Academic Freedom for the Southern Community

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By  August 20, 2014

Northern Illinois University (NIU) has enacted a stunningly restrictive network use policy and is enforcing it through a filter that blocks or tags websites based on content—including speech clearly protected by the First Amendment.

NIU’s policy is in the news after one NIU student posted to Reddit a “Web Page Access Warning” he received while trying to visit the Wikipedia page about the Westboro Baptist Church from his dorm room. Betabeat reported on this and other student experiences with the filter, criticizing the public university for blocking access to a wide range of online expression.

The warning received by the Reddit user categorizes the Westboro Baptist Church’s Wikipedia page as “Illegal or Unethical.” While the warning appears to allow the student to click through to view the page, it notes that the URL the student is trying to access “has been recorded for review” and ominously states that “[u]nless you are accessing this site for legitimate business purposes, it is highly probable that the access would violate the Northern Illinois Acceptable Use Policy.” Betabeat reports that other websites are permanently blocked to NIU students.

Whether students are prohibited from visiting a website altogether or simply greeted by this bizarre threat of punishment, NIU’s enforcement of its policy is an egregious act of censorship.

As if there weren’t enough to consider when deciding to accept an academic job, there’s something new to add to the list: the offer’s stability.

Earlier this month the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign grabbed headlines when it revoked a written job offer to Steven G. Salaita, a professor who drew accusations of incivility for his fierce Twitter commentary about Israel. You’ve probably heard about the case several times over by now, but if not, here’s a quick recap: Salaita, an associate professor of English at Virginia Tech, was offered a tenured professorship in American Indian studies at Illinois, subject to approval by the university’s Board of Trustees. He gave notice to Virginia Tech and was expected to begin work at the Urbana-Champaign campus last week.

At the start of August—once the controversial tweets had drawn attention—Phyllis M. Wise, the campus’s chancellor, and Christophe Pierre, the university system’s vice president for academic affairs, told him in a letter they would not bring his appointment before the board, as “an affirmative board vote approving your appointment is unlikely.”

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August 20, 2014

Higher education consultants tend to project savings beyond what colleges can achieve, sometimes don’t understand the complexities of the institutions they advise, and fail to appreciate the politics around the changes they propose, according to a new study by the Education Advisory Board.

The group, a business that produces research for colleges on some of the same issues on which some institutions hire consultants, did a detailed analysis of cost-reduction efforts at 21 different colleges and universities that hired outside consultants.

Consultants had told those institutions they could, on average, save up to 4 percent of their operating costs if their recommendations were adopted.

The colleges, the study found, saved far less. On many campuses that have hired consultants or considered doing so, faculty leaders have questioned the cost and relative benefits of such arrangements.

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A man in Fort Worth recently offered his friends advice on Twitter: “Do not go to college for a major in liberal arts you will have no job!!” Soon after, a Twitter account he’d probably never heard of called his tweet a myth. “FACT: The unemployment rate of liberal arts majors is roughly the same as most other majors,” said a follow-up tweet, which linked to a report with more information.

The intervention came from a Twitter account fronted by two cartoon characters who swoop in whenever the value of the liberal arts is besmirched on Twitter: “Libby,” an auburn-haired student, and “Art,” a bespectacled, tweed-wearing counselor.

Libby and Art’s tweets are one prong of a public-information campaignorganized by the Council of Independent Colleges to respond to a rush of “really negative, incorrect, factless stories,” about college affordability and outcomes, says Laura Wilcox, the association’s vice president for communications.

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Professors Joyce Tolliver and Nick Burbules of the University of Illinois in their Sunday, Aug. 17, op-ed, “Salaita case calls for honest debate,” support the firing of tenured Associate Professor Steven G. Salaita. However, as chair of Illinois American Association of University Professors Committee A on Academic Freedom and Tenure, I wish to offer a different viewpoint.

They claim it is speculative to assert that Professor Steven Salaita was fired due to his comments on the Israel/Palestinian conflict: “There is, at this point, no evidence that this is the case.”

Then they undermine their stunning claim by asserting that “the real issue is with the form and substance of Salaita’s comments.”

Academic freedom requires that both substance and form are protected speech when engaging in extramural utterances. It does not differentiate between the two. It is, in fact, impossible to separate the rhetoric style from the topic. The former gives vitality and expressive force to the latter.

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Colleges navigated a time of transition over the past year in whom they employ and how those employees work.

The digital age continued to put new pressures on colleges and their employees, testing age-old policies on academic freedom and fueling further experimentation with nontraditional models of education.

Scores of faculty members discovered how quickly their words can go viral, and their lives be thrown into turmoil, because of the ease and speed with which students and others can share messages and videos across the Internet. In 2013-14, those faculty members included professors whose provocative statements in the classroom were surreptitiously videotaped by students and posted online, professors who vented frustrations on Facebook or Twitter and then watched their posts quickly spread to a wide audience, and professors whose work-related websites were combed by advocacy groups for evidence of the political indoctrination of students.

