In light of Scotland rejecting independence from the U.K. by a vote of 55 to 44 percent during a recent referendum, USM is hosting a free panel discussion to determine the impact and educational value of such a monumental political event.
The panel discussion will feature three experts: Donnie Jack, a Scottish Affairs counselor for the Americas, Owen Traylor, a former diplomat and Nancy Gish, a professor in the English department who has just returned from Scotland having witnessed the climate of the country during this “major time of change.” According to Gish, it’s important for all of us to understand the ramifications of this referendum, even if we’re half a world away.
On Sept. 19 Scotland had the chance to end a 307-year-old union with the rest of the United Kingdom but decided against it, which will result in the tabling of this issue for at least another generation. Still the country remains divided in political opinion with the Scottish National Party spearheading the initial movement for independence. According to Gish, who spent time in the country with supporters from both sides, Scotland is distinctly different than the rest of the U.K., with its own set of values.
“Independence supporters were very upset with the results,” said Gish. “If I was Scottish, I would of voted yes.”
According to Gish, the movement for independence started two years ago and was led by politician Alec Salmond, but there’s been a longing for Scottish autonomy since the 13th century. Gish said that Scottish interests are and have been predominantly liberal, and the largely conservative British parliament, led by prime minister David Cameron, do not grant Scotland enough political representation.
Nationalists on the “Yes, Scotland” side wanted independence because of concerns of being exploited by the British for their resources like oil as well as the nuclear facilities which store British weapons on Scottish soil.
The opposition to the independence movement, led by the “better together” campaign argued that most of the Scottish budget relies on oil revenue which is a quickly diminishing, finite resource. Scotland breaking away from the union would have also resulted in it having an even more diminished voice in international affairs because the country would have to start the European Union membership process all over again. Unionist parties have promised to give more power to Scots in Parliament if they voted no. Time will tell if that will happen and Salmond issued a warning saying that the British must “make good” on that pledge.
According to Gish, a lot of people showed up to vote, with over a 90% turnout in some big towns like Glasgow and Edinburough, showing that people do care to vote on big issues. Gish said that the outcome was interesting because “no thanks” voters were dominated by older retirees and women, the two groups that are the most cautious about financial and domestic issues.
Gish said that the result of the referendum showed that when prompting people with a binary question, most of the population will stick with the status quo.
“When asked for a yes or no vote, undecided people will usually go with cutting their losses instead of making a gain,” said Gish.
Ellen Skerritt, a junior linguistics major, studying abroad at the University of Winchester in England, said that she believes the majority of Scottish people think there is nothing wrong with the country’s current relationship with Parliament and there’s no need to change it.
“The United Kingdom would not be the same without Scotland,” said Skerritt. “This may be a stupid reason but I like our connection with the royal family.”
According to Gish, discussing these legal and diplomatic issues along with their implications, links real world events with lessons learned by students in the history and political science departments at USM.
Gish said that tuning into and conversing about the political atmosphere of the U.K. and the effects of self determination on the Scottish people, helps contribute to USM’s vision of becoming a “metropolitan university,” and teaches students how real world problems are solved.
Francesca Vassallo, a political science and history professor and an organizer of the panel discussion, said that it’s so rare that a real world event, like the Scottish move for independence, matched issues that she teaches from her curriculum.
“I helped bring this discussion to campus because I thought it would be useful for students to see self determination in action,” said Vassalo. “It helps us connect our local community with the international community and helps us understand how to solve big societal problems.”
Vassalo also mentioned that students knowledgeable about current events like this are much more likely to be taken seriously when looking for a career.
Gish, who is also a fellow of the Association of Scottish Literary Studies, plans on offering the perspective of a person who has observed a stifled culture under a union with Britain and Wales as well as first hand accounts on what the voting process was like. Gish traveled with a poet, a painter and a composer on her journey and said that her focus will be a cultural argument. Most of the people heavily involved in the Scottish arts community were “Yes” supporters.
“Culture in Scotland has always been supressed,” said Gish. “I have personal experience with that.”
