A new special report in the Index on Censorship examines threats to academic freedom around the world. The report includes case studies from Belarus, China, India, Ireland, Mexico, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom and the United States, as well as an account of girls standing up for education in Nigeria, Pakistan and Uganda. Among the many topics discussed are the creation of special committees in Ukraine charged with determining whether professors have “separatist attitudes” (for which they can be fired), new rules in Turkey barring academics from “giving information or expressing their opinions to the media… with the exception of scientific debates and statements,” concerns about corporate sponsorship of academic research in Ireland, accounts of retaliation and death threats against professors and students protesting on behalf of 43 abducted -- and presumed dead -- rural teaching college students in Mexico, and the crackdown on the teaching of “Western values” at Chinese universities.
In its U.S.-focused case study, the magazine examines the case of Steven Salaita, whose promised professorial appointment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign was withdrawn on the basis of his Israel-related tweets, among other topics.
Stuttgart Media University, in Germany, has scuttled plans to establish a Confucius Institute due to stated concerns over finances, the Stuttgarter-Zeitungreported (in German). The university had signed a contract to found a Confucius Institute with Hanban, the Chinese government entity that oversees and funds the overseas institutes for Chinese language and culture study, in August of 2014.
A spokeswoman for Stuttgart Media University told Inside Higher Ed that plans to establish a Confucius Institute together with Hohenheim University "will not be realized at the moment. After various discussions with representatives of politics and economy we did not succeed in finding the necessary support for this project."
The Students for a Free Tibet organization issued a press release last week celebrating the development as a win for academic freedom and democratic values. The group reports that it has sent nearly 300 letters to senior university officials in 30 countries urging them to close the controversial Confucius Institutes, which have been criticized on the grounds that the universities that host them cede control over teaching to the Chinese government.
Pema Dolma, the campaigns director for Students for a Free Tibet, said that Stuttgart Media was among the universities that activists were targeting -- and that she feels confident the university’s decision was linked to their campaign. “The Confucius Institute controversy is worldwide and a lot of people are talking about it and of course universities and administrators are thinking twice about if they want to be linked to this,” she said. Universities that have announced closures of their Confucius Institutes in the past year include Pennsylvania State University, Stockholm University and the University of Chicago.
This article has been updated to incorporate Stuttgart Media's response.
The University of Oxford's last all-male unit -- St. Benet's Hall -- decided Thursday to start admitting female students, BBC reported. Officials said that the college, which is small, held off in the past for practical reasons, such as the lack of enough housing. But with a new building to house students, St. Benet's will make the shift.
Colorado State University will be the new academic sponsor for the Institute for Shipboard Education’s Semester at Sea study abroad program starting in June 2016. The institute’s current academic sponsorship agreement with the University of Virginia is due to expire then.
The Institute for Shipboard Education entered into an agreement with a German bank last year to forestall action by creditors as it sought to sell its cruise ship, the MV Explorer. The organization reported in late May that it has no further financial obligations related to the MV Explorer and that it has leased a new vessel for the upcoming fall voyage.
The American Council on Education and Universities Canada have reiterated their longstanding opposition to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s AHELO (Assessment of Higher Education Learning Outcomes) project, an effort to measure teaching quality globally that is often described as a higher education equivalent of the K-12 level Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). In a May letter to OECD’s secretary-general, the American and Canadian presidential associations objected to a “one-size-fits-all” approach to outcomes assessment worldwide.
“The AHELO approach fundamentally misconstrues the purpose of learning outcomes, which should be to allow institutions to determine and define what they expect students will achieve and to measure whether they have been successful in doing so. AHELO, which attempts to standardize outcomes and use them as a way to evaluate the performance of different institutions, is deeply flawed,” states the joint letter from ACE and Universities Canada.
The letter also objects to the process behind the AHELO project and to what the associations describe as an “unwillingness to openly hear the views of institutional leaders.”
OECD’s press office declined to comment on the letter on Thursday. In a blog entry recently published in Inside Higher Ed, the Toronto-based higher education consultant Alex Usher described some of the criticism of AHELO on the part of higher education associations in the West as “a defense of privilege: top universities know they will do well on the comparisons of prestige and research intensity, which are the bread and butter of the major rankings. They don’t know how they will do on comparisons of teaching and learning. And so they oppose it, and don’t even bother to suggest ways to improve comparisons.”
Academics in Italy and elsewhere are criticizing Eugenio Gaudio for leading the judging of a student beauty pageant at the Sapienza University of Rome, The Guardian reported. Students were judged on their grades and also on their physical attributes in a contest to select the “most beautiful and wise” student. Many female professors have objected. Gaudio has noted that two of his predecessors played a similar role and the students in the contest “were not in bathing suits but in evening dresses.”
The board of Universities U.K. issued a statement on Wednesday rejecting academic boycotts on the grounds that “they are inimical to academic freedom, including the freedom of academics to collaborate with other academics.”
“Given the reported perception in Israel that U.K. universities support an academic boycott, the board of Universities U.K. wishes to confirm its previously stated position that it is firmly opposed to any academic boycott of Israeli universities,” says the statement from the major presidential association for universities in the United Kingdom.
The Universities U.K. statement came a day after the executive council of the U.K.-wide National Union of Students voted to affiliate itself with the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel, as The Telegraph and various Israeli news agencies reported.
Middle East studies scholars are protesting a provisional death sentence handed down by an Egyptian court to a visiting professor of political science at Georgetown University. Emad al-Din Shahin, who holds a professorial appointment at the American University in Cairo, was convicted in absentia for espionage-related charges May 16 along with more than 100 others, including ousted Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi.
“Although Dr. Shahin and his co-defendants were accused of conspiring with foreign organizations to harm Egyptian national security, it is unclear what specific charges were leveled against him, or what evidence was provided to support these charges,” the Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom wrote in a letter dated June 1. “This lack of clarity, combined with Dr. Shahin’s record of active public engagement and criticism of political developments which he views as weakening democracy in Egypt, suggest that his sentence may be a form of retaliation for his political views.”
“In the absence of concrete evidence of Dr. Shahin’s involvement in espionage, and in light of the fact that his co-defendants in the 'Grand Espionage' case are all Muslim Brotherhood members, including leaders at the highest level of the organization… it appears that Dr. Shahin is being punished for what the government views as support of the Muslim Brotherhood,” states the letter, which notes that Shahin has denied any involvement in the organization.
About 40 scholars signed another letter, posted last week on the Arab studies website Jadaliyya, describing the sentence as “appalling” and the charges against Shahin -- who has also taught at Harvard and Notre Dame Universities -- as “improbable.”
“We, the undersigned colleagues and personal friends of Professor Shahin, wish to add our voices to those who have expressed deep concern over the provisional sentence of death. But we do more: based on our personal knowledge of Professor Shahin’s character, activities and scholarship, we state that the charges are so utterly alien to his character as to lack any credibility whatsoever,” this letter states.