Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 3:00am

Students at the University of California at Berkeley are launching a class action lawsuit against Google over the company's automatic scanning of emails for advertising keywords. Google ended the practice in 2014, but students say the company violated the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 by scanning the emails of more than 30 million K-12 and higher education users between 2010 and 2014 without their consent. The students are seeking damages of at least $10,000 and for Google to delete the information collected about them. The case is filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 3:00am

Suffolk University issued a statement Wednesday afternoon stating that Margaret McKenna, the president (at right), and Andrew Meyer, the board chair, met Wednesday morning and were trying to resolve differences. Meyer has been widely reported as having organized a board meeting for Friday to fire McKenna. Faculty, student and alumni groups have all been backing McKenna and calling on Meyer to leave. The precise nature of the disagreements has been unclear, but those on campus say McKenna has been doing an outstanding job and consulting with all campus groups about advancing the university. McKenna is Suffolk's fifth president in five years.

The full statement from the university says: “Suffolk University Board Chair Andrew Meyer and President Margaret McKenna met today and agreed to work toward a resolution of issues. Chairman Meyer and President McKenna strongly agree that the interests of Suffolk University, its students, faculty, staff and alumni, must come first. Both the chairman and the president believe Suffolk is such an important institution to Boston and this region and they realize they need to work to resolve issues and continue to strengthen the university. They will continue to meet and work toward a proposal that they hope to jointly present to the board on Friday. Given the importance of these efforts, Chairman Meyer and President McKenna will have no public comment at this time.”

Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 3:00am

Higher education needs to reconsider the use of crowdsourced labor in research, an article in last month's issue of PS: Political Science & Politics argues. Vanessa Williamson, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution, writes that researchers who rely on websites such as Amazon Mechanical Turk are taking advantage of workers who in some cases earn less than $20,000 a year. The use of online marketplaces such as Mechanical Turk has risen in the past five years, Williamson points out.

"Mechanical Turk is a bargain for researchers, but not for workers," Williamson writes in a blog post. "A survey typically takes a couple minutes per person, so the hourly rate is very low. This might be acceptable if all turkers were people with other jobs, for whom the payment was incidental. But scholars have known for years that the vast majority of MTurk tasks are completed by a small set of workers who spend long hours on the website, and that many of those workers are very poor."

In the article, Williamson calls for researchers to raise wages, for journals to only accept articles where workers have been paid a fair wage and for colleges to create ethical guidelines for crowdsourced research.

"The alternative is continuing to pay below-minimum-wage rates to a substantial number of poor people who rely on this income for their basic needs," Williamson writes. "This is simply no alternative at all."

Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 3:00am

The Obama administration plans to ask Congress to approve $2 billion in new funding to help communities fund efforts to prevent students from dropping out of high school and to get them into postsecondary education.

The competitive grant program would be administered by the Departments of Labor and Education and would be awarded to communities “in required partnership with local education, workforce and community organizations,” the White House said. “The departments would encourage proven approaches, such as work-based learning and internships, and re-engagement centers.”

The proposal is part of a broader $5.5 billion package of ideas aimed at helping young people who are out of work and not in school to secure their first jobs.

The administration is also seeking additional money to boost apprenticeship programs and improve data on workforce training program outcomes. President Obama plans to unveil his full budget request next week.

Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 3:00am

A professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at Louisiana State University killed his wife and then himself over the weekend at their home in Mississippi, the Sun-Herald reported. William Claycomb, 73, and his wife, Victoria Burton, 61, each died of a gunshot wound to the head, and their deaths are being investigated as a murder-suicide, according to the Sun-Herald. Claycomb, a member of the faculty since 1976, worked at LSU Health New Orleans. Steve Nelson, dean, described him as an internationally recognized pioneer in heart disease research. No information has been released regarding a motive, but police told the Sun-Herald they’d heard Claycomb was suffering from a terminal illness.

Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 3:00am

Ravi Shankar, the tenured professor of poetry at Central Connecticut State University who was infamously promoted while in jail in 2014, prompting criticism of his administration, has resigned. Mark Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State College and University System, announced Wednesday that Shankar agreed to resign, effective last month. Shankar, whose repeated run-ins with the law attracted the attention of state lawmakers, agreed to terminate all appeals and claims against the system’s Board of Regents for Higher Education, in exchange for a settlement of $60,409. He’s also permanently prohibited from applying to or accepting any position within the state college and university system. Since 2011, Shankar’s been convicted of crimes including credit card fraud and driving under the influence. He was arrested again last year for shoplifting at Home Depot. Shortly after that arrest, in August, Shankar was suspended without pay, a university spokesman said. The settlement terms were informed in part by Shankar's annual salary of about $85,000.

Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 3:00am

Alpha Epsilon Pi is investigating the University of Chicago chapter of the Jewish fraternity for sending emails containing derogatory references toward black people, women and Muslims.

"We are going to work with the individuals in the chapter to educate them about the harm that such speech and thinking can bring to others," Jonathan Pierce, the international fraternity's spokesman and former president, said. "It is important to note, though, that many of these private emails are from some time ago and the chapter has worked to eradicate this type of behavior and speech."

The email chain, obtained by BuzzFeed News, contains messages sent between 2011 and 2015. The string of emails features frequent use of racist terms for black people, a warning to members to not to have sex with "fatties" and an invitation to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. day at a fried chicken restaurant. In the emails, members of the off-campus fraternity refer to a Muslim member of the student government as a "terrorist" and to an empty, weed-filled lot located near the chapter as "Palestine."

"The language used in these emails is offensive, and it is not consistent with the university's values or our strong commitment to ensuring that people with diverse backgrounds and perspectives can thrive on our campus," Michele Rasmussen, the university's dean of students, said in a statement. Fraternities and sororities are not officially recognized student organizations at the University of Chicago.

The fraternity is one of several in the last year to come under fire after racist and sexist messages shared between members have surfaced online.

Thursday, February 4, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Mads Daugaard, senior research scientist and assistant professor of urology at the University of British Columbia, explores how a sugar protein may be the answer to an easier method of treating cancer. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 4:19am

Jason Lieb, a molecular biologist at the University of Chicago, has resigned after a university official recommended that he be fired for sexual misconduct, The New York Times reported. A letter of finding that the Times obtained said Lieb made unwelcome sexual advances on female graduate students at an off-campus retreat and engaged in sexual activities with a student who was “incapacitated due to alcohol and therefore could not consent.” Lieb did not respond to requests for comment. Some students say the university should never have hired him, and that the university was warned in an anonymous email about a prior allegation against him. The Times article noted that Lieb has received millions of dollars in federal research grants.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 3:00am

Brown University, by a vote of its faculty on Tuesday, has designated what was once Columbus Day at the university as Indigenous People's Day. In 2009, the university dropped the Columbus Day name and designated that day off as the "fall weekend holiday." Tuesday's vote replaces that name. The resolution adopted by the faculty states that using the new name “would recognize the contributions of indigenous people/Native Americans to our community and our culture and foster a more inclusive community.”

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