Higher Education Quick Takes
Turnitin, the company known for its plagiarism detection software, this week took a look at Melania Trump's much-debated convention speech at the Republican National Convention, finding examples of language "that an educator would flag as … examples of plagiarism." After her speech Monday evening, Trump was accused of stealing passages from Michelle Obama's speech during the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Trump's speech contained both examples of "cloning" (copying passages word for word) and "find-and-replace" plagiarism (copying a passage but changing a few key words), Turnitin found.
"No matter what the intent, copying another’s work is plagiarism, but educators do consider intent when weighing how to handle instances of plagiarism in student papers," the company wrote. "More than just the copying of words, a comparison of [the] speeches follows the same sequence of thoughts and ideas. To an educator, this belies intent."
More than 30 presidents of historically black colleges on Wednesday issued a joint letter calling for "peace and unity" after the shootings of black men and of police officers in several cities. The presidents pledged to organize a symposium on gun violence and to raise awareness about "the debilitating impact of trauma on the lives of those who have been exposed to loss as a result of gun violence."
"HBCUs, by virtue of their special place in this nation, have always understood the hard work and sacrifices that must be made in order for America to live up to its ideals," says the letter. "From the moment that our doors first opened in 1842, the roles that our institutions have played were never narrowly confined to educating the men and women who sat in our classes and walked our campuses. Instead, ours was a much broader and more vital mission. We were charged with providing a light in the darkness for a people who had been constitutionally bound to the dark. Our very creation, existence and persistence were and always have been a duality of collaboration and protest. In this respect, America’s HBCUs were the birthplace of the idea that black lives matter to our country."
The crackdown on Turkish academe following last week’s failed coup continued on Wednesday, when President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan declared a three-month state of emergency, a measure that will expand his powers to pursue suspected coup plotters.
Among the education-related developments reported Wednesday by Turkish and international media:
- The Washington Post reported on a blanket ban on professional travel for Turkish academics.
- The Hürriyet Daily News reported on the suspension of four university rectors, one of whom was detained, as well as the suspension of 95 academic staff at Istanbul University.
- At the K-12 level, the Associated Press reported that the education ministry is closing 626 private schools “and other establishments” that the agency said are linked to Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric whom Turkish officials accuse of orchestrating the attempted coup (Gülen denies any involvement).
These developments followed large-scale purges in the education sector on Tuesday, when the Council of Higher Education demanded the resignation of 1,577 university deans. In addition, more than 15,000 education ministry officials were suspended and 21,000 schoolteachers had their licenses revoked in what critics see as a piece of a vast effort to remake state institutions, including educational institutions, in the image of Erdoğan’s party.
The international arm of the state broadcaster, TRT World, reported late Wednesday that about 60,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants and teachers have been suspended or detained or are under investigation as Erdoğan has (in the broadcaster’s characterization) “vowed to clean the ‘virus’ responsible for the plot from all state institutions.”
A letter circulating among American academics, expected to be released Friday, calls on the Obama administration “to strongly criticize the Turkish government’s violation of human rights, academic freedom and the rule of law and to refuse to accept anything but a reversal of these authoritarian policies.”
It remains unclear whether a majority of non-tenure-track faculty members at Northwestern University this week voted to unionize with the Service Employees International Union, The Chicago Tribune reported. A preliminary count found 210 votes in favor of unionization and 146 against, but another 134 votes were challenged. The National Labor Relations Board will now determine whether a hearing is needed on the contested ballots.
The tendency of higher education and K-12 leaders to point fingers at one another was on display in Texas Wednesday. The Texas Tribune reported that Raymund Paredes, Texas higher education commissioner, spoke before the State Board of Education and said that it isn’t doing enough to assure that students in the K-12 system are college ready upon graduation. The response of members of the state board was to say that Texas colleges aren’t producing enough quality teachers.
A lawsuit filed in a New York state court on Wednesday alleges discrimination by the American Studies Association in relation to its boycott of Israeli academic institutions. The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiff, a not-for-profit organization that was, according to the legal complaint, “recently organized to educate and promote sharing and criticism of scholarly, religious and academic books … and to advocate for acceptance of Israeli institutions worldwide,” is barred from joining the ASA as an institutional member on the basis of its Israeli national origin. The organization in question, Athenaeum Blue & White, is described in the complaint as an “Israeli not-for-profit organization with a principle [sic] place of business in New York, N.Y.”
David Abrams, the lawyer for the plaintiff and executive director of the one-person Zionist Advocacy Center, said Athenaeum has not attempted to apply for ASA membership and is inferring it would be barred based on the association’s public announcements. The complaint asserts that the ASA has "announced, in substance and effect, that Israeli organizations such as the plaintiff are not welcome."
