Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 25, 2014

The Modern College of Northwest University, located in Xian, China, has banned students from celebrating Christmas, Reuters reported. Banners are displayed around campus with slogans such as, "Strive to be outstanding sons and daughters of China, oppose kitsch Western holidays" and, "Resist the expansion of Western culture."


December 24, 2014

Students at Hebrew University of Jerusalem will have Thursday off in celebration of Christmas, The Jerusalem Post reported. This year will be the first with Christmas as a university day off. The university is also giving a new day off for the Muslim holiday Id al-Adha. A spokesman said that the days off were added “in order to accommodate students of all religions studying at the university and to respect the holidays.”

December 23, 2014

The National Student Clearinghouse is celebrating the holiday season by releasing Santa's transcript. He double majored in business administration and adolescent behavior at North Pole University, taking courses such as celestial navigation and reindeer breeding. The clearinghouse, always sensitive to federal privacy laws, noted that Santa gave permission for his transcript (see below) to be released.

If anyone has Judah Maccabee's transcript -- we believe he studied political science at the University of Modiin -- we would share that document as well.

December 22, 2014

Bowdoin College announced Monday that it will provide full financial aid to Justin Ramos, a sophomore who is the son of one of the police officers who was slain Saturday in New York City. A statement from the college pledged full support for Ramos. "This is in keeping with Bowdoin’s practice of meeting the full financial need of each of our students for all four years. We are grateful for the Yankee Silver Shield Foundation’s offer to assist, but Bowdoin has it covered," the statement said.


December 22, 2014

Bill Maher, the comedian (right), gave the commencement address at the University of California at Berkeley on Saturday -- an address that many Muslim and other students tried to get called off.

According to a Berkeley spokesman, a handful of students rose and turned their back on Maher when he spoke. They held a sign that said "Don't Maher the commencement." They were silent and did not disrupt his speech. According to press accounts, Maher briefly touched on the opposition to his speaking, saying, "If you call yourself a liberal, you have to fight oppression from wherever it comes from.... That's what makes you a liberal." He also urged Berkeley students to avoid group think. "That's the last thing I'll suggest to you -- be a free thinker," he said.

The choice of Maher as commencement speaker sparked anger over his statements criticizing Islam, although others noted that Maher is equal opportunity when it comes to those he criticizes, and that he has made both serious comments and jokes that have caused offense of many groups. More than 4,000 people signed an online petition calling on Berkeley to rescind the invitation. Nicholas B. Dirks, chancellor at Berkeley, said that the university could not withdraw invitations because of the political comments made by speakers.

In advance of commencement, Dirks met with some of the students who wanted the university to call off Maher's appearance, and sent these students a letter. In the letter, Dirks wrote: "Free speech is a basic right and is not only constitutionally protected but also a value that is encoded in the DNA of Berkeley. And yet the current controversy makes clear the extent to which free speech can cause pain, offense, and even outrage. Our history – as a campus, as a community, and indeed as a nation – makes clear this is an inevitable effect of free speech, and it is a fact that courts have invariably stricken efforts to legislate limits on free speech that may be judged as offensive or even intentionally hateful.  And yet as a campus we have, particularly lately, come to be increasingly cognizant of and concerned about the ways in which expression can create and/or intensify stereotypes – essential categories of assumption, prejudice, and attribution – about different identities and social categories."

He added: "While I recognize and agree with some of the concerns that have been expressed, any effort to constrain or limit the conditions around invitations to speak – whether at commencements or other public event – risks compromising the fundamental values that free speech protects.  Who can speak freely?  Which opinions might be justly censored?  What criteria can be imposed neutrally and fairly?  Who judges?  How can feelings of offense, or hurt, constitute legitimate grounds for limits not just on speech but on invitations to speak on campus?  Surely a university – especially this university — has an obligation to promote speech, opinion, and argument at its most robust."




December 22, 2014

The U.S. Department of Education last week issued a letter with guidance on a form of competency-based education. The document addresses direct assessment programs, which are not based on the credit-hour standard. So far only a handful of colleges have received federal-aid eligibility for such programs.

December 22, 2014

The Modern Language Association is planning at its Delegate Assembly early next month to discuss how to deal with controversial issues, but does not plan to vote either for or against the boycott of Israeli universities. At the January 2014 meeting of the Delegate Assembly, MLA member engaged in intense debate over a resolution that criticized Israel (but did not call for a boycott). The Delegate Assembly approved the measure, but it failed to gather enough voting support when put to the membership to be declared MLA policy.