Gish extends the invitation to the seventh floor of the Glickman Library on Thursday to hear about those experiences during these dramatic and trying political times, even if only to broaden one’s own knowledge.
Gish said, “No American really knows anything about Scottish culture, history or politics, except for what they’ve seen in Braveheart.”
In this country at least four women are murdered by abusive partners daily and 25% of female college students have reported a violent rape, according to a crime victimization survey done by the National Institute of Justice.
With an estimated one in five college women attacked, USM’s faculty and students are working to spread awareness about the disturbing prevalence of domestic violence in Maine and in the rest of the country.
Last Monday a film titled “Private Violence,” which chronicled the lives of two survivors and their attempts to leave their abusers, was shown in Hannaford Hall supported by the USM efforts from the Campus Safety Project and the Women and Gender Studies department. SPACE Gallery, the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and Family Crisis Services also helped to co-present the documentary film.
“It’s a very powerful film,” said Amy Taylor who is on the board of directors of Family Crisis Services. “It’s emotional, daunting and really tastefully done.”
“The people who hurt you the most often can be the ones you love,” said Taylor, who dealt with an abusive father in her childhood.
The film brought to light that the most dangerous place for a woman in America is her own home, by telling the dramatic tales of two survivors: Kit Gruelle and Deanna Walters. Kit Gruelle has 25 years of experience advocating for battered women and remains dedicated to shattering the harmful stereotypes that surround domestic violence and its survivors.
Gruelle said that one stereotype is the notion that only poor and uneducated women are being abused, when in fact domestic violence can happen in any household, regardless of any differences. For Gruelle, looking past isolated incidents and examining our patriarchal society as a whole may be the key to ending violence against females. She explained that we have to take a hard look all over the world, at how different communities interact, and how the criminal justice system is responding or not responding to these acts of violence.
“The issue is about privilege and a sense of entitlement that some men have,” said Gruelle. “It’s an issue where men think they are masters of the castle and get to call the shots. Men are violent to women because they believe they have the right to be violent and society gives them that right.” She posed the question: “Why do men feel like they can control, harass and intimidate women?”
According to Gruelle, some people wait until a woman has a visible injury like a black eye or a broken nose to speak up, and even then they try to find ways to justify it.
Gruelle said that the typical response among people when asked about solutions to domestic violence is, “Why doesn’t she just leave?”
According to Sarah Holmes, the assistant director of student and university life for diversity, it’s not that simple. She said that for some, leaving might result in some women losing their money, children, pets or possessions. Holmes encouraged to log on to Twitter and search #whyistayed to see all of the diverse and deeply personal reasons women choose to remain a part of an abusive relationship.
“Everyone has their own complicated and important reasons for not leaving an abusive relationship,” said Holmes.
Matthew Perry was the first male employee in the state to work for the Family Crisis Service hotline and has been working to end violence against women since 1999. Perry said that apart from all the financial and social reasons women choose to stay, the majority of women stay because they don’t want to be killed. According to him women are 75% more likely to be murdered if they try to leave an abusive relationship.
“Men have yet to listen to women when they’ve been pleading for thousands of years, ‘don’t kills us, don’t rape us,’” said Perry. “I don’t speak for women; I speak next to them.”
“It’s a product of human conditioning,” said Kelsey Michaud, a sophomore theater major and women and gender studies minor. Michaud said that she unfortunately does know individuals affected by what she called “a bigger problem than most people realize.”
According to the Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence (MCEDV), over 37,000 hotline calls were placed in the first six months of last year. Of all assaults in the state of Maine last year 47.4% were attributed to domestic violence and 5,593 arrests were made for that crime.
“Domestic violence is a big problem in Maine,” said Holmes. “A lot of people are impacted by this kind of abuse, but it’s not just individuals who are affected; it’s also their friends, family and peers.”
Holmes said that there are victims of relationship-related violence on USM’s campus, and she’s done a lot of work over the past four to five years making sure there is help and resources available to them. Some aid includes talking to a counselor or an advisor as well as calling an anonymous hotline that’s posted in campus bathrooms.
