• Plagiarism by Trump Institute

    In addition to Trump University, which is taking heat for defrauding students, Trump Institute is now criticized for plagiarism and other issues.

    Donald Trump promoted the $2,000 institute in an infomercial to wannabe real estate investors, but his claims fell short. He said instructors were handpicked, but at least one person connected with the program said she responded to a Craigslist ad. And the Institute's organizers were Irene and Mike Milin, who The New York Times describes as "a couple who had been marketing get-rich-quick courses since the 1980s." In April, The Daily Beast wrote a long piece about the Milin's history of "legal entanglements," including promising government loans that no one received. 

    The Times offered this comparison between Trump's materials and a 1995 book published by Success magazine. 

    Trump Institute

    This example is part of the 20 pages that were copied from the original book.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What is Trump's ethical responsibility to check the organizers' past? What responsibility does Trump Institute have to prospective students? Finally, what responsibilities do prospective students have? How could people avoid being hoodwinked into paying $2,000 for a program that doesn't deliver? 
    • What plagiarism guidelines would you like to share with Donald Trump? 
  • Cameron's Resignation Speech

    Having campaigned for the UK to stay part of the European Union, Prime Minister David Cameron had little choice but to resign when the vote was for "Brexit." (See full text.)

    Cameron complimented people on both sides of the debate: 

    I want to thank everyone who took part in the campaign on my side of the argument, including all those who put aside party differences to speak in what they believed was the national interest.

    And let me congratulate all those who took part in the “Leave” campaign — for the spirited and passionate case that they made.

    As expected, he ended positively: 

    I love this country — and I feel honored to have served it.

    And I will do everything I can in future to help this great country succeed.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Reactions to Cameron's speech have been highly positive. Do you agree? If so, what makes this a successful speech? How could it be improved? 
    • Consider the speech organization. Create an outline showing his main points. What is the logical sequencing? 
  • Red Cross Apologizes for Poster

    The Red Cross tried to be inclusive by showing kids of different races in its "Be Cool, Follow the Rules" poster about pool safety. But when you look closely, you see that most white kids are "cool," and most kids of color are "not cool." 

    Red Cross Pool Poster

    The "not cool" kids of color are running, diving over a white kid, and pushing a white kid. The Red Cross responded directly to tweets, for example, "@EmmyBetz Thank you for bringing this to our attention. We’re removing this from our site immediately & are creating new materials," and "@Jsawyer330 We removed this poster within 24 hours. We didn't scrutinize it like we should have, and apologize for any offense." 

    In addition, the organization issued this statement:

    Red Cross Issues Statement on Water Safety Poster

    June 27, 2016

    Monday, June 27, 2016 (Washington, D.C.) – The American Red Cross appreciates and is sensitive to the concerns raised regarding one of the water safety posters we produced. We deeply apologize for any misunderstanding, as it was absolutely not our intent to offend anyone. As one of the nation’s oldest and largest humanitarian organizations, we are committed to diversity and inclusion in all that we do, every day.

    To this end, we have removed the poster from our website and Swim App and have discontinued production. We have notified all of our partner aquatic facilities requesting they take down the poster. Our organization has emphasized to our partners and on social media that it was absolutely not our intent to offend anyone and apologized for this inadvertent action. We are currently in the process of completing a formal agreement with a diversity advocacy organization for their guidance moving forward.

    For more than 100 years, part of the Red Cross mission has been to help everyone be safe in, on and around the water. Countless lives have been saved with our water safety educational and aquatics programs. In order to further support our mission and dedication to inclusion, we launched our Aquatics Centennial Campaign (www.redcross.org/centennialswim) in 2014. We are working to reduce the drowning rate in 50 high-risk communities over a 5-year period by helping to teach at least 50,000 more children and adults to swim. With this campaign, we are focusing on areas with higher-than-average drowning rates and participants who otherwise wouldn’t have the opportunity to take swim lessons.

    Once again, we apologize for any inadvertent misunderstanding with regard to the production of this poster, and believe we have taken every step to address the situation.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's your view of the poster? A lifeguard called it "super racist." Do you agree?
    • Assess the Red Cross's statement. How does the organization use principles of persuasion to address concerns? 
  • Facebook Training About Political Bias

    FB Unconscious BiasWith the upcoming presidential election, Facebook is training employees to check their political biases. Google and other companies have been helping employees identify unconscious biases about race and other differences. After criticism that Facebook weeds out conservative stories on its "trending topics" feature, the company is including political bias in its training program.

    In May, an article reported several contractors who were "curators" of these trending topics admitting they were told to "inject" topics management deemed of interest and to suppress stories about Facebook as a company in the feed. Facebook denied these charges: 

    My team is responsible for Trending Topics, and I want to address today’s reports alleging that Facebook contractors manipulated Trending Topics to suppress stories of interest to conservatives. We take these reports extremely seriously and have found no evidence that the anonymous allegations are true.

