international

Raid Fails to Free Abducted Professors in Afghanistan

U.S. Navy SEALS led an unsuccessful raid last month to attempt to free two abducted American University of Afghanistan faculty members being held by the Taliban, The New York Times reported.

The two professors, one American and one Australian, were abducted at gunpoint from their vehicle near AUAF’s Kabul campus on Aug. 7. The Pentagon confirmed that a raid had been conducted to rescue two civilians but said in a statement, “The hostages were not at the location we suspected.” The Pentagon said that no Americans were killed in the raid but that “a number” of insurgents were.

The AUAF campus temporarily suspended operations after militants attacked the campus Aug. 24, killing more than a dozen people.

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In England, a push to evaluate teaching quality and learning gains

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More than 70 institutions are testing different measures of student learning amid new government effort to evaluate universities on teaching quality.

More Flexibility for Syrian Students to Work in the U.S.

A notice scheduled to be published in the Federal Register today will make it easier for students from Syria who have experienced severe economic hardship as a result of the civil unrest there to work while in the U.S. The notice serves to suspend certain regulatory requirements to allow Syrian students on F-1 visas to obtain employment authorization, work an increased number of hours during the academic term and reduce their course loads while continuing to maintain their student visa status.

The notice expands the pool of Syrian students eligible for work authorization to include all those currently enrolled at U.S. institutions: previously, only those Syrian students who were present in the U.S. as of April 3, 2012, were eligible for relief from the normal rules governing international student employment. The Department of Homeland Security reports that there are currently close to 750 Syrian students on F-1 visas in the United States.

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Dutch educators debate growth of English instruction at their universities

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Sixty percent of courses at universities in the Netherlands are now taught in English. In master's programs, the figure is 70 percent.

Concerns Continue About Climate for Academics in Turkey

Letters and statements expressing concern about the climate for academics in Turkey continue to accumulate after the announcement last week that 2,346 academics had been fired for alleged links to the July 15 coup attempt. Since the failed coup, the Turkish government has suspended, dismissed and arrested professors; ordered the closure of 15 private universities; imposed professional travel restrictions on faculty; and ordered the resignation of all 1,577 university deans, the majority of whom have since reportedly been reinstated (more on that below).

“While we recognize that the attempted coup represented a threat to Turkish national security, and that the government must take legitimate precautions in the aftermath of that violence, mass firings of university faculty and staff have no rational relationship to such legitimate measures,” the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom wrote in a letter to Turkey’s prime minister Tuesday. “Instead, the mass firings suggest the continuation of a government campaign of intimidation, threats and attacks on academic freedom that began well before the attempted coup.”

The letter states that about 40 of the 2,346 fired academics were among the signatories of a January petition calling for an end to a Turkish military campaign against Kurdish rebels. Signatories of the Academics for Peace petition were accused by Turkey's president of "treason" and faced a range of reprisals even prior to the attempted coup, including criminal and university-level disciplinary investigations and terminations from academic positions.

In a statement on its website, the Academics for Peace group describes "[this] latest attempt to purge Academics for Peace by linking them to coup plotters" as "outrageous and unacceptable."

"Note that many of the signatories have already been under administrative investigations for signing the peace petition for months, without a conclusion," the statement says. "The dismissal of the signatories overnight with a fait accompli of a state of emergency decree is a serious violation of their basic human right to fair trial and due process."

A letter from Academics for Peace signatories at Ankara University sent to the European University Association accuses Ankara of failing to uphold academic values like freedom of expression promoted by the EUA -- of which it is a member -- and seeks the association's help in addressing the treatment of signatories, who, according to the letter, have been under investigation by the university since February and subject to a range of "unjust, unlawful administrative practices" including "suspending and delaying career promotion evaluation processes of the signatories, denying the signatories administrative permission for academic work abroad including fieldwork and conference attendance, and excluding signatories from financial funding for academic research that Ankara University provides to all its employees."

"This month, the university administration launched an intimidation campaign against us by spreading the word that we would lose our job if we do not withdraw our signatures," continues the letter, which notes that petition signatories at Ankara and elsewhere were among those fired in the emergency decree.

Administrators at Ankara University did not respond to email messages seeking comment. A spokeswoman for EUA confirmed receipt of the letter, along with several others from Academics for Peace sent in conjunction with a meeting EUA held Tuesday with representatives of Turkey's Council of Higher Education (abbreviated YÖK). The rectors of Ankara and Istanbul Universities were among those in attendance.

