Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 2, 2013

The denial of tenure for Cherian George, an associate professor of journalism at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, has attracted criticisms from scholars around the world, as well as from his current and former students, who have praised George's strong record as a scholar and teacher and suggested that it could only be objections to the sensitive subject of his research – press freedoms and state power in Singapore – that have blocked his tenure bid. Now, following the rejection of George’s appeal, four of his colleagues at NTU – including two former deans of the school of communication and information -- have added their voices to the chorus.

“Both the two former deans, Emeritus Professor Eddie Kuo and Professor Ang Peng Hwa, are of the view that Cherian has been one of the most valuable additions to the School in teaching, research and service,” states the letter, which is addressed to the NTU president. “He has launched some of the most innovative programs that have brought fame and funds to the School.” (Those programs are outlined in some detail in the letter.)

“It is against this backdrop that we are perplexed as to what exactly NTU expects of its staff in order to earn tenure. Those of us who are not yet tenured need to know: what more than Cherian do we have to do? Those of us who are counselors to younger staff need to explain in clear and precise terms what Cherian has failed to achieve so they may do better when their turn comes. Those of us who have helped build the School’s reputation, and indeed NTU’s integrity, need to respond to the numerous critics with unimpeachable reasons why their suspicions are misplaced. The controversy that Cherian’s case has generated is unprecedented in the School’s history and one that is causing serious damage to our academic reputation and professional integrity. It also has serious repercussions on NTU’s ability to attract top communications scholars, coming at a time especially when the School has 10 faculty vacancies to fill.”

NTU has declined to comment on George’s case, citing the confidentiality of employment matters.

May 1, 2013

Roman Catholic leaders in Pittsburgh are demanding that Carnegie Mellon University take some action over a parade by art students, one of whom mocked the pope, KDKA News reported. The female student dressed as the pope from the waist up, was naked from the waist down, shaved her pubic hair in the shape of a cross, and passed out condoms on the parade route. A statement from the university said, "We are continuing our review of the incident. If our community standards or laws were violated, we will take appropriate action."

May 1, 2013

Students at the state of Washington's 34 community and technical colleges will save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year because of low-cost textbooks produced by the state's Open Course Library, the college system said this week. The library, which received funding from the state legislature and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, spent $1.8 million to develop low-cost course material, including textbooks of no more than $30, for 81 common courses. The effort has already saved students $5.5 million since fall 2011, according to an analysis by The Student Public Interest Research Groups, an advocacy organization.

“Students are clearly the winners in the open courseware library model,” said Marty Brown, the executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, in a conference call with reporters.

Nicole Allen, a textbook advocate for the student group, said Washington's materials are used outside the state, including by a math department in Arizona. Policymakers in California and British Columbia have created similar projects, she said.

May 1, 2013

The new chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee has drafted legislation that would change the criteria under which the National Science Foundation awards grants, Science reported. Traditionally, peer review panels have had considerable latitude within their subject areas. But the draft legislation by Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, would require that all grants adhere to three criteria. Grants would have to be certified by the NSF director to be:

  • "In the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science."
  • "Groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large."
  • "Not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies."

The draft is circulating at a time that many science officials believe Republicans in Congress are trying to undercut the traditional peer review system.

Smith released a statement saying the legislation had been misrepresented.

May 1, 2013

Adjuncts and their supporters are rallying today around a Mayday Manifesto that calls for a minimum payment of $5,000 per course. "The majority of college teachers in the United States today — over a million individuals — are contingent. Most of them are so-called 'adjuncts.' They are paid poverty wages, earning an average of $2,700 per three-credit semester course. Most adjuncts make $10,000 to $20,000 a year, often working more than 40 hours per week. An estimated 80 percent lack any health or retirement benefits, and academic freedom is meaningless in the absence of any job security," says the manifesto, which was organized by Peter D.G. Brown, president of the faculty union at the State University of New York at New Paltz. The manifesto also calls for longer contracts, health insurance and other benefits for non-tenure-track faculty members.

May 1, 2013

Amid widespread reports of increased numbers of college students taking (and, in some cases, abusing) medication for attention-deficit disorders, some colleges are cracking down, The New York Times reported. These institutions are becoming more rigorous in their evaluations of students, and making it more difficult for students to obtain diagnoses that lead to drug prescriptions.

