Higher Education Quick Takes
Aaron Swartz, who was a leading and controversial figure in the hacking movement and the push to make journal articles free, committed suicide Friday at the age of 26, CNET News reported.
A federal grand jury in 2011 indicted Swartz for the theft of millions of journal articles through the JSTOR account of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Authorities said that he used an MIT guest account, even though he didn't have a legal right to do so. Many open access advocates considered him a hero, but had he lived for his trial, he faced millions of dollars in fines and decades in prison. Swartz's suicide came days after JSTOR announced a major expansion of free access to content from 1,200 journals. While there has been some speculation online that his legal troubles may have led to his suicide, friends have noted online that Swartz battled depression (and was public about doing so).
JSTOR on Saturday issued a statement in which it called Swartz "a truly gifted person who made important contributions to the development of the Internet and the web from which we all benefit." The statement said that JSTOR "regretted being drawn into [the legal case] from the outset, since JSTOR’s mission is to foster widespread access to the world’s body of scholarly knowledge."
The statement also noted that "Aaron returned the data he had in his possession and JSTOR settled any civil claims we might have had against him in June 2011."
Prior to the indictment, Swartz was already a major player in public discussions about technology and he had founded a company that now makes up a key part of Reddit. Here is Swartz's biography on his website.
Here are links to some of the online commentary about Swartz's legacy and his death:
- From Cory Doctorow
- From Lawrence Lessig and more from Lessig
- From James Fallows
- At Crooked Timber
- At The Laboratorium
Swartz's ideas about information and technology (prior to the JSTOR legal battle) were twice the subject of pieces by Inside Higher Ed columnist Scott McLemee. Those pieces may be found here and here.
After Swartz was indicted, Inside Higher Ed blogger Barbara Fister wrote "A Modest Proposal Inspired by Aaron Swartz."
Dozens of scholars of crime -- organized by the Crime Lab of the University of Chicago -- have written a joint letter to Vice President Biden to urge him to include research issues in the Obama administration's proposed response to gun violence. The letter focuses on restrictions on the use of National Institutes of Health funds for research that might be used to advocate for gun control. Further, it noted repeated efforts by gun supporters to block funding of research on guns by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The "politically motivated constraints" have limited research that could help the country prevent gun violence, the letter says.
U.S. News & World Report doesn't think that four incidents in the last year of colleges submitting incorrect information for rankings reflect any trend. Robert Morse, who directs the rankings, published a blog post Thursday in which he said: "We have no reason to believe that other schools have misreported data — and we therefore have no reason to believe that the misreporting is widespread." The blog post said that the magazine has removed the ranks of colleges whose incorrect information resulted in a higher ranking than they would have received with accurate data.
The National Association of Scholars released a report Thursday criticizing the history departments of the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M at College Station for being too focused on issues of race, class and gender. The report used syllabuses and professors' webpages to classify many faculty members (especially at Austin) as "high assigners" of race, class and gender, and the report questioned whether traditional topics in history were receiving enough attention. The University of Texas at Austin released a statement in response suggesting that the report ignored much of the work in history at the institution, which focuses on the sorts of topics the the NAS says are needed. Further, the statement said that there is nothing wrong with having professors who study race, class and gender.
Martha Keochareon offered nursing students at Holyoke Community College, her alma mater, an unusually valuable lesson, The New York Times reported. Facing death from pancreatic cancer, Keochareon suggested that nursing students could use her as a case study to learn about patients facing fatal cancers. The article looks at the lessons students learned from visiting and talking with Keochareon.
Gov. Jerry Brown of California on Thursday released a proposed budget that includes substantial increases for higher education, which were made possible by a tax hike voters passed in November. Both the University of California and California State University Systems received an additional $250 million in funding, while the state's community college system received an increase of $197 million as well as $179 million for previously deferred commitments. Overall, the budget would increase funding for higher education by $1.3 billion, or 5.3 percent, compared to last year's allocation.
At a news conference Thursday, Governor Brown also vowed to attend board meetings of the two university systems, in part to pressure other board members to keep tuition from going up.
Scotland will offer financial support to students who choose to study elsewhere in the European Union for the first time under a new pilot program, The Scotsman reported. The government will provide loans of up to £5,500 (about $8,884) and scholarships of up to £1,750 (about $2,827) to about 250 students in 2014-15. As Michael Russell, the education secretary, said, “This will help encourage our young people who choose to study abroad and the pilot will help assess demand and allow us to roll out this support to all Scots studying in Europe.”
Scotland has a tradition of providing free higher education to its citizens.