“We can combat this problem through education,” said Holmes. “We all know someone who’s been a victim of domestic violence.”
“If you can give information and talk about it [domestic violence] early, that’s prevention” said Perry. “I firmly believe it’s every person’s role in the community to help end the abuse.”
Students from the women and gender studies department frequently discuss gender based violence and its impact on communities, according to Kate Zema, a student in that major.
“We’ve been talking about issues in current events like the Ray Rice incident,” said Zema. “I’ve been focusing specifically on sexual assault and consent education.”
“We do learn about domestic violence and discuss it on a regular basis,” said Michaud.
On a national scale, the number of women killed from domestic violence since 2001 is 11,766, more deaths than those killed in terrorist attacks and battles in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama recently stated that these statistics are “totally unacceptable,” and launched a new, star studded online campaign called “It’s On Us,” which urges viewers to stop being bystanders to the problem and become part of the solution. USM is committed to this cause.
For students on campus that may be affected by this national problem, aid and counsel are available through an anonymous hotline at 1-866-834-4357.
Last month the Metropolitan University Steering Group released their interim report, outlining what the university can do to transform into a highly-engaged institution with strong ties to the community and a focus on service learning.
The report, which lists suggestions for administrative responsibilities, leadership roles and how to centralize engaged learning efforts, estimates that the cost of implementing the plan over the next five years would cost around $2 million in funds to complete.
The dollar amount raised concerns and questions at last week’s Faculty Senate meeting, where faculty members discussed the cost and specifics of the report.
“If this committee is proposing something with a $2 million price tag, we’ve just upped out budget deficit to $18 million, and I can’t imagine that we want to do that right now,” said Jeannine Uzzi, a professor of classics. “It just seems so wrong-headed.”
Libby Bischof, a professor of history and member of the MUSG, reminded the senate that the interim report was a working document and that they were willing to take suggestions for revisions.
“We’re looking for feedback, we’re looking to improve this,” said Bischof.
Some faculty questioned the plausibility of the report’s goals in USM’s current economic situation, and Bischof told the senate that MUSG was charged with a strategic focus and that figuring out how to implement that strategy would come later.
When Richard Barringer, chair of MUSG and research professor, spoke with the Free Press earlier in the month, he said that the financial plausibility of the plan was the responsibility of the administration.
Wayne Cowart, a professor of linguistics, openly wondered if the metropolitan university plan was distracting administrative and faculty efforts from this year’s budget deficit.
“There’s obviously a major bloodletting coming, we may very well attract national attention for the scale of that bloodletting,” said Cowart. “This is going to be damaging to the reputation of the institution and, as far as I’m seeing, the only thing that looks like a response, has been this metropolitan university idea.”
The senate considered passing a resolution stating that any funding for this project should be taken from a system-wide fund to avoid widening USM’s structural gap, but decided against it because the report isn’t finalized.
After the meeting, Bischof explained that the costs were estimates based on other metropolitan universities that the group has been studying, including Rutgers University, the University of Massachusetts in Boston and the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, among others.
Nancy Gish, a professor of English and women and gender studies, voiced concerns about the language in the report.
“This [the report] is to a large extent completely abstract, so it depends entirely on how you interpret things,” said Gish. “When I look at engaged, I think ‘what do you mean by engaged and who’s going to decide whether it’s engaged or not.’ What I see as a serious problem is that it can be read to shift all of the decision making into an administrative structure.”
Bischof said that the group has been having similar concerns and questions in their own meeting and that it was good to hear similar voices in the senate. She said that the group hopes to make revisions and have a final report by December.
Despite concerns raised in the meeting, a lot of faculty members still noted that the idea of a metropolitan university was appealing.
“This is a very difficult time for all of us and I think that even though it may not be the best time to put forward something that’s going to cost $2 million, the idea helps,” said Rachel Bouvier, a professor of economics. “I think that it’s at least a glimmer of hope.”
By Alex Huber
The student senate went into executive session last week to discuss the potential of taking disciplinary actions against the senate chair and parliamentarian.
