As of Monday evening, nine students continued to occupy the main administration building at Duke University, protesting what they see as poor treatment by the university of its employees. One of the grievances concerns an accident involving Tallman Trask, Duke’s executive vice president, who a parking attendant has charged hit her with his car and used a racial slur before a 2014 football game. Trask has apologized for hitting the parking attendant, Shelvia Underwood, which he says was accident, but denied using a racial slur.
On Monday, he issued a public apology to Underwood. "I want to say a word to the Duke community about my interaction with Shelvia Underwood in August 2014, which has been a subject of much recent discussion," said Trask's statement. "While the details of what happened are a matter of disagreement and subject of civil litigation, I recognize that my conduct fell short of the civility and respectful conduct each member of this community owes to every other. I express my apology to Ms. Underwood and to this community and recommit myself to ensuring that these values are upheld for all."
The students occupying the building did not leave as a result of the apology, and others are camping outside the building to express support (above right).
Duke announced Monday that it would not continue negotiations with the students as long as they remain in the administration building, the Allen Building, which has been closed since the students occupied it. "Closing the Allen Building while these negotiations go on has presented a significant disruption to students, faculty, staff and visitors, and cannot continue indefinitely. As a result, the university will only continue negotiations after the nine students voluntarily leave the Allen Building," said a statement from Duke.
Harvard and Princeton Universities have released their responses to questions from members of Congress about the way they use their endowments. The questions come amid heightened scrutiny of the wealthiest universities. Both the Harvard and Princeton letters to Congress stress common themes, including the way their endowments are not general funds but collections of endowments donated for different purposes, and that the endowments directly support undergraduate student aid among many other purposes. A cover letter on Harvard's response, from President Drew Faust, said that her university's endowment should be viewed as 13,000 separate funds. Princeton's letter indicated that its endowment is made up of 4,300 separate accounts.
Harvard's endowment (at more than $36 billion) is the largest in the nation, and Princeton's (at nearly $23 billion) is the fourth, according to the latest data from the National Association of College and University Business Officers and Commonfund.
A professor of history at Villanova University was charged with 415 child pornography-related counts, after the campus tipped off police to his computer activity, according to CBS News. Christopher Haas, 60, reportedly was observed watching child pornography on his computer in a campus hall by Villanova security personnel. He’s been barred from campus and is in jail on $50,000 bail. Haas was the subject of a separate federal child porn investigation in 2012 and allegedly had some 400 such images on his computer. Scott Godshall, Haas’s lawyer, said the federal case was closed without charges. A Villanova spokesperson said the university was unaware of the 2012 investigation. (Note: This post has been updated from a previous version to reflect that Villanova did not know about the older case against Haas.)
Nine students on Friday occupied the portion of an administration building that houses the offices of the president and other senior administrators. The students (and supporters who have gathered outside the building) have demanded the dismissals of several Duke administrators, including Tallman Trask, Duke’s executive vice president, who a parking attendant has charged hit her with his car and used a racial slur before a 2014 football game. Trask has apologized for hitting the parking attendant, which he says was accident, but denied using a racial slur. Duke has said that the incident was investigated and that it can't comment on details of some of the accusations because the attendant is suing the university.
Many of the other demands relate to Duke's treatment of its employees, and a university statement said, "Duke University has well-established internal and legal processes for addressing concerns of any employee, regardless of their position. These are spelled out in the university’s human resources policies, and are covered by state and federal law."
Students who organized the protest have received wide attention on social media under the hashtag #DismantleDukePlantation.
On Sunday, Duke announced that the administration building would be closed today while negotiations with the students continue. In addition, the university announced that it will not punish the students. "In order to facilitate productive dialogue and move towards a peaceful resolution, the nine students will not be subject to student conduct sanctions and legal penalties for their actions," said a statement from the university.
The University of Wyoming Faculty Senate voted down a controversial proposal for a new professor of practice faculty track last week, the Casper Star-Tribune reported. The measure failed 28 to 18. Donal O’Toole, professor of veterinary science, reportedly said the faculty opposed a new faculty rank based on professional experience rather than academic expertise over concerns that potential donor and industry influence posed too great a threat to academic freedom. Some worried that as public funding for the university continued to decline, the university would become overreliant on faculty lines linked to outside funding. Others who supported the measure said those concerns were unfounded, and that the university already employs instructors from industry as visiting professors.
Some students and others are asking why the board of Essex County College, in New Jersey, suspended Gale Gibson, the president, and Rashidah Hasan, the college's general counsel and vice president for human resources, NJ.com reported. There has been no public explanation for their suspensions, but there have been reports of a financial investigation. Students and supporters of Gibson have said they deserve an explanation of what is going on.
The Association of American Medical Colleges, the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities have deep concerns about a congressional panel’s plan to subpoena universities for the names of faculty members, graduate students and other personnel involved in fetal tissue research. “Many scientists and physicians are deeply concerned for their safety and that of their patients, colleagues and students in light of inflammatory statements and reports surrounding fetal tissue donation,” the associations wrote in a letter Thursday to leaders of the Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives. “We are troubled that this information is being sought without any rules or process in place to govern how the panel will use and protect personally identifiable and other sensitive information. … These requests appear to go beyond the panel’s stated scope of ‘relevant matters with respect to fetal tissue procurement.’”
The associations’ letter was prompted by recent revelations that the select panel intends to subpoena institutions for the names and identities of those involved in fetal tissue research, which is legal but controversial since some tissue is obtained through abortions. Some institutions responded to the panel’s initial request for information about fetal tissue research and procurement on their campuses by redacting faculty, staff and administrators’ names, citing security concerns. But the panel wants the information anyway, and is considering obtaining it by legal means. Some have said the process is more about intimidating scientists involved in this work than anything else, but members of the committee say they want to make sure the tissue was acquired legally.
Thursday's letter asks the panel to work in a "bipartisan fashion" to create rules about how personal information will be used, and how security will be promoted. "In the absence of such rules, we urge the panel not to compel the release of individually identifiable information," the associations wrote. "We urge you to allow academic institutions to continue their cooperative engagement with the panel, providing requested information about practices and the value of fetal tissue research without unnecessarily endangering the safety of those seeking to advance discovery and improve health."
George Mason University on Thursday announced that it had renamed its law school the Antonin Scalia School of Law. The law school also received $20 million from an anonymous donor and $10 million from the Charles Koch Foundation, a high-profile funder of conservative causes.
Those gifts, the combined amount being the largest ever received by George Mason, will be used to create three new scholarships for law students, the university said. One of the scholarships also will be named for Scalia, the conservative U.S. Supreme Court associate justice who died in February. Scalia was a longtime resident of Northern Virginia, where George Mason is located.
The law school is well known for its conservative scholarship and for attracting many conservative students.
Another Beltway law school, at Georgetown University, in February issued a statement mourning Scalia's death. Some professors objected to the law school's move, saying such "unmitigated praise" should not have been attributed to the entire law school community.