Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 11, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute: Amir Hirsa, professor of mechanical, aeronautical, and nuclear Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, examines why the International Space Station is a fertile ground for experiments. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 8, 2018

The University of Missouri at Columbia announced 30 layoffs and the elimination of another 155 vacant positions, The Columbia Missourian reported. The layoffs are of nonfaculty positions, but about 10 non-tenure-track faculty lines are among the jobs being eliminated. The university has been facing declining enrollment and tight state budgets.

June 8, 2018

The Senate voted 50 to 46 along party lines Thursday to confirm Kenneth Marcus as the next head of the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights.

The vote drew praise from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos as well as criticism from groups who said Marcus hadn't demonstrated a commitment to defend civil rights and marginalized communities during the confirmation process.

Marcus is the president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law, a civil rights group founded to fight anti-Semitism. Previously, he served as acting assistant secretary for civil rights under the George W. Bush administration.

“We are excited and grateful to finally have Ken on our team," DeVos said in a written statement. "His vast civil rights experience will be a great asset as we fulfill our mission to serve America’s students. In his many years of public service, Ken has shown himself to be a strong advocate for victims of intolerance and discrimination, and he will not back down when it comes to protecting the civil rights of all students.” ​

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said Marcus had shown a willingness to support policies of DeVos and President Trump that contradicted civil rights law.

"The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) has a mandate to enforce core nondiscrimination laws in schools and protect children from discrimination," she said in a statement. "Those responsibilities are not optional. Now it is incumbent upon Marcus to take the mandate of the office seriously, correct the mistakes of the past, and fulfill his duties. Our children deserve no less."

As the leader of the Brandeis Center, Marcus frequently weighed in on campus debates involving speech attacking the state of Israel. His track record is less extensive on other controversial issues handled by the Office for Civil Rights, including campus sexual assault complaints.

June 8, 2018

VIDA: Women in Literary Arts on Thursday criticized the editors of Boston Review for their decision to maintain a relationship with Junot Diaz despite the recent harassment allegations against him. “The statement from the Boston Review reads like a template for rationalizing inaction, laying out point by point the logic our culture uses in its continued failure to prioritize the safety of women and non-binary people,” reads a statement from VIDA. “We fear Boston Review’s statement will silence women and non-binary writers, especially those of color, who may no longer feel safe submitting their writing, especially their fiction, to the Boston Review. What’s worse, if survivors want to be in the pages of the Boston Review, they will have to submit their fiction to a known abuser.” 

In recent weeks, and since Diaz revealed that he was the victim of child rape, a small group of female writers and scholars have publicly accused him of unwanted physical contact, sexual harassment and bullying behavior throughout his career. This week, Deborah Chasman and Joshua Cohen, Boston Review’s editors-in-chief, in an open letter said they’d reviewed the harassment allegations against Diaz and determined that they do "not have the kind of severity that animated” the Me Too movement. Diaz will remain the publication’s fiction editor.

“We know that some people will disagree with our decision,” Chasman and Cohen wrote. “Not everyone associated with Boston Review agrees with everything we say in this letter. That is how it should be. These are complex issues. Reasonable people -- who share our commitment to gender equality and are also fighting against biases in the publishing industry that marginalize women of color in particular -- will come to different conclusions.”

June 8, 2018

Giuseppe “Seppy” Basili (at right) has been named executive director of the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which both provides scholarships to low-income students and publishes research on the challenges faced by such students and policies that may stand in the way of their enrolling in colleges. Basili has led numerous of the foundation's efforts thus far. He succeeds Harold O. Levy, who stepped down from leading the foundation after he was diagnosed with ALS.

June 8, 2018

The Maricopa Community College District is fielding complaints after a professor showed clips from The Last Temptation of Christ -- a 1988 film by Martin Scorsese depicting Jesus struggling with human temptations -- during class, the Arizona Republic reports.

Gilbert residents Christine Accurso and Susan Hicks recently approached the district’s governing board, calling the film a “blasphemous video” and “slander.” The two were particularly upset about scene that shows Jesus fantasizing about having sex with Mary Magdalene. Neither Accurso nor Hicks attend Mesa Community College, but they learned about the video from a friend whose son who had previously taken the class.

Keith Crudup, a world religions professor at Mesa Community College, used the film to stimulate class discussion. At this time, college officials do not plan to require professors to warn students about the film, but the complaints did spark conversation about whether or not they should.

Advocates of warnings for potentially offensive or upsetting content, often called trigger warnings, say they help create safe spaces for students, while critics of the warnings, including the American Association for University Professors, believe the warnings infringe on academic freedom.

June 8, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Jason Corey, associate professor of music at the University of Michigan, examines why people can keep listening to the same song over and over. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


June 7, 2018

A former vice dean of USC’s medical school told state authorities Tuesday that he feared the school’s then dean, Carmen A. Puliafito, “could be doing drugs” while in charge of the school, and that Puliafito could one day be “found dead in a hotel room,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

In testimony before the state medical board, Henri Ford said he told USC’s provost that he was concerned about Puliafito’s well-being -- and was shocked that USC did not require Puliafito to seek treatment.

Puliafito headed USC’s Keck School of Medicine from 2007 until he was forced to step down in 2016. He remained in practice until July 2017.

The board is determining whether Puliafito can resume practicing medicine. It suspended his license after a November 2017 Times investigation found that he led a secret life using illegal drugs “with a circle of young criminals and addicts.”

Puliafito, an ophthalmologist and eye surgeon, has denied wrongdoing, but he admitted in testimony Tuesday that he took methamphetamine weekly with a 21-year-old woman. He said much of the blame for his drug use fell on the woman, who introduced him to the drug. She overdosed in his Pasadena, Calif., hotel room in March 2016, but survived the ordeal.

Ford, who recently was hired as dean of the University of Miami’s medical school, was called as a witness by Puliafito. In his testimony, Ford said he told USC provost Michael Quick about his suspicions after getting reports in early 2016 that Puliafito was partying in hotels with people of “questionable reputation.” Ford said he became worried about Puliafito’s mental stability, asking Quick to “verify everything with my sources. I know he did.”

Quick said in a statement Tuesday that Ford’s information led him investigate Puliafito and to end his deanship. But he said Ford didn’t share any information with him about drug use. If he had, Quick said, “I would have acted on that information immediately as it would have been a clear violation of our policies and a reportable offense.”

USC did not report Puliafito to the medical board, the Times reported, and allowed him to remain on the faculty and continue seeing patients for another 16 months, until the Times investigation disclosed that he used drugs while serving as dean. In a few cases, it reported, he abused drugs on days he worked at Keck and would return to his medical office to see patients within hours of using methamphetamine.

USC president C. L. Max Nikias last week said he would step down after another Times investigation found that the university for years ignored complaints about misconduct by George Tyndall, a campus gynecologist who was accused of improperly touching and sexually harassing patients. USC did not report Tyndall to the medical board until after the Times began interviewing USC employees about the allegations.

June 7, 2018

Drew Faust, president of Harvard University, has released a letter opposing draft regulations proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The regulations are being pushed by the Trump administration as a transparency tool, because they require all science on which regulations are based to be fully public. Administration officials have denounced the research that would be shut off as "secret science." Scientists say that the real aim is to block the use of research that has any confidentiality requirements, effectively excluding important research in epidemiology and other fields where patient records can only be used under confidentiality agreements.

Faust's letter noted the role of such studies and said that they provide essential evidence for government policy makers. Faust said that these studies aren't "secret science" but are "responsible science." Excluding these studies, she wrote, "disqualifies the best available science" on key issues.

June 7, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Thomas Mennella of Bay Path University explores flipped learning. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


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