Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 3:00am

With the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association coming up early next month, some social media fun is to be expected. This year the hashtag getting the laughs is #mlatshirts -- with the words that might be expected on a T-shirt getting packed for the meeting. Among our favorites:

  • "Will refute you for food."
  • "This is less of a question and more like three related comments."
  • "Let me problematize that for you."
  • "Your shirt is interesting, but let's talk about MY shirt."
  • "Our Department Strives To Show Its Professionalism By Interviewing Candidates In A Comparatively Large Hotel Bedroom."
  • "Just looked through the stream and saw no MOOC references. Oh, the humanities!"
  • "I'll save you the trouble of looking at my badge: I'm not worth talking to." (From an Inside Higher Ed blogger who most definitely is worth talking to.)


Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 3:00am

The Middle East Studies Association raised serious concerns about alleged violations of academic freedom in Turkey -- including the detention of students and scholars on the basis of their research into Kurdish issues -- in three letters sent to the country’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, on Wednesday.

Collectively, the incidents described in the letters seem to point to “a systematic policy of denying the right to do research and writing and publishing on the subject of Kurdish rights,” said Asli Bâli, an assistant professor of law at the University of California at Los Angeles who conducted research on the legal proceedings against Turkish students and scholars on behalf of MESA and its Committee on Academic Freedom. “In a way, that is related to a broader campaign to prevent civil society organizing and civil and political action on the part of Kurdish communities and pro-Kurdish communities and scholars in general, whether they be Turkish or foreign," Bâli said. She added that while Kurdish scholarship has been especially targeted, leftist scholarship in general – on issues such as the environment, gender and race – has come under increased scrutiny in Turkey.

One letter expresses concerns about seven students at Turkish universities – representative of hundreds, Bâli said – who have been detained and accused of membership in the Union of Kurdish Communities (KCK) by virtue of their academic work. According to the letter, undergraduate and graduate students alike have been accused of membership in the KCK – a prohibited organization in Turkey -- on the basis of such evidence as attending or lecturing at an academic forum on Kurdish rights and civil society, and traveling to Iraqi Kurdistan for field research.

A second letter details dismay regarding the ongoing trials of Pinar Selek, a Ph.D. candidate in political science at the University of Strasbourg, in France, who has, since her arrest in 1998, been thrice acquitted of the charge of membership in the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a designated terrorist organization. Three times those acquittals have been reversed, forcing a retrial. The letter states that evidence linking Selek to a bombing at Istanbul Spice Market is "extremely weak" – a claim echoed by Human Rights Watch, which notes that experts think a gas leak was the source of the explosion – and asserts that the only evidence connecting Selek to the PKK is her own academic research on the group.

The final letter details concerns about a broad array of alleged academic freedom violations on the part of government-appointed university administrators, including the alleged censorship of an article on racism and the cancellation of two academic conferences, on gender equality and prisons, reportedly due to the participation of members of the pro-Kurdish (and legal) Peace and Democracy Party (BDP).Taken together with the detentions, "actions such as the intervention of government-appointed university administrators to prevent academic publications or events concerning issues deemed sensitive by the government make it appear that the Turkish government has undertaken a campaign to inhibit the dissemination of knowledge, the conduct of academic research and even the right to an education where any of these protected activities overlap with criticism of the government or a focus on issues deemed politically sensitive, such as Kurdish rights," the letter states.

The Turkish embassy in Washington did not offer a response Wednesday afternoon or evening.

Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 4:05am

Some arts and sciences faculty members at New York University are pushing for a vote of no confidence in President John Sexton, The New York Times reported. Frustrations concern local issues (an expansion plan) and Sexton's drive to have the university open campuses in locations all over the world, including in countries that lack academic freedom. Sexton's supporters cite the university's increasing ability to attract top students and faculty members. Complicating the discussions at NYU is a debate over whether various bodies have the authority to hold a vote of no confidence.


Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 3:00am

An Oklahoma State University spokesman said administrators declined to notify police about allegations that a fraternity member had sexually assaulted nearly a dozen new members because it believed the alleged perpetrator was protected under the Family Educational Rights and Protection Act, Oklahoma’s News On 6 reported. The university waited nearly three weeks to go to police, handling the allegations through its own disciplinary procedures at first. FERPA, which explicitly states that the rule should not prevent institutions from approaching police with personally identifiable information about a possible crime, prohibits colleges from releasing identifying information in students’ private educational records. Further, as Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, pointed out on the FERPA Fact blog, universities are required under the Clery Act to issue timely warnings to campus whenever criminal behavior “represents a threat” to people there. Oklahoma State said it found a male student responsible for four sexual misconduct violations; the student has been suspended for three years. Local police are investigating the case.

Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 4:07am

David Geffen, the entertainment executive and philanthropist, has donated $100 million to the University of California at Los Angeles for scholarships for medical students. UCLA's medical school was named for Geffen in 2002 after he donated $200 million to support it. The new gift is designed to cover all medical school expenses for top students, allowing them to graduate debt-free.


Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 3:00am

Relatively few American families used tax-favored education accounts to save money for college, and those who did disproportionately had higher incomes, the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued Wednesday. The GAO report found that just 3 percent of families had funds in 529 or Coverdell Education Savings Accounts in 2010.

Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 4:09am

Sudan is seeing major student protests this week in the wake of the deaths of four students at Gezira University who participated in a protest over tuition rates, AFP reported. Protest organizers said that the four students were among participants in a peaceful protest that was disrupted by a pro-government student group. University officials said that the students drowned.


Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Stephanie Pfirman of Columbia University explains the importance of the geographic area destined to be the last refuge for year-round Arctic sea ice. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 3:00am

California Competes, a group led by U.S. Department of Education veteran Robert Shireman, on Wednesday filed a legal challenge to the shared governance structure of California's community college system. In a filing with the system's Board of Governors, the group seeks to overturn what it asserts are veto powers for local academic senates. The resulting "tangled bureaucracy" has contributed to accreditation crises in the system, the group said, most notably at the City College of San Francisco. Faculty leaders, however, have said that the system's governance structure functions properly and that governing boards have the power to act.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - 3:00am

The board of Morgan State University announced Tuesday that it had decided not to renew the contract of President David Wilson, meaning that he will leave office in June, after three years in the position. The official announcement gave no reason for the decision. The Baltimore Sun reported that the university's board was divided on the issue, and made the decision last week in a "heated" meeting. Recent months have seen two shootings on the campus, and the indictment of a professor for obtaining grants fraudulently, but the Sun quoted sources as saying those incidents were not behind the ouster. The Sun quoted from a letter Wilson sent to the campus in which he suggested he was being punished because he had been considered for another job (even though he withdrew from contention).

Marybeth Gasman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who studies historically black colleges such as Morgan State, wrote a column for The Washington Post questioning the way the university's board decided to end Wilson's presidency. "Wilson is an exceptional leader," she wrote. "When I look across the landscape of university presidents for an example of an individual who is ethical, personable, forward-thinking, brave, data driven, charismatic, scholarly and committed to student-centered education, I think of Wilson."



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