Stockholm University is the latest university to announce that it will close its Confucius Institute, one of hundreds of Chinese government-funded centers for Chinese language and cultural education that have been established at universities around the globe. The University of Chicago and Pennsylvania State University have also recently closed their Confucius Institutes amid growing concerns about whether universities that host them are granting undue influence to the Chinese government in matters of curriculum and staffing.
Stockholm University’s vice chancellor, Astrid Söderbergh Widding, is quoted in the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet as saying (in translation) that it is generally dubious, or questionable, to establish institutes within a university that are financed by another nation.
The Modern College of Northwest University, located in Xian, China, has banned students from celebrating Christmas, Reuters reported. Banners are displayed around campus with slogans such as, "Strive to be outstanding sons and daughters of China, oppose kitsch Western holidays" and, "Resist the expansion of Western culture."
Students at Hebrew University of Jerusalem will have Thursday off in celebration of Christmas, The Jerusalem Post reported. This year will be the first with Christmas as a university day off. The university is also giving a new day off for the Muslim holiday Id al-Adha. A spokesman said that the days off were added “in order to accommodate students of all religions studying at the university and to respect the holidays.”
Harvard University's top officials are disavowing a decision by its dining operations to stop using the products of SodaStream, an Israeli company that sells machines to produce sparkling water. SodaStream has a factory in the West Bank, and while the company says that the factory provides for the livelihoods on equal terms of Palestinians and Israel Arabs (as well as Israeli Jews), SodaStream has become a target of those seeking to boycott Israel. Harvard officials say that they were unaware that their dining operations, responding to the concerns of students opposed to SodaStream, had dropped the company's products. They learned of this development from an article in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.
Alan M. Garber, Harvard's provost, released this statement: "As President [Drew] Faust has indicated to members of the Harvard community who have made inquiries, she and I both learned of this issue from today's Crimson. She has asked staff to get to the bottom of how these conversations started and to learn more about where matters currently stand. Regardless, Harvard University's procurement decisions should not and will not be driven by individuals' views of highly contested matters of political controversy. If this policy is not currently known or understood in some parts of the University, that will be rectified now."
Harvard Dining Services has since issued a statement that it will not let politics enter into decisions about which products to use. "We value and regularly seek input on a wide range of issues from members of the community who use HUDS facilities," the statement said. "In this instance, we mistakenly factored political concerns raised by students on a particularly sensitive issue into a decision on soda machines. As the president and provost have made clear, our procurement decisions should not be driven by community members’ views on matters of political controversy."
Barry Spurr has resigned as a professor of poetry at the University of Sydney following leaks of email messages in which he used slurs about Aboriginal Australians, Asians and women, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Spurr has said that the comments were part of a "linguistic game."
King's College London has decided to rebrand itself simply as King's London, to the horror of many students and alumni, Times Higher Education reported. Administrators say that the change is needed to end confusion about whether King's is a college or university.
A petition attracting opposition to the rebranding effort cites history and costs. "The rebranding of King's College London to simply King's London seems a bizarre move considering the institution's history as a college within the University of London. Not only does this undermine almost 200 years of tradition, as well as sabotaging a worldwide reputation built on the name King's College London, but it serves as a huge and unnecessary expense," the petition says. "Equally, the signs, posters, merchandise - everything printed with the name King's College London - displayed in each of the four campuses would need to be disposed of and replaced. This would cost an obscene amount of money - money that could be spent on improving student life at King's, or maybe even offsetting some of our tuition fees."
Business meetings of disciplinary societies have been the site of debates (sometimes heated) over proposals to back the academic boycott of Israel. At least as of now, that's not the case for the American Historical Association. A petition was circulated that would have called on the AHA to support the academic boycott of Israel. But a letter from James Grossman, the association's executive director, in one of its publications states that a petition was submitted for consideration at the annual meeting early next year, but that the petition was rejected for not having enough members signing it and because the resolution as written went beyond matters " 'of concern to the association, to the profession of history, or to the academic profession.' " (The latter quotes are from association rules about matters that can be decided at the membership meeting.)
Via email, Grossman said that because the petition submitted was rejected, there is no agenda item related to the Israel boycott. But Grossman noted that association rules also outline procedures for resolutions to emerge from the floor at the meeting itself.
The government of British Columbia has ended its approval of a new law school at Trinity Western University, following votes by several provincial legal societies not to recognize graduates of the law school, The Globe and Mail reported. The legal societies are denying recognition because Trinity Western bars students and faculty members from any sexual relationships outside of heterosexual marriage, a rule that critics say constitutes anti-gay discrimination that violates civil rights principles. Trinity Western maintains that, as a Christian university, it is entitled to enforce rules that relate to its faith. The university says that it remains committed to the law school and is considering its options.
China's Education Ministry this week has urged universities to let some undergraduates to take some time off during their studies to start businesses, The South China Morning Post reported. The norm in China is for students to work straight through four-year programs, without time off before or during their undergraduate program. Proponents say that some students could start businesses, and that the delay in their graduation could relieve pressure on the economic system to provide permanent jobs for the ever-increasing number of university graduates.