Quick Takes: Saudi Arabia Releases Professor, Another Merger Considered, DEA Rejects Pot Research Lab, $100M for Energy Research at Stanford, Peer-to-Peer Lender Sidelined, The New Science Class, Fire Closes Georgia Campus, Harvard Students Foiled Again

January 13, 2009
  • Saudi Arabia released a noted political science and human rights activist, Matrook Al-Faleh, from prison over the weekend, without explaining his freedom or why he was held in a maximum security facility for nearly eight months, CNN reported. Al-Faleh, a professor at King Saud University, was detained shortly after he spoke out against prison conditions in the country. Several human rights and academic groups -- including the American Political Science Association and the Middle East Studies Association -- have been seeking his release. In 2004, the Middle East Studies Association gave Al-Faleh an academic freedom award for his work on behalf of academics and others in need of freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia.
  • The University of the District of Columbia is in discussions about taking over Southeastern University, a private institution in Washington, The Examiner reported. Southeastern, which is experiencing financial difficulties, offers associate degree programs as well as bachelor's and master's degrees. Washington lacks a public community college, which many education leaders view as a problem, and UDC could use Southeastern's programs to create one.
  • The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency has rejected a proposal from a researcher at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst to create the second facility in the United States to grow marijuana for medical studies, The Boston Globe reported. Researchers have called for the creation of the lab, saying that access is limited to marijuana from the existing facility at the University of Mississippi. But the DEA said that there the supply of research pot is "adequate and uninterrupted," so the UMass facility isn't necessary.
  • Stanford University on Monday announced $100 million in gifts that will support a new research institute to focus on energy issues. The funds will be used to hire additional faculty members and to support additional graduate students.
  • A feature in The New York Times explores the way many universities are replacing traditional science lectures with smaller, more active classes. The physics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has voted to replace its traditional introductory course with such an approach, the Times reported.
  • Toccoa Falls College was closed Monday after a fire destroyed one of the oldest buildings on the Georgia private college's campus. The Gate Cottage housed the college's school of counseling and a restaurant, among other functions.
  • Fynanz, one of a crop of new student loan providers that sought to take advantage of the "social networking" craze on the Internet, has apparently been waylaid by the downturn in the economic picture. In a note on its Web site, the company said: "Due to market conditions, at this time we are not accepting new members," though it will apparently continue to service existing loans. A companion note on the site suggests that the company will instead offer "a turn-key, web based solution" to help financial institutions "penetrate the growing private student loan market."
  • Harvard University is among the few institutions where students take final exams for the fall semester in January, and some of those students unfortunate enough to have exams scheduled on the morning of January 20 have been complaining that they will not be able to watch the Obama inauguration live. Hundreds of students signed petitions or joined Facebook groups demanding that those with exams scheduled on the morning of January 20 be allowed to take their tests another day. Morning exams run from 9:15 a.m. until 12:15 p.m., which would have students missing the noon swearing-in of the new president. Harvard has responded to the concerns, but not by letting students pick another day. The exam start time has been moved up by 45 minutes to 8:30 a.m., so that the tests will be over by 11:30, giving students plenty of time to get to one of the many television monitors that are being set up on campus. The Harvard Crimson quoted students as having new complaints about having to wake up earlier than planned, with some noting that those who don't want to watch the ceremony will now lose sleep as a result.
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