April 24, 2014

ISU president updates Board of Regents on Veishea

Iowa State University President, Steven Leath, talked about the decision to cancel the annual Veishea celebration during his comments today to the Board of Regents. Leath canceled the annual event April 10th after rioting broke out early that morning. He has appointed a task force to determine if the event will be shut down permanently. “They have their first official meeting tonight, and they are going to try and get recommendations to me by the end of June, so that hopefully we can move forward fairly quickly,” Leath says.

Leath says the task force is one of the efforts underway to address the issue. Leath says the student body president is leading series meetings “to address student behavior in general, and what it means to be a Cyclones on campus.”

Regent Larry McKibben says there are several ISU graduates in his hometown of Marshalltown, and they have been talking to him about Veishea. “I think your alumni carry the same sadness that a lot of us do. But I also thing that there are a lot of people who want to help to find a way to continue a positive tradition for Iowa State University,” McKibben says.

He says Leath and his staff did the right thing in acting quickly following the rioting, and that us why alumni continue to support the school during the review. “They will work, they’ll support you, they will support the decisions that are made, but I think as long as you’re transparent, you keep people in the loop and let your alumni participate in this, you will find a way to do the right thing,” McKibben says.

The Veishea task force meets tonight from 6 to 8 p.m. in the Memorial Union Pioneer Room. The first open forum on Veishea will be tomorrow (Friday) at 2 p.m. in the Memorial Union Great Hall. The public is welcome to attend.


New superintendent chosen for the special schools in Council Bluffs and Vinton

The Board of Regents has selected a man from Montana to become the new superintendent of the state’s two special schools. The board chose Steven Gettel, the current Superintendent of the Montana School for the Deaf and Blind, from three candidates to become the superintendent of the Iowa School for the Deaf in Council Bluffs, and the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in Vinton.

Gettel is scheduled to begin his duties on August 1st.  He will replace Patrick Clancy who is retiring. Clancy began as superintendent of the Iowa Braille and Sight Saving School in 2008 and added the same position for the Iowa School for the Deaf in April of 2012.

Absentee voting begins for June primary

The start of election season in Iowa begins today. Chance McElhaney with the Iowa Secretary of State’s office says today is the first day you can cast an absentee ballot for the June 3rd primary.  “You can fill out an absentee ballot in person at the local county auditor’s office, and in certain counties there are satellite locations as well. So if that is something you would be interested in, you can check with your local county auditor’s office,” McElhaney.

There are some other ways you can get an absentee ballot. “Go to the Secretary of State’s website, SOS.Iowa.gov, and fill out the official State of Iowa voter registration form. You can also go to your local county auditor’s website as well and you sent that in to your local county auditor,” McElhaney explains.

McElhaney says the absentee voting is open today through June 2nd. He has this warning for procrastinators. “The absentee ballots do need to be received by the county auditor before 9 p.m. on election day, Tuesday June 3rd to be eligible for counting,” McElhaney “If and absentee ballot is in the mail and is received by the county auditor after the polls close –  it just has to have a postmark of Monday June 2nd or earlier.”

He says more people have been voting early in Iowa. “In the general election in 2012, a little of a third voted by absentee I believe. That can be people who vote in person at their county auditor’s office, or it can be people who request an absentee ballot by mail,” according the McElhaney.

Iowa has an open U.S. Senate seat for the first time since 1974 after Democrat Tom Harkin announced he would not run again. Six Republicans are competing in the primary for a chance to run for that seat. There are three Republicans and five Democrats running to replace Congressman Bruce Braley, who is the only Democrat running for the U.S. Senate seat. Six Republican candidates are vying for the Third District Congressional seat being left open by the retirement of Tom Latham.

ISU computers containing student information hacked

Iowa State University says someone hacked into the servers of 5 departments containing information on nearly 30,000 students enrolled  between 1995 and 2012. I.S.U. Provost  Jonathan Wickert says the hackers had a specific purpose, and it was not to steal student identities. “They uploaded a type of software that used to produce something called Bitcoin. Bitcoin is a type of digital or electronic currency — digital money if you will,” Wickert explains.

He says the goal was to harness the computer power of the school to generate the electronic money. “What they wanted to do was hijack several computers and have multiple computers running this software to be able to produce the currency faster,” Wickert says.  While the student information was on the computers, Wickert says they don’t believe it was compromised. “We have not reports of identity theft having occurred — but out of an abundance of caution because we did have class lists stored on several of these machines –  we’re taking the step and notifying all the current and former students,” Wickert says.

