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No Agreement Among Reviewers of Grant Applications

A new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds little to no agreement among reviewers of grant applications to the National Institutes of Health. After replicating the NIH’s peer-review process, researchers analyzed 43 reviewers’ ratings and critiques of the same 25 grant applications. After eliminating weaker proposals, reviewers did not agree on the applications’ quality in either their quantitative or qualitative evaluations. Reviewers also differed in how they translated applications’ strengths and weaknesses into a numeric rating. The study’s authors say that the reviewer ended up having more to do with a grant application’s success than the proposed research. 

“We’re not trying to suggest that peer review is flawed, but that there might be some room to be innovative to improve the process,” co-author Elizabeth Pier, a postdoctoral fellow in educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said in a news release. Among other changes, Pier and her co-authors recommend a modified lottery system, in which weaker proposals are eliminated and the remaining applications are funded at random.

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U Wisconsin-Stevens Point to Eliminate 13 Majors

The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point plans to address “fiscal challenges” by expanding some academic programs and discontinuing others, it announced Monday. Tenured faculty positions are at stake, with possible layoffs occurring by 2020. 

Programs pegged for closure are American studies, art (excluding graphic design), English (excluding English for teacher certification), French, geography, geoscience, German, history (excluding social science for teacher certification), music literature, philosophy, political science, sociology and Spanish. 

Currently enrolled students in closing programs will be able to conclude their degrees. Courses will continue to be taught in the affected fields, and minors in English, art, history and philosophy, among others, will remain, according to the university. 

Stevens Point’s proposal must be reviewed by a campus governance committee, the campus chancellor and the University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents. 

“Because possible program elimination may result in the layoff of some tenured faculty members, a new UW Board of Regents policy will be followed,” the university said in a statement, referring to a controversial change to the circumstances under which Wisconsin’s universities may terminate tenured faculty members -- made possible by a similarly controversial 2015 change to state law backed by Republican governor Scott Walker.

"If we accept the need for change, and we confront and solve the financial issues currently facing the institution, we can create a new identity for the regional public university,” Greg Summers, provost, said in the statement. “Stevens Point can move forward with fiscal stability, new opportunities to build programs and grow enrollment, and renewed capacity to improve our service to the students and communities of central and northern Wisconsin, which are complex, diverse and ever changing.”

Stevens Point says it faces a deficit of $4.5 million over two years because of declining enrollment and lower tuition revenues.

Programs up for expansion include chemical engineering, computer information systems, conservation law enforcement, finance, fire science, graphic design, management and marketing. Others include aquaculture, captive wildlife, ecosystem design and remediation, environmental engineering, geographic information science, master of business administration, master of natural resources, and doctor of physical therapy.

Summers said the recommendations demonstrate a growing student preference for majors with clear career pathways. “Stevens Point is committed to strengthening our academic offerings while improving our liberal arts core to ensure students graduate with the knowledge and skills they will need to be successful in the future,” he said. 

Ed Miller, longtime professor of political science at Stevens Point, told Wisconsin Public Radio that he was not expecting the announcement.

"I was personally surprised about the radicalness of the change," Miller said. "We do live in a democracy, and universities are supposed to be preparing people to participate in a democracy, besides participate in the work force, although that’s certainly important."

Miller said students in his department learn how to think critically and end up succeeding when they graduate.

"Our majors have done well in the job market, plus getting into graduate schools -- not just in political science, but in public administration, city management and certainly law schools, so we have actually had lots of success since I've been here,” he said.

Professors on other campuses reacted to the announcement on social media, expressing concern. 

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Tips for starting off at a new job (opinion)

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You need a plan for the start of a new job, writes Saundra Loffredo.

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Compilation on Evolving Faculty Careers

Cover image of Inside Higher Ed's "Evolving Faculty Careers" shows a dark-haired person in academic regalia, facing away from the camera.Inside Higher Ed is pleased to release today our latest print-on-demand booklet, "Evolving Faculty Careers." You may download a free copy here. And you may sign up here for a free webcast on the themes of the booklet, on Thursday, April 12, at 2 p.m. Eastern.

