New study: “The Urbanization of the Eastern Gray Squirrel in the United States”

Continuing the discussion of nature and urban areas, read about a new study of the urban patterns of the Eastern Gray Squirrel:

Benson explains that though many people may think that squirrels have simply persisted in urban landscapes since Europeans arrived in the U.S., their presence is actually the result of intentional introductions.

“By the mid-19th century, squirrels had been eradicated from cities,” he said. “In order to end up with squirrels in the middle of cities, you had to transform the urban landscape by planting trees and building parks and changing the way that people behave. People had to stop shooting squirrels and start feeding them.”

In researching the history of squirrels in American cities, Benson found the first documented introduction occurred in Philadelphia’s Franklin Square in 1847. Other introductions followed in Boston and New Haven in the 1850s. These early releases were small in scale, and intended to “beautify and add interest to the parks,” Benson says…

Benson also found signs in his research that squirrels played another important role for city residents, particularly children: as moral educators.

“Feeding squirrels becomes adopted as a way of encouraging humane behavior,” Benson said…

By the time the environmental movement took hold in the 1960s and 1970s, Benson argued, squirrels in the urban environment were no longer widely seen as morally significant members of the community and instead began to be viewed with a more ecological mindset. Ideas of letting them live out life “as nature intended” took a stronger hold.

In other words, Americans have been influencing the habitats and behaviors of squirrels for over a century and a half. It is interesting to see the progression from wanting to have more squirrels and nature (within a particular urban vision of parks), to feeding squirrels, to taking a more hands-off approach. What how will humans interact with squirrels in a few decades?

One of the stranger places for human-squirrel interactions is the campus of the University of Notre Dame. Squirrels are regularly seen outside the dining halls with large pieces of food, like muffins or cookies. Some of these squirrels were also quite large which appeared to hamper their running abilities. I have no doubt that students or visitors occasionally fed the squirrels. See some examples at the Squirrels of Notre Dame Facebook page or this 2011 column from the student newspaper on how the squirrels are viewed (hint: the title is “Reasons we love squirrels”).

Baylor opens 25% of board to non-Baptist Christians

American Christian colleges and universities have different structures in place in order to maintain their Christian distinctiveness. Baylor just made a change in their policy for their board:

While a number of Baptist colleges and universities in recent years have loosened or ended ties to state Baptist conventions, the move by Baylor is notable because it is widely considered the flagship university of Southern Baptists. The move came despite opposition from the Baptist General Convention of Texas, which last year voted down a similar proposal by Houston Baptist University to permit the election of a minority of non-Baptist trustees there, with church leaders arguing at the time that allowing non-Baptist trustees would dilute the university’s religious identity…

Of Baylor’s 14,900 students, the university states that nearly 5,287 identify as Baptists — making them the largest religious group, but by no means a majority. The next largest groups are Roman Catholic (2,128), nondenominational Christians (2,091), and Methodists (1,156). Most of the other students identify with various Christian denominations, but the college also enrolls 125 Hindu students, 122 Muslim students, 84 Buddhist students, 22 Jewish students and 43 atheists.

Samuel Schuman, who studied Baylor for his 2009 book, Seeing the Light: Religious Colleges in 21st Century America (Johns Hopkins University Press), called the vote by the university’s board both “significant and inevitable.” He explained that “there has been tension for quite a while at Baylor about aspirations to be a national research university and their strict Southern Baptist tradition, and I think it was almost inevitable that something would have to give a bit.”

If we can take Schuman at his word, then this sounds like a common struggle for Christian schools: maintaining distinctiveness while also pursuing education and status. Baylor is not the only school to struggle with this; the University of Notre Dame is an example of a Catholic institution that a decision decades ago to become a major research school while also maintaining its Catholic identity. Juggling these two identities, research school plus Christian school, takes a lot of work on the ground on a campus.

Searching for good colleges in the suburbs

Newsweek recently put together a list of desirable colleges. One of the lists is the “25 most desirable suburban schools.” A couple of questions:

1. Are there people who specifically search for a college because it is located in a suburb? I can see the appeal to many of applying to a college in a big city – but I doubt being located in a suburb tops many lists of what people are looking for in a college.

2. I would take issue with whether several of these schools are suburban schools. The University of Notre Dame? It may have its own address and zip code but it is basically surrounded by South Bend. The real suburbs of the area, a place like Granger, are miles away. The University of Virginia is located in Charlottesville, roughly 70 miles from Richmond. For these two cases, this is a very loose definition of a suburb.