A University of Alabama graduate student faces criminal charges of stalking and making terroristic threats against officials there in e-mail messages, The Tuscaloosa News reported. The newspaper said that Zachary Burrell, a doctoral student in physics, had been jailed since Friday as a result of “erratic” e-mails that included video clips of a movie ("Dark Matter") that depicted a graduate student's 1991 shootings of professors and a peer at the University of Iowa. While the e-mails "did not contain direct threats to the general campus population,” according to a university spokeswoman quoted by the newspaper, a deposition filed in court said that he had been dismissed from the university for "various behavioral issues.”
Higher Education Quick Takes
Coursera, the largest platform for massive open online courses (MOOCs), on Tuesday announced Coursera Career Services, a match-making tool aimed at connecting its most talented students to companies that are looking to hire. The company will offer its students the chance to opt in to a database that employers can then browse in search of job candidates. "If you do well in a Coursera class and allow us to share that information with potential employers (who will have agreed to keep this information in strict confidence, and use only for the purpose of considering you for employment), this could make you even more appealing to employers," wrote the company in a release.
At first the service will focus on software engineering. Coursera says it has relationships with several software companies, including Facebook, Twitter, AppDirect and TrialPay, and has successfully gotten students hired during a pilot phase the company has been running for several months. As MOOC providers explore revenue models in lieu of charging tuition for their massive courses, recruiting services such as this may figure prominently. Udacity, another for-profit MOOC provider, has also been pursuing a "headhunter" model whereby companies pay for introductions to talented students.
In Coursera's contract with the University of Virginia the company lists "employee recruiting" as one of its potential monetization strategies. "Company will allow prospective employers to execute queries against end user records," stipulates the contract. "These queries might involve end user performance in relevant courses... as well as end user-supplied demographic information." A percentage of the revenue generated by Coursera Career Services would go to the universities that are running the relevant courses.
Xavier University of Louisiana is planning layoffs and other cuts to deal with a $5 million deficit created when fewer students enrolled this year than had been expected, The Times-Picayune reported. At this point, faculty members will not be subject to layoffs. The university is cutting its contribution to all employees' health insurance. Enrollment this fall is 3,178, down more than 200 from last fall, and below the 3,300-3,400 estimates the university made for the year. Officials blame the poor economy and tighter student loan eligibility rules for the decline.
The Common Application has been facing criticism from some high school counselors and college admissions officials over two changes being made: the elimination of a "free choice" essay topic, and an announcement that the essay maximum of 500 words will be strictly enforced. On Tuesday, the Common Application issued a letter defending the changes. The association said that applicants would have five essay prompts "that will allow students to thoughtfully and creatively write about themselves and their interests." The letter predicted that once the prompts are announced, people will see that applicants have plenty of options. On the length limit, the Common Application noted that colleges can (and some do) have applicants fill out supplemental forms, with essays of whatever length is acceptable to the colleges. The letter notes that Common Application members have varying ideas about essay length, but that some institutions lack the resources to review long essays or see longer essays as "a hurdle for applicants."
The American Association of University Professors has written an open letter expressing its growing concerns about Yale University’s planned joint campus with the National University of Singapore. The letter raises the fundamental question of “whether academic freedom, and the personal freedoms that are a necessary prerequisite to its exercise, can in fact be sustained on a campus within what is a substantially authoritarian regime.”
Yale professors have raised similar concerns about Yale-NUS College in the past, in addition to criticizing the process through which the liberal arts college was approved: Yale faculty never took a vote. The AAUP’s letter calls on the Yale Corporation to release all documents and agreements related to Yale-NUS, arguing that this is the only way through which “a healthy atmosphere for shared governance” can begin to be restored. The association also raises 16 specific questions that it says should be discussed in open forums. These deal largely with restrictions on speech and individual freedoms in Singapore and include: "What risks to students and faculty are inherent in forms of campus speech, from Internet postings and email messages to broadcast lectures, that may be critical of the government, its laws, and its officials, including members of the Singapore judiciary?" "Can Yale-NUS community email be protected from government surveillance, even if email is sent unencrypted?" and "What risks to students, staff, and faculty with various sexual orientations are posed by Singapore's laws?" (Singapore criminalizes gay sex.)
Yale-NUS' president, Pericles Lewis, said the letter only recently came to his attention. In a statement, he reaffirmed that "academic freedom will be a bedrock principle of the college." Lewis' statement does not address restrictions on speech and personal freedoms specific to the Singaporean context, but states that the college's personnel practices are being developed based on its policies of academic freedom and non-discrimination.
Officials at Pennsylvania State University are condemning a party by Chi Omega sorority at which members wore sombreros and fake mustaches and held signs saying "Will mow lawn for weed and beer" and "I don't cut grass, I smoke it," WTAJ News reported. A blog published a photograph of the event, setting off debate over the party.
About 150 Emory University students rallied in the institution's quad Tuesday afternoon to protest program cuts that the university's College of Arts and Sciences announced in September. In a news release, protesters said the administration was not taking time to listen to their concerns. Administrators disputed that charge, saying they had sponsored forums and that the university has not moved forward on any changes since the September announcement. The university's president met with a small group of protesters for more than two hours Tuesday afternoon to discuss their concerns.
As President Obama's first term nears an end, two Education Department officials -- Russlynn Ali, head of the department's Office of Civil Rights, and Justin Hamilton, the department's chief spokesman -- are leaving the federal government. Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights, headed an office widely perceived as more aggressive than its predecessors on issues like such as Title IX and sexual harassment. Seth Galanter, the office's deputy assistant secretary for policy, will take her place as acting assistant secretary. Hamilton plans to work on education reform outside the federal government; Daren Briscoe, a former deputy press secretary, is acting press secretary.
The departures are among several from education policy positions as Obama's first term draws to a close. Zakiya Smith, a key White House adviser on higher education policy, left in November for the Center for American Progress.
The chancellor of Patrick Henry College, an evangelical Christian college in Virginia, briefly threatened legal action against authors of Queer Patrick Henry College, a blog about being gay at the institution, over their use of the college's name. In a Facebook message, Michael Farris, the college's president, said he would take legal action against Facebook to force the group to change its name because it violated the college's copyright. After the blog's authors, three anonymous students at Patrick Henry, posted about the threat, Farris rescinded it in a Facebook comment.
Franciscan University of Steubenville, a conservative Roman Catholic college in Ohio, made a similar legal threat over name use against a group of gay alumni earlier this year.