Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 24, 2013

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been interviewing participants in an exchange program to Russia on whether the head of that program may be trying to recruit agents, The Washington Post reported. The investigation -- first reported in Mother Jones -- concerns the Russian Center for Science and Culture, in Washington, which offers trips to Russia for young professionals, including graduate students. A spokesman for the Russian Embassy in Washington said that the exchanges were legitimate and did not involve the recruitment of xspies. "'All such ‘scaring information’ very much resembles Cold War era," the spokesman said, adding that these reports are an attempt to "distort and to blacken activities of the Russian Cultural Center."


October 24, 2013

Ernesto Perez has resigned as CEO of Dade Medical College, days after it was revealed that he is facing criminal charges, The Miami Herald reported. Perez faces two counts of perjury, a misdemeanor, and one count of providing false information through a sworn statement -- all related to his failure to report past criminal arrests or convictions in government forms. Perez spent six months in jail after pleading no contest in 1990 to misdemeanor charges of batter and exposing his genitals to a child. The victim was a 15-year-old fan of the band in which Perez played at the time.


October 23, 2013

Boston authorities have banned Greek houses from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from holding any parties or large gatherings at houses in the city, The Boston Globe reported. (Most MIT fraternity and sorority houses are in Boston, not in Cambridge.) Boston officials said that they need to get information about the safety of the houses. The move follows an injury to a fraternity member who crashed through a skylight and fell four stories during a recent party.


October 23, 2013

A spokeswoman for the London School of Economics told Times Higher Education that the university is attempting to establish the facts surrounding last week’s dismissal of Xia Yeliang from Peking University, a partner institution of LSE. 

The dismissal of Xia from Peking’s economics department purportedly for political reasons has been widely watched as an important test case for academic freedom in China – one with implications for Western universities collaborating with institutions there. Xia has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party and an advocate of democracy. In September, more than 130 faculty members at Wellesley College signed a letter saying they would urge the administration to reconsider Wellesley’s institutional partnership with Peking if the university fired Xia (as it announced Friday that it had).

Peking has said the reason for firing Xia is his poor teaching record.

Although the LSE spokeswoman told Times Higher Education that the university is looking into the case, the president and vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, another partner institution of Peking, told the newspaper it would be inappropriate to take a position on the matter.

“Universities have their own procedures on accountability, agreed with their governing bodies, and as an autonomous institution we avoid intervening in the complex decisions that other institutions may have to take from time to time,” Colin Riordan said in a statement.

October 23, 2013

The Association for Slavic, East European and Eurasian Studies (ASEEES) has learned that the Title VIII program – a U.S. State Department program that funds language training and research in Eurasian and Eastern European studies – did not receive an appropriation for the federal fiscal year that ended Sept. 30. Because the money is typically allocated one year and spent the next, that means a significant reduction in the number of fellowships and grants available in 2013-14.

The budget for Title VIII had already sustained cuts: while the funding level averaged about $4.5 million per year throughout the early 2000s, it was cut to $3.3 million in fiscal year 2012, according to an analysis of the funding situation that ASEEES published in its newsletter earlier this year. 

“Government seems to be shortsighted in cutting these small programs that have large outcomes," said Lynda Park, the association's executive director. 

"I think just about every specialist in our field who was trained in the last 25 years was impacted by Title VIII in one form or another.”

ASEEES is maintaining a list on its website of programs that will be suspended for the 2013-14 year. The association is advocating for the restoration of funding for 2014-15. 

October 23, 2013

Grambling State University and the University of Louisiana System will conduct an institutional review – of all departments, not just athletics – after its football players boycotted their game Saturday over poor management and facility conditions, USA Today reported Tuesday. Pogue and Louisiana System President Sandra Woodley will lead the review, which will comprise a comprehensive university assessment and recommendations for improvement.

“I believe good things can come from creative tension,” Grambling President Frank Pogue told the Louisiana Board of Supervisors. “You can use creative tension to bring attention to the needs of society. In this case we are using it to bring attention to something larger than athletics – larger than football. What we are addressing today is symptomatic of something larger that exists on our campus, our financial plight.”

Also on Tuesday, Grambling's scheduled opponents for Saturday, Jackson State University, announced the institution would sue "Grambling State and others" over the financial loss. In a statement, a Jackson State spokesman described how Grambling repeatedly reassured officials that the team would compete in the sold-out homecoming game before ultimately failing to show Saturday. The financial losses to the university and the city could be in the millions, the statement says.

"We have a fiduciary responsibility to Mississippi taxpayers and the JSU community to mitigate our ongoing and substantial losses," it says. "It would be irresponsible for JSU to fail to pursue some redress."

October 23, 2013

Ted Mitchell, former president of Occidental College and president of a "venture philanthropy" fund focused on elementary and secondary education reform, is reportedly in line for a top position at the U.S. Education Department, according to Politico and other sources. Politico reported late Tuesday that Mitchell would be nominated as U.S. under secretary of education, replacing Martha J. Kanter, who announced this summer that she would return to California this fall. But other sources said that Mitchell might be named to a position that did not require Senate confirmation, given the difficulty of getting anyone through that gauntlet these days. A spokesman for the Education Department referred inquiries to a White House spokesman, who said he had no news to share about appointments.

Mitchell rose through the academic ranks as an education professor and administrator, and mostly at highly selective institutions such as Dartmouth College, Stanford University, and the University of California at Los Angeles (dean of the Graduate School of Education). As president of Occidental (which President Obama attended as an undergraduate), he was known for helping to diversify the student body of the selective private institution. "My area of scholarly interest, my area of teaching and policy work has been in educational access and opportunity," Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times upon his departure from Occidental in 2005. (Note: This article has been updated to correct President Obama's relationship to Occidental.)

He left there to take the reins of the New Schools Venture Fund, which has close ties to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other philanthropies interested in using technology and other tools of change to reform education. The fund's "core values" page uses phrases like "entrepreneurship" and "results-oriented" that are likely to align closely with Education Secretary Arne Duncan's modus operandi.

October 23, 2013

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities announced Tuesday that its board -- "after careful investigation and prayerful consideration" -- had decided to remove Edward O. Blews Jr. from the position of president, effective immediately. Blews had been in office since January. The statement did not say why the board decided to (in the words of the CCCU) "transition" Blews out of the presidency.  Prior to joining CCCU, Blews was for 28 years president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Michigan. CCCU officials and Blews did not respond to requests for more information about his departure.


October 23, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Atalia Omer of the University of Notre Dame discusses the role of cultural and religious identity in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


October 23, 2013

The BBC decided to investigate the M.B.A. program offered by American University of London, and so enrolled a dog named Pete, giving him the fake name Peter Smith and a fake biography with various job titles. The university requires that students submit photographs, but the BBC opted not to send one, since the picture would have shown a dog. No problem. The university offered Pete an M.B.A., with no academic work, for $7,300. In a statement to the BBC, the institution defended itself. "We are not a bogus university … and have always been upfront about our status," said the statement. "We have not applied for accreditation with any American, British or other official agency. Many graduates go on to higher education or hold important positions on the strength of our degrees."



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