Higher Education News

Princeton professor who criticized Trump cancels events, saying she's received death threats

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 07:00

Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor of African-American studies at Princeton University, probably isn’t the first academic to call President Trump a “racist, sexist megalomaniac.” But she’s the first to do it in a college commencement speech, earning her some negative publicity in recent days -- publicity Taylor says has led to death threats.

In a statement posted on Facebook Wednesday via her publisher, Haymarket Books, Taylor said she was skipping planned public lectures this week at Seattle's Town Hall and the University of California, San Diego.

“I am canceling my appearances for fear of my safety and my family’s safety,” Taylor wrote. “Since last Friday, I have received more than 50 hate-filled and threatening emails. Some of these emails have contained specific threats of violence, including murder.”

Why? Taylor explained that she delivered the commencement address at Hampshire College last month. In it, she started out with a joke -- admitting she’d applied to Hampshire years ago but didn’t get in. She got serious quickly, however, saying that students were graduating into troubling times, embodied by Trump.

“The president of the U.S., the most powerful politician in the world, is a racist, sexist megalomaniac,” said Taylor, who helped organize the international women's strike in March. “It is not a benign observation but has meant tragic consequences for many people in this country, from the terror-inducing raids in communities of undocumented immigrants to his disparaging of refugees in search of freedom and respite.”

Taylor, author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, said she’s always considered herself more of an organizer than an academic, and her ultimate point was to implore graduates to better the failing status quo that may have led to Trump's win. But she pulled no punches on the way.

Trump “empowered an attorney general who embraces and promulgates policies that have already been proven to have a devastating impact on black families and communities,” Taylor said in her address. “He thinks that climate science is fake, and his eagerness to take the country into war can only be interpreted as a callous disregard for its steep price in both money and human life.”

The speech appeared well received at Hampshire, with Taylor’s punchiest lines meeting applause -- even if the college’s news service avoided mentions of Trump in its official recap. (“Given this current reality that becomes more surreal with each passing day,” Taylor is quoted as saying, “it’s easy to be discouraged, but you shouldn’t be. Now is the time for defiance. … A life of activism and struggle can be exhilarating, frustrating, challenging, but always interesting.”)

Taylor thought it went over well, too, she said in her Facebook post, but “Fox News did not like it.” The reference is to a Fox story from last week describing the address as an “anti-POTUS tirade.” It was sourced from several other conservative websites, including Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, and featured clips of Taylor’s comments about Trump.

After the Fox News story, Taylor wrote in her statement, “my work email was inundated with vile and violent statements. I have been repeatedly called ‘nigger,’ ‘bitch,’ ‘cunt,’ ‘dyke,’ ‘she-male,’ and ‘coon’ -- a clear reminder that racial violence is closely aligned with gender and sexual violence. I have been threatened with lynching and having the bullet from a .44 Magnum put in my head. … The threat of violence, whether it is implied or acted on, is intended to intimidate and to silence.”

Linking those attacks to apparent hate crimes in recent weeks, such as the murder of Bowie State University student Richard Collins III by a suspected white supremacist sympathizer, Taylor said attempts at silencing critics of the status quo have been in some sense successful. “The cancellation of my speaking events is a concession to the violent intimidation,” she said. “But I am releasing this statement to say that I will not be silent.”

A spokesperson for Princeton said it was aware of the threats against Taylor, but noted she was currently on sabbatical away from campus. Taylor did not respond to a request for comment.

Taylor’s not the only professor to face physical intimidation recently. Tommy Curry, an associate professor of philosophy at Texas A&M University, who is black, received racist messages on social media and via email, along with death threats, after a website ran a story on comments he’d made about violence against whites in a years-old interview about the film Django Unchained. The university initially condemned Curry's comments but later softened its tone, amid complaints from many scholars that his comments were taken out of context.

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'These are serious times' for international education, NAFSA conference goers told

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 07:00

LOS ANGELES -- In welcoming more than 9,000 attendees from over 100 countries to the annual NAFSA: Association of International Educators conference here, the organization’s new executive director and CEO, Esther Brimmer, delivered what turned out to be a pep talk.

“There are many challenges, and we could focus on the difficulties -- the chilling effects of the executive orders on enrollments or the rise of populism and nativism in several countries -- or we could focus on what we are going to do,” Brimmer said in her welcoming remarks Tuesday. “We are composed but not complacent. These are serious times; serious times demand serious action from us. We are international educators. We work to bring people together. We are part of the solution.”

International education professionals met this week amid a tough political climate, to say the least. Sessions focused on the “conflicted, contentious and complicated environment for internationalization” and on the federal policy-making process. President Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 seeks to cut the State Department’s Educational and Cultural Affairs [ECA] budget by about half, and to eliminate entirely the Department of Education’s international education programs, which fund foreign language and area studies.

It's not all bad news from the perspective of international education advocates. In a Wednesday session on federal policy making, Ilir Zherka, the executive director of the Alliance for International Exchange, noted that in the 2017 omnibus spending bill, which became law last month and which funds the federal government through the end of September, Congress rejected the Trump administration’s proposed cut and actually increased the ECA budget by about 7 percent, to $634.1 million. Still, Zherka described a need for vigilance.

“This is the first year in a four-year process and potentially an eight-year process. Even with considerable support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress, we face significant, really unprecedented, challenges,” Zherka said.

