To improve Ph.D. completion rates, Australian universities use metrics on their supervisors

The key may be tracking the performance of those who supervise doctoral students.

What do we know so far about changes to U.S. visa and immigration policies?

Since Trump came into office, questions have swirled around U.S. visa and border policy. What’s changed so far, what hasn’t, and what does it all mean for higher education?

New Law Imperils Central European University

Hungarian President János Áder signed into law Monday a bill that Central European University says could force it to close its campus in Budapest, Bloomberg reported. Tens of thousands of people demonstrated Sunday in support of the university in what Bloomberg described as one of the largest anti-government rallies since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán took office in 2010. The passage of the law, which was fast-tracked through Parliament in about a week, has been widely seen as part of Orbán’s project to end liberal democracy in Hungary in favor of what he calls an “illiberal” state.

CEU, which was founded in 1991 by the liberal financier and philanthropist George Soros, issued a statement on Monday promising it “will immediately seek all available legal remedies.” The university described the law as “targeted at an American institution in a flagrantly discriminatory manner” and as “a premeditated political attack on a free institution that has been a proud part of Hungarian life for a quarter of a century.”

The university says the legislation “seeks to make it impossible for CEU to offer American-accredited master's and doctoral degrees, as it has done with the full agreement of Hungarian authorities for many years.”

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China Lets Australian Academic Return Home

An Australian academic and permanent resident who had been barred from leaving China for more than a week while the government questioned him for unspecified national security-related reasons was able to fly home Sunday morning, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Chongyi Feng, a professor at the University of Technology, Sydney, who studies contemporary Chinese economics and politics, had traveled to China about a month earlier for a research trip during which he met with academics and human rights lawyers in several cities. Feng said it remained "a mystery" to him why he had been prevented from leaving but that he was told he "was requested to assist some sort of investigation."

The New York Times noted in its reporting on the subject that Feng, who has been researching China's human rights lawyers, has been a frequent critic of Beijing's crackdown on political dissent.

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More Data on International Applications

Preliminary results of a survey of nearly 300 American universities released earlier this month showed that nearly four in 10 universities were seeing application declines and that many universities were reporting concerns on the part of international students about a perceived unwelcoming climate in the U.S. and about visa policies. A more detailed breakdown of survey results released Tuesday provides further insight into how those concerns break down according to geographic region and the magnitude of the overall application declines.

Twenty-seven percent of institutions reported drops in international applications ranging from 2 to 19 percent, while another 11 percent reported more dramatic drops, of 20 percent or more. Another 27 percent said their application numbers remained the same, while 25 percent reported growth of 2 to 19 percent. Ten percent reported increases of 20 percent or more. The final report on the survey, which was conducted by the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers in conjunction with several other higher education groups, can be found here.

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University Naming Dispute in Norway

Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences in Norway wants to become a full-fledged university, but if its pending application were to be approved, the institution does not yet know what it would be called.

Administrators have spent nearly $100,000 and about a year debating various names, according to the higher education publication Khrono (note: the article is in Norwegian). One option, Aker University, references the geographic region surrounding Oslo, while another, Nova University Oslo, emphasizes the newness of the institution.

Rector Curt Rice, the first non-Norwegian to lead an institution in the country, has suggested OsloMet, short for Oslo Metropolitan University. But the suggestion is facing resistance from the Language Council of Norway.

"All Norwegian government agencies are required to have Norwegian names," Åse Wetås, director general of the language council, told Khrono. "'Metropolitan' is not a Norwegian word, nor is the abbreviation 'Met,' so this won't do." (The council has approved both Aker and Nova.)

Rice, who holds a Ph.D. in general linguistics, on Tuesday fired back on Twitter. "The language council is speaking out of both sides of its mouth, because they know full well that 'metropol' is Norwegian," he wrote.

Rice, a reserve member of the board of the language council, is also drawing attention among Norwegian academics these days for an interview in the weekly newspaper Morgenbladet, in which he said researchers should publish in English, not Norwegian.

The university college is still working on the best Norwegian translation for Oslo Metropolitan University and plans to settle on a name in September.

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New law imperils Central European University's future in Hungary

Hungarian Parliament passes legislation that could force university founded by George Soros out of the country.

