faculty

Minnesota Faculty Panel Affirms On-Campus Free Speech

The University of Minnesota’s top faculty committee voted 7 to 2 last week to provisionally support a statement backing free speech on campus as the institution’s “paramount value,” according to The Washington Post. Dale Carpenter, Distinguished University Teaching Professor and Earl R. Larson Professor of Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Law at the University of Minnesota Law School, wrote in a guest blog post that the resolution adopted by the Faculty Consultative Committee (of which he is a part), has requested input on the statement from Minnesota’s president, provost, Student Senate and other groups, but was moved to affirm free speech rights in light of recent on-campus incidents.

In November, pro-Palestinian protesters -- three of whom were arrested -- repeatedly disrupted a speech by Moshe Halbertal, a law professor from Hebrew University in Jerusalem. And last academic year, the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action investigated and questioned the judgment of professors involved in a panel on free speech who promoted it using a Charlie Hebdo cover featuring Muhammad (the inquiry was prompted by student, faculty and external complaints).

The committee’s statement reads, in part, “Ideas are the lifeblood of a free society and universities are its beating heart. If freedom of speech is undermined on a university campus, it is not safe anywhere. The University of Minnesota resolves that the freedom of speech is, and will always be, safe at this institution.” The statement says that protecting free speech means embracing the following principles:

  1. A public university must be absolutely committed to protecting free speech, both for constitutional and academic reasons.
  2. Free speech includes protection for speech that some find offensive, uncivil or even hateful.
  3. Free speech cannot be regulated on the ground that some speakers are thought to have more power or more access to the mediums of speech than others.
  4. Even when protecting free speech conflicts with other important university values, free speech must be paramount.
A university spokesperson noted via email Monday that in a speech earlier this month, President Eric Kaler said that "the University of Minnesota promotes a climate of open, thoughtful and civil debate among our campus community. We encourage all to speak with respect and understanding of others, but we should not forbid speech that shocks, hurts or angers. Professor Carpenter's notion that, 'The best response to offensive ideas is to counter them with better ideas,' is spot on. If there is any space in society for that, it’s the university."
 
The spokesman also said that the committee's resolution is "the beginning of a dialogue in [the committee] with an objective of reaching a consensus that effects the input of a broad cross section of campus."
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Kennesaw State Professor Arrested for Protesting Campus Carry Bill

Amy Donahue, an assistant professor of philosophy at Kennesaw State University, was arrested Friday in the Georgia Capitol for protesting the state’s proposed concealed campus carry law, similar to the one recently passed -- against faculty and administrative concerns -- in Texas. State troopers handcuffed and arrested Donahue for disruption of the General Assembly and obstruction of an officer for holding a 22-by-28-inch sign opposing the legislation, which later passed the Georgia Senate, the Savannah Morning News reported. (The bill next goes to Governor Nathan Deal, who could sign it into law.)

Donahue was allowed to enter the building with her sign and visited an additional floor before she was arrested, according to the Morning News. The paper reported that groups routinely bring signs into the building, and Donahue’s arrest angered the Georgia First Amendment Foundation, whose executive director, Hollie Manheimer, said in a statement, "It appears this citizen was trying to express herself, but instead was arrested. Law enforcement operated under a criminal statute, even though there seems to have been no evidence that the citizen was obstructing the hallway or any area at all, with the intent to cause disruption.”

But a spokesperson from Kennesaw State suggested otherwise. Tammy DeMel told the Morning News, “We have the utmost respect for the General Assembly, and while we support appropriate expressions of opinion, we do not condone the disruptive activities associated with this incident.” Donahue was charged with two misdemeanors and released on a $2,000 bond. Via email, Donahue declined immediate comment.

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Human Terrain System May Be Alive, After All

The Human Terrain System was controversial throughout its history -- and that history may still be going on. The program set off intense debates among anthropologists and other social scientists when the U.S. Army in 2005-6 introduced the idea of embedding scholars with military units in Iraq and Afghanistan. The theory was that these scholars would help military leaders understand tribal groups and potentially reduce danger to civilians and the military. But many scholars viewed the program as violating their professional ethics and cheered the news last year that the program had been shut down.

But USA Today reported last week that the program remains alive and that the Army has simply kept it quiet. (The Army isn't talking.)

The news prompted the American Anthropological Association to call for the program to be shut down completely once and for all. "The fact is that when social science research is done at gunpoint, with researchers surrounded by armed combatants, it is coercive, professionally irresponsible and highly unlikely to yield reliable and accurate results," said a statement from the association.

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The importance of following directions when you apply for jobs (essay)

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In any Ph.D. job search, if there is an application process, you should read the instructions before you do anything, writes Natalie Lundsteen. You should take your time, be thoughtful and follow directions.

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University Furloughs Employees for Spring Break

This year, all faculty and staff at Morehead State University will be spending their spring break on furlough without pay.

Facing a $2.6 million tuition shortfall and a proposed $1.95 million cut in state funding, the university needs to cut costs by $4.5 million, the Lexington Herald Leader reported. President Wayne Andrews announced the furlough Thursday.

The proposed cut in state funding presents an exceptional challenge, Andrews wrote in an email to the campus. By the time it was announced, late in the fiscal year, most of the university’s discretionary resources had already been spent or committed.

“These cuts, and the additional cuts proposed, strain our ability to provide affordable access to quality academic programs, to educate students for careers and jobs so important to the advancement of our great state, and to take care of our community,” he wrote.

Some critical staff, who need to work over spring break, will schedule their furlough later.

