Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

July 18, 2017

Wentworth Military Academy and College, now defunct, reportedly can’t afford to pay its former faculty members, as it previously promised. Michael Lierman, college president, told faculty members via email in mid-May that they’d continue being paid until the end of their contracts, and the campus closed two weeks later, according to the Associated Press. But a campus caretaker emailed instructors at the end of June, saying that Wentworth doesn’t have the money to make additional salary payments now. The academy’s board hopes to liquidate campus assets and collect unpaid tuition to honor the duration of faculty contracts. An attorney for the Missouri college, which dates back to 1880, did not respond to requests for comment.

Wentworth announced it was closing in April, citing lowered enrollments, rising costs and an aging campus, the AP reported. Some 220 cadets were boarding there at the time, most of them two-year college students. Several hundred civilians also were enrolled in college courses there. The Higher Learning Commission placed Wentworth on ongoing probation in 2015 over concerns about finances and resources to support academic programs.

July 18, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Cassandra Burke Robertson, professor of law at Case Western Reserve University, looks into how to fight the dumping of confidential information from the inside. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

July 17, 2017

A Chinese-American graduate student enrolled at Princeton University has reportedly been sentenced by an Iranian court to 10 years in prison for espionage, The Washington Post reported, citing the Iranian judiciary’s official news agency, Mizan.

Xiyue Wang, age 37, is a fourth-year doctoral student in history at Princeton who, according to a statement from the university, "was arrested in Iran last summer, while there doing scholarly research on the administrative and cultural history of the late Qajar dynasty in connection with his Ph.D. dissertation.”

“We were very distressed by the charges brought against him in connection with his scholarly activities, and by his subsequent conviction and sentence. His family and the university are distressed at his continued imprisonment and are hopeful that he will be released after his case is heard by the appellate authorities in Tehran,” Daniel Day, Princeton's vice president of communications, said in the statement quoted by the Post.

The official news report from Mizan said that Wang was sentenced as part of an “infiltration project” that involved gathering “confidential articles” to send to the U.S. Department of State and Western universities. As the Post describes it, the Mizan report includes a photo from the Princeton website and uses, as evidence of espionage, a published quote from Wang in an annual report for the British Institute of Persian Studies in which he described help he had received from the institute in accessing Iranian archives and libraries.

July 17, 2017

A student who was admitted to Western Michigan University is possibly facing imminent execution in Saudi Arabia for an offense related to attending a protest, according to the human rights group Reprieve and the American Federation of Teachers.

Reprieve says in a press release that Mujtaba’a al-Sweikat was only 17 when he was arrested. A caseworker for the organization said it their understanding that he was arrested in December 2012 at the airport while en route to visit U.S. colleges and to enroll in a preparatory English language course. He was interested in attending Western Michigan University, where university officials confirmed that a student with a similarly spelled name, Mojtaba Nader Alsuwaiikt, was admitted in 2013 but never attended. (The Reprieve caseworker clarified that transliterations of names from Arabic to English tend to be inconsistent across translators.) The Reprieve caseworker said that al-Sweikat also received an offer of admission from Oregon State University.

“We were stunned to learn, for the first time today, of this situation,” Western Michigan staid in a statement. “It is not unusual for an admitted student to opt out of enrolling at the last minute, so we had no idea there was such a troubling reason behind this student's failure to come to campus.”

“The AFT information makes it clear that the critical national political figures with influence in such a situation are informed," the university said. "We join the AFT in urging them to use that influence to ask the Saudi government to exhibit compassion.”

In a statement it later revised to correct the name of the American university that al-Sweikat was planning on attending, AFT President Randi Weingarten said, “Saudi Arabia’s threat to behead its own citizens for attending an anti-government protest is an unthinkable and despicable violation of international law and basic humanity. Should these executions occur, Saudi Arabia should be considered a pariah nation by the world. We implore President Trump, as the standard-bearer for our great nation, to do everything in his power to stop the atrocities that may otherwise take place in Saudi Arabia.”

Reprieve reports that al-Sweikat is one of 14 Saudi men facing imminent execution for protest-related offenses who were moved to the capital city of Riyadh in recent days. The Saudi embassy did not respond to an inquiry Sunday about al-Sweikat's case.

July 17, 2017

Stanford mathematics professor Maryam Mirzakhani has died at age 40, the university announced. Mirzakhani, the only woman to win the Fields Medal, had a “long battle” with cancer, the institution said.

