Higher Education Quick Takes
Students on many campuses held rallies Thursday to back black students at the University of Missouri at Columbia and to push for better treatment of minority students at their own institutions. Here are some local press reports about rallies at Guilford College, Loyola University Chicago, and the Universities of Michigan, Washington and Wisconsin at Madison.
Thursday was also the day for the Million Student March, which led to rallies at many campuses to call for free public higher education, the cancellation of current student debt and a $15 minimum wage.
Four higher education groups on Thursday issued a joint statement criticizing the "campus carry" laws being enacted in some states to permit people to carry concealed weapons on campuses. "Colleges and universities closely control firearms and prohibit concealed guns on their campuses because they regard the presence of weapons as incompatible with their educational missions," said the statement. "College campuses are marketplaces of ideas, and a rigorous academic exchange of ideas may be chilled by the presence of weapons. Students and faculty members will not be comfortable discussing controversial subjects if they think there might be a gun in the room."
The groups signing were the American Association of University Professors, the American Federation of Teachers, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges.
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Thursday announced it had fired two more employees in a scandal over fake courses in which many athletes enrolled and received credit despite not doing any work, The News & Observer reported. The dismissals bring to six the number of employees who have lost their jobs in the scandal. A former associate dean was allowed to keep her job as a faculty member, but not to return to an administrative role. That official says the university's findings about her are unfair.
Officials at Howard University increased security on and around campus Thursday after someone claiming to be a University of Missouri student made a violent threat against students at the historically black university.
"We are aware of the threat made against the university and its students and are working with campus, local and federal law enforcement on this serious matter," Wayne A. I. Frederick, Howard's president, said in a statement. "This is an ongoing investigation. However, in an abundance of caution, the university has increased security on campus and at area Metro stations. We strongly encourage the campus community and our neighbors to stay vigilant and report any suspicious activity."
Posted anonymously in an online forum Wednesday night, the threat was made by a person who claimed to be a Missouri student who came home to Maryland because he or she "couldn't put up" with the recent protests on campus. The author of the post said if any black students were on Howard's Washington campus or using the nearby subway stations on Thursday, they would be killed. "Sometimes the best thing to do is to put stupid out of its misery," the person wrote. "After all, it's not murder if they're black."
The Federal Bureau of Investigation said it is investigating the threat, and some Howard professors canceled classes Thursday.
Earlier this week, following the resignation of the University of Missouri's president, police arrested two people in Missouri for making similar threats against black students. On Thursday, Jonathan Butler, the Missouri graduate student who went on a hunger strike last week to protest the university's handling of a string of racist incidents there, tweeted about the Howard threat. "Dear Howard," he said. "Stand strong and remember that they can't break us."
Clarion University was forced to call off a student production of the play Jesus in India because of the student actors' racial backgrounds, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Three of the five characters in the play are Indian, but they were to be portrayed in Clarion's production by two white students and a mixed-race student. When Lloyd Suh, the playwright, found out about the casting, he asked the university to assure him that the parts of Indians would be performed only by those of Asian descent. When Clarion said it couldn't make such a commitment, Suh revoked the university's right to perform his work.
Teaching assistants at the University of Wisconsin at Madison are planning to protest next week over a proposed restructuring of their working conditions and compensation. The students say they were not consulted, but rather learned of the plans to cap their maximum workload at 20 hours from emails directed to faculty members and administrators. The Teaching Assistants’ Association alleges the changes constitute a violation of the university’s promise to uphold its labor contract even after 2011 legislation pushed by Governor Scott Walker challenging public employee unions.
“The proposal to restructure graduate student worker pay is a nonstarter,” association leaders said in a statement. “University administrators' calls for more ‘flexibility’ and a reliance on ‘market forces’ will actually translate into fewer positions and workplace protections for graduate employees. This means that graduate students are going to lose their jobs, along with their paychecks and health insurance.”
