhetoric of financial aid was the focus of an article in the Education Life supplement of The Sunday New York Times on November 12. Writer Edward S. Fiske recounted the recent history of financial aid and defined such terms as need-based, need-blind, and the ability to meet demonstrated need. The latter, loosely translated by Fiske, means, "how far the college will go in meeting the demonstrated need of those they accept. Virtually all public institutions have need-blind admissions policies, but few, if any, agree to meet the full needs of their students." Accordingly, by all educated estimates, there are only a few dozen colleges actually able to meet the full financial need of every student offered admission.

     President Charles "Buddy" Karelis was one of the experts tapped for comment and perspective. Karelis shared that Colgate "was forced to take financial need into consideration for about 50 students each year and that he hopes to find the funds to make the university need-blind in the pure sense. `It's not just about equity; it's about quality,' he said. `A lot of what students learn in college comes from each other. If I am a full-pay parent, I want to know that the students my child will go to school with are chosen because of who they are, not because of how much money they have.'"

     Following his write-up, Fiske included a six-step primer on how to finesse receiving the finest possible financial aid package.

Tell me more
Professor of literature, was reviewed in The New York Times Book Review on November 12. In her critique of Don't Tell Anyone, Margot Livesey describes the author as, "a writer both witty and humane, and his characters are often deftly funny; for them, pain is an occasion not for self-pity but for gallows humor."

     Livesey commends Busch for his "complex, vivid collection" and ability to bring depth to his skillful use of the first-person voice. She also notes that these and other qualities make the collection difficult to review in terms of providing an encapsulating theme or summarizing Busch's writing style. Although Livesey alludes to the idea that Busch's stories "often occur past the point of choice" she find the stories, in fact, "invoke a different and no less acute kind of tension, one in which the reader's reactions play a vital role."

Riding the rails
In the January 19 issue of The New York Times, reporter Sandee Brawarsky tracked the historic rails of the Underground Railroad in metropolitan New York. Although most of the safe houses and passageways are gone, Brawarsky was "guided by historical accounts, addresses gleaned from slave narratives and memoirs published after the Civil War, and a preliminary list of sites offered by the New York State Freedom Trail Commission." In her remarkable travelogue, she writes of the station stops on an Underground Railroad that operated from the 1830s to the 1860s. The first station visited is in TriBeCa at what was once the home of David Ruggles. She writes that according to Colgate's Graham Russell Hodges, who teaches American and New York history and is the author of a forthcoming biography on Ruggles, "New York is one of the hubs of the Underground Railroad, and David Ruggles is at the center." In addition to his magazine publishing, Ruggles served as a leader of a network that helped more than 600 fugitive slaves escape. One escaped slave who came into Ruggles's station in 1838 was a man by the name of Frederick Washington Bailey. He later changed his name to Frederick Douglass, and went on to earn recognition as a famed author and abolitionist.

Nina M. Moore, assistant professor of political science
Top shelf
In the February 2001 issue of Ebony magazine, one of the 12 new books reviewed for Ebony Bookshelf is Governing Race: Policy, Process and the Politics of Race (Praeger Press, 2001). Written by Nina M. Moore, assistant professor of political science, the book is described as "one of the most comprehensive analyses of modern civil rights politics and policymaking. [Moore's] provocative and document conclusion is that until Americans deal with the conditions that undergird racism in America, `true socioeconomic and political race reform will remain a laudable, but elusive, goal of government policymakers.'"

Ark . . . Black Sea flotsam?
At a recent Archaeological Institute of America meeting, two marine geologists were inundated with rebuttals to their hypothesis that when the Black Sea flooded in 5,600 BC the "cataclysm became a part of flood memory, inspiring the Babylonian flood myth in the epic of Gilgamesh and, in time, the biblical story of Noah." The New York Times reporter John Noble Wilford writes in his January 9 article that while no one at the conference disputes that the Black Sea flood was deep, scholars from Colgate, Oxford and the University of Pennsylvania could never characterize it as similar to the waters of Babylonian mythology or the Biblical epic. As Wilford put it, these experts "expressed their doubts and objections, politely but firmly." Albert Ammerman, senior research associate, was one of the polite ones. He "specifically raised questions about the supposed link between the deluge and migrations into Europe. He pointed out that there is a 200-year discrepancy between the time of the Black Sea flood and earliest evidence for settlements, in central Hungary, of what is known as the Linear Pottery Culture. These were the people who apparently introduced farming into Europe." In the end, it was Ammerman who suggested that the archaeologists begin a "`sustained long-term collaboration' with the geologists and thus avoid `a lot of misunderstanding and tension.'"

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