Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 18, 2018

Over 30 academics and professionals from universities around the world are calling on the University of Northern Iowa to cancel a two-day facilitated communication conference scheduled to take place next week. The conference will go ahead as planned despite the requests, The Gazette reports.

The critics of the conference -- from Harvard Medical School, Johns Hopkins University, the University of Melbourne, the University of London, Emory University and the University of Northern Iowa -- say that facilitated communication, a method of communication with nonverbal individuals by supporting their hands over a keyboard, is harmful and unethical. In their letter to UNI, they note that the practice was "thoroughly discredited over 25 years ago."

UNI did not respond to the letter except to say that it was received.

June 18, 2018

The Department of Homeland Security is investigating an alleged identity-theft ring that granted Chinese students admission into California universities, NBC San Diego reports.

According to a search warrant obtained by NBC, a Chinese national living in Rancho Penasquitos was paid as much as $25,000 to have an impostor take the necessary entrance exams and fill out college applications using false Chinese passports. The man used the company names Mayen International and Mayen Global Services to enroll students at the University of California campuses at Irvine, Los Angeles and Riverside.

Once enrolled, the students were able to transfer to other schools participating in the Students and Exchange Visitor program and allowed to stay in the country as long as they kept their grades up and stayed in school. It is unknown how many students were admitted through the business or how much money the man made.

June 18, 2018

The University of Michigan blasted a Justice Department-backed free speech lawsuit against it Friday, calling it “a false caricature” of the institution’s rules on free expression.

Last month, a new watchdog group, Speech First, sued the university, alleging its policy definitions on “harassment” and “bias” were overly broad, unconstitutional and would chill free speech. The organization also criticized and called for the disbandment of the university’s Bias Response Team, a common tool at colleges and universities for helping handle incidents on campus that could be racist, sexist or otherwise prejudicial.

The Trump administration latched on to the lawsuit earlier this month, filing a “statement of interest” in federal court. The Justice Department agreed that the university’s policies could likely limit campus free speech. The department has also supported lawsuits that challenge “free speech zones” on college campuses, which generally are areas of campus where students are confined to protest or pass out literature.

Right after the Michigan lawsuit was filed, the university changed its definitions of “bullying” and “harassment,” which it said it had already intended to do.

But it defended the Bias Response Team in a court brief filed Friday, saying that the lawsuit mischaracterized its purpose. The team doesn’t have the authority to discipline students, nor investigate incidents on campus; it merely “provides support” to students when they want it, the university said. Never before have students been punished for bullying or harassment just for expressing their point of view, it said.

Speech First is representing three anonymous students who allege they have been shut down when they tried to discuss conservative views on controversial topics such as gun rights, immigration and abortion.

“There is no reason why those students or any others should not feel free to engage in such debate,” the university said in a statement. “The university’s policies explicitly guarantee them that freedom and do not threaten disciplinary action against any student for expressing any view, no matter how unpopular or controversial.”

The university noted in its court filings Friday that certain conservative-leaning groups on campus that espouse such views are affiliated with the institution and take advantage of university buildings for events. They have hosted conservative speakers, too, such as hot-button author Charles Murray and former Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos.

“The actual intellectual life on campus includes student groups, student publications and outside speakers who are comfortable advocating and debating strongly held and sometimes controversial views across the full ideological spectrum,” the university wrote in its court filing.

June 18, 2018

The University of Delaware Press and the University of Virginia Press have announced a collaboration. The Delaware press will maintain editorial offices and its editorial board, at the university. But the Virginia press will provide manuscript editorial, design and production services. Virginia will also promote the Delaware press books alongside its own.

June 18, 2018

The American Catholic Philosophical Association this month released a statement on the “integral place of philosophy in Catholic higher education.” It did so partly in response to threats to the future of philosophy programs nationwide and at Catholic institutions in particular. The statement says that “defenders of philosophy typically emphasize the practical relevance of the skills inculcated through philosophical study.” And while philosophy develops skills such as critical thinking, logical analysis, careful reading, problem solving, qualitative reasoning, consideration of alternative opinions and ethical reflection, it says, “philosophy provides much more. It cultivates the mind’s native capacity to understand the world and to approach life’s important questions with humility, courage and balance.”

In addition, “philosophy clarifies and defends the central terms of rational discourse: truth and falsity, virtue and vice, freedom and responsibility,” the association says. “Without this clarity, human discourse gets muddled and succumbs to the rhetorical sway of the most accomplished speaker. With this clarity, speech becomes conversation, and our life together is enhanced.”

