Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 14, 2018

Adjuncts at the University of South Florida voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Tuesday. The tally was 326 in favor of unionization and 91 opposed. Some 900 part-time professors on the university’s three campuses were eligible to vote. South Florida’s administration opposed unionization, saying it preferred to work with adjuncts directly on issues of pay and working conditions.

March 14, 2018

In a new opinion piece in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a Working Group of Mothers in Science considers “How to Tackle the Childcare–Conference Conundrum.” Primary caretakers of dependent children “face inequitable hurdles to fully attending and participating in conference activities because of responsibilities related to pregnancy, breastfeeding and caretaking,” the article says. “It’s a serious problem because it creates a culture of inequity for parents, with mothers generally experiencing greater disadvantages than fathers because of biological, prejudicial, and often socially driven childcare demands.” 

With solutions “seemingly elusive,” the authors wrote, “many women, and occasionally men, make a calculated decision to forego conference attendance and suffer the career consequences.” What can be done? The authors suggest that research societies and conference organizers follow what they call a “CARE” model, for childcare, accommodating families, offering resources and establishing social networks. As for childcare, the working group says that smaller conferences may offer financial support for individually arranged childcare and that larger ones may offer care onsite.

“Onsite facilities, such as those provided by the Society for Neuroscience and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, allow for frequent check-ins from parents and support breastfeeding,” the article says. “Conference organizers can now connect with companies that specialize in professional onsite conference childcare, often with their own liability policies. Providing childcare for dependent children of all ages is an important step, as is ensuring affordability for conferencing parents,” many of whom are students, postdoctoral fellows or early-career researchers.

Funding such efforts could be achieved by “redistributing the way society funds are used to support these efforts, modestly increasing registration and/or exhibitor fees, or by soliciting donations from registrants and/or exhibitors on their registration form, for which donors would receive a decal advertising their support for parents in science,” the paper notes. It further suggests that host organizations support caregivers who travel to conferences along with academics through travel and housing grants. Conferences also should allow babywearing among participants, it says, offer lactation spaces and consider “family-friendly” dates and venues in planning -- such as by avoiding holidays and weekends when childcare centers are closed.

March 14, 2018

The University of Texas System pumped $12.8 million in endowment proceeds into the Texas Oil and Gas Institute but has now decided to shut down the operation after about three years, making it the latest in a series of institutes started and quickly shuttered by the system’s Board of Regents.

In 2014, regents unanimously voted to establish the institute, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Officials at the time talked about “at least a 10-year plan,” and they went on to hire a prominent industry figure, Jeffrey Spath, as its executive director in September 2015. But shortly afterward, officials began reining in the institute’s mission. By last November they had decided to shut it down, and it will officially close by the end of this month.

Spath alone received a total of $7.1 million in compensation for working 28 months, although officials argued his pay was reasonable given lofty goals originally assigned to the institute. Spath told the American-Statesman he had support from the board when he was hired, but the support dropped over time.

“I fought uphill battles from day one on staffing and performing research,” he told the newspaper. “It just kept getting smaller and smaller in scope.”

Research had been listed as an essential function for Spath’s position, but he was soon told the institute would not be allowed to conduct research. The Texas Constitution does not allow the UT system to use proceeds from the Permanent University Fund for research. Spath also said he received “pushback” from the system when he wanted to travel and meet with energy ministers and CEOs around the world in attempts to sell data analysis services to companies.

It didn’t make sense for the institute to conduct research because other departments at Texas public universities were doing similar work, administrators said. Still, they argued the institute had accomplishments, including a considerable internship program and financial benefits.

The institute more than paid for itself by analyzing previously collected data, they said. The analysis helped to increase revenue from millions of acres of land in West Texas that is rich in oil and gas and is owned by the university system. The system leases the land to oil and gas companies in exchange for payments that are deposited into the Permanent University Fund, which benefits the UT and A&M systems.

