Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

July 9, 2018

A professor of political science at St. Cloud State University sued the institution and its faculty union Friday, arguing that forcing her to pay union fees violates her First Amendment rights in light of a recent decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Star Tribune reported. The professor, Kathleen Uradnik, is a not a member of the union but pays it fees and agrees to its exclusive representation as terms of her employment on campus.

Uradnik is seeking a court order declaring that forcing her to submit to exclusive representation by the union violates her rights, as well as a judgment against discrimination toward nonunion instructors. The recent Supreme Court decision on unions, Janus v. AFSCME Council 31, held that public employees do not have to pay unions agency fees if they don’t want to. But it did not go so far as to call into question a federal law on exclusive representation. Uradnik’s case argues that union membership is essential to advancement and taking part in meaningful shared governance on her campus, and that it no longer should be. A university spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment.

July 9, 2018

The University of Cambridge, in Britain, is being criticized for hiring Aron Wall, currently a postdoc at Stanford University's Institute for Theoretical Physics, for a position teaching mathematics, starting in January, The Cambridge News reported. Critics say that gay students could not feel comfortable that they would be treated fairly by Wall. The students point to a blog post by Wall, denouncing the idea of allowing nonstraight couples to marry. In the post, he commented on the "notoriously promiscuous, reckless, and obscene lifestyle characteristic of the cultural venues of the gay community."

Wall referred questions on the matter to Cambridge, which released this statement on his behalf: “As a lecturer I take my responsibility to share knowledge, encourage innovation and challenge, and foster new learning very seriously. I know well that this can only happen in an environment where people show one another mutual respect and can work and study without fear of discrimination. I am privileged to join such a community and have never, nor will I ever in future, allow my personal views to adversely affect my working or teaching interactions. I am committed to upholding a culture where all members are valued and views respected.”

The university also released its own statement, which said, “While we do not comment on individual employment issues, all employees are subject to University policies and procedures from their first day in post, and are expected to uphold our values. These include showing mutual respect and consideration to all other members of our community.”

July 9, 2018

A new search engine that aims to connect nonacademics with open-access research will be launched this fall.

Get the Research will connect the public with 20 million open-access scholarly articles. The site will be built by Impactstory -- the nonprofit behind browser extension tool Unpaywall -- in conjunction with the Internet Archive and the British Library.

Funded by a $850,000 grant from Arcadia, the search engine will be a place where “we can tell lay readers, ‘here’s where you can read free, trustworthy research about anything,’” said Jason Priem, Impactstory's co-founder. He added that artificial intelligence techniques will be used to annotate and summarize materials, making them easier to understand.

July 9, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Lisa Fazio, assistant professor of psychology and human development at Vanderbilt University, discusses how our fact-checking may not be as good as we think. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

July 6, 2018

Fifteen dollars per hour is the new target minimum wage among many labor activists, and North Carolina just became the first state to introduce a $15 minimum wage for state workers. But shouldn’t Ph.D.s earn more than that? That’s what many on Twitter said this week, not so politely, after the Social Science Research Network posted an ad for a part-time, work-from-home job reviewing and classifying article abstracts for online journals about transportation. Qualifications include experience in transportation, with a Ph.D. “strongly preferred.” Compensation is $15 per hour.

In response to online criticism about how a doctorate is worth more than the target minimum wage, SSRN tweeted, “This role is part time and extremely flexible for early/late career researchers already reading SSRN content in their homes or anywhere else in the world. Plus it includes significant other benefits.” That response didn’t quite cut it for some, who continued to criticize SSRN, while others commented on what they described as the sad state of academic labor.

July 6, 2018

Donald J. Farish (right), president of Roger Williams University, died Thursday at age 75 after what a university statement described as "a sudden and serious illness." Farish had been president since 2011 and planned to retire in June 2019. At Roger Williams he was known for pushing issues related to college affordability and equity. Students and recent alumni posted remembrances to Facebook, praising Farish for reaching out to students. While president, he wrote two essays for Inside Higher Ed, on when and how campus leaders should speak out during the Trump administration, and on how Jeff Bezos might make a difference with his philanthropy.

