Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 22, 2019

The University of Mississippi is seeking to move from the center of campus a Confederate statue that has been controversial for decades. Larry D. Sparks, the interim chancellor, sent an email to the campus in which he noted that the Associated Student Body, Graduate Student Council, Faculty Senate and Staff Council had all voted this year to urge the statue to be moved. Sparks indicated he agreed, and that the university would try to do so. He also indicated that various approvals still must be received. "The university has submitted a notice of intent to the Department of Archives and History. The process to secure the necessary approvals for this relocation will require some time," he wrote. "We will work diligently toward this goal by respecting and abiding by state rules, regulations and policies that govern the process of relocation, and by continuing to provide updates to the university community as the process moves forward."

March 22, 2019

Human Rights Watch on Thursday released a 12-point code of conduct to help colleges counter Chinese government efforts to undermine academic freedom abroad. The proposed code of conduct is based on interviews with more than 100 academics, graduate students and administrators at universities in Australia, Canada, France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Interviewees identified a range of concerns, including surveillance of students and academics from China by Chinese authorities and problems related to censorship and self-censorship.

Among the recommendations included in the code of conduct are that universities strengthen academic freedom on campus, in part by publicizing policies stipulating that classroom discussions should be kept to the confines of the campus and not be reported to foreign missions; that they develop mechanisms, such as an ombudsman, to which pressures or threats from the Chinese government in response to research or speech can be reported; and that they join with other universities in promoting research in China, “including by making public statements and complaints where appropriate, in the event of unwarranted visa denials or prolonged delays for research in China.”

The code also recommends that universities offer flexibility to students and scholars studying China to “ensure that a scholar’s career advancement or a student’s progress will not be compromised if their research has to change direction due to Chinese government restrictions on research or access to source material in China.”

Among other recommendations, Human Rights Watch suggests that universities require all campus organizations that receive funding from Chinese government-linked entities -- such as the Chinese Students and Scholars Association -- report this information. And it recommends that colleges ensure academic freedom in their Chinese exchange programs and branch campuses and that they refrain from hosting the controversial Confucius Institutes, Chinese-government funded centers that typically offer language classes and cultural programs.

March 22, 2019

California State University has settled a lawsuit with two Jewish students, agreeing to publish a statement that Zionism is an important part of Jewish identity.

Two San Francisco State University students, Liam Kern and Charles Volk, had sued the institution, alleging the university and its Board of Trustees discriminated against them.

They said that officials did not let the campus Hillel chapter participate in an event called “Know Your Rights,” designed to gather groups to talk about a hostile political climate.

San Francisco State must also hire a coordinator for Jewish student life and refer cases of religious discrimination to an outside investigator, according to the settlement agreement. It must also allocate $200,000 toward “educational outreach efforts to support education outreach efforts to promote viewpoint diversity.”

"California State University's public recognition that Zionism is an integral part of Jewish identity represents a major victory for Jewish students at SFSU and across the country. Today we have ensured that SFSU will put in place important protections for Jewish and Zionist students to prevent continued discrimination. We are confident that this will change the campus climate for the better," Brooke Goldstein, executive director of the Lawfare Project, said in a statement. "The Lawfare Project was proud to play a role in securing justice for Jewish and Zionist students at SFSU. We commend the student plaintiffs who showed the courage to stand up and advocate for their civil rights."

March 22, 2019

A letter published in Science Thursday from several groups of Chinese or Chinese American scientists registers concerns about what the writers describe as “the recent political rhetoric and policies that single out students and scholars of Chinese descent working in the United States as threats to U.S. national interests.”

The letter from the Society of Chinese Bioscientists in America, the Chinese American Hematologist and Oncologist Network, and the Chinese Biological Investigators Society argues that some recommendations of a working group recently convened by the National Institutes of Health on the topic of foreign influences on research integrity “could target collaborations if implemented with bias. For example, NIH recommends fostering 'trusted relationships' with foreign partners but does not specify whether the trust must be established through official channels. NIH also suggests more disclosure requirements for foreign collaborators than domestic colleagues, which could hinder collaborations.”

The letter also raises concerns about several high-profile cases in which Chinese American scientists were wrongfully accused of spying, and about new visa restrictions targeting Chinese scientists. “It is our sincere hope that these actions, which we believe amount to racial profiling, will stop immediately and that increased security measures are not used to tarnish law-abiding scientists and limit normal and productive scientific exchanges,” the letter states.

In a response letter, Francis S. Collins, the director of the NIH, and other top agency officials said the NIH “greatly values scientists of Chinese descent as members of the American biomedical research enterprise … The vast majority of Chinese scientists working in America are honorable, conscientious and dedicated to the cause of expanding knowledge for the betterment of humankind,” Collins wrote.