    Facebook is a platform for people and perspectives from across the political spectrum. There are rigorous guidelines in place for the review team to ensure consistency and neutrality. These guidelines do not permit the suppression of political perspectives. Nor do they permit the prioritization of one viewpoint over another or one news outlet over another. These guidelines do not prohibit any news outlet from appearing in Trending Topics.

    Including political bias in the company's "Managing Bias" training program is a clever approach to the issue, and Facebook has sought advice from leading political conservatives to help. COO Sheryl Sandberg explains the goal: 

    "It is a political time and we're proud of the role we play in elections, not just here but around the world. The vision of Facebook was to enable individuals to connect, but to connect not just to their friends and family, but also to the people who are representing them and who they want to represent them."

    Sandberg also said that Donald Trump has more Facebook fans than Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders combined.

    Facebook's Managing Bias training is available online

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Have your own biases interfered with working relationships? Or have others' biases affected you? How did you handle the situation, and what was the result?
    • What could training for political bias look like? How could this training help employees with their coworkers, in addition to helping the curators? 
  • Bad Advice from Grammarly

    GrammarlyAfter clicking "Skip Video" about a dozen times on YouTube, I finally watched the Grammarly ad and tried the product. In a 15-page document, the tool identified nine "critical issues," only two of which were errors, and I would hardly call them "critical": a missing serial comma (from a CNN quote) and an unnecessarily hyphenated word.

    The other seven were not mistakes; if I make the recommended corrections, I will have far more grammatical problems than when I started.

    The original document is a case study, "SeaWorld Responds to the Movie Blackfish."

    Here are the items marked as errors:

    My Original Version Grammarly's Correction My Comment
    SeaWorld, a theme-park operator Possibly confused word. Did you mean theme park? No, I meant to hyphenate the compound adjective.
    several other groups cancelled performances Cancelled is British spelling. Technically correct, but either spelling is acceptable in the United States.
    debate over orcas continues Change to the plural form, continue. No, continues follows debate, not orcas, which is part of a prepositional phrase.
    The November 6, 2013, article Article usage (The) is incorrect. No, it's not: "The...article..."
    Nowhere does the article mention SeaWorld's response. Consider replacing the period with a question mark.  No, it's a statement, not a question.
    The revenue up-tick may have been  Did you mean uptick? OK! You got me. Uptick is acceptable without the hyphen.
    Dawn Brancheau's family, friends and colleagues Insert a comma.  This is a quotation from CNN, and yes, I should add the serial comma after friends.
    literally millions of safe interactions Change to million because it's modifying a noun. No, this is a tweet quotation, and it is correct as is. 
    Also in February, SeaWorld sponsored ads on Facebook Add a hyphen: SeaWorld-sponsored ads. No, sponsor is a verb here, not a noun modified by SeaWorld-sponsored.

    In addition to these markings, Grammarly says I have 38 "advanced issues" that I can see if I pay for an upgrade. The upgrade also gives me access to the plagiarism checker, which sounds like a teacher's nightmare: if students change a few words, will they circumvent tools like Turnitin?

    Discussion Starters:

    • After reading this, would you use or recommend Grammarly? It could be useful for international students, but I worry that it gives bad advice.
    • Try the product on one of your own documents. How does it work for you? 

  • Airbnb and AHLA Argue About Use and Impact

    Airbnb-a8707ed9_originalThe American Hotel and Lodging Association reports "83% of Airbnb revenue in Boston—or $40 million—comes from operators listing units for rent more than 30 days per year." This is damming criticism because it claims that operators (or "hosts," which Airbnb prefers) are more like hotel owners avoiding taxes. 

    But Airbnb disputes the data and told the Business Journal that 86% of Boston hosts share their primary residence and earn an average of $5,900 for sharing 45 nights each year. 

    It's difficult to know where the truth lies. The AHLA study was sponsored by the association and data were gleaned from Airbnb by John W. O’Neill, a professor of hospitality management and director of the center for hospitality real estate strategy at Penn State University’s School of Hospitality Management. 

    Airbnb spokesperson Christopher Nulty called the report "factually inaccurate" and said, "The AHLA is out of touch with the increasing number of consumers and cities embracing the tremendous benefits of home sharing. Airbnb is working with cities across the country and around the globe to create clear, fair home sharing rules and to collect and remit hotel taxes on behalf of our community, and we support similar efforts in Boston and across Massachusetts.”

    Fights for and against Airbnb continue throughout the country. Airbnb has reached agreements with some cities to automatically charge a 3% tax on all rentals, but other cities are hoping to ban short-term rentals entirely. New York City already prevents rentals for fewer than 30 days, but a proposed measure would fine owners for posting properties online. 

