University News

This Week in Higher Ed: April 16, 2014

University News Editor
Wednesday, April 16, 2014

URI to arm campus police

University of Rhode Island administrators announced Monday that the school will arm campus police, Rhode Island Public Radio reported.

The controversial decision comes after a year of community forums and meetings with students, faculty members and staff members, instigated by an incident last April in which a gunman was reported to be on URI’s Kingston campus. Though the reports were false, the unarmed campus police were forced to wait for local police to respond to the threat.

“In order to provide the safest environment possible and to ensure a timely response to any threat to the safety of our campuses, our police officers must be equipped properly to function as first responders,” URI President David Dooley said in a statement.

Critics of the university’s decision say arming campus police is unnecessary due to the negligible presence of gun-related violence on URI’s rural campus, RIPR reported. Questions were also raised about URI, as a public institution, using taxpayer dollars to arm campus police.

URI officers will undergo psychological evaluations, additional background checks and firearms training prior to carrying guns on campus, university officials told RIPR.


Pitzer to divest from fossil fuels

Administrators at Pitzer College announced Saturday that the institution will divest all but $1 million of its holdings in fossil fuel companies by the end of 2014, multiple news sources reported Monday. The Claremont, Calif., liberal arts college also pledged to reduce its carbon footprint by 25 percent over the next two years.

Pitzer’s $125 million endowment puts the school at the same financial level as some other institutions that have already decided against divesting from fossil fuel companies, Inside Higher Ed reported. Pitzer is believed to be the largest college endowment divested from fossil fuels thus far nationwide. The college currently has $5.4 million in fossil fuel investments.

Pitzer President Laura Skandera told Inside Higher Ed, “We are an institution that is socially progressive, and we have been since our founding,” referring to divesting as “a logical next step.”

The debate at Pitzer over whether to divest fossil fuel holdings was started by the student group Claremont Colleges Fossil Fuel Divestment Campaign. The group’s efforts failed to convince administrators at neighboring Pomona College to divest last year, the Chronicle of Higher Education reported.

Administrators at Pitzer were initially opposed to the divestment campaign as well, Pitzer senior Jess Grady-Benson, campaign leader, told the Chronicle.

But over time, the divestment option gained traction. “It ended up being a very interesting collaborative process,” Grady-Benson said. “We’ve really developed a relationship of mutual respect.”


University of Southern Maine revokes faculty layoffs

After laying off a dozen liberal arts faculty members in late March, University of Southern Maine President Theodora Kalikow announced Friday that the institution will rescind the layoffs and work to keep the faculty members employed, Inside Higher Ed reported this week.

Hundreds of students protested the layoffs, which administrators said were due to $14 million in financial difficulties that the university is currently facing. Kalikow will now meet with administrators and faculty members to hear other options in restructuring the budget.

A grievance was presented to USM administrators on Thursday claiming that the layoffs violated the professors’ contracts and were biased against ethnic minorities, women and lesbian professors, Inside Higher Ed reported. The layoffs were also entirely in humanities and social sciences fields, including economics, English, philosophy, sociology, theater and music.

Though the rescinded layoffs will save jobs for the designated faculty members, layoffs of over 30 staff members and the elimination of three entire academic programs and the programs’ seven faculty members will still take place.

“Maine was too poor to be the test case for the dismantling of tenure,” Christy Hammer, a USM sociology professor who filed the grievance on behalf of the faculty, told Inside Higher Ed. “It was like spaghetti they just threw at the wall — some people’s lives, some tenured faculty in the prime of their life.”

The 12 faculty members whose jobs were saved may still be laid off depending on the results of budget talks, Inside Higher Ed reported.

John Baugher, associate professor of sociology at USM, spoke out against the university’s financial restructuring at a Janus Forum panel about higher education finances last week at Brown.

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