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An adjunct professor at the Corcoran College of Art and Design who co-founded an organization opposing its merger with George Washington University has been fired, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Jayme McLellan is a co-founder of Save the Corcoran, which launched a legal challenge to the merger of the institutions as well as the absorption of the Corcoran Gallery of Art into the National Gallery of Art. Hearings on the matter ended Wednesday. Ms. McLellan was fired Thursday, the Times says.

“This is clearly retaliation,” Ms. McLellan said in an interview with the Times. A spokesman for Peggy Loar, Corcoran’s interim director and president, told the newspaper, “We don’t respond to requests regarding individual personnel decisions.”

The Corcoran’s financial troubles have motivated the merger, which has been in the worksfor months. A judge ruled last month that a group of students and faculty members could argue against the merger in court. The judge, Robert Okun of the District of Columbia Superior Court, is expected to issue a ruling on the plan by August 20.

August 12, 2014

By Jake New

The United States Air Force Academy has ordered a probe of its athletics department after a report in The Colorado Springs Gazette detailed numerous violations of academy rules, including several instances of sexual assault. 

At a 2011 party, according to the newspaper, players offered women a “girls-only” drink laced with a date rape drug, and allegedly committed gang rape later that night. An investigation into that party led to the disenrollment and prosecution of several cadets, Lt. Gen. Michelle Johnson, the academy’s superintendent said in a statement last week. 

It’s the second high-profile sexual assault scandal at the academy in a decade. A 2003 investigation — prompted by an anonymous email sent to lawmakers that described the academy’s alleged apathy toward a growing rape problem — found that 20 percent of women enrolled at the academy said they had been sexually assaulted. A 2004 survey that included responses from every woman at the Air Force, Navy, and Army academies found that 302 women (about 10 percent) said they had been raped. Only 54 cases of sexual assault were officially reported the entire decade.

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August 4, 2014 – 8:44pm

Earlier this year, a blog post on University of Venus addressed the issue of Part-Time Faculty and Professional Development, just as we were preparing a manuscript on the topic. Professional development, particularly for contingent faculty, has been on our minds for some time, both in our work with colleagues and from our own experiences as contingent faculty who worked to maintain an active publication and professional development agenda.

Across institutions of higher education, as many of us are aware, teaching loads are increasing as contingent positions increase. Because these positions are created in most cases to fulfill immediate teaching demands only, teachers receive little support for professional development, scholarly engagement, or innovative or experimental pedagogy and are often overlooked in faculty decisions that impact them significantly. Furthermore, their extensive experience is often missing from scholarship on teaching and learning because they may not be encouraged or supported with travel or research funding.

Although we do not offer publication as a Pollyannish panacea for all the ills of contingent faculty status, in our experience, professional development activities, when growing naturally out of interests, experiences, and current duties, can offer encouragement, alleviate burnout, and help build a CV capable of expanding career options considerably. We see publication (broadly interpreted) as a way to become and remain active in an academic and scholarly community, the kind of community that can sustain teacher-scholars and create venues for vibrant intellectual exchange. For both contingent faculty members as well as those on the tenure-track, the recent “crisis in academic publishing,” the various economic downturns and department restructurings, the technological revolution’s influence upon research and publishing practices, and—perhaps most importantly—the rigid adherence by promotion and tenure/hiring committees to outdated guidelines and unrealistic expectations, create a number of challenges for establishing and maintaining an active scholarly agenda. With these challenges in mind, we envision professional development working to meet three goals in particular:


Read more:
Inside Higher Ed 

When Friends Leave

Posted by admin under Uncategorized
August 4, 2014

At the end of my first year of graduate school, a friend — almost out of the blue — told me, “When I met you, I thought to myself, ‘Ugh, that guy and I are not going to get along at all.’ But look at us now, we’re friends!”

In an admittedly strange way, I think it may be one of the nicest things one of my fellow graduate students ever said to me. Our friendship continued to grow throughout five more years of graduate school, as we compared notes about dissertations, teaching our courses, and the mental and emotional trauma of the job market. We talked each other through breakups, shared a soulless cubicle. When we took our first faculty appointments during the same semester, 600 miles apart, we stayed in touch. Every few weeks or months we check in with one another, compare notes on the new phase, gripe about life as junior faculty, trade news about our mutual friends, themselves scattered across the country now as well.

Many times I commented on how common it is, and sometimes confusing or complicating, that in an academic career some of our closest friends are also our colleagues. That isn’t always the case in other fields of work, or perhaps not as likely. I’m not sure if I will ever get used to seeing friends move away, as they do when they graduate or take new appointments. It’s a bummer, frankly.

Read more:
Inside Higher Ed