Phi Beta Cons

Letters

Below the jump, readers weigh in on my recent posts about campus nuclear reactors and res-life programs.

On nuclear reactors, from Nathan A. Mathew:

I graduated from the University of California, Irvine, and I took their radioisotope techniques course. The lab portion of said course was conducted inside the nuclear facility at UCI, which lies within and below the (sub?)basement of the chemistry building. A brief description of the facility is here. The reactor type itself is a Triga.
Personally, I would consider the security of the system moderately lax, and for good reason. There is basically a large airlock before reaching the control room, and a new protocol was put in place during my lab course, which took place after 9/11. We were no longer allowed to have both doors open at once. This was a minor burden, as the entire course had to assemble in the outer room before we were let into the control room, and things could get crowded as people tried to drop off backpacks, pick up their radiation dose monitors, etc. The doors were heavy, but probably wouldn’t withstand a planned attack for long. Another heavy door separated the control room from the reactor room. Nevertheless I’m not overly worried about an attack on the facility.
The reactor itself lies at the bottom of a 15-foot shaft, which is filled with water. The reactor can be shut down with the push of a single button, and there are many safety systems which would prevent any attempt to cause harm via the controls themselves. Obtaining the U235 would be difficult, as it lies at the bottom of the water shaft, and is encased. The radiation is enough at the base of the water shaft to probably be a fatal exposure. There are no easy means of siphoning the water, and removing it would be difficult and a long process. Attacking the shaft itself wouldn’t really be easy, as it’s encased in limestone; we were told that in the case of an explosion in the shaft, the university could get any number of water suppliers to simply drive a truck to the building, and hook up a few hoses to provide water while the shaft’s sides were repaired.
In all, I’d say that a direct attack on the facility wouldn’t be likely to cause real (meaning dangerous) harm, and removing the U235 in a timely manner would be impossible. The facility director went though many of the security safeguards at the beginning of our lab course. That was more than five years ago, and my memory is a bit fuzzy. Still, after his verbal walkthrough, I never felt concerned about any attempts to compromise the reactor at UCI.

And on res life, from Bob O’Hara, academic biologist and independent scholar at the Collegiate Way, which has a new blog:

I’m pleased to see the problem of Residence Life beginning to get the attention it deserves. I have been a lonely reformer in this area for many years, and it’s good to have company.

I am an academic biologist by training, from the faculty side of the campus. (The faculty side as opposed to the Student Affairs side; in most universities Residence Life is an administrative division of Student Affairs, not Academic Affairs.) Despite coming from a faculty background, I also have extensive experience with Residence Life programs, and my experience with them – they still give me flashbacks – made me into a reformer. I hope some of you will maintain your interest in this subject and not let it drop.
It’s one thing to be critical, but it’s another to be able to offer a practical alternative (other than “throw the bums out”). I am the leading advocate for just such a practical alternative: the decentralized, faculty-led “residential college” or “house” model of university organization. This is the model of Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham in Great Britain, and of a growing number of other universities around the world. Here is an introduction to the residential college idea in four points. This growing residential-college movement was reported in the New York Times last summer. If you’re looking for a route to substantive Residence Life reform, this is it.
In my own six years of contact with a Residence Life department the most striking thing was not the leftist slant (although that was there to a degree); it was the raw educational incompetence of the operation and the near-abuse that students had to endure because of that incompetence. This is what disturbs me most about the Delaware program as well: not so much that’s it’s off the scale to the left, although it is, but that it’s educationally shallow, authoritarian, bullying, and mendacious.

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