The university is also offering to pay for credit monitoring for those students. The Social Security numbers included those of some students who took a class in: Computer science (1995-2005); World languages and cultures (2004, 2007, 2011-2012) and Materials science and engineering (one class only in ENGR101 in fall 2001 and MATE214 in spring 2001).

Wickert says the battle against computer hackers is an ongoing issue for the I.S.U., just like it is for many other organizations. “Our I-T staff here at the university defense us every day against literally dozens of hacking attacks,” Wickert says. He says this is an unfortunate case where the hackers got through the system.

Wickert says they have learned from this attack. “We’ve already taken some very proactive steps to decommission and actually destroy the computers that were affected,” Wickert says. “And over the next weeks and months you’re going to see us roll out a multi-point plan to further increase computer security on campus.” He says the measures will include strengthening password standards, encrypting all of the university laptop computers, and a software program to identify computers that store student information to ensure that it is safely stored.

Woman found dead in West Des Moines identified

West Des Moines police say no foul play is suspected in the death of a woman found lying next to a burning vehicle Monday. They say they are still waiting on the medical examiner’s report to know the cause of 34-year-old Christina Dilworth’s death.

Police say the investigation determine no one else was involved in the death. Dilworth is from Clive.

Legislator says deal still in the works for ending greyhound racing

A state legislator says a deal is in the works that would phase out the support now paid to greyhound tracks in Dubuque and Council Bluffs. Senator Jeff Danielson, a Democrat from Cedar Falls, is the chair the State Government Committee. Danielson says the bill would provide what he calls a “soft landing” for greyhound breeders. “If a breeder says  ‘look I’m done with it , I don’t want the fight any more, I’d like to move on’ , there’s a way for them to receive that payout, so that their book of business, they can adjust and move on to other things,” Danielson says.

Casinos say a 1994 rule that requires land-based casinos to keep greyhound tracks, has forced them to pay 13-million dollars each year to subsidize the sport despite lagging attendance. Danielson says the industry has provided a lot of economic development in rural Iowa. “I think it’s unfair to call this a subsidy that must end because we don’t like subsidies,” Danielson says. “The reality is we subsidize business and industries all over Iowa, throughout our tax code.”

He says part of the deal since the beginning has been for the Iowa Greyhound Association to manage a racetrack itself.  Danielson says he knows the impact losing a greyhound track can have on a community. The Waterloo Greyhound Park which shut down in 1996 is in his district. “It’s been empty for nearly 20 years, it sits on one of the highest traffic properties in the community right off of  Highway 20. There’s no reason it should be empty — but because of a lot of the legal arrangements that had been tied up because of  the dog track and casino –  there it sits,” Danielson says. He says he doesn’t want to see the same thing happen in Dubuque and Council Bluffs with the closing of the dog tracks there.

Danielson is hoping to get the bill passed before the end of the session. He made his comments on the Iowa Public Radio program “River to River.”

Technology and data use raise questions for farmers

Farmers are using technology such as GPS and weather reports these days to save time and money and increase crop yields, and many are being asked to share their data collected from that technology.  The sharing issue has raised many worries about security and privacy. The American Farm Bureau Federation recently met with officials from six large “agricultural technology” companies to discuss those concerns.

Mary Kay Thatcher, Senior Director of Congressional Relations for the federation, says the new question is whether to share all the different data for agronomists to sift through and to help improve efficiency.  “If you’re a farmer you don’t want to have to go in and read a data privacy policy from John Deere, because that’s the kind of equipment you have, and a different one from Monsanto because that’s the kind of seed that you put in, and a different one from Precision Planting because that’s the actual technology that you use — and try to figure out what’s going on there. We’d like to try and get some of these definitions and terms standardized,” Thatcher says.

Farmers want to know exactly how their data will be used and who will have access to it. Thatcher says the vast majority of the 60 companies that offer “ag tech” services say they will make the details anonymous. “Usually it means I’ll remove the name if I have the Social Security number, if I have an address, a phone number etcetera. But lots of time they are not removing the GPS locations — because it’s the GPS locations that say ‘put more fertilizer on this part of the field’,” she explains. The problem is, those GPS coordinates are a big key to other information. “If you’ve got the GPS coordinates, you pretty much know who I am and what farm I’m farming on,” Thatcher says.

There are questions about who gets to see all the aggregated information. For example, could the U.S. E.P.A. identify farmers who idle their equipment for what it considers too long to be good for air quality? Or could a seed dealer learn how planting is going for local farmers and use that information to compete in their own fields? Or could investment banks and traders use it to make a lot of money on commodities markets?