Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 31, 2018

The University of Maryland at College Park has parted ways with head football coach DJ Durkin, a central figure in an athletics scandal that has roiled the state’s flagship institution.

As of Tuesday, Durkin was to remain at the university at the recommendation at the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents, along with athletics director Damon Evans. President Wallace D. Loh announced his retirement in June 2019, following the death of a football player last June and revelations that the football program was plagued with coaching abuse. Reportedly, Loh wanted to fire Durkin, but the regents informed him that they would simply fire Loh instead and replace him with someone who would keep Durkin.

A university spokeswoman on Wednesday evening confirmed Durkin’s departure.

Two separate investigations organized by the regents revealed that the university was at fault for the death of Jordan McNair, as well as the coaching abuse.

October 30, 2018

Signs saying "It's OK to be white" appeared at the University of Vermont and Champlain College this weekend, the Associated Press reported. Similar signs have appeared at other campuses, linked to white nationalist groups that seek to inflame racial tensions on campus. Authorities said they do not believe any students at the two colleges were involved in putting up the signs.

October 30, 2018

Professors are most likely to serve as mentors to undergraduate students, according to the results of a new survey, which found that 64 percent of recent graduates who reported having a mentor during college said their mentor was a professor. The next most common category was a college staff member.

The results are from the fourth annual version of the Strada-Gallup Alumni Survey, an iteration of the Gallup-Purdue Index that was rolled out in 2014. The nationally representative survey adds measures of life and job fulfillment to traditional metrics for assessing the value of a college education, such as job-placement rates and alumni salaries. (Gallup conducts some surveys for Inside Higher Ed, but this publication played no role in this survey.)

In this latest version, the survey found that recent graduates who were first-generation college students or members of minority groups were substantially less likely to identify a professor as their mentor.

"Prior research has suggested that mentees seek mentors with similar experiences and backgrounds, and that minority students often seek mentors of the same race/ethnicity and find information more helpful when their mentor is of the same race/ethnicity," the report said. "Unfortunately, minorities remain underrepresented in higher education."

Just 30 percent of respondents said the career advice they received from their college career services office was helpful or very helpful, the survey found, while 49 percent said the same of advice they received from faculty or staff members.

The survey also probed recent graduates about the academic challenge of college. Graduates who strongly agreed that they were challenged academically were 2.4 times more likely to say their education was worth the cost and 3.6 times more likely to say they were prepared for life outside of college.

October 30, 2018

China’s army has sponsored more than 2,500 military scientists and engineers to study abroad since 2007, according to a new report on Chinese military collaborations with foreign universities published by an Australian think tank titled "Picking Flowers, Making Honey."

The report from the Australian Strategic Policy Institutes says that visiting scientists from the People’s Liberation Army work in high-tech fields such as quantum physics, signal processing, cryptography, navigation technology and autonomous vehicles. Some travel abroad to complete their entire doctorates overseas, while others travel for shorter stints as visiting scholars. Many come from Chinese military academies.

The report finds that the number of peer-reviewed publications coauthored by PLA and overseas scholars has increased steadily since 2008. The top destination for Chinese military scientists going abroad appears to be the United States, followed by the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and Germany.

While it seems that the majority of visiting PLA scholars are open about their military affiliations, the report identifies two dozen cases of scientists traveling under cover.

The report includes recommendations for both universities and governments and argues that current policies do not adequately address issues raised by collaborations with the PLA.

“While foreign universities’ ties with the PLA have grown, it isn’t clear that universities have developed an understanding of the PLA and how their collaboration with it differs from familiar forms of scientific collaboration,” says the report, which was authored by Alex Joske. “To date, there’s been no significant public discussion on why universities should be directly contributing to the technology of a non-allied military. Importantly, there’s also little evidence that universities are making any meaningful distinction between collaboration with the Chinese military and the rest of their collaboration with China.”

October 30, 2018

An article in The New York Times details the downfall of Piero Anversa, who once worked at Harvard University's medical school and published what was seen as cutting-edge research on the heart. Harvard and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have now accused him of scientific misconduct and said that more than 30 of his research studies contain falsified data and should be retracted. Anversa denies wrongdoing and blames the problems in the paper on a rogue colleague.

