The University of North Carolina at Greensboro last week fired three employees who were subsequently arrested and charged with felonies, unsettling the campus, The Greensboro News-Record reported. The three longtime employees worked in the photography department and are charged with using university equipment and time to run a freelance photography business. Some on campus are questioning whether the university and local authorities overreacted. The university says it had no choice but to act when it found out about the freelance work being done, it says, on university time.
The University of North Alabama is starting its fall break on Thursday, a day earlier than planned, due to a threat to the campus. A threat found last week said that four people would die on campus on Thursday. A statement from the university said: "UNA President John Thornell said cancelling classes and closing campus a day early will not make the threat go away, but it sends a message that the university takes threats seriously and our first priority is the safety of our students, faculty and staff."
The University of Florida has suspended its backup quarterback, Treon Harris, "from all team activities" after he was accused of sexually assaulting a female student on campus early Sunday. The University of Florida Police Department is investigating the incident with forensic assistance from the Gainesville Police Department. No charges been filed yet, but the university said it has initiated its student conduct code process.
“We have no tolerance for sexual assault on our campus,” Bernie Machen, the university's president, said in a statement. “The university is committed to providing a safe and inclusive environment for every member of the UF community. We must strive to protect all of our students from sexual harassment and assault, and do everything in our power to promote a safe learning environment.”
What would academe look like without adjuncts? That question could be answered, at least for a day, on the first-ever National Adjunct Walkout Day, planned for Feb. 25, 2015. The protest to highlight adjuncts’ relatively low wages and working conditions – despite the fact that they make up the majority of instructors – is gaining traction on social media, including on Facebook and on Twitter at #NAWD.
An adjunct instructor of writing at San Jose State University who did not yet want to be identified by name, citing concerns about her job security, proposed the idea last week. She said the response has been “enormous,” even in a short period of time, “because an action like this is long overdue.” The adjunct said the walkout day doesn’t have a central organizing committee, and that it will look different on different campuses. Groups might highlight the “educational or administrative issues impacting adjuncts within that particular campus, across the country, or [the] plights of individual adjuncts,” she said. But the central idea of the movement is that “no adjunct or campus must face these shared issues alone.”
Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization, said she didn’t know the adjunct who had proposed the walkout, but liked her idea. “Any actions that raise awareness and continue to put pressure on higher education to reform are welcome and contribute to the momentum that has been building over the last few years in particular,” she said.
Adjunct professors at the California College of the Arts in San Francisco and Oakland voted 181 to 113 to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced this weekend. Adjuncts at Mills College and San Francisco Art Institute also have formed unions as part of SEIU's Adjunct Action campaign in recent months. SEIU says it now represents 21,000 adjuncts nationwide. “Now we look ahead to addressing faculty working conditions and student learning conditions — the basis of our institution,” Carol Manahan, a senior adjunct professor of critical studies, said in a news release. Melanie Corn, provost, said in an email to faculty staff that the administration remains "committed to collaborating with the entire [college] community to ensure that the educational experience for our students is our highest priority."
Bullying and intimidation on anonymous social media platforms have been a pervasive problem on college campuses for some time. Each academic school year seems to bring a new app or website to prominence as the mechanism of choice for posting hostile messages.
Discussion of Online Bullying
Kenyon's Sean Decatur and Inside Higher Ed blogger Eric Stoller will discuss how colleges should respond to Yik Yak on "This Week," Inside Higher Ed's free weekly news podcast, on Friday. To be notified of new editions of "This Week," sign up here.
This year, Yik Yak is the app du jour; racist, sexist, and homophobic comments posted on Yik Yak have led to student protests on some campuses, and attempts by administrators to block access to the site on others. But Yik Yak is not the problem; in fact, I am confident that the hype over this particular app will soon die down, and it will be replaced by some new, more exciting tool. The problem lies in a culture that accepts – indeed embraces – the act of broadcasting, behind a protective mask of anonymity, statements that most would find offensive.
Kenyon College, where I serve as president, has not been immune to this. Anonymous postings to social media have spurred vigorous debate on campus in prior years. This year, however, the posting of statements that attempted to find humor in sexual assault as the campus prepared for Take Back the Night Week provoked a particularly strong response. Part of the conversation on campus has focused on the specific content: the fact that rape and sexual violence are never laughing matters and the reality that these types of anonymous postings have a threatening and chilling impact on the campus community.
More broadly, this discussion has stirred renewed dialogue on the very nature of anonymous postings and disrespectful, uncivil dialogue on campus. Academic institutions must create spaces for dialogue and conflicting views – this is the very heart of the concept of academic freedom. At Kenyon we value (and indeed celebrate) both the right to express dissenting views and the responsibility to respectfully listen to those opinions. We may disagree and challenge with rigor, but always with respect.
But our embrace of academic freedom as a principle means that we must reject bullying and intimidation that squelch debate and dissent and inhibit learning. Personal attacks and provocative statements made behind the shield of anonymity are not protected by academic freedom; rather, these actions restrict and stifle it. Difference, dissent, and debate must occur in an open, respectful environment, and the type of targeting and bullying of individuals or groups that occurs in anonymous social media harms this environment.
In an effort to promote an open, respectful environment that enables difference, dissent, and debate, a group of students have started a project on Facebook (#Respectful Difference). The project uses social media to positively assert the values of civility and respect and the importance of dialogue to bridge different views. The concept is simple: Members of the Kenyon community (as individuals or groups) are photographed with simple statements about why they value respectful difference, post them to social media, and challenge peers and friends to do the same. By reclaiming social media as a space for civil discussion, and by rejecting anonymity, this project has been a way for Kenyon students, faculty, staff, and alumni to assert the central values of academic freedom.
Will this simple project change the culture that fuels anonymous online bullying? We’d be naïve to believe that this is sufficient to solve the problem. Hateful speech arises from systemic inequality, which must be addressed in order to achieve cultural change. The campaign has drawn some fair criticism on campus that a call for open dialogue is not enough, that root causes must be challenged as well. But this student-inspired campaign starts the process for an open dialogue that is a prerequisite for change and it sends a powerful message about the values of our community.
Mansfield University, in Pennsylvania, on Thursday announced that three academic programs would be placed in "moratorium," and that the suspension of these programs would lead to faculty layoffs. The programs are business, education and special education (except for music education) and the school library and information technologies online master’s program. Officials said that while financial cuts were part of the reason for the changes, so was a desire to invest in other fields. Kenneth Mash, president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that these cuts would hurt the university and students. "A university does not get better by hurting its current and future students; doing so only creates a downward spiral,' he said.