The University of Alaska at Anchorage’s Faculty Senate on Friday voted no confidence in Jim Johnsen, president of the University of Alaska System, 28 to 9, the Alaska Dispatch Newsreported. The nonbinding resolution says that faculty turnover has increased while morale has declined under Johnsen’s tenure, in part because "the issues or concerns raised by the faculty have had no apparent influence on" and are not addressed by any decisions concerning a major system restructuring.
That process, called Strategic Pathways, aims to streamline academic and administrative operations across campuses. Frank Jeffries, a professor of business and public policy, said that the restructuring didn't follow best practices, and the statewide administration appeared to make decisions while "completely ignoring financial implications,” according to the Dispatch News.
Alaska Board of Regents Chair Gloria O'Neill said the regents still have full confidence in Johnsen. "I believe this is systematic of real change and the messy environment that we find ourselves in," she added.
Beverly Wendland, James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, has no plans to close the historic Humanities Center, she assured faculty members and students Wednesday. Wendland made her announcement in a cover letter to a faculty committee report on the department’s future. The report recommends one of three courses of action: keeping the center’s name while rethinking its role in relation to other humanities departments; renaming the department as something that more “clearly conveys its identity and focus”; or transforming the humanities center into a comparative literature department, “building on the expertise of current faculty and using vacant faculty lines to recruit strong scholars in this specific, interdisciplinary field.”
Wendland said Johns Hopkins will “consider carefully all of the committee’s recommendations and options in order to determine the best path forward for the humanities.” Students and faculty members objected to the possible closure of the 50-year-old interdisciplinary Humanities Center in the fall, launching a petition and website to save it. The new report calls out some of those protesters, saying, “We believe that the situation could have provided a teachable moment regarding how to engage calmly and rationally with controversy, but unfortunately, the students may not have had proper faculty guidance in doing so.”
The American Historical Association Council rejected one petition from a group of historians critical of Israel and reworded another at its recent meeting. After two unsuccessful attempts to get AHA members to approve boycott, divestment and sanctions-related resolutions at the association’s annual gatherings in 2015 and 2016, a group of historians, some of whom are affiliated with Historians Against the War, petitioned the AHA’s governing body directly. The first petition called on the AHA to investigate “credible charges of violations of academic freedom in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories,” whether by “constituting a fact-finding committee, authorizing a delegation or issuing an investigative report,” similar to efforts undertaken by the American Anthropological Association.
The second petition asked the AHA Council to make a statement upholding “the right of students and faculty to engage in nonviolent political action expressing diverse points of view on Israel/Palestine issues” and condemning “all efforts at intimidation of those expressing such views. Specifically, we condemn the maintenance of blacklists, such as those on the anonymous ‘Canary Mission’ website publicizing names, photographs and contact information for hundreds of supporters of Palestinian rights, predominantly Arab-American students.”
Jim Grossman, executive director of the historical association, said the council “discussed the complicated intellectual and practical issues" raised by the first petition. And while it “benefited from the experience” of the anthropological association, he said, the council “determined that the petition is requesting investigative work that is beyond the scope and mission of the AHA.”
Instead of addressing political speech regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue specifically, as requested in the second petition, the council released a statement upholding “the rights of students, faculty and other historians to speak freely and to engage in nonviolent political action expressing diverse perspectives on historical or contemporary issues.” The statement continues, “We condemn all efforts to intimidate those expressing their views. Specifically, we condemn in the strongest terms the creation, maintenance and dissemination of blacklists and watch lists -- through media (social and otherwise) -- which identify specific individuals in ways that could lead to harassment and intimidation.”
Grossman said the more general statement reflects the AHA's concern “that any such harassment and intimidation is contrary to our values and to the generally accepted principles of academic freedom articulated by the American Association of University Professors.” He added, “We're grateful to the petitioners for raising this issue, and think that what matters is the larger problem of any entity creating what essentially look like blacklists.”
Van Gosse, chair of history at Franklin and Marshall College and a member of Historians Against the War, said AHA has “the right and responsibility” to take political stances on issues under its purview. Regarding the first petition, Gosse said he didn’t understand how the AHA could cite the anthropologists’ action, then state that the requested investigation was outside its own purview. “A small, volunteer committee vetted by council could have done that work; there is vast documentation already available,” he said. Gosse said he was not aware of anyone involved in drafting the petitions who was “disturbed” by the council’s response to the second one, however.
A professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, accused of harassing two former graduate students, canceled several of his classes earlier this week due to student protests upon his return to campus following a related suspension. Gabriel Piterberg has not admitted to any misconduct, but the university settled with the two students last year after they sued it for responding insufficiently to their claims. Piterberg also agreed to a separate settlement with the university in 2014, which halted a campus investigation into one of the students’ claims. That agreement included a $3,000 fine, a one-quarter suspension without pay and a three-year ban on meeting alone with students in his office with the door shut.
That last detail has played a key role in ongoing protests about Piterberg’s return, as some students questioned how a professor who can’t be trusted to be alone with students can be trusted to teach them. “We wanted to send a clear message to the university and the history department that we don’t think someone accused of sexual harassment should be teaching undergraduate classes,” protester Melissa Melpignano, a fourth-year doctoral student and member of the group Bruins Against Sexual Harassment, told theLos Angeles Times.
Kathryn Kranhold, a university spokesperson, said that Piterberg would continue to teach, but that videotaped lectures will be available to students who choose not to attend class. Piterberg, who canceled class after protesters stood inside his classroom and others could be heard shouting outside, did not respond to a request for comment. He’s accused of harassing the two students over several years and of forcibly touching and kissing them.