Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, on Wednesday issued a statement condemning efforts by a group of professors and others to organize an academic boycott of Israel. Weingarten noted in her statement that the AFT in 2002 came out against a push by British faculty members to boycott Israeli academe. "We believe academic boycotts were a bad idea in 2002 and are a bad idea now. Academic boycotts are inconsistent with the democratic values of academic freedom and free expression," the statement said. Weingarten added: "We want to make clear that this position does not in any way discourage an open discussion and debate of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or of ways to resolve it. However, we expect that such a discussion would not be one-sided and would consider the behavior of all the relevant actors. An academic boycott of Israel, or of any country, for that matter, would effectively suppress free speech without helping to resolve the conflict. An academic boycott is the complete antithesis of academic freedom; therefore, it should not be supported by any individual or institution that subscribes to this basic principle of higher education and, indeed, of democratic discourse."
Higher Education Quick Takes
Add another item to the list of ways in which American higher education is the model for the rest of the world: the salaries of British university leaders is rising sharply, to the dismay of student and faculty groups, The Guardian reported. The average pay of vice chancellors (the British equivalent of president) rose to £194,000, nearly equaling that of the prime minister, and Times Higher Education's annual salary survey found that four university leaders earned more than £300,000. The news -- coming days after university leaders in Britain reported that they might have to double tuition fees -- set off a furor.
British universities are divided over whether to embrace the use of a new top grade -- A* -- on students' "A level" exams exiting high school, the Telegraph reports. The University of Cambridge said this week that it would begin considering the new grade because its admissions officials found themselves rejecting too many students who had earned straight A's on their comprehensive exams. But Oxford University and other institutions fear that the change would lead to huge increases in admission for students from the more elite independent and grammar schools, and hurt the prospects of pupils from state comprehensive schools.
A coalition of scholarly and civil liberties groups plan to urge President Obama today to abandon the Bush administration's approach of blocking the visas of foreign scholars and writers who hold controversial views, The New York Times reported. The Times said that the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of University Professors, the PEN American Center and other groups will send a letter to the new administration today saying that the policy of excluding scholars like Tariq Ramadan “compromises the vitality of academic and political debate in the United States at a time when that debate is exceptionally important." The Bush administration blocked Ramadan's entry to the United States, where he was supposed to take a job at the University of Notre Dame, in 2004, saying he had contributed to a charity believed to have ties to terrorism, and the groups are pressing the Obama administration to take a stance in their lawsuit over his case, which is pending in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit next week.
The University of the South, known as Sewanee, on Monday announced that it will no longer require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores. Those who wish not to submit test scores will be required to instead provide a graded academic paper and to complete an interview. A statement from the university noted "ample evidence" that colleges don't need SAT or ACT scores to make sound decisions.
Community colleges are a low-cost and effective path to degrees and jobs for many people, especially full-time workers and first-generation Americans -- but bachelor's degree recipients who start out at the two-year institutions earn less than their counterparts who start at four-year institutions, a researcher at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis reports in an analysis released Tuesday. The study, "Community Colleges: A Route of Upward Economic Mobility," by Natalia Kolesnikova, an economist at the St. Louis Fed, will serve as the basis for a series of discussions in the Midwest about the role of community colleges.
It is one of the most visible images in Portland, Oregon: a neon sign over the Willamette River that shouts "Made in Oregon." But the sign, which some local residents compare to Seattle's Space Needle as a recognized landmark, may soon be changed to read "University of Oregon" if that institution has its way, and that has many in the city upset, the Associated Press reports. Because the university is a tenant in the urban development near the sign, it has the option to change the privately owned marker, the Daily Journal of Commerce reported, and its officials have indicated to the Historic Landmarks Commission that they wish to do so. City officials oppose the idea, as do many at Portland State University, who resent the idea that the university from Eugene will be raising its profile in their backyard.
At Brown University, the 10-member Commission on Memorials has recommended that the university commission a memorial recognizing a painful past -- the university's ties to slave trading. In 2006, Brown released a report on this subject, and the commission now aims to involve the broader public in a discussion of the institution's early history and its meaning. Other actions taken in response to the report include attempts to improve local public education through a new Urban Education Fellows Program, which forgives tuition for graduate students who serve in Providence-area schools for at least three years.
The number of undergraduate students majoring in computer science this year significantly increased for the first time since the dot-com boom, according to the new edition of an annual report by the Computing Research Association. Last year's report showed the apparent start of a recovery, but this year's data suggest a much stronger position for the discipline. Among the findings: Total enrollment by majors and pre-majors in computer science is up 6.2 percent per department over last year. If only majors are considered, the increase is 8.1 percent. This is the first time total enrollment has increased in six years. The average number of new students majoring in computer science per department is up 9.5 percent over last year. Total Ph.D. graduation production among departments in the survey grew to 1,877 -- a 5.7 percent increase over last year.
A year after Texas higher education officials declined to approve a proposed master's degree to be offered by the Institute for Creation Research, a state legislator has suggested a workaround: altering Texas law in a way that would exempt the institute from state regulation. The News-Journal of Longview reported Monday that State Rep. Leo Berman plans legislation that would excuse private, nonprofit educational institutions that forgo state funds from the rules of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. Many scientists had opposed the institute's plan to establish a master's degree in science education, approached from a creationist perspective.