News in brief

January 17, 2013

China

Leading scholars censure censor

Prominent Chinese academics have signed an open letter calling for the resignation of a propaganda official over allegations that he unjustifiably censored a major newspaper's editorial. The letter, which has added to the pressure on Guangdong province propaganda chief Tuo Zhen to step down, argues that the controversy, if left unresolved, will harm the region's reputation for economic reform and freedom. Among the two dozen signatories was Zhang Ming, an eminent professor of political science at Renmin University, The Wall Street Journal reported. The letter follows journalists' allegations that Mr Tuo secretly interfered with an editorial in the Southern Weekly - known for its frequent battles with state censors - and forced it to change a New Year's message calling for constitutional rule into a tribute to the Communist Party.

United States

State's spate of consolidation

A US state university system has shrunk after its board of regents agreed to consolidate eight institutions into four. Board officials gave final approval to merging members of the University System of Georgia to bring the total number of institutions to 31. Among the changes, Georgia Health Sciences and Augusta State universities will combine to form Georgia Regents University. The three other mergers will create the Middle Georgia State College, South Georgia State College and the University of North Georgia, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported. The moves stem from cost-cutting plans put into motion when chancellor Hank Huckaby took office in 2011. "Georgia has shown national leadership in our willingness to assess our structure and make major changes designed to better serve the state and students," said Shelley Nickel, associate vice-chancellor for planning and implementation.

Australia

Secret red alerts draw ire

Academics in the business and law faculty at an Australian university are questioning whether they are being "profiled" without their knowledge after discovering that their research performance has been recorded in a colour-coding scheme. Under the system, staff who are deemed to be high-performing are coded purple, those meeting management expectations are green, orange flags up concerns and red indicates those seen as underperforming, The Australian reported. Gael McDonald, pro vice-chancellor (business and law) at Deakin University, confirmed the existence of the system, which she said began in 2009 as a way to identify academics needing additional resources and professional development.

United States/Iran

Frozen out by bank

About a dozen Iranian students at a US university have questioned the unexpected closure of their accounts with a bank that does business with the university. The students at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities said they received letters from TCF Bank telling them that their accounts would be closed, without offering any explanation, The Star-Tribune newspaper reported. The only other point of commonality among the students receiving the letters was that they were all Iranian nationals. But a TCF Bank spokesman said letters were sent to other customers and "not just foreign students", and were triggered by investigations into transactions that might have violated federal sanctions. "If indeed the transactions can be explained, then we'll keep the account open," he added. But William Beeman, a professor of anthropology at the university with whom students raised the issue, called the explanation "implausible".

India

Top 'bravery' tips for girls

An Indian university is to teach martial arts to female students in the wake of the gang rape in Delhi of a student who later died. The dean of the students' welfare office at Panjab University in Chandigarh has organised classes to help students deal with threatening situations. "The girls will be provided confidence boosting and martial arts training to handle tough situations," university officials said. "We want the girls to face all situations with confidence and bravery," said Kalpana Mahajan, dean of students' welfare (women). Amrik Singh Ahluwalia, overall dean of students' welfare, said if the campaign drew a good response from those living on campus, then it would be extended to all other students.

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