Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 10, 2020

The American Association of University Professors on Thursday released a statement “In Defense of Knowledge and Higher Education,” saying that “slogans and superstition are no match for the growing complexity and interconnectedness of today’s world.” The statement cites Education Secretary Betsy DeVos's past comment that faculty members tell students "what to do, what to say and, more ominously, what to think,” as well as more general concerns about “alternative facts” and ongoing attacks on expertise and science. The AAUP defines knowledge as "those understandings of the world upon which we rely because they are produced by the best methods at our disposal,” not that which is "produced merely by immediate sense impressions" or opinions.

“Colleges and universities are disciplinary, not political, institutions,” the statement continues. “They exist to serve the common good in the production and distribution of expert knowledge, as well as in the pedagogical inculcation of a mature independence of mind. Research and teaching are sites of critical thinking.” The new document, which was endorsed by groups including the Association of American Colleges and Universities and PEN America, ends with a challenge -- and a warning: “It is up to those who value knowledge to take a stand in the face of those who would assault it, to convey to a broad public the dangers that await us -- as individuals and as a society -- should that pledge be abandoned.”

January 10, 2020

Florida legislators have launched their own probe into federal funding for research universities, the first such inquiry at the state level, Science reported. The probe follows revelations that six scientists at the Moffitt Cancer Center were dismissed for failing to disclose their participation in a Chinese government-sponsored talent recruitment program. The state-level inquiry is happening in parallel with federal investigations of researchers’ disclosure of foreign ties.

January 10, 2020

Publisher Springer Nature and Projekt DEAL -- a consortium of university and research libraries in Germany -- have signed a "transformative" open-access deal.

The so-called read-and-publish agreement will enable authors affiliated with more than 700 German institutions to make their work immediately accessible to the public for a fee of 2,750 euros ($3,050) per article.

The agreement is expected to result in the publication of more than 13,000 open-access articles a year from authors in Germany. Springer described the deal as the “largest of its kind” in a news release.

The complete text of the agreement, which will come into full effect in August this year, will be published on the Projekt DEAL website toward the end of January.

January 10, 2020

At least 18 Canadian universities reported that one or more of their students, professors or researchers died in the crash of a Ukrainian airliner in Iran on Wednesday, University Affairs reported. The victims include dozens of individuals who were affiliated with Canadian universities.

“I know many of your universities have lost students, faculty, researchers, graduates,” wrote Paul Davidson, the president of Universities Canada. “The loss of any life is tragic, but the loss of so many bright, talented and engaged members of the Canadian academic community at once is utterly devastating.”

One hundred and seventy-six people, including 63 Canadians, died in the crash. American and Canadian officials both believe the plane was accidentally shot down by an Iranian surface-to-air missile, suggesting the crash was a direct result of heightened military tensions between the U.S. and Iran, as The New York Times reported.

January 10, 2020

The University of Texas at Austin on Thursday acknowledged the sexual misconduct of 17 of its 27,000 employees, including three faculty members, during the past two years, The Texas Tribune reported.

A document from the university said that three professors were reprimanded for violating sexual misconduct policies. The violations included inappropriate comments of a sexual nature, failure to report a consensual relationship with a graduate student and asking students to pose for nude photographs. The professors contested some of the allegations.

Ten of the 14 other employees on the list either resigned or were terminated, according to the Tribune.

Student government leaders and other students at UT Austin recently had called for more transparency about the disciplinary process for faculty members who had been found guilty of sexual misconduct but were permitted to continue teaching after temporary suspensions. In the last few months, one student group held sit-ins outside the office of the university provost and at the UT Tower.

January 10, 2020

Today on the Academic Minute, part of University at Albany Week, Brett Levy, assistant professor in the department of educational theory and practice, explores how to guide students to have an open mind and look for cooperation. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 9, 2020

Students and scholars based at universities in Canada were among the 176 people killed in the crash of a Ukraine International Airlines plane in Iran on Wednesday.

The Globe and Mail reported that those killed in the crash included two University of Guelph students: Ghanimat Azhdari, a Ph.D. student in the department of geography, environment and geomatics, and Milad Ghasemi Ariani, a Ph.D. student in marketing and consumer studies.

