Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 24, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Nicholas Leadbeater of the University of Connecticut begins a three-day examination of the chemistry of the hit television show "Breaking Bad." Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

February 24, 2014

Faculty representatives at St. Mary's College of Maryland voted against exploring a plan to tie the pay of their president to the pay of staff. The Faculty Senate voted 9-8 not to put the plan in front of the full faculty.

February 24, 2014

The national Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity has suspended its chapter at the University of Mississippi and expelled three freshmen over an apparent role in leaving a noose and a Georgia flag on the statue of James Meredith, the first black student to enroll at Ole Miss, The Clarion-Ledger reported. A statement from the national fraternity said: “It is embarrassing that these men had previously identified with our fraternity. SigEp as a national fraternity has championed racial equality and issues on diversity since 1959 when it became the first national fraternity to invite members of all races, creeds and religions to join its membership. For this to occur in 2014 is an insult to the legacy of James Meredith, the University of Mississippi community and the SigEp alumni who fought for racial equality in the late 1950s.”

A statement from the university said that three students -- all white freshmen from Georgia -- had agreed to come in for questioning about the incident on Thursday, but had failed to do so.

 

February 24, 2014

Several states are considering plans to make community college free. In Maine, Rep. Mike Michaud, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has a different idea: He has proposed making the sophomore year free for Maine residents at all University of Maine campuses, The Bangor Daily News reported. The idea is to change patterns in the sophomore year, when many drop out, and when many families' savings run out. The plan would cost the state $15.1 million a year.

 

February 24, 2014

The Vassar Jewish Union has become the second Hillel affiliate, after the chapter at Swarthmore College, to declare itself an "Open Hillel" and resolve that it will not abide by a ban on anti-Israel speakers imposed by its parent organization. Hillel International guidelines prohibit campus chapters from partnering with or hosting groups or speakers that seek to delegitimize, demonize or apply a double standard to Israel, or that support the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, but in a statement the Vassar Jewish Union said the policy “censors and delegitimizes the diverse range of personal and political opinions held by Jewish students."

“We believe that Hillel International’s goal to ‘inspire every Jewish college student to develop a meaningful and enduring relationship to Israel’ does not represent the diverse opinions of young American Jews,” the statement says, in part. “We believe that fostering a pluralistic community and supporting all Jewish life on campus cannot be achieved with Hillel International’s Israel Guidelines in place."

The president of Hillel International, Eric Fingerhut, told The Jewish Daily Forward that the organization’s expectation is that Hillel affiliates will continue to uphold the group’s standards for partners and co-sponsors.

February 24, 2014

Judith Butler, a noted literary theorist who is the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Visiting Professor of the Humanities at Columbia University, has called off a talk she was supposed to give at the Jewish Museum in New York City, amid criticism of her support for the boycott of Israel. Butler's talk was not to have been about her views on the Middle East, but on Franz Kafka, who died well before the State of Israel was created. A statement from the museum said: "She was chosen on the basis of her expertise on the subject matter to be discussed. While her political views were not a factor in her participation, the debates about her politics have become a distraction making it impossible to present the conversation about Kafka as intended."

In an email to Inside Higher Ed, Butler said: "I did decide to withdraw when it became clear to me that the uproar over my political views (actually, a serious distortion of my political views) would overtake the days ahead and the event itself. As I understand it, the Jewish Museum also felt that it could not handle the political storm, and we were in complete agreement that the event should be canceled as a result."

