Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 3:00am

Purdue University sent a letter to employees Monday saying that major changes in its policy on leave days would not be made in the 2015-16 academic year. Purdue had planned to make a number of changes to "simplify" the categories of days off, but when employees added up the various categories, most said that they would lose days, and many objected to the changes. Purdue first announced that it was reviewing the proposal and has now announced that there will be no such changes in the next academic year. Purdue previously announced two changes that have been applauded: extending employee bereavement time and parental leave.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 4:21am

The University of Arizona is investigating a church that more than 20 former employees and members call a cult, The Arizona Daily Star reported. The newspaper investigated Faith Christian Church, which many say reaches out to students in friendly, supportive ways but gradually asserts more and more control over them. A summary by the newspaper said that former members and parents shared "reports of hitting infants with cardboard tubes to encourage submission, financial coercion, alienation from parents, public shaming of members and shunning of those who leave the church or question its leaders. Some say that since leaving, they’ve spent years in therapy for panic attacks, depression, flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder." Church leaders did not respond to requests for comment.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 4:26am

Many students, alumni and fellow faculty members are rallying behind Varlo Davenport, who has been removed as a theater professor at Dixie State University, The Spectrum reported. The spark for his removal was an in-class incident in which he restrained a female student to demonstrate what he was encouraging her to do in acting. She filed a sexual assault claim. While a faculty panel backed Davenport and said he should return to teaching, the university is refusing to do so, citing an ongoing (but only vaguely described) criminal investigation of Davenport. He says he hasn't been told of such an investigation.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 3:00am

Andrew Hamilton, vice chancellor of the University of Oxford, has become the favorite to become the next president of the University of Texas at Austin, The Austin American-Statesman reported. While no decision has been made, Hamilton (whose title is the equivalent of president or chancellor in the U.S.) apparently performed best in interviews.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 3:00am

Tyton Partners, the former Education Growth Advisors, this week released the first of three papers based on surveys it conducted on faculty and administrator attitudes about digital courseware. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded the surveys, which yielded 2,700 responses. 

The first paper charts faculty attitudes. It found that while instructors are aware of digital courseware, which is widely used, many faculty members are "woefully dissatisfied" with existing offerings. This poses a challenge to the broader adoption of online courses, the report found, arguing that "changes must be made by both suppliers and institutions to support adoption of digital courseware at scale." 

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 4:28am

Israel's Supreme Court has ordered the University of Haifa to revise rules that permit the university to "halt" public events such as protests for a "limited time," Haaretz reported. Even with the "limited time" caveat of the rule, the measure is a violation of free speech rights, the Supreme Court ruled. The dispute dates to the university's use of the rule to halt protests in a two-week period in 2012 when Israeli forces were fighting with Palestinian forces in Gaza. The action by the university followed two peaceful protests on campus, one opposed to Israel's military action at the time, and the other in support of Israeli soldiers.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 3:00am

A German professor turned down an Indian man’s request to join her research group, citing India’s “rape problem,” The Independent reported. Annette G. Beck-Sickinger, a professor of biochemistry at Leipzig University, reportedly told the unnamed student via e-mail, “Unfortunately I don’t accept any Indian male students for internships. We hear a lot about the rape problem in India, which I cannot support.” When the student accused the professor of stereotyping, she wrote back, “I fully agree that this is a generalization and may not apply to individuals. However it is unbelievable that Indian society is not able to solve this problem for many years now.”

Beck-Sickinger also reportedly said rejecting Indian students due to the country’s rape statistics was somewhat common among German women professors. HuffPost India reported that Beck-Sickinger confirmed that she had written the e-mails to the student but that her words were “taken out of context.” Screenshots of the e-mail exchange published on Quora reportedly prompted Michael Steiner, Germany’s ambassador to India, to write a letter to the professor saying, in part, “Your oversimplifying and discriminating generalization is an offense to these women and men ardently committed to furthering women['s] empowerment in India.”

Tuesday, March 10, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Jon Pierce-Shimomura, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, discusses his worm intoxication research on treating alcoholism. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


Monday, March 9, 2015 - 3:00am

The national headquarters of Sigma Alpha Epsilon closed its University of Oklahoma chapter on Sunday after a video surfaced online showing its members singing a racist song about not allowing black students to join the fraternity. 

"There will never be a nigger at SAE," the students sang to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It," while dressed in formal attire and riding a bus. "You can hang him from a tree, but he'll never sign with me. There will never be a nigger at SAE." (The video clip is at the end of this article.)

In a statement Sunday, David Boren, Oklahoma's president, called the behavior "reprehensible," and promised an investigation. "If the reports are true, the chapter will no longer remain on campus," Boren said prior to SAE's announcement. Unheard OU, the student activist group that publicized the video, said it planned to protest on campus Monday. 

Touted as the only national fraternity founded in the antebellum South, Sigma Alpha Epsilon members agree to memorize and follow a creed known as The True Gentleman.

In 2013, the Washington University in St. Louis chapter of SAE was suspended after some of its pledges were instructed to direct racial slurs at a group of black students. Last year, 15 SAE members at the University of Arizona broke into a historically Jewish off-campus fraternity and physically assaulted its members while yelling discriminatory comments at them. In December, Clemson University's SAE chapter was suspended after the fraternity hosted a "cripmas" party where students dressed up as gang members.



Monday, March 9, 2015 - 3:00am

Alumnae of Sweet Briar College, who are preparing a legal challenge to its decision to shut down, on Saturday issued a request to current students not to transfer. Since the college's announcement last week, it has announced agreements to allow for expedited transfer to some institutions, and other colleges have also expressed interest in enrolling Sweet Briar students.

But Saving Sweet Briar, which has announced that it has retained a law firm to help block the college's closure, is concerned that if the students transfer, there may not be much of a college left to save. "As we advance our legal strategy and develop alternatives to the closure of Sweet Briar College, it is critical that current students give our efforts time to bear fruit before they commit to attending other institutions," said a statement from the group. The organization said that it appreciated the way other colleges were trying to help Sweet Briar students, but said that "we also ask our sister colleges to give our efforts time to succeed."

A group spokesman declined to provide any details on the legal strategy Saving Sweet Briar will pursue.

A spokeswoman for Sweet Briar strongly disagreed with the request from the group. "It is important for students and parents not to delay developing their transfer plans for the fall semester," she said via e-mail. "Students who delay the timely selection of a new academic home limit their collegiate options and their potential access to financial aid from other institutions. It is important to remember that our accreditation ends as of August 25, further supporting our students' need to find a new institution now."


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