Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 13, 2017

A new professional football league is presenting itself as an alternative to college-age players who want to be treated like employees rather than students, The Washington Post reported. The founders of Pacific Pro Football, which will start in 2018 with four teams in Southern California, plan to require players to be no more than four years out of high school, taking aim directly at college-age players, and will pay them an average of $50,000 a year.

The league is emerging at a time of significant tumult surrounding the amateur status of big-time college football and basketball players.

"As I’ve thought about this and studied it for years, I felt that it would be terrific if these emerging football players had a choice in determining how they wanted to get better at their craft,” said Ed Yee, one of the league's founders and the agent of the star pro quarterback Tom Brady.

January 13, 2017

Today in the Academic Minute: William Rogers, professor of biology at Winthrop University, examines river dolphins in Peru to gauge whether dolphins speak in different dialects. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 12, 2017

The American Historical Association Council rejected one petition from a group of historians critical of Israel and reworded another at its recent meeting. After two unsuccessful attempts to get AHA members to approve boycott, divestment and sanctions-related resolutions at the association’s annual gatherings in 2015 and 2016, a group of historians, some of whom are affiliated with Historians Against the War, petitioned the AHA’s governing body directly. The first petition called on the AHA to investigate “credible charges of violations of academic freedom in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories,” whether by “constituting a fact-finding committee, authorizing a delegation or issuing an investigative report,” similar to efforts undertaken by the American Anthropological Association.

The second petition asked the AHA Council to make a statement upholding “the right of students and faculty to engage in nonviolent political action expressing diverse points of view on Israel/Palestine issues” and condemning “all efforts at intimidation of those expressing such views. Specifically, we condemn the maintenance of blacklists, such as those on the anonymous ‘Canary Mission’ website publicizing names, photographs and contact information for hundreds of supporters of Palestinian rights, predominantly Arab-American students.”

Jim Grossman, executive director of the historical association, said the council “discussed the complicated intellectual and practical issues" raised by the first petition. And while it “benefited from the experience” of the anthropological association, he said, the council “determined that the petition is requesting investigative work that is beyond the scope and mission of the AHA.”

Instead of addressing political speech regarding the Israeli-Palestinian issue specifically, as requested in the second petition, the council released a statement upholding “the rights of students, faculty and other historians to speak freely and to engage in nonviolent political action expressing diverse perspectives on historical or contemporary issues.” The statement continues, “We condemn all efforts to intimidate those expressing their views. Specifically, we condemn in the strongest terms the creation, maintenance and dissemination of blacklists and watch lists -- through media (social and otherwise) -- which identify specific individuals in ways that could lead to harassment and intimidation.”

Grossman said the more general statement reflects the AHA's concern “that any such harassment and intimidation is contrary to our values and to the generally accepted principles of academic freedom articulated by the American Association of University Professors.” He added, “We're grateful to the petitioners for raising this issue, and think that what matters is the larger problem of any entity creating what essentially look like blacklists.”

Van Gosse, chair of history at Franklin and Marshall College and a member of Historians Against the War, said AHA has “the right and responsibility” to take political stances on issues under its purview. Regarding the first petition, Gosse said he didn’t understand how the AHA could cite the anthropologists’ action, then state that the requested investigation was outside its own purview. “A small, volunteer committee vetted by council could have done that work; there is vast documentation already available,” he said. Gosse said he was not aware of anyone involved in drafting the petitions who was “disturbed” by the council’s response to the second one, however.

January 12, 2017

The Taliban released a video that purports to show two kidnapped professors from the American University of Afghanistan urging President-elect Donald J. Trump to negotiate their release, The Washington Post reported. Kevin King, an American, and Timothy Weeks, an Australian, were abducted outside AUAF in early August, just weeks before militants stormed the Kabul campus, killing 15 people.

The Post could not independently verify the video but said it was emailed to reporters by a Taliban spokesman and posted on the group’s social media accounts. In it, the two professors tearfully urge the U.S. government to negotiate their release through a prisoner exchange. They reportedly appeared pale and were short of breath when speaking. They gave the date of the video as Jan. 1.

January 12, 2017

The University of California, San Francisco, has announced a $500 million grant from the Helen Diller Foundation, one of the largest gifts ever to American higher education. The endowments established with the gift will increase the size of the university's endowment by 18 percent. Among the major priorities for the endowments: recruiting and retaining top faculty members, start-up funds for early career researchers, and aid for students.

January 12, 2017

Charles Koch is giving -- through his foundation and business -- $25.6 million to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund to support research by scholars at historically black colleges on education, criminal justice and entrepreneurship in areas that face high crime rates, The Washington Post reported. The fund, which primarily supports public historically black colleges, will create a research center on those topics.

Gifts by the Koch brothers (Charles is one of them) and their businesses and foundations have been controversial in higher education. A 2014 gift to the United Negro College Fund prompted criticism of the organization. Many noted that the brothers have spent scores of millions of dollars backing candidates who advocate sharp reductions in federal spending (on which black colleges and their students depend) and who campaign against just about every initiative of the Obama administration.

January 12, 2017

A professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, accused of harassing two former graduate students, canceled several of his classes earlier this week due to student protests upon his return to campus following a related suspension. Gabriel Piterberg has not admitted to any misconduct, but the university settled with the two students last year after they sued it for responding insufficiently to their claims. Piterberg also agreed to a separate settlement with the university in 2014, which halted a campus investigation into one of the students’ claims. That agreement included a $3,000 fine, a one-quarter suspension without pay and a three-year ban on meeting alone with students in his office with the door shut.

That last detail has played a key role in ongoing protests about Piterberg’s return, as some students questioned how a professor who can’t be trusted to be alone with students can be trusted to teach them. “We wanted to send a clear message to the university and the history department that we don’t think someone accused of sexual harassment should be teaching undergraduate classes,” protester Melissa Melpignano, a fourth-year doctoral student and member of the group Bruins Against Sexual Harassment, told the Los Angeles Times.

Kathryn Kranhold, a university spokesperson, said that Piterberg would continue to teach, but that videotaped lectures will be available to students who choose not to attend class. Piterberg, who canceled class after protesters stood inside his classroom and others could be heard shouting outside, did not respond to a request for comment. He’s accused of harassing the two students over several years and of forcibly touching and kissing them.

January 12, 2017

The Department of Education has released data showing there were 539 institutions placed on heightened cash monitoring as of Dec. 1, meaning they are subject to greater financial oversight than other institutions participating in federal aid programs.

The total number of affected institutions was 10 fewer than the total as of Sept. 1. More than half of those institutions (279) were for-profit colleges or universities. A number of compliance issues can land a college on the list -- most frequently financial responsibility problems and late or missing audit reports, according to the data.

The department began publishing the list in 2015 in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from Inside Higher Ed.

January 12, 2017

Iowa State University on Wednesday announced an anonymous $93 million gift. Initial priorities for spending will be Initial investments the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, the arts and humanities, including the theater program, and programs focused on data science and computing.

January 12, 2017

An art professor at China’s Shandong Jianzhu University has been fired after posting critical remarks of Mao Zedong on what would have been the deceased Chinese Communist Party leader's 123rd birthday, Reuters reported.

In a post on the social media site Weibo, Deng Xiaochao suggested that Mao was responsible for a famine and the Cultural Revolution, which together led to millions of deaths. The posting triggered public protests, with some holding banners that said "Whoever opposes Mao is an enemy of the people."

The state-owned Global Times reported that Deng had been dismissed from his position in provincial government. The university party committee issued a statement citing "false remarks" made by Deng and saying that he would not be allowed to teach or organize social events on the campus.

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