Let's Break Internet With List of Banished Words

Every New Year's Eve, Lake Superior State University releases a list for the following year of words and phrases that need to be eliminated. People nominate words all year long. For 2016, the List of Words Banished From the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness includes:

  • Conversation. "Online publications invite us to 'join the conversation,' which is usually more of a scream-fest," says the announcement list. (Confession: Inside Higher Ed is among the online publications that use that language.)
  • Problematic: “A corporate-academic weasel word,” according to the Urban Dictionary entry cited by the university.
  • Stakeholder: The university explains that this "word that has expanded from describing someone who may actually have a stake in a situation or problem, now being overused in business to describe customers and others."
  • Break the Internet: Lake Superior calls this "a phrase that is annoying online word watchers around the world."
  • Manspreading: The university quotes one of those who nominated the word as saying that "men don't need another disgusting-sounding word thrown into the vocabulary to describe something they do …. You're just taking too much room on this train seat -- be a little more polite."
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Test yourself on whether you should retire (essay)

Should you retire sometime in 2016? Gordon Hammerle has developed a quiz to help you determine the answer -- or to at least get a chuckle.


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MLA Condemns Bias Against Those Who Teach About Islam

The Modern Language Association's Executive Council has issued a statement criticizing growing anti-Muslim bias as well as bias against those who teach about Islam. The statement says: "After the terrible shootings in Paris and San Bernardino, we have witnessed a sharp rise in Islamophobia, the intense hatred and fear of Islam and those identifying with the religion and its culture. This includes, but is not restricted to, targeting Arabs and Arab-Americans. In the United States there has been an upsurge in attacks upon and censorship and harassment of those who, as part of their scholarly work, teach about Islam. The MLA condemns any and all violations of free speech and academic freedom, including those based on race, religious affiliation and ethnicity. We especially deplore the firings and intimidation of those teachers who aid in our understanding of Islam."

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New Hampshire Court Upholds Professor's Firing

The New Hampshire Supreme Court in December upheld the University of New Hampshire's 2013 firing of Marco Dorfsman, an associate professor of Spanish, after he admitted to altering a colleague's student evaluations. Dorfsman admitted to altering the evaluations so the student reviews would appear lower than they really were. The university invoked a provision in the contract of the faculty union that "moral turpitude" is grounds for firing. An arbitrator agreed that Dorfsman's actions constituted moral turpitude but found that dismissal was too harsh a punishment.

The Supreme Court decision said that because the contract specifically allows dismissals for moral turpitude and the arbitrator did not contest that the altering of evaluations met that standard, there was no basis to question the university's decision. "In rejecting UNH’s chosen penalty for moral turpitude, the arbitrator substituted his views of the proper industrial relationships for the provisions of the contract," said the Supreme Court decision in the case. "The arbitrator may not rewrite the labor contract in such a way."

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NLRB Accepts Columbia TA Union Case

The National Labor Relations Board in December agreed to consider whether graduate students at Columbia University are entitled to unionize. The NLRB in October agreed to address the issue with respect to a bid by graduate students at the New School to unionize. Collective bargaining rights at public universities are governed by state law, and many public universities as a result have teaching assistant unions. The NLRB has gone back and forth on the issue with respect to private universities, but the current precedent bars collective bargaining. The petitions from graduate students at both the New School and Columbia seek to reverse that ruling, while the universities would like to maintain the ruling.

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Apparent Impasse Over Hijab-Wearing Professor

Wheaton College, a Christian institution in Illinois, and Larycia Hawkins, a tenured faculty member in political science, are apparently at an impasse over her continued employment at the college.

Hawkins attracted international attention this month when she announced -- in the wake of anti-Muslim statement by American politicians and others -- that she would wear a hijab as a sign of solidarity with Muslims. (The photo shows Hawkins, at right, with a student who also opted to wear a hijab as part of the effort.) Hawkins was placed on leave not for the gesture but for what she said about her motivation, which was to show support for Muslims, who "worship the same God" as do Christians. That statement about "the same God" reflects an idea endorsed by some Christian theologians, but very much opposed by others. Since Hawkins was placed on leave, she has been in touch with Wheaton officials about resolving the dispute.

Shortly before Christmas, Hawkins told The Chicago Tribune that discussions had broken down and she would reject a proposal from the college that she would return to teach, but without tenure for at least two years. She said the college appeared to be trying to force her out. "I was naively thinking they wanted to cooperate," she said. "I have tenure, and I have to fight for that."

The college issued a statement in which it acknowledged that talks have not been successful, but denied trying to force her out.

"At Dr. Hawkins's request, the college proposed the terms of separation if she chose to resign. We have not asked her to resign and did not suggest that she do so. Although Dr. Hawkins and the college have begun discussions regarding the possibility of a voluntary resignation, those discussions have not yet been successful and may have reached an impasse. Because of the arrival of the Christmas holidays, it will be some time before the resolution is solidified. Meanwhile, we solicit prayers for wisdom and discernment on behalf of all affected."

The college's statement also asserted Wheaton's right as a religious institution to require that faculty members embrace certain beliefs. "Wheaton recognizes that there may be a range of views among our faculty and staff regarding contemporary issues," the statement said. "However, we take the [college's] Statement of Faith seriously; as members of this voluntary community, all faculty and staff are expected not merely to sign it as a cursory requirement of employment, but also to affirm it as an expression of their own beliefs. As they participate in various causes, it is essential that faculty and staff engage and speak about issues in ways that faithfully represent the college’s Statement of Faith, which is at the core of our identity and mission."


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AAAS Won't Consider UCLA Professor as Fellow

The American Association for the Advancement of Science announced in December that its chemistry division has withdrawn the nomination of Patrick Harran to be a fellow of the association. After the association announced Harran's nomination last month -- a significant honor for a scientist -- the AAAS was criticized for failing to consider Harran's full record. One of his lab assistants was killed in a laboratory fire in 2008, after which questions were raised about whether Harran should have done a better job of assuring safety. 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. In 2014, he reached a deal with authorities -- opposed by the lab assistant's family -- in which he did not admit wrongdoing and legal charges were dropped. 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. He has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in the incident.

The re-evaluation of Harran's nomination came, the AAAS statement said, "after it became apparent that an initial review of nomination materials had not included all relevant information. Members of the nomination reviewing committee recently became aware of a 2008 case involving the death of a technician in the UCLA laboratory of Dr. Harran." The statement added that an AAAS committee "is also considering changes to the fellow review process for subsequent nominations."

Harran did not immediately respond to an email seeking his reaction.

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Death and Science

The deaths of leading academic scientists may contribute in an unexpected way to the advancement of their fields, according to a study released last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research. The study (abstract available here) looked at the impact of the deaths of 452 academic life scientists who died while still "at the peak of their scientific abilities." As expected, the flow of articles by their collaborators declined. But their fields actually thrived as a result of a significant increase in publication of articles in the field by people not previously active and many of these papers went on to be influential. The paper speculates that "outsiders are reluctant to challenge leadership within a field when the star is alive and that a number of barriers may constrain entry even after she is gone."

The authors of the paper are Pierre Azoulay of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Joshua Graff Zivin of the University of California at San Diego, and Christian Fons-Rosen of Universitat Pompeu Fabra, in Spain.

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Appeals court upholds U of Hawaii decision to deny student a teaching assignment based on statements on sex and disabilities

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Appeals court rules U of Hawaii was justified in denying student teaching experience to man who was qualified academically but whose statements about adult-child sex and students with disabilities alarmed professors.

Academic Minute: Imitation and Innovation

Today on the Academic Minute: Cristine Legare, associate professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin, discusses these dual engines of cultural learning. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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