Penn Employee Benefits Will Include Sex Change Surgery

The University of Pennsylvania announced this week that its employee health plans would include an option that would cover sexual reassignment surgery for transgender employees. Covering such surgery is rare for higher education employers (and for many employers outside academe). The change was sought by student and employee groups at Penn.

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Obama Urges Governors to "Invest More in Education" (and Rebuts Santorum)

WASHINGTON -- President Obama continues to make college affordability a key theme of his domestic policy agenda, but to tailor his message to his audience of the moment. On Monday, addressing the members of the National Governors Association, the president reiterated his views -- highlighted in last month's State of the Union address -- that higher education is increasingly important for individual Americans and for the country's economic future, and that rising prices threaten to put a postsecondary education out of reach for many. But while his speeches to campus leaders have focused on colleges' responsibility to contain their own costs and the prices they charge students (and federal carrots and sticks he might use to elicit that behavior), he used his appearance before the governors to reiterate his belief that states share significant culpability for driving up tuition prices.

"Nothing more clearly signals what you value as a state than the decisions you make about where to invest," President Obama said in urging the governors to "invest more in education." Describing the college affordability problem as a "shared responsibility," he said the administration has sought to do its part by significantly upping federal spending on Pell Grants and other student financial aid. But "[w]e can't just keep on, at the federal level, subsidizing skyrocketing tuition. If tuition is going up faster than inflation -- faster, actually, than health care costs -- then no matter how much we subsidize it, sooner or later we are going to run out of money.  So everybody else is going to have to do their part as well."

The president repeated that he had put colleges and universities "on notice" that "if they are not taking some concrete steps to prevent tuition from going up, then federal funding from taxpayers is going to go down." But the states have to do their part by "making higher education a higher priority in your budgets," the president said. "Over two-thirds of students attend public colleges and universities where, traditionally, tuition has been affordable because of state investments.... But more than 40 states have cut funding for higher education over the past year. And this is just the peak of what has been a long-term trend in reduced state support for higher education. And state budget cuts have been among the largest factor in tuition hikes at public colleges over the past decade. So my administration can do more, Congress can do more, colleges have to do more. But unless all of you also do more, this problem will not get solved."

Robert L. Moran, director of federal relations and policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, said his members were heartened by the president's remarks. They signal, he said, that "just as he's keeping our feet to the fire" on controlling public colleges' costs and prices, "he's not backing off the message that he needs to keep the fire on the feet of the state legislators and governors, too, because if state support goes down, tuition goes up." The president has comparatively little sway over state policies or priorities, Moran said, so his rhetoric and use of the bully pulpit matters.

(Side note: While he did so subtly, the president appeared to directly rebut criticism that a potential opponent in November, Rick Santorum, aimed at Obama over the weekend. Santorum called the president a "snob" for, he said, suggesting that all Americans should go to college, saying that there are "good, decent men and women" proud that their skills were "not taught by some liberal college professor." Without identifying the former Republican senator, Obama told the governors that "[w]hen I speak about higher education, we’re not just talking about a four-year degree. We’re talking about somebody going to a community college and getting trained for that manufacturing job that now is requiring somebody walking through the door, handling a million-dollar piece of equipment. And they can’t go in there unless they’ve got some basic training beyond what they received in high school.")

Senior administrators' salaries increased by 2 percent in 2011

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Study finds larger gains than in previous year, with private institutions giving more than publics. Athletics administrators fared better than most others. For all sectors, inflation is outpacing raises.

Mentorship a key role for Gordon College president

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Gordon College's president, having been shaped by mentors during his own rise, is now using his office to pay it forward.

Vote Expected on Credit Hour Bill

A bill that would overturn two provisions of the Education Department's "program integrity" rules -- the federal definition of a credit hour, and the requirement that colleges obtain authorization from every state in which they operate -- is headed for a vote in the House of Representatives this week. The Rules Committee will consider H.R. 2117, the "Protecting Academic Freedom in Higher Education Act," tonight, and a full vote is expected later in the week.

The bill had bipartisan support when the Committee on Education and the Workforce voted on it in July, and has been supported by several higher education associations, including the American Council on Education and the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. A related Senate measure, S. 1297, was introduced in June but has not yet been considered by the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions. Support from Senate Democrats would be crucial for the measure to gain Congressional passage; it is not clear how aggressively the Obama administration would push to defeat the measure, or whether President Obama would veto it.

New Details on Political Admissions Scandal

The Chicago Tribune published new details this weekend on the admissions scandal in which politicians pressured the University of Illinois to admit politically connected applicants to various programs. The Tribune exposed the "clout" system in 2009, but has been fighting for information on who actually benefited. The new article details the politicians involved (a bipartisan group) and details the number of requests made and how successful their beneficiaries were (generally more successful than most applicants). In many cases, the applicants had family or other ties to individuals or groups who were major donors to the politicians' campaigns.

