U. of Illinois faculty panel issues mixed report on aborted hiring of Steven Salaita

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Faculty review of the way U. of Illinois blocked a controversial hire sharply criticizes the chancellor and how she and trustees invoked issue of civility, but finds there may have been legitimate reasons to oppose the appointment.

NLRB ruling shifts legal ground on faculty unions at private colleges

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NLRB ruling could clear way for more collective bargaining -- of adjuncts and other faculty members -- at private colleges and universities.

UNC Seeks to Fire Faculty Leader Over Fake Classes

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill revealed Wednesday that it is seeking to fire Jeanette Boxill, former chair of the Faculty Council, for her role in a scandal in which athletes and some other students were steered to phony courses in which they were assured of good grades. The depth of the scandal stunned UNC, and Boxill's involvement has been particularly upsetting to many there. A report released in October found that, as an adviser for women's basketball players, Boxill steered students to fake courses with suggestions about what grades they needed.

UNC officials have resisted until now revealing the disciplinary actions they were taking until all appeals had been exhausted. But facing lawsuits from media organizations, the university agreed to reveal those who have been fired or who the university is seeking to fire, including Boxill. The university statement said that Boxill still has an appeal pending. But the statement said that revealing the punishment being sought was appropriate. "In light of the extraordinary circumstances underlying the longstanding and intolerable academic irregularities ..., as well as her role as chair of the faculty council during a period of time [in which the fake courses were offered], the chancellor has determined that in order to preserve the university’s integrity, it is necessary to disclose that, on October 22, 2014, the University informed faculty member Jeanette Boxill, Ph.D., of an intent to terminate her employment based on evidence accompanying the report. Dr. Boxill responded by requesting a hearing before a committee of the faculty — a decision we fully respect. While that process is pending, and after extensive reflection and deliberation, the chancellor determined that disclosing this information relating to Dr. Boxill is necessary to maintaining the level and quality of services Carolina provides as well as our integrity as we continue to move forward."

Boxill did not respond to an email from Inside Higher Ed.

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Swets bankruptcy will cost libraries time, money

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A global subscription company that served as intermediary between college libraries and journal publishers has declared bankruptcy. Libraries face financial losses and time-consuming process to assure journal access.

Job openings for economics Ph.D.s are up

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Discipline bounces back with a 9.4% increase in openings -- continuing a trend of better news for social science Ph.D.s than for humanities Ph.D.s.

MLA Will Discuss How to Deal With Controversial Issues

The Modern Language Association is planning at its Delegate Assembly early next month to discuss how to deal with controversial issues, but does not plan to vote either for or against the boycott of Israeli universities. At the January 2014 meeting of the Delegate Assembly, MLA member engaged in intense debate over a resolution that criticized Israel (but did not call for a boycott). The Delegate Assembly approved the measure, but it failed to gather enough voting support when put to the membership to be declared MLA policy.

On Friday, Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the MLA, sent members a letter in which she said that the association had received two resolutions about the Israel boycott -- one in favor and one against. The committee that organizes the Delegate Assembly asked the authors of both resolutions to withdraw them (which they did) and the Delegate Assembly will instead have a broad discussion of "The MLA in the World: How Should the MLA Engage With Controversial Issues?" Subtopics of that discussion will include:

  • Energizing the Delegate Assembly as a Democratic Institution: The Resolution Process
  • Institutional and Individual Boycotts: How Can the MLA Approach This Issue?
  • What Is the Relation of Boycotts to Academic Freedom?
  • How Should the MLA Respond to Problems with Faculty Governance and Retaliation Against Public Speech?


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Dalhousie U. Faces Sex Harassment Allegations

Dalhousie University, in Nova Scotia, is seeking “restorative justice” against a group of male dentistry students involved in a Facebook group that allegedly made sexually violent remarks about their female cohorts and other women, CBC News reported. Some of the posts attributed to the students reference using chloroform on women. The Facebook page and other allegations of sexual harassment within the dentistry program – including that a professor showed a video featuring bikini models during an 8 a.m. class to “wake up” students – came to light after an unnamed female dentistry student shared her concerns with CBC News.

Richard Florizone, Dalhousie’s president said this week that 13 male students involved in the Facebook page will not face suspension or expulsion, but will attend face-to-face mediation with the parties involved, at the request of women who allegedly were harassed. University officials did not immediately return requests for comment about what, if any, disciplinary action will be pursued against the professor involved in the complaint.

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Alamo Colleges Delays Plan to Eliminate Majors

Alamo Colleges is backing down for now from a controversial plan to eliminate majors from students’ degrees, Fox 29 reported. Earlier this fall, faculty members at all of Alamo’s San Antonio campuses received word that the colleges’ longstanding, non-vocational academic programs – something like majors – would be restructured and would no longer appear on students’ diplomas. Instead, Alamo said it would issue two more generic degrees: an associate of arts and an associate of science, with no additional program information. Administrators said the change was aimed at improving the student rate of transfer to four-year institutions, but opposed faculty members and students said the change made Alamo degrees less meaningful and marketable, and was decided without their input.

Students campaigned against the change throughout the fall with the help of local community groups, Communities Organized for Public Service and the Metro Alliance, bringing their concerns to the colleges’ Board of Trustees, Fox 29 and several instructors said. Prior to a board meeting this week, Leslie sent an email to faculty members saying he would reinstate some arts and science degrees. He said postponing the plan provides an opportunity to “reset” and allow for “additional time to engage student, faculty, staff and other stakeholder leadership across the Alamo Colleges."

