Higher Education Quick Takes
Professors in China are reporting that they have been ordered not to discuss seven topics in their teaching, The South China Morning Post reported. Among the topics: freedom of the press, civil rights, judicial independence and mistakes of the Communist Party. "Are we still a university if we are not allowed to talk about even civil rights and press freedom?" asked one professor.
Betsy Palmer, an associate professor of education at Montana State University, died Monday from injuries from a landslide in Nepal, where she was leading a group of 16 students on a course offered by the university's honors program. The university said that the students were not injured in the landslide, but the university is working with U.S. officials to bring the students home.
Former New Mexico Governor Garrey Carruthers earlier this month won a 3-to-2 vote to become the next president of New Mexico State University, but his political baggage has been met by protests from some faculty members.
Two years after he left the governor’s mansion, Carruthers, a Republican, proceeded to chair the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, a lobbying group sponsored by the tobacco giant Altria, then known as Philip Morris Companies. The group served to counter the growing concerns over man-made climate change, among other topics. “I think that we're facing one of the most serious environmental crises of our time, ... and I think that universities across the country should be dealing with finding solutions to the effects of global warming and climate change,” said Gary W. Roemer, an associate professor in the department of fish, wildlife and conservation ecology. “I’m not so sure Garrey Carruthers is the kind of visionary leader to do that. I hope he is.”
Asked by Roemer last month during an open forum for faculty and staff about his views on global warming, Carruthers appeared to distance himself from his work with the coalition, which he left in 1998.
“I can tell you that, as an economist, I’m not up on the science of global warming,” Carruthers said. “And I think that science is moving rather rapidly, but the evidence appears to me to be leaning more and more toward we’ve got a problem with global warming. I think there are a whole host of people who would disagree with that -- some very fine scientists who would disagree with that -- but it seems to me that the science is moving in the direction of saying we have a global warming problem, and we need to begin to take care of it.”
Despite Carruthers’ response to Roemer’s question, other professors said Carruthers’ work as a lobbyist serves as a warning sign for how he will approach his work as president.
“He believes in the use of science for business purposes, whether it’s good science or bad science,” said Jamie Bronstein, professor of history. “I think it really calls into question the integrity of everyone’s research on campus when you have somebody who doesn’t have any respect for the scientific process chairing the university."
Stephen Colbert gave the valedictory address at the University of Virginia on Saturday, and he couldn't resist getting in a dig at the controversy last year in which the board ousted Teresa Sullivan as president, only to hire her back after faculty members, alumni and others protested the removal of a president they admired. In remarks at about 1:30 in the clip below, Colbert thanked President Sullivan, and added: "You are way better than that last president, Teresa Sullivan. She was terrible. I am so glad they cut her loose."
Authorities say that a student at Georgia Gwinnett College faked his kidnapping because he didn't want to tell his parents that he had failed English for the second time, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Aftab Aslam called the police last month after law enforcement officials received a text saying he had been kidnapped. He returned home eight days later. After first telling the police that he had been kidnapped, he admitted that he had made up the story after police determined that the text message came from a cell phone he had purchased. He is now facing a misdemeanor count of false report of a crime, three felony counts of false statements, three felony counts of tampering with evidence and three felony counts of terroristic threats.
Here's a course topic not currently offered by any of the providers of massive open online courses: "The Implications of Coursera’s For-Profit Business Model for Global Public Education." The course was proposed last week by Robert Meister, professor of political and social thought in the department of the history of consciousness at the University of California at Santa Cruz and president of the Council of UC Faculty Associations. He sent a letter with his idea to Daphne Koller, a computer science professor at Stanford University and co-founder of Coursera, and then published his letter on the blog of the American Association of University Professors.
Among the topics Meister proposes covering:
- Why venture capitalists "are willing to provide an even greater abundance of knowledge in the service of greater economic and social equality than is the State of California, which clearly has the means to spend much more than it has cost your company to reach a worldwide enrollment in the millions."
- The way "free MOOCs weaken the link between scarcity and quality on which the business model of all higher education, both public and private, unfortunately depends."
- Teaching students to "think financially about the socio-economic spreads created by our public educational system as a potential source of private profit."
- "[T]hat the for-profit logic of their online educational empowerment depends on the fact while they are consuming information, they are also producing information that Coursera can correlate with other data to predict what prices students with particular profiles would eventually pay for courses they are presently consuming for free."
The piece ends by asking Koller if she would co-teach the course, saying "I’m sure that together we could reach a very large audience indeed."
Via e-mail in response to an Inside Higher Ed question, Koller indicated that potential students might not find the course listed in the Coursera list of offerings any time soon, and that she does not consider that she was really being invited to co-teach it.
"If you've read the (rather long) letter, you'll have seen that it's not actually an invitation to co-teach a course, but rather a thinly veiled attack on Coursera and the whole MOOC model," she wrote. "When we launched Coursera we introduced a completely new model for providing learners everywhere free access to a great education. It is not surprising that a model this transformative brings out skeptics and critics, and, indeed, some caution is appropriate whenever the world changes this quickly. I am happy to respond to concrete criticism of our actions or words, but Mr. Meister's letter criticizes the model not based on what Coursera has done, nor even on what we have said we would do in future, but rather based on a speculative trajectory of his own construction. Our mission, to enable anyone around the world to have access to education, and to do what's best for students, remains clear today and will not bend in the future."
Zhejiang University has signed an agreement with Imperial College London in which the two will consider creating a new joint campus. The announcement from Imperial was brief on details. But The Telegraph reported that the new facility could include as many as 3,000 scientists, and the Zhejiang officials views it as a way to expand the reach of Chinese research.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, is seeking the right to sell buildings on University of Wisconsin campuses, as well as buildings owned by other units of the state, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Some legislators and student groups are opposing the plan. They note that, in the case of some facilities, buildings were paid for by student fees with the understanding that they would be used for students. Further, the governor's plan does not require that proceeds from any sales go to the university, so a campus could lose control of a building and gain no revenue.