Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 5, 2014

Jeff Wilson, associate professor of biological sciences at Huston-Tillotson University, moved into a dumpster Tuesday, planning to live there for a year. Working with students, he plans to show how one could live in a dumpster, using much less space and energy than Americans typically consume. “The overarching goal ... is to test whether one can have a pretty good life while treading lightly on the planet — all from a dumpster that is 1 percent the size of the average new American home,” he said.

February 5, 2014

A bill pending in the New York Assembly that would prohibit the use of state aid to fund or pay membership dues to academic organizations that endorse the academic boycott of Israel was withdrawn from consideration by that body’s Higher Education Committee on Monday, The Albany Times Union reported. A spokesman for the bill’s sponsor, the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, told the newspaper, “We are addressing some concerns with the bill." The spokesman did not elaborate further.

The move comes days after a similar bill passed the New York Senate by a wide margin. Similar legislation has also been filed in Maryland, prompting a renewed statement of protest from the American Association of University Professors on Tuesday.

“While it is the position of the AAUP that academic boycotts contravene the principles of academic freedom, the Association has nevertheless asserted that it is 'the right of individual faculty members or groups of academics not to cooperate with other individual faculty members or academic institutions with whom or with which they disagree,' the association said in the statement. “Legislative interference in academic decision-making and with the freedom of scholars to associate and exchange views with their peers is even more dangerous than the academic boycotts this legislation is intended to oppose. That is because this legislation undermines constitutionally protected academic speech and debate in order to promote a particular viewpoint.”

The New York and Maryland bills were introduced after the American Studies Association endorsed a controversial boycott of Israeli universities in December. The American Studies Association has also issued a statement condemning the New York anti-boycott bill.

February 5, 2014

The Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom has weighed in on the case of Emad Shahin, a prominent political scientist whose indictment on charges of espionage and subversion last month made international headlines. As The New York Times has reported, Shahin, who has taught at the American University of Cairo, Harvard University and the University of Notre Dame, was charged along with former President Mohamed Morsi and several other senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders with conspiring with foreign organizations to undermine Egypt’s national security. He was the second scholar to be targeted in what The Times described as a crackdown on critics of last summer’s military take-over.

Shahin, the editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics, called the charges “baseless,” politically motivated,” and “beyond preposterous” and said he had never been a member or supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Dr. Shahin is well known in both Egypt and the United States as a critic of the authoritarian policies and practices of the Egyptian state. He has been a consistent voice for democracy, pluralism and the rule of law throughout the political tumult in Egypt since January 2011,” the Committee on Academic Freedom wrote in a letter to Egypt's Minister of Justice. “We agree, therefore, with Dr. Shahin when he surmises that his 'true offense' is that he has been vocal in his criticism of 'the course of political events in Egypt since last summer.' We are deeply concerned that his indictment signals a decision on the part of the Egyptian state to hound all of its political opponents—regardless of partisan or ideological affiliation — and thereby suppress political dissent.”
 

February 4, 2014

Long Beach City College is taking advantage of a new California law authorizing it to offer tiered tuition -- charging more in the winter and summer for some high demand courses. An article in The Los Angles Times finds that there are clearly students willing to pay more, in many cases because the regular, less expensive versions are full, semester after semester. At the same time, the article finds continued concerns about the idea of providing some access based on ability to pay more. "It creates two types of students: those who can pay and those who cannot. And it's unfair to the students who have to feed families and are unemployed," said Andrea Donado, student representative on the Long Beach Community College District board.

February 4, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Adam Gordon of the State University of New York at Albany discusses a common behavioral pattern found in living things from honey bees to humans. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 4, 2014

Full-time, non-tenure-track professors at Rutgers University are celebrating after winning key bargaining goals in their new contract. Career titles outlining paths for promotion have been established for teaching, professional practice and librarian faculty members, similar to those already in place for clinical and research non-tenure-track faculty members. Explicitly non-renewable contracts have been abolished, as has the title of “assistant instructor.” For non-grant-funded faculty members, appointments will be for one to five years, and advance notice of non-reappointment is now required.

