The 6 strangest higher ed stories we saw in 2014
Despite the air of pomp and circumstance, higher ed can be a strange place sometimes — and not always because of student antics. As it turns out, some situations only seem to become stranger when administrators are involved.
Campuses were no stranger to odd news in 2014, and from the Ivy League to for-profit schools, no institution seemed to be safe. From exotic admissions to presidential apologies, these 6 stories were among the weirdest in higher ed this year.
Israel allegedly spies on Caltech
In November, higher education, rocket science, espionage, and cats all finally converged when a whistleblower suit alleged that the California Institute of Technology had ignored concerns that an Israeli researcher was relaying sensitive information from its NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. According to applied physics professor Sandra Troian, former postdoctoral research scholar Amir Gat was found wandering alone in a restricted access area, had repeatedly posted details about a project online, relayed information to a doctoral adviser at Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, and attacked her computer with a virus that siphoned numerous files to an outside IP address. Gat and Caltech officials, however, say Troian's suit was filed in retaliation to a negative research misconduct investigation that found she had tried to "omit recognition of a postdoctoral scholar who performed related research" by listing her cat as the author of a published abstract.
UT-Austin loses its mind(s)
In early December, reports circled that the University of Texas at Austin had misplaced 100 human brains acquired for research 30 years ago. Reportedly among the brains was that of Charles Whitman, the 1966 Austin clock tower sniper who killed 16 people on the campus. There kicker here was that the university reportedly had no idea what happened to the brains. Many speculated that the brains, encased in jars of formaldehyde, had been taken by mischievous students, who perhaps wanted outlandish Christmas ornaments. The truth, however, was much less exciting: The brains had been destroyed over a decade ago — and, we can only assume, nobody got the memo. Additionally, there was no evidence that Whitman's brain was among those missing.
Sorry, MIT didn't really accept you
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology's admissions office jumped the gun in February when an admissions officer accidentally emailed prospective and admitted students a message with the automated tagline, "You are on this list because you are admitted to MIT!" The issue wasn't around long, as the officer issued an apology and a blog about the mistake. And as it turns out, it's not alone in having misfired on admissions notices.
But is art history an 'honorable career' or not?
In a January speech at a Milwaukee General Electric plant, President Barack Obama took a dig at art history majors, essentially questioning the economics of getting a degree in that field. Naturally, many art majors and scholars bristled at the jab, but one, UT-Austing professor Ann Collins Johns, took it upon herself to contact the White House with her complaint. To her surprise, Obama actually responded — with a handwritten apology sent via postal service and email. The note ultimately explained, "I was trying to encourage young people who may not be predisposed to a four year college experience to be open to technical training that can lead them to an honorable career."
In a Facebook post, Johns later stated, "So now I’m totally guilty about wasting his time."
Fake it 'til your friends' peer-reviewed articles make it
A 14-month investigation came to a head in July, when as many as 130 peer reviewers who gamed Sage's Journal of Vibration and Control were busted for using false names as part of a "peer review fraud ring." The journal had to retract 60 articles as a result of the fraudsters, who set out to give favorable reviews to National Pingtung University of Education in Taiwan researcher Peter Chen and his friends. Chen even allegedly reviewed his own articles under an alias at least once. Along with the retraction, the journal's editor-in-chief, Ali Nayfeh, resigned, as did Chen from his university.
Strippers become admissions officers for for-profit college
For-profit colleges are often accused of dancing around ethical recruitment tactics, but one school in Florida actually hired strippers as "admissions officers." In early December, the Associated Press reported on a civil lawsuit accusing the now-defunct FastTrain College of hiring "attractive women and sometimes exotic dancers," encouraging them to "dress provocatively while they recruited young men." This allegedly took place on at least one of the school's campuses. Owner Alejandro Amor was indicted in October and charged with conspiracy and theft of government money — the school reportedly had students commit fraud on financial aid forms so it could gain millions in federal funds and was ultiamtely raided by the FBI.
This story was ultimately so far out there, it even had one of those weird Taiwanese animated news videos:
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