Recently read (13-19 January)

A collection of posts, articles and stories that caught my attention in the past week…

The Reading Room at the British Museum
© ceridwen | CC BY-SA | Source: http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/433966

The value of a humanities education

In an essay published at the Chronicle, Kristen Case argues against the criticism that humanities degrees are allegedly at a disconnect with the needs of the communities which they serve.

A year ago, North Carolina’s governor, Pat McCrory, threatening cuts to UNC’s [University of North Carolina] flagship campus at Chapel Hill, said, “If you want to take gender studies that’s fine, go to a private school and take it.” McCrory’s statement suggests that the public university is a place for training rather than for real thinking and questioning, that such questioning is not relevant for public-university students, for first-generation college students—that such students need not worry about imagining their lives because their lives have already been imagined for them.

Rethinking the PhD?

Adding a further dimension to the debate regarding the scope and aims of Higher Education, Scott Jaschik in Inside Higer Ed reports on an MLA session that questioned the admission policies and structure of graduate programmes in literature and language. Issues such as the ethics of preparing students for “jobs that don’t exist”, the length of PhD studies were raised and the role of adjuncts in contemporary academia were all raised:

Shane Peterson, a postdoc at Lawrence University, said that he endorsed the idea that graduate programmes should train students for a variety of careers. But he asked what programmes are taking away – and how training for alternative careers could be added at a time that many agree there is a need to shorten the time to degree. “I worry that asking graduate students to do more in less time is itself an unethical request unless we offer resources” to graduate students.

The ethics of unpaid internships

Moving from the Ivory Tower to the job market, Peter D’Amato raises concerns  in an article that appeared in Vitae regarding the increasingly common offers for unpaid internships addressed to students. Such positions are, it is argued, illegal and offer little benefit to future job-seekers. But even putting these concerns aside, what are the ethics of higher education institutions advertising such positions?

Internships may well be many graduate students’ first time venturing out into the working world. Not only did they come into university untrained in their field of study, they came in untrained in the skills necessary to assert themselves in the professional arena. Advertising unpaid internships as viable career starters, or simply leaving it up to students to decide whether to seek pay, leaves students without a clear sense of how they should be compensated for their work.

The Defamation Act

There is an excellent article in Times Higher Education, outlining how new Defamation Act (which came into force in the UK on 1st January) might impact the academic world. The following may be of particular interest to those among us who publish online:

Previously a claimant who wanted to get unfavourable material taken off the internet would threaten the host of the material with a libel case, because the online host could have been held liable for it. In practice it meant that the internet service providers – who had no knowledge about or interest in what someone who paid £10 a year for a website wrote – had to make a decision about whether they would go to the expense of defending them. That usually meant that the material was taken down. The new law requires the claimant to go first to the author or editor of the material – the person most able to decide whether to take it down or defend it. We hope that this will help to stop the privatisation of censorship.

Shame on UNC

I usually prefer to close these posts on a lighter note, but on this occasion I am sad to report the decision by the University of North Carolina to suspend a researcher whose work revealed fraud regarding the academic records of university athletes. The review board of the university claims that Mary Willingham, the whistle-blowing researcher, has made data public that could identify research participants, according to this article in the NewsObserver. In the same article, it is reported that:

Willingham’s research indicated that more than half of 183 athletes screened for their reading skills over an eight-year period could not read beyond the eighth-grade level; it was based on tests the university administered to athletes admitted despite concerns they might be academically challenged. She said roughly 10 percent of those students were functionally illiterate.

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