ASEE First Bell – Breaking news in the engineering and technology field

Leading the News

Volkswagen Reaches Settlement With US Over Emissions Cheating.

Volkswagen has reached a fuzzy deal with US regulators to buyback or fix 482,000 vehicles implicated in its dieselgate scandal, US District Judge Charles Breyer announced Thursday, generating significant coverage in US print and online publications. The CBS Evening News (4/21, story 7, 0:20, Pelley) reported that Volkswagen on Thursday “agreed to buy back or fix nearly half a million diesel vehicles that were fraudulently rigged to pass emissions tests that they should have failed.” NBC Nightly News (4/21, story 6, 1:50, Holt) reported that “a company that built its reputation on reliability is now paying the price for fraud,” as the automaker “admits tricking the emissions test, while polluting at 40 times the illegal limit.” The AP  (4/21, Krisher) reports that owners of qualified vehicles will be given “unspecified ‘substantial compensation’ from the company,” and Breyer has given lawyers until June 21 to finalize the details. Eligible vehicles include “2-liter diesel engines dating to 2009,” like certain Jetta, Audi A3, Golf, Beetle, and Passat models, but “lawyers are still negotiating what to do with” the 90,000 3-liter diesel engine cars equipped with the cheat devices.

According to the New York Times  (4/21, Ewing, Subscription Publication), the settlement “left open numerous legal and financial issues stemming from the carmaker’s admission.” Attorneys continue to negotiate “the fines that Volkswagen must pay, as well as the compensation that owners will receive.” The Wall Street Journal  (4/21, B1, Randazzo, Subscription Publication) reports that Judge Breyer said the automaker plans to offer consumers the option of having their vehicles either bought back by Volkswagen or modified to meet emissions standards. The AP  (4/21) reports separately that the deal will include a fund to correct the cars’ excess pollution, and the company will have to “commit other money to promote green automotive technology, said Breyer,” who hasn’t “formally signed off on the deal yet.”

Reuters  (4/21, Sage, Shepardson) adds that the settlement could cost VW more than $10 billion in fixes, buybacks, and consumer compensation. Still, the company’s shares were up 6% Thursday as a result of the announcement, after rising almost 7% Wednesday, though they remain down almost 20% since news of the scandal broke. VW is still facing DOJ fines as part of an anticipated civil settlement, possible criminal charges stemming from the DOJ’s ongoing investigation, and European customers dissatisfied with the company’s efforts to fix their cars.

USA Today  (4/21, Bomey) reports that the settlement is between Volkswagen and the Environmental Protection Agency, California regulators, including the California attorney general’s office, and consumers, and “includes ‘substantial compensation’ for owners of 2-liter diesel cars that were fitted with software to cheat emissions regulations,” Judge Breyer said. The “accord could finally bring about a solution to a crisis that has bedeviled Volkswagen engineers, who have been unable to deliver a fix that was acceptable to the EPA.” Politico  (4/21, Powers) reports that “the emissions cheating scandal…has had a devastating impact on Volkswagen’s international reputation” as “US regulators, environmental advocacy groups, and consumers [call] for blood” while the company works to solidify “a compensation and penalties package.” ABC News  (4/21, Cook), The Atlantic  (4/21, Koren), Bloomberg News  (4/21, Mehrotra, Katz, Fisk), Bloomberg News  (4/21), Bloomberg News  (4/21), CBS News  (4/21), the Financial Times  (4/21, Campbell, Subscription Publication), the Financial Times  (4/21, Campbell, McGee, Subscription Publication), Fortune  (4/21, Parloff), the Los Angeles Times  (4/21, Peltz), NPR  (4/21, Ydstie), and USA Today  (4/21) offer similar coverage.

In a column for Reuters  (4/21), Alison Frankel writes about the speed with which the deal was reached, paced by Breyer’s deadlines and demands and special settlement master and former FBI director Robert Mueller’s guidance.

German Financial Watchdog To Examine VW Price Jump. Reuters  (4/21, Kroener) reports that Bafin, a German financial watchdog, has initiated a routine review of the steep jump in VW’s shares following the announcement, looking for insider trading or possible violations of public disclosure announcement regulations.

