Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 25, 2013

San Jose State University announced late Friday it has that it has suspended a fourth student in connection with the alleged racial harassment of a black freshman for months during the fall semester. The case involves allegations that suitemates of the black freshman taunted him with racially charged names, posted photographs of Hitler in their room, and at times tried to put his head in a bicycle lock. Authorities charged three San Jose students Wednesday, and as word spread Thursday, many on the campus were outraged. Friday's announcement by the university said that the involvement of the fourth student had only recently come to light.

President Mohammed Qayoumi announced as well on Friday that he had met that morning with Reverend Jethroe Moore, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, and that they had agreed to hold a joint press conference today, that the would co-host a campus forum in December on racial issues on campus, and that the university would offer a lecture series in the spring on diversity and tolerance issues.

On Saturday, the San Jose NAACP chapter called for prosecutors to change the charges against the students from misdemeanor hate crime and battery to felony hate crime and false imprisonment, The Los Angeles Times reported. "This is not simple hazing or bullying," Reverend Moore said. "This is obviously racially based terrorism targeted at their African-American roommate.


November 25, 2013

New guidance from Universities UK on hosting controversial speakers on campus suggests that, in regards to the issue of gender segregation at "ultra-orthodox" religious events, segregation from right to left is preferable than front to back and “a balance of interests is most likely to be achieved if it is possible to offer attendees both segregated and non-segregated seating areas, although if the speaker is unwilling to accept this, the institution will need to consider the speaker’s reasons under equalities legislation.”

The guidance, which is intended to help universities balance their legal responsibility to protect freedom of speech while also meeting the requirements of nondiscrimination legislation, also states that “Ultimately, if imposing an unsegregated seating area in addition to the segregated areas contravenes the genuinely held religious beliefs of the group hosting the event, or those of the speaker, the institution should be mindful to ensure that the freedom of speech of the religious group or speaker is not curtailed unlawfully.”

The guidance from the British presidential association, which includes a number of legal caveats and issues to consider in any given case, is likely to be controversial. The University of Leicester and University College London both found themselves under scrutiny last year after word got out that Islamic speakers invited to the campus addressed audiences segregated by gender. The Telegraph’s deputy women’s editor, Louisa Peacock, has called the new Universities UK guidance “outrageous. What is the point of a university's equality policy -- designed to promote equal rights between men and women of all faiths -- if it cannot or will not be enforced properly?” 

November 25, 2013

Students at three colleges in the last week have faced criticism over ethnic or racial themes or costumes at parties:

  • Randolph-Macon College officials are investigating a fraternity party at which some students dressed either as "illegal immigrants" or "border control agents," and at which the latter group tried to "catch" the former, WWBT NBC 12 reported. Mark Heideman, a member of Kappa Alpha, which hosted the party, said that "it was definitely not meant to be racist whatsoever."
  • Two white students at Lee University have apologized for going to a rap-themed party in blackface and with T-shirts featuring forms of the n-word, WTVC News 9 reported.
  • California Polytechnic State University at San Luis Obispo is investigating an off-campus party held by a fraternity and a sorority with the theme "Colonial Bros and Nava-Hos," The Tribune News of San Luis Obispo reported. The men dressed in colonial attire while the women wore scantily clad costumes with Native American themes. One fraternity member (whose house was not involved) told the Tribune News that the party wasn't meant to be offensive. “Personally, I don’t think it was meant to be racist,” he said, given that many Greek parties involve "guy-and-girl" themes. “It’s unfair,” he said. “We are taught that Thanksgiving is Pilgrims and Indians.”
November 25, 2013

With Friday's announcement that it had raised another $20 million in venture capital funding, the massive open online course provider Coursera's Series B round has reached $63 million in total. The company pegged that number at $43 million as recently as July. GSV Capital, Learn Capital and three universities that produce Coursera courses supplied the additional funding. The $20 million will be invested in "ongoing technological developments, strategic partnerships and the build-out of Coursera's product and recruiting teams," according to a news release.

November 25, 2013

Indiana Wesleyan University and Houghton College, in New York, have announced plans for collaboration. Both colleges are part of the Wesleyan Church. While details of the partnership haven't been finalized, the idea is to share areas of expertise. Houghton is a traditional, residential institution, and Indiana Wesleyan officials hope to learn from its strengths in internships and study abroad. In turn, Indiana Wesleyan plans to share its approaches to growth and serving campuses off of its traditional campus. Indiana Wesleyan has nearly 3,000 students on its main campus, but has grown considerably with adult students (more than 12,500 of them) who enroll online or at centers in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio. The university also recently announced plans to acquire a Christian-oriented arts college in Australia.



November 25, 2013

The winner of the annual football game between Claremont-Harvey Mudd-Scripps Colleges and Ponoma-Pitzer Colleges (all members of the Claremont Colleges consortium, in which colleges join forces to filed teams) used to display a Peace Pipe trophy -- a tradition discontinued this fall after some students said the practice was culturally insensitive.