Jason Blanco, the senate treasurer, decided to address leadership concerns in the senate after he went to pick up his stipend check last week to discover his pay was being withheld.
Joshua Dodge, the senate chair, and Joshua Tharpe, the parliamentarian asked employees in the Student Government Business Office to put Blanco’s paycheck on hold after one unexcused absence without consulting the rest of the senate.
“I have lost all confidence in both the parliamentarian and the chair,” said treasurer Jason Blanco at Friday’s Student Senate meeting. “It is my recommendation to the senate to have a vote, to remove them from those positions.”
The constitution of the senate states that after three absences a senator is automatically removed. Blanco has been absent from senate meetings this year for work purposes, but all but one absence was excused by the senate. He was not removed from the senate, but his pay was witheld, an action that proved to be unconstitutional in the senate after further investigation.
Stipends can only be altered by the Personnel Review Board of the senate, not the chair or parlimentarian.
That board is headed by the Kyle Frazier, the student body president, who told Blanco that the senate was in violation when Blanco approached him about it. Blanco then asked the Judson Cease, the senate vice chair for a violation inquiry committee but said he received no response and no committee was convened as the executive board did not feel it was necessary.
“If that’s the kind of senate we’re going to run, where two individuals can make their own rules… this senate is going to fail,” Blanco said.
The senate has been facing attendance issues since the beginning of the year and Blanco is not the only senator with multiple absences. In their previous meeting, the senate didn’t have the correct amount of senators present to make quorum and vote. Blanco said that with his 12 years of experience in the Marine Corp, he believes that there is a fault in leadership.
Blanco motioned for a vote of no confidence in Dodge and Tharpe.
Following the motion,the senate went into an executive session, meaning that all non-senate members had to leave while they discussed the issue.
A week must pass before the senate can proceed to vote. In order to remove the two individuals from the senate a two-thirds majority is required of a quorum of the senate. During the vote the two parties will have to recuse themselves from the executive board due to conflict of interest.
Dodge and Frazier declined to comment on the meeting.
The three programs slated for elimination, American and New England Studies, geosciences and arts and humanities at the Lewiston-Auburn Campus were approved for elimination by the board of trustees last Monday in Fort Kent.
After no discussion, with the exception of the citizen comment period, the board’s vote was unanimous.
“We do have to face the dire circumstances that are before us,” said Samuel Collins, chair of the BoT. “The structural gap isn’t going away.”
President David Flanagan admits that the programs eliminated only account for 3% of the target USM has to make, even though the university will realize some $500,000 in savings.
Rose Cleary, an associate professor of arts and humanities, found the lack of discussion by the board “disheartening.”
“They didn’t take seriously other options than eliminating programs. They should be looking at ways to invest rather than cutting,” said Cleary. “I was quite disappointed with the lack of deliberation.”
Kent Ryden, director and professor of American and New England studies, was not surprised by the unanimous vote.
The program eliminations were part of a consent vote, which entails several items on the agenda of the meeting being bundled together for an up or down vote.
“That struck me as a way to avoid having conversations, by not having it on the agenda as a separate item, but bundled in with unrelated things,” said Ryden. “Perhaps they were trying to avoid the possibility of discussion, and they had probably made up their minds already.”
Cleary explained that, though the vote at the board was the last procedural step to eliminating the programs, it’s not yet finalized because the Associate Faculties of the University of Maine, AFUM, has filed a grievance about the multiple contract violations over the procedures that have been followed.
According to Cleary, the grievances have been validated, so they are now entering into a preface of arbitration.
“Depending on the outcome of that, the vote of the board of trustees could become invalidated, if it’s found that the procedures administration followed violated contracts,” said Cleary. “They’d have to redo the process and the board would have to vote again.”
According to Jerry LaSala, chair of the faculty senate and professor of physics, the proposals before the board were much more detailed than the proposals presented to the faculty senate earlier in the year.
