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Harvard taps Web for social study

Thefacebook.com is an incredibly popular diversion at Harvard and countless other schools, where students use it to contact classmates, look up crushes, and generally procrastinate. Who knew it could also be a tool for serious research? Harvard economics professor Markus Mobius and Paul Niehaus, a doctoral student, are using Thefacebook to study how friendships affect students' behavior. More than 40 percent of Harvard upperclassmen have signed up to play an e-mail game the researchers created to yield information about students' social networks. (They also have a shot at $10,000 in prizes the researchers are offering, from yoga classes to tickets to Paris.) Mobius and Niehaus say the Internet dynamics of Thefacebook offer a new and more effective way to track social networks; with the data, they plan to explore interesting but otherwise elusive questions, such as how your freshman roommates can shape the rest of your life in college.

ORANGE ALERT! A few years ago, college students would have stared blankly at a major called ''homeland security." But in a sign of the times, two schools have announced plans for new academic programs ripped from the headlines. Massachusetts Maritime Academy is poised to unveil the region's first bachelor's degree program in emergency management and homeland security; if the state Board of Higher Education approves it this spring, the major will start up with about 50 freshmen next fall, MMA officials said. Meanwhile, Boston University's Metropolitan College is adding a 16-credit online certificate program in emergency management that will train students to keep workplaces running in times of disaster. Down in Connecticut, a two-year-old national security master's program has been a winner for the University of New Haven.

EVER GREEN: Dartmouth College is still reeling from alumni angry that the dean of admissions, Karl Furstenberg, wrote a private letter to the president of another college, saying: ''Sadly football, and the culture that surrounds it, is antithetical to the academic mission of colleges such as ours." But Dartmouth administrators under fire can take comfort in this: The management consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton recently named Dartmouth one of ''the world's most enduring institutions," specifically for its ability to weather crises. ''Dartmouth has had to fight for survival from its earliest days, time and again emerging a stronger, more viable institution, whether facing a legal threat to the college charter, or an internal threat from misguided leadership," the company said. Booz Allen said it relied on ''distinguished scholars" to identify its 10 enduring institutions, which range from the American Constitution to General Electric to the Rolling Stones. Dartmouth was not the only academic winner: Oxford got the nod because it ''exudes legitimacy."

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