Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, May 17, 2013 - 3:00am

Florida State University has canceled a summer study abroad program to Israel due to concerns about "escalating military action between Israel and Syria," the Tallahassee Democrat reported. A university spokesman, Keith Bromery, said the decision only affects this summer's program at this point, and that the university will reevaluate safety conditions for next year.

Friday, May 17, 2013 - 3:00am

In the midst of an investigation by city police, several campus officers including the chief have resigned or been fired from Elizabeth City State University. City officials discovered campus police never investigated 126 crime reports since 2007, including 18 sexual assaults, The Virginian-Pilot reported. The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations of obstruction of justice and witness intimidation by campus police. The historically black university has enlisted off-duty patrol officers to help with campus security and solve the backlog of cases. The campus police chief, Sam Beamon, resigned Friday after 10 years on the job in the wake of a reported assault in a campus dorm that culminated in city police arresting a staff member after the university failed to act.

Friday, May 17, 2013 - 3:00am

A new preliminary report on the situation facing Syrian refugee students and scholars, based on fieldwork in Jordan, finds that displaced students are deterred from entering Jordanian universities by higher tuition, fees, and living costs that put the country’s universities “out of reach for all but a small elite of Syrian refugee students,” as well as by a lack of official travel documents or academic transcripts. Syrian academics also find few opportunities in Jordan’s universities. Recommendations outlined in the report include the mobilization of international donors in support of a consortium of Jordanian universities committed to educating Syrian students, the development of a program to support Syrian students continuing their studies in other Arab countries, and the creation of short-term research fellowships for scholars in Jordan and the greater region. (This would be in addition to scholarships and visiting academic appointments offered to Syrian students and scholars through organizations like the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund and the IIE Syria Consortium for Higher Education in Crisis. Many American and European universities have committed to provide funding to host Syrian scholars or students since the launch of the consortium last fall.)

“International higher education writ large, needs to begin to imagine regional solutions to the displacement of students and at-risk university professionals,” said Keith David Watenpaugh, a historian of the Modern Middle East and associate professor who directs the University of California, Davis Human Rights Initiative, which joined with the Scholar Rescue Fund to produce the report.  Watenpaugh noted that while there is interest on the part of Jordan’s private universities in accepting Syrian students, capacity is limited: even if each took in 300 to 400 students that would only add up to about 5,000 at most – “and the need is much greater than that.” Whereas there is capacity – and lower living costs – in Egypt, as well as interest on the part of its government: “I think that the Egyptian government is very interested in reaching out to Syrian students as part of Egypt’s desire to assert a regional leadership role," Watenpaugh said.

The report also offers historical context regarding Syria’s higher education system, and an overview of the scale of the destruction since the beginning of the conflict between government and rebel forces in March 2011. The report documents that while universities remain open, safety conditions have deteriorated rapidly: “During our interviews, it became apparent that asking if a university remains open is the wrong question; rather the more important question is: can students come and go safely from the university?” the report states. Large numbers of faculty and students have been internally and externally displaced, and students and faculty are unable to safely pass through security checkpoints in order to get to campus. Estimates are that attendance rates at universities are around 30 percent.

“It's a slowly collapsing system, and it’s collapsing alongside the collapse of other institutions in Syria,” Watenpaugh said.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:00am

These meetings, conferences, seminars and other events will be held in the coming weeks in and around higher education. They are among the many such that appear in our calendar, to which campus and other officials can submit their own events. Our site also includes a comprehensive catalog of job changes in higher education; please submit your news to both listings.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:52am

Alberta College of Art + Design announced Wednesday that it has reinstated Gord Ferguson, days after dismissing the art instructor for his role in a performance art project in which one of his students killed a chicken in the college's cafeteria. The statement, issued jointly by the college and its faculty association after the two reached an agreement on the matter, said that the college’s decision to terminate Ferguson "was never intended to be about academic or artistic freedom," but that administrators conceded "the perception this action may have created." It went on to say that Ferguson "acknowledges that he wishes he could have had a greater opportunity to advise and support his student before he undertook his performance" last month, and that the incident had raised awareness about both the importance of academic freedom and the meaning of academic responsibility.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Claudia Buchmann of Ohio State University explains the growing gender gap that exists on college campuses. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 4:12am

The U.S. Education Department has notified Yale University that it intends to fine the institution $165,000 for failing to report several sex offenses nearly a decade ago, the New Haven Register reported. In a letter to Yale President Richard Levin, a department official said that it planned to impose the maximum fine of $27,500 for each of the forcible sex offenses that Yale failed to report in 2001 and 2002, as well as additional fines for several other omissions of information from its reports under the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act. Yale had admitted the violations over nearly a decade of investigation by the government, but university officials balked at the fine.

In a statement e-mailed to the Register, Tom Conroy, a Yale spokesman, said that the university took its reporting obligations seriously. “However, the University believes that the Department’s imposition of maximum fines is not warranted based on the particular situations that resulted in findings of violations,” the statement said, adding that Yale had asked the department to reduce the penalty. "These fines deal with reporting in 2004 or earlier.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:00am

Note: Western New England University announced Wednesday that Lois Lerner had withdrawn as the speaker at its law school commencement Saturday, citing her desire not to distract focus from the graduates.)

Officials at Western New England University's School of Law were surely excited when they announced early this month that one of their esteemed alumni -- a high-ranking federal official -- would give the school's commencement address this year. Suddenly, though, the choice isn't looking quite as good, now that Lois Lerner, who heads the Internal Revenue Service's Exempt Organization Division, is at the center of the white-hot controversy over the agency's questionable scrutiny of the political activity of conservative nonprofit groups. A Western New England spokesman told the Daily Caller that the university was proceeding with its plans to give Lerner its presidential medallion, for public service.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:00am

Florida Atlantic University has had more than its share of controversies in the last several months, over the naming of its football stadium for a private prison company owned by an alumnus and a professor's in-class exercise in which he invited students to step on a piece of paper with "Jesus" written on it, among others. (The university took heat from many in the public for the professor's actions, and from many faculty members for failing to defend his academic freedom to their satisfaction.)

President Mary Jane Saunders staunchly defended the university's actions throughout both of those situations, but late Tuesday Florida Atlantic's board accepted her resignation, which she attributed to the controversies. “There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the University community," she wrote in a letter to the board. "The issues and the fiercely negative media coverage have forced me to reassess my position as the President of FAU. I must make choices that are the best for the University, me and my family.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:00am

LaGuardia Community College's enhanced GED preparation program substantially boosts GED pass rates and the likelihood of college enrollment, according to a newly released study by MDRC, a nonprofit social research firm. Students in the program, which is designed to serve as a pathway to college and careers, were more than twice as likely to pass the high school equivalency exam as were students in traditional GED prep courses. They were also three times as likely to enroll in college.

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