Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 19, 2018

The Charles Koch Foundation said last week that it doled out nearly $90 million in grants in 2017, up from $77 million in 2016. The organization already has surpassed $90 million in 2018 giving, it said. As in years past, the bulk of those grants went to colleges and universities -- some 300. A spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment as to exactly how much of last year’s approximately $90 million in grants went to higher education, as Koch gives to other nonprofits. But it’s clear that the foundation has not slowed the pace of giving to academe, despite continued skepticism from faculty members on affected campuses about the terms of the some of Koch’s grant agreements. Koch announced in July that would make public its future multiyear agreements with college and universities.

November 19, 2018

With many of its members facing “increased harassment, surveillance and threats on the basis of their political expressions and identities,” both inside the classroom and out, the National Communication Association approved a new “Statement on the Protection and Defense of Academic Freedom and Freedom of Expression for Communication Scholars” this month. The statement affirms the principle that “scholarship and teaching are fundamentally interrelated with political and activist engagement in communities” and also the “rights of faculty members, students, and staff to engage in extramural political discourse.” It urges institutions to “forcefully defend” academic freedom and condemn targeted harassment and intimidation of faculty members, students and staff. In passing the statement, the association says it is joining with other advocacy organizations that support faculty members, students and staff, regardless of tenure status or employment context.

November 19, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Alison Bryant Ludden, associate professor of psychology at the College of the Holy Cross, says the reasons behind teens' caffeine use may reveal a bigger issue. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 16, 2018

Iowa Wesleyan University, which last month announced that it might be forced to shut down, is going to try to stay alive. The board met Thursday and announced that it had received enough money, for now, to continue. The university received gifts and was approved for participation in a rural development program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the same time, the board "will be actively pursuing new partnerships to create a more sustainable future for the university, community and region," a university statement said.

November 16, 2018

The American Association of University Professors’ Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure and its Committee on Women in the Academic Profession on Thursday released a statement on the Trump administration’s reported plan to narrow the definition of gender under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits gender-based discrimination. Drawing parallels between Trump’s administration and others around the world that have sought to diminish the rights and status of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people of late, the statement “strongly condemns” efforts to “restrict the legal meaning of gender to what are said to be its natural, immutable forms.”

“Authoritarian efforts such as these can justify racial, class and sexual policing that disciplines forms of kinship and homemaking -- including same-sex, multi-generational, or other nonnormative households -- that deviate from established nuclear family norms,” the statement says. “Politicians and religious fundamentalists are neither scientists nor scholars. Their motives are ideological. It is they who are offering ‘gender ideology’ by attempting to override the insights of serious scholars. By substituting their ideology for years of assiduous research, they impose their will in the name of a ‘science’ that is without factual support. This is a cynical invocation of science for purely political ends.”

There is also a potential threat to academic freedom, the statement says, in that "like attacks on climate science, the effort to establish a legal definition of gender as binary could lead to denying research funding to scholars and to impugning the value and validity of their scholarly work. Fixing the meaning of gender in this way may undermine the open-ended forms of inquiry that define research and teaching in a democracy."

November 16, 2018

The University of Texas at San Antonio professor who called the police on a black student in her class who had her feet propped up will not teach for the remainder of the semester.

Anita Moss, senior lecturer in the department of biology, apparently had a preoccupation with students remaining civil in the classroom, including placing their feet on chairs, according to a memo sent to UT San Antonio provost Kimberly Andrews Espy.

The memo stated that Moss had, throughout the semester, routinely stopped class to call students out who had their feet up, or who were using their cellphones. One of Moss's colleagues advised her that she could instead call university police on the next incident.

The student who was removed for putting her feet up had been told by Moss not to do so. Moss had tried to send the student an email on Sunday informing her she would not be allowed to attend class until Moss met with her to discuss her behavior. But Moss sent the email to the wrong student, according to the memo.

When the student showed up to class on Monday, Moss confronted the student and showed her the email she had never received. The student refused to leave, saying she needed the class, which was when Moss called the police to escort the student out.