“The idea that this did not require full review by the faculty senate is very difficult to understand,” said LaSala. “There is lots of new information, some of which we’d challenge is inaccurate. The requirements of the board of trustees manual have not been met.”
LaSala also claimed that public comment was minimized by the fact that the meeting was moved to Fort Kent.
Susan Feiner, professor of economics and professor of women and gender studies, attended the meeting.
“I talked with trustee Moody before the vote and he told me that he was prepared to vote against the program eliminations. He was sort of blind-sided by the process,” said Feiner. “He thought that there would be another step in deliberations.”
Though the vote was unanimous, regardless of confusion among board members, Flanagan explained that more cuts need to happen to fill the gap.
“People somehow seem to have this idea that this is elective, what we’re doing. But it’s not. We have no choice,” said Flanagan. “We cannot run a deficit. We have to pay people. We have to pay our bills.”
According to Flanagan, the arts and humanities program is already covered completely by other programs, and the other programs will be taught out, so students are still given the opportunity to graduate.
Clearly disagreed, noting that the rationale to eliminate the program was because it duplicated another, but explained that that was not true.
“Arts and humanities was redesigned to be an applied program that had community engagement as a critical component of the new curriculum,” said Cleary. “That’s supposed to be what characterizes a metro university. It doesn’t make sense to me to eliminate the program.”
Flanagan explained that some faculty in the affected programs will be given the option to stay to help students finish their degrees, unless they elect not to.
“This isn’t like some guillotine dropping down and ending people’s professional lives,” said Flanagan. “I think some people are trying to create concerns where they need not exist.”
Flanagan also explained that faculty are some of the most protected employees in the country, and cuts that will be made outside of program eliminations will be based solely on a contractual basis.
“We cannot fire people at will,” said Flanagan. “What you can do is eliminate programs where you can’t financially support them, or where they don’t fit in with the university vision. At the end of the day, there does come a time when, if you don’t have money you can’t pay people, and that’s the situation that we’re in.”
Contractual basis is a matter of seniority.
Regardless of the cuts, students may elect to take legal action. The questions there, according to Ryden, is the status of the university catalog as a legal document.
“When a student matriculates into a program, language and requirements for the degree program as of the date of their matriculation are listed in the catalog and are the ones that apply to them throughout their course of study, even if the requirements change,” said Ryden. “The argument is that, basically, a promise has been broken.”
According to Ryden, though, students would have to initiate an action like that.
“Probably all it would take would be one student,” Ryden said.
Flanagan explained that he has continuously acknowledged the reciprocal need for cutting and investing in USM.
“We have to offer new courses and new interdisciplinary majors. We have to be more innovative and relevant in what we offer. I’m here to bring the university into a new era when it will be financially sustainable, affordable, accessible, quality and relevant,” said Flanagan. “That’s my job.”
In its meeting on Monday, the UMaine System board of trustees unanimously voted to approve the elimination of three programs at USM.
The elimination of geosciences, American and New England studies and the arts and humanities program at Lewiston-Auburn College has been an ongoing debate since last March, but the board of trustees finalized the decision at their meeting in Fort Kent without any formal discussion.
USM faculty members made the 300-mile trek to Fort Kent to speak on behalf of the programs during the opening public comment section of the meeting, but their speeches did not sway the board to change their decision.
“Those are very difficult decisions,” said BoT Chair Samuel Collins of the USM eliminations. “It’s with great deliberation that the board of trustees looks at eliminating any programs, but we do have to face the dire circumstances that are before us and the cost of doing business. the structural gap is not going away.”
No new students will be allowed to enroll in the eliminated programs. Administrators say that students in the program will be able to finish their degrees, but there is no plan in place yet. Faculty working in those programs will be phased out as students finish the program requirements.
Susan Feiner, a professor of economics and women and gender studies, questioned the business-sense of the board’s decision, pointing out the USM is offering 185 less sections as they did last fall.
“If you have fewer sections, how can students enroll in the community?,” Feiner asked the board at the beginning of the meeting. “How can they earn their degree? No one has been tracking the relationship between revenue and cost.”
