Professor Accused of Harassment Cancels Classes

A professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, accused of harassing two former graduate students, canceled several of his classes earlier this week due to student protests upon his return to campus following a related suspension. Gabriel Piterberg has not admitted to any misconduct, but the university settled with the two students last year after they sued it for responding insufficiently to their claims. Piterberg also agreed to a separate settlement with the university in 2014, which halted a campus investigation into one of the students’ claims. That agreement included a $3,000 fine, a one-quarter suspension without pay and a three-year ban on meeting alone with students in his office with the door shut.

That last detail has played a key role in ongoing protests about Piterberg’s return, as some students questioned how a professor who can’t be trusted to be alone with students can be trusted to teach them. “We wanted to send a clear message to the university and the history department that we don’t think someone accused of sexual harassment should be teaching undergraduate classes,” protester Melissa Melpignano, a fourth-year doctoral student and member of the group Bruins Against Sexual Harassment, told the Los Angeles Times.

Kathryn Kranhold, a university spokesperson, said that Piterberg would continue to teach, but that videotaped lectures will be available to students who choose not to attend class. Piterberg, who canceled class after protesters stood inside his classroom and others could be heard shouting outside, did not respond to a request for comment. He’s accused of harassing the two students over several years and of forcibly touching and kissing them.

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Study: For-Profits Match Similar Nonprofits in Learning Results

Students at for-profit institutions achieve learning results that are similar to those of students who attend comparable nonprofit colleges, according to a new study by the Council for Aid to Education. The study was funded by the for-profits that participated in the research. (Note: This paragraph has been changed from a previous version to add new information about the study’s funding source.)

The council used its Collegiate Learning Assessment to measure learning outcomes in six areas for 624 students from four for-profit higher education systems, which the study does not name, and then compared the scores with those of a matched group of students from 20 unnamed public and private institutions that were selected because they were similar to the for-profits on key measures related to academic performance. The CLA aims to show how students' learning has grown on average between when they entered and when they graduated from an institution.

"In all six comparisons, students at proprietary institutions outperformed the students at the nonproprietary comparison institutions," the study said. "However, in all but one case, the difference in mean scores is too small to be considered statistically significant." Students from the for-profits outperformed their peers at nonprofits to a statistically significant degree on the performance task section, which includes measurements of problem solving and writing.

On average, the students in the sample of for-profit attendees were older and more likely to graduate than those at the comparison nonprofits. "It is possible that some of the above findings could be attributed to one or both of these factors," the study said. "However, if age or graduation rate had a strong effect on CLA+ performance, one would expect that it would influence all three outcomes and not just seniors’ Performance Task scores."

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Report Warns of 'New Civics,' Seeks Requirement

A new report from the National Association of Scholars warns against the rise of what it calls “new civics” and recommends that legislators mandate a course in “traditional” American civics as a graduation requirement at all colleges and universities that receive public funding. “What we call the ‘new civics’ redefines civics as progressive political activism,” reads the 525-page report. “Rooted in the radical program of the 1960s’ New Left, the new civics presents itself as an up-to-date version of volunteerism and good works. Though camouflaged with soft rhetoric, the new civics, properly understood, is an effort to repurpose higher education.”

The report says that the alleged movement, above all, seeks to make students “enthusiastic supporters” of the “New Left’s dream of ‘fundamentally transforming’ America,” including by “decarbonizing the economy, massively redistributing wealth, intensifying identity group grievance, curtailing the free market, expanding government bureaucracy, elevating international ‘norms’ over American constitutional law and disparaging our common history and ideals.” The report asserts that “service learning” initiatives at colleges seek to teach students that a “good citizen is a radical activist, and it puts political activism at the center of everything that students do in college, including academic study, extracurricular pursuits and off-campus ventures.” By “rebranding itself as ‘civic engagement,’” the report continues, “service learning succeeded in capturing nearly all the funding that formerly supported the old civics. In practice this means that instead of teaching college students the foundations of law, liberty, and self-government, colleges teach students how to organize protests, occupy buildings and stage demonstrations. These are indeed forms of ‘civic engagement,’ but they are far from being a genuine substitute for learning how to be a full participant in our republic.”

Beyond the traditional civics requirement, the report recommends establishing a public body to set the guidelines and review and approve textbooks for the courses, “which should at a minimum teach the history, nature and functions of our institutions of self-government, and which should aim to foster commitment to our form of self-government.” The association asks that the requirement be met only through classroom instruction and that public funding for service learning and civic engagement programs be terminated.

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USC Arts and Sciences Adjuncts Withdraw Union Bid

Adjunct faculty members at the University of Southern California’s David and Dana Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences have withdrawn their petition to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union. Part-time faculty members at Dornsife narrowly voted down a union last year, but alleged administrative interference in the election in charges filed with the National Labor Relations Board. The board decided that a second election could proceed, but the union says it can’t hold another election in the current environment. The board also recently ruled that adjunct faculty members at the Roski School of Art and Design are not managers, allowing them to proceed with forming the SEIU-affiliated union they voted for last year.

Provost Michael Quick said in an email to faculty members on Tuesday that the university had now been cleared of all charges related to Dornsife, and that there “are more legal steps ahead concerning Roski, and the final decision will probably be made by a federal appeals court.” He noted that the NLRB had voted 2 to 1, not unanimously, on the managerial issue.

Bob Schoonover, president of the local SEIU, said about the NLRB’s decision concerning Roski, “To cast aside this frivolous appeal marks yet another important victory” for faculty members and “clears the way for faculty to begin the process of bargaining a contract that raises standards for themselves and the students they teach.” Of the Dornsife petition withdrawal, Schoonover said, “Unfortunately, based on our past experience we have come to the clear conclusion that a new election will be met with another onslaught of illegal tactics aimed at dividing faculty and protecting university profits.”

