News in brief

September 29, 2011

Italy

Seismology shaken by trial

The decision to charge a number of Italian seismologists with man-slaughter for failing to predict a deadly earthquake has provoked outrage from their academic peers. A group on trial in the city of L'Aquila - the site of an earthquake in 2009 that killed 309 people - includes six seismologists and the director of the Italian Civil Protection National Service's earthquake risk office. The local authority is also reported to be seeking damages of €50 million (£44 million). The trial has drawn criticism from scholarly associations including the American Geophysical Union and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Dan Faulkner, senior lecturer in rock mechanics at the University of Liverpool, warned that the Italian authorities may be "shooting themselves in the foot" by bringing the case. He said earthquake prediction was "rudimentary at best" and it would take a "huge scientific effort" to improve the accuracy of the forecasts. If convicted, the defendants face up to 15 years in prison.

United States

State of the union: healthy

The governor of New Jersey has given initial approval to a plan that would see a US university merge with a medical school. Chris Christie has stated that he supports the merger between Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. If the plan goes through, it is hoped it will boost Rutgers' prestige and help it to attract more research money. Governor Christie said that the plan could "place public medical education in the state on a path to real, sustained excellence". Ralph Izzo, chairman of the Rutgers board of governors, said the merger would further the institution's position "as one of America's leading research universities".

Australia

Wait - where's everybody going?

Two in five Australian academics under the age of 30 plan to leave higher education within the next five to 10 years, a report has found. The survey by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations points to high levels of dissatisfaction among this group because of poor pay, lack of job security and mountains of paperwork and red tape, The Australian reported. For academics between the ages of 30 and 40, the figure is even higher, as much as one in three. The report estimates that almost half the academic workforce will retire, move to overseas institutions or leave the academy altogether in the next decade. Emmaline Bexley, the report's lead author and a lecturer in higher education at the University of Melbourne, said: "The high level of intrinsic satisfaction most academics have with their job has been covering up low levels of satisfaction around industrial matters."

United States

College groups' unwanted recruits

Staff at a New York institution have condemned the infiltration by police of Muslim student groups. Faculty members at Brooklyn College, which is part of the City University of New York, complained that the undercover operations threaten intellectual freedom and students' and academics' civil rights, according to Associated Press. The college's faculty council voted unanimously to denounce the tactic, part of an intelligence-gathering operation over the past decade in support of the CIA. "The use of undercover police agents and the cultivation of police informers on campus has a chilling effect on the intellectual freedom necessary for a vibrant academic community," the resolution says.

Yemen

Arab Spring delays autumn term

Anti-government protesters in Yemen forced the capital's main university to close on its first day of lectures in the new academic year. The demonstrators, many of them students, stormed Sana'a University's campus, tearing down pictures of Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh and demanding his resignation, Associated Press reported. As students marched into the Sana'a campus, they chanted: "No studying, no teaching until the president goes." In March, government forces reportedly fired on unarmed demonstrators in the university's main square, resulting in dozens of deaths and serious injuries. About 20 other educational institutions in Yemen are said to be closed at present because they are being used as bases by anti-government protesters.

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