US VW Dealers Hope Deal Will Bring Customers Back, Car Owners Ponder Options. Reuters  (4/21, Sage, Woodall) reports that US VW dealers have expressed cautious optimism that consumers will begin buying again after the deal announced Thursday, though they are concerned that their current stock – which includes vehicles with cheat devices they are barred from selling – will not satisfy customers’ desires. From the opposite perspective, the Wall Street Journal  (4/21, Rogers, Subscription Publication) shares consumers’ concerns about the deal and the future of their cars and the VW brand.

UK Transport Ministry: All Cars Tested Exceeded Lab Limits On Road, Only VW Cheated. Reuters  (4/21, Pitas) reports that all 37 car models tested by the British Department for Transport exceeded the allowable Euro 5 (for older vehicles) and Euro 6 (for newer vehicles) lab limits for nitrogen oxides in real world tests, but only VW used cheat devices. The Department for Transport said that “all of the results are substantially higher than this limit, with the best results being about three times higher, and the worst about ten times higher” in the Euro 5 category. The Financial Times  (4/21, Pickard, Campbell, Subscription Publication) offers additional coverage.

Porsche Heir Moves To Expand Role At VW. Bloomberg News  (4/21, Kresge, Rauwald) reports that Porsche heir Peter Daniell Porsche has largely kept his “distance from his family’s automotive legacy” but appears to be “building up his own business holdings and embracing a growing role at Volkswagen AG,” at which he is “set to become one of his family’s largest stakeholders.” According to Bloomberg, Porsche’s “ideals,” which “include consensual decision-making and ecological investing,” will probably “resonate” with the company as it struggles to weather the dieselgate scandal. Porsche’s father Hans-Peter Porsche will vacate his seat on the family holding company’s supervisory board by 2020, giving Porsche more influence over the holding company’s 52% “of Volkswagen’s voting shares.”

Higher Education

Federal Judge: CFPB Has No Authority To Investigate For-Profit Accreditors.

Inside Higher Ed  (4/21, Ed) reports that US District Judge Richard J. Leon ruled Thursday that the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau “lacks the authority to investigate how accreditors approve for-profit colleges,” rejecting CFPB’s efforts to force the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools “to turn over information about how it decided to approve several controversial for-profit college chains.” CFPB wanted documents about how ACICS “green-lighted several Corinthian Colleges campuses” as part of its investigation “into what it described as possible illegal activities ‘in connection with accrediting for-profit colleges.’” The article says the ruling “comes as the accreditor is fighting for its survival” and as the attorneys general of several states are calling on ED “to deny federal recognition of ACICS.”

ACICS Cracks Down On ITT Tech.

Inside Higher Ed  (4/21, Ed) reports that the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, which is facing investigations over its accreditation of a number of controversial for-profit colleges, is “taking action” against ITT Technical Institutes, ordering the firm “to prove why it shouldn’t lose its accreditation or otherwise be sanctioned.” The accrediting agency cited “allegations from various state and federal agencies” which “‘call into question’ the institution’s ‘administrative capacity, organizational integrity, financial viability and ability to serve students in a manner that complies with ACICS standards.’” The accreditor also noted that ED has placed the firm on heightened cash monitoring, and that the SEC and CFPB are both investigating the firm.

The Washington Post  (4/21, Douglas-Gabriel) reports that ACICS’s move to sanction ITT comes weeks after it was “hit with a lawsuit for engaging in abusive sales tactics.” The Post says the accreditor is “concerned that a string of state and federal investigations, lawsuits and regulatory actions against ITT” raise concerns about ITT. The piece reports that the firm’s employees have been charged with “telling prospective students at two campuses in Massachusetts that 80 to 100 percent of graduates found jobs in or related to their field of study, when the actual job placement rates were 50 percent or less.” This piece also notes that ED has placed ITT on heightened cash monitoring status.

Vote On Illinois University Funding Agreement Postponed.

The Chicago Tribune  (4/21, Garcia) reports that while it looked like Illinois legislators had reached “an agreement to spend $600 million to keep public universities and community colleges afloat through the summer” Thursday evening, right before the vote, “a top ally of Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan asked the sponsor of the bill to pull the plug until Friday.” Democrats in the House and Senate each blamed the other chamber for the delay.

