Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

July 6, 2018

A Virginia circuit court on Thursday ruled against a George Mason University student group seeking access to donor agreements between a university foundation and the Charles Koch Foundation. The student group, Transparent GMU, argued that agreements between the private GMU Foundation and donors should be subject to the same open-records laws as the public university itself, since it is working for George Mason’s benefit.

Judge John M. Tran wrote in his decision on behalf of the court that the GMU Foundation does not meet the legal definition of a public body, in that it is not an entity wholly or principally supported by public funds, or an entity created to perform a government function or advise the public. To treat the fund-raising foundation as a public entity requires an examination and reformulation of public policy, and that is the purview of lawmakers, not the courts, he said.

The university was previously dismissed from the lawsuit. Gus Thomson, a Transparent GMU spokesperson, expressed disappointment in the decision in a statement, saying, “We believe the public has a right to know the details of our university’s operations, including its relationship with private donors.”

The university in April released other gift agreements from 2003 to 2011 between the Koch Foundation and the campus’s Mercatus Center that, in the words of current George Mason president Angel Cabrera, “raise questions concerning donor influence in academic matters.” Transparent GMU cited those agreements in its statement, saying it plans to appeal the decision to Virginia Supreme Court.

July 6, 2018

The legal guardian of one of Western Kentucky University’s top men’s basketball recruits will potentially join the coaching staff there and be paid a six-figure salary.

The Courier Journal reported that Hennssy Auriantal may get $200,004 annually if approved by the Board of Regents, as much as the basketball team’s highest-paid assistant coach.

Auriantal is the legal guardian of Charles Bassey, one of the nation's top high school players. His signing by Western Kentucky was announced last month.

Auriantal will earn more than one of the other assistant coaches despite having less experience, the Courier Journal reported. Another assistant coach with the program earns $85,000 a year.

July 6, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Alan Robock, professor of climate science in the department of environmental sciences at Rutgers University, looks into the best ways to cool the warming Earth. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

July 5, 2018

An instructor at the University of Washington set off a major debate there and elsewhere over his recent essay in which he says that the low proportion of women in computer science is at this point largely a result of women's choices and is unlikely to change. University officials immediately disputed his claims.

Now, Hank Levy, director of the Paul G. Allen School of Computer Science & Engineering, has issued an additional statement, again taking issue with the essay by Stuart Reges. In the new statement, Levy criticizes Reges for suggesting that the discipline of computer science is unchanging, and that academic and professional fields can't move from being seen as unwelcoming by women to being seen as welcoming.

"In 1975, only 16 percent of medical school graduates were women. This grew to 40 percent in 1995 and today, as Reges notes, approximately half of medical school students are women," Levy writes. "Reges quotes Unlocking the Clubhouse, using the statement that 'Concern for people, family, "balance in life," novels and a good nights’ sleep should not come at the cost of success in computer science' as an indication that women and men differ in their values and interests, and as a reason why women prefer fields other than computing. Yet these are the very same issues that exist in medical schools (residency is 3 years of isolation and sleep deprivation!), but somehow over the last 40 years women have chosen to become doctors in large numbers. How could that be? Obviously something changed over that long period -- most likely both the medical system (which was male dominated and treated women poorly in 1975) and women’s interest in the profession. The point is, we can clearly work to change some of the factors listed in the previous paragraph, and young people (of all genders) can and do make different choices over time in the fields they wish to pursue: those choices are not predetermined at birth based on the colors of our baby blankets."

Added Levy, "I refuse to accept Stuart Reges’ 'difficult truth' that we aren’t likely to make further progress on gender diversity in computer science beyond an arbitrary ceiling of 20 percent women. Nor do I believe that increasing the percentage of women in the field has to come at the expense of men; practically speaking, the industry can’t hire qualified people fast enough -- therefore, it makes good business sense, as well as being the right thing to do, to draw talent from all genders and backgrounds."

Via email, Reges criticized the new statement. "I am disturbed by the lack of commitment to scientific inquiry and the misrepresentation of my article," he wrote. "He says that I have not addressed the "why" even though my article describes several relevant studies that provide an answer to that question. He says that I claim that, 'women's choices are essentially entirely due to gender-based differences,' when I went out of my way to say that, 'It's Complicated.' When scientists aren't willing to consider the possible influence of free choice in explaining the gender gap, they will come to the wrong conclusions about whether there is still significant oppression in our field."

July 5, 2018

Purdue University will not punish a faculty member who posted a photo of herself on Facebook in blackface, NewsOne reported. The university told the website that it received an anonymous complaint in November about a professor who in 2016 posted a childhood Halloween picture of herself in 1974, and that “her personal social media post of an old photo was not harassment under Purdue policy.” In “any event, what we can say firmly is that, at Purdue, we do not punish speech, particularly when off-campus speech is expressed by an employee speaking as a private citizen,” the university said in its statement. The photo shows two girls wearing black paint, black clothing and bones in their hair.

The professor, Lisa Stillman, an instructional coordinator in the department of biological sciences, did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the photo. Several hundred people have signed an online petition criticizing Purdue for its response to the complaint and demanding that Stillman resign. “Rather than letting Lisa Stillman go, Purdue still provides taxpayer dollars to a staff member that is not equipped to work with students of all backgrounds,” the document reads. “Sign this petition to stand up to racial injustice and to create a safe space at universities where all students can be treated with the respect they deserve.”

July 5, 2018

The University of Tennessee at Knoxville has placed Joy M. Postell-Gee, a longtime cheerleading coach, on leave amid reports of racially and ethnically "insensitive" remarks, The Knoxville News Sentinel reported. The exact remarks are not known, and Postell-Gee did not respond to a request for comment. But records obtained by the newspaper indicate a series of complaints about her, and that she was previously suspended and then permitted to return to work.

July 5, 2018

Randolph College announced this week that it is eliminating its equestrian program. A statement from President Bradley W. Bateman said that the college is not in "financial peril" but must make responsible financial decisions. The program requires an annual subsidy of $350,000, has not been meeting its enrollment goals and uses facilities in need of renovation, he said. Many alumni have been urging the college to keep the program and raising money for an endowment to do so, but Bateman said that those efforts did not yield sufficient results.

Randolph was formerly a women's college, Randolph-Macon Woman's College. And women's colleges in Virginia's "horse country" have historically had popular riding programs.

 

July 5, 2018

The University of Reading, in Britain, is attracting much praise for its response to those questioning its decision to offer 14 scholarships for refugees in the area. The response was on Twitter.

The Daily Mail reported that while many were praising the tweet, others were criticizing it as "crude."

July 5, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Roger Thompson, associate professor of writing and rhetoric at Stony Brook University, discusses bears in the Appenine Mountains whose population is dwindling due to changing times. Learn more about the Academic Minute here. And if you missed Wednesday's podcast on fireworks, please click here.

July 3, 2018

The Washington Post has featured one of the plaintiffs in an ongoing legal battle over concussions and their lingering effects against the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Les Williams played football for University of Alabama in the early 2000s. He recalled many of the hits he took during his college career, which he believes have led to constant headaches and mood changes, the Post reported.

These symptoms are consistent with those displayed by men and women who have taken blows to the head and developed a brain disease known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.

Researchers have found that a majority of professional football and college players whose brains they have examined developed CTE, which can only be definitively diagnosed after death.

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