Haverford College announced Tuesday that Robert Birgeneau, the former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, had decided not to deliver the commencement address there. Some students had objected because of the way Berkeley campus police responded to some protests while Birgeneau was chancellor. Critics said that nonviolent protesters were treated much more roughly than was appropriate. In a letter to Haverford students and faculty members, President Daniel Weiss noted that Birgeneau took many significant actions at Berkeley, including an effort to help undocumented students that he planned to discuss at Haverford. "It is nonetheless deeply regrettable that we have lost an opportunity to recognize and hear from one of the most consequential leaders in American higher education," Weiss wrote. "Though we may not always agree with those in positions of leadership, I believe that it is essential for us as members of an academic community to reaffirm our shared commitment to the respectful and mindful process by which we seek to learn through inquiry and intellectual engagement."
A few colleges have urged this year's graduates not to take selfies during commencement. But at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse on Sunday, Chancellor Joe Gow took a selfie during each of two commencement ceremonies, saying he wanted to send it to his mother for Mother's Day. "I don't have any issues with students having fun at commencement time," he said.
Last fall, the author of The Exorcist contacted the Vatican, alleging that Georgetown University – his alma mater and the backdrop for his book and subsequent film of the same name – wasn’t Roman Catholic enough. And it appears his prayers have been answered, the National Catholic Register and Washington Post reported. Archbishop Angelo Zani, head of the Vatican’s Congregation for Catholic education, reportedly wrote to William Peter Blatty that his canonical petition against the university constituted “a well-founded complaint.” Zani also reportedly wrote that “Our Congregation is taking the issue seriously, and is cooperating with the Society of Jesus in this regard.”
Blatty collected 2,000 names on his petition, which asked the Vatican to “require that Georgetown implement Ex corde Ecclesiae, a papal constitution governing Catholic colleges.” If that failed, the petition said, the Vatican should strip Georgetown of its right to call itself Catholic or Jesuit. Blatty criticized the university for once inviting Kathleen Sebelius, former Health and Human Services Secretary and a supporter of abortion rights, to speak on campus, and said neither Georgetown’s faculty nor its students were exemplary of the faith.
Via email, Rachel Pugh, Georgetown spokeswoman, said that the university has received no formal correspondence from the Vatican regarding the petition, and that Georgetown's Catholic identity "has never been stronger."
A Harvard University student group dropped its plans to re-enact a Satanic "black mass" Monday evening. But a New York City Satanic group announced plans to hold the event off campus Monday night after the student group ended plans to co-sponsor the event on campus. Whether the event took place was unclear. Employees of the lounge where the event was said to be taking place told The Boston Globe that some people were drinking at a bar and no rituals were being performed. But other reports in The Harvard Crimson and on social media said that later Monday night, some form of a black mass did take place at the lounge. The Harvard student group originally involved did not respond to an email seeking clarification.
Earlier Monday, Harvard President Drew Faust issued a statement condemning the planned event, but refusing to ban it. "[E]ven as we permit expression of the widest range of ideas, we must also take responsibility for debating and challenging expression with which we profoundly disagree," Faust said. "The 'black mass' had its historical origins as a means of denigrating the Catholic Church; it mocks a deeply sacred event in Catholicism, and is highly offensive to many in the Church and beyond. The decision by a student club to sponsor an enactment of this ritual is abhorrent; it represents a fundamental affront to the values of inclusion, belonging and mutual respect that must define our community. It is deeply regrettable that the organizers of this event, well aware of the offense they are causing so many others, have chosen to proceed with a form of expression that is so flagrantly disrespectful and inflammatory."
She added that she would not bar the event. "Nevertheless, consistent with the university’s commitment to free expression, including expression that may deeply offend us, the decision to proceed is and will remain theirs. At the same time, we will vigorously protect the right of others to respond — and to address offensive expression with expression of their own."
Many faculty members at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign believe that James Kilgore, an adjunct who has been told he will not have his contract renewed, is being treated unfairly. Kilgore had strong reviews, and indications that he would be renewed, but that changed when a local newspaper published an article identifying him as a former member of the Symbionese Liberation Army, who has served jail time before coming to the university (and informing superiors of his past). Amid the complaints, the university has vowed to review what happened to Kilgore.
