Higher Education Quick Takes
Local and national faculty groups on Friday blasted what they saw as a violation of academic freedom in the case of Kristofer Petersen-Overton, an adjunct instructor who was removed from teaching an upper-level master's course on the Middle East following criticism from a state politician -- though the college reiterated its prior statements that the two events were unrelated.
Calling the situation an "ugly byproduct of a labor system that undermines academic freedom for thousands of hard-working adjunct faculty," Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York, the faculty union at CUNY, said in a statement that the union will not tolerate what she called political meddling in academic decisions. The term "meddling" was a reference to complaints from New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind that the syllabus written by Petersen-Overton lacked balance in presenting a uniformly critical look at Israel in its dealings with the Palestinian territories.
The college continued to state that Petersen-Overton was removed from the course because, as a fourth-semester graduate student, he was not sufficiently qualified to teach the upper-level master's course, and that he was approved outside of normal hiring channels (the faculty of the political science department has come to Petersen-Overton's defense). Moreover, the college added that the review of Petersen-Overton's credentials began before administrators received Hikind's letter.
The union said that other doctoral students in the CUNY system regularly teach courses at similar levels. A college spokesman, Jeremy Thompson, said the administration was going to review its hiring practices to make sure that no longer happens.
Bowen added that the union would use "every tool" at its disposal to defend its members, whether they work full time or part time. Those tools include using political influence and, if necessary, legal action, a spokesman said.
CUNY's Professional Staff Congress is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the American Association of University Professors. The latter group also issued a statement defending Petersen-Overton, and added that it does not require courses to balance competing views. "Exposure to advocacy can be a beneficial component of an education, so long as students are not expected to agree with an instructor's point of view," said Cary Nelson, AAUP president, in a statement. Nelson added, speaking for himself, that Petersen-Overton's disputed unpublished essay "Inventing the Martyr," which discusses the role of sacrifice and martyrdom in the construction of Palestinian identity, is "a serious and informative work of scholarly analysis" that would provide insight to readers no matter what their stand on the Middle East might be.
Three postsecondary institutions affiliated with the Assemblies of God and located in Springfield, Mo., may merge, they announced on Friday. Announcements from the three colleges suggested that there may be economies of scale by joining forces, and enhancements of their missions, given their common religious faith. The institutions are the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Central Bible College and Evangel University.
The College Board is about to unveil the new Advanced Placement test in biology, part of an effort to revamp the popular program, but has been forced to delay the launch of a new test in American history, The New York Times reported. High school teachers complained that parts of the history course were too vague.
State police charged John K. Dunn, a professor of entrepreneurial management at the University of Rhode Island, with three felony counts of obtaining money under false pretenses in connection with an alleged mortgage fraud scheme, the Providence Journal reported. Dunn, who is also a lawyer, turned himself in after the warrant was issued for his arrest, the paper reported. He did not enter a plea and was released on $10,000 personal recognizance pending further court action, according to state police. Dunn is accused of obtaining hundreds of thousands of dollars under false pretenses to buy three different properties in Rhode Island.
Seven University of South Carolina swimmers had the same muscle disorder that led to the hospitalization of 13 University of Iowa football players last week, the Associated Press reported. A doctor involved in the South Carolina case revealed the similarities in the outbreaks, which have been linked to athletes who have pushed their bodies too hard. Both groups of athletes had rhabdomyolysis, in which muscle fibers are released into the bloodstream, creating the potential for kidney damage.
Hope College's board has adopted a new statement on sexuality that affirms the legitimacy of scholarly examination of sexuality, even if that examination does not adhere to the teachings of the Reformed Church in America, with which the college is affiliated. "Hope College promotes the indispensable value of intellectual freedom and recognizes that there are Christians who take scripture seriously and hold other views. Hope College affirms the scholarly examination and discussion of all issues surrounding human sexuality even if they differ from the institutional position," says the statement. The board studied the issue and released the statement amid criticism over the college's decision last year to block an appearance on campus by Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter for the film "Milk" and an advocate for gay rights.
While the new board statement affirms the right of professors to examine issues of sexuality, it is not clear that student groups could invite someone like Black to appear on campus. The board statement says: "Sexuality, including longing and expression, is a good gift from God and a fact of our existence affirmed in the Christian scriptures and by the Church throughout the centuries. This biblical witness calls us to a life of chastity among the unmarried and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.... Accordingly, Hope College will not recognize or support campus groups whose aim by statement, practice, or intimation is to promote a vision of human sexuality that is contrary to this understanding of biblical teaching."
More than 8,500 Change.org members have signed an online petition addressed to the chairman of the Washington Post Company, Donald Graham, calling for a freeze on all Kaplan University admissions until the online university changes how it attracts its students. Shannon Croteau, a mother of three and a former Kaplan student, led the petition drive along with a group of other former students. "They told me they were accredited the same as Ivy League schools were," Croteau said. "They lie and cheat. It has ruined me." The petition title says: "Tell Kaplan and The Washington Post to Stop Cashing In On Low-Income Students." The group is asking for Kaplan to "end unethical business practices," which it deems predatory. The petition also cites the GAO report that investigated 16 for-profit universities and is at the center of debate over whether to regulate the for-profit education sector, and calls for the Washington Post to stop denying "wrong-doing."
Ron Lori, Kaplan Higher Education senior vice president of communications, responded that Kaplan has forgiven Croteau's financial obligations to the university and invited her to return to complete her degree, but she declined. Lori added that he believes few of the Change.org petitioners are former Kaplan students.
This item has been updated to add Kaplan University's response.