Jerry LaSala, chair of the faculty senate and professor of physics, said that the proposals before the board were not the same proposals looked over by the faculty senate earlier in the year. LaSala claimed that the faculty senate only saw a portion of the proposal and far less data.
“The idea that this did not require full review by the faculty senate is very difficult to understand,” said LaSala. “There is lots of new information, some of which we’d challenge is inaccurate.”
No one on the board responded to LaSala’s comments on inaccuracies during the meeting.
“There’s a sense of great fear at USM over what’s going to happen to these peoples’ career and the years they invested at USM,” said Paul Johnson, a professor of social work. “These program eliminations have been a disaster. I know we’re talking about a new direction, what we should do and a way forward, but I don’t believe cutting programs is helping us.”
Johnson also praised students who have become more involved with USM over the past year and have been vocal about the university’s financial troubles.
“They’ve proved how much they care about the university,” said Johnson. “They’ve done this through writing to the newspapers, going to demonstrations, connecting with the press, and I think they’ve made a very strong case as students. It’s unfortunate they couldn’t make it up here to Fort Kent, because they are far more eloquent when they speak about this than I am.”
The meeting on Monday was originally supposed to take place at USM, but the location was switched to Fort Kent, the location of their November meeting, for weather considerations. This location switch has been criticized by students and faculty, which was addressed by LaSala during his remarks.
“Public comment on this is minimized by the fact that this meeting was moved to Fort Kent,” said LaSala, “and people from the outside perceive this as a way to suppress public comment.”
“It’s been a wrenching experience for a lot of people at USM to go through the elimination of these programs, but we have to make tough decisions to fix this structural gap,” said President Flanagan, pointing out the the program eliminations will put USM only three percent closer to a balanced budget.
Flanagan is likely to announce more program cutbacks and faculty retrenchments at the end of October.
News Editor Emma James contributed reporting to this story.
This story will be updated in the Sept. 19 edition of the Free Press.
By: Brian Gordon
Students could save money on food by taking a quick walk to the Back Bay Hannaford, but still some prefer the convenience of on campus dining, like the Luther Bonney cafe and the Woodbury Campus Center cafeteria.
Those that were grabbing lunch in the cafeteria had either meal plans or were just content to shell out a bit more cash. Tai Infinte, a junior biology major, said that he didn’t feel like walking to Hannaford. He thought that his $5.79 large chicken panini sandwich was a “pretty good deal.”
Rion Lister, a senior women and gender studies major, used to work at Hannaford and doesn’t think there are major price differences. Lister also noted that there wasn’t much time in between classes, so he felt grabbing a sandwich or salad at the cafe was more convenient.
Nick Kenney, a junior finance major, was stocking up with a chicken caesar salad, a bowl of noodles and some side items on Tuesday night just before his meal plan was set to expire. He thought that the food was a little expensive but since he has a meal plan, he was putting it to good use.
“[Dinner is] like $15 without the meal plan; I could eat a whole chinese buffet for that,” Kenney said.
Kenney also searched for a few healthy options, noting that the cafeterias have salad but it’s difficult to fill up on. The redundant food options sometimes left him groaning.
“Ugh, not another burger,” said Kenney.
Kenny shared his costly bounty with his friend Jessica Avery, a junior criminology major, who no longer had a meal plan. Avery said that she shops at Hannaford all the time but was perfectly content sharing one of Kenney’s meals.
In the end, they both agreed that it was cheaper to just pack a peanut butter sandwich and plan their meals ahead.
While salads and sandwiches are generally close in price at both campus dining services and Hannaford, fruit, yogurt and granola bars are not. At the Woodbury cafeteria, $1 buys you one banana. At Hannaford, that same dollar will buy you four bananas. For $1.32 you could have three yogurt cups from a variety of different flavors at Hannaford. However at USM, $1.29 gets you one cup. Granola bars are one for a buck at USM, while at Hannaford a box of 12 sets you back $2.79.
Not all students choose between Hannaford or the USM cafes. Noah Codega, a sophomore English major, said that he just eats a big breakfast and then hurries home to eat. “It’s cheaper at home,” said Codega.