“With 64 EUA member institutions and nearly seven million students, Turkey is an important part of the European Higher Education Area,” EUA President Rolf Tarrach said in a press release issued by the association about the meeting. “It is in the interest of the entire sector to promote dialogue and to work together towards preserving the fundamental values that universities share.”

In the press release, EUA reported that it received assurances from YÖK that 1,386 of the 1,577 deans forced to resign after the coup attempt had been reinstated. In July, YÖK described the resignations of the deans as a "precautionary measure" and said it was "very likely" most would be reinstated by their universities following investigations. The council described the forced resignations as a necessary step to "re-establish the autonomy of our universities" in light of concerns that coup plotters had infiltrated the country's universities and schools.

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Swedish Institution Known for Selecting Nobel Prize in Medicine Reels From Scandal

Two former leaders of Sweden’s prestigious Karolinska Institute were asked to resign as judges from the panel that awards the Nobel Prize for Medicine as a result of a scandal surrounding a disgraced transplant surgeon fired by the university earlier this year, the BBC reported. The entire board of the Karolinska Institute has also been fired.

A report based on an external investigation released on Monday criticizes the medical university for “inappropriately” pushing through the hiring of the surgeon, Paolo Macchiarini, as a visiting professor, in 2010, and essentially ignoring “remarkably negative references including information that Macchiarini had been blocked from a professorship in Italy, that there were doubts surrounding his research and that his CV contained falsehoods.”

The investigative report also faults the university for extending Macchiarini’s contract in 2013 and 2015 without any “real evaluation and assessment” of his work, and identifies problems in its handling of various scientific misconduct allegations involving Macchiarini.

A separate investigative report released last week describes problems with synthetic tracheal implants performed by Macchiarini on three Karolinska University Hospital patients, two of whom later died.

In June Swedish prosecutors announced they were investigating Macchiarini for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the deaths of two patients, the Associated Press reported. Macchiarini has denied all charges against him.

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More Than 2,300 Turkish Academics Dismissed

Turkey announced the dismissal of 2,346 academics for alleged ties to the July 15 coup attempt in its official gazette on Friday, the Daily Sabah, a Turkish newspaper, reported. More than 8,000 others, including 7,669 police officers, were also dismissed. Academics have been among those fired and arrested in the widespread purges of Turkey's military, police, judiciary, civil service and education sector pursued by the government after the failed coup.

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Iran Releases Imprisoned Physicist

​A physicist imprisoned in Iran for five years has been released on parole and will be allowed to leave the country, Nature reported.

Omid Kokabee was a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin when he was arrested in 2011 during a trip to his native Iran.  Kokabee, who was convicted of espionage-related charges, has stated that he was persecuted for his unwillingness to participate in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He was granted temporary medical leave from prison this spring after having a kidney removed due to cancer. 

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Cedar Crest to Send All Sophomores to Rio

A women’s college in Pennsylvania will send its sophomore class on an 8-day trip to Brazil at no extra cost to students.

Cedar Crest College said that in spring 2018 all interested sophomores in good academic, financial and judicial standing will travel to Rio de Janeiro. The college will pay for all travel, lodging and meal costs.

According to a press release, students will enroll in a sophomore experience class focused on cultural competency in the fall term prior to the trip. During the trip students will be divided into groups based on their fields of study, with academic and service-learning experiences to be led by Cedar Crest faculty and staff members.

Cedar Crest is not the only college to offer a classwide overseas trip. Centenary College of Louisiana has since 2014 offered a summer program in Paris for all incoming freshmen, included in the cost of tuition. This year's freshman class traveled to Paris from Aug. 4 to Aug. 13.

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Berkeley Backs off Plans for Global Ed Hub

The University of California at Berkeley announced last week it was indefinitely suspending plans to build a planned global higher education hub “due to the continued need to address significant budgetary challenges confronting the university.” The hub had been proposed by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who earlier this month announced plans to resign from his post amid growing faculty frustrations, an inquiry into alleged misuse of public funds involving personal use of a fitness trainer without payment, and criticisms of the university’s handling of sexual harassment allegations.

Dirks announced plans for the “Berkeley Global Campus” on 130 acres of land the university owns in Richmond Bay in late 2014. Berkeley had hoped to attract leading foreign institutions and private industry partners to establish satellite locations on the land, which is located about 10 miles from the main campus. Without any state funding earmarked for the purpose, Berkeley was counting on would-be university and corporate partners and private donors to bring the capital to develop the imagined campus. 

Berkeley said in its announcement that it will “continue to explore options for the site that reflect new priorities for the campus around enrollment growth and housing in the near future.” 

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