News in Brief

February 17, 2011

United States

Quantity of mercy

One hundred academics at the University of California have signed a letter of protest over the treatment of Muslim students who disrupted a speech by Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the US. The faculty members at UC, Irvine put their names to a letter sent to Tony Rackauckas, the Orange County district attorney, urging him to drop criminal charges he filed against 11 student protesters. "The students were wrong to prevent a speaker invited to the campus from speaking and being heard," the letter says. But the university had punished both the students and the Muslim Student Union, which was suspended, and those campus penalties should be deemed sufficient punishment, it adds. The faculty members also accuse the district attorney of setting "a dangerous precedent for the use of the criminal law against non-violent protests".

Australia

Brickbats for 'silly' remark

A university chancellor has been accused of overstepping the mark after he called the actions of the Australian lecturers' union "silly and counterproductive". Michael Egan, chancellor of Macquarie University, criticised the National Tertiary Education Union after it called a four-day strike at the institution. The dispute focuses on the university's "refusal to bring back controls over fixed-term and casual jobs", The Australian newspaper reported, adding that the issue was also causing tensions at the universities of New South Wales and Wollongong. Responding to Mr Egan's claim that the strike would "achieve nothing" other than disruption for students, the union said it was "extremely disappointing to find a chancellor getting involved in this way".

Iran

Separate but unequal

Calls to segregate men and women in all Iranian universities are gaining ground after the nation's science minister said institutions' "Western values" were a problem. Strict laws adopted after the 1979 revolution which founded the Islamic Republic restrict contact between men and women, but implementation of the rules varies. Most universities are not segregated. Kamran Daneshjou, the science minister, gave the issue fresh impetus when he said: "The gender segregation law must be carried out if it does not bring a halt to routine activities." He added: "The problem is our universities were built on Western values ... that are not compatible with our Iranian-Islamic values." The government announced last October that it would restrict certain university disciplines deemed to be too "Western", such as sociology, philosophy and the political sciences. Allameh Tabatabai University has already announced segregation plans.

Republic of Ireland

Scholars: Croke Park's a crock

University presidents have hit back at lecturers' claims that new working rules harm academic freedom. The Republic of Ireland's Croke Park Agreement on pay and reform in the public sector, struck in 2010, sets down rules such as minimum attendance hours for academics. In a letter sent to The Irish Times newspaper, 175 academics call the deal a "serious threat to academic freedom and democracy", saying it paves the way for universities to establish "managerialist structures and business models". In a statement from the Irish Universities Association, seven university presidents say they are "unambiguously committed to academic freedom of thought and enquiry". But they also warn that the notion of "unsackable" academics undermines public confidence in the quality of the country's higher education system.

Pakistan

Self-immolation over status

Four students at Pakistan's University of the Punjab attempted to set themselves on fire outside the vice-chancellor's office in protest over degree recognition. The students, male and female, are based at the university's Institute of Plant Pathology (IPP). They were "intercepted" by the police and given first aid, according to reports. The students were protesting over the fact that their degrees are not recognised by Pakistan's Higher Education Commission. They want the IPP to be upgraded to an Institute of Agricultural Sciences and a permanent director to be appointed. Mujahid Kamran, Punjab's vice-chancellor, said the students' concerns would be addressed.

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