Growing Faculty Unrest at U. of Illinois

Faculty leaders at the University of Illinois are circulating a petition calling for the removal of Michael Hogan as president of the university system, The News-Gazette reported. Faculty critics cite Hogan's push to centralize enrollment management decisions, and his "extraordinary bullying" of Phyllis Wise, chancellor of the Urbana-Champaign campus, whose e-mail messages reveal that Hogan did not think she was pushing her faculty members hard enough to back his views on enrollment management. The letter in circulation says of Hogan: "In our view he lacks the values, commitments, management style, ethics, and even manners, needed to lead this university, and his presidency should be ended at the earliest opportunity." A spokesman for the university system said that Hogan was not resigning and had "unwavering support" from the board.

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Essay on how a chancellor can change a community

The town of Wise (pop. 3286) is nestled in the hilly, half-spent coal fields of southwestern Virginia. It lacks the surface sophistication of a big city or the gentility of a classic American college town. There’s no obvious place on Main Street to buy a real latté. Wal-Mart is the retail destination of choice.

So Wise might seem the last place you’d expect to mourn a scientist, a neurobiologist, in fact, and a leader in public higher education.

But on Wise’s main commercial street earlier this month, the electronic message-board read simply: "Chancellor David Prior, 1943-2012. We will miss you."

My friend David died in office in his seventh year as head of the University of Virginia’s College at Wise. Established by the state in 1954 in response to petitions from the region, the campus still enrolls a large number of first-generation students from the coal-field towns even as its reputation as a first-rate liberal arts college grows further afield.

By all accounts, David gave the campus new focus, spirit and ambition – bringing Thomas Jefferson's dream of an educated citizenry to the mountains. He secured funds for new buildings. He promoted opportunities for undergraduate research and international travel. He taught, encouraged and wrote letters for students bound for medical school and other futures that might once have seemed out of reach to people from families like theirs. He reminded them to balance labs with literature.

With passion but not pretense, he also extended the college's outreach and welcome to the regional community.

On the day of his memorial service, townspeople began to gather two hours before the scheduled start at the convocation center, an impressive building designed to bring campus and community together. The student tuba ensemble played Amazing Grace. Local preachers wove affectionate anecdotes into their invocations. Academic dignitaries followed, including the past and current presidents of the University of Virginia. A community member spoke. A student reprised the hip-hop tribute he'd composed for a candlelight vigil.

David was a model and mentor for those of us who worked with him in the Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges. For him the word "public" was as important as all the others in the name. It meant deep commitments to accessibility and to accountability – the kind that involves talking, listening and working with people beyond the walls of the ivory tower, not just counting students, costs and completion times. Evidently he walked the talk in southwestern Virginia. He pushed all of us to do more for our students and communities. A public mission, he insisted, was not optional.

Days before the memorial service, I had read a Canadian newspaper columnist’s cheery warning of the digital "disruption" that awaits our expensive, "medieval" universities as students discover the next wave of self-directed online learning. A good thing, too, she wrote, since we don’t need and cannot afford "10,000 professors in 10,000 classrooms lecturing on the same subject."

There are, of course, plenty of things about modern universities that are worthy of serious, informed discussion. They include the relationship of research to teaching, the role of new instructional technologies and the relative priority of taxpayer investment in higher education.

But it is a dangerous starting point for such a discussion to treat universities narrowly as credential mills, serving students as individual learners for only as long as it takes them to complete a degree. It wouldn’t fly in Wise.

The lesson lived by people like David Prior is that, for their own good, and for the public good, universities need to be rooted someplace rather than no place. They need to be an active, everyday part of real communities whose histories and geographies, aspirations and troubles, inflect their curriculums and inspire their research. They need to be present, not aloof. They especially need leaders to make the case for doing so.

Of all the disruptions to come in higher education, that’s the one worth cheering. In many places, it’s already begun.  

Roger Epp is professor of political science at the University of Alberta, and was founding dean of the university’s Augustana Campus. This winter he is a visiting research professor at the University of North Carolina at Asheville.

Coppin State Faculty Vote 'No Confidence' in President

Faculty members at Coppin State University have voted -- overwhelmingly -- that they lack confidence in President Reginald Avery, The Baltimore Sun reported. "[Avery] has brought neither a clear vision of mission to CSU, nor established a coherent or viable strategic plan, nor wisely allocated resources," wrote Nicholas Eugene, the leader of the Faculty Senate, in a letter to William E. Kirwan, chancellor of Maryland's university system. "We feel that despite the efforts of faculty, Dr. Avery's leadership has resulted in a dilution of the academic quality at CSU." Avery told the newspaper that he would work to improve communication with professors, and he vowed to continue his