Category Archives: Academia

UC Berkeley purge: The chancellor has resigned


University of California Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks has handed in his academic robes, the victim of campus sexual harassment and other scandals as well as a petition campaign by faculty members.

And that’s after the spent $200,000 trying to polish his image [below].

From the Washington Post:

UC-Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas B. Dirks announced his resignation Tuesday, a week after Linda Katehi stepped down as UC-Davis chancellor. Both leaders had been embroiled in multiple controversies.

Dirks faced questions about whether Berkeley was too lax in response to sexual harassment allegations against faculty and how the school would surmount steep budget troubles. The Los Angeles Times disclosed last month that he was under investigation for possible misuse of public funds for travel and the personal use of a campus fitness trainer without payment. The Daily Californian student newspaper also reported that the university had spent $9,000 for an emergency exit near Dirks’s office as a security measure in case of protests. All of this undermined the three-year tenure of a historian and anthropologist who sought to rejuvenate undergraduate education at Berkeley and boost public support for higher education’s great public flagships.

“Definitely a significant number of faculty had lost confidence in him,” Robert Powell, a political scientist and chair of Berkeley’s faculty senate, said Wednesday. “The reasons vary depending on different people you talk to.”

Dirks, who took office in June 2013, said he plans to step down when a successor is ready to take his place. When he exits, his tenure as chancellor is likely to have been the shortest at UC-Berkeley in a half century. Edward Strong served in the job for four years, from 1961 to 1965, and Glenn T. Seaborg for three, from 1958 to 1961.

UPDATE: More details from the Los Angeles Times:

In recent weeks, however, pressure for Dirks to resign has escalated. A petition expressing loss of confidence in his leadership was recently signed by more than 45 distinguished professors, including former Academic Senate leaders, members of the National Academy of Sciences, department chairs and heads of research units.

“There was a whole series of really bad steps which shows he’s cut himself off and is unresponsive to the campus community,” said Michael Burawoy, co-chairman of the Berkeley Faculty Assn., who signed the petition.

However, Judith Butler, a professor of comparative literature, expressed concern that maneuvers like the petition occurred among a small group without open discussion by the full faculty. “The real question is who was this small group working in the summer and do they really represent the faculty?” she asked. “I’m not convinced.”

She declined, however, to give an assessment of Dirks’ effectiveness.

Former Berkeley Chancellor Robert Birgeneau called the news of Dirks’ resignation “a sad day for Berkeley.”

Butler, a faculty member we respect, raises an interesting point.

Who were the faculty members who wanted Dirks gone?

Dirks came from the humanities, unlike his predecessor Birgeneau, a physicist.

The University of California has been reshaping itself in the corporate model, which is why we have dubbed it Global Corporate University. The priority has been on seeking ways to create revenue by funding research for corporations to buy, both in the hard sciences [witness the Amyris debacle] and in the business school.

Was Dirks, who traditionally emphasized the importance of the humanities, a field that doesn’t produce all that lucrative intellectual property or churn out tomorrow’s business executives, a man out of place at Cal?

It’s worth pondering.

The university’s costly image spinning

We can’t read the full story in the subscriber-only San Francisco Chronicle story, but they do let you read the first paragraph, to which we’ve added another paragraph from the story we found in a news aggregator:

As UC Berkeley prepared to eliminate hundreds of jobs and take millions of dollars in loans to help balance its flagging budget, the campus also paid more than $200,000 to “improve the chancellor’s strategic profile nationally and internationally,” The Chronicle has learned.

The decision to pay outside consultants of the last year to burnish Chancellor Nicholas Dirks’ global image is seen by some faculty as the latest in a series of missteps — including his kid glove treatment of star employees who sexually harassed students and colleagues and his uneven handling of the campus; $150 million budget deficit — that led to Dirks’ decision to step down. The companies agreed to “increase exposure and awareness of Dirks’ vision for higher education, elevate the chancellor as a “key thought leader” and “form key partnerships” so that potential donors would understand his philosophy.

