Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 18, 2017

The same organization that brought dildos to the University of Texas at Austin to protest guns on college campuses has released a new piece of satire, an advertisement for “student body armor.”

The video, published Tuesday, appears innocent for the first few seconds, but then goes on to identify the nine states that have approved some form of law that allows firearms on campuses. Those states are Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Mississippi, Oregon, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin.

A narrator describes the product: body armor woven into traditional college swag, sweatshirts and T-shirts -- and a hooded sweatshirt, to protect from “head shots.”

Student body armor was actually manufactured for the campaign, a partnership between Cocks Not Glocks, a grassroots effort from University of Texas alumna Jessica Jin, and New York-based advertising firm FCB New York. A dozen garments were created, and a pop-up shop was constructed near the University of Texas campus, where students’ reactions were filmed as they tried on the gear.

Jin said in an interview that engaging with students on this issue can be difficult, and so an element of humor helps.

Ari Halper, chief creative officer at FCB New York, pointed to the success of shows like The Daily Show, in which students often receive their news packaged in a funny way.

Jin created Cocks Not Clocks to illustrate the absurdity and show how uncomfortable people can be around a sex toy -- the same reaction a gun should elicit.

A fake website, studentbodyarmor.com, appears to allow you to purchase the items, one of which is being sold for $29,999.99. It means to reroute you to contact your lawmaker about campus carry laws, Halper said. Halper declined to discuss how much money had been poured into the campaign.

“This matters to me,” Jin said.

April 18, 2017

Today, as part of the Academic Minute's Current Affairs Week, Daniel Orenstein, postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, San Francisco, delves into a less-covered portion of the failed American Health Care Act that might have had big consequences. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

April 17, 2017

Charles Murray has been attracting protests (including one at Middlebury College that prevented him from speaking and where students turned their backs on him) as he goes from campus to campus on a lecture tour. Most of those protesting denounce Murray as the co-author of The Bell Curve, which many consider to be racist and based on faulty social science. But most of his speaking of late is not on The Bell Curve, but about a more recent book, Coming Apart, which is largely about working-class white people.

Wendy M. Williams and Stephen J. Ceci, both professors of human development at Cornell University, wanted to see what professors would say about the talk Murray is giving about Coming Apart. So they transcribed his Middlebury talk (he gave it for broadcast by livestream). Then they sent the transcript to 70 professors at colleges around the United States, without telling them it was by Murray. The professors were asked to rank the talk politically, on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 being very liberal and 9 being very conservative. Based on 57 professors who responded, the average score was 5.05, or decidedly middle-of-the-road. Then Williams and Ceci sent the speech to 70 other professors, this time telling them it was a Murray talk. The average score was 5.77, a more conservative ranking than that the first group but still in the middle-of-the-road category.

Williams and Ceci described their findings in an essay in The New York Times. Of their findings, they write, "Our data-gathering exercise suggests that Mr. Murray’s speech was neither offensive nor even particularly conservative. It is not obvious, to put it mildly, that Middlebury students and faculty had a moral obligation to prevent Mr. Murray from airing these views in public."

April 17, 2017

An editorial in Wellesley College’s student newspaper, The Wellesley News, has fueled online outrage for suggesting “hostility” against those who regularly espouse hate speech.

The editorial advocates educating those who engage in hate speech. But if that fails, "hostility may be warranted" instead, the editorial says. It doesn't define hostility.

“If people continue to support racist politicians or pay for speakers that prop up speech that will lead to the harm of others, then it is critical to take the appropriate measures to hold them accountable for their actions,” the editorial reads. “It is important to note that our preference for education over beration [sic] regards students who may have not been given the chance to learn. Rather, we are not referring to those who have already had the incentive to learn and should have taken the opportunities to do so.”

Conservative websites picked up on the piece. The Daily Caller published a headline accusing the editors of promoting violence against those unpopular opinions, though nothing in the editorial endorses violent action.

Still, Twitter users spread and heavily criticized the piece, with the editor of The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg, tweeting that it was one of the “most frightening” editorials he’s ever read.

Wellesley spokeswoman Sofiya Cabalquinto declined to comment, but instead forwarded by email a letter from the college’s president, Paula Johnson, regarding free speech on campus. It is dated April 4, prior to publication of the editorial.

“We must also recognize that for every outspoken voice, there are those who remain silent on the margins, in the classroom, in the dining halls, as well as at events with invited speakers,” Johnson wrote. “It is our responsibility to invite all our students to voice their views -- to find their way into the debate. Each of us in the Wellesley community has a stake in expanding the dialogue. When our most difficult conversations include a range of perspectives based in fact and strengthened by respect, they become the very conversations that move us forward.”

April 17, 2017

Word spread last week that MIT Press has published a book called Communism for Kids, by Bini Adamczak, a Berlin-based social theorist and artist. The press describes the book, in part, this way: "It all unfolds like a story, with jealous princesses, fancy swords, displaced peasants, mean bosses and tired workers -- not to mention a Ouija board, a talking chair and a big pot called 'the state.' Before they know it, readers are learning about the economic history of feudalism, class struggles in capitalism, different ideas of communism and more. Finally, competition between two factories leads to a crisis that the workers attempt to solve in six different ways (most of them borrowed from historic models of communist or socialist change). Each attempt fails, since true communism is not so easy after all. But it’s also not that hard. At last, the people take everything into their own hands and decide for themselves how to continue. Happy ending? Only the future will tell."

