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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Strategies for dealing with sexual harassment when doing research abroad (essay)

Sexual Violence on Campus

Navigating an unfamiliar environment can amplify the challenges of developing strategies to avoid harassment, writes Kathrin Zippel, who offers some guidance.

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Tuesday, April 4, 2017
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Professors in France enjoy job security but have low salaries


Professors’ civil servant status provides some benefits, but not much in terms of compensation.

Central European University Under Threat

The president of a Budapest-based university founded by investor and philanthropist George Soros said in a letter to faculty, students, alumni and staff that legislation has been proposed that imperils the university's future operations in Hungary.

In the letter, Central European University President Michael Ignatieff wrote that the proposed legislation “would make it impossible for CEU to continue its operations as an institution of higher education in Hungary authorized to grant degrees accredited in both Hungary and the United States. As we see it, this is legislation targeted at one institution and one institution only. It is discriminatory. It strikes at the heart of what we have been doing at CEU for over two decades. We are in full conformity with Hungarian law and have been for more than two decades.”

Ignatieff wrote that the university's board and administration "will contest this legislation through every means possible" and that "CEU has no other desire than to remain in Budapest."

CEU, which opened in 1991, offers graduate programs taught in English in the humanities, law, management, public policy and the social sciences. Scholars took to social media Tuesday to express their support for the university -- and their dismay at the Hungarian government, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

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Top Chinese University to Require Swim Test

An elite Chinese university has introduced a controversial new requirement -- a swim test. The BBC reported that the requirement -- that new Tsinghua University students prove they can swim at least 50 meters using any kind of stroke -- has prompted debate on social media, with some suggesting it is unreasonable to require students who grew up in inland cities to learn to swim as adults. Tsinghua says swimming is a key survival skill.

Many U.S. colleges have dropped their swim tests in recent years, though some still require them.

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American U Afghanistan Will Resume Classes

The American University of Afghanistan reopened on Saturday and will resume classes tomorrow, Voice of America reported. Security has been enhanced, officials said. The university effectively stopped most operations after an August attack that killed 15 people and injured dozens more. Western institutions in Afghanistan have long been the targets of terrorists, and some have questioned whether the university took all appropriate steps to protect students and faculty members prior to the attack.

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One Judge Rules in Trump's Favor on Travel Ban

A federal judge in Virginia ruled in favor of President Trump’s travel ban in finding that the president’s past statements about banning the entry of Muslims do not disqualify him from exercising his broad powers on national security and immigration, The Washington Post reported. The decision, though a symbolic victory for the Trump administration, has no immediate practical effect, as federal judges in Hawaii and Maryland have both ruled to block enforcement of the order banning entry into the U.S. for nationals of six Muslim-majority countries. The judges in Hawaii and Maryland both ruled that the plaintiffs proved they were likely to prevail on their claims that the entry ban violates the constitutional prohibition on the official favoring or disfavoring of any religion.

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AU Beirut Settles Claims It Aided Groups Linked to Hezbollah

The American University of Beirut has agreed to pay $700,000 to settle a civil lawsuit alleging that it provided material support to three organizations that the U.S. government has linked to the militant group Hezbollah.

A press release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York alleges that the university provided material support to three entities included on the Office of Foreign Assets Control’s Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons list. The settlement resolves claims that the university provided training to journalists from Al Nour Radio and Al Manar TV, both of which have been on the list of sanctioned entities since March 2006, and that it included the group Jihad al-Binaa, on the OFAC list since February 2007, in a database of nongovernmental organizations that AUB maintained on its website for the purpose of connecting students interested in working with them.

The journalism training involved a series of three multiday workshops in 2007, 2008 and 2009, during which AUB allegedly provided specialized training to a group of journalists, including representatives from Al Nour Radio and Al Manar TV, according to federal prosecutors.

“For years, the American University of Beirut accepted grant money from USAID but failed to take reasonable steps to ensure against providing material support to entities on the Treasury Department’s prohibited list,” Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said in a statement. “Without such proper safeguards, the university ended up providing training to entities that were prohibited parties under U.S. law. With today’s settlement, the university is being made to pay a financial penalty for its conduct, and, importantly, it has admitted to its conduct and agreed to put proper precautions in place to ensure that it does not happen again.”

AUB, which receives funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development, admitted that it had provided training to two entities on the sanctions list and that it had listed a third in a student database but maintained that its conduct was not "knowing, intentional or reckless." The university said it will conduct additional faculty and staff training "to ensure compliance with U.S. and Lebanese law."

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