The university is “premised on the idea that truth is one,” the statement reads, and the “various disciplines cohere to form an intelligible whole.” Catholic universities, meanwhile, “are premised on the idea that the ultimate source of this unity is God, who is knowable not only by faith but also by reason.” So “the university in general and the Catholic university in particular call upon philosophy as a central source of integration.” Moreover, it says, “Philosophy is the custodian of the interdisciplinary conversation that is open to participants of every background and creed. It is therefore central to the conversation that constitutes a university.”

Writing about the statement for his philosophy blog, Daily Nous, Justin Weinberg, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, highlighted the association’s recommendations for what a philosophy requirement for all undergraduates at a Catholic institution should look like, including classes for each of the four years, a sequence of four or more courses to develop higher-level philosophical thinking and upper-level courses that may pair with majors, such as philosophy of language for English majors or philosophy of science for science majors.

“While directed at administrators and faculty at Catholic institutions of higher education, and written (reasonably, given its aims) with some language and presuppositions non-Catholic philosophers might bristle at, the document contains a number of points that may be worth drawing attention to not just when one’s department or curriculum is in jeopardy, but proactively, to forestall such attacks,” Weinberg said.

June 18, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Louise Kelly, professor of management at the University of La Verne, details the ways focusing on the present moment can help keep things in perspective. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 15, 2018

Dartmouth College president Phil Hanlon announced Thursday that Todd F. Heatherton, one of three professors of psychological and brain sciences accused of sexual misconduct, will retire. That’s following an investigation that resulted in his dean’s recommendation that he be terminated. Dartmouth has not entered into separation or nondisclosure agreements with Heatherton or offered him a severance payment, Hanlon said, adding that Heatherton “will continue to be prohibited from entering campus property or from attending any Dartmouth-sponsored events, no matter where they are held.”

Heatherton, who is alleged to have groped several women, has been on sabbatical. His accused colleagues, William Kelley and Paul Whalen, remain on paid leave with restricted access to campus. Disciplinary recommendations in those cases are now under review by Dartmouth’s Council on Academic Freedom and Responsibility. Heatherton said in a statement that he retired, effective immediately, “because I thought it best for my family, the institution, and the graduate students involved. I acknowledge that I acted unprofessionally in public at conferences while intoxicated. I offer a humble and sincere apology to anyone affected by my actions.”

June 15, 2018

A new report from Pearson, the education technology company, and Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit group, argues that postsecondary education is on the cusp of a third wave of reform.

Previous reform movements focused on access (getting more students into higher education) and success (encouraging more students to get to graduation). The new report, which was based on federal data and interviews with experts, said the next wave of reform will be about ensuring more graduates and program completers are job ready and have access to rewarding careers.

"Demand-driven education adapts to the needs of the learner and the employer. It responds to signals from society to ensure alignment between desired qualifications and available training," according to the report. "This wave represents the convergence of the worlds of education and work, creating new intersections, pathways and possibilities for advancement."

June 15, 2018

California's move toward performance funding for its community colleges could work without harming colleges that enroll large numbers of underserved student groups, according to a new report published Thursday by the Century Foundation, but only if the formula adequately takes into account the socioeconomic profile of students at individual colleges (as well as metrics such as graduation rates and degree production).

“If the main goal of the higher education system is to increase productivity, with particular attention to increasing student achievement among vulnerable or disadvantaged populations, funding formulas should be designed so that institutions compete against their own past performance rather than against other institutions or sectors,” said the report's co-authors, Tatiana Melguizo, associate professor at the University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education and researcher at the Pullias Center, and Keith Witham, deputy director of the College Excellence Program at the Aspen Institute.

The report looks at four possible approaches to performance funding in California, with varying levels of state support tied to performance metrics and to measures of equity, such as money based on numbers of disadvantaged students colleges enroll.

California's top Democrats last week agreed to a final version of the proposed funding formula. It would tie 60 percent of the state's funding for 113 community colleges to enrollment, 20 percent to student success metrics and 20 percent to equity measures.

June 15, 2018

Roger Lindmark is suing his alma mater, Saint John's University of Minnesota, to get back a $300,000 donation he made, saying that the university isn't living up to conditions on the gift, Minnesota Public Radio reported. The funds were given, Lindmark says, to support research and writing by students on issues related to business ethics. But Lindmark said some papers, such as a recent one on soil conservation, were not close enough to the topic he designated. The university says that the gift may not be revoked and is fighting the lawsuit in court.

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