John Lucas, a university spokesman, said the student association is wrong in asserting that the changes -- which don’t take effect until 2017 -- will have any impact on their take-home pay or benefits. Rather, he said, the university’s plans relate almost exclusively to a change in the administrative process by which the graduate research assistant stipends are set. “The change will have no impact on the take-home pay or benefits” for research assistants, he said. Lucas said the proposed 20-hour cap applies to international students and is designed to comply with federal requirements.
Today on the Academic Minute, Yvette Cozier, assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University, discusses how both racism and obesity are significant problems independent of one another, and yet are intertwined in the lives of some African-American women. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
As tensions continue at the University of Missouri at Columbia, a popular professor resigned Wednesday, but the university says it has not accepted his resignation. Dale Brigham, a professor of nutrition and exercise physiology, resigned after he was widely criticized on social media for sending his students email messages saying that he would give an exam as scheduled, even as many students were worried for their safety amid reports of threats to the campus. “If you give in to bullies, they win. The only way bullies are defeated is by standing up to them. If we cancel the exam, they win; if we go through with it, they lose,” he said in his emails, according to press accounts.
Amid the criticism, Brigham turned in his resignation, which he confirmed in an email message to Inside Higher Ed. But he also indicated that the university had not responded to his resignation yet. Brigham told KOMU News, “I am just trying to do what I think is best for our students and the university as an institution. If my leaders think that my leaving would help, I am all for it. I made a mistake, and I do not want to cause further harm.” A spokesperson for the university said Wednesday evening that the resignation has not been accepted.
The University of Missouri at Columbia announced Wednesday that police officers apprehended the person they believe made threats Tuesday via Yik Yak. “The suspect is in MUPD custody and was not located on or near the MU campus at the time of the threat,” said the alert from the university. Reports of online threats to kill black people at the university circulated widely Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. While the university has increased security on campus, the institution is operating on a normal schedule. Tensions at the university, where many black students say that they have experienced racist acts and a hostile environment, have run high amid protests that led to the ousters of the campus chancellor and system president. The university is encouraging people not to spread rumors and to report any security concerns.
Authorities identified the suspect as Hunter Park, 19, a sophomore at Missouri University of Science and Technology, and he was charged with making a terroristic threat.
Also charged Wednesday with making a terroristic threat on Yik Yak to kill black people was Connor B. Stottlemyre, a freshman at Northwest Missouri State University, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Authorities said that this threat did not specifically mention the University of Missouri.
Is Carnegie Mellon University's Software Engineering Institute the source that led the Federal Bureau of Investigation to identify and arrest suspects behind crimes committed on the "dark web"? Legal proceedings in a case against a Seattle man charged with conspiracy to distribute drugs last month revealed that a "university-based research institute" helped the agency identify people who were using Tor, software that complicates online surveillance by hiding its users among one another. In an article published on Wednesday, Motherboard, Vice Media's technology channel, suggested that Carnegie Mellon is the unnamed university.
Beyond relying on educated guesses from experts who have been following the case, Motherboard points to the fact that Alexander Volynkin and Michael McCord, two Carnegie Mellon researchers, previously said they had found a way to identify people using Tor. Volynkin planned to demonstrate how during a talk at a conference in early August 2014, but the talk was canceled about two weeks in advance. Then in late July, the Tor Project announced it had found and removed relays, which help anonymize users, "that we assume were trying to deanonymize users." The relays had first joined the network that January, a timeline that lines up with when federal law enforcement agents say they received information that helped them identify a staff member of an online drug marketplace.
The Tor Project on Wednesday also pointed the finger at Carnegie Mellon, saying in a blog post that the university received “at least $1 million” from the FBI for its involvement.
"This attack also sets a troubling precedent: civil liberties are under attack if law enforcement believes it can circumvent the rules of evidence by outsourcing police work to universities," the post reads. "If academia uses 'research' as a stalking horse for privacy invasion, the entire enterprise of security research will fall into disrepute. Legitimate privacy researchers study many online systems, including social networks. If this kind of FBI attack by university proxy is accepted, no one will have meaningful Fourth Amendment protections online and everyone is at risk."
A spokesperson for Carnegie Mellon declined to comment.