Betsy Palmer, an associate professor of education at Montana State University, died Monday from injuries from a landslide in Nepal, where she was leading a group of 16 students on a course offered by the university's honors program. The university said that the students were not injured in the landslide, but the university is working with U.S. officials to bring the students home.
The University of California at Irvine on Monday named Howard Gillman as its next provost and executive vice chancellor -- despite opposition from some faculty members. Gillman was formerly dean of the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences at the University of Southern California, and Irvine's announcement praised his role in helping to enhance departments at USC. But the Irvine Faculty Association, citing discussions with some professors at USC, last week issued a public letter -- upon learning that Gillman was a finalist for the provost job -- urging that he not be appointed.
The letter questioned the way he has interacted with faculty members, and specifically said that faculty members in American studies and ethnic studies did not feel he had treated them fairly in tenure reviews. On Monday, a student-faculty group also issued a letter questioning the appointment. Irvine released a Q&A with Gillman in which the university characterized the criticism as coming from "a small group of faculty members," and asked him about the concerns. He said that the criticism "is not based on facts."
"I don't apologize for any of my writing," says Jason Richwine, whose 2009 Harvard University Ph.D. dissertation has received much scrutiny over the last 10 days. The dissertation argues that there will be a long-term gap in the IQs of Latino immigrants and their offspring, and critics at Harvard and elsewhere said that he lacked evidence to back his theory, and was providing intellectual support for racist ideas. Richwine was the author of a Heritage Foundation report on immigration, and critics of the report pointed to the dissertation to raise questions about why anyone was listening to Richwine and whether he deserved a Harvard Ph.D. On Monday, National Reviewpublished an essay by Richwine reflecting on the controversy. He said he regretted that the controversy over the dissertation took attention away from the Heritage report.
As for the dissertation, he defends it. "I realize that IQ selection rubs some people the wrong way, but it can hardly be called 'extremist.' Canada and Australia intentionally favor highly educated immigrants. My proposal is based on the same principle they use (pick skilled immigrants), but it offers a much better chance for disadvantaged people to be selected. If the dissertation were taken seriously, its real contribution would be to open a forthright debate about the assimilation challenge posed by the post-1965 immigration wave. Because regardless of what one believes IQ scores really measure, or what determines them, they are undeniably predictive of a wide variety of socioeconomic outcomes that people care about."
Numerous letters and petition are circulating that are critical of Richwine. One -- called Scholars Against Scientific Racism -- says: "We are a group of 1000 scholars (and counting) opposed to scientific racism -- the use of science or social science to argue that a racialized group is inferior. Jason Richwine’s dissertation is an example of scientific racism and this work has no place in twenty-first century academia."
Here's a course topic not currently offered by any of the providers of massive open online courses: "The Implications of Coursera’s For-Profit Business Model for Global Public Education." The course was proposed last week by Robert Meister, professor of political and social thought in the department of the history of consciousness at the University of California at Santa Cruz and president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations. He sent a letter with his idea to Daphne Koller, a computer science professor at Stanford University and co-founder of Coursera, and then published his letter on the blog of the American Association of University Professors.
Among the topics Meister proposes covering:
Why venture capitalists "are willing to provide an even greater abundance of knowledge in the service of greater economic and social equality than is the State of California, which clearly has the means to spend much more than it has cost your company to reach a worldwide enrollment in the millions."
The way "free MOOCs weaken the link between scarcity and quality on which the business model of all higher education, both public and private, unfortunately depends."
Teaching students to "think financially about the socio-economic spreads created by our public educational system as a potential source of private profit."
"[T]hat the for-profit logic of their online educational empowerment depends on the fact while they are consuming information, they are also producing information that Coursera can correlate with other data to predict what prices students with particular profiles would eventually pay for courses they are presently consuming for free."
The piece ends by asking Koller if she would co-teach the course, saying "I’m sure that together we could reach a very large audience indeed."
