Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 16, 2014

Connecticut's Board of Regents for Higher Education is "deeply dismayed" at the recent promotion of Ravi Shankar, an associate professor at Central Connecticut State University, to the rank of full professor, it said in a statement Thursday. "We believe that faculty and staff must be held to the highest standards inside as well as outside the classroom."

Shankar, a professor of poetry, was promoted by the board earlier this week, following a recommendation for promotion from the university, the Hartford Courant reported. But the board was unaware that Shankar is serving a two-week portion of a longer, pre-trial jail sentence. The charges against Shankar involve violating probation for past credit card fraud and drunk driving. "As a result of the information that came to our attention earlier this week, the Board of Regents has asked the CCSU administration for an immediate and full investigation surrounding the process resulting in the recommendation to promote Dr. Shankar," the board said, adding that the university is "engaged" in the investigation and preparing a report on the case. Shankar could not immediately be reached for comment. Jack Miller, university president, said in a statement that it was ultimately his duty to inform the board of Shankar's incarceration, but that he did not, due to the complex nature of the professor's legal case. He said the university is investigating the circumstances surrounding Shankar's promotion at this time.

May 16, 2014

The University of Saskatchewan, facing widespread criticism for firing a dean who disagreed on the university's strategy, has announced that he can hold on to a tenured faculty job. Many academics were outraged that the dean lost not only his administrator's job but his faculty job as well. Now the university says that was never the intent.

The university's president, Ilene Busch-Vishniac, issued this statement: "Dr. Robert Buckingham, who was terminated from his position on May 14, will not return to that leadership position. He will, however, be offered a tenured faculty position. The confusion on this issue stems from differing interpretations based on his contract. Because we hold tenure in high regard, we will immediately reverse that part of our initial decision. Another point of confusion is with respect to an interpretation that Dr. Buckingham was banned from the university. Let me set the record straight — that was never the case.... The debate that is raging confuses Dr. Buckingham’s former role as executive director of the School of Public Health with the academic freedom associated with that of a tenured faculty member. In his role as an administrator at a level that removes him from the faculty association, Dr. Buckingham is not only permitted but encouraged to have opinions that might disagree with those developed by top administrators. However, once a decision is made at the institutional level, all senior leaders must publicly conform to that decision or resign their leadership role."

Not everyone agrees with those distinctions. Via email, James Turk, executive director of the Canadian Association of University Teachers, said: "The action of removing him as head of public health says that deans have no right to publicly advocate for their faculties, schools or colleges. If that is the case, universities will be impoverished as their existence is premised on the value of vigorous and open debate leading to the best outcomes. There is no place in any legitimate university for the notion that deans have a duty of loyalty to the president that overrides their right and obligation to speak publicly on behalf of their faculties, schools or colleges."

 

May 16, 2014

Smith College lost its planned commencement speaker, Christine Lagarde, when she withdrew because of criticism of her selection by some who objected to the organization she leads, the International Monetary Fund. Now many Smith professors have signed a statement saying that they agree with Smith's president, Kathleen McCartney, that a commencement invitation does not mean everyone at the college needs to agree with the speaker's politics. The professors said that they stood behind their president's analysis: “An invitation to speak at a commencement is not an endorsement of all views or policies of an individual or the institution she or he leads. Such a test would preclude virtually anyone in public office or position of influence. Moreover, such a test would seem anathema to our core values of free thought and diversity of opinion.”

May 16, 2014

It's been a season in which several high-profile individuals -- facing controversies -- have opted out of invitations they accepted to deliver commencement addresses. Wake Forest University on Thursday announced that its speaker isn't withdrawing. That's news perhaps because the speaker in question is Jill Abramson, who was fired Wednesday as the top editor of The New York Times. In a press release Thursday, Wake Forest didn't mention that controversy but did note that Abramson had just confirmed her plans to attend and speak at graduation.

 

May 16, 2014

The National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements added five new members on Thursday: Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Nevada and Washington. The states, which join Indiana and North Dakota, sign on to an initiative that aims to simplify the process by which distance education providers become authorized to offer courses to students across state line.

May 16, 2014

Northeastern University adjuncts are the latest to vote to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Thursday. The union, with about 900 members, is SEIU's biggest in the Boston area. The union also represents adjuncts at Tufts and Lesley Universities there. SEIU is trying to organize adjuncts at institutions across metro areas nationwide; the Northeastern announcement comes on the heels of "yes" union votes at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Howard University in Washington, and Mills College in California in recent weeks. SEIU called the Northeastern vote a "bellwether victory" in its Adjunct Action campaign. The vote was 323 in favor to 286 opposed. In a statement, Stephen W. Director, Northeastern's provost and senior vice president for academic affairs, said "Northeastern will now bargain in good faith with SEIU about the terms of employment for part-time faculty members who were eligible to vote in the election."

 

May 16, 2014

The Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom is protesting the refusal of authorities to allow a Turkish scholar of Kurdish history, İsmail Beşikçi, and his traveling companion to board a U.S.-bound flight from Istanbul reportedly at the behest of American government authorities.

According to MESA’s account, Beşikçi was invited to speak on April 22 at American University in Washington, D.C, but he and his companion, the director of a nonprofit cultural foundation, were turned away at the airport despite possessing valid visas to travel to the U.S. Airport personnel reportedly told Beşikçi that the refusal to let him board the flight originated with U.S. government authorities, an allegation that, in a media report, a spokeswoman  for the U.S. Department of State neither confirmed nor denied, citing a provision of immigration law prohibiting the government from commenting on individual cases. 

In a letter to the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, Jeh Charles Johnson, MESA’s Committee on Academic Freedom asked that the government investigate the incident and make public whether or not the refusal to allow Beşikçi to travel resulted from a request by the U.S. government.

May 16, 2014

New York University provides a subsidized apartment to Henry Louis Gates Jr. even though he teaches at Harvard University, not NYU, The New York Post reported. Gates told the Post that he has served as an adviser to NYU President John Sexton, and has given a few free talks and NYU over the years. He also said that Sexton has made clear he would love to recruit Gates someday. 

May 16, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Muhammad Khalifa, assistant professor of educational administration at Michigan State University, studies the role of hip hop in schools. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 15, 2014

Ethical considerations should be deeply integrated into neuroscience research and education, a federal panel of bioethicists said in a new report released Wednesday.

The report was requested by President Obama last year after he launched a research initiative to better understand the human brain. The document lays out four recommendations: ethics should be integrated explicitly through all stages of neuroscience research; government agencies and other research funders should support research on ethics; ethics instruction should be integrated into all levels of science education; and advisory and review boards for the administration’s neuroscience research initiative should include people with ethical expertise.

“Because research on our brains strikes at the very core of who we are, the ethical stakes of neuroscience research could not be higher,” said Amy Gutmann, the University of Pennsylvania president who chairs the bioethics commission that produced the recommendations. “Too often in our nation’s past, ethical lapses in research have had tragic consequences and derailed scientific progress.”

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