July 6, 2018

Assertions that the U.S. Department of Education missed a deadline to delay state authorization rules are incorrect, a department spokeswoman said Thursday.

In a statement, the department said it “did not miss the July 1 deadline for this delay.”

A notice confirming the two-year delay in putting the new rule in place “was on public inspection Friday (6/29),” the department said. Though the document was “published on paper July 3, the effective date was still Friday (6/29).”

"It's good they finally provided an answer, it just might not be the right one," said Jared Bass, senior counsel for education and strategy at New America's education policy program. "Public inspection is not the same as publication, and it's publication in the Federal Register that makes a rule enforceable," he said. "From start to finish, this deregulatory effort has been riddled with irregularities and missteps, now even after the rule's delay."

Russell Poulin, director of policy and analysis for the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, said that he would “leave it to others to determine the intricacies of the Administrative Procedures Act and related laws.”

“If the department’s leadership wishes to delay this regulation, they will find a way to do so,” said Poulin. “Meanwhile it is important for institutional personnel to understand that there are a host of related federal and state regulations that are in no way affected by this delay. They need to stay in compliance and, if they are at a SARA institution, they need to uphold the tenets of that agreement.”

July 6, 2018

Utah State University has settled with a former student who was raped on campus for a quarter of a million dollars and agreed to a number of changes to its sexual assault policies.

Victoria Hewlett, the survivor, sued the university alleging that the institution bungled her case, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Hewlett will join a team of other victims, experts and advocates to advise the university on issues of sexual misconduct, according to the newspaper.

Hewlett alleged in her lawsuit that her rapist, Jason Relopez, a former member of the campus chapter of Sigma Chi fraternity, had assaulted five other women on campus but that the institution failed to act despite the attacks being reported.

Eventually he was suspended from the university after he was arrested and pleaded guilty to rape and forcible sexual abuse.

The settlement effectively ends Hewlett’s lawsuit against the university and includes a requirement that sororities and fraternities, which were separate entities from the institution, apply for official affiliation. A full-time coordinator will be hired to oversee the Greek system.

July 6, 2018

The Institute of Museum and Library Services has highlighted the pressing need for greater diversity among library and information science graduates.

In a recently published report, "Positioning Library and Information Science Graduate Programs for 21st Century Practice," IMLS said the LIS student body is failing to reflect the increasing diversity of the American public.

Better branding of librarianship will be essential to “recruit new voices” to the field, the authors of the report concluded. They noted that antiquated images of librarians “shushing patrons” or “working alone all day in a corner cubicle” have “remained static in popular culture.”

The report called for ideas for how the Laura Bush 21st Century Librarian Program, which has supported diversification of the field through scholarships, fellowships and grants, could have a greater impact.

“What’s the next phase that pulls the profession forward?” the report asked.

July 6, 2018

A Virginia circuit court on Thursday ruled against a George Mason University student group seeking access to donor agreements between a university foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation. The student group, Transparent GMU, argued that agreements between the private GMU Foundation and donors should be subject to the same open-records laws as the public university itself, since it is working for George Mason’s benefit.

Judge John M. Tran wrote in his decision on behalf of the court that the GMU Foundation does not meet the legal definition of a public body, in that it is not an entity wholly or principally supported by public funds, or an entity created to perform a government function or advise the public. To treat the fund-raising foundation as a public entity requires an examination and reformulation of public policy, and that is the purview of lawmakers, not the courts, he said.

The university was previously dismissed from the lawsuit. Gus Thomson, a Transparent GMU spokesperson, expressed disappointment in the decision in a statement, saying, “We believe the public has a right to know the details of our university’s operations, including its relationship with private donors.”

The university in April released other gift agreements from 2003 to 2011 between the Koch Foundation and the campus’s Mercatus Center that, in the words of current George Mason president Angel Cabrera, “raise questions concerning donor influence in academic matters.” Transparent GMU cited those agreements in its statement, saying it plans to appeal the decision to Virginia Supreme Court.

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