 

May 1, 2013

The American Educational Research Association issued a new report Tuesday recommending best practices and policies for schools and colleges to address bullying. Prevention of Bullying in Schools, Colleges and Universities includes 11 briefs addressing topics such as gender-related harassment, legal rights related to bullying, and school climate. The AERA task force that wrote the report was asked to identify the causes and consequences of bullying, highlight training opportunities for faculty and staff, evaluate the effectiveness of current bullying prevention programs, and asses the connections between legislation and current bullying research and interventions.

"Bullying — a form of harassment and violence — needs to be understood from a developmental, social, and educational perspective," the report reads. "The educational settings in which it occurs and where prevention and intervention are possible need to be studied and understood as potential contexts for positive change. Yet many administrators, teachers, and related personnel lack training to address bullying and do not know how to intervene to reduce it."

May 1, 2013

An open letter from 1,000 Australian academics to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, published today in newspapers across that country, calls for an end to cuts in spending at universities, The Australian reported. "Universities have made by far and away the largest saving contributions of any federal budget line item," the letter says. "We feel betrayed and taken for granted. Your government's cuts fundamentally jeopardize the future of our sector."

May 1, 2013

Coursera, the Silicon Valley-based provider of massive open online courses, is entering the teacher education market. The company is partnering with teachers colleges and other educational institutions to provide online professional development courses for K-12 teachers and parents. The company described the new effort as its first foray into early childhood and K-12 and its first partnerships with non-degree-bearing institutions, including art museums.

With this, the company may be eyeing a professional development market that includes about 3.7 million teachers in American plus millions more across the world. “We want to help K-12 students by helping their teachers,” Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng said in a statement announcing the new program.  “Many schools just don’t have the resources to provide teachers and parents the training and support they need.  By providing free online courses on how to teach, we hope to improve this.”

A revenue plan was not immediately clear. The company has been committed to offering its courses for free but is charging some users who want bona fide certificates of completion. A company spokeswoman said in an e-mail that Coursera will be working with school districts to see how the courses could be used for required professional development training and she said teachers are also encouraged to talk to their administrators to seek approval.

Gordon Brown, the United Nations special envoy for global education said in the company statement that Coursera’s plan is “an important and crucial innovation” to meet the “global challenge of training and supporting over 2 million more teachers” by the end of 2015.

Coursera's partners in the venture are University of Washington's college of education; University of Virginia's school of education; Johns Hopkins University's school of education; Match Education’s Sposato Graduate School of Education; Peabody College of education and human development, Vanderbilt University; Relay Graduate School of Education; University of California at Irvine Extension; the American Museum of Natural History; The Commonwealth Education Trust; Exploratorium; The Museum of Modern Art; and New Teacher Center.

May 1, 2013

Cherian George, an associate professor of journalism at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, has lost his appeal of the decision to deny him tenure, Yahoo! Singapore reported. George, who researches press freedoms and state power in Singapore, was denied tenure for a second time in February despite rave reviews from international colleagues and current and former students.  Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, a journalism professor at Cardiff University and an external reviewer of George’s tenure application, told Inside Higher Ed that George’s teaching and research records are “stellar… so much so that he could easily get a full professorship elsewhere in my estimation.” Theodore L. Glasser, a professor in the Department of Communication at Stanford University and George’s dissertation adviser, wrote in a letter that George’s “studies of journalism in Singapore set an agenda – for himself and for others – for research that extends far beyond Singapore.”

“Finally, I want to be unambiguously clear about what I think is at stake here," Glasser's letter concludes. "Cherian George’s career is on the line, and that’s obviously very important to him and to his friends and colleagues. But just as important is NTU’s reputation as a university of international standing. Many of us view this case as a measure of not only NTU’s commitment to academic freedom but its commitment to apply its promotion and tenure standards fairly and equitably.” Although George was promoted to associate professor in 2009, the promotion was de-coupled from the awarding of tenure.

George did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday. A spokesman for NTU declined to comment on George's case, "as it is NTU's policy to keep all employment matters confidential."

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