After hearing concerns from members of the Claremont Colleges' Indigenous Student Alliance that using a Peace Pipe — a sacred object for many indigenous groups that is used in religious rituals — was akin to using a cross or a Menorah, the colleges decided to end use of the symbol, said Ponoma-Pitzer sports information director Jeremy Kniffen said. The students were uncomfortable with the symbol being used as a sports trophy, he said.

The tradition of awarding the Peace Pipe trophy to the game winner began in 1959 when Claremont Colleges went from having one common athletic program to two. The trophy was chosen to symbolize a friendly rivalry between the two teams, Kniffen said. But there’s no symbolic story behind the trophy, so there “wasn’t really a compelling reason to keep it, other than that’s what we’ve always had,” he said. Claremont-Harvey Mudd-Scripps won this year’s game, 29-23, but no trophy was awarded. The athletic departments will design a new trophy before next year’s game that will include the scores of past games, but no reference to the pipe.

November 25, 2013

The Harvard Ichthus, a student-run journal of Christian thought, on Saturday apologized for publishing an essay last week that said Jews brought suffering upon themselves for killing Jesus. The anonymous author of the piece claimed to be Jewish (although he urged all Jews to become Christians). The article has since been removed from the site but Talking Points Memo published excerpts, such as this one: "We, the Jews, rejected God and hung Him up on a cross to die, and thus we richly deserved all of the punishments that were heaped on our heads over the last 2000 years." The apology in the journal said that editors should have been more careful about monitoring what was being published. "[W]e apologize for publishing offensive content on our blog. While this does not excuse the post of responsibility, it was not the intent of the writer, nor the Ichthus, to present a piece that is anti-Semitic in nature or in interpretation. The writer holds nothing but love for his heritage and feels very deeply for the welfare of the Jewish people. The blog was not intended to communicate animosity, but concern and a sincere desire to communicate the necessity of salvation through Jesus Christ alone."


November 25, 2013

Syracuse University became the second American university, after Brandeis University, to sever its ties with Al-Quds University after a Nov. 5 protest on the Palestinian campus in which demonstrators used the traditional Nazi salute and honored "martyred" suicide bombers. Saying that the university "does not condone hatred or intolerance in any way," Syracuse announced that it would suspend the relationship between Al-Quds and its Institute for National Security and Terrorism. Meanwhile, Bard College said that it would continue its partnership with Al-Quds, which includes a joint master of arts in teaching program and a liberal arts college.

In a statement, Bard said that immediately following the protest, Al-Quds contacted the college “and provided an unequivocal denunciation of that protest, a clear condemnation that has since been repeated publicly, as recently as yesterday, by the university’s president, Sari Nusseibeh. Suggestions that the university administration condoned the actions of a very small group of students within a university of 12,000 are simply inaccurate.”

“The incident and the ensuing controversy demonstrate that it is more important than ever to maintain our educational partnership with Al Quds," the college said.

In severing ties with Al-Quds, Brandeis cited not only the Nov. 5 protest but also the administration’s “unacceptable and inflammatory” response to it. In a statement, Al-Quds espoused values of equality and mutual respect but also criticized “vilification campaigns by Jewish extremists” who “spare no effort to exploit some rare but nonetheless damaging events or scenes which occur on the campus of Al Quds University…. These occurrences allow some people to capitalize on events in ways that misrepresent the university as promoting inhumane, anti-Semitic, fascist, and Nazi ideologies. Without these ideologies, there would not have been the massacre of the Jewish people in Europe; without the massacre, there would not have been the enduring Palestinian catastrophe.”

November 22, 2013

Wellesley College’s Freedom Project plans to issue an invitation to Xia Yeliang to be a visiting fellow, Thomas Cushman, the director of the project and a professor of sociology, announced on Thursday. More than 130 Wellesley faculty members have signed an open letter in support of Xia, a professor of economics at Peking University who was dismissed in October in what’s been widely viewed as retribution for his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government. (Peking University objects to this characterization, and has said that Xia’s contract was not renewed because his teaching and research records were sub-par.)

In a statement, Wellesley confirmed that though an invitation has not yet been extended, the college is moving forward with the possible appointment of Xia as a visiting fellow. "While the circumstances of Professor Xia's contract non-renewal with Peking University and his academic record may be in dispute, his credentials as an advocate of academic freedom and human rights are solid," the statement says. "It is Xia's experience as a practitioner of dissent that fits well with the work of the Freedom Project." (This article has been updated from an earlier version to include Wellesley's statement.)

Wellesley faculty voted earlier this month to proceed with the college's institutional partnership with Peking despite the academic freedom concerns raised by Xia’s termination. 

November 22, 2013

U.S. Rep. Tony Cardenas this week introduced federal legislation that would require high-revenue sports programs to guarantee scholarship athletes the opportunity to finish their education on academic scholarships if they are cut from their team, provided they maintain their academic standing. Currently, athletic scholarships are renewable on an annual basis and can be revoked at the end of the season; for instance, if an athlete performs poorly, is injured or doesn’t vibe with a new coach. The Collegiate Student-Athlete Protection Act would also require colleges to teach athletes about concussions, life skills and finance strategies, and to cover insurance deductibles and health care premiums for low-income athletes.


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