News in brief

August 4, 2011

United States

Nothing will come of nothing

A university that faced the prospect of losing its accreditation because of high dropout rates has been accused of deliberately allowing failing students to stay on to boost its numbers. Chicago State University has a policy that any student with a grade point average below 1.8 will be expelled for "poor scholarship". But the Chicago Tribune has obtained records showing that students with GPAs of zero were allowed to continue registering for classes. The newspaper said that "by not enforcing its own policy, CSU permitted untold numbers of students - perhaps hundreds - to remain enrolled". Wayne Watson, the university's president, said that the practice had taken place before he joined the institution and that it was "a mistake". "We believe it is wrong, we stopped it, we put in measures to assure that it never happens again," he said.

India

V-c scrutinised over finances

An Indian vice-chancellor is being investigated over alleged financial irregularities at his institution. The Central Bureau of Investigation has announced an inquiry looking into the finances of the Aligarh Muslim University and its vice-chancellor, Abdul Azis. The Hindu newspaper reported that the Human Resource Development Ministry had ordered the institution to submit several dozen files of financial and administrative information to investigators. Mustafa Zaidi, secretary of the Aligarh Muslim University Teachers' Association, called for Professor Azis to step down while the investigation took place. Mr Zaidi told The Hindu that "for a free and fair enquiry, it is essential that the person against whom a probe is being conducted should be asked to vacate his post".

Australia

Too much room at the top

The most senior Australian civil servant specialising in higher education has moved to a new job, exacerbating fears of a brain drain from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations. David Hazlehurst, who is widely respected in the Australian academy, has taken up a new role in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, barely a year into the post. The Australian newspaper said his departure "is stoking fears the department lacks expertise at the top when it is drawing together several reviews and policy initiatives, including the crucial base funding review". Vin Massaro, professorial Fellow at the LH Martin Institute for Higher Education Leadership and Management, said: "It's unfortunate to have personnel changes so quickly at that level at a time when significant reforms are being implemented."

Canada

Defendant calls suit 'vexatious'

A former physics professor at the University of Ottawa who is being sued for defamation by an ex-colleague has claimed that the action is an attempt to silence criticism and has called for it to be dismissed. Ottawa Citizen reported that Denis Rancourt, who was fired by Ottawa in 2009, is being sued for C$1 million (£648,000) by law professor Joanne St Lewis, who alleges he made racist statements about her on his blog. In a statement of defence filed in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Dr Rancourt denies the allegations and defends his blog posts, including one that refers to Professor St Lewis, who is black, as a "house negro". He says in the statement that the legal action is intended to punish, intimidate and silence him as "a vocal, responsible and dedicated critic of many powerful groups, institutions and the University of Ottawa, regarding matters of public interest, and as such is frivolous, vexatious or an abuse of process".

Germany

Putting the search in research

The internet technology giant Google is to open a research institute in Germany. The US company announced last week that it would invest $6.3 million (£3.8 million) in the partnership with Humboldt University in Berlin and several German research institutes. The Institute for Internet and Society, expected to open in October, will study issues related to the worldwide web and its impact on users, as well as regulation and copyright. Jan-Hendrik Olbertz, Humboldt's president, dismissed the suggestion that Google might influence research, The Local reported. He said the institute was important in order to learn "how we can use the internet responsibly".

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