Live Updates: Latest News in Higher Education



Live Updates: Latest News in Higher Education

Chancellor Cancels Investiture Over Speaker

Carlos O. Cortez, chancellor of the San Diego Community College District, called off his investiture because of a controversy over the keynote speaker at the event, the author Alice Walker.

Cortez’s ceremony was to have been held May 31. But a controversy broke out over Walker, who is an acclaimed author best known for her novel The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1983.

Walker is also known (to some) as an antisemite. She has endorsed the writings of David Icke, a British author who believes the world is run by a secret cabal of people, many of whom are Jewish.

In 2017, Walker wrote a poem about being accused of antisemitism. She denies being an antisemite but says she is a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Cortez did not say what he thinks of Walker.

“Over the past few weeks, concerns have been expressed about the political beliefs and writings of the investiture keynote speaker, Alice Walker,” said his statement. “At the same time, others have expressed their support of Ms. Walker. As a district that celebrates inclusion, we believe the best way forward would be to cancel the event altogether. I apologize for the pain caused to any member of our community. The investiture scheduled for May 31 will not be held.”

Chaos at Berkeley Commencement?

Last week’s commencement ceremony at the University of California, Berkeley, was a disappointment to many students, many of whom could not get to their seats by the time the ceremony started, SFGate reported.

Thousands of students had to enter through just a few metal detectors.

The audio was “muffled,” SFGate said, so many students couldn’t hear. Many students left their seats to talk with friends, leaving many seats empty.

“It was just really difficult.” Anjika Pai, a commencement speaker, said, of people leaving during the speeches. “From what I’ve heard, it wasn’t because people were like, ‘Well, I’m bored. I want to go’ … people genuinely couldn’t hear it.”

A university spokeswoman said, “Over all this was a very successful event—members of our community were excited to celebrate in person, and ultimately there were relatively few complaints. This was one of the most successful commencement ceremonies that we’ve ever had.”

Another Harassment Case at Cal State

Two women who charged that an administrator at California State University Channel Islands harassed them say the case wasn’t handled appropriately by Sonoma State University when he moved to that campus. Sonoma State’s president, Judy Sakaki, is currently accused of not responding appropriately to harassment charges against her husband.

The Los Angeles Times reported that the women said the administrator, Wm. Gregory Sawyer, was found by Channel Islands to have engaged in unprofessional conduct but not harassment. The investigation concluded that he made “inappropriate comments about the appearance of women, gave one woman unwelcome hugs and called another ‘feisty,’ ‘spicy’ and ‘sassy,’” the Times said.

The women said Sakaki should have done something about Sawyer, who remained at Sonoma State until he retired in 2021. At that time, Sakaki called him “a trusted and beloved campus leader who has had a profound impact on the culture of our campus.”

Sakaki declined to say whether she read the investigator’s report on Sawyer.

“One hundred percent, more should have been done. Something should have been discussed—something should have happened,” said Raquel de los Santos, who previously worked for Sawyer. Sakaki “did a disservice to all those students and staff that she needed to protect as president … She turned the other way.”

Sawyer, in an email to a Times reporter, called the allegations in the investigation “baseless.”

Colleges Urged to Spend HEERF Funds on Mental Health

The Biden administration is urging colleges to spend Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds (HEERF) on campus mental health needs.

The administration is publishing new guidance for colleges highlighting ways they can use the money. Miguel Cardona, the secretary of education, will speak on the issue in an appearance this afternoon at the University of California, Riverside.

“If there is one thing I’ve heard while speaking with college students throughout the nation, it’s been the need for greater mental health supports on campus,” said Cardona. “We must make sure our colleges and universities have the tools and resources to help students, faculty, and staff heal from the grief, trauma, and anxiety they endured amid the pandemic.”

The guidance notes that “HEERF grants are a one-time infusion of funds,” but it expresses the hope that “initial investments in high-impact mental health projects can be made now, with ongoing support after initial success of these programs provided through philanthropic efforts, local partnerships, or other funding sources.”

Faculty Complain About Chancellor Search

An unsigned “Statement of Concern” from faculty members says the Eastern Iowa Community Colleges board is violating its own core values and professional standards with its presidential search, reported The Quad-City Times. Four members of the faculty spoke to the Board of Trustees at this week's meeting and referred to the statement.

On March 31, the board named two finalists and then a few days later voted to extend the search.

Faculty members charge:

  • That there was no email notification of the meeting where the search was extended.
  • The meeting was held via Zoom view only, with nonmembers unable to participate.
  • The extension was unfair to the two finalists named, one of whom was a woman and the other a Black man. “It appears that the problem wasn’t so much that there were two candidates; instead, the problem became that there were only these two candidates,” according to the statement.

