Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 19, 2014

A former Oregon State University employee is in jail, facing charges that she sold 388 university-owned cell phones while she was an employee from 2008 through 2013, The Oregonian reported. The employee was on the IT support staff at the time, and allegedly received $14,465 for the phones.


September 19, 2014

Ice cream maker Ben and Jerry's is mulling whether to change the name of one of its flavors after anti-hazing activists said the flavor made light of dangerous hazing incidents on college campuses. "Hazed & Confused," a blend of hazelnut and chocolate ice cream that was released in February, is not a reference to hazing, a company spokesman told Bloomberg, but instead refers to the popular 1993 Richard Linklater film Dazed and Confused and the ice cream's featured ingredient. But when Lianne and Brian Kowiak saw an ad for the flavor six months after its release, they said they were "shocked" and "dismayed." The couple's son died during a hazing ritual in 2008 at Lenoir-Rhyne University.

Hank Nuwer, an anti-hazing activist, told readers of stophazing.org to contact the ice cream company with their complaints. Ben and Jerry's told Bloomberg that it only received three emails, but it will consider a name-change anyway. “You hear about things like institutional racism and people will say, ‘You can’t see it because you are living in it, you were raised in it, you were born in it,’” a spokesman said. “This in no way was in reference to hazing at Ben & Jerry’s, but were we doing something that we should have been more aware of?”

September 19, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Joshua Weitz, associate professor of biology at the Georgia Institute of Technology, discusses his use of mathematical models to study the changing abundances and traits of natural populations. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


September 18, 2014

Jameis Winston, the Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback who was accused of sexual assault in 2012, will sit out the first half of Florida State University's game Saturday after several students reported seeing him stand on a table and yell a sexual epithet in the student union. (For those who are offended by explicit language, be warned about reading further.)

Numerous students tweeted about the incident on Tuesday, Deadspin reported, with Winston reportedly yelling "Fuck her right in the pussy." The saying is associated with an Internet meme based on a fake viral video -- a prank of sorts where passersby say the phrase during live news broadcasts.

“As a result of his comments yesterday, which were offensive and vulgar, Jameis Winston will undergo internal discipline and will be withheld from competition for the first half of the Clemson game,” the university said in a statement Wednesday.

September 18, 2014

A letter sent by the Anti-Defamation League advising college and university officials on how to respond to anti-Israel action on campus has some free speech advocates worried about a chilling effect. The letter calls out American Muslims for Palestine in particular, and the group's "Day of Action" planned for September 23. The group is asking that colleges eliminate study abroad programs to Israel, ban administrators traveling to Israel, and not allow scholars to participate in research with Israeli academics. In its letter, the Anti-Defamation League called the event "an effort to isolate and demonize" Jewish organizations. "We have a long history of fighting for the ideals of individual expression and the free exchange of ideas, even when we disagree with the ideas being exchanged," Seth Brysk, the organization's Central Pacific Regional Director, wrote. "However, no university should countenance attempts to discourage and suppress free speech, or harass and intimidate Jewish and other students. When this occurs, as in the examples noted above, appropriate action should be taken."

The Anti-Defamation League recommended that institutions implement several policies, including being aware of Israeli-Palestinian debates taking place on campus, providing adequate security at events that have the potential to escalate, and sending a senior university official to "potentially hostile events" to remind those in attendance of a college's code of conduct. The organization also implored colleges to "remember the school’s obligations under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, particularly the responsibility of the school not only to investigate an incident, but to take prompt and effective steps to eliminate any hostile environment and to take proactive steps to prevent its recurrence." In a statement Wednesday by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, Robert Shibley, FIRE's senior vice president, said that many of the polices "were unobjectionable" but others were cause for concern. "While senior officials are of course free to attend any campus event, requiring students hosting 'potentially hostile events' (whatever that means) to allow those officials to offer prefatory remarks about campus policies risks chilling speech at the event," Shibley wrote.

September 18, 2014

After aggressive expansion in Asia, the massive open online course provider Coursera on Wednesday announced that the University of São Paulo and the State University of Campinas will become the platform's first Brazilian partner institutions. The two universities will create courses in Portuguese to be featured on R7, a Brazilian web portal. The courses, which will go live next year, will focus on "high-demand topics from entrepreneurship to finance," according to a Coursera blog post.