Other students in the class told Moss she had crossed a line with the student who was kicked out. The university was investigating the episode as potential discrimination.

The memo states that Moss can return to her teaching duties in spring 2019, but she will be monitored.

November 16, 2018

At a House Committee on Veterans Affairs hearing Thursday, VA officials claimed that student veterans could expect on-time payments during the spring semester after long delays in the fall have caused many to receive no or lesser housing benefit payments. Despite repeated requests by committee members, the officials did not offer a deadline by which the technical problems causing the delays would be solved, but they did confirm that they were prepared for system failures and would process claims manually within 28 days.

November 16, 2018

Rutgers University has reversed course regarding a white professor who said he was resigning from his race after visiting a burger joint filled with “little Caucasian assholes” -- presumably children -- in rapidly gentrifying Harlem. The comments, made on Facebook in late spring, attracted widespread attention. Rutgers launched an investigation and determined that the professor, James Livingston, a historian, violated its discrimination and harassment policy. He faced disciplinary action.

But this week, Rutgers’s Office of Employment Equity informed Livingston in a memo that he had not violated the policy. The memo says Robert Barchi, university president, remanded the office’s initial finding back for re-evaluation. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which argued to Rutgers that Livingston’s speech was protected, said in a statement that the university “did the right thing and reversed the charge of racial discrimination.” Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, FIRE’s director of litigation, said, “Any other result would have undermined the free speech and academic freedom rights of all Rutgers faculty members.”

November 16, 2018

Police in New Zealand are investigating suspected efforts to sabotage a car owned by a prominent scholar who studies China’s overseas influence campaigns, the New Zealand Herald reported.

Anne-Marie Brady, a professor at the University of Canterbury, said she is concerned about the safety of herself and her family.

"I'm also really concerned about the escalation of activities aimed at intimidating me and stopping my academic research," she told the Herald.

Police are separately investigating a series of break-ins to Brady’s home and campus offices in February that appeared to target her electronic devices. Brady has been the subject of vitriolic commentary in Chinese-language media, including a recent op-ed that called her and Chinese democracy activists “anti-Chinese sons of bitches" who should "get out of New Zealand."

Brady described the suspected sabotage on Twitter.

November 16, 2018

Safety conditions for researchers conducting fieldwork in the United Arab Emirates are deteriorating, the Middle East Studies Association’s Board of Directors said in a statement Thursday.

The statement cites the case of Matthew Hedges, a doctoral student at Britain’s Durham University, who was arrested in May while conducting fieldwork on the U.A.E.’s security strategy and charged in October with espionage. He was recently released on bail pending trial and is not allowed to leave the U.A.E.

The statement also cites the sentencing in May of a human rights activist, Ahmad Mansoor, to 10 years in prison for his social media postings.

“Over the course of the past months, it has become unmistakably clear that the environment for the conduct of research in several countries of the [Middle East and North Africa] has changed, and in some cases, quite drastically,” says the statement from MESA’s board. “Where fieldwork continues to be possible, local and foreign researchers are often subjected to surveillance; they may be especially vulnerable if they attempt to conduct their research independently -- without formal permission and/or a local partner; even supposedly ‘well-connected’ scholars are not safe; and certain topics of research are ‘off limits.’ These appear to be new rules for the conduct of research, even though there have been no official announcements of them by governing authorities. While few scholars would venture into Libya, Syria, Yemen, or parts of Iraq today to engage in fieldwork, and the challenges of conducting (especially social scientific) research in Egypt have already been highlighted by MESA … the potential difficulties facing scholars wishing to conduct research in the United Arab Emirates are less well-known to academics and the general public. The U.A.E. has received less attention, in part, because of close ties with the U.S. government. In view of recent development in the U.A.E., and given our responsibilities both to our colleagues and as advisors and mentors to graduate students, we the elected representatives of MESA wish to alert our membership to the intensification of threats to researchers and resident colleagues in the U.A.E.”

The U.A.E. Embassy did not respond to a request for comment.

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