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters: 

    • What could explain the discrepancy in Airbnb data?
    • Compare persuasive strategies used by the AHLA and Airbnb. How does each use emotional appeal in addition to data to support their argument?
  • Responses to Boy's Death at Disney

    Grandfloridian.jpg.size.custom.crop.1086x743A two-year-old boy was taken by an alligator at the edge of a lagoon at a Florida Disney Resort. His body was recovered 16 hours after the attack. 

    Jacquee Wahler, vice president of the Walt Disney World Resort, said, “Everyone here at the Walt Disney World Resort is devastated by this tragic accident. Our thoughts are with the family. We are helping the family and doing everything we can to assist law enforcement.” Wahler also said, “We are conducting a swift and thorough review of our processes and protocols. This includes the number, placement and wording of our signage and warnings.’’

    The president of Walt Disney World also posted a statement

    There are no words to convey the profound sorrow we feel for the family and their unimaginable loss. We are devastated and heartbroken by this tragic accident and are doing what we can to help them during this difficult time.

    On behalf of everyone at Disney, we offer them our deepest sympathy.

    Disney did display "No swimming" signs around the lagoon, and people are questioning whether this is enough. Alligators are common in the lagoons, but attacks are rare.

    Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings was interviewed on the day of the attack and then announced when the body was found, on June 16.

    Image source

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Should Disney do more to protect people? Research the situation before you respond. 
    • Beyond the statement you read here, what else, if anything, should Disney say? I don't see anything else posted. 
  • Email to LinkedIn's Staff

    In addition to the news announcements about Microsoft's acquisition of LinkedIn, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner wrote an email to staff. His tone is excited and a bit bewildered: 

    "No matter what you're feeling now, give yourself some time to process the news. You might feel a sense of excitement, fear, sadness, or some combination of all of those emotions. Every member of the exec team has experienced the same, but we've had months to process. Regardless of the ups and downs, we've come out the other side knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is the best thing for our company."

    Weiner described several benefits of the acquisition, including increasing LinkedIn's reach, expanding into other human capital solutions for companies, and integrating Lynda.com courses. Employees are probably happy to read about LinkedIn's ability to stay independent, which may mean less change and fewer layoffs.

    Weiner, by the way, will walk away with almost $30 million from the sale.

    In a video with Weiner, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella talks about his interest in LinkedIn and says he had been thinking about an acquisition for a long time. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • How would you summarize the benefits of the acquisition? Are you convinced by these communications that the move is positive for LinkedIn? 
    • How would you feel if you were a LinkedIn employee? What concerns would you have? What is the best way for the CEOs to address them? 
  • Communications About Orlando Tragedy

    OrlandoThe tragic shooting at an Orlando, FL, gay club has brought communications from local politicians, global mourners, and of course, presidential candidates. The killer's motive could be homophobia, terrorism, or both, depending on your perspective. With 50 people dead and another 53 wounded, this is the largest attack since 9/11 and has left people wondering how and why.

    Here's a summary of communications about the event:

    Image source.

    Discussion Starters:

    • Compare the presidential candidates' statements. How do their positions differ, and which do you most support?
    • Assess the news conference. How are the officials sharing responsibilities, reporting on events, demonstrating sympathy, and so on?
  • Lancome Criticized for Cancelling a Performer

    The cosmetics company Lancome had hired Denise Ho, a Canto-pop star, to perform at a free concert. A democracy activist, Ho was criticized by a Bejing paper, and Lancome cancelled the show. The company now faces criticism, which the South China Morning Post says is its own fault:

    "What’s a definite no-no is to hire someone like Ho and then promptly ditch her after an official mainland newspaper complains. That not only makes you look spineless and unprincipled, it shows you are incompetent, which is more unforgivable in the corporate world." 

    Lancome 2Ho had questioned the decision in a statement posted in Chinese on Facebook:

    I understand that this was a decision made by Lancôme’s head office. Here I demand Lancôme’s head office spell out the reasons behind the decision. The company owes me and the public a proper explanation.

    Freedom, justice and equality are the values cherished by the people of Hong Kong. If we are penalised for defending our rights and upholding our beliefs, this is not just about me any more. Our value system has been completely distorted.

    The company made one short statement: "Hong Kong Actress Denise Ho is not a spokesperson of LANCOME. We are sorry for the confusion caused. Thank you for your continuous support to LANCOME." 

    Of course, that wasn't enough, and a longer statement, shown here, came later. 

    Discussion Starters:

    • Ho was arrested in the 2014 Umbrella Movement. Should Lancome have known better? Or stuck with its initial decision?
    • Assess Lancome's statements. What else, if anything, should the company say?
  • At Last, Email Help?