She continued: "What is most important now, in my view, is for both educational and cultural institutions such as these to recommit themselves to open debate, not to become vehicles for censorship and slander, and not to become party to forms of blacklisting. It certainly should not be the case that any of us are forced to give up speaking in public on scholarly topics that have no bearing on the political issues that are so controversial. It constitutes discrimination against a person on the basis of political viewpoint, implying that the speaker ought not to be allowed to speak on any topic given the political viewpoint in question. It is one thing to disagree, say, with my political viewpoint and to give reasons why one disagrees, even to call for an open debate on that disagreement, and to ask the Jewish Museum to exercise its authority and commit its resources to such an open debate. It is quite another to say that anyone with my political viewpoint (itself badly distorted in this case) should not be able to speak at a Jewish cultural organization.... Whether one is for or against [the boycott movement], it seems important to recognize that boycotts are constitutionally recognized forms of political expression, affirmed by international law as well. That means that one cannot exactly outlaw a boycott, even if one opposes it with great vehemence, without trampling on a constitutionally protected right. We are seeing several efforts now to curtail speech, to exercise censorship, and so cultural institutions like the Jewish Museum will now have to decide whether they will allow their choices of speakers and artworks to be coerced, whether they will have the courage and the principle to stand for freedom of expression, refusing to impose a political litmus speakers on speakers and artists who have every reason to be part of the broader community they serve and have ideas on many other topics to share."

February 24, 2014

Robert Imhoff, president of Mid-Continent University, resigned Saturday amid reports that the Baptist institution in Kentucky is facing a severe financial crisis, WPSD News reported. At the same time, officials vowed to keep the university open. At least one trustee has suggested that the university may not be able to survive, and local colleges are looking at transfer options for those at Mid-Continent. Gale Hawkins, a trustee, shared this advice for students: "I just simply say, if it was my child or myself I would get the most current transcript I could get from the office today."

February 24, 2014

The University of Richmond is receiving scrutiny after one of its most generous donors and trustees, Paul Queally, was featured making sexist and homophobic jokes in a New York Magazine article about a gathering of wealthy business leaders (that they thought was private). Queally told The Richmond Times-Dispatch: "My brief remarks were in the spirit of the event but they do not reflect my views or my values. On reflection I should have said nothing. I understand that people who do not know me or my work may misinterpret what I said. I believe my record in support of education, diversity and economic advancement defines who I am and what I stand for." The university has not criticized the remarks, but did release a statement in which it said that the Richmond board “reaffirms the commitment of each of its members to promoting opportunity, inclusivity, civility and respect.”

Faculty members in the university's women's, gender and sexuality studies program have published a letter in the student newspaper that criticizes not only the jokes, but the university leadership's failure to see them as a serious problem. "Queally’s comments cannot be minimized as simply unfortunate," the letter says. "Nor is the central problem with his comments that they have generated negative attention to the university. Rather, the central problem with trustee Queally’s comments is that they contribute to the larger and quite insidious social discourse that dehumanizes women and LGBTQ people. His comments, in other words, contribute to human suffering. We, therefore, reiterate our call on senior leadership to allow the gravity of that insight to inform the content and urgency of its engagement with the university community."

 

February 24, 2014

Cathy Davidson, a major player in the digital humanities and discussions of new models of higher education, is leaving Duke University for the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Davidson is currently the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English at Duke University. She is also co-founder of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Science and Technology Alliance and Collaboratory), and the Graduate Center will become the main home of the organization. At CUNY, Davidson will be a professor of English at the Graduate Center and will direct the Futures Initiative, a CUNY-wide program to promote collaborative and participatory innovation in higher education.

In a statement, Davidson said that CUNY's Graduate Center "proves that a public, urban university is both accessible and exemplifies the highest possible intellectual standards.... My dedication to public higher education, while always strong, has grown in the last few years. How can the most affluent nation on the planet not invest in the future of public education? The Graduate Center and the entire CUNY system can be, and will be, the world leader in higher education innovation. I’m so proud to be part of the effort at such a fine public urban university system.”

 

February 24, 2014

2U, one of a growing cadre of companies that help colleges take their academic programs online, announced Friday that it had taken steps toward an initial public offering of its stock. 2U has sought to differentiate itself from the other players in this market by focusing on high-prestige universities. Documents filed by the company with the Securities and Exchange Commission provide some insights into the shape and scope of the market of online service providers; Phil Hill of e-Literate offers an analysis here.

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