“Maryam is gone far too soon, but her impact will live on for the thousands of women she inspired to pursue math and science,” Stanford President Marc Tessier-Lavigne said in a statement. “Maryam was a brilliant mathematical theorist and also a humble person who accepted honors only with the hope that it might encourage others to follow her path. Her contributions as both a scholar and a role model are significant and enduring, and she will be dearly missed here at Stanford and around the world.”

Mirzakhani’s work was highly theoretical, dealing with the geometric complexities of curved shapes, but has applications to the theoretical physics of how the universe came to exist, and secondary applications to engineering and material science. Within the field of mathematics, Mirzakhani’s work has implications for the study of prime numbers and cryptography, according to Stanford.

The Fields Medal, a top mathematics award first awarded in 1936, is awarded every four years by the International Congress of the International Mathematical Union. Mirzakhani made history when she won the award in 2014.

Born in Iran, she competed for Iran’s International Mathematical Olympiad team, winning a gold medal in 1994 and two more in 1995. She would go on to attend Sharif University of Technology, in Tehran, and then Harvard University, where she earned her Ph.D.

Mirzakhani is survived by her husband, Jan Vondrák, and a daughter, Anahita.

July 17, 2017

Harvard University has suspended its graduate program in theater for three years, amid a variety of setbacks to the program, The Boston Globe reported. In January, the program suspended admissions for one year after the U.S. Education Department found that graduates' debt levels were too high for them to repay loans. The program is housed within the American Repertory Theater. In June, the program's director -- Scott Zigler -- said he was leaving after more than 20 years in the position to become dean of the School of Drama at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.

July 17, 2017

Johnny C. Taylor Jr., the president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund since 2010, will exit the organization later this year. Taylor last month was named the incoming president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, effective in November.

Thurgood Marshall College Fund represents 47 member institutions, including public historically black colleges and universities. Taylor in recent months has emerged as the most prominent figure in outreach between historically black colleges and the Trump administration. He played a key role in coordinating the HBCU summit in February involving members of Congress and leaders of historically black institutions. And Taylor has also pushed for objectives such as moving the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities into the Executive Office of the President from the Department of Education, a request Trump granted in an executive order in February but without significant new funding.

July 17, 2017

Two weeks after it became legal to carry handguns on public college campuses in Kansas, one was left in a bathroom at Wichita State University.

“Seeing the gun just made me roll my eyes,” Erik Mallory, a WSU technology infrastructure employee who found the gun, told The Wichita Eagle. “Thinking about the ramifications of irresponsible gun ownership is unsettling.”

As of Friday, university police were investigating the matter, and will decide, as the university spokesman put it, “what, if anything, needs to happen.”

“This is a reminder of how important it is to be responsible when you’re carrying a gun,” spokesman Joe Kleinsasser told the Eagle. “Obviously it’s a mistake, and not a good one.”

Colleges and universities in Kansas were originally exempt from a recent law expanding the concealed carry of handguns, but that exemption ended July 1.

July 17, 2017

Middle States Council on Higher Education, the accreditor for the Art Institute of Pittsburgh and Art Institute of Philadelphia, rejected the sale of both Education Management Corporation institutions to the Dream Center Foundation, according to a decision posted last week.

The council cited "insufficient information and evidence" in denying EDMC's request, although the for-profit can resubmit the request with additional information.

The Dream Center, which is a religious missionary organization based in Los Angeles, announced plans to buy EDMC in March. The foundation plans to keep the EDMC institutions -- Argosy University, South University and the Art Institutes -- secular after the sale is approved and finalized. The sale remains under review by the U.S. Department of Education, as well.

Middle States also took action on financial problems at the Art Institute of Philadelphia and warned that the institution's accreditation may be in jeopardy because of a failure to show "documented financial resources, funding base and plans for financial development adequate to support its educational purposes." The institute has to submit a report by Sept. 15 showing evidence it meets standards.

July 17, 2017

The Maryland state and Hungarian governments signed an agreement Friday that will allow McDaniel College’s campus in Budapest to stay open after the April passage of a new Hungarian law on foreign branch campuses, The Baltimore Sun reported. Passage of the law has been widely seen as an attack by Hungary’s right-wing government on Central European University, an American-accredited institution that was founded by financier George Soros. The law among other things requires an agreement between the governments of Hungary and that of the home state or nation for any foreign branch campus and stipulates that foreign universities must have campuses in their home countries, which McDaniel does and CEU does not.

Hungary continues to negotiate about the status of two different universities with the states of Massachusetts and New York, the latter being where CEU is chartered. The Sun reported that the Maryland Higher Education Commission did not provide a copy of the agreement Friday.

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