Higher Education Quick Takes
Brandeis University announced Tuesday that it will not award an honorary doctorate it had planned to issue to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has been hailed by some for defending women's rights in Muslim societies but who has been criticized by many for statements that Islam is an inherently violent religion. Muslim students at Brandeis have objected to the planned honor, and thousands have signed an online petition objecting to the degree.
The university issued this statement on Tuesday: "Following a discussion today between President Frederick Lawrence and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Ms. Hirsi Ali’s name has been withdrawn as an honorary degree recipient at this year's commencement. She is a compelling public figure and advocate for women’s rights, and we respect and appreciate her work to protect and defend the rights of women and girls throughout the world. That said, we cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University's core values. For all concerned, we regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier. Commencement is about celebrating and honoring our extraordinary students and their accomplishments, and we are committed to providing an atmosphere that allows our community's focus to be squarely on our students. In the spirit of free expression that has defined Brandeis University throughout its history, Ms. Hirsi Ali is welcome to join us on campus in the future to engage in a dialogue about these important issues."
Ali has not responded publicly to the decision by Brandeis.
Bruce Leslie, chancellor of the Alamo Colleges, has called off plans to replace a humanities core curriculum course with a new course based on the book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Many faculty members have objected to the chancellor's plan to add the course. The San Antonio Express-News reported that Leslie notified faculty members in the community college system of his decision Tuesday. "The controversy and divisiveness surrounding this issue have simply outweighed the necessity to push ahead at this time," he said.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Tuesday defended the Obama administration’s proposed college ratings system to several Republican lawmakers, who criticized the plan. Testifying before the House appropriations subcommittee that oversees the department’s budget, Duncan said that the college ratings system was needed to provide students with better information and to provide more accountability for taxpayer money. The department’s 2015 fiscal year budget request seeks $10 million to help develop the ratings system.
“I question whether this is the best use of taxpayer dollars and whether higher education resources could be better-focused on federal student aid or other established programs,” said Representative Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee, a Republican.
Representative David Joyce, an Ohio Republican, cited a December poll that found a majority of college presidents doubted the administration’s proposal would be effective in making college more affordable.
Duncan reiterated that the administration’s goal in creating a ratings system is to make sure that federal student aid money is well-spent. “Taxpayers spend 150 billion each year in grants and loans,” he said. “Virtually all of that is based on inputs. Almost none of that is based on outcomes.” Department officials have previously said they plan to produce a draft outline of the ratings system by the end of this spring.
Separately, Duncan also sidestepped a question about whether college athletes should have the right to unionize. Echoing the remarks he made in an interview last month prior to a preliminary ruling in favor of Northwestern football players, Duncan said Tuesday he was concerned that athletic coaches’ salaries do not provide the proper incentives for academic performance.
South Carolina officials have determined that South Carolina State University diverted $6.5 million in funds intended for low-income families to deal with cash flow issues, The State reported. A state report characterized the shift in funds not as fraud but as "a pattern of mismanagement." The university issued a statement asserting that it had changed its policies so this diversion of funds would not continue.
A day after the American Association of Community Colleges said it would not have anything to say about hiring a Bill Clinton impersonator to appear at the annual meeting, the association is apologizing and blaming the comedian.
The performance stunned and angered many attendees, many of whom walked out of the event. Many considered the jokes sexist, vulgar and inappropriate for a gathering of community college leaders.
Late Monday, the AACC sent this message to attendeeds: "Politicos Brigade comedian Tim Watters, a well-known Bill Clinton impersonator, performed in the final minutes of the opening session of the 94th Annual Convention. Mr. Watters has been on 'The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,' HBO's 'Real Time with Bill Maher,' and Comedy Central’s 'Win Ben Stein’s Money,' among other shows. The addition of a comedian was intended to entertain our attendees. Unfortunately, the comedian’s humor was not appropriate and it was not successful. AACC vetted the content planned for the performance, but unfortunately the comedian changed this original content without AACC's knowledge. AACC would never purposely offend any member of our association and the comedian in no way reflects the sentiment of the association's leadership."
Dustin Gold, who runs Politicos Brigade, disputed the AACC statement. He said that 10 jokes were provided to the AACC in advance, and that the AACC vetoed only two jokes and that those jokes were not used. He also said that AACC had the right to ask for the entire script in advance and didn't do so. In an email, Gold said: "Tim has been doing this for over 20 years, and has performed for countless Fortune 500s at thousands of events, and has run into several situations where the wrong type of entertainment was chosen for the attending crowd. As we all know, politics is a touchy subject and some audiences are just not the right fit for this type of entertainment. We apologize if anyone was offended, but I am confident that Tim provided the services he was hired to provide."
AACC did not respond to a request for comment on Gold's email.
Frances Chan, a junior at Yale University, says that she was ordered by health officials to gain weight or to risk being asked to leave, The New Haven Register reported. Chan is 5'2" and weighs 92 pounds. She says that Yale officials feared she had an eating disorder when she really just has always been thin. She ate junk food and ice cream to try to gain weight, but with little success. Yale officials said that they could not discuss her case because of federal privacy requirements.
The Project on Fair Representation, the legal team that has brought many legal challenges to the consideration of race, is looking for new plaintiffs. On Monday, the project announced that it has created three websites to invite people to indicate that they feel they have been the victims of discrimination in admissions. The sites seek plaintiffs against Harvard University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Officials with the project have in the past said that affirmative action hurts Asian applicants, an argument that appears related to the photos on the home page of each website.