News in brief

July 8, 2010

United States

Political correctness prevails

A Supreme Court ruling banning discrimination in student organisations means US universities are now tied to "prevailing standards of political correctness", according to a dissenting judge. The court ruled that public universities may insist that officially recognised student organisations accept all students who want to join. The Christian Legal Society (CLS) at the University of California's Hastings College of the Law had filed a lawsuit after it was told its ban on gays and non-believers in leadership positions violated college policy. The Supreme Court found that the CLS may not seek official recognition from the college and ask for an exemption from its policies, The Washington Post reported. But on behalf of the court's four dissenting judges, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr wrote that the decision represented the principle of "no freedom for expression that offends prevailing standards of political correctness in our country's institutions of higher learning".


Strike breakers

A strike by junior researchers could "break" Italy's university system. The ricercatori are protesting against university budget cuts and a reform bill that would introduce a tenure system, Nature reported on its website. Ricercatori run many courses, particularly in the sciences, but they fear the new tenure system could block their path to promotion."A survey conducted at the University of Turin suggests that two-thirds of Italy's 25,000 ricercatori will stop teaching courses and running exams during the strike," Nature said. Such a walkout "will break the university system", warned Dario Braga, pro-rector for research at the University of Bologna.


UK immigration cap objection

India has protested against moves by the UK to limit immigration from non-European Union countries, with critics warning that students could be hit. The issue was raised by Anand Sharma, commerce and industry minister, when he met British Prime Minister David Cameron in London, shortly after the UK government announced a temporary lowering of the cap pending permanent reductions. Mr Sharma conveyed India's "strong concern". "The cap might ... affect fee-paying non-EU students, the lifeline of Britain's cash-strapped universities," The Hindu newspaper reported.

United States

Board-erline issues

The role of US college presidents on business boards is becoming increasingly contentious. The Bloomberg website noted that Marathon Oil Corporation investors recently cast 67.5 million votes against Shirley Ann Jackson, president of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, after a shareholder questioned whether she had time to serve on the company's board. At the Goldman Sachs Group, Ruth Simmons, Brown University's president, declined to stand for re-election in May, citing demands on her time, amid student criticism of her ties to the company. And Erroll B. Davis Jr, chancellor of the University System of Georgia, is a defendant in at least two lawsuits arising from the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, despite resigning from the board of BP five days before the spill began. Nell Minow, chairman of The Corporate Library, a company that evaluates board performance, said that university presidents' participation presented "daunting" reputational and financial liabilities.


'Fake' degrees under scrutiny

Scores of Pakistani legislators could be removed from the country's parliament in a row over fake degrees. "The Higher Education Commission is verifying the degrees of all parliamentarians in line with the orders of the Supreme Court," an official of the Election Commission told Reuters. He said the HEC has learned of at least 35 members of parliament who had not filed their university degrees along with their nomination papers, while the diplomas of 138 members were illegible. "Former military ruler Pervez Musharraf introduced a law that parliamentarians must hold a university degree, a move largely aimed at keeping his rivals out of parliament," Reuters said. President Asif Ali Zardari's government later struck out the law. But Pakistan's Supreme Court last week ordered election authorities to take action against legislators who were found guilty of forging their diplomas.

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