The news about the image polishing confirmed suspicions we raised in a blog 16 March post, reprinted in full below [emphasis added]:

The curious case of the missing monobrow. . .

Coming to Berkeley from Columbia University, where Nicholas B. Dirks had served as executive vice president and dean of the faculty of  Arts and Sciences, the new chancellor of the flagship campus of the University of California underwent an amazing transition.

Here’s the image the folks at Cal’s PR department sent out when 8 November 2012 when announcing his appointment:

BLOG Dirks

And here’s an image of Dirks captured from the apology video just posted:

BLOG Dirks after

So what happened to the monobrow, a furry feature evident in countless photos [for instance] taken before his transplantation to the Golden State from the urban wilds of the Big Apple?

And then there are the eyeglasses. In all but two of the images we found doing a Google image search, Dirks wore his specs at a genial, approachable half staff, yet in the apology video he gazes out from behind glass, the lenses interposing themselves between seer and seen.

And what’s the deal with the flowers, the white blooms often associated with funerals and death?

Maybe its our old anthropological training kicking in, or simply the observation skills honed during five decades of journalism, but our sense is that in coming to image-conscious California Dirks fell into the hands of media handlers.

Chart of the day: Bernie, the sanest candidate


We take remote psychiatric diagnoses with a large grain of salt, but have to agree with the conclusion of the latest such effort, which compares today’s U.S. presidential candidates with political figures from the past.

But when the diagnoses comes from a researcher at one of the world’s leading universities, they deserve some attention.

The effort was conducted by Kevin Dutton, a postdoctoral research psychologist at Oxford University. Dutton is also conducting research for Britain’s Defence Ministry and the U.S. Air Force “to investigate the effects of both covert and overt surveillance on behaviour, especially within the context of promoting prosocial action.”

But his basic research area is on how psychopathic traits can draw people into specific professionals, politics among them.

So in a report for Scientific American MIND, he examined the American presidential candidates, including the two top runners-up, and compared them to political leaders of the past, with academic biographers and scholars examining leaders of the past and a political journalist evaluating the candidates using the standardized Psychopathic Personality Inventory assessment:

-BLOG Psych

The explanation of the numbers and what they mean from the Scientific American MIND blog:

The table reveals each subject’s scores for psychopathy’s eight component traits. The first three traits—social influence (SI), fearlessness (F) and stress immunity (STI), known collectively as the Fearless Dominance traits—tend to be strong in successful leaders. The next four qualities, collectively called Self-Centered Impulsivity, can be more problematic: Machiavellian Egocentricity (ME), Rebellious Nonconformity (RN), Blame Externalization (BE) and Carefree Nonplanfulness (CN). The eighth trait is Coldheartedness (C), which can be helpful in making tough decisions such as sending a nation’s youth to war but is dangerous in excess.

While there is no set score that officially renders someone a psychopath, it’s revealing to see who scores in the top 20 percent of all people who have been evaluated with the PPI-R. The table highlights those with scores in this upper quintile, which are somewhat lower for women than for men.

The verdict on the candidates: Trump, Clinton and Cruz all scored in the upper quintile in Self-Centered Impulsivity and Coldheartedness. Trump landed in the top 20 percent across the board on psychopathy traits, with a total score that placed him between Idi Amin and Adolf Hitler.

Admittedly, remote assessment can be highly subjective, but we’d have to agree with the journalist who ranked the candidates: Bernie really was the only relatively sane one in the bunch.

H/T to Undernews.

UC Davis Chancellor resigns after ethics probe


The chancellor of the University of California, Davis [previously], has quit her job in the wake of a scathing ethics investigation report.

In addition to enriching herself while serving on the public payroll, Linda Katehi was also the campus boss when one of her police officers, subsequently dubbed the “Pepper Spraying Cop,” unloaded an industrial sized can of pepper spray on peaceful; protestors during the Occupy movement days, earning her endless ridicule in the media.