The board issued this statement: “It is important for us to listen to the concerns expressed in this statement about the chancellor search, and we’re committed to working with all of our stakeholders to ensure the college is prepared to meet the needs of our students and communities, now and in the future.”

Chinese University Mocked for Online Swimming Test

Shanghai University is being mocked on Chinese social media for an online test of swimming.

The South China Morning Post said the university, like many in China and a few in the U.S., requires a swimming test. Students at Shanghai must swim 50 meters.

Because Shanghai is currently in lockdown, the university announced that students could take their test online. “The classes and facilities including the swimming pool at the university are suspended under the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown. To ensure the students can graduate, we decided to conduct the swimming test online,” a member of the dean’s office told a Chinese news outlet, Jimu.

More than 65,000 people have reacted to the post on Weibo, a social media site.

Comments included “Is it a reality version of surfing the internet?” and “Could it be swimming in the bathtub at home?”

Commencement, With Masks

Drake University had more than 300 COVID-19 cases in the days before Sunday’s commencement and sent most students home. While the numbers went down before graduation, the university imposed rules for the ceremony.

“Everyone in attendance at any of the commencement celebrations will be required to wear a mask. Students may choose to cross the graduation stage and have their picture taken without a mask,” said a university statement.

KCCI News reported that those at commencement followed the rules and expressed support for them. “We all want to be healthy and get together and do whatever it takes to get through all of this. But it’s a great day and you got to be so proud to see all of the parents here, the grandparents here to congratulate the students,” said Ron Waldbilling, a grandparent of a Drake graduate.

Va. Governor Urges Hiring of Faculty With ‘Diverse’ Views

Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin, a Republican, told college presidents this week that he expects them to promote free speech on campus and hire faculty and other staff “with diverse political perspectives,” The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported.

Youngkin sent the five-page letter to the Council of Presidents, setting his expectations on a range of cultural issues important to his conservative political base—from in-person instruction during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to creation of lab schools as a kind of charter school outside of traditional K-12 public education. He also doesn’t want any tuition increases. Some Virginia colleges have proposed tuition increases for next year.

He said free speech on campus is “an issue and priority.” Many conservatives have been talking about a speech by former vice president Mike Pence at the University of Virginia. While some students said he shouldn’t appear on campus, he did speak, with the backing of the administration.

Youngkin said hiring faculty with diverse views would “nurture a culture that prioritizes civil discourse and debate, both inside and outside the classroom.”

“This framework … policies and protocols should address annual faculty, staff, and student training, approaches to prioritize the hiring of staff and faculty with diverse political perspectives, support of events and forums to model the exchange of ideas from different perspectives in a civil and productive manner, the set of non-negotiables that will not be tolerated on our campuses, and other steps to further these fundamental freedoms on our campuses,” he wrote.

Larry Sabato, president of the Center for Politics at UVA, said, “This has become dogma on the right, and that’s what Youngkin is feeding into.”

Sabato said he doesn’t object to most of the governor’s stated goals, but he questioned the need to impose a framework on colleges and universities that already are addressing the issue. “I can only speak for one place, but where’s the problem?” he asked. “What’s the problem we’re trying to solve?”

3 Black Tenured Professors Are Leaving U of Denver

Three Black tenured professors are leaving the University of Denver's Graduate School of Professional Psychology, prompting a rally of Black students, Axios reported.

Graduate students told Axios about racist incidents and microaggressions at Denver. And one of the faculty members said her decision to leave was "complicated," but was due to the university's climate, and workload inequity.

A spokeswoman said the departures were of "great concern" to the university. "Leaders at the university have been working diligently to address the expressed concerns of our faculty of color and will continue to do so," she said. The university is also launching a workload equity task force in response to concerns expressed by the faculty of color.



Plagiarism Alleged in Duke Commencement Speech

Duke University is investigating whether a student speech at commencement Sunday was a plagiarized version of a student speech at Harvard University’s commencement in 2014, The News & Observer reported.

“We are aware of and concerned about these allegations and have initiated a process to understand the facts of the situation,” said Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations. “Duke University expects all students to abide by their commitment to the Duke Community Standard in everything they do as students.”

Priya Parkash was the senior class speaker. Through a public relations spokesman, she released a statement to the News & Observer: “When I was asked to give the commencement speech, I was thrilled by such an honor and I sought advice from respected friends and family about topics I might address. I was embarrassed and confused to find out too late that some of the suggested passages were taken from a recent commencement speech at another university. I take full responsibility for this oversight and I regret if this incident has in any way distracted from the accomplishments of the Duke class of 2022.”

