Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 3:00am

The Executive Committee of the board of the City University of New York voted Monday evening to authorize the John Jay College of Criminal Justice to award an honorary degree to Tony Kushner, reversing a controversial board decision of a week ago. The previous vote -- prompted by a single trustee who said Kushner was anti-Israel -- angered many faculty members and other artists and intellectuals who said that Kushner's views on Israel were irrelevant to the reason he was being honored (as a playwright) and that the trustee had distorted Kushner's views. Many faculty members also criticized other CUNY officials for remaining silent while Kushner was attacked at the meeting.

At Monday night's meeting, Matthew Goldstein, the chancellor of CUNY, offered a strong endorsement of honoring Kushner. "As anyone who has experienced Mr. Kushner’s work knows, he is not afraid to provoke, to reveal emotion at the gut level, but always to the higher purpose of creating for audiences the chorus of voices and complexity of intent that define our collective humanity," Goldstein said. "His expression is grounded in compassion, empathy, and intellectual rigor. In the spirit of all great artists, he challenges orthodoxy, confronts assumptions, and tests certainties, and, in so doing, ignites our imaginations, illuminates issues and ideas, and expands our vision — whether or not we agree with him, whether or not we take exception to some of his conclusions. I believe that in many ways this is also the highest ideal of the university — a search for knowledge and understanding that values questions, dialogue, and dissent."

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Steven Cohen of Columbia University’s Earth Institute examines the necessity of incorporating an environmental sustainability component into all business and public-policy degrees. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 3:00am

The Texas Senate, with a strong push from Republicans, voted Monday to allow those who hold licenses for concealed weapons to carry them at public colleges and universities, the Associated Press reported. While a majority of Texas legislators have indicated support for the measure, they had been unable to schedule final votes in either legislative chamber before the Senate tally on Monday. House action is still pending. Most higher education leaders have opposed the measure.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 3:00am

A Northwestern University psychology professor made a lot of people red in the face earlier in the spring after he allowed a man to stimulate a 25-year-old woman with a sex toy during an after-class presentation in a course in human sexuality. Offended parties can now breathe easier: the course will not be offered next year, the university said on Monday.

J. Michael Bailey ran afoul of a finger-wagging public after a “sex tour guide” he had invited to give a non-mandatory talk on sexual diversity used a motorized phallus to repeatedly induce orgasms from his naked fiancée. After initially defending Bailey, the university backpedaled after a public outcry. Morton Schapiro, the university’s president, called the demonstration inappropriate and said allowing it reflected “poor judgment” on Bailey’s part. (Schapiro later discussed the incident with Inside Higher Ed in a podcast.) Bailey apologized, and the university opened a “review” of the course. Mary Jane Twohey, a university spokeswoman, said on Monday that review is still going on and might not be made public when it concludes.

“Northwestern University’s Department of Psychology will not offer a course in human sexuality during the 2011-12 academic year,” the university said in an official statement. “That course was taught previously by Professor J. Michael Bailey, who will have other teaching assignments in the coming year. Courses in human sexuality are offered in a variety of academic departments in other universities, and Northwestern is reviewing how such a course best fits into the University’s curriculum. At Northwestern University, the dean of a college/school has the right and responsibility to determine course assignments.”

Bailey’s human sexuality course reportedly was the most popular course at Northwestern, enrolling 600 students this semester.

The university released the statement after The Daily Northwestern reported on Monday that the course was going to be discontinued. Citing several psychology department sources, the student newspaper reported that the decision had been handed down from above. The university refused to answer any questions from Inside Higher Ed about the statement, including whether “the dean of a college/school” regularly dictates course offerings to departments.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 3:00am

After a bitterly contested race for the leadership of the union representing graduate students at nine of the 10 University of California campuses, the challengers, the Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, took control of the executive committee of the statewide chapter, according to the United Auto Workers, with which the chapter is affiliated. The race featured allegations of voter intimidation, ballot tampering and ad hominem attacks, and required mediation to resolve.

"The election itself and our struggle to count every vote has already transformed our union," a statement posted on AWDU's website read. "The debate and struggle were contentious. But this struggle opened up a huge new space for thousands of our members to participate in deciding how to defend our interests as a union."

Daraka Larimore-Hall, the ousted president and head of the incumbent party, United for Social and Economic Justice, issued a statement thanking supporters "in our efforts to keep things positive and issue-focused." He added: "For our part, we look forward to working with all members to continue building a strong, united, activist union at UC.”

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 3:00am

The Michigan House of Representatives has passed a budget bill for higher education that would cut funds for any institution by 5 percent for offering benefits for any partners not based on marriage (which in Michigan is not available to same-sex partners). The measure is not in a Senate version of the bill, but many senators have previously opposed domestic partner benefits, which are offered by many Michigan universities. Michael A. Boulus, executive director of the Presidents Council of State Universities in Michigan, said that the benefits are an important tool to recruit talent to the universities, in much the same way that many of the largest businesses in Michigan offer the benefits. He said that, aside from the policy question, the legislation intruded on the autonomy of the universities.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011 - 3:00am

A second legislative committee in Louisiana on Monday approved a proposal to merge Southern University at New Orleans with the University of New Orleans, The Times-Picayune reported. The measure, strongly opposed by advocates for historically black Southern, now moves to a House vote.

Monday, May 9, 2011 - 3:00am

Harvard University scholars have noted with sadness that their former colleague -- Michael Ignatieff -- suffered a devastating political defeat last week, when Canadian voters rejected the Liberal Party he led. The Boston Globe reported that Ignatieff was "a superstar" during his years in Cambridge, well-liked by students, professors and the popular press as well. But in the Canadian election campaign, his years at Harvard were constantly used against him. One irony is that in a quote from Ignatieff's past that was used against him, he said that, if he lost, he would seek to return to Harvard. In fact, he accepted a post-election job at the University of Toronto.

Monday, May 9, 2011 - 3:00am

Many colleges have majors in religious studies or theology, but Pitzer College believes it is the first to create a major in secularism, The New York Times reported. Professors from other departments will teach courses such as “God, Darwin and Design in America,” “Anxiety in the Age of Reason” and “Bible as Literature.” Phil Zuckerman, a sociologist of religion, is organizing the new major. "It’s not about arguing ‘Is there a God or not?’” Zuckerman told the Times. “There are hundreds of millions of people who are nonreligious. I want to know who they are, what they believe, why they are nonreligious. You have some countries where huge percentages of people — Czechs, Scandinavians — now call themselves atheists. Canada is experiencing a huge wave of secularization. This is happening very rapidly. It has not been studied."

Monday, May 9, 2011 - 3:00am

A psychologist at the University of Texas at Arlington was the "intended target" in the shooting death of her husband by one of her former student clients, The Dallas Morning News reported. The former student shot and killed himself after killing the psychologist's husband. Authorities said that they came to the conclusion about the shooter's motive based on something they found in in his vehicle, but they declined to say what that was.

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