Leslie did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment. In an interview, a tenured faculty member at San Antonio College -- who did not want to give her name or discipline, citing concerns about job security -- said faculty members were “optimistic but extremely cautious” about the announcement. The instructor said faculty members, many of whom previously opposed a proposal by Leslie to require a class on Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, haven’t been successful in their opposition to various changes on campus, “because we’ve been so demonized in our district.” But, she said, “When you bring the students into it, it changes the chemistry of the whole thing.”

Essay on being a short person in academe

I am a five-foot-tall female physicist. You hear a lot about the challenges facing women in physics. These are real, and the percentage of physics bachelor’s degrees earned by women has stagnated at just over 20 percent for more than a decade. Being a woman in physics can be hard, but being a short physicist seems even harder to me. Why don’t we ever talk about the challenges of being short? 

Gender is the most prominent feature that we use to categorize ourselves, beginning from the first question asked after we are born: Is it a boy or a girl? The hypothesis that women are less intelligent or less cognitively capable of certain tasks has been around for a long time. For a while it was attributed to brain size, then the Y chromosome, then hormones circulating in the body, and now prenatal hormone exposure.

For some reason, our society wants to believe that women aren’t as smart as men. When a woman feels out of place in a male-dominated environment, she is understandably tempted to attribute it to her gender -- and she may be right. 

But when I find myself feeling out of place and not quite knowing why, I tend to blame it on my height. Whether on the athletic field, in an elevator, or in the lab, I am generally the shortest person present. At my height, 19 out of every 20 women I meet are taller than I am. The average man soars 10 inches above me. High heels cannot make up 10 inches. 

As kids, we all wait to grow into the world around us, and the average 12-year-old is close to my height. It wasn’t until I was an undergraduate at Yale University that I had to admit the world would never be designed for me. I was somehow happily oblivious in college to the challenges faced by women, but the challenges faced by short people were obvious to me, every day. I could not reach things on high shelves in the labs and libraries. I could not sit with my feet flat on the floor with my back supported in many classroom chairs.  

The challenges continued in my graduate research lab at Harvard University. I wasn’t large enough to flip the dewar that held our cryogenic microscope. I wasn’t strong enough to loosen a bolt. When I couldn’t find where my peers had put something, I learned to get on the step stool and look at their eye level. 

I looked ridiculous using all my body weight at an awkward angle to pull a liquid helium tank down the hall. The cleanroom ran out of the small sizes of “bunny suits” that are required to enter the cleanroom fabrication facilities. Small people were expected to wear larger ones, since big people cannot physically fit into smaller ones. 

The biggest safety hazard was the location of a hot plate in a fume hood. The point of a fume hood, a structure that allows you to put your hands into a space that has its own ventilation, is to keep toxic fumes on the inside, away from the air you breathe. Short people simply took a deep breath before sticking their heads into the fume hood. 

My six-foot-tall female labmate didn’t have these problems. 

I now work at a women’s college. The environment is eye-opening. 

The brightest student in the class is a woman. The most studious student is a woman. The struggling student is a woman. The slacker is a woman. The geek is a woman. The most aggressive and most outgoing students are women. Even the student who talks the most in class is a woman. 

When I need help reaching the screen at the front of the room to pull it down, it’s a 5’6’’ woman who comes to my rescue. Prizewinners are always women, and leadership positions always go to women. We may still categorize the people we meet, but it’s no longer based on gender. 

I received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2010, considered one of the most prestigious awards bestowed upon young scientists. There were two things that statistically increased the chances of receiving the PECASE that year through the National Science Foundation: being a woman; and being named Ben. You are unlikely to hear the accusation that you won “just because your name is Ben,” yet women are told that they receive awards because of their gender, not their qualifications. 

A women’s college naturally provides many female role models, but predicting effective role models is not straightforward. For some, identifying with a role model is critical to pursuing an unusual path, but a good match is not as straightforward as being the same gender, race, or sexuality. 

I never needed or wanted female role models in physics. But I do need short role models in sports.  Watching someone much larger than you excel on the field is not helpful. Seeing someone your size outcompete a larger person is motivating, and educational. One striking part of my interview at Mount Holyoke was how short the (male) dean of faculty was. I more recently met the (short, female) director of the American Association of Physics Teachers. I didn’t think I was looking for five-foot-tall role models in leadership, but maybe that’s because I hadn’t met any. 

While I intellectually recognize that being a woman in physics has presented challenges, I viscerally know that being short is difficult. That I haven’t volunteered my race or sexuality suggests I’m white (which is true) and heterosexual (also true). 

When someone speaks over me in a meeting or repeats my idea more loudly as their own, I assume it’s due to my physical stature, not because I’m a woman. And for all of you who are ever in a meeting and notice this happening, it’s your cue to say, “Thank you for reinforcing the point made by... .” That’s all it takes to change a frustrating environment into an affirming one, in a noncontroversial way. 

If we all make an effort to do small things like that more often — to recognize that the categories by which we sort people are limited, and that talent comes in all shapes and colors and follows many different trajectories through life — then perhaps an essay like this will someday simply start with the statement: “I am a physicist.” 

Katherine Aidala is an associate professor of physics at Mount Holyoke College.

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Photo by Grace Fitzpatrick, Mount Holyoke College
Image Caption: 
Katherine Aidala of Mount Holyoke (left), with a taller colleague, Spencer Smith

Harvard law professor says requests for trigger warnings limit education about rape law

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Professor sets off debate by writing that student requests to avoid discussions on rape law are limiting important parts of legal education. Some faculty say that they don't avoid the topic, but handle discussions in different ways than they do other subjects.


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