On Friday, Rosemary G. Feal, executive director of the MLA, sent members a letter in which she said that the association had received two resolutions about the Israel boycott -- one in favor and one against. The committee that organizes the Delegate Assembly asked the authors of both resolutions to withdraw them (which they did) and the Delegate Assembly will instead have a broad discussion of "The MLA in the World: How Should the MLA Engage With Controversial Issues?" Subtopics of that discussion will include:

  • Energizing the Delegate Assembly as a Democratic Institution: The Resolution Process
  • Institutional and Individual Boycotts: How Can the MLA Approach This Issue?
  • What Is the Relation of Boycotts to Academic Freedom?
  • How Should the MLA Respond to Problems with Faculty Governance and Retaliation Against Public Speech?


December 22, 2014

The president of the American Anthropological Association on Friday issued a statement calling on anthropologists to act in response to the issue of police killings of unarmed black men.

“In the United States, too many black Americans are killed by officers of the law. As anthropologists, we must speak out whenever our common humanity gives way to discrimination, prejudice and violence. We must speak out whenever anyone acts in ways that accords the full rights of personhood to some but not all. In this case, these injustices are perpetrated by those who are trained to protect us all, requiring a radical re-examination of the processes and structures that produce these tragedies on a regular basis," said the statement from Monica Heller, a professor at the University of Toronto. "Anthropologists can, and do, contribute to this re-examination by showing how structural inequality makes racism and race-based violence commonplace, whether it is motivated by individuals’ conscious intent or not, and in particular how officers of the law come to perpetrate such violence. It is time now to join with others to undo that process. Because it stops today.”

December 19, 2014

The Texas A&M University Board of Regents called off a planned meeting Thursday at which members had been expected to rename Academic Building on the College Station campus for Rick Perry, an Aggie alumnus who is ending his tenure as governor of Texas. Academic Building has had that name and a prominent spot on campus and in student and alumni hearts since it was completed in 1914. While Perry had earlier in the week talked about being pleased with the honor, he issued a statement Thursday saying that some parts of the university are too central to be named for anyone, so he did not want this honor.

Many students and alumni -- even those who back Governor Perry politically -- were taken aback by the plan to rename Academic Building. Social media is full of illustrations (such as the one above) that were part of the campaign against the name change. The Battalion, the student newspaper, published an editorial saying in part: "The absurdity of the idea goes well beyond the irony of putting Perry (and his well-documented sub-2.5 G.P.A.) on A&M’s academic hub, which in 2014 celebrates its 100th birthday. The regents shouldn’t name the Academic Building after the governor. Not because he’s not qualified, but because no one is." The editorial noted that it was quite legitimate for Texas A&M to honor a long-serving governor and alumnus such as Perry, but that there had to be a better way to do so.

December 19, 2014

Harvard University's top officials are disavowing a decision by its dining operations to stop using the products of SodaStream, an Israeli company that sells machines to produce sparkling water. SodaStream has a factory in the West Bank, and while the company says that the factory provides for the livelihoods on equal terms of Palestinians and Israel Arabs (as well as Israeli Jews), SodaStream has become a target of those seeking to boycott Israel. Harvard officials say that they were unaware that their dining operations, responding to the concerns of students opposed to SodaStream, had dropped the company's products. They learned of this development from an article in The Harvard Crimson, the student newspaper.

Alan M. Garber, Harvard's provost, released this statement: "As President [Drew] Faust has indicated to members of the Harvard community who have made inquiries, she and I both learned of this issue from today's Crimson. She has asked staff to get to the bottom of how these conversations started and to learn more about where matters currently stand. Regardless, Harvard University's procurement decisions should not and will not be driven by individuals' views of highly contested matters of political controversy. If this policy is not currently known or understood in some parts of the University, that will be rectified now."

Harvard Dining Services has since issued a statement that it will not let politics enter into decisions about which products to use. "We value and regularly seek input on a wide range of issues from members of the community who use HUDS facilities," the statement said. "In this instance, we mistakenly factored political concerns raised by students on a particularly sensitive issue into a decision on soda machines. As the president and provost have made clear, our procurement decisions should not be driven by community members’ views on matters of political controversy."



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