Current assistant instructors also will be absorbed into the rank of instructor as of July and those assistant instructors making the minimum salary for their rank, about $34,000, will be paid the minimum salary for instructors – about $39,000. (No other raises for non-tenure-track faculty are included in the agreement). The union, which is affiliated with the American Association of University Professors and American Federation of Teachers, covers all tenure-line and about 1,000 full-time adjunct faculty at all three Rutgers campuses.

Ann Gordon, a recently retired, longtime, non-tenure-track research professor of history at Rutgers’s main campus at New Brunswick, said that the university previously had no strategy for managing the career paths of non-tenure-track faculty, but that the new agreement – reached after many months of negotiations -- puts it ahead of many peer universities on that issue. In a statement, a Rutgers spokesman said the contract recognizes the “important role” of non-tenure-track faculty there. Some 1,300 part-time adjuncts at Rutgers are unionized with the AAUP and AFT, but in a separate unit. The contract does not affect them.

 

February 4, 2014

A study published today in the journal mBio finds that an alternative version of an introductory laboratory course for undergraduates can significantly increase the odds that students will complete the course and take a second year of science. The alternative system -- in which students do actual science rather than replicating various experiments -- was designed with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

February 4, 2014

Ray Cool, an assistant professor of health, physical education and recreation at Western Michigan University, will be reimbursed after his paycheck was stolen by hackers, he said Monday. The news came a day after MLive reported that the university had not reimbursed Cool for the paycheck, which was stolen in mid-December. A hacker using a computer in New Mexico accessed Cool's university account and changed the routing number for his direct deposit from a local credit union account to one in Utah. By the time university public safety detectives traced the hack, all that was left in the Utah account was $11 -- some $1,500 short of his paycheck (the amount does not reflect his actual salary; Cool has several automatic deductions, such as to a retirement account, that were apparently unaffected by the theft).

In response, the university offered Cool an advance on his next paycheck but did not reimburse him for the missing check. Cool said he was frustrated by the university's stance, as it was their system that had been breached. But on Monday, the university informed him via email that he would be "made whole" financially, he said. Going forward, Cool said, "They need to make sure the system protects faculty and staff."

Cheryl Roland, a university spokeswoman, said in an email that she did not know how the hack occurred, but suspected it was the result of an organized phishing attempt. The university's backup verification system picked up on the problem and sent emails to both Cool and a second victim, a university staff member who also has been reimbursed, telling them their bank routing numbers had been changed, she said. But neither Cool nor the second employee opened the message until after the funds had been diverted, a week later. The university has indefinitely suspended online changes to direct deposit information, Roland added.

February 4, 2014

George Washington University has opted not to move ahead with building a campus in China. Under the leadership of the university’s former business school dean and vice president for China operations, Doug Guthrie, the university had explored the possibility of seeking approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education to develop a campus in partnership with the University of International Business and Economics, in Beijing. (Only five Western universities, including Duke, Kean and New York Universities, in the U.S., have such approval.). Guthrie was fired from his administrative posts in August for budget overages.

“The university did not have a formal plan to build a campus in China,” the university’s provost, Steven Lerman, said in a statement. “We had been looking at a variety of options, and with the help of a faculty advisory group, we decided instead to enhance existing partnerships such as our new Confucius Institute and study abroad programs."

In an interview, Guthrie said he believed the administration’s decision to be a result of pushback from the Faculty Senate. “It’s fully within the right of the administration and the faculty to decide what direction they want to go, but my hope is that universities will go as deep into relationships with China as they can,” said Guthrie, who’s now a professor of international business and management at George Washington. “That was always my vision.”

The decision not to build a China campus was first reported by the student newspaper, The GW Hatchet

February 4, 2014

The academic publisher Cengage Learning on Monday announced it had struck a deal with its creditors that will enable the company to complete its restructuring process. The company filed for bankruptcy protection last July. The agreement would eliminate $4 billion of Cengage's remaining debt -- which totals about $5.8 billion -- and the company would receive financing for an additional $1.75 billion to $2 billion. The plan has yet to be approved by the bankruptcy court, but it has attracted support from "all of Cengage Learning’s most significant creditors," CEO Michael Hansen said in a statement.

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