From the Los Angeles Times:

UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi resigned Tuesday after a three-month investigation into whether she violated University of California rules on nepotism, misused student fees and lied about her role in social media contracts.

Her attorney, Melinda Guzman, announced the resignation, which UC President Janet Napolitano has accepted. Katehi will stay on as chancellor emeritus and a university faculty member.

Guzman said the investigation cleared Katehi of all charges.

“Linda Katehi and her family have been exonerated from baseless accusations of nepotism, conflicts of interest, financial management and personal gain, just as we predicted and as the UC Davis Academic Senate found within days of this leave,” Guzman said.

But a UC spokeswoman said the investigation found the chancellor had “exercised poor judgment, not been candid with university leadership, and violated multiple university policies.”

As the Times reported last month, “Katehi had taken paid board positions with the DeVry Education Group, which is under federal investigation for allegedly defrauding students, and John Wiley & Sons, a college-textbook publisher. Katehi had received permission for the textbook company position but not the DeVry board seat from the former and current UC presidents.”

UC Davis Police Lt. John Pike resigned after another scathing investigation, headed by William Bratton, the former police chief of both New York City and Los Angeles, but not before becoming a meme, complete with his own website, Pepper Spraying Cop.

Here’s one of our favorite offerings from the site:

BLOG Pepper

A story about sex & academic publishing’s raptors


Regular readers know that esnl loves to publish reports on the findings of academic researchers, covering everything from the latest climate science to the adverse health effects of plastics, the latest research on mind-altering drugs, and more.

Readers will have also noticed that we’ve taken to including in those reports just how much it would cost a reader to look at the full report as published in those scientific journals, sums that we find simply staggering.

We’ll begin today’s report with new findings about sex [how better to get your attention?], then leap into a lacerating report on the evils of academic publishing, an issue that impacts us all, right in the wallet.

Sex: Younger Americans are doing it less

From San Diego State University:

Since time immemorial, older generations have fretted over the sexual habits of young people. In today’s world, however, elders might just be wondering why young people are having so little sex, according to a new study by San Diego State University psychology professor Jean M. Twenge.

A research team also including Ryne Sherman from Florida Atlantic University and Brooke Wells from Widener University analyzed data from 26,707 respondents to the General Social Survey, a nationally representative survey of U.S. adults that includes members of the current millennial generation and its predecessor, Generation X. The researchers found that today’s young people are less likely to have had sex since turning 18.

According to Twenge, author of the book “Generation Me,” 15 percent of 20- to 24-year-olds born in the 1990s reported having no sexual partners since age 18, compared to only 6 percent of Generation X’ers when they were young adults. This sexual inactivity stands in stark contrast to the so-called “hookup culture” reportedly pervasive among Millennials: More are not having sex at all, much less hooking up with multiple partners.

“Online dating apps should, in theory, help Millennials find sexual partners more easily,” she said. “However, technology may have the opposite effect if young people are spending so much time online that they interact less in person, and thus don’t have sex.”

Concerns over personal safety and a media landscape saturated with reports of collegiate sexual abuse might also contribute to millennials’ sexual inactivity compared to previous generations, Twenge continued.

“This generation is very interested in safety, which also appears in their reduced use of alcohol and their interest in ‘safe spaces’ on campus,” she said. “This is a very risk-averse generation, and that attitude may be influencing their sexual choices.”

Other factors contributing to fewer millennials having sex could include the widespread availability of pornography, the historically high number of young adults living with their parents, the later age at first marriage, and increased access to instant entertainment online. The researchers published their findings this week in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior. . .