Previously, the UT System has launched other initiatives using money from the Permanent University Fund, only to soon close them. Last month it closed an Institute for Transformational Learning, on which it spent $75 million since 2012. A year ago it ended plans for a data science institute in Houston despite already having spent more than $200 million to acquire roughly 300 acres of land.

March 14, 2018

Cornell University plans to collaborate with a property development company in Vietnam to establish a new private university in Hanoi. Cornell announced Tuesday that it “is involved in a multiyear consulting services contract that includes advising on the development of infrastructure, campus reviews, curriculum and faculty hiring” for what will be known as VinUniversity. Cornell said the planned university will have a School of Business, Hospitality and Real Estate; a School of Engineering and Technology; a School of General Education; a School of Public Health and Health Services; a School of Nursing; and a School of Medicine. VinUniversity expects to enroll its first students in fall 2020.

March 14, 2018

Photo of Maud S. MandelMaud S. Mandel, dean of the college at Brown University, has been named the next president of Williams College. At Brown, Mandel has been involved in efforts to promote diversity and inclusiveness, including the First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center. She is also a professor of history and Judaic studies, and her scholarship examines policies and practices of inclusion and exclusion in 20th-century France, and their impact on ethnic and religious minorities such as Jews, Armenians and Muslim North Africans.

March 14, 2018

A report published this month by the Association of American Medical Colleges and the School of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, examines barriers that medical students with disabilities confront and offers some ways to improve access to medical education and the profession itself.

The report outlined a range of obstacles that students with disabilities typically encounter while studying medicine. These hurdles included a lack of clear policies and procedures, uninformed disability service providers, irrelevant or nonexistent technical standards, and a lack of access to health care and wellness support.

The report suggested several ways to improve inclusion for students with disabilities. Researchers suggested that administrators and educators designate resources for disability service providers who are knowledgeable about medical education, publicize accessible policies and processes, provide access to relevant accommodations, revise technical standards in light of current practices, and normalize and facilitate access to mental health and wellness services.

To improve the culture for medical students with disabilities, who are often viewed negatively among their peers, the report offers various recommendations: regularly revising institutional policies, training staff and faculty, implementing respectful language into curricula and pedagogy, including disability in diversity-based initiatives, increasing access to information about disability services, and reviewing recruitment and hiring practices.

March 14, 2018

The American Indian College Fund has created an online repository for research into Native higher education.

The repository includes literature reviews and historical documents in addition to white papers and research from organizations such as the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the National College Access Network, Gallup and more.

The repository is free for anyone to read and aims to encourage Native student success. 

March 14, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Jennifer LeMesurier, professor of writing and rhetoric at Colgate University, describes how hands in motion can help make a commotion. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

March 13, 2018

For two years now, students at the University of California, Los Angeles, have been demanding that the university take stronger action against Gabriel Piterberg, a history professor accused of serial sexual harassment. Students have said that UCLA's decision to require him to leave the door open when meeting students shows that he should not be trusted at all with students.

On Monday UCLA announced that it had found that Piterberg "committed sexual harassment in violation of university sexual harassment policy by making unwelcome comments of a sexual nature and unwelcome physical conduct of a sexual nature (in the form of an open mouth kiss)." The university statement said that Piterberg disputed these findings, but that he had reached a settlement with the university. That settlement stipulates  "separation from employment, denial of emeritus status, denial of future employment with the University of California, denial of permanent or temporary office space or support, and denial of parking privileges and campus access beyond that which is afforded to general members of the public."

March 13, 2018

A state judge has sentenced a former University of Hartford student to probation on the criminal mischief and breach of peace charges to which she admitted guilt in harassing her roommate, The Boston Globe reported. If the former student meets the probation requirements, her criminal record could be cleared. The woman, who is white, put blood from a tampon on her black roommate's backpack and boasted on social media of putting her roommate's toothbrush "where the sun doesn't shine." Many said this was a hate crime, but the convicted student -- while admitting to rude behavior -- said race was not her motivation.


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