"It’s like if there’s a bar with a big sign on it that says 'no gays allowed' -- a gay person is allowed to sue for discrimination without formally trying to get in and having himself rejected,” Abrams said. “Or at least that’s how I see the law.”
Abrams described the suit as a “test case.” He said Athenaeum -- which the complaint argues counts as a person under New York City and State Human Rights law -- was incorporated last week. “This organization, while it does have scholarly pursuits, part of its corporate purpose is to advocate for acceptance of Israeli institutions worldwide, and that is what it is doing,” Abrams said.
Robert Warrior, the president of the ASA and director of the American Indian Studies Program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said the association’s boycott of Israeli academic institutions wouldn’t prevent Athenaeum Blue & White, as a self-identified Israeli organization, from joining ASA as an institutional member. “If this institution had tried to join before suing us, they would have been accepted and received all the benefits of membership. I just don’t have any doubts about that,” said Warrior. (Note: This article has been updated to include ASA's response.)
Radhika Sainath, a staff attorney with Palestine Legal, described the case as "a meritless lawsuit based on a hypothetical injury that will be thrown out of court in a heartbeat."
"It's brought by an organization which did not exist prior to ASA’s [boycott] resolution, and appears to have been formed for the sole purpose of suing the ASA," she said. "Rather than engage the issue of Israel's human rights abuses on the merits, Israel advocacy groups are attempting to punish speech by enmeshing supporters of Palestinian freedom in expensive litigation. This is quintessential legal bullying."
A separate lawsuit filed by current and former ASA members alleging that the group's boycott falls outside the scope of its charter and that a membership vote on the matter was not conducted in accordance with the association's own procedures is pending in federal court.
A new study of the online student market, released on Wednesday, corroborates many of the trends seen among students who enroll in fully online undergraduate or graduate programs. The findings of the study, a joint project of Aslanian Market Research and the educational technology company Learning House, include:
- The average online student is getting younger. While colleges often market fully online programs to working adults, the average ages of a typical undergraduate and graduate student are 29 and 33 years, respectively.
- Students make decisions about where to study online quickly, and they expect colleges to be equally quick with their responses. More than two-thirds (68 percent) of students make a decision about where to apply within four weeks of starting their search, and more than one-third expect to hear back about financial aid before they even apply.
- While online education enables students to study anywhere, most students choose someplace close to home. Three-quarters of respondents said they picked a campus within 100 miles of where they live.
- Cost is the No. 1 factor for students when it comes to where to study, and nearly 90 percent of respondents said a scholarship of as much as $500 could influence their decision.
The full study, of 1,500 graduates, students or future students of fully online programs, is available here.
A second-semester student at Gordon State College in Georgia has received more than $180,000 in donations after campus police officers discovered him living in a tent near a college parking lot. Two officers responded to a call about the tent on July 9, the Barnesville Herald-Gazette reported, and asked the man inside to come out with his hands up. The occupant, 19-year-old Fredrick Barley, emerged and presented police with his Gordon State student ID. He explained that he’d ridden six hours from his hometown on his brother’s 20-inch bicycle ahead of classes resuming to register for courses and find a job. He carried with him only a duffel bag, a tent, a box of cereal and two gallons of water, according to the Herald-Gazette.
Barley reportedly had been living on campus for three days when he was found, riding around on the undersize bike to complete job applications. The police officers took Barley to a motel and each paid for one night’s stay. He was scheduled to move into his dorm on Monday. “Fred told us this would be his second semester at Gordon as a biology major and we could tell he was serious about his education,” Maria Gebelein, one of the officers, told the Herald-Gazette. “We helped him because we felt it was the right thing to do.”
Police shared Barley’s story on Facebook, and local residents soon delivered gift cards, food, clothes and new mountain bike. An online donations page exceeded its original goal of $150,000, and Barley found a job at a local restaurant washing dishes. “I was not expecting any of this support and am in awe of how this community has come together to help me,” said Barley, who hopes to major in biology and attend medical school. “I was just trying to go to school, find a job and make it on my own.”
Catharine Bond Hill, president of Vassar College, is stepping down earlier than expected to join the nonprofit consulting and research firm Ithaka S+R, the college said on Wednesday. Hill will become Ithaka S+R's managing director. Hill announced her resignation from Vassar in March, originally saying she would step down in June 2017. Her new final day is president is now Aug. 15, and she will join Ithaka S+R on Sept. 6. At Ithaka S+R, she will replace current managing director Deanna Marcum, who said in Wednesday's announcement that she is "not going away" but that she wished to cut down on her weekly commute from Washington, D.C., to New York.