Indian students are embracing liberal arts (essay)

Earlier this semester I traveled to India to talk about the importance of a broad, contextual education -- a pragmatic liberal education. Over the last few years, Indian students fortunate enough to have choices about where to pursue their studies have been, like their counterparts in China, increasingly interested in American liberal arts colleges and universities. They see the virtues of studying a variety of subjects before committing to specialization, and they are attracted to small classes and the opportunities to really get to know their teachers. Granted, this is a very small segment of the population, but it is one that, with the growth in the Indian economy, is getting larger every year.

India’s higher education system is the third largest in the world and is expanding at a startling pace. As University of Pennsylvania political scientist Devesh Kapur has noted, over the last few years several new Indian colleges or universities have opened their doors every single day. Most of those institutions are narrowly and professionally focused: engineering, technology, pharmacy and the like. Similar to for-profit universities in the United States, they attract students with the promise of specialized training in specific skills. Yet such for-profits all too often wind up graduating men and women who have a terribly difficult time finding jobs where they can apply what they have learned. Also, when things change, those graduates can find that their skills have become obsolete. And today, things change fast.

The strongest traditional universities in India, like those in Great Britain and many European countries, encourage early specialization. However, many of the families, teachers and students I met with in Mumbai questioned why one’s destiny needed to be decided at age 15. How could one be so sure than engineering or business or medicine was the right path without having had the opportunity to explore a variety of fields -- or to develop habits of inquiry and a work ethic to make that exploration productive?

There are signs of change. Education leaders across Asia have become interested in moving away from exam-dominated curricula and their requisite memorization and toward experiential, interdisciplinary learning aimed at exploring connections between research and action. Having traditionally insisted on early vocational specialization, universities in India, South Korea and China are now considering how best to encourage the inquiry, collaboration and experimentation that are key to the American pragmatic traditions of liberal education.

Inquiry, collaboration across differences and courageous experimentation require freedom of thought, freedom of speech and the free circulation of ideas. Conformity is the bane of authentic education. A liberal education includes deepening one’s ability to learn from people with whom one does not agree -- an ability all the more important in the face of illiberal forces at work in the world today.

As Pankaj Mishra argues in his new book, Age of Anger, the populist politics of resentment sweeping across many countries substitute demonization for curiosity. New provincialisms and nationalisms are gaining force through fear-based politics. Such orchestrated parochialism is antithetical to liberal learning, and liberal learning is one way to counteract it.

That’s one of the reasons why it’s so disturbing to see outbreaks of intolerance on American college campuses. We expect more from our educational institutions. Troubling though occasional outbursts against provocative speakers may be, they should cause far less concern than American policies that scapegoat immigrants or filter ideas through know-nothing nationalism. A refusal on our campuses to counter ideas with arguments, and the easy recourse to juvenile chants and thuggery are indeed signs of educational failure. But I am confident that faculty, students and administrators will find ways to correct this. I am far less sanguine about the ability of our political leaders to find ways to use evidence, reason together and learn from their differences.

Learning across differences in a context of change is a core aspect of liberal education, and the students, business leaders and professors whom I met in India recognized the power of this pedagogy in the contemporary world. Almost everywhere one looks today -- throughout the world -- one sees dramatic changes that are eliminating old jobs and creating new ones. Those adept at using a variety of methodologies have experienced “intellectual cross-training”; they have developed the capacity to continue learning so as to be more empowered to deal with an ever-changing environment.

The importance of technical expertise is obvious, but the problems confronting our world today cannot be addressed by technical specialization alone. Environmental degradation, increasing inequality, international political tensions -- these are complex issues that demand the kind of holistic thinking characteristic of liberal education. Perhaps that’s why some leaders in India are eager to create new institutions that build on the work of traditional educational theorists like Rabindranath Tagore and the example of contemporary institutions like Ashoka University, which has been in the vanguard of offering a liberal arts education in that country.

In Jaipur, I participated in a panel discussion in which everyone deplored the creativity-killing effects of premature specialization. Business strategist Tarun Khanna told the story of a team he works with that has developed an excellent treatment for diabetes. Without an interdisciplinary approach that included communications, cultural studies and design, the medical advances would have gone nowhere. Members of interdisciplinary teams learn from one another because they approach issues from very different perspectives: pragmatic liberal education at work.

