All posts by Andrew Mytelka


New Chinese Crackdown on Internet Access Draws Academic Critics

University professors in China and Chinese students hoping to study in the United States are among the sharpest critics of recent efforts by Beijing to hamper the widespread use of virtual private networks to bypass the country’s tight Internet restrictions, The New York Times reports.

The students have used the networks, known as VPNs, to submit online applications to American colleges. The professors say the government’s new crackdown, which has disrupted VPNs to an unparalleled degree, has made it impossible for them to use Google Scholar, a search tool providing links to a vast archive of scholarly papers.

The Times quoted a naval historian as saying, “It’s like we’re living in the Middle Ages.” A biologist said the results of the crackdown “suggest little respect for the people actually engaged in science.”

Chinese authorities have long had the ability to interfere with V.P.N.s, but their interest in disrupting such programs has mounted alongside the government’s drive for so-called cyber-sovereignty, especially since President Xi Jinping came to power two years ago. Lu Wei, the propaganda official Mr. Xi appointed as Internet czar, has been unapologetic in promoting the notion that China has the right to block a wide array of online content.

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CUNY Campus Drops ‘Mr.’ and ‘Ms.’ to Foster Respect for Students’ Diversity

The City University of New York’s Graduate Center is advising its faculty and staff members to avoid using such courtesy titles as “Mr.,” “Ms.,” and “Mrs.” in written correspondence with students and instead to address them by their full names, The Wall Street Journal reports.

The goal of the new policy, which was laid out this month in a memorandum from the provost’s office and goes into effect this spring, is to “ensure a respectful, welcoming, and gender-inclusive learning environment … and to accommodate properly the diverse population of current and prospective students,” the memo says.

A university spokeswoman told the Journal that the policy stemmed from efforts to comply with Title IX, a federal gender-equity law. But Saundra Schuster, a lawyer and Title IX expert quoted by the newspaper, called the decision to base the new policy on the federal law “ridiculous.” “I love the concept,” she said, “but they are not mandated to do this.”

Gendered salutations represent “an outdated and unnecessary formality [that] serves no purpose other than to label and risk misrepresentation,” said Allison Steinberg, a spokeswoman for the Empire State Pride Agenda, an advocacy group for gay and transgender people. “We’re hopeful this gesture will inspire others…to follow in CUNY’s innovative footsteps.”

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Russian Spy Ring Sought to Recruit Young Women at University in N.Y.

In intercepted phone calls, participants in a Russian spy ring, who were charged on Monday, “discussed their attempts to recruit U.S. residents, including several individuals employed by major companies, and several young women with ties to a major university located in New York City,” according to a federal complaint quoted by the Associated Press. The complaint did not specify which university, but Newsweek noted that both Columbia and New York Universities have major Russian-research centers.

Three people were charged Monday in connection with a Cold War-style Russian spy ring that tried to recruit New York City residents as intelligence sources, authorities said. The defendants were directed by Russian intelligence official “to gather intelligence on, among other subjects, potential United States sanctions against Russian banks and the United States’ efforts to develop alternative energy resources,” according to a complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan.

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Western Illinois U. Punishes Student for Selling Video of Campus Fight

Western Illinois University has suspended a student as editor in chief of The Western Courier, the student newspaper, for selling video he recorded of a campus brawl in December, according to KHQA, a television station in Quincy, Ill.

The student, Nicholas Stewart, was told he was being punished for violating the university’s code of student conduct. In a letter, the university’s vice president for student services, Gary Biller, said Mr. Stewart’s actions represented “a threat to the normal operations of the university.” Mr. Biller also stated that neither the newspaper nor the university had received the proceeds of the video sales.

Jim Romenesko, who writes a blog on the news media, interviewed Mr. Biller on Friday about the case. According to the interview, Mr. Biller declined to say in what way Mr. Stewart had threatened the university’s operations. He also said he didn’t know how much money the video had sold for, but even $10 would have warranted the penalty he imposed. And he denied that the university was punishing the student because his video had brought bad publicity to the campus.

For his part, Mr. Stewart told Mr. Romenesko that he was seeking legal representation for a meeting, scheduled for Monday, with the university’s internal-auditing department.

“I think if the news footage Stewart shot would’ve shown sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, the University would not have investigated, much less suspended the student journalist.”–email from Bill Knight, a retired journalism professor at the university

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Amherst College Settles Lawsuit Over Alleged Rape and Withheld Diploma

Amherst College and an unnamed student have settled a lawsuit over the college’s decision last year to withhold his diploma over his alleged rape of another student in 2009, according to The Republican, a newspaper in Springfield, Mass. Terms of the settlement were not disclosed, so it was unclear if the college had paid the student, identified in court documents as “John Doe,” any of the $2-million he had demanded.

The student’s accuser, identified as Student A, said he had spoken to college officials about the alleged 2009 encounter but never filed a formal complaint about it. The college withheld the diploma after Student A restated the complaint a week before the 2014 commencement.

