faculty

Students at Penn remove portrait of Shakespeare

Students at Penn set off debate by replacing image of the Bard in English department building with a photo of Audre Lorde, the black feminist poet.

Historians Issue Statement on Civil Liberties

Hundreds of historians have issued a joint statement on the need to be vigilant about civil liberties.

"As scholars of United States history and related fields, we have experienced concern and alarm as we went from a divisive campaign season to the election of Donald Trump as our president-elect. On the eve of a new administration whose key players have traded in hateful rhetoric and emboldened the harassment of various targets, we urge Americans to be vigilant against a mass violation of civil rights and liberties that could result if such troubling developments continue unchecked," says the statement. "Looking back on World War II and the Cold War, we recognize how easily the rights of people have been suspended during times of great uncertainty. A key lesson of such ordeals has been to never again repeat these mistakes, and so we issue a call to recognize and act upon the critical links between historical knowledge, informed citizenship and the protection of civil and human rights."

The full statement may be found here.

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Exploring CiteScore, Elsevier's new journal impact metrics

Elsevier explains the thought process behind CiteScore, its new journal impact metrics. Critics worry about potential conflicts of interest.

Professor Leaves California Due to Threats

The professor of psychology who was secretly videotaped talking about Donald Trump has left the state of California following a series of physical threats, The Orange County Register reported. Hundreds of people demonstrated at Orange Coast College for and against Olga Perez Stable Cox, the professor, this week, as her faculty union said her classes will be covered by someone else through the end of the semester. “Someone emailed her a picture of her house, with her address,” Rob Schneiderman, president of the campus's faculty union affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, told the Register. Another email read, “You want communism, go to Cuba … try to bring it to America and we’ll put a [expletive] bullet in your face,” the newspaper reported.

A videotape of Cox saying in her human sexuality class after the election that Trump’s victory was an “act of terrorism” was shared on the campus’s College Republicans’ Facebook page last week and promptly went viral. Cox did not respond to a request for comment, but Schneiderman has said she was answering a question from a student. The context of Cox’s comments is not clear from the video itself. Two students in Cox’s class told the Register this week that Cox also asked students who voted for Trump to identify themselves. “She tried to get everyone who voted for Donald Trump to stand up and show the rest of the class who to watch out for and protect yourself from,” said student Tanner Webb. Schneiderman disputed the account, saying that Cox told the class some people would be happy with the election results, and asked students to stand up if they wished, after one student did so without prompting.

Shawn Steel, a Republican National Committee member from California and an attorney who is representing the Orange Coast College Republicans, has previously said he wanted Cox to apologize but now says singling out Trump supporters is grounds for possible dismissal. “That’s a deal breaker for me,” he told the Register. The college is investigating the matter.

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A scholar examines some of the ethical dilemmas of academe (essay)

If we as faculty members can’t be honest among ourselves, Steven Conn asks, will we be surprised if our professional autonomy gets taken away by administrators or boards of trustees or state legislators?

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Advice for faculty members about overcoming resistance to teaching online (essay)

As a teacher, you may prefer traditional classrooms full of residential students, but virtual education is here to stay and offers significant benefits, writes Robert Ubell.

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After the election, academics should pursue a form of radical dialogue (essay)

I am a professor of sociology who did not vote for Donald Trump, and I do not know of a single academic colleague who did. (And if they did, they are certainly not disclosing this in academic circles.)

I remember sitting with colleagues before the primaries when Trump was gaining ground. They laughed him off. They did not know anyone who would vote for him.

The pollsters got it wrong, too, and they all seemed to get it wrong in the same direction: in favor of established liberal Hillary Clinton. They are already writing about the statistical reasons this may have happened. I am going to set those aside for now to address a sociological, qualitative reason.

Sociologists have long studied the tendency of people to bond with others like them. Case in point: I love my academic colleagues because they are a lot like me. We are a group of passionate people who care deeply about the poor. And we are similar in other ways, too. We like to read dry academic articles and make arguments that contain the word “nuanced.”

And politically, many of us lean to the left (or even the far left). When I am with other sociologists, I tend to de-emphasize the things that are different about us and emphasize the things that are similar: I talk a lot about how my husband is an equal partner in care for our daughter, how I come from a biracial family and how I am raising my daughter in, as much as possible, a gender-neutral fashion.

That is starkly different from the way I was brought up.

I was literally raised on Podunk Road, where trailers and beat-up cars dotted the landscape. Our family was probably among the richest of a group of poor white people. Among those I went to school with, I am one of the only ones who attended an Ivy League school, Cornell University. I was likely let in under affirmative action because of a land grant that required the university to take in a proportion of local farm kids. I fit this description.

When I am with my colleagues, I talk less about how most of my family were church-going, card-carrying members of the National Rifle Association or how I still go to church every week.

The truth is, academics at elite institutions tend to be more liberal, less religious and more in favor of big government than the rest of the American population. Most of us would be hard-pressed to give a well-reasoned, conservative argument in response to any social issue. And more than one academic colleague has told me that if their neighbor had a Republican sign on his lawn, they probably would not make any effort to get to know the neighbor.

I join my colleagues in the fight against social inequality in all its insidious forms. But many academics like me have not spent much time trying to understand the groups of people who likely voted for Trump, nor have we spent much time trying to translate our academic work to these groups. And given the demographics of the United States, we forget that, for Trump to win, he needed to have some of the people whose interests I think his views work against actually vote for him -- including poor people, immigrants, women and Latinos.