Via e-mail in response to an Inside Higher Ed question, Koller indicated that potential students might not find the course listed in the Coursera list of offerings any time soon, and that she does not consider that she was really being invited to co-teach it.
"If you've read the (rather long) letter, you'll have seen that it's not actually an invitation to co-teach a course, but rather a thinly veiled attack on Coursera and the whole MOOC model," she wrote. "When we launched Coursera we introduced a completely new model for providing learners everywhere free access to a great education. It is not surprising that a model this transformative brings out skeptics and critics, and, indeed, some caution is appropriate whenever the world changes this quickly. I am happy to respond to concrete criticism of our actions or words, but Mr. Meister's letter criticizes the model not based on what Coursera has done, nor even on what we have said we would do in future, but rather based on a speculative trajectory of his own construction. Our mission, to enable anyone around the world to have access to education, and to do what's best for students, remains clear today and will not bend in the future."
Undergraduate students should join professors in selecting the content of courses taught in the humanities.
This is the conclusion I came to after teaching Humanities on Demand: Narratives Gone Viral, a pilot course at Duke University that not only introduced students to some of the critical modes humanists employ to analyze new media artifacts, but also tested the viability of a new, interactive course design. One semester prior to the beginning of class, we asked 6,500 undergraduates -- in other words, Duke¹s entire undergraduate student body -- to go online and submit materials they believed warranted examination in the course.
Submissions could be made regardless of whether a student planned on enrolling in the course. In response, hundreds of students from a variety of academic disciplines, including engineering, political science, religion, foreign languages, anthropology, public policy and computer science, submitted content for the class.
This interactive approach, which I call Epic Course Design (ECD) after German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s theory of epic theater, represents a radical break with traditional course-building techniques. Generally, humanities instructors unilaterally choose the content of their syllabuses -- and rightly so. After all, we are the experts. But this solitary method of course construction does not reflect how humanists often actually teach.
Far from being viewed as passive receptacles of instructional data, humanities students are often engaged as active contributors. With this in mind, ECD offers a student-centered alternative to traditional course-building methods. Importantly, ECD does not allow students to dictate the content of a course; it invites them to contribute, with the instructor ultimately deciding which (if any) student-generated submissions merit inclusion on the syllabus.
Nevertheless, when a colleague of mine first heard about my plans to allow students to determine what was to be examined in Narrative Gone Viral, he was deeply skeptical: "But students don¹t know what they don’t know," he objected. In my view, that is not a problem -- that is the point; or at least part of it. For crowdsourcing the curriculum not only invites students to submit material they are interested in, but also invites them to choose material they believe they already understand. Student-generated submissions for Narratives Gone Viral included popular YouTube videos like "He-Man sings 4 Non Blondes,""Inmates Perform Thriller" and "Miss Teen USA 2007- South Carolina answers a Question." While my students were already exceedingly familiar with these videos, they clearly didn’t always see what was at stake in them.
All of these works are worthy of academic scrutiny: the "He-Man" piece is interesting because it confronts preconceived notions of masculinity; "Inmates Perform Thriller" prompts questions of accessibility to social media; "Miss Teen USA" is notable because it reveals how viral videos often appeal to a viewer’s desire to feel superior to others.
I am not proposing that all humanities courses should integrate this approach. What I am suggesting, however, is that ECD represents a viable alternative to more familiar course-building methodologies. This includes classes that do not focus on social media and/or popular culture. Importantly, whether students will be interested in suggesting texts for, say, a course on medieval German literature is not the crucial question; in my view, the crucial question is: Why should we refrain from offering motivated students the opportunity to do so, if they wish?
There was relatively little repetition in student submissions for Narratives Gone Viral, an indication that students were reviewing posts made by their peers, weighing their options, and responding with alternative suggestions.
To put a finer point on the matter, students were not merely submitting course content: they were discussing the content of a course that -- in every traditional sense -- had yet to even begin.
Michael P. Ryan is a visiting assistant professor of German studies and the American Council of Learned Societies new faculty fellow at Duke University.