    Email "triage" tools can help us organize and our messages and, maybe, make better decisions about our communications. Hiri seems to focus on how people use email rather than on the tool itself. After all, we're the problem, not email. 

    The company makes big claims: "Communication is the soul of your company. Hiri is an email app that helps you save time, organise your day, and improve communication." We'll see, but the app does have some nifty features:

    • A weekly score of your clarity, brevity, and tone. (I'm curious about how this is rated.)
    • A forced wait time of 30 minutes, to avoid checking email too often. This could be frustrating, but checking too often causes stress, according to some studies.
    • Distinguishing emails that require action from FYIs. Tasks are created from emails that require a response or action. This could be useful to diminish attention to all those emails on which we're copied. 

    Discussion Starters: 

    • How could these features help people organize their time and improve communication?
    • Which email triage tools have you used in the past, and how have you found them helpful? 
  • Outrage Over Stanford Sexual Assault Case

    BrockA Stanford student's light sentence and father's appeal have outraged thousands. Brock Turner was a Stanford University student who sexually assaulted an unconscious woman behind a dumpster and fought the case in court. Turner received a six-month sentence in county jail and probation, although the maximum allowable was 14 years.

    The victim read a long letter to the judge, which has received almost 9 million views as of this writing. Her speech was impassioned and told her story: how she didn't know what happened to hear until she read it on the internet, how damaged she has been since the attack, and so on. It is an emotional, gripping speech that is difficult, but important to read.

    Turner's father didn't help his son or the public outrage with his defensive letter, including, "That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life." ThinkProgress calls the letter "impossibly offensive," and most people agree. 

    A letter to Brock's father challenges him to recognize: 

    I need you to understand something, and I say this as a father who dearly loves my son as much as you must love yours:

    Brock is not the victim here.
    His victim is the victim.
    She is the wounded one.
    He is the damager.

    In a statement, Stanford assured the public that the university did everything within its power.  

    Discussion Starters: 

  • J.P. Morgan Eases Its Dress Code

    JP Morgan dressJ.P. Morgan is following other companies and easing its dress policy. As the biggest asset holder, the bank may lead a trend among financial services firms. Wall Street banks are known for their pinstripe suits and ties, but CEO Jamie Dimon is often seen dressing down. 

    An email to staff explained the new policy, which allows khaki pants and polo shirts but not halter tops, and encourages dressing up for client meetings. The company already had a weekend dress policy in place. 

    Barclays implemented a similar policy last year but had to clarify: no flip flops. And J.P. Morgan warned with this change that it's not the same as weekend casual, which could mean jeans and more causal wear.

    A man I know complained about his not-for-profit organization's policy that disallowed shorts but allowed skirts for women. The organization changed its policy and now allows some shorts. 

    Image source (from WSJ video).

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Why did this take so long? Many of the banks' clients are tech employees in jeans and shorts.
    • What's your view of dress policies that disallow shorts but allow skirts?
  • UCLA Responds to Shootings

    It's another sad day of shootings, this time at UCLA, leaving two dead in what seems like a murder-suicide. 

    The university has published several communications to keep the community informed and help people deal with this tragedy: 

    Messages offer condolences and counseling, thank police and others who responded, and focus on healing. Trying to get back to some sense of normality, the university will resume classes except in the engineering building where a professor was killed. Provost Scott Waugh explains: "Obviously there’s a lot of very distressed students, faculty and staff. And our goal within the school is to heal those wounds and make sure that they feel comfortable with the situation before resuming normal activities."

    Discussion Starters: 

    • Who are the primary and secondary audiences for the university's messages? 
    • Assess the chancellor's press statement. What principles of delivering bad news and delivering oral presentations does he use? 
  • Zoo Defends Killing Gorilla

    Although reports say a boy "fell" into a gorilla cage at a the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, the zoo says the boy "climbed through a public barrier." Harambe the gorilla was shot and killed on the spot. A YouTube video showing part of the incident received more than 14 million views so far, and people on both sides of the argument are outraged. 

    With the hashtag #JusticeforHarambe, animal activists and others question the zoo's decision and blame the parents.


    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) says this situation is another example of why people shouldn't gawk at animals in captivity.

    The zoo explained the decision in a media statement, in a Facebook post, and during a press conference. The director scolded people who dispute the decision, saying they don't understand silverback behavior and weren't there to assess the situation. He has a point: people view a one-minute clip on YouTube and decide that the gorilla was holding the boy's hand and helping him to safety. But what do we know?  


    Discussion Starters: 

    • What's your view, given what you have read about the situation? Did the zoo act appropriately? What else would you like to know in order to make a judgement call?  
    • Assess the zoo's three communications:  media statement, Facebook post, and press conference. What, if anything, can management do differently to address the criticism?