Scholars at four American institutions were among the five recipients announced Monday of the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics, the newest competition in the increasingly lucrative field of mathematics, The New York Timesreported. The five recipients of the prize, which was established by Yuri Milner and Mark Zuckerberg, are: Simon Donaldson, Stony Brook University and Imperial College London; Maxim Kontsevich, the Institute of Advanced Scientific Studies outside Paris; Jacob Lurie, Harvard University; Terence Tao, the University of California at Los Angeles; and Richard Taylor, the Institute for Advanced Study, in Princeton, N.J.
Patrick Harran, a professor of chemistry at the University of California at Los Angles, reached a deal Friday with California prosecutors under which he will avoid jail time in the laboratory accident death of one of his assistants in 2008, The Los Angeles Times reported. Harran faced felony counts related to alleged violations of state health and safety standards and could have served more than four years in prison if convicted. Under the deal -- opposed by the lab assistant's family -- Harran did not admit wrongdoing. He did pledge to create and teach an organic chemistry course for college-bound urban students for five summers, to perform 800 hours of community service and to pay $10,000 to a burn center.
The Michigan Employment Relations Commission has denied a petition from the Graduate Employees' Organization of the University of Michigan, which represents graduate student instructors, to also be able to represent graduate research assistants. The commission found that the work of the research assistants directly advances their own educational career interests in ways that make their relationship with the university primarily one of being students, not employees. The GEO is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.
Brandon Valentine, a graduate student and co-chair of GEO's Communications Committee, issued this statement: "We are not surprised that a board full of Governor [Rick] Synder's appointees would go out of their way to attack the rights of working people. This unnecessary ruling by MERC serves no other purpose than to insert the politics of an unelected body into higher education. GEO stands by the fact that GSRAs are employees of the university and deserve to have their collective bargaining rights recognized."
Adjuncts at Hamline University have voted by a larger margin -- 72 percent in favor -- to unionize. They voted to be represented by the Service Employees International Union, which is seeking to organize adjuncts in various metro areas. The Hamline vote is part of such an effort in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. A vote is expected soon at the University of St. Thomas there.
The American Academy of Arts & Sciences made its case for the humanities in high-profile report last year called “The Heart of the Matter.” In the year since, the academy says its Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences has heard consistent requests from college and university personnel and others for more accessible data on the topic. So the academy on Thursday unveiled three new or updated data troves in which decision makers and others interested in the humanities can find facts and figures to continue the national conversation.
HumanitiesIndicators.org was redesigned to provide clearer and more direct access to data about the state of humanities, such as degree completion rates. A new report, called the State of Funding in the Humanities: Funding 2014, is a compilation of the most recent data on funding for the humanities compared to other disciplines. The report says that humanities funding is still below pre-recession levels and makes up less than 1 percent of research and development funding for science and engineering (combined). National Endowment for the Humanities funding is was down to $146 million in 2014, compared to a peak of nearly $400 million in 1980, and Ph.D. students in the humanities who are not supported by any kind of grant rose slightly from 2009-2012, the report says. A third resource, call The Data Forum, invites experts to comment on and critique the data.
Several hundred political scientists have signed a petition urging the American Political Science Association to change the traditional time for its annual meeting: Labor Day weekend. The petition notes that this time is difficult for some political scientists because their courses are just starting, and that the schedule is "family unfriendly" for parents helping their children get started at their schools and colleges. The petition also questions whether this time is particularly helpful to those academic departments doing job interviews. The petition proposes a mid-October meeting time instead. Steven Rathgeb Smith, executive director of the association, said via email: "We are indeed closely following the petition drive. We welcome member input and will seriously consider this member feedback in the coming weeks."