News in Brief

July 22, 2010

Canada

Cuts result in phone-free zones

Budget cuts at a Canadian university have become so severe that some academics have had their office phones removed. The University of Alberta has suffered financial turmoil after the provincial government froze spending and then cut back on fledgling programmes, which required the university to find a 5 per cent reduction in costs in each of its faculties. The Edmonton Journal reported that a professor of Scandinavian language and history returned from a conference to find his phone missing. The phones in the philosophy department were also removed. Those who want to contact staff can ring departmental phones and leave messages, which are then forwarded as audio files to the individual's email. If they wish to respond, academics must use phones in the departmental office. There are now fears that the removal of office phones could spread to the English and film studies department.

United States

Free speech or hate speech?

An academic freedom row has erupted in the US after a religious studies scholar was sacked from the University of Illinois for sending students an email about the immorality of homosexuality. Ken Howell, an adjunct associate professor, sent the memo as part of the exam preparations for a course he was teaching on Catholicism. The email came to light after an unidentified student forwarded it to the head of department, complaining that it contained "hate speech". Professor Howell said he had made it clear that the beliefs that he taught in the class were his own, and he told The News-Gazette in Champaign that his students were also aware that they were not required to subscribe to the teachings of the Catholic Church and would not be judged on their personal beliefs.

Bangladesh

More rules for private providers

The Bangladeshi government has passed a bill expanding on rules for private universities operating in the country. Private institutions have been running in Bangladesh for the past 18 years but have proved controversial - private institutions were found to be operating without vice-chancellors in 2004. The Financial Express said that, as part of the new bill, the government planned to form an independent National Accreditation Council to oversee the implementation of the legislation. The country's University Grants Commission would continue to monitor tuition fees and teacher salaries, as well as approving academic plans, which would need to be passed before any private institution was allowed to open.

Australia

Politicians dip toes in water study

The attempt by BP to use research to alleviate the problems in the Gulf of Mexico may fail as a result of political obstacles, according to a professor in Australia. Jorg Imberger, director of the University of Western Australia's Centre for Water Research in Perth, has been appointed to a five-person council overseeing BP's new $500 million (£328 million) fund, which will be used to research the impact of the oil spill and the effect on the local ecosystem. However, The Australian reported that Professor Imberger was "alarmed" to discover that any research projects obtaining money from the fund would need approval from governors of states along the Gulf Coast and the White House before they get the go-ahead. It was hoped that political interference in the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative could be scaled down after meetings between BP and officials.

Israel

Back boycott, face witch-hunt

The Israeli education minister, Gideon Saar, has provoked accusations of starting a "witch-hunt" after he threatened to punish any lecturer or institution supporting a boycott of Israel. The minister is accused by his critics of trying to impose a right-wing agenda on Israeli higher education. Some 540 professors have signed a petition that urges Mr Saar to "come to his senses" and also protests against his open backing of Im Tirtzu, a nationalist youth movement that demands that lecturers prove their commitment to right-wing Zionism. Middle East Online details examples of Mr Saar's unpopular decisions, including bringing soldiers into the classroom and a new right-wing Jewish studies syllabus, which have raised concerns about possible hostility towards left-wing academics and human rights activists.

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