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Quick Takes: Ex-Chancellor Admits Guilt, Attracting International Students, Lobbying on Creationist Degrees, Anger Over Harvard Sale of Property, Support for 'Proof of Concept' Centers, Move in Turkey to End Headscarf Ban

January 25, 2008
  • Roy Johnson, the former chancellor of Alabama's community college system, has agreed to plead guilty to 15 counts of bribery, conspiracy, witness tampering and obstruction by arranging jobs for his adult children in the college, and taking kickbacks from companies to help them obtain contracts at colleges, The Birmingham News reported. As part of the agreement, Johnson has agreed to cooperate with federal authorities in their investigation, which also apparently involves some Alabama legislators.
  • The United States needs "a comprehensive national policy for attracting international students" and a White House official in charge of coordinating that policy, according to "Secure Borders and Open Doors," a new federal report written by a panel of academic and business leaders. The report stresses the importance of foreign students to the American economic and education systems, and also urges reforms in the visa process so that delays are minimized.
  • The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has been the center of a controversy over whether to allow the Institute for Creation Research to set up operations in the state to offer online master's degrees in science education -- degrees that would be premised on the idea that evolution is not correct, and that a literal interpretation of the Bible can explain human development. The proposal is currently on hold while the institute prepares answers to questions from the board staff. But lobbying -- by scientists against the institute, and by others in its favor -- is going strong. The Dallas Morning News obtained some of the messages sent to the board and provides examples and summaries that illustrate just how intense the debate has become.
  • In an era when many academics lack tenure-track jobs or decent health insurance, it may be hard to get worked up over professors missing out on free summer vacation homes in Maine, but consider this controversy: The Boston Globe reported that Harvard University sold two summer homes in Maine that were donated to provide vacation spots for professors, who for years enjoyed renting the properties. Of course one reason they were happy to rent is that they didn't know a key fact -- revealed in a court filing in which Harvard asked for permission to sell: that one property was donated with the stipulation that professors and their families be allowed to use the house free of charge. Even charging rent and even with endowments for upkeep, Harvard said it couldn't afford upkeep on the properties.
  • A new approach to technology transfer -- "proof of concept centers" -- is having positive impact on the economy and helping professors get backing for their discoveries, according to a new report from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation and the Max Planck Institute of Economics. The centers, located at or near universities, provide money to support basic translation of an idea into a product, at which point those backing an idea can obtain support from others. The report is based on detailed analyses of such centers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California at San Diego. The foundation is now helping to create a network of such centers so they can share best practices and conduct research.
  • Turkey's government and a key opposition party have agreed to work together to lift a law banning the wearing of headscarves by women at the country's colleges and universities, BBC News reported. The law has been a regular source of conflict in higher education in Turkey, with secular forces saying it was needed to fight radical Islam and religious students saying it denied them the basic human rights of practicing their faith.
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