While there have been no reports of school districts assigning the book, conservative bloggers have sounded an alarm. And to the alarm of some in academic publishing, some on social media have called for the book to be burned. One much forwarded (and liked) tweet says, "Academia Out of Control: MIT Press Publishes ‘Communism for Kids’ Book Should Be Burned & Banned."

MIT Press issued this statement from its director, Amy Brand: "The MIT Press gives its editors and authors the freedom to publish peer-reviewed works that inspire conversations and provoke thought. Recently we have heard objections from media outlets and individuals who find this book offensive. We respect that criticism and of course expect to receive it in the case of any book that makes a controversial case. We do not endorse any philosophy other than freedom of expression -- for our authors, our readers and, in times like this, our critics. All of us benefit from the full and free exchange of ideas that matter."

April 17, 2017

The University of California, Berkeley, agreed to let a former law school dean accused of sexual harassment remain on the faculty on sabbatical through May 2018, the Associated Press reported. Under the agreement, announced Friday, the university will withdraw all disciplinary complaints against Sujit Choudhry and allow him to resign next year with access to more than $100,000 in research and travel funds through that time. The agreement includes a "no admissions" clause, saying that neither Choudhry nor the university's Board of Regents admit to wrongdoing in the case.

Choudhry’s former executive assistant, Tyann Sorrell, who accused him of kissing and hugging her without her consent, said in a statement Saturday that the deal “insults all who suffer harassment at the hands of those with power and privilege.” Choudhry will donate $50,000 to nonprofit organizations of Sorrell's choice under the agreement, and he’ll also pay $50,000 of her legal fees.

Berkeley previously substantiated Sorrell’s allegations and gave Choudhry a 10 percent pay cut, and he resigned as dean and stopped teaching but remained a professor, according to the Associated Press. Sorrell sued the university over the harassment last year. Her attorney, Leslie F. Levy, said Saturday that the new agreement is “just one more example of [the university] refusing to take sexual harassment seriously and once again offering a soft landing even after a finding of harassment.”

Choudhry also sued the university over the case, alleging racial discrimination based on the fact that he is South Asian. He accused the university of opening a second investigation of him for the same conduct after Sorrell filed her lawsuit and reports it had mishandled other cases of sexual misconduct. He has since dropped the suit.

April 17, 2017

Auburn University has called off a lecture by white supremacist and accused neo-Nazi Richard Spencer scheduled for Tuesday.

“In consultation with law enforcement, Auburn canceled the Richard Spencer event scheduled for Tuesday evening based on legitimate concerns and credible evidence that it will jeopardize the safety of students, faculty, staff and visitors,” the university said in a statement. The university initially intended to allow him to speak.

Spencer promotes the “alt-right,” a right-wing movement often characterized by its racist views.

On Friday, Spencer posted to Twitter simply: "#LetSpencerSpeak." He tweeted Thursday he expected his event at Auburn would sell out. He added in a separate Tweet Thursday, “Perhaps we should overbook and then forcibly remove patrons. What could go wrong?”

Auburn previously released a statement about Spencer’s talk: “We strongly deplore his views, which run counter to those of this institution. While his event isn’t affiliated with the university, Auburn supports the constitutional right to free speech. We encourage the campus community to respond to speech they find objectionable with their own views in civil discourse and to do so with respect and inclusion.”

Spencer had paid $700 for university space and for security, according to news reports.

Over the weekend, Spencer vowed to show up at Auburn and give his talk despite the university's action.

April 17, 2017

Tenure-track and tenured faculty members and librarians at Saint Martin’s University voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Friday. The new union is calling on administrators to honor the vote by engaging in collective bargaining with it. That’s despite previous administrative opposition to a non-tenure-track faculty union on campus on the grounds that as a religious institution, Saint Martin’s is not bound to National Labor Relations Board decisions. That board voted in 2014 to allow contingent faculty members at Pacific Lutheran University to form a union because they did not perform specific religious functions.

The newest Saint Martin’s vote is complicated by a separate, longstanding legal precedent against tenure-track faculty unions at private institutions, because these professors are managers. A local NLRB office ruled against a tenure-track faculty union at Carroll College in 2016 on the those grounds. University officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Roy Heynderickx, university president, said last month in response to a faculty walkout over union issues that the campus's Board of Trustees and Saint Martin’s Abbey have "reaffirmed their belief that a direct working relationship between faculty and administration best serves the educational mission of the university," according to The Olympian.

April 17, 2017

Kentucky's free community college scholarship program will be limited to students seeking certificates in five industries with worker shortages -- health care, advanced manufacturing, transportation and logistics, business services and internet technology, and construction.

The state's Work Ready Scholarship program was originally conceived and approved by the state's Legislature last year to include students seeking two-year associate degrees. However, the state's Republican governor, Matt Bevin, vetoed that legislation but left $15.9 million of funding for it in the state's budget bill. In December, Bevin issued an executive order redefining the limits of the scholarship to just include certificate seekers in those five areas.

Although Bevin's order was issued in December, the change only recently became clear because legislators were not aware that the term "diploma" didn't include two-year degrees within the Kentucky Community and Technical College System.

Kentucky is the second state to consider limiting tuition-free programs to just certificate seekers in specific fields.

April 17, 2017

Brown University announced Friday that it is waiving its application fee (currently $75) for applicants who participate in various federal programs for low-income students. Like most colleges and universities, Brown already had a policy of waiving the fees for those who fill out a fee-waiver request. But some institutions -- such as City University of New York, Bowdoin College, and Trinity College of Connecticut -- last year announced automatic fee waivers for some low-income applicants. The idea is that there are many families for whom the fees (especially applied to multiple institutions) are a burden and for whom the waiver process may be discouraging.


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