Massachusetts Governor Introduces Affordable College Plan.

Wicked Local Cape Cod (MA)  (4/21, Tuoti) reports the cost of a four-year degree could “soon get much more affordable for certain students who transfer from a Massachusetts community college to a state university.” Gov. Charlie Baker said Thursday that the new “Commonwealth Commitment” initiative “could reduce the total cost of a bachelor’s degree from a public university to as low as $24,000 for some students.” It would let full-time community college students with a 3.0 grade point average who transfer to a bachelor’s program at a state university get “a 10 percent rebate on tuition and mandatory fees at the end of each semester.”

Southern Utah University Hosts Young Women’s STEM Awards Event.

KCSG-TV  St. George, UT (4/21) reports on its website that the National Center for Women in Information Technology Award for Aspirations in Computing held an awards ceremony at Southern Utah University on April 16. KCSG writes, “As the only initiative to highlight young women in computing and information technology on a national level, great strides have been taken in the program’s development in southern Utah.”

SPECIAL SECTION: Prism Magazine on Whistleblowing
ASEE’s Prism magazine features engineering educators using their expertise to challenge authority when needed.

Online Workshop
Applying Evidence-Based Teaching Practices in Computing Education will show how such practices can be effectively used when teaching graduate and undergraduate students. The workshop will be held June 1 and lasts for 3 hours. Registration is $50.

Research and Development

University Of Oregon Hosting Annual Cyber Security Day.

The Eugene (OR) Register-Guard  (4/22, Dietz) reports “top cyber security experts” will be at the University of Oregon Friday for the “sixth annual Oregon Cyber Security Day.” The newspaper says the US “has an urgent need for legions of cybersecurity-trained professionals to fortify the networks, data centers and devices that are vulnerable,” according to experts.

Four University Teams Competing In NASA Heat Shield Competition.

WBFO-FM  Buffalo, NY (4/21, Mroziak) reports on its website that students at the University of Buffalo are among the finalists in a NASA competition “to design an inflatable heat shield system that could protect a Mars-bound spacecraft.” The team from the school’s Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering faces teams from Georgia Tech, Purdue University, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.

Four Companies Win $11.2 Million USAF Weapons Detection Contract.

Washington Technology  (4/21) reports LGS Innovations, Block Engineering Inc., Spectrum Photonics, and Leidos have been awarded a $11.2 million US Air Force Research Laboratory contract for the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity program to “develop solutions capable of detecting trace chemical residues on surfaces from up to 30 meters using infrared spectroscopy.”

Industry News

Daimler Launches Internal Emissions Probe At US DOJ Request.

Reuters  (4/21, Shepardson) reports that Daimler AG announced Thursday that it has launched an internal investigation of its US diesel exhaust emissions certification process at the request of the Department of Justice. The company said in a statement that it “is cooperating fully with the authorities” and will “investigate possible indications of irregularities and of course take all necessary actions.” The DOJ request comes after US Mercedes owners filed a class action suit alleging that the company’s BlueTEC diesel vehicles were likely equipped with cheat devices, which allow cars to pass dynamometer emissions tests but fail real world tests, like those installed by Volkswagen. BBC News (UK)  (4/22) adds that Daimler, which is scheduled to report its first quarter results on Friday, denied that the DOJ investigation is related to the suit. Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors this week “admitted rigging data on some of its models’ fuel efficiency.”

The AP  (4/21), the Financial Times  (4/21, Campbell, Subscription Publication), USA Today  (4/21), and the Wall Street Journal  (4/21, Stoll, Armental, Subscription Publication) offer similar coverage.

Small Modular Reactors Proposed As A Way To Save The Nuclear Industry.

The Economist  (4/21, Sheffield) reports on why some of the world’s largest engineering firms are supporting “what some say is the next big thing in civil nuclear power—Small Modular Reactors, or SMRs.” The reactors are viewed as “one solution for a nuclear industry bedevilled by massive cost overruns and technical snafus.” Proponents argue small reactors “can be built by the dozen in a factory…and then transported to sites and plugged in.” SMRs are expected to “produce revenues more quickly than big reactors.” However, many in the nuclear industry believe the excessive costs of developing and testing a prototype SMR would be too much, and “the licensing process alone, to ensure that this new technology is safe, would cost millions and take five years or so.”