Rachel Banks, the director of public policy for NAFSA, spoke at that same session about the Trump administration’s executive order banning travel for nationals of six Muslim-majority countries. Implementation of the ban -- a revised version of an earlier ban that Trump withdrew -- has been temporarily blocked by federal courts on the grounds that it discriminates on the basis of religion, in violation of the Constitution. The case is expected to be decided by the Supreme Court.

“Although the travel ban is on hold, really, the damage has been done,” Banks said. “We saw after the first ban footage of individuals being turned away at airports, students and scholars not being able to board planes. It was just not a great PR message to send to the world.”

“As the old saying goes, perception is reality,” Banks continued. “If people perceive that it could be hard, difficult [to enter the U.S.], they’ll go somewhere else. They’ll go to Canada, they’ll go to Australia, if they feel there is more certainty in being able to travel to and from.”

Banks also noted that the travel ban aside, the Trump administration is moving forward with its stated intentions to step up vetting of visa applicants. NAFSA joined 54 other academic organizations last month to submit a letter expressing concern about proposed changes to the visa-vetting process that would subject a certain subset of applicants to enhanced questioning about their travel and employment histories, their familial relations, and their social media activity. The letter argues that the proposed changes are "likely to have a chilling effect not only on those required to submit additional information, but indirectly on all international travelers to the United States" and that the extra questions "could lead to unacceptably long delays in processing, which are particularly harmful to applicants with strict activity time frames or enrollment deadlines."

A newly released survey of prospective international students, conducted in February after the first of the two travel bans was put forward, asked students whether they would be less likely to study in the U.S. due to government travel policies. Forty-eight percent of respondents from India said they’d be less likely, as did 42 percent from Nigeria, 58 percent from Brazil, 47 percent from Indonesia and 59 percent from the United Kingdom.

The survey was conducted by two marketing and recruitment companies, FPP EDU Media and Intead, and garnered 57,471 responses from 65 countries out of a possible 1.6 million responses, for a 3.6 percent response rate. Among other questions it asked whether prospective international students would be less likely to come to the U.S. after Trump’s election. Sixty-one percent of respondents from Mexico said they’d be less likely, as did 51 percent from India.

“We’re not going to see a 50 percent drop in Indian students, but it does show sentiment,” said Ben Waxman, the CEO of Intead. “It shows anger.”

“What we suggest has to do with targeting your messaging, communicating with your prospects and your applicants that ‘we are a welcoming place,’ ‘we have services in place to support you when you come’” (and, Waxman added, to actually follow through in offering those services).

More than 200 U.S. universities have joined the #YouAreWelcomeHere marketing and social media campaign, which was been prominently promoted at the NAFSA conference. In a May 4 blog post for NAFSA, Jessica Sandberg, the director of international admissions at Temple University and organizer of the campaign, wrote that it provides “an emphatic response to emotional questions. International students want to know …

  • Is it still safe in the United States for international students?
  • Will I be comfortable and welcome?
  • Will I still be able to find opportunities to pursue an internship? Will I have difficulty getting a visa or entering the country?”
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Dutch business school criticized over ties to Shell

Inside HigherEd - Thu, 06/01/2017 - 07:00

A row has broken out in the Netherlands over a contract between one of the country’s top business schools and Royal Dutch Shell that appears to give the oil company influence over curricula and admissions.

The Rotterdam School of Management, part of Erasmus University Rotterdam, is also accused of failing to declare that it was paid more than 300,000 euros ($337,000) by Shell to produce a report that recommended lowering corporate tax rates to stop multinational companies moving abroad.

The revelations are part of a wide-ranging report -- which the school has dismissed as “tendentious,” “biased” and containing factual errors -- by the environmental think tank Changerism that investigates the links between fossil fuel companies and the school.

It has triggered calls in the Dutch Parliament for a debate about links between fossil fuel companies and universities.

Using freedom of information laws, Changerism uncovered a contract, signed in 2012, that was designed to boost ties between the school and Shell. It commits to establishing a steering group of professors and Shell company managers to “potentially influence the design of the RSM curricula and the profile of students who attend the B.Sc./M.Sc./M.B.A. programs.”

Further, it allows Shell to select “experts” as speakers, “who will contribute to the students’ understanding of Shell.” It also states that “ideally, Shell would be able and willing to feature in the master’s courses of the seven M.Sc. programs” from which the oil company was particularly interested in recruiting.

In response, a statement released by the school said that “companies have no say in education or research.”

“Neither Shell nor any other company plays a formal part” in creating curricula, it said.

The school added that “of course, external organizations and stakeholders are involved during the accreditation process and program evaluations.” A spokeswoman told Times Higher Education that the contract promising Shell “influence” over curricula was “unfortunate phrasing.”

Another of the report’s accusations is that, in 2009, the school carried out a consultation project that looked at the Netherlands’ attractiveness as a base for the headquarters of multinational companies. Shell paid more than €300,000 ($337,000) toward the research, the report claims, but this was never disclosed. The project recommended that the country cut taxes to prevent multinationals moving abroad. Shell is headquartered in the Netherlands.

The school’s spokeswoman said that an independent commission would examine the claims in the report, “A Pipeline of Ideas: How the Rotterdam School of Management Facilitates Climate Change by Collaborating With the Fossil Fuel Industry.” The school would also make contracts with companies available online, she added.

Changerism argues that any links with the oil industry make the business school “complicit” in climate change -- an issue of direct relevance to the institution, it observes, pointing out that Erasmus University’s campus is below sea level.

The report blames public funding cuts and a pursuit of business school rankings that reward high graduate salaries for creating an environment that increased the pressure for such links.

A Shell spokesman referred Times Higher Education to the school’s statement.

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