For most academics, our candidate did not win the presidential election. We now face a crossroads. Will we lock ourselves in our ivory towers and face the outside world with cynicism? Or will we concede that our best social scientists got the prediction wrong?

Now is the time to move forward in pursuing a form of radical dialogue that we do not hear very often on university campuses. I would advocate that we move forward as leaders in listening to and learning from the entire world outside the academy. We need to live up to the best vision of the university, where everyone is welcomed to hear and be challenged by views different than their own.

Here are some concrete suggestions:

  • Challenge yourself to find the best voice on the other side. Academics are human, and it’s tempting when dealing with controversial issues to choose an unattractive opponent. I study religion, and I have heard many debates between erudite, attractive academics and inarticulate faith leaders. We must find the most attractive, well-spoken person on the “other side.”
  • Claim the best vision of the university as a protected space for dialogue. Each month, through the Religion and Public Life Program that I direct at Rice University, I host a discussion or reception for 20 to 30 religious and civic leaders at my home. In the midst of polarized faith communities and tensions between faith and secular communities, the leaders who come say that this is one of the few places in their lives where they have the opportunity to meet with someone who is different. I have seen conservative and liberal faith leaders, people who would never meet under another circumstance, come together around common social justice issues.
  • Claim a nonutilitarian vision of the university. Universities have fallen prey to business principles. Some of this is unavoidable as funding streams narrow. In its best form this utilitarianism is born from a desire to do work that really counts. But universities can be the soul of society. Sometimes we academics -- who are busy with committee work, raising funding for projects and getting out the last possible publication for the academic audience -- forget what a privilege it is (especially for those of us who have stable academic jobs and even stable academic jobs with tenure) to work in a university context where we get paid to do work that we love.

In its worst form, the academy is often rightly criticized as being in an ivory tower with no central importance to helping solve societal problems. But in their best form, universities can provide society spaces to stop and reflect. That is why, in particular, the modern university needs the humanities. In my university classes, I learned practical skills for a job, but the best classes I took were my history and philosophy and writing classes -- those that prepared me to think, reflect and appreciate beauty.

I write this from a sabbatical in France. I grew up among the rural poor, but I do not know many of them anymore. In the next few months, I will return to America, to reality and, I hope, to trying to understand this new reality and sharing that knowledge with my colleagues, students and the rest of the world.

The election has changed me. When I return I want to be a better teacher and do a better job incorporating views and traditions different than my own in my classes. I might spend more time trying to translate my work to a broader public that can benefit from it and from whom I can learn. When colleagues say things that cut off dialogue or say that certain views are not welcome, I might feel freer to gently challenge. I might spend more time in my community translating my work, and I might take my students with me. I might try harder to bring that community to campus. In the best case, the election provides a chance for the academy to reflect on itself and achieve a new vision of service to the broader society.

Elaine Howard Ecklund is the Herbert S. Autrey Chair in Social Sciences at Rice University, where she directs the Religion and Public Life Program.

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Colby-Sawyer Cuts Positions, Majors

Colby-Sawyer College, a private college in New Hampshire, has announced cuts in staff positions and is also eliminating some majors. A message last week from Sue Stuebner, the president, said that seven faculty members and 11 staff members had been told that their positions were eliminated. An additional 19 faculty and staff members who are leaving will not be replaced. Stuebner said the college has been operating at a loss of $2 million the past two years, and this year's projections are for another loss, of $2.6 million. Enrollment has fallen from 1,500 four years ago to 1,100 this year, and the president's message said consultants have said the "optimal size" for the college is closer to current than past enrollment levels.

The Valley News reported that other cuts include five majors: English, philosophy, accounting, health promotion and health care management.

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Columbia Graduate Employees Vote to Form Union

Graduate students who are teaching and research assistants at Columbia University have voted, 1,602 to 623, to unionize and to be represented by the United Auto Workers, the union announced Friday afternoon.

“Today, 3,500 [research and teaching assistants] like me have won a voice to make sure Columbia University is the best place possible to learn and work,” said a statement from Addison Godel, a teaching assistant in the Architecture School at Columbia. “This marks a major victory for the entire Columbia community -- we care deeply about the world-renowned teaching and research that happens at our university and are ready to tackle the issues that matter most to us, our students and our neighbors.”

Columbia’s graduate students were the group that urged the National Labor Relations Board to rule in August that graduate students at private universities have that right. In something of a surprise, the voted to allow not only teaching assistants but research assistants to vote to form unions. The board has historically flip-flopped on graduate students’ status as employees, but the recent decision overturned a much longer-standing precedent against unions for externally funded research assistants in the sciences.

Last week’s vote is a big win for those seeking to unionize student employees at a number of other private research universities. It’s possible that some of those votes could be challenged, however. Some administrations have openly opposed the idea of graduate student unions, but institutions can only legally challenge the NLRB decision following a successful union vote.

Columbia did not respond directly to a question about whether or not it would challenge or begin to negotiate with the union, but sent a statement from John Coatsworth, provost.

Since the NLRB “reversed its position and decided that students at private universities may be treated as employees, Columbia’s administration has communicated two principal messages to our university community and to eligible voters: we have always believed that the magnitude of the decision at issue in this election, in combination with Columbia’s values, required an open and respectful conversation that explained the arguments for and against unionization. Having heard those arguments, the research and teaching assistants who voted have chosen to be represented by the United Auto Workers.”

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How to send cold emails that pay off in a job search (essay)

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In a job search, some unsolicited requests for information over email are much more effective than others. Robert D. Pearson gives advice on how to make yours one of them.

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