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Harvard Professor Placed on Leave

Harvard University has placed a professor -- Jorge Domínguez, the Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico and chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies -- on leave following reports that several former students and colleagues accused him of harassment, The Boston Globe reported. The Globe earlier reported that in 1983 Harvard disciplined Domínguez but did not take away his job "for sexually harassing a female faculty member and a graduate student." The Chronicle of Higher Education has also reported on other accusations against him. Domínguez has denied wrongdoing.

An email to Harvard students, quoted by the Globe, said that the leave will continue until a full investigation is complete, and that the university will not tolerate sexual harassment.”

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What to do when you are an academic under attack by right-wing publications (opinion)

Reshmi Dutt-Ballerstadt offers strategies for when the right wing attacks.

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Another Professor On Leave From Rochester

A former medical resident at the University of Rochester Medical Center is suing the institution, saying it failed to protect her from Johan Blickman, vice chair of the center’s department of imaging sciences and a professor of pediatrics. The former resident says she was doing a rotation in pediatric radiology in 2014 when Blickman invited her to his house to discuss a research paper, then drugged and raped her. She alleges that the professor blackmailed her with nude photographs, threatening to destroy her life if she complained about him, and continued to coerce her into sex. She further accuses Blickman of meeting with her boyfriend and asking the boyfriend to help him kill his ex-wife.

Rochester told the Democrat & Chronicle that it first heard about an "inappropriate relationship" from the woman’s attorney in 2016, two years after she left the medical center, and subsequently "took action based on our findings." A university spokesperson declined to say what action Rochester took in 2016 but said that it received “new and different” allegations last week. Blickman is now on paid leave, pending a review, the spokesperson said, noting that Rochester has not heard from law enforcement about the case. Blickman did not respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit comes on the heels of the Florian Jaeger case at Rochester. Jaeger, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences, was cleared of wrongdoing by campus inquiries and an outside review paid for by the university, but a group of his colleagues and former students are suing the university for its handling of complaints against him. He is currently on leave from teaching.

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Rochester Faculty Senate Censures Florian Jaeger

The University of Rochester’s Faculty Senate voted this week to censure Florian Jaeger, a professor of brain and cognitive sciences accused of harassing female graduate students and creating a hostile work environment. The university cleared Jaeger of wrongdoing, as did a recent independent investigation funded by the university. Student and faculty critics have called the investigations flawed, pointing to the fact that even the outside review determined Jaeger had engaged in inappropriate and unprofessional -- if not illegal or policy-violating -- behavior between 2007 and 2013. The censure motion says, in part, that Jaeger’s behavior “resulted in significant harm to students, the affected department and the broader university community. We condemn this behavior in the strongest possible terms.” The resolution includes a vow to evaluate and revise relevant policies and procedures to ensure student and employee safety going forward.

The senate also voted to condemn the university’s having searched the email accounts of Jaeger’s faculty critics and shared them with their department chair. Sara Miller, university spokesperson, told the Democrat & Chronicle Jaeger remains on paid leave for the semester but will be continue his research, “including working with students in his lab so that they may complete their graduate studies.”

Steve Modica, Jaeger’s attorney, said in a statement that the senate’s vote is “the result of an alarming rush to judgment. It was based on emotion, rumor and a well-designed public relations campaign” on the part of Jaeger’s critics, some of whom are suing the university over its handling of the case. “Senate members have made themselves arbiters of morality” on campus, enmeshing themselves in the ongoing civil case, he said.

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Colleges award tenure

Bowdoin College

  • Vladimir Douhovnikoff, biology
  • Benjamin Gorske, chemistry
  • Christopher Heurlin, government and Asian studies
  • Tracy McMullen, music
  • Ingrid Nelson, sociology and anthropology
  • John (Jack) O’Brien, mathematics
  • Emily Peterman, earth and oceanographic science
  • Manuel Reyes, mathematics
  • Meghan Roberts, history
  • Daniel Stone, economics
  • Hilary Thompson, English

Carleton College

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