Emma Steinbach, a sophomore sociology major, agreed with this sentiment.
“I think it’s [the cafeteria] expensive,” said Steinbach. “I used to have a meal plan but now I’m a commuter so I just go home to eat.”
The food at USM comes from Aramark, a national company that provides food services to hospitals, baseball parks and college campuses nationwide. Chris Kinney, the USM dining general manager, acts as a liaison with Aramark’s Communications Department and had shed some light on why the prices are so high. “The pricing of whole fruits, beverages, chips, candy bars and those types of items are reflective of pricing at convenience stores in the local area.” They also noted that they weren’t in the business of competing with grocery stores.
Although a students dollar goes further at Hannaford, for most, you just can’t beat the cost of convenience.
In a world where cyber attacks and heists pose a very real threat, USM is arming its IT students with the knowledge of not only how to repel them but how to release viruses themselves.
Thanks to a $1.3 million grant from the National Science Foundation and Maine Technology Institute, a new Cyber Security Lab has recently opened up on the Portland campus and is serving as a place where students can learn all the tools and tricks of the hacker trade.
According to Stephen Houser, the director of IT, a research based private network was funded to become a sandbox for student hackers to infect with virus ridden software, spy on other users, create traffic to fake sites and hack into programs. Part of Houser’s job is to make sure their experimentations don’t leak out onto USM’s actual working system network.
“They’ll be launching live viruses on this isolated network,” said Houser. “The best way we can learn about the vulnerabilities is to do a bit of reverse engineering and see how they’re built.”
Edward Sihler, the technical director of the cyber-security lab, said that in order to truly understand what a virus is made of, you have to build one from scratch.
“If you haven’t actually tried to write an encryption algorithm, you just won’t understand the risk,” said Sihler.
Sihler delicately showed a quadcore Linux computer chip that had a gigabyte of ram in it. He said that it could be physically placed on any device you’re trying to tap into. and it will dial home through a network and give a hacker full control of the device with a full version of the Linux software.
“This sucker is powerful,” said Sihler. “Would you even notice this device if it was dangling to the side of your printer or computer?”
According to Eric Dubois, a senior informations and communications technology major, the cyber risks extend far past external devices compromising your laptop. Dubois is currently working on an “experience a cyber event” demonstration, where he will inform attendees on the dangers of using a public wifi.
Alex Weeman, a sophomore in the same major, who plans to be a network analyst with the skills he’s learning in the lab said that if he were sitting in a Starbucks he could steal people’s banking and credit card information, even if both the computer and the wifi are password protected.
“Don’t do your banking over wifi,” said Weeman. “Hackers can get in through port scanning and packet sniffing.”
Michael Guesev, a junior computer programmer, said that once this information is stolen, it’s uploaded to marketplaces on the dark web, which he himself could access.
‘It’s actually quite easy,” said Guesev. “It’s pretty frightening because there are hundreds of these sites, stealing and profiting from your data.”
According to Houser, we live in a time where now, more than ever, people are worried about their privacy and security online. According to Houser, Shaw’s, Home Depot and OTTO’s Pizza just recently suffered data breaches. Last year, a hacker attack left the retail store Target responsible for the loss of 42 million customer credit cards, some of which belonged to Mainers and were being sold on black market web stores. Houser said that people who know skills like online theft prevention and digital forensics are becoming highly desirable in today’s booming tech industry.
“I’m mostly worried about a new type of virus that can infect your computer and encrypt all your files so you can’t open any,” said Houser.
USM’s Division of Information and Technology is expanding its cyber security curriculum to also include classes in the philosophy and communications departments. Houser said that it’s important to learn about these issues from a variety of angles.
“We need to make sure students are aware of what’s right and what’s wrong by interjecting some ethics,” said Houser.
Maureen Ebben, a professor in the communication and media studies department, will serve as the faculty research associate for the cyber security cluster and offers a course called human communication in the digital age. Students in this course will examine cyber security from a communication and public relations standpoint, learning the best way to disseminate sensitive and upsetting information to the public in the least damaging way possible.
