An engineering professor at Lehigh University and his wife were convicted of defrauding NASA by letting graduate students and researchers do all the work on a $700,000 project, the Associated Press reported. Yujie Ding and his wife, Yulia Zotova, reportedly obtained federal grants to develop a climate change sensor. But Zotova, who was supposed to oversee the project in her husband’s Lehigh laboratory, reportedly never came to work. Prosecutors said the sensor start-up was merely a front through which to seek grants, and that Ding didn’t disclose his role in the company to Lehigh.
Zotova, who is a physicist, argued in court that social anxiety prevented her from visiting the lab, and that she worked on the project from home. The couple’s attorneys also said that NASA ultimately got the prototype single-photon detector it had paid them to develop, The Morning Callreported. But a jury convicted Ding and Zotova on six of 10 fraud counts, based on the belief that they missed opportunities to inform NASA of Zotova’s changing role in the project, according to the Call. They each face up to 20 years in prison.
ProQuest (an online repository of “information content and technologies”) decided several weeks ago to cancel its group subscription to Early English Books Online for members of the Renaissance Society of America. This decision sparked a huge uproar on Twitter and across social media.
Scholars whose libraries don’t subscribe to this collection of early texts watched helplessly as their research agendas eroded before their eyes. And there were pedagogical implications, too: many academics used the access to these materials to give their undergraduate students the opportunity to do significant research with primary sources.
This furor raises a host of questions about the work of humanities scholars and access to archives and other materials. We know what a scientific lab looks like and requires, but what about the work of historians and literature scholars whose labs are far-flung, overseas, and sometimes even reside in the cloud, in the form of electronic resources?
My colleagues in chemistry and biology can give me the location and physical address of their labs somewhere on our campus. And chances are good that the university has given them funding to help finance that lab. My lab, however, is in Madrid. And London. There I have worked in archives and libraries, reading manuscripts and rare books that I cannot access any other way.
My current research, for example, hinges on a 15th-century manuscript that’s only available for 20 hours a week in the library at the royal palace of San Lorenzo El Escorial, an hour north of Madrid. And sometimes my lab is even in the cloud -- for example, when I rely on electronic resources like collections of digitized books or manuscripts. And certainly I use a host of online collections to aid the research of my undergraduate and graduate students.
All of this, then, should prompt humanities scholars to reimagine humanities research and to frame it within the conceptual model of the sciences, which has greater currency -- and funding -- in the academy.
First, the lab is a physical space, a destination, a place where you go to gather evidence and do research. So when I go to the National Archives in London, I am not simply traveling overseas to look at some things; I am going to my lab. And while I don’t need a lot of materials for that lab (a laptop and a pencil will usually stand me in good stead), I do need an airplane ticket and money for food and lodging. That is my equipment equivalent. And I should be funded accordingly. If my lab is in the cloud and the resources are available electronically, I should also have the financial support to access them.
Second, for academics in all disciplines, the lab is a collaborative space where we engage not just with our scholarship but also with our students. We invite them into our world to help them learn the research methods of our discipline, thereby equipping them with transferrable skills. So if I require access to online resources to make that possible, I should be funded accordingly.
But, some people will be quick to argue, my lab doesn’t make money for the university in the form of external grants -- or if it does, those grants are typically tiny when compared to grants in the sciences. To that, I reply with the following: my lab is remarkably efficient and flexible. The cost of a research trip pales in comparison to the costs incurred in helping a new bench scientist start a lab at a university.
And if you make a small investment in a collection of online primary sources, I can reach a staggering number of students. Because my lab is a flexible, almost virtual space, and students don’t have to occupy the physical space of a science lab, I can expose even more of them to the research opportunities that these electronic repositories create. All 75 students in my Western Civilization survey can begin to learn the transferrable skills of identifying a research question and leveraging the evidence to answer it. All 35 students in my upper-division course for majors can further hone those skills and habits of mind.
So let’s embrace the vocabulary of our scientist colleagues. Let’s talk about our labs and how flexible and efficient they are. I’m no Pollyanna. I don’t think this conceptual shift will result immediately in more funding for the humanities or a greater valuing of humanities research. But I do think we risk the further erosion of the status of our work within the academy unless we come up with new and more resonant ways of talking about it.
And it never hurts to stand up for our labs. The Twitterverse erupted with a quick and pointed campaign when the news of ProQuest’s decision landed. This backlash definitely played a major role in its reinstatement of the group subscription within less than two days after the original announcement. Pretty successful defense of humanities labs, I’d say.
Elizabeth A. Lehfeldt is dean of the Jack, Joseph & Morton Mandel Honors College and Mandel Professor in Humanities at Cleveland State University. She blogs at Tales Told Out of School.
American University of Beirut announced Friday that it is restoring a tenure system for faculty members. The university suspended the use of tenure in 1985, at the height of the Lebanese Civil War, when Malcolm Kerr, president of AUB, was assassinated and many feared for the university's future. Tenure is being restored based on a vote of the Faculty Senate and of the university board. Faculty committees will now develop systems for tenure reviews -- both for new faculty members and those who have been working as faculty members at the university without tenure.
DENVER – Members of the American Anthropological Association voted in favor of a resolution calling on the group to boycott Israeli academic institutions by a 1,040 to 136 margin at the association’s annual business meeting on Friday evening. The resolution will be put to a vote by the full AAA membership in the spring.
Anthropologists at the business meeting also rejected an anti-boycott resolution by a 1,173 to 196 margin.
Proponents of the academic boycott see it as a way of protesting Israel’s occupation of territories obtained in the 1967 war and of standing up for the rights of Palestinians. Some anthropologists and many other academics oppose the boycott because they believe it will stigmatize Israeli scholars and damage the study of anthropology without likely having any effect on Israeli policy.
A motion calling on the AAA to divest from corporations that "profit from the violation of Palestinian human rights and the illegal occupation" also passed on Friday. But because that motion was introduced on the floor (as opposed to the two resolutions, which were submitted in advance), it will go to the association’s executive board for its consideration and will not automatically be placed on the spring ballot.
Inside Higher Ed will have more coverage of the association's vote soon.
Students and faculty members of Mills College rallied on campus Wednesday in protest of $250,000 in proposed cuts to adjunct salaries on top of $3 million in cuts to arts, language, ethic studies and public policy programs. The college is struggling to stay afloat amid declining enrollment and persistent budget deficits. Service Employees International Union, which represents adjunct faculty on the campus, says the cuts would disproportionately affect part-time faculty and put its liberal arts mission at risk. “We do not understand how, at an institution committed to social justice and equity, such disparity exists between those who serve the college’s central educational missions, and those who have made decisions about its future without faculty input, and on the backs of its most vulnerable members,” Sandra Banks, a visiting assistant professor of chemistry, said in a statement.
Sharon Washington, interim provost and dean of the faculty, said in a separate statement that it is “standard for colleges to regularly re-examine their curriculum and Mills is no exception.” Mills “is committed to sustaining itself as a leader in higher education. This means that we must evolve,” she added. “We must build on our contemporary liberal arts education with flexible programs and curriculum that will distinguish us as a college and serve our students well into the next century.”