Higher Education Quick Takes

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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.

Friday, May 17, 2013 - 4:16am

The Middle East Studies Association is charging that San Jose State University has failed to stand up for a professor under political attack. The association on Thursday released a letter it sent to Mohammad Qayoumi, the university's president, asking why he had not spoken up to defend Persis Karim of the university's English and comparative literature department. Karim organized a seminar in April, financed in part by the U.S. Institute of Peace, called "Peacebuilding, Nonviolence, and Approaches to Teaching the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict." Some pro-Israel groups have criticized the seminar (and did so before it took place), saying it was anti-Israel.

The letter from the Middle East Studies Association said: "It is our understanding that even before the workshop took place, Professor Karim was subjected to a campaign of harassment and intimidation by individuals and organizations, mostly based outside San José State, who objected to the workshop's content and participants. This campaign has continued even after the workshop, most recently by means of the circulation of a fabricated statement falsely attributed to Professor Karim and intended to damage her reputation, but also in the form of a request under the California Public Records Act that Professor Karim make available all documents and correspondence related to the workshop and its funding." The letter went on to say: "We urge you to issue a strong and clear public statement expressing the university’s support for academic freedom in general and that of Professor Karim in particular, and its firm condemnation of the smear campaign being waged against her."

A spokeswoman for the university said that San Jose State could not respond to the letter on Thursday.

 

Friday, May 17, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Paul Booth of DePaul University explores the cultural importance of the BBC science fiction series "Doctor Who." Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

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.

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.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- Senate Democrats introduced a bill Wednesday that would keep the interest rate on subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent for another two years at a cost to the government of $8.6 billion -- a measure that underscored the distance between Congressional Democrats and the White House on interest rates. The interest rate for subsidized Stafford loans, need-based loans that don't accumulate interest while students are enrolled in college, will double to 6.8 percent on July 1 if Congress does not act. 

The interest rate increase was long planned -- it was written into a 2007 law that gradually lowered interest rates for four years before letting them rebound -- and was supposed to occur last year, but Congress passed a one-year extension of the 3.4 percent rate. The White House and Congressional Republicans have both proposed plans to base the interest rate on the government's cost to borrow, which would allow the rate to vary from year to year.

Congressional Democrats, though, want to keep the rate at 3.4 percent until the issue can be considered in the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act. The legislation proposed Wednesday, sponsored by Senator Tom Harkin, the Iowa Democrat who is chairman of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, among others, would pay for the extension through changes to tax law affecting retirement accounts, the oil industry and tax deductions for foreign companies. The House, meanwhile, will mark up its interest rate proposal at a hearing today.

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.”

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