The issues with the speech were first reported by The Duke Chronicle, of which Parkash was previously the news editor. The Duke Chronicle compared numerous passages from Parkash’s speech to one by Sarah Abushaar at Harvard.

Police in Ga. Accused of Harassing Delaware State Team

The president of Delaware State University, a historically Black college, has accused Georgia police officers of stopping the team bus on the “pretext of a minor traffic violation” and conducting a search for drugs.

“To be clear, nothing illegal was discovered in this search, and all of our coaches and student-athletes comported themselves with dignity throughout a trying and humiliating process,” said a letter from the president, Tony Allen, to the campus.

The police officers went through the baggage of all the students.

Allen cited video that “clearly show[s] law enforcement members attempting to intimidate our student-athletes into confessing to possession of drugs and/or drug paraphernalia.”

“We do not intend to let this or any other incident like it pass idly by. We are prepared to go wherever the evidence leads us. We have video. We have allies. Perhaps more significantly, we have the courage of our convictions,” Allen said.

WHYY News contacted the Liberty County Sheriff’s Office to ask about the search. An aide who did not identify herself referred a reporter to Max Brown, the chief deputy. “We don’t have any further information. It has to be investigated,’’ the aide said, adding that the office was just learning about the stop and search. Brown did not respond.

The search took place on April 20.

Arrests and Layoffs at City College of San Francisco

City College of San Francisco eliminated the jobs of 38 full-time faculty members on Friday, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The original plan was to eliminate 50 such jobs.

The college says the layoffs reflect enrollment declines, but faculty leaders say the layoffs will encourage students to leave the college.

On Thursday, San Francisco police arrested faculty members and their supporters, who had been camping out to protest the cuts, SFGATE reported.

COVID-19 Outbreak Leads Drake U to Move Classes Online

An outbreak of COVID-19 at Drake University has led next week’s classes, and finals, to be moved online.

Marty Martin, the president, said that as of Wednesday, the university had 255 student cases, up from 107 in a day. Of those students, 75 live in campus housing.

Next week’s classes are the last of the semester. (The law school and a division that offers associate degrees will be exempt from the online requirement.)

The university has called off all extracurricular activities and is encouraging students who are not infected to move out of the dormitories.

There are more than 500 COVID-19 tests that have not yet been analyzed, and the university expects more positive cases to emerge.

Martin said Drake still hopes to have an in-person commencement.

Professor Removes Tweet About Justice Sotomayor

A professor at George Mason University’s Antonin Scalia Law School has removed his entire Twitter account and apologized for a tweet about Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The tweet, according to Above the Law, was about the leaked draft this week of a Supreme Court decision. Frank Buckley, the professor, tweeted, “So the question is, why was it leaked. Because doing so makes it harder to persuade one of the members of the majority to pull a Roberts. So which was it—a crafty conservative or a stupid Latina?”

Ken Randall, the Allison and Dorothy Rouse Dean of the law school, sent an email to the law school in which he said, “Last night one of our colleagues, Professor Frank Buckley, sent a tweet from his personal account that uses language not reflective of the law school’s or the university’s values. I have received many emails expressing upset, hurt, and concern. Many of us found the language discourteous and racially insensitive at best.”

He said, “The executive team is meeting and fully reviewing this matter.”

Randall also said Buckley had apologized for the tweet: “I regret that my foolish remarks have caused great sadness. I fully support the principle of inclusion and respect for every student.”

The president of George Mason, Gregory Washington, sent a campuswide email that did not name Buckley. “Earlier today, a member of the Mason faculty shared a personal opinion on Twitter that does not represent the inclusive community that we as a university should strive to achieve at all times. We appreciate, foster, and welcome diversity of background and perspectives, and dialogue that builds on the merits of a civil society, makes us stronger as individuals, and allows us the great successes we have achieved so far. Definitive divisive language does the opposite and will tear down our efforts to be part of something greater than ourselves, and our ability to create something greater for society,” Washington said.

Via email, Buckley told Inside Higher Ed, “I agree entirely with the beliefs about diversity and inclusion expressed by the president of my university and very much regret any pain caused by my thoughtless comment.”

Alaska High Court Affirms Draining of Scholarship Fund

The Alaska Supreme Court on Tuesday affirmed the decision of Governor Mike Dunleavy, a Republican, to drain a $400 million Higher Education Investment Fund, KTUU News reported.

The fund had been used to provide scholarships to 5,000 students a year.

But Dunleavy said the Legislature was required to approve the higher education fund each year and failed to do so, so he used the funds elsewhere. Some students sued.

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Tuesday and issued a short order later in the day saying that all five justices agreed with the governor. The justices will issue a formal opinion later.


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