Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 13, 2017

Transparent GMU, a group of George Mason University students, is suing the institution to obtain grant and gift agreements between private donors and the George Mason University Foundation. They’re concerned about the university’s ties to the Charles Koch Foundation, which has donated heavily to their campus and whose previous donation to Florida State University raised concerns about influence over hiring and curriculum decisions. Transparent GMU filed a public records request for copies of relevant agreements, but the university claimed those documents fall outside the scope of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act.

“We believe the public has a right to know the details of our university’s operations, including its relationship with private donors,” student Gus Thomson said in a statement. The foundation “is doing work for our public school, so it should be held to the same disclosure standards as the university itself.”

Evan Johns, the students’ attorney, said the law “simply does not allow a public university to conceal its records by outsourcing its public business to a private company.”

Michael Sandler, university spokesperson, said via email that gifts come through the institution's foundation, a nonprofit organization "exempt from Virginia public records laws. Donors have the right to request anonymity. And the university and foundation have a responsibility to respect the privacy of those donors. The state recognizes this. If not for the support of private gifts, many of our students would not have the opportunity of higher education. And many of our researchers wouldn’t be able to pursue their work without that support, either.”

UnKoch My Campus, a group fighting donor influence in academe, has previously argued that a gift, according to federal tax regulations, is defined as an “irrevocable donation made without expectation of exchange for anything of significant commercial value.” Yet a 2016 donation from the Koch foundation, related to renaming George Mason’s law school after late U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, for example, says that if the institution doesn’t live up to various provisions, the Koch foundation can end the agreement and demand the return of all unexpended funds.

February 13, 2017

A student at Creighton University was cut in the neck by another student in a campus dormitory early Saturday morning, The Omaha World-Herald reported.

Teresa Spagna, the 18-year-old female who was sliced with a knife, did not suffer life-threatening injuries but was taken to the hospital, Omaha police officials told the World-Herald.

The incident occurred around 1 a.m. at Gallagher Hall, a campus dormitory north of downtown Omaha.

Police have arrested Christopher Wheeler, a 19-year-old Creighton student, for the attack. After cutting Spagna, Wheeler stayed in the dorm but relocated to a different floor of the building, authorities said. Police officers locked down Gallagher Hall and checked every room before they found and arrested Wheeler.

He was arrested on charges of second-degree assault, use of a weapon to commit a felony and obstructing an officer. Police still have not determined how Spagna and Wheeler know each other or what triggered the assault.

February 13, 2017

Turkish police detained at least 12 people and used tear gas to disperse protesters demonstrating against the dismissal of academics at Ankara University on Friday, Reuters reported. Dozens of academics at the university were among the more than 4,400 civil servants fired last week in the most recent round of purges following a failed coup attempt in July. More than 125,000 people have been fired or suspended from their positions and 40,000 people arrested since the coup attempt, which the government blames on the Islamic cleric Fethullah Gülen and his followers. Gülen has denied involvement.

February 13, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Akira O’Connor of the University of St. Andrews discusses a new insight into the phenomenon of déjà vu. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 11, 2017

Yale University announced Saturday that it will remove the name of John C. Calhoun (at right) from one of its residential colleges. "The decision to change a college’s name is not one we take lightly, but John C. Calhoun’s legacy as a white supremacist and a national leader who passionately promoted slavery as a 'positive good' fundamentally conflicts with Yale’s mission and values," said a letter released by Peter Salovey, the president. Calhoun is notorious in American history for his effectiveness in protecting slavery and promoting bigoted ideas about black people in the era prior to the Civil War.

Saturday's announcement marks the end of decades of debate at Yale over Calhoun, an alumnus. Last year, Yale announced that it would keep the Calhoun name on the residential college, and that doing so was part of the commitment of the college to acknowledging and teaching the history of the institution's connections with slavery. The decision led to protests and considerable condemnation. A few months later, Yale announced it would reconsider its decision, and that it would first create a system for evaluating requests for such name changes. That panel was then convened, as was another to consider whether the Calhoun name should be removed. On Saturday, Yale's board made a final decision on the matter.

Salovey's letter noted that Calhoun was different from others in history who may be honored at Yale or elsewhere. "This principal legacy of Calhoun -- and the indelible imprint he has left on American history -- conflicts fundamentally with the values Yale has long championed. Unlike other namesakes on our campus, he distinguished himself not in spite of these views but because of them. Although it is not clear exactly how Calhoun’s pro-slavery and racist views figured in the 1931 naming decision, depictions in the college celebrating plantation life and the 'Old South' suggest that Calhoun was honored not simply as a statesman and political theorist but in full contemplation of his unique place in the history of slavery," Salovey's letter said.

He added, "In making this change, we must be vigilant not to erase the past. To that end, we will not remove symbols of Calhoun from elsewhere on our campus, and we will develop a plan to memorialize the fact that Calhoun was a residential college name for 86 years. Furthermore, alumni of the college may continue to associate themselves with the name Calhoun College."

Or they may adopt the new name for the residential college, which will honor Grace Murray Hopper (right), a pioneer in computing who earned a master's degree and doctorate from Yale in the 1930s. She had a long career in the U.S. Navy, retiring with the rank of rear admiral.

February 10, 2017

Stanford University has stopped using one of the lawyers who advised students in sex assault cases after that lawyer criticized the university's policies, The New York Times reported. The lawyer, Crystal Riggins, is the only one of the six who have been in this role who worked only with those accusing others of sex assault. She was quoted by the Times in an article in December in which she complained that the university's requirement for unanimous findings by review panels made it very difficult for students to be found responsible for sex assaults. A letter she received from the university saying that she would no longer work in this role said, “Given your stated lack of confidence, it does not make sense for the university to continue to refer our students to you.”

February 10, 2017

The College Republicans at Central Michigan University are apologizing after one of the gift bags they distributed for Valentine's Day included a photograph of Adolf Hitler and the line “my love 4 u burns like 6,000 jews" [sic].

A post on the group's Facebook page said that it didn't know how the message ended up in one of its gift bags. The statement said, "At tonight’s College Republican meeting, we had a Valentine’s Day party, in which each member decorated a bag and other members placed valentines inside of others’ bags. Unfortunately, a very inappropriate card was placed into a bag without other members’ knowledge. A bag was then given away to students sitting in Anspach [the building housing the departments of English; history; journalism; philosophy and religion; political science; and sociology, anthropology and social work], once again without members’ knowledge of its contents. The College Republicans as an organization did not distribute this valentine. We in no way condone this type of rhetoric or anti-Semitism. We apologize for any offense, and want students to know that we do not tolerate this sort of behavior."

February 10, 2017

Not only did Saint Louis University's men's basketball team lose a game at St. Bonaventure University, but the visitors lost their bus, CBS and the Associated Press reported. The bus driver, apparently intoxicated, took off with the bus and was not caught until the bus was 40 miles away. Saint Louis team members posted to Twitter photographs of themselves hanging out while the search was on for their bus.

February 10, 2017

Library service provider ProQuest is opening its databases to researchers or students unable to enter the U.S. because of President Trump's temporarily suspended travel ban. The company said Thursday that it has set up an email hotline -- ContinueMyResearch@proquest.com -- for researchers whose access to the databases (which is typically granted through affiliation with a college or library subscriber) has been cut off. To restore access to the databases, researchers should include the name of their library or university, as well as their faculty adviser or research supervisor, ProQuest said.

February 10, 2017

Inside Higher Ed's Cartoon Caption Contest offers you multiple ways to participate.

Get creative and suggest a caption for this month's cartoon by clicking here, or click here to vote for your favorite from among three finalists chosen by our panel of judges.

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