Arash Pourzarabi and Pouneh Gourji, graduate students in computer science at the University of Alberta, had traveled to Iran for their wedding. Four members of their wedding party were also reportedly onboard the plane.

Also on the passenger list were Pedram Mousavi and Mojgan Daneshmand, married professors in the University of Alberta’s engineering department, and their daughters, Daria Mousavi and Dorina Mousavi.

Western University held a vigil on Wednesday night to honor three current students and one incoming student who were killed. The university identified the victims as Ghazal Nourian, a Ph.D. candidate in mechanical and materials engineering; Milad Nahavandi, a Ph.D. candidate in chemical and biochemical engineering; Hadis Hayatdavoudi, a Ph.D. candidate in chemistry; and Sajedeh Saraeian, an incoming master's student in chemical engineering and biochemical engineering.

The University of Ottawa reported that three of its students were on the passenger list for the flight.

The University of Toronto identified six current students who were listed as passengers.

"On behalf of the entire University of Toronto community, I want to say how deeply saddened we are, and how concerned we are for the families and friends of those who lost their lives," Toronto president Meric Gertler said in a statement.

January 9, 2020

The governing board of Ohio's Eastern Gateway Community College has placed its president, Jimmie Bruce, and its vice president and chief of staff, Jim Miller, on administrative leave, according to the Herald-Star and other local outlets.

A statement from the board did not explain why the officials were placed on leave. The board said it was conducting an inquiry and that more information would be released after it meets next week.

Bruce, who has led the college since 2015, had faced scrutiny from state lawmakers over the rapid growth of Eastern Gateway's online programs. Most of the two-year college's roughly 20,000 students were enrolling online as of last year. And the bulk of those online students were from out of state, with the enrollment growth being driven by an online "free college" program Eastern Gateway created for members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a national trade union of public employees.

State lawmakers last year sought to change the law that governs performance funding in Ohio to restrict public colleges from receiving state subsidies based on students who do not live in the state. This action was taken, they said, because Eastern Gateway was drawing public money away from other colleges and using it to educate out-of-state students. Some officials with other community colleges in the state called the funding for out-of-state students a loophole in the law.

Bruce, however, said the program received a state subsidy through the formula of only $1 million in a recent year. But during three fiscal years, out-of-state students paid more than $23 million in tuition and fees to the college, he said. Last year revenue from the fast-growing program was projected to increase to $27 million.

It's unclear if the controversy had anything to do with the officials being placed on leave. In August Bruce faced a no-confidence vote by college faculty members.

January 9, 2020

Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor and candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, pledged in unveiling his economic plan Wednesday to make “major new investments” in community and technical colleges aimed at preparing workers for higher-paying jobs in new industries.

Bloomberg hasn’t yet released his full education proposal, and his All-In Economic Agenda was silent on high-profile issues like forgiving student loans.

However, Bloomberg said in the plan he’d make “education and training a national priority.” While some fast-growing industries are creating new jobs, “today’s workforce training approach is fundamentally ill-equipped to meet rapidly changing workforce and employee needs. That’s especially true given rising and changing requirements for new and changing jobs and careers.”

His proposal also did not give specifics or explain how he’d pay for it. But he pledged to spend billions in local communities for research and development in industries like agriculture, manufacturing and medicine.

The plan would invest in states, community and technical colleges, and others to work with employers to improve training for the skills employers say are needed. Additionally, the plan sets a goal to enroll one million students annually in apprenticeship programs, while making it easier for adults to get additional training, including creating a pilot program making Pell Grants available for short-term programs.

January 9, 2020

The Academy of Art University will pay about $38 million in cash so San Francisco can build affordable housing under a new agreement to resolve years-old claims that the institution illegally converted affordable housing units into student housing.

San Francisco sued the Stephens Institute, which does business as the Academy of Art University, in 2016, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The for-profit institution allegedly ignored zoning codes, laws covering signage and historic preservation rules when it converted affordable housing units.

That same year, the sides reached a $58 million settlement that included an agreement the Academy of Art would build or restore low-income housing units. But it never did so, according to the Chronicle.

Under the newly updated agreement, the institution will convert properties, restore historic buildings and pay millions in fines and fees. A City Attorney’s Office spokesman told the Chronicle the new agreement has “real teeth” for enforcement.

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