Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 7, 2017

Sweet Briar College named its next president Monday, picking a former University of Virginia dean to lead the all-women liberal arts institution as it attempts to recover from a near closure two years ago.

Meredith Woo will take over as president of Sweet Briar in rural Virginia after current president Phillip C. Stone retires in May. Woo was the dean of the College and Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Virginia from 2008 to 2014. Afterward, she worked in London as the director of the higher education support program for the Open Society Foundations, which is tasked with supporting liberal arts colleges in the former Soviet Union and with supporting higher education for refugee populations in Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

Woo will face fund-raising, enrollment and curricular challenges at Sweet Briar after the college's previous leadership attempted to close the college in 2015. Alumnae successfully fought the move, but Sweet Briar has been heavily reliant on fund-raising since then and has posted mixed enrollment results. Stone has said that the college brought in 160 new students this fall but that it needs 200 new fall enrollments as it seeks to become sustainable into the future. The college's total enrollment is about 330.

In an interview Monday, Woo said she intends to improve Sweet Briar's liberal arts curriculum, raise money and build upon Sweet Briar's status as one of only two women's colleges in the country with an engineering program.

“We'll need to move forward to raise resources from foundations and supporters of women's education,” she said. “That will be predicated on having really great ideas.”

Woo is also a former dean of social sciences at the University of Michigan. She holds a Ph.D. in political science and a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University. She received her bachelor's degree from Bowdoin College in Maine. She is a native of Seoul in South Korea and speaks Korean and Japanese. She is also proficient in Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese.

February 7, 2017

A student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison has abandoned plans to create a pro-white student group, the Associated Press reported. The shift in the student's plans followed widespread criticism of his idea to create the group, as well as reports about his past -- the student spent time in federal prison for his role in setting fires at two predominantly black churches.

February 7, 2017

The Teacher Education Task Force of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities has released a report outlining the problems facing teacher education programs and possible responses to them. Among the challenges facing programs, according to the report: low pay for teachers, teacher shortages, declining enrollment and federal and state policies requiring increased accountability.

February 7, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Elizabeth Bryda, professor in the department of veterinary pathobiology at the University of Missouri, discusses probiotics and how they can help calm you down. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 6, 2017

A new study documents the role of immigrants in promoting inventions and economic growth in the United States. The study (abstract available here) was released today by the National Bureau of Economic Research and focused on the role of immigrants in the United States from 1880 to 1940, as well as the impact well after that. In the 10 states where the most patents were awarded per capita from 1880 to 1940, 20.6 percent of the population was made up of immigrants. In the states with the fewest patents awarded per capita, immigrants made up 1.7 percent of the population. Further, the technology fields in which immigrant investors were most active during this period had more patenting and citations than did other areas in the years 1940 though 2000.

One difference the study found between immigrant and nonimmigrant inventors: the immigrants earned less than did the American-born counterparts.

The study was by Ufuk Akcigit and John Grigsby, both of the University of Chicago, and Tom Nicholas of Harvard University.

February 6, 2017

David Adamini, secretary of the Republican Party in one Michigan county, is under fire for comments he posted to social media saying that the right response to last week's violent protest at the University of California, Berkeley (by an off-campus group, according to authorities), would be "another Kent State," referring to the 1970 shootings that killed four students there who were participating in an anti-war protest. The comments, at right, included the following: "Violent protesters who shut down free speech? Time for another Kent State perhaps. One bullet stops a lot of thuggery."

Amid calls for Adamini to resign, he removed the comments from social media, and tweeted the following:

Kent State issued the following statement: "May 4, 1970, was a watershed moment for the country and especially the Kent State University family. We lost four students that day while nine others were wounded and countless others were changed forever. This abhorrent post is in poor taste and trivializes a loss of life that still pains the Kent State community today. We invite the person who wrote this statement to tour our campus and our May 4 Visitors Center, which opened four years ago, to gain perspective on what happened 47 years ago and apply its meaning to the future."

February 6, 2017

Eleven people were arrested last Thursday after one part of a demonstration at New York University turned violent.

They were protesting the on-campus appearance of Gavin McInnes, a conservative commentator, comedian, actor and co-founder of Vice Media (at right). McInnes describes himself as pro-Trump, pro-West, anti-feminist and anti-Islam. Last December, he started an “anti-racial guilt,” anti-feminist group called Proud Boys that advocates for the return of "Western chauvinism." Of the 11 arrested Thursday night, several were these so-called Proud Boys, according to tweets McInnes posted in the days following the event.

The NYU College Republicans had invited McInnes to speak Thursday night, but dozens of dissenters -- including some students, led by a group called NYU Anti-Fascists, and many nonstudents -- greeted his arrival with chants, fighting and pepper spray.