October 30, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Ken Gobbo, professor of psychology at Landmark College, discusses the neurodiversity movement and how it can help find strengths where only weakness was seen before. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 29, 2018

Middle East studies scholars are objecting to a panel event the State University of New York is cosponsoring this Friday with Turkey’s Council of Higher Education, a supervisory body that goes by the Turkish acronym YÖK.

A letter from the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom argues that SUNY should not lend legitimacy to YÖK, which it says has been complicit in the dismissal of thousands of Turkish university personnel since a coup attempt in 2016. The Turkish government has justified the mass dismissals based on alleged connections to terrorist organizations, but human rights and academic freedom monitoring groups say the evidence of such ties is often unclear or undisclosed and that many higher education personnel are being persecuted for their political views.

“Given YÖK’s complicity in the purging of Turkish faculty and academic staff on purely political grounds, we do not believe that SUNY or any of its components should collaborate with it or treat it as a legitimate academic entity,” the letter sent to the SUNY system chancellor states.

The panel event scheduled for Friday bears the title “Searching for the Future, Preservation of the Academic Heritage in the Middle East” -- a title that the MESA letter describes as “the height of hypocrisy.” In a written response SUNY said it is “strongly considering the serious concerns raised by MESA.”

October 29, 2018

A research professor of fisheries at the University of Georgia is retiring as he is accused of profiting from the sale of caviar harvested from campus-owned sturgeon, the Athens Banner-Herald reported. The university reportedly sells caviar from its Siberian sturgeon, and the professor, Douglas Peterson, allegedly added a consulting fee to each sale. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating Peterson, also says that he used a university boat at the Florida vacation home he shared with his wife, another Georgia professor.

Peterson said that the situation was a misunderstanding that he’d already resolved with the university, and that he always believed what he did was “acceptable,” since Georgia received a fair price for the caviar, according to the Banner-Herald. Court documents show that Peterson had previously been warned by the university that a profit-sharing agreement was not acceptable, since Georgia assumed all overhead costs for its sustainable caviar production model and Peterson had been a salaried employee since the project’s inception. No arrests have been made.

October 29, 2018

Word leaked a week ago that the Trump administration is considering a plan to remove the legal status of transgender people, effectively eliminating federal protection for people based on their gender identities. College policies on transgender students and employees vary widely, but several presidents of institutions that have pledged in the past to ban discrimination against transgender people have in the last week affirmed those commitments.

Among those issuing statement have been Eric Barron, president of Pennsylvania State University; Philip DiStefano, chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder; Miriam E. Nelson, president of Hampshire College; and Michael S. Roth, president of Wesleyan University. Wrote Roth: "At Wesleyan we will fight back against any attempt to erase transgender people. We will stand by our transgender friends and colleagues, we will recognize them, acknowledge their struggles, and join with them to fight for equality. The stakes are high for all of us."

October 29, 2018

Babson College, which stands to earn more than $50 million for its partnership helping establish a new college in Saudi Arabia, is re-examining its Saudi ties following the killing of the dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in a Saudi consulate in Turkey, The Boston Globe reported.

Babson’s president, Kerry Healey, said the college is “greatly concerned” by Khashoggi’s death and that the Board of Directors for the college and for its wholly owned subsidiary, Babson Global, are evaluating the situation. “Both have been meeting with their memberships and the administration to thoughtfully assess information and input we have gathered as this matter continues to develop,” Healey wrote in a letter to faculty and staff. “These deliberations are ongoing and focused on ensuring the college’s activities and affiliations remain aligned with our core values and global educational objectives."

Financial disclosure documents show that Babson expected to receive $52.2 million over 10 years starting in 2014 for a partnership to help establish the Prince Mohammad Bin Salman College, named for the Saudi crown prince. Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, each of which have received more than $20 million in donations from Saudi Arabia since 2005, have also said they are reviewing their Saudi ties in the wake of Khashoggi's killing.

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