I am encouraged to see more Indian students coming to liberal arts colleges and universities like mine to pursue a broadly interdisciplinary education that they can put to work in the world. With the current administration’s legitimation of hostility to immigrants, this trend may not continue. Be that as it may, I am even more encouraged to know of Indian educators and entrepreneurs developing plans to create higher education institutions in their country that will provide a much larger number of students the opportunity to combine science, the arts, the humanities and social sciences into creative endeavors that will have positive benefits for economic, cultural and political life. Liberal education will prove to be pragmatic for those students, and for India, too.

Michael S. Roth is president of Wesleyan University and author, most recently, of Beyond the University: Why Liberal Education Matters.

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Mixed Opinion in Suit on Group's Israel Boycott

In a mixed opinion, a federal judge ruled Friday to dismiss a claim that the American Studies Association operated outside the scope of its bylaws in endorsing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, while allowing the plaintiffs’ claims of corporate waste, breach of contract and violation of the D.C. Nonprofit Corporation Act on the part of the ASA to move forward.

Judge Rudolph Contreras’s ruling came in a lawsuit against the association and six of its former leaders filed by a group of American studies professors who challenged the organization’s endorsement of the academic boycott of Israel in December 2013. In the ASA’s favor, Judge Contreras dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument that endorsing the boycott was an ultra vires action -- that is, it was outside the scope and purpose of the organization as outlined in its constitution and bylaws.

“The boycott resolution was, at the very least, reasonably in furtherance of the ASA’s organic documents and Articles of Incorporation, which provide that the ASA was organized exclusively for educational and academic purposes, and that the object of the ASA is the promotion of American culture through, inter alia, ‘the encouragement of research, teaching, publication, [and the] strengthening [of] relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad devoted to such studies,’” Contreras’s opinion states. “The boycott resolution was aimed at promoting academic freedom abroad, solidarity with foreign institutions and scholars, and encouraging an array of studies at foreign institutions.”

On the other hand, Judge Contreras found that the plaintiffs presented a “plausible case for breach of contract” in regard to their allegations that the ASA failed to follow its own rules in voting on the boycott resolution. The judge also rejected ASA’s argument that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would violate the First Amendment rights of the defendants, finding that the individual defendants had “voluntarily assumed roles where their right to expression would be limited by bylaws, the common law and statute. Because [the] defendants voluntarily assented to these laws and the ASA’s constitution and bylaws, the court’s interference with speech is passive and incidental to enforcement of a contract.”

“This is important because it shows that the First Amendment can be used as a pretext for associations that are violating their own internal principles and the rights of their members with these boycotts,” said Kenneth L. Marcus, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs and the president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. Marcus heralded the judge’s opinion as an “important victory.”

“You may recall that our opponents had derogated our complaint as being meritless and a violation of the First Amendment. We feel a great vindication by this court order demonstrating that the case does in fact have merit and we will be able to move forward,” Marcus said.

"The parts that are left, as I understand from reading what the court wrote, have to do with our bylaws and how they were interpreted at the moment in 2013," said Robert Warrior, the president of ASA and the Hall Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Kansas. "That seems to me that we’re in a different kind of argument than if the ultra vires argument had been found to be a valid one to move forward with."

Warrior described the ultra vires claim as “an argument that tends to shut down discussion over controversial issues.”

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Thousands Rally for Central European University

Thousands of protesters gathered in Budapest Sunday to demand that the Hungarian government withdraw proposed legislation that could force Central European University out of the country, Reuters reported.

Hungary's Parliament is expected to discuss the bill this week. CEU's leadership characterizes the bill -- which, among other things, would require the university to open a campus in the U.S. -- as a targeted measure against the private, graduate-only university, which was founded in 1991 by the liberal financier George Soros and has American and Hungarian accreditation. Hungary's education minister, László Palkovics, has disputed that the university is being singled out and denied anti-CEU or anti-Soros motives.

Hungary’s populist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, has been highly critical of Soros. More than 32,000 people have signed a petition that calls on the Hungarian government to scrap the proposed legislation and that describes the bill as motivated by the​ Orbán government's concerns about "potential foreign influence."

Dozens of universities, departments and academic groups have issued statements of support for the university, and the U.S. Department of State has called on the Hungarian government to “avoid taking any legislative action that would compromise CEU’s operations or independence.”

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