Higher Education Quick Takes
Explosions at Aleppo University, in Syria, killed dozens of people Tuesday, the New York Times reported. Students were taking exams at the time of the explosions, which were among the worst in the two-year conflict. Sympathizers with the opposition estimate that more than 50 people were killed, while Syria’s ambassador to the United Nations put the toll at 82 killed and 192 wounded.
Both the anti-government activists and the government blamed one another for the explosions. The university’s press office issued a statement saying that it had been targeted by Syrian Air Force MIG fighter jets that launched two missile strikes, each three minutes apart.
Internationally academics have begun to mobilize to raise funds for scholarships and fellowships for Syrian students and professors to attend or teach at universities outside the country.
Creighton University must defend itself against a former medical student's charges that the university did not provide him with the accommodations he needed for his hearing disability to benefit equally from his education, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday. In its decision, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit found that Michael Argenyi asked Creighton's medical school for several accommodations to deal with his hearing impairment, including Communication Access Real-time Transcription (CART), which transcribes spoken words into computer text. The university denied most of the requests because they differed and had not been made directly by a doctor, according to the court. (Argenyi took out more than $120,000 in loans to pay for the accommodations himself for two years.)
In ruling for Argenyi, and overturning a lower court's decision, the Eighth Circuit court said he had provided enough evidence to suggest that "he was unable to follow lectures and classroom dialogue or successfully communicate with clinical patients" without the accommodations, and that "a reasonable factfinder could determine that Argenyi was denied an opportunity to benefit from medical school equal to that of his nondisabled classmates."
Authorities on Tuesday charged Roger Springfield -- who until his recent firing was media director for Syracuse University's athletics department -- with illegally making videos of male athletes leaving the shower room, The Syracuse Post-Standard reported. Authorities said that the recordings were made -- over a period of at least 10 years -- by having a camera pointed at the waist levels of football, lacrosse and soccer players and that the red light indicating that the camera was in use was covered up. Syracuse fired Springfield in December as the investigation started. Officials have identified 108 athletes who were filmed, and they are being contacted and offered support. Springfield has been charged with four felony counts of second-degree unlawful surveillance. In court on Tuesday, Springfield entered a plea of not guilty. His lawyer said after the hearing that the athletes could not have expected privacy in a locker room, but prosecutors said that their case does not involve any expectations of privacy.
A "transdenominational" rabbinical school in California has named an Orthodox Jewish woman as its president, making her the first Orthodox woman to lead a Jewish seminary. Tamar Frankiel, who holds a Ph.D. in the history of religions, will lead the Academy for Jewish Religion, California. Since Orthodox Jews do not ordain women, Frankiel is not a rabbi herself. The rabbinical school, part of the interdenominational Claremont Lincoln University, ordains rabbis for Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal and nondenominational synagogues, but Orthodox Jews do not accept its ordination. (The university does include Orthodox students and professors.)
The Senate of Hebrew University of Jerusalem has been considering and is expected to vote for a proposal to allow doctoral theses to be submitted in English, Haaretz reported. While it is currently possible to obtain special permission to submit a thesis in English, the requirement is that they be submitted in Hebrew. David Aviner, a professor who is head of the Authority for Research Students in the Experimental Sciences, said the rule change reflects the need to use English because one or more committee members come from outside Israel. Further, he noted the issue of disseminating findings. "If the doctorates were written in Hebrew, two people in the hallway would read it instead of hundreds of colleagues among research groups overseas," he said.
The president of Israel's Hebrew Language Academy, Moshe Bar-Asher, sent a letter of protest to Senate members. "There's a new version of the rules, saying 'Doctorates are to be submitted in Hebrew or English,' and thus this dignified institution ... announces that the status of Hebrew has been devalued," he wrote. "In the end, studying in English will outweigh everything else, and this process will result in the teaching of English in elementary and high schools."
The Council for Adult and Experiential Learning (CAEL) this week announced that it is now partnering with colleges to directly award college credit based on its LearningCounts prior learning assessments, which measure learning gained outside of the traditional classroom. The announcement marks a shift for CAEL, which had previously included credit recommendations from the American Council on Education (ACE) as one of its credit pathways under Learning Counts. But after this month, ACE will no longer issue those recommendations. Several institutions have signed on to the new process, and CAEL will also offer credit recommendations through the National College Credit Recommendation Service (NCCRS).
Southern Utah University has released a report from external reviewers who evaluated its English as a Second Language program after a former instructor raised concerns about lax standards for instructors and students and the toleration of plagiarism. The external reviewers, professors of ESL from Utah State University, interviewed eight instructors, four students, and two administrators, in addition to reviewing syllabuses and faculty C.V.s. The reviewers found a number of curriculum-related issues, including a lack of outcomes-based assessment (with many students passed through the program based in large part on attendance), a lack of clear course objectives, inconsistency across course sections, a lack of vertical integration within the writing and reading curriculums, and a general failure to prepare students to work with outside sources. Over all, the reviewers recommended that there be a greater focus on academic skills throughout the program.
The reviewers also recommended hiring full-time faculty with a master’s in teaching English as a second language and at least three years of experience teaching English for Academic Purposes. They noted that none of the faculty they interviewed had previous training in EAP and for those who did have prior ESL experience, it was on the K-12 level. As Inside Higher Ed reported in November, Southern Utah’s ESL instructors are part-time and paid $17.50-$20 per hour taught, with no compensation for time spent grading or preparing for classes.
Finally the reviewers wrote that the claim that plagiarism was tolerated in the program appeared to be unfounded: they note that while faculty members are concerned about plagiarism, other factors, including the reliance on inexperienced part-time faculty and the failure to integrate work with sources into the curriculum, may have contributed to incidents of plagiarism that have occurred. (They also write that “in the case of the students, it did appear that they knew there was an ‘issue’ surrounding plagiarism as they smiled when we brought it up.”)
In its response to the report, SUU indicated that it will take into account many of the suggested curricular changes as it undergoes a curriculum overhaul under its newly hired director, and that it does plan to take steps to hire some full-time faculty and to provide opportunities for current teaching staff to become trained in teaching ESL.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- known for not speaking out during sessions of the court -- spoke on Monday, the first time in seven years of hearings. While the official transcript did not capture his words, recording only that Justice Thomas said the words "Well -- he did not -- ," court observers believe that he cracked a joke at the expense of Yale University's law school, which is where he went to law school, The New York Times reported. The Times explains how the case before the Supreme Court concerned the competence of death penalty lawyers, and some observers believe Justice Thomas quipped that a law degree from Yale could be a sign of incompetence.