“Unfortunately, instances have recently come to light where certain scientists, including some with links to foreign institutions and/or governments, have violated the honor-based systems and practices of the American research enterprise,” Collins's letter continues. “Convened to address the issue, the NIH Advisory Committee to the Director working group carefully considered how to ensure fairness of the grant process and intellectual property principles, while seeking to minimize jeopardy to innocent foreign nationals and important international collaborations. The working group recommendations apply to all foreign scientists, not just those of Chinese descent.”

“We are determined to maintain the integrity of the NIH research enterprise, but we are also deeply concerned about the issues raised by these three societies. NIH is committed to avoiding overreaction, stigmatization, harassment and profiling. We will use our influence and bully pulpit as necessary to speak out against such prejudicial actions, for which there is no place in the biomedical research community.”

March 22, 2019

The University of Maryland Medical System placed CEO Robert A. Chrencik on leave Thursday amid allegations that the system's Board of Directors spent half a million dollars buying self-published children's books by another board member who has since resigned.

At an emergency meeting Thursday, the board voted to submit to an independent review of the system’s contracting practices after The Baltimore Sun reported that nine board members have business deals with the hospital network worth hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars apiece. Since the story ran, three board members, including Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh, have resigned. Four others have taken leaves of absence.

Pugh resigned from the board Monday after the Sun reported that she had sold 100,000 copies of her children’s book series to the medical system for $500,000. Baltimore school officials acknowledged that 8,700 copies of the books are sitting unread in a warehouse.

The announcement of Chrencik’s leave followed a closed-door meeting Wednesday in Annapolis, during which Maryland Senate president Thomas V. Miller said he and Governor Larry Hogan repeatedly pressed Chrencik over who authorized the $500,000 deal for Pugh’s self-published books. Miller said Thursday that Chrencik would not give the men a straight answer, the Sun reported.

Pugh said she paid taxes on the book sales and called inquiries a "witch hunt."

Chrencik, who is paid more than $4.2 million a year, will take a leave of absence beginning Monday. He will continue to be paid while on leave, a spokesman said. John Ashworth, a senior vice president, will act as interim CEO.

March 22, 2019

Today on the Academic Minute, part of USC Dornsife Week, Irene Chiolo, assistant professor of biological sciences at the University of Southern California, explores the first responders for damaged cells in your body. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 21, 2019

South Dakota governor Kristi Noem, a Republican, has signed into law a bill requiring each public university to report annually on steps taken to promote intellectual diversity and the free exchange of ideas, The Argus Leader reported. The bill also orders the public universities to protect free speech, including speech that may be “offensive, unwise, immoral, indecent, disagreeable, conservative, liberal, traditional, radical or wrongheaded.”

The bill had been stalled but was revived amid a debate over a "Hawaiian Day" party planned by law students at the University of South Dakota, an event whose name was changed to "Beach Day" after an administrator told them that their original theme may have violated university rules about inclusiveness.

March 21, 2019

The Saudi Arabian government keeps close watch over students from the kingdom while they’re studying in the U.S., according to a report from PBS NewsHour. Intelligence experts and eight former and current Saudi students interviewed by NewsHour said the penalties for students who criticize the kingdom while overseas can include passport freezes, death threats, intimidation, retraction of government scholarships and efforts to lure them back to Saudi Arabia. The Saudi government denies that it is involved with surveilling students or trying to lure them back to the kingdom.

March 21, 2019

A group of more than 600 gym teachers in Quebec is concerned about an online physical education program that is being offered by nine technical colleges, the CBC reported. The gym teachers object to the fact that no face-to-face meetings with advisers are required and say the online format undercuts the purpose of gym classes.

"One of the things you do in physical education classes is develop social connections," Jérôme Leriche, a professor of education and sports at the Université de Sherbrooke, said to Radio-Canada.

Five students have enrolled in the online physical education program, which is being overseen by CEGEP de l'Abitibi-Témiscamingue, a college located about 300 miles northwest of Montreal. Eric Aubin, the college's director of studies, said the program was designed in consultation with physical education teachers. Aubin said the classes are intended to respond to demand from students who were having difficulty completing their required classes.

March 21, 2019

The Australian government has unveiled incentives to encourage students to study at universities in regional areas outside the major cities. The government has announced up to 4,720 scholarships over four years worth up to 15,000 Australian dollars ($10,690) per year to attract both domestic and international students to study in regional Australia. It also will give international students who study at regional universities an additional year to work in Australia on a poststudy work visa.

The executive director of Universities Australia, Catriona Jackson, said the incentives could add to the appeal of studying at regional campuses. But she added that universities will be looking at the details of how the program is funded.

“Money to support regional campuses is welcome, but we also need to ensure it doesn’t come at the expense of other vital programs across the sector,” she said in a statement.

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