UBC Board Chair, Amid Inquiry, Steps Aside Temporarily

John Montalbano has stepped down temporarily as board chair of the University of British Columbia amid an investigation into allegations that he violated a professor's academic freedom, The Globe and Mail reported. Montalbano remains on the board itself, but stepped down as chair because he “wants to ensure the integrity of the process is not hindered by his performing the duties of chair,” said a statement from the board. Montalbano is accused of calling a professor and criticizing her -- and telling her he had spoken to her dean -- about a blog post she wrote about the recent and unexplained departure of UBC's president. Faculty leaders said that it was highly inappropriate to make such a call. The university has launched an investigation into the incident.

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Professor Alleges Retaliation for Lecture on Ukraine

A Russian studies scholar at Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev University says he is being wrongly dismissed due to the administration’s unhappiness with an August 2014 lecture he was scheduled to give on Ukrainian-Russian relations, reported. The planned lecture by Professor Marcel de Haas, a professor of public policy and a retired officer in the Dutch army, was reportedly canceled after the intervention of a Russian diplomat who protested that the talk would “introduce falsehoods into the minds of students.” Nazarbayev University, which has ties with many elite international universities, did not respond to inquiries from about de Haas’s allegations.

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The State of Russian Studies

There is a crisis in Russian studies within social science disciplines, according to a new report on the state of Russian studies in the U.S. commissioned by the Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies.

A survey of 36 universities that provide graduate-level training in Russian studies found that these institutions together employ a total of 50 tenure-line political scientists with Russia-related expertise and collectively award an average of seven political science Ph.D.s per year to Russian specialists. The report, which also includes insights from a survey of about 660 Russia-related experts, notes that political science has historically been the social science field with the largest concentration of Russian specialists.

“Eighty percent of the social scientists in our individual survey sample agree that interest in Russia among Ph.D. students in their field has fallen in recent years,” the report says. “Even top programs with long-term reputations for excellence in Russia-related social science, such as Berkeley and Harvard, have seen the number of their Russian specialists in political science dwindle. The movement within political science away from devoting faculty lines to area specialists in general and Russia specialists in particular threatens to vitiate the ranks of social scientists studying Russia in the medium to long term as current generations of political science faculty who work on Russia retire and are not replaced by other Russia specialists.”

The report finds that coverage of Russia is even weaker in anthropology, economics, geography and sociology, for which the 36 surveyed institutions have collectively awarded a total of 26 Ph.D.s for Russia-related work since 2010. Of those 26, 15 were in anthropology.

Meanwhile, the report notes that humanists studying Slavic literature and culture or Russian history face “declines in job opportunities” and “shortfalls" in graduate student funding.

Another trend highlighted in the 93-page report, authored by Theodore P. Gerber, a sociology professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, is the decline in federal government funding for Russia-related research and graduate training. The report specifically mentions the elimination of the Title VIII grant program that pays for research and language training in Eastern Europe and Eurasia (recently restored, but at half its former funding level) and the relatively poor performance of Russia-related centers in the most recent competition for Title VI grants, which funds area studies centers.

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Tuition-free online university sees newfound growth and attention

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Unconventional online university is growing and looking to focus on helping refugees.

ISIS Beheads Antiquities Scholar

The Islamic State beheaded an antiquities scholar in the Syrian city of Palmyra, The Guardian reported, and hung his body on a column in the city's main square. The Syrian state antiquities chief, Maamoun Abdulkarim, said that the scholar who was killed, Khaled Asaad, was 82 and had worked on antiquities in Palmyra for more than 50 years. “Just imagine that such a scholar who gave such memorable services to the place and to history would be beheaded … and his corpse still hanging from one of the ancient columns in the center of a square in Palmyra,” Abdulkarim said.

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A new era of U.S.-Iranian educational exchange?

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With a deal to limit Iran's nuclear program and relieve sanctions pending, U.S. universities look ahead to new possibilities for cooperation. But even as institutions contemplate sending students there, some flag safety and human rights concerns.

Judge Invalidates Component of Foreign Student Work Program

A federal judge's ruling last week invalidated the 17-month extension for postgraduation work training for international students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields, but stayed the decision until February to give the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) time to submit the rules for the program for public comment.

In her ruling for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle determined that the original 2008 rule to extend the duration of the optional practical training (OPT) program for STEM students from 12 to 29 months was issued without appropriate public notice and comment.

In opting to invalidate the rule while imposing a six-month stay to give the agency time to address the problem, Judge Huvelle noted that vacating the 2008 rule would cause “substantial hardship” for thousands of international students who would have to leave the United States in short order, in addition to causing “major labor disruption” for technology-related industries.

The suit against the OPT program was brought by the Washington Alliance of Technology Workers, which argues that the OPT program generates unfair competition by creating a cheaper category of workers.

A DHS spokeswoman declined to answer specific questions about the agency’s plans for submitting a rule for public comment and the potential impact on international students who are taking advantage of the OPT STEM extension. “[U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] is currently reviewing the ruling and cannot comment on the details of the decision,” said Sarah Rodriguez, a DHS spokeswoman.

Last week’s decision invalidating the 17-month OPT extension for STEM students comes at a time when the Obama administration has signaled intentions to further “expand and extend” the use of the OPT program.

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Research questions whether having women on search committees increases odds of hiring women

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Having more women on committees that select academics for jobs does not increase the chances for female candidates and may actually do the opposite, according to a study of Italian and Spanish universities.

Debate Over Western Sydney's New Name and Logo

The University of Western Sydney has announced plans to change its name to Western Sydney University, setting off considerable debate at the Australian university, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. The university announcement about the change says that it is about "putting Western Sydney first." Officials told the Morning Herald that the new name and logo (at left) would help the university with its branding internationally. But many students are rallying around the old name and logo (at right), saying that they were not consulted on the name change and that they like the logo and its bird. So they are campaigning on social media and elsewhere to "save the bird."

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After Year on Job, U of British Columbia Leader Quits

After only a year in office, Arvind Gupta is stepping down as president of the University of British Columbia, one of Canada's leading universities and a player globally among research universities. The Globe and Mail reported that the move has left many stunned and asking questions. But the university and Gupta say only that he decided he believes he can best serve the university as a professor of political science.

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