Higher Education Quick Takes
Today on the Academic Minute, Michelle Watts, faculty director and assistant professor in the school of security and global studies at American Public University, explores the uncertain future of many indigenous groups and their sacred sites in their Central American homeland. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
The latest on the controversy at Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland, where many are outraged by the firing of two faculty members without faculty reviews -- dismissals widely viewed as an attempt to squelch dissent.
- Inside Higher Ed asked the university's accreditor if it plans to examine what is going on and received a reply that it does. Elizabeth H. Sibolski, president of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, said via email, “I did want to assure you that the Middle States Commission on Higher Education is well aware of developments that have been reported in national, state and higher education press. We take our accreditation responsibilities seriously and will be addressing the situation through our normal and usual processes.” Asked if this meant looking into the situation before the next review of Mount St. Mary's, she said, “This week’s press has been remarkable -- and the situation has developed over just the past few days. We are concerned and we will act with appropriate care for the integrity of the accreditation process.”
- Simon Newman, president of Mount St. Mary's University in Maryland, wrote to parents of students Wednesday to tell them that he disagreed with press accounts of a growing national controversy over his dismissal of two faculty members. In his email, Newman said, “I want to briefly address my decision to dismiss two faculty members who violated a number of our university policies and our code of ethics. We, as an institution, have received quite a bit of press recently and have chosen not to respond more forcefully with information about the specifics of their conduct which we have available to us. In keeping with our values, we will take the high road. But it is critical that you know that we would never undertake actions like that unless the conduct in question warranted it. You may see other versions of events, but we have chosen to restore our focus on educating your students rather than explaining the damaging actions of a few individuals. We need to move forward with hope and faith rather than fall prey to fear and disparity during this time of transition.” Many faculty members say that their dismissed colleagues lost their jobs for disagreeing with the president, and they note the absence of any faculty review of the firings.
The House of Representatives approved legislation Wednesday that would require the National Science Foundation to provide written justification for how every grant furthers the "national interest."
The legislation, H.R. 3293, passed largely along party lines in the Republican-controlled House. Its sponsors characterized the measure as designed to "ensure that the National Science Foundation (NSF) is open and accountable to the taxpayers about how their hard-earned dollars are spent."
But Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, the senior Democrat on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, said the bill "is about second-guessing our nation’s best and brightest scientists, and the grant-making decisions they make. Perhaps this is not surprising, when so many of my Republican colleagues openly question the validity of whole fields of established science, from the social sciences to climate science to evolutionary biology."
Graham Spanier, the former president of Pennsylvania State University, filed lawsuits in state court Wednesday against Penn State (for breach of contract) and Louis Freeh (for defamation), PennLive.com reported. The suits come out of Freeh's investigation on the university's behalf of the Jerry Sandusky scandal. The suits claim Freeh misrepresented Spanier's actions as failing to take the child abuse seriously, when Spanier maintains he did not know at the time how Sandusky was abusing children. The suit against Penn State alleges that the university violated pledges in his departure agreement not to criticize him. Penn State and Freeh were not immediately reachable for comment.
The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday filed a complaint against Adams State University administrators on behalf of Danny Ledonne, a former adjunct professor of mass communications and video production employee who was banned from campus after he repeatedly criticized the university on a personal website called WatchingAdams.org. Ledonne wrote about pay differences between faculty members and administrators and questioned the university's hiring practices, among other topics (he was turned down several times for a tenure-track job, according to the complaint). Adams State issued Ledonne a no-trespass order this fall. The complaint, filed in a federal court in Colorado, alleges violations of Ledonne’s free speech and due process rights, as well as false and defamatory claims by the university that his behavior was threatening.
Adams State said in a statement that the complaint is “based on a wholly false premise that we have been eager to completely refute, but have lacked the legal ability to do, until now.” Officials said that they look forward to “making the case that the university’s actions were based solely on evidence and the belief that Mr. Ledonne’s longstanding pattern of inappropriate actions and threatening statements required us to act in an abundance of caution to protect our students, faculty and staff. We will aggressively contest any accusation that our safety-based decisions were in any way related to constitutionally protected freedom of expression.”
A new directive from China’s Ministry of Education calls for stepping up “patriotic education” efforts – including for students studying at universities abroad, The New York Times reported.
