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In Maine, a totally green graduation

Lots of colleges are going green -- Dartmouth just hired its first sustainability director -- but College of the Atlantic, in Bar Harbor, Maine, is taking environmentalism to new heights this spring. The tiny ''alternative" college, with 280 students and one degree, in human ecology, plans to hold the nation's first waste-free graduation June 4. Family members will be picked up at hotels by electric buses; plates and cups will be made from compostable starch-based materials; and ceremony walkways, once marked with plastic rope, will be bordered by woven kiwi vine instead. Anything left over will become part of an art project created by students. The zero-waste zone will even include dorms as students move out for the summer: no dumpsters will be provided, and belongings that can't be donated or recycled must be carried off campus.

MINORITY REPORT This year's freshman class at the small, elite Amherst College has only about two dozen black students, 6 percent of the class and fewer than half as many as the year before. Amherst prides itself on its diversity, so officials were alarmed and decided to study what went wrong. Their conclusion? The culprit was ''monkey business" on the part of other top colleges, said Tom Parker, the dean of admissions and financial aid. Parker said schools that say they don't give merit scholarships and award financial aid only on the basis of need were quietly violating their policies by fiddling with their aid formulas. He said the schools, which he refused to name, were ignoring such factors as rental property income, or the salary of a non-custodial parent, even though that parent would be able to help pay for his or her child's education. ''Clearly, enrolling African-American students is a high priority for them, and they were willing to stretch the definition [of need-based financial aid] like I have never seen before," Parker said. Amherst refused to change its financial aid policies, so this year it has redoubled its efforts to identify low-income high school students and and fly minority students in for campus visits. The result? Among the 1,100 accepted students, 161 are black, 17 percent more than a year ago. Once the replies come in, they hope about 10 percent of next fall's incoming class will be African-American.

HARVARD REACHES OUT One of the worries that emerged in the wake of Harvard President Larry Summers's remarks that ''intrinsic aptitude" might explain why fewer women excel in science and math at elite universities was that his comments would dissuade female professors, graduate students, and undergraduates from coming to Harvard. And it's not just campus critics who feared such a thing -- Harvard's own admissions office and key women faculty wanted to make sure everything possible was done to counter that kind of reaction. Every student admitted to Harvard gets at least one phone call from a Harvard student to address their questions, but this year, Harvard also made sure that each young woman who expressed an interest in science, math, or engineering -- and there were more than 400 of them -- would get a call from a female undergrad who is majoring in one such field. ''I was concerned that there might be some questions about what was the condition of women in science here," said Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of admissions. As it turned out, the high school seniors didn't seem at all preoccupied by the controversy -- they rarely brought it up at all. ''We looked pretty carefully at the record of the conversations, and there was a lot of optimism," Lewis said. ''We were struck by the absence of particular concerns." Harvard doesn't know yet exactly how many of those students will say yes, but Lewis predicted: ''I think we'll be fine."

MEET MITT He may not have been convinced that UMass-Dartmouth could create a first-rate law school, but Governor Mitt Romney is feeling good about UMass-Boston's ability to attract some first-rate candidates for chancellor. After ''courtesy meetings" with the three finalists -- former Boston hospital chief Michael Collins, University of Michigan general counsel Marvin Krislov, and UMass interim chancellor Keith Motley -- Romney thinks all three seem qualified, according to a spokesman, Eric Fehrnstrom. The meetings weren't job interviews, said Fehrnstrom, but a chance for Romney to share his vision for UMass and ''emphasize the importance he places on public higher education." Given recent power struggles between the university and the governor, who lobbied against the ill-fated law school plan at the 11th hour, one might expect UMass to be sensitive to meddling. But trustees chairman Jim Karam, who said he was also impressed by all three finalists, had no complaints last week. ''If people perceive that he's going to pick the chancellor, I would concur that's a problem, but the governor is much smarter than that, and more committed to the university than people realize," he said.

GOOD FOR BUSINESS Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government recently announced one of the biggest gifts in its history, $15 million from Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani and her husband, Bijan, a Kennedy School alum. Their gift will endow the Center for Business and Government, which will be named for them. Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani is chairman of Mondoil Enterprises, an oil and gas company, and Sharmin Mossavar-Rahmani is a managing director at Goldman Sachs. Meanwhile, Tufts last week celebrated the renaming of its veterinary school -- now the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University -- after the foundation headed by real estate mogul Bill Cummings, which gave the school $50 million last year.

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