But now faculty leaders question whether that review will be conducted fairly. That's because Christopher Kennedy, the Illinois board chair, gave an interview to The News-Gazette in which he said that the board, while respecting the review process, has strong feelings about what should happen. "The board's position is we don't want to prejudge the process," Kennedy said. "But our general position is clear. We want to be respectful of the fact that we operate on taxpayer's money and tuition ... and people paying tuition who have will have concerns about underwriting this lifestyle." Kennedy also said that because Kilgore is an adjunct, there are not academic freedom issues at stake. "We're not reacting to public pressure. If this was an issue of academic freedom, we would stand up for it. This is an hourly employee who doesn't have tenure. It's completely different," he said. And Kennedy said he has been "very clear" in sharing his views about the issue with university administrators.
Cary Nelson, a professor of English at Illinois, past president of the American Association of University professors, and one of those pushing for Kilgore to be rehired, said via email that Kennedy's statements have made it impossible for Kilgore to be reviewed fairly for renewal. Having "confessed" to sharing his views, Kennedy "is being distinctly disingenuous in declaring that the board doesn't 'want to prejudge the process,'" Nelson said. "Indeed his remark that the board may have a role at the end of the university¹s review process telegraphs a warning that the board may well choose to deny Kilgore a job even if the campus decides otherwise. That may take the campus administration off the hook from the faculty perspective, but it leaves us with academic freedom and shared governance in tatters."
Ball State University has promoted a professor accused last year of proselytizing during a course called "Boundaries of Science," The Star Press of Muncie, Ind., reported. Last year, the university investigated and said it would be working with Eric Hedin, now an associate professor of physics and astronomy, to make sure that his courses were science-based. The news came after First Amendment watchdog groups informed the university that students had reported Hedin was using "Boundaries," an honors science class, to teach Christan values.
The story, along with the university's recent hiring of another science professor known for his support of intelligent design, prompted a statement from President Jo Ann Gora affirming the university's commitment to "academic integrity" in relation to science. She said intelligent design had no place in a science course.
TheStar Press noted that Hedin's promotion followed a letter to the university from conservative state legislators, expressing concern over the “establishment of a speech code restricting faculty speech on intelligent design[.]" Legislators in the letter said Gora's statement and the university's actions toward Hedin raised "troubling" questions, such as whether a professor would be able to answer a question from a student about intelligent design. Ball State administrators met with lawmakers last month. State Sen. Dennis Kruse, chair of the Education Committee, told the newspaper that “Ball State officials were very attentive to our requests and concerns during the April 4 meeting. A majority of issues have been resolved, and I look forward to working more on these matters concerning academic freedom with the university.”
Joan Todd, a university spokeswoman, said: “It was productive meeting, a great opportunity to discuss important issues and at this time we have nothing more to add." Via email, Todd said that Ball State does not automatically award tenure to associate professors, unlike most institutions, and that Hedin, who is four years into his probationary period, is not yet tenured. Hedin did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Some students at Haverford College are objecting to the selection of Robert J. Birgeneau, former chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, as commencement speaker, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The students object to the role of campus police in dealing with some student protests during Birgeneau's tenure. They have demanded that, as a condition of supporting his appearance at Haverford, Birgeneau apologize for police conduct at Berkeley, and offer reparations to "victims," among other items on a list of demands.
Birgeneau has refused. In a letter, he said: "First, I have never and will never respond to lists of demands. Second, as a longtime civil rights activist and firm supporter of nonviolence, I do not respond to untruthful, violent verbal attacks."
Longwood University put on a graduation ceremony for one senior this week, ahead of this month's commencement, so her dying father could see his daughter graduate, WRIC News reported. President W. Taylor Reveley IV and other university officials put on their academic robes and regalia. Brittany Inge, a senior majoring in elementary and middle school education, put on her cap and gown for the ceremony. Her father has stage four lung cancer and has been told he has very limited time. “I could not ask for anything more," Inge said. "I’m forever grateful to all the Longwood staff who made today so special.”