“Assemble the broad numbers of students abroad as a positive patriotic energy,” says the directive, which was publicized by the state news outlet Xinhua on Tuesday. “Build a multidimensional contact network linking home and abroad -- the motherland, embassies and consulates, overseas student groups, and the broad number of students abroad -- so that they fully feel that the motherland cares.”
This month's Cartoon Caption Contest on Inside Higher Ed has a Valentine's Day theme -- please suggest a caption or read those submitted by other readers.
Click here to vote on your favorite of three finalists picked by our judges from the submissions for last month's cartoon.
And congratulations to the winner of the December contest, Louise Freeman, a professor of psychology at Mary Baldwin College. Her creation -- "I'm sorry, all grades are final." -- was voted the favorite of our readers for the cartoon at right. She is a two-time winner of the contest, and will receive an Amazon gift certificate and a signed copy of the cartoon.
Thanks to all for playing.
The University of California at Berkeley Wednesday morning announced a major initiative aimed at maintaining educational quality while addressing serious budgetary concerns. Chancellor Nicholas Dirks said in a campus message that the university faces “a substantial and growing structural deficit, one that we cannot long sustain,” and introduced what he called a comprehensive strategic planning process to establish a “new normal.”
“We must focus not only on the immediate challenge, but also on the deeper task of enhancing our institution’s long-term sustainability and self-reliance,” he said. “This is a moment not just to stabilize our finances, but also to consider our future as a leading institution of higher education. The guide for this effort has to be our core mission: to enhance the educational experience we provide to students while maintaining our commitment to access, to increase the support we provide for groundbreaking research and scholarship, and to align our public outreach with 21st-century societal needs.”
Dirks said the Academic Senate, deans and administrators have been analyzing their budgets and programs for months and must now transition to comprehensive planning in the same collaborative spirit -- even though some of the process is sure to be “painful.” Every aspect of Berkeley’s operations and organizational structure will be under consideration, according to the memo, including:
- Controlling staffing levels and adopting staff hiring “discipline” that mirrors that for faculty positions.
- Improving support for teaching and research while redesigning work processes to achieve greater “efficiency,” such as the previously adopted end-to-end review of research grant proposals.
- Making investments to improve fund-raising capacity.
- Achieving additional revenues through the Berkeley “brand,” land and other assets, such as through licensing.
- Working with senate leaders and deans on the redesign of some academic structures, including strengthening some areas, narrowing the focus of others and combining units.
- Expanding online offerings and enrollments in University Extension, as well as professional and other master’s programs that earn revenue.
“We realize that many of you will want to know more, and have many good ideas to offer for our consideration,” Dirks said. “In the months ahead, we will be engaging with faculty, staff and students in order to share more detailed information, answer questions and solicit suggestions. You will also hear more from the leadership of your school, college or administrative unit as work on the initiatives broadens and deepens across the campus.”
Changes will start to take effect this summer, though significant academic and administrative realignments will take longer. Updates will be posted on Berkeley’s website.
“This endeavor must not be interpreted as an abandonment of our commitment to a public mission nor [of] our efforts to advocate for increased public funding for higher education,” Dirks said. “We are fighting to maintain our excellence against those who might equate ‘public’ with mediocrity, against those who have lost faith in the need for higher education to serve as an engine of social mobility and against those who no longer believe that university-based inquiry and research have the power to shape our society and economy for the better.”
He added, “What we are engaged in here is a fundamental defense of the concept of the public university, a concept that we must reinvent in order to preserve.”
Due to declining state funding and other factors, Berkeley expects an operating budget deficit of 6 percent this year, or about $150 million. Officials say that while that is manageable in the short term, trend lines call for proactive sustainability measures.
Legislation in Kansas would eliminate a tenure system for community college faculty members that grants them the right to due process prior to dismissal once they have taught four years, The Kansas City Star reported. Similar rights were eliminated last year for elementary and secondary school teachers. At a hearing on the bill Tuesday, faculty members criticized the legislation. “Due process gives us the freedom to speak up with a dissenting voice, without fear of retaliation,” said Melanie Harvey, who teaches chemistry at Johnson County Community College.
Groups representing administrators and trustees spoke in favor of the bill. Greg Goode, representing the Kansas Association of Technical Colleges, said the due process system takes too long and makes it too difficult to dismiss a faculty member "gone bad." He said that "it's heartbreaking to hear students complain" about such professors.