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Some colleges planning alternative events for Inauguration Day

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Some colleges are planning events for students and faculty members who want to be together on Jan. 20, but not to celebrate.

Study: Biomedical Postdocs Might Not Be Worth It

Postdoctoral positions in the biomedical sciences are now considered almost a prerequisite for a permanent position in the field. But a new study published in Nature Biotechnology suggests that postdoc stints don’t yield positive returns in the labor market and likely cost graduates three years’ worth of salary in their first 15 years of work. “A majority of biomedical Ph.D.s enter postdocs that last an average of four years,” one of the study’s authors, Shulamit Kahn, professor of business at Boston University, said in a news release. “These scientists hope that the postdoc will propel them into their ideal career in tenure-track academia. The problem is that 80 percent of them are going to have made this investment for naught and will be sorely disappointed. … They would be much better off if they moved directly into the same industry or staff scientist jobs that they will end up working in anyway.”

For their study, Kahn and co-author Donna Ginther, a professor of economics at the University of Kansas, analyzed longitudinal data from the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates and its Survey of Earned Doctorate Recipients, from 1981 to 2013, comparing the later careers of biomedical Ph.D.s who completed postdocs with those who didn’t. The study suggests that opportunity costs of pursuing a postdoc are high over the course of one’s career, in that the median annual starting salary for postdocs four years after earning their Ph.D.s was $44,724 in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars, compared to $73,662 for those who had entered the permanent work force immediately. And when postdocs did eventually enter the work force, they were not awarded with a higher salary for their experience. Controlling for various factors, the 10-year post-Ph.D. salaries of those with postdoc experience were $12,002 lower than those of their peers without it.

The paper offers suggestions for alleviating the problem, including that universities hire staff research scientists to assist tenured faculty members with research, paying postdocs more to reduce the reliance on “cheap” labor and creating more tenure-track faculty lines for new graduates.

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How to engage more faculty in leadership roles (essay)

Judith S. White provides advice on how to engage more faculty members in leadership roles.

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New presidents or provosts: Chichester Cornell Elizabethtown K-State Ozarks Susquehanna West Oahu

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  • Maenette K. P. Ah Nee-Benham, dean of the Hawaiʻinuiākea School of Hawaiian Knowledge at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, has been named chancellor of the university's West Oahu campus.
  • Jonathan D. Green, provost and dean of the faculty at Illinois Wesleyan University, has been appointed president of Susquehanna University, in Pennsylvania.

Oregon President Weighs In on Blackface Findings

The president of the University of Oregon, Michael H. Schill (right), has weighed in on the continuing controversy over Nancy Shurtz, a law professor whom the university found violated anti-harassment policies when she wore blackface to a party to which she had invited students. Since the university in December announced its findings that she had violated policy, many experts on the First Amendment and academic freedom have criticized the university, saying that it should not be punishing what was an expressive act by Shurtz, regardless of how offended many people were by her act.

In an email message to the campus, Schill -- who is a law professor as well as president -- acknowledged that the issues are complicated. While stressing that under Oregon's procedures, the provost was in charge of handling the case, Schill defended the idea that some sanction of Shurtz was appropriate. "Some of her students felt that they were in a similar situation to students in a classroom being subjected to harassing speech, as they felt pressure to attend and to remain at the event. They felt that they could not leave without jeopardizing their standing in the class, and they also felt that the offensive nature of the blackface was the equivalent of hearing the N-word," Schill wrote. "In these circumstances, should the university have ignored the event or should it have taken action proportionate to the offense? What lesson would we be teaching our students if we let the incident end without even an official letter of reprimand?"

Further, he denied that academic freedom was endangered because of the university's handling of the case, as some have suggested.

"Some commentators have taken to the barricades and suggested that any finding or action taken with respect to Professor Shurtz will ultimately open the door to firing professors for expressing their political views," he wrote. "Really? In law, we call this the 'slippery slope' argument or 'the parade of horribles.' While I have tossed and turned for nights over the fact that the university found that a professor’s expressive conduct constituted harassment, I think the reaction of those commentators is overly dramatic and not supported by anything that took place in this case. Go online and you will find that Professor Shurtz remains a member of the law school faculty. Name a single faculty member who has been punished by the provost for his or her political views. This has not happened, and you have my vow it won’t happen as long as I occupy my office in Johnson Hall."

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U British Columbia Restores Invitation to Speaker

The University of British Columbia announced Monday that it has reinstated the speaking engagement of John Furlong at a fund-raising event next month.

Santa Ono, president of the university, last week apologized to John Furlong for the cancellation of a speech he was scheduled to give. Furlong was CEO of the 2010 Vancouver Olympic Games and was widely praised for his work to make the event a success. But when word spread that he was going to speak at the UBC event, some First Nations groups (those representing indigenous Canadians) circulated an open letter criticizing the appearance. The letter cited allegations -- which Furlong has denied and that have been rejected by authorities -- that he was abusive to First Nations children he taught at a school in 1969 and 1970.

In announcing that Furlong would be speaking, Ono said, "I have made it my decision as president of the university to reverse course because it is simply the right thing to do. I decided this after better informing myself with the facts, including Mr. Furlong’s stellar reputation in the fields of business, leadership and sport, the diverse views of our many stakeholders, and, as importantly, the judicial record. The British Columbia Civil and Supreme Courts have ruled in favor of Mr. Furlong in every matter that has come before them. The university had no basis to put its judgment above theirs."

The university's original decision to cancel the event with Furlong has been widely criticized in Canada.

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