Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, May 20, 2013 - 3:00am

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."

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.

Friday, May 17, 2013 - 3:00am

In the midst of an investigation by city police, several campus officers including the chief have resigned or been fired from Elizabeth City State University. City officials discovered campus police never investigated 126 crime reports since 2007, including 18 sexual assaults, The Virginian-Pilot reported. The State Bureau of Investigation is looking into allegations of obstruction of justice and witness intimidation by campus police. The historically black university has enlisted off-duty patrol officers to help with campus security and solve the backlog of cases. The campus police chief, Sam Beamon, resigned Friday after 10 years on the job in the wake of a reported assault in a campus dorm that culminated in city police arresting a staff member after the university failed to act.

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.

 

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.”

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:00am

Note: Western New England University announced Wednesday that Lois Lerner had withdrawn as the speaker at its law school commencement Saturday, citing her desire not to distract focus from the graduates.)

Officials at Western New England University's School of Law were surely excited when they announced early this month that one of their esteemed alumni -- a high-ranking federal official -- would give the school's commencement address this year. Suddenly, though, the choice isn't looking quite as good, now that Lois Lerner, who heads the Internal Revenue Service's Exempt Organization Division, is at the center of the white-hot controversy over the agency's questionable scrutiny of the political activity of conservative nonprofit groups. A Western New England spokesman told the Daily Caller that the university was proceeding with its plans to give Lerner its presidential medallion, for public service.

Thursday, May 16, 2013 - 3:00am

Florida Atlantic University has had more than its share of controversies in the last several months, over the naming of its football stadium for a private prison company owned by an alumnus and a professor's in-class exercise in which he invited students to step on a piece of paper with "Jesus" written on it, among others. (The university took heat from many in the public for the professor's actions, and from many faculty members for failing to defend his academic freedom to their satisfaction.)

President Mary Jane Saunders staunchly defended the university's actions throughout both of those situations, but late Tuesday Florida Atlantic's board accepted her resignation, which she attributed to the controversies. “There is no doubt the recent controversies have been significant and distracting to all members of the University community," she wrote in a letter to the board. "The issues and the fiercely negative media coverage have forced me to reassess my position as the President of FAU. I must make choices that are the best for the University, me and my family.”

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