September 18, 2014

A coalition of Israel advocacy organizations concerned by what they describe as the prevalence of anti-Israel programming at federally-funded Middle East studies centers are lobbying for changes in the Title VI program that would 1) “[r]equire recipients of Title VI funds to establish grievance procedures to address complaints that programs are not reflecting diverse perspectives and a wide range of views” and 2) “[r]equire the U.S. Department of Education to establish a formal complaint-resolution process similar to that in use to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”

The full joint statement, signed by 10 groups, is included as an appendix to a new report on “The Morass of Middle East Studies”  issued by the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. The statement also references a paper produced by the AMCHA Initiative that reports on anti-Semitic activity and an anti-Israel bias in the programming at the University of California at Los Angeles’s Center for Near Eastern Studies. The Brandeis Center and the AMCHA Initiative are both parties to the statement, as are Accuracy in Academia, the American Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists, the Endowment for Middle East Truth, Middle East Forum, Scholars for Peace in the Middle East, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, and the Zionist Organization of America.

The groups behind the statement argue that Middle East studies centers are not being held accountable in regards to a provision of the Higher Education Act requiring Title VI grant applicants to present “an explanation of how the activities funded by the grant will reflect diverse perspectives and a wide range of views and generate debate on world regions and international affairs.” They argue that in using tax dollars “to present biased, anti-American, anti-Israel views in their outreach programs,” the federally-funded centers are not serving the national interest. They maintain that, without reforms, Congress should consider cutting Title VI funding to Middle East studies centers altogether.

In an emailed statement, Amy W. Newhall, the executive director of the Middle East Studies Association, rejected such "politically motivated attacks on scholars and academic institutions" as a serious threat to free speech, academic freedom and the role of colleges as sites of free and open discussion. 

“MESA resolutely opposes all forms of hate speech and discrimination, including anti-Semitism,” Newhall wrote. “It supports prompt and forceful action in response to anti-Semitic incidents on college and university campuses.”

“However, MESA is concerned that some of the reports issued by partisan political groups based outside academia may actually weaken efforts to combat anti-Semitism by portraying all criticism of Israeli policies as a form of anti-Semitism or as ‘anti-Israel.’ Their real goal seems to be to shut down open discussion of issues of public concern by demonizing academic and other critics of Israel, Zionism, and U.S. policy in the Middle East, in many cases by tarring them with the brush of anti-Semitism. They are even willing to threaten federal funding for university-based Middle East studies centers, which have a long and distinguished history of providing the United States with thousands of people trained in the languages, politics, cultures and histories of this critical region."

UPDATE: UCLA's media relations office issued a statement saying that the university "remains dedicated to complying with all federal laws and respecting the free and open exchange of ideas representing diverse viewpoints. Academic units all across our campus are constantly working to provide programming that exposes our students and the public to a vast range of perspectives and topics. In fact, three centers at UCLA focus on Middle Eastern Affairs and regularly provide programming on Israel, among other topics: the Center for Near Eastern Studies, the Younes and Soraya Nazarian Center for Israel Studies and the Center for Middle East Development. Israeli academics, students, speakers and artists are regularly part of programming at UCLA. We recognize many subjects may engender passionate debate and difficult conversations and we encourage civil dialogue that appreciates the paramount importance of free expression, academic freedom and a respectful exchange of ideas."

September 18, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Frank Thompson, a professor of fisheries and wildlife sciences at the University of Missouri of Columbia, discusses the declining populations of songbirds. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


September 17, 2014

Ten professors were among the 21 people named as the latest class of MacArthur Fellows. The fellowship, from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, provides $625,000 over five years, no strings attached. Many refer to the program as the "genius awards," even if the foundation doesn't.

Biographies of this year's fellows may be found here.

The academic winners:

  • Danielle Bassett, the Skirkanich Assistant Professor of Innovation at the University of Pennsylvania
  • Tami Bond, professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
  • Sarah Deer, professor of law at the William Mitchell College of Law
  • Jennifer L. Eberhardt, associate professor of psychology, at Stanford University
  • Terrance Hayes, professor of writing at the University of Pittsburgh
  • Mark Hersam, professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University
  • Jacob Lurie, professor of mathematics at Harvard University
  • Khaled Mattawa, associate professor of English language and literature at the University of Michigan
  • Tara Zahra, professor of East European history at the University of Chicago
  • Yitang Zhang, professor of mathematics and statistics at the University of New Hampshire





September 17, 2014

Oakwood University will next month launch the first massive open online course developed by a historically black institution. “World Religions, an Occupational Approach,” which begins Oct. 27, will be hosted on Instructure's MOOC platform, Canvas Network. The university partnered with open educational resources support provider Lumen Learning and the Center for Excellence in Distance Learning, hosted at Wiley College, to produce the MOOC.

Alcorn State and Morgan State University in late 2012 announced plans for the first HBCU-developed MOOCs, but those plans appear not to have come to fruition.


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