“These cases of cyber-attacks usually result in a breach of privacy, so the delicate and appropriate level of communication during such a situation is vital,” said Ebben.
Houser said that he remains optimistic that students will learn valuable and extremely relevant skills in this new cluster, noting that the word hacker used to be a compliment. According to him, it’s now a derogatory term for an internet thief, but it used to refer to people that tinkered and tried to upgrade their own hardware.
“Good hackers aren’t trying to invade someone else’s computer,” said Houser. “They are trying to experiment with a system trying to find out what technology can really do for them.”
However, Houser said that people will always try to break into computers regardless of what they teach people. According to Houser, the internet, much like anywhere else in life, is not 100% safe from threats. And even if you don’t choose to put something online, it’s probably online anyway and technically at risk.
“Even if you don’t bank online, your bank banks online,” said Houser. “Your money isn’t cash tucked in a safe somewhere, it’s in bits and bytes.”
Houser referred to a quote by Helen Keller, that he described as “incredibly relevant,” to help illustrate the point that true security, unfortunately, is nothing more than an illusion.
“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing at all,” wrote Keller.
All of the students in the lab are committed to intensifying Keller’s “illusion of security,” by looking for jobs in related fields once they graduate. Kyle Perreault, a senior IT major, considers himself a white hat hacker, which means he’ll be applying his knowledge towards good purposes.
“Hackers and crackers have been misinterpreted,” said Perrault. “Not all are doing bad things.”
Filling seats at Student Senate meetings is still an issue for the organization. At last week’s meeting, four senators were absent, two defaulted and were kicked off the senate for attendance issues and the senate initially was unable to make quorum until one senator arrived late.
On Friday, the senate voted to suspend an article in their constitution requiring senate applicants to gather 100 supporting signatures from the student body before being appointed in order to appoint two new senators.
Tom Bahun, a senior commuter student and treasurer of the board of student organizations, and David Sanok, a junior communication and media studies major, were both appointed to the senate after a public interview process.
“I motioned to suspend it [the rule] for this meeting only, however, if we continue to get genuinely interested students and the signature process is getting in the way, we could do so again,” said Joshua Tharpe, the senate parliamentarian.
Both of the newly appointed senators had been at senate meetings before, Bahun as a BSO member and Sanok purely out of interest in the organization. Bahun was able to acquire 51 signatures from the student body, while Sanok had not collected any.
Tharpe explained that the rule was originally created to combat new senators being appointed “left and right” while the senate wasn’t sure they were dedicated to the position.
“Last year we had some senators leave within weeks of their appointment,” said Tharpe.
“We need senators who are qualified, of course, but we do need to fill seats to be a working senate,” said Joshua Dodge, the senate chair, in an interview the following day. “In my four years on the senate, it’s never been this bad.”
Both of the new senators cited university financial troubles and administrative handling of the budget deficit as reasons they wanted to become involved with the senate.
The senate discussed the candidates and the signature process while they were out of the room and considered asking Sanok to at least attempt to gather signature before appointing him, but it was decided to appoint him based solely on his interest in the position.
The senate discussed altering the rule as well. Some senators suggested lowering the number of signatures applicants would have to gather or getting rid of the signature problem altogether.
Judson Cease, the vice chair of the senate, suggested using the signature gathering process as a gauge to measure an applicant’s interest and commitment to senate procedures, but not require it.
“We can make the signatures just a factor in our decision to appoint instead of a requirement,” said Cease.
“If people are making a legitimate effort to go out and get signatures, express genuine interest, but come in and say ‘hey, I only got 62 [signatures], I’m more than comfortable making that proposal at future meetings as well,” said Tharpe.
The senate decided that changing the application process would require more discussion than they were able to take part in at the meeting, which was nearing two-hours long, and added it under the ‘concerns’ section of their next meeting.
Dodge said the senate agreed that the issue needed another week for discussion before they make any alterations to the procedure.