The New York Police Department had sent officers to the scene, where McInnes was pepper sprayed on his way into the building. He later tweeted about the incident. “Thanks for asking if I'm OK guys,” he wrote on Twitter. “I was sprayed with pepper spray but being called a Nazi burned way more.”

None of those arrested were NYU students, an official with the university said. Most protesters affiliated with NYU were inside the student center where McInnes was speaking and where they held signs and yelled in nonviolent protest. Those who remained outside, where the protests became violent, are believed to be "largely composed of non-NYU protesters," John Beckman, vice president for public affairs at NYU, said in a statement.

On the Facebook event for the demonstration, the NYU Anti-Fascists’ organizers wrote that McInnes “has a long track record of using incendiary language to attract media attention and frenzy.”

McInnes did end up speaking to students in the student center, according to a video posted to Periscope by a student publication, but he was interrupted repeatedly by a group of student protesters shouting, “Whose campus? Our campus!” and “Shame! Shame! Shame!” McInnes would sometimes ignore them and continue speaking, but occasionally he would turn to them and react: “Why are you repeating the same nonsense over and over?”

After about 20 minutes of this, McInnes took the microphone from an NYU spokesperson who had been trying to calm the crowd and called the spokesperson a “dumb liberal asshole” for thinking the protesters are "rational beings." McInnes then abruptly left the podium. He did not come back.

“To be clear: Mr. McInnes's talk at NYU’s student center on Thursday night went forward. … The decision to end the event when he did was his own,” Beckman said.

The NYU College Republicans responded to the evening's events in a statement, saying they were "disappointed that many students on this campus are so disrespectful when it comes to hearing opposing speakers … We understand that his presence was controversial but we didn't expect these outburst [sic] from this institution."

The NYU incident occurred just a day after violent protests broke out at the University of California, Berkeley, which was hosting Breitbart writer Milo Yiannopoulos but had to cancel amid violent protests led by people unaffiliated with Berkeley.

February 6, 2017

Over the weekend, swastika graffiti appeared and unnerved people in Chicago, Houston and New York City. In Houston, the incident was on the campus of Rice University, where someone chalked a swastika and "Trump" on a statue of the university's founder, The Houston Chronicle reported. Rice officials cleaned the statue and are investigating and condemning the incident.

“I have had it with this behavior,” John Hutchinson, undergraduate dean, said in a Facebook post. “The use of the swastika clearly reveals that whoever did this is either ignorant of the history of true evil associated with this emblem of hate or is genuinely motivated by blind hatred.”

In January, a portion of the Berlin Wall that is on Rice's campus was defaced with "Trump 2016" and "Aloha."

February 6, 2017

A scientist imprisoned in Iran has reportedly been sentenced to death for suspected espionage, according to a statement from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel, in Belgium, with which he is affiliated.

Ahmadreza Djalali teaches in a joint master’s program in disaster medicine offered by the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and the Università degli Studi del Piemonte Orientale, in Italy.

“A scientist performing important humanitarian work gets sentenced without public trial and is looking at the death penalty,” Caroline Pauwels, the rector of VUB, said in the statement. “This is an outrageous violation of universal human rights, against which we should react decisively.”

Ives Hubloue, the head of VUB's Research Group on Emergency and Disaster Medicine, told Science that the charges Djalali faces may be related to his international scientific contacts. He described Djalali as "passionate about science" and "not interested in politics."

"We don't believe he did anything wrong," Hubloue told Science. "Let him go. Let him do his work. We need him."

The Scholars at Risk network, which advocates for academic freedom globally and assists threatened scholars, has started an urgent letter-writing campaign on Djalali’s behalf.

“SAR understands that Dr. Djalali, an Iranian-born resident of Sweden, who teaches at universities in Italy and Belgium, was arrested in April 2016, while visiting Iran to participate in a series of academic workshops,” the organization said in a message. “He has since been detained in Evin Prison, and was reportedly held in solitary confinement without access to a lawyer until December 2016, when he was transferred to a public ward. On Feb. 1, 2017, Dr. Djalali informed his sister that he had been forced to sign a confession, which reportedly relates to crimes against the national security of Iran. Shortly thereafter, he was reportedly sentenced to death. Dr. Djalali’s wife and academic colleagues have all strongly denied any possible national security charges against him, citing his dedication to international scientific collaboration.”

February 6, 2017

The National Collegiate Athletic Association and the 11 Football Bowl Subdivision conferences have agreed to pay $208.7 million to men's and women's basketball and football players who did not receive full cost of attendance between 2008 and 2017. The settlement is in response to a lawsuit brought against the NCAA in 2014 by Shawne Alston, a former West Virginia University football player, who claimed the NCAA violated antitrust law by capping the value of athletic scholarships at less than the full cost of attending college. The NCAA's Division I have since changed its rules to allow cost of attendance for athletes.

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