Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 3, 2018

An investigation by the Canadian Association of University Teachers found that McGill University failed to protect the academic freedom of an institute director who resigned in 2017 following the publication of a controversial op-ed. Further, the report found fault with what it described as McGill’s position in the wake of the resignation that academic freedom protections do not extend fully to academic administrators.

The report from CAUT concerns the resignation of Andrew Potter from his position as director of McGill’s Institute for the Study of Canada after an op-ed he published on “social malaise” in Quebec caused widespread outrage (Potter retained his associate professorship for the remainder of a three-year term).

The CAUT report finds no conclusive evidence regarding whether Potter was pressured to resign. But the report takes issue with various public statements by McGill principal and vice chancellor Suzanne Fortier about the resignation that it says suggested the McGill administration viewed the academic freedom of administrators as “conditional upon its exercise not undercutting their efficacy as administrators or stirring public controversy.”

“The Fortier doctrine has a profoundly negative impact on the academic freedom of administrators, on those currently outside the current body of administrators who might be interested in making contributions to administrative work, and by implication on faculty members who participate in the work of units bound by such a doctrine,” says the report, which was authored by Mark Gabbert, an associate professor of history at the University of Manitoba.

Fortier issued a one-sentence statement in response to the CAUT report. “We disagree with the report’s conclusions with respect to academic freedom at McGill University,” she said.

December 3, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part of University at Albany Week, Mariya Zheleva, assistant professor in the department of computer science, explores whether the radio spectrum is a finite resource. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 30, 2018

A professor at Virginia Commonwealth University is not teaching after he allegedly called campus security on a black adjunct professor eating breakfast in a classroom last month, NBC 12 reported. Caitlin Cherry, an adjunct who has since been hired as a full-time professor through 2020, according to NBC 12, was sitting eating in her assigned classroom when another, unnamed, professor looked inside. Shortly after, campus security arrived and questioned Cherry, who happened to be wearing her university ID badge. A campus equity office reportedly investigated the incident and found that no laws were broken. But the professor will not be teaching for the rest of the semester, according to News 12. Michael Rao, university president, said in an all-campus memo that when “our core values of diversity and inclusion are impinged upon for some of us, then every one of us loses an opportunity for growth, learning and success.”

November 30, 2018

The Trump administration is considering new measures to vet Chinese prospective students due to continuing concerns over espionage, Reuters reported. The administration is considering steps including checking student phone records and searching their Chinese and American social media accounts “for anything that might raise concerns about students’ intentions in the United States, including affiliations with government organizations,” according to Reuters, which quoted an unnamed U.S. official and three congressional and university sources. The State Department previously reduced the duration of visas for Chinese graduate students in certain high-tech fields from five years to one year over spying concerns.

November 30, 2018

Scores of faculty members and students at the University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point are seeking the ouster of Chancellor Bernie Patterson and Provost Greg Summers over their plan to restructure the university and eliminate majors, according to the Journal-Sentinel. Professors and students held a news conference on campus Thursday criticizing Patterson and Summers and sent a letter to the university system’s Board of Regents saying that the chancellor and provost “cannot steer us effectively through our current crisis, or the challenging years ahead.”

In a revised plan to address declining enrollments and a budget shortfall and to create a “new kind of regional university,” Patterson and Summers recently proposed eliminating a half dozen humanities majors to create more “career-focused” paths for students. Layoffs are possible. Professors continue to doubt whether the new plan will help their ongoing problems, which some attribute to Patterson’s management. Patterson reportedly said in response to the no-confidence letter that “steps taken thus far may not have been noticed by everyone on campus because our goal has always been to minimize the impact on our academic programs.”

November 30, 2018

Online learning provider Udacity has laid off nearly a quarter of its staff members.

Sebastian Thrun, the company's co-founder, said in a written statement that Udacity made the “painful decision to part ways with 125 employees in the U.S. and Brazil” in order to “realign” the company’s focus.

VentureBeat reports that 70 staff members will be laid off in Brazil and Udacity is closing its São Paulo office. The remainder of the cuts will come from U.S.-based departments that work on course content creation.

Udacity plans to “increase investment in growth areas like enterprise and career development,” said Thrun. The company's board voted in favor of the reorganization last month, shortly after former CEO Vishal Makhijani stepped down.

The company earlier this year quietly eliminated a program to give Nanodegree Plus students their money back if they can’t find a job.

November 30, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Alexandra Kosiba, researcher in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Vermont, explores why red spruce trees have made a rebound in the northeastern U.S. after years of decline. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 29, 2018

Elizabeth Midlarsky, a Jewish professor who is a scholar of the Holocaust, found two large swastikas spray-painted in her office at Teachers College, Columbia University, on Wednesday, The New York Daily News reported. The slur "yid" was also spray-painted. Thomas Bailey, president of Teachers College, said that the institution is working with police to find out who vandalized the office. Bailey sent a letter to the campus in which he said, "We unequivocally condemn any expression of hatred, which has no place in our society. We are outraged and horrified by this act of aggression and use of this vile anti-Semitic symbol against a valued member of our community."

November 29, 2018

A federal judge approved a settlement Wednesday that erases more than $500 million in student debt held by former ITT Technical Institute students.

The settlement also returns $3 million that was paid by students since the company filed for bankruptcy in 2016.

The students were represented by the Project on Predatory Student Lending at Harvard University. They alleged that ITT, a since shuttered for-profit institution, violated consumer protection laws, engaged in deceptive recruiting practices and enrolled unqualified students to generate revenue from federal and private student loans.

ITT closed 130 campuses in September 2016, two weeks after the U.S. Department of Education prohibited the institution from enrolling new students using federal financial aid. The chain also faced lawsuits from state and federal investigators before the shutdown.

November 29, 2018

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), the patent-licensing organization for the University of Wisconsin at Madison, was ordered to pay $32 million to Washington University in St. Louis after a judge ruled that WARF violated a royalties contract between the two universities, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The two universities had collaborated on medical research in the 1990s and developed a treatment for kidney disease that WARF worked to patent in exchange for a larger share of the royalties. Washington University claimed that WARF misled it by undervaluing the patent.

"The court recognized WARF’s failure to properly value the co-owned patent and the contributions of Washington University’s researcher, and to share critical information with Washington University," a spokesperson for Washington University told the Post-Dispatch. "We remain disappointed that WARF would not negotiate a resolution and that we had to resolve this matter through the court system."

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