During a pretrial hearing last year, Doe’s lawyer, David P. Hoose, told a judge that Amherst College was letting negative publicity around its handling of a number of on-campus rape allegations unfairly drive their treatment of Doe.

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Department Chair at American U. Pleads Guilty to Burglary and ID Theft

David Pitts, the 38-year-old chairman of American University’s department of public administration and policy, pleaded guilty on Friday to burglary and identity theft, The Washington Post reported. He had also faced charges of breaking into an office building and setting several small fires last September, after which the university put him on leave.

Prosecutors said Mr. Pitts had broken into the building to steal prescription drugs from a pharmacy and prescription pads from doctors’ offices. After his arrest at the scene, a police search of his apartment turned up more than 5,000 pills and prescription pads from at least nine doctors, leading to the identity-theft charge. Mr. Pitts could be sentenced to up to 25 years in prison.

In exchange for the plea deal, prosecutors agreed not to charge him in connection with the fires on Sept. 4. But investigators were still looking into other fires that occurred on Aug. 28, 29 and 30 at the Washington Marriott Wardman Park.

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Sit-In at Humboldt State Protests Firing of Official in Native American Program

Some 30 students are continuing a sit-in at a building at Humboldt State University to protest the dismissal last semester of the director of the campus’s program in Indian natural resources science and engineering, reports the Times-Standard, a newspaper in Eureka, Calif. The protesters seek the reinstatement of the official, Jacquelyn Bolman, and a greater role for students in making decisions on the Cal State campus.

In a visit to the protesters on Friday, the university’s president, Lisa A. Rossbacher, said she shared their goals of increasing access and completion for students, especially Native American students. But she said she could not discuss personnel matters such as the dismissal of Ms. Bolman.

“The document given to the coalition was at best a superficial, careless representation of the administration’s lack of care not only for the past year, but also for generations,” the response read. “This underscores the institution’s inability to poise itself to effectively communicate and understand the concern of students.”

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Obama Will Speak at Boise State U. and U. of Kansas

President Obama will speak at two universities—Boise State University and the University of Kansas—in the two days after he delivers his State of the Union address, on Tuesday. He will appear at Boise State on Wednesday and at Kansas on Thursday. No further information was yet available on his plans.

The University of Kansas says the last visit by a sitting president was William Howard Taft in 1911.

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Columbia U.’s Football Coach Resigns Amid Alleged Abuse of Players

Columbia University’s football coach resigned on Friday, days after 25 members of the team said in a letter, since withdrawn, that he had physically and verbally abused them and had disregarded their safety, the Columbia Daily Spectator reports.

The coach, Pete Mangurian, resigned “in the best interests of Columbia athletics,” according to a university news release quoted by the Spectator, the Ivy League campus’s student newspaper.

The letter, which was sent to the university’s president as well as the current and former chairmen of its Board of Trustees, also alleged that Mr. Mangurian had pushed members of the team to play despite concussions they had suffered. It was not immediately clear why the letter had been withdrawn, and the players who sent it declined to speak to the Spectator.

The team compiled a dismal 3-27 record in Mr. Mangurian’s three years as coach, including a 21-game losing streak that is still in progress.

“The University routinely reviews complaints and concerns raised by students, even those that have been withdrawn,” the statement read. “While we don’t generally comment on specific cases under review, it is essential to note that Columbia adheres to a strict medical protocol regarding head injuries for all sports teams and our investigation has found no evidence to support an allegation of a departure from that protocol with our football players.”

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Man Convicted in Fatal Bank Robbery Will Resume Teaching at U. of Illinois

James W. Kilgore, a member of the militant Symbionese Liberation Army in the 1970s who served more than six years in prison for his role in a bank robbery in which a customer was killed, will return as an instructor next spring at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the Chicago Tribune reports.

Mr. Kilgore’s criminal past came to public attention this year, when a local newspaper reported on it. Until then, he had been a part-time, non-tenure-track instructor at the university. But his contract was not renewed after the newspaper article appeared, raising questions about possible political interference in academic decisions.

Mr. Kilgore, who is 67, never hid his criminal record from the university and spoke of how he was ashamed of his actions four decades ago. Still, some critics felt his past disqualified him from teaching at the university, noting that he had evaded prosecution by fleeing abroad, and one major donor has threatened to withhold a $4.5-million pledge if Mr. Kilgore returned to the classroom.

After a “robust debate” at its meeting last month, the university’s Board of Trustees cleared the way for Mr. Kilgore to be rehired. According to the Tribune, he has been engaged to teach a one-credit course, titled “Sweat Shops or Flat World Opportunities? Exploring the New World of Work.”

Kilgore will teach a one-credit course in Global Studies, according to Thomas Bassett, director of the program within the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Kilgore, hired as an adjunct lecturer, signed the offer letter Thursday and will be paid $3,500 for an eight-week undergraduate seminar.

“Dr. Kilgore is an excellent teacher, and we look forward to him being back on our staff,” Bassett said.

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