U of Texas Backs Professor in Dispute on Disrupted Event

The University of Texas at Austin announced Wednesday that it found no wrongdoing by a professor in his actions in November when a lecture he organized was disrupted by pro-Palestinian students. The students interrupted the start of the lecture, which was on the Israeli military, with speeches of their own in which they criticized the Israeli military. The professor, Ami Pedahzur, then attempted to regain order and criticized the protesters, some of whom filed complaints accusing him of violating their rights and discriminating against them.

The university's announcement Wednesday said that an investigation found the accusations against Pedahzur to be unsubstantiated. The university said policy bars it from releasing full reports on charges found to be unsubstantiated. (Supporters of the students are accusing the university of a biased investigation.)

Gregory L. Fenves, president at UT Austin, issued a statement that suggested the thinking behind the university's finding. "Free discourse is vital to the University of Texas," he said. "As a university committed to knowledge and discovery, UT is steadfast in its support of inquiry and debate. Yet free speech also carries with it responsibility. The expression of free speech is not a license to drown out the speech of others, or to shout down ideas one disagrees with."

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BREAKING: U of Wisconsin Regents Adopt New Tenure Policies

UPDATE: The University of Wisconsin Board of Regents voted today to approve the policies referenced below. Inside Higher Ed will have a full report tomorrow. Protests by audience members interrupted the meeting.

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents votes today on new tenure, posttenure review and faculty layoff policies to close gaps in tenure protections created by a new state law. But some members of the systemwide task force that drafted the policies being considered say they had little input, reported The Cap Times. Bradley Seebach, an associate professor of biology at the University of Wisconsin at LaCrosse, told the paper despite assumptions that the draft policies represent the consensus of the 20-person task force, “no [one] can say whether the draft policies represent the common viewpoint of the task force members. This is because the members of the task force were never asked to endorse the policy statements, either as a whole or in individual parts. Like many other task force members, I went into the process assuming that we would be asked to endorse final policy statements.”

Another task force member who did not identify him or herself in responding to an informal poll by the Times said, “Since our input was ultimately ignored, I begrudge every minute wasted” on the task force. The same respondent said the new posttenure review policy “gives too much power to administrators and not enough time to turn around a subpar research program. These points were made very clear by the committee, and they were ignored.” One respondent, meanwhile, supported all three policies, saying they will keep the system competitive with other institutions.

The American Association of University Professors remains opposed to some aspects of the proposed policies. David Vanness, an associate professor of population health sciences at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and head of its AAUP chapter, said in statement on Facebook Wednesday that the proposed policy on layoffs of tenured faculty members allows the administration “to discontinue programs (and lay off faculty) because other programs may be considered higher priority” because it wrongly conflates educational considerations and financial concerns.

The draft policy says, in part, that "educational considerations are related in part to regular program review, and reflect a long-range judgment that the educational mission of the institution as a whole will be enhanced by program discontinuance. This includes the reallocation of resources to other programs with higher priority based on educational considerations. Such long-range judgments generally will involve the analysis of financial resources and the needs of the program and any related college or school."

Vanness wrote that while the first sentence is fine, the last two “are disasters waiting to happen. If the administration decides, for example, that climate science is a lower priority than petroleum engineering, well -- it could be good-bye, climate science! It need not be so obviously political -- but do we want to work in a climate where we are competing against each other for our own jobs? We're talking Academic Hunger Games here, folks.”

Another “land mine” lurks in the inclusion of "current and predicted comparative cost analysis/effectiveness of the program" in the list of "educational considerations," Vanness said. If program A graduates more majors per dollar spent than program B, then program B could be discontinued, Vanness argues. “What metric will be used to choose? The policy doesn't specify -- and doesn't give faculty the responsibility to decide (assuming that using comparative cost-effectiveness is even an appropriate reason to lay off faculty). … The only acceptable conditions for faculty layoff are either a true institutionwide financial emergency or that a program should be discontinued for bona fide educational considerations, as determined by the faculty (who, after all are supposed to have primary responsibility for curriculum and research)."

The university system has maintained that its proposed standards are on par with peer institutions.

Meanwhile, Madison last semester gave out $726,436 in raises and $8 million in research support to maintain 40 top faculty members being courted by other institutions, the Journal-Sentinel reported, based on information it obtained via an open records request. The number of professors taking outside offers to the central administration has reportedly increased this year, as many expected, since the Wisconsin Legislature changed the state’s tenure law and cut $250 million from the university system’s budget last summer. Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank said at a recent Board of Regents meeting, according to the Journal-Sentinel, that in retaining the 40 professors, the university kept $18 million in federal research grants on campus. A half dozen faculty members who received retention offers decided to leave Madison anyway, and several professors who decided to stay reportedly remain worried about a long-term decline in faculty morale and working conditions.

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How midcareer faculty members can find time for mentoring (essay)

Mentoring is an issue at all career stages, yet the demands significantly expand for midcareer faculty members, write Joya Misra and Jennifer Lundquist.

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Student Charged With Changing Grades

A student at the University of Connecticut has been charged with second-degree forgery and third-degree computer crime for breaking into his professor's computer and changing grades, The Day reported. The student improved his grades and those of some other students, and dropped the grades of four students. What the student apparently didn't realize was that UConn has a system to detect such fraud: it notifies professors that they have recorded grade changes, so if a professor receives such an email and hasn't made the changes (as was the case here), the case can be investigated.

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Researchers build preservation ecosystem to avert 'digital dark age'

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Universities and nonprofits are building a "preservation ecosystem" to ensure today's research can benefit scholars of the future.

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