Engineering and Public Policy

Senate Democrats Block Effort To Stop Clean Water Rule.

The AP  (4/21, Daly) reports Senate Democrats were again successful in blocking a Republican attempt to force the Administration “to withdraw a federal rule to protect small streams and wetlands from development and pollution.” The “latest effort by Republicans to check the water rule,” an amendment by Sen. John Hoeven, failed to get the 60 votes it needed.

NYTimes: Michigan Must Do More To Ensure Safety Of Flint’s Drinking Water.

The New York Times  (4/21, Subscription Publication) editorializes that recent criminal charges against government workers for their roles in the Flint water crisis represent a good start, but Michigan still has an obligation to get Flint residents clean and affordable drinking water. The Times says that residents must run newly treated waters for anti-corrosion chemicals to protect Flint’s pipes, but many residents “might not trust” Gov. Rick Snyder’s assurance that they will receive credits for doing so given that “they have not yet been reimbursed for the money they spent on contaminated water.” In addition, while Snyder says anyone can get free bottled water at local community centers, a recent lawsuit against the state quotes some residents as saying their requests for water delivery “had been ignored.”

Moniz Says Coal Will Continue To Play Part In US Energy Mix.

In an interview with the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader  (4/21, Estep), Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz discussed the future of coal in the United States. He “said the administration is committed to a future with less carbon going into the atmosphere,” but it doesn’t “advocate ending the use of coal for electricity production in the US.” Moniz stated, “Make no bones about it — we start with the assertion, the commitment, that we are talking about a progressively lower carbon future. … But we have not abandoned coal as part of that future.” In support of his position that the Obama Administration hasn’t abandoned coal, he “pointed to billions of dollars Obama has proposed for research on technology to remove carbon from power-plant emissions, called carbon capture and storage, or CCS.” If killing off coal was a goal of the Administration, Moniz said, “We wouldn’t have put $6 billion into CCS.” The Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader  (4/21) also provides some video of Moniz’s sit down with the paper’s editorial board. The “Capital Journal Daybreak” blog of the Wall Street Journal  (4/21) reported yesterday morning that Moniz was in Kentucky for a forum on energy innovation at the University of Kentucky.

Elementary/Secondary Education

White House Joins Push For Pre-K STEM Instruction.

USA Today  (4/21, Toppo) reports that the White House is leading a push – along with “a massive collection of public- and private-sector groups” – for teaching STEM subjects to pre-K students. The piece reports that the White House is hosting a forum on “early active STEM learning.” The piece quotes Deputy Assistant to the President for Education Roberto Rodríguez saying, “Our children are born explorers and natural scientists. As any of our parents and teachers know so well, our children are born curious.” Meanwhile, Deputy Assistant for Policy and Early Learning Libby Doggett “said the needs of the future workforce are fairly clear — and they’re driving the current push.” The piece quotes Doggett saying, “We know that most of the jobs of the future are going to involve heavy math and science and technology backgrounds. It cannot be a fad and it will not be a fad.”

Meanwhile, THE Journal  (4/21) reports the National Science Teachers Association launched its NTSA Initiative for Learners 0 to 5 at the White House event, explaining that the initiative is “intended to help preschool and elementary school teachers, parents and child care providers engage young learners and introduce them to STEM ideas at a very early age.”

Questions About Resurgence Of Career And Technical Education To Be Addressed At Summit.

Nomi Sofer writes in an Education Week  (4/21) blog post that “career and technical education appears to be enjoying a resurgence these days,” and some “proponents of deeper learning” may be concerned that this suggests “a return to tracking poor and minority students into non-academic programs.” However, it may “provide important new opportunities to promote deeper learning for all students.” Sofer writes that the upcoming Jobs for the Future summit “is an opportunity for a deeper discussion of these and other questions.”

Thursday’s Lead Stories

Senate Passes Broad Energy Infrastructure Modernization Bill.
Undersecretary Mitchell Grades Administration “Incomplete” On College Goals.
Virtual Reality Applications Can Potentially Help With Nuclear Fission Research.
Michigan Attorney General Announces First Criminal Charges Tied To Flint Water Crisis.
California STEM Students Take Part In Robotics Competition.

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