On the utterly evil, thoroughly despicable academic journal cartel

If you want to read or download the article, the extortionate folks from Springer [publishers of the Archives of Sexual Behavior] will charge you the gasp-inducing sum of $39.95. They do, however, allow you to read the abstract for free, from which this is excerpted:

Online and in-person sexual behaviors of cisgender lesbian, gay, queer, bisexual, heterosexual, questioning, unsure, and youth of other sexual identities were examined using data from the Teen Health and Technology study. Data were collected online between August 2010 and January 2011 from 5,078 youth 13–18 years old. Results suggested that, depending on sexual identity, between 4–35 % of youth had sexual conversations and 2–24 % shared sexual photos with someone online in the past year. Among the 22 % of youth who had oral, vaginal, and/or anal sex, between 5–30 % met one of their two most recent sexual partners online. Inconsistent condom use was associated with increased odds of meeting one’s most recent partner online for heterosexual adolescent men. For gay and queer adolescent men, having an older partner, a partner with a lifetime history of sexually transmitted infections (STI), and concurrent sex partners were each significantly associated with increased odds of having met one’s most recent sex partner online. None of the examined characteristics significantly predicted meeting one’s most recent sexual partner online versus in-person for heterosexual; bisexual; or gay, lesbian, and queer women. The Internet is not replacing in-person exploration and expression of one’s sexuality and meeting sexual partners online appears to be uncommon in adolescence across sexual identities.

So just how evil is the academic publishing cartel?

Well, to begin with, their profit rations dwarf those of such lucrative corporate giants as Apple, Google, and any of the Big Pharma and Big Agra giants.

And like all true cartels Big Academia is swallowing up its smaller competitors to consolidate its grip ensure those extortionate profits just keep coming in, with students and their professors paying all the freight.

Consider the profits of just one publisher, Elsevier.

From “The Oligopoly of Academic Publishers in the Digital Era,” a review of the evils of the academic publishing cartel, by Vincent Larivière, Stefanie Haustein, and Philippe Mongeon, published in the open access joural PLOS One in June, 2015:

Operating profits (million USD) and profit margin of Reed-Elsevier as a whole (A) and of its Scientific, Technical & Medical division (B), 1991–2013.

Operating profits (million USD) and profit margin of Reed-Elsevier as a whole (A) and of its Scientific, Technical & Medical division (B), 1991–2013.

A second chart from the same article show how the cartel is swallowing up smaller publishers, consolidating their grip on academic publishing:

Number of journals changing from small to big publishers, and big to small publishers per year of change in the Natural and Medical Sciences and Social Sciences & Humanities.

Number of journals changing from small to big publishers, and big to small publishers per year of change in the Natural and Medical Sciences and Social Sciences & Humanities.

An academic license to steal

In a 3 November 2015 report report, Bloomberg looked at the anomaly that is academic publishing and came up with a withering verdict:

Publishers of academic journals have a great thing going. They generally don’t pay for the articles they publish, or for the primary editing and peer reviewing essential to preparing them for publication (they do fork over some money for copy editing). Most of this gratis labor is performed by employees of academic institutions. Those institutions, along with government agencies and foundations, also fund all the research that these journal articles are based upon.

Yet the journal publishers are able to get authors to sign over copyright to this content, and sell it in the form of subscriptions to university libraries. Most journals are now delivered in electronic form, which you think would cut the cost, but no, the price has been going up and up:

This isn’t just inflation at work: in 1994, journal subscriptions accounted for 51 percent of all library spending on information resources. In 2012 it was 69 percent.

Who exactly is getting that money? The largest academic publisher is Elsevier, which is also the biggest, most profitable division of RELX, the Anglo-Dutch company that was known until February as Reed Elsevier. Here are its results for the past decade:

BLOG Academic publishing profits

A classical case of outsourcing to workers on the public payroll

Really.

How else do you expect them to make those 40 percent profit margins?

George Monbiot added his voice to the growing chorus of dissent in a critical essay in the 20 August 2011 edition of the Guardian:

In the past financial year, for example, Elsevier’s operating profit margin was 36% (£724m on revenues of £2bn). They result from a stranglehold on the market. Elsevier, Springer and Wiley, who have bought up many of their competitors, now publish 42% of journal articles.

More importantly, universities are locked into buying their products. Academic papers are published in only one place, and they have to be read by researchers trying to keep up with their subject. Demand is inelastic and competition non-existent, because different journals can’t publish the same material. In many cases the publishers oblige the libraries to buy a large package of journals, whether or not they want them all. Perhaps it’s not surprising that one of the biggest crooks ever to have preyed upon the people of this country – Robert Maxwell – made much of his money through academic publishing.

The publishers claim that they have to charge these fees as a result of the costs of production and distribution, and that they add value (in Springer’s words) because they “develop journal brands and maintain and improve the digital infrastructure which has revolutionised scientific communication in the past 15 years”. But an analysis by Deutsche Bank reaches different conclusions. “We believe the publisher adds relatively little value to the publishing process … if the process really were as complex, costly and value-added as the publishers protest that it is, 40% margins wouldn’t be available.” Far from assisting the dissemination of research, the big publishers impede it, as their long turnaround times can delay the release of findings by a year or more.

What we see here is pure rentier capitalism: monopolising a public resource then charging exorbitant fees to use it. Another term for it is economic parasitism. To obtain the knowledge for which we have already paid, we must surrender our feu to the lairds of learning.

University libraries gutted for cash

This March 12 the New York Times noted the phenomenon in as report noting that Harvard University can’t even afford the cost of subscribing to the journals its students need:

Journal publishers collectively earned $10 billion last year, much of it from research libraries, which pay annual subscription fees ranging from $2,000 to $35,000 per title if they don’t buy subscriptions of bundled titles, which cost millions. The largest companies, like Elsevier, Taylor & Francis, Springer and Wiley, typically have profit margins of over 30 percent.

>snip<

Legally downloading a single journal article when you don’t have a subscription costs around $30, which adds up quickly considering a search on even narrow topics can return hundreds if not thousands of articles. And the skyrocketing cost of journal subscriptions, which have unlimited downloads, is straining library budgets.

“The prices have been rising twice as fast as the price of health care over the past 20 years, so there’s a real scandal there to be exposed,” said Peter Suber, Harvard’s director of the office of scholarly communication. “It’s important that Harvard is suffering when it has the largest budget of any academic library in the world.”

So can online publication help cut the costs?

Well, consider this from an abstract of an article entitled “On toxic effects of scientific journals” by French academicians Antoinette Molinié and Geoffrey Bodenhausen, published in the June 2013 edition of the Journal of Biosciences:

The advent of online publishing greatly facilitates the dissemination of scientific results. This revolution might have led to the untimely death of many traditional publishing companies, since today’s scientists are perfectly capable of writing, formatting and uploading files to appropriate websites that can be consulted by colleagues and the general public alike. They also have the intellectual resources to criticize each other and organize an anonymous peer review system. The Open Access approach appears promising in this respect, but we cannot ignore that it is fraught with editorial and economic problems. A few powerful publishing companies not only managed to survive, but also rake up considerable profits. Moreover, they succeeded in becoming influential ‘trendsetters’ since they decide which papers deserve to be published. To make money, one must set novel trends, like Christian Dior or Levi’s in fashion, and open new markets, for example in Asia. In doing so, the publishers tend to supplant both national and transnational funding agencies in defining science policy. In many cases, these agencies tend simply to adopt the commercial criteria defined by the journals, forever eager to improve their impact factors. It is not obvious that the publishers of scientific journals, the editorial boards that they appoint, or the people who sift through the vast numbers of papers submitted to a handful of ‘top’ journals are endowed with sufficient insight to set the trends of future science. It seems even less obvious that funding agencies should blindly follow the fashion trends set by the publishers. The perverse relationships between private publishers and public funding agencies may have a toxic effect on science policy.

Want to read the full essay?

Well, it’s in a journal published by Springer, one of the Big Five in the cartel, so it’ll cost you $39.95.

So what, exactly, is Springer?

From a 22 December 2015 report by communications scholar Jason Schmitt in Medium:

Heather Morrison, a professor in the School of Information Studies at the University of Ottawa, unpacks the business model behind academic publisher Springer and says, “If you look at who owns Springer, these are private equity firms, and they have changed owners about five times in the last decade. Springer was owned by the investment group Candover and Cinven who describe themselves as ‘Europe’s largest buy-out firm.’ These are companies who buy companies to decrease the cost and increase the profits and sell them again in two years. This is to whom we scholars are voluntarily handing our work. Are you going to trust them? This is not the public library of science. This is not your average author voluntarily contributing to the commons. These are people who are in business to make the most profit.”

So it’s not only Republican-spawned tax cuts that are raising students tuition rates at America’s universities and forcing generations of young people to take on onerous debt burdens.

It’s also the rapacity of a newly empowered cartel.

It’s time for us all to cry out Aux Barricades!

Venezuelan program brings agroecology home


We’ve had a long fascination with agroecology, the practice of growing food with the use of environmentally damaging synthetic fertilizers and corporatized seeds and pesticides.

Giving the ever-growing corporate domination of the American university, it’s no surprise that the best-paid academic scientists are busily churning out highly profitable patented pesticide, veterinary drugs, and plants and animals for the Big Agra and Big Pharma.

UC Berkeley, which once had one of the country’s finest agroecology programs, has dropped it ad huge Big Agra bucks have flooded the campus, most notably in the form of a half-billion-dollar BP-funded program to create cellulose-chomping bacteria designed to poop out the basic ingredient of clean-burning, high-energy fuel.

So far, with all the original cash spent, there’s still no superfuel, but, golly, there was all that cash, and all those wobnderful corporate connections.

To paraphrase an old and very sexist joke, they know what UC Berkeley is, and they’ve already established the price.

So it’s up to countries like Cuba [previously] and Venezuela [previously] to give backing to agroecological programs.

And that brings us to this report on one Venezuelan agroecology program, via teleSUR English:

Agroecology: A Latin American Movement

Program note:

Is Agroecology a viable option for Latin America? This small Venezuelan institute may have the answer.

The urge to purge nets thousands in Turkey


The chaotic Turkish coup failure has been followed by what usually happens when coup;s fail [or succeed for that matter]: a massive purge.

And as usually happens when strong men rule, the urge to purge has spread to academia.

Call it political bulima.

From BBC News:

At least 45,000 people have been rounded up, sacked or suspended from their jobs by Turkey’s government in the wake of last week’s failed coup.

The purge of those deemed less than loyal to President Recep Tayyip Erdogan widened on Tuesday to include teachers, university deans and the media.

The government says they are allied to US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen, who denies claims he directed the uprising. PM Binali Yildirim said the preacher led a “terrorist organisation”.

“We will dig them up by their roots,” he told parliament.

Turkey is pressing the US to extradite Mr Gulen and the issue was raised during a phone call between US President Barack Obama and President Erdogan on Tuesday, the White House said.

Spokesman Josh Earnest said a decision on whether or not to extradite would be made under a treaty between the two countries.

Headline of the day: They once called it payola


Back when esnl was knee-high to a grasshopper, the recording industry was rocked by a scandal: Record companies were paying DJs to air their tunes.

In the argot of the music biz, they called it payola.

Headlines and congressional hearings ensued, all sparked by the naive assumption that decisions should be made based on merit, not outright bribery.

Now the University of California has its own payola scandal, and the regents are finally making a move.

From the Los Angeles Times:

UC Davis chancellor’s outside activities prompts UC regents to consider tightening moonlighting rules

The proposal was prompted by disclosures this year that UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi had taken paid board positions with the DeVry Education Group, which is under federal investigation for allegedly defrauding students, and John Wiley & Sons, a college-textbook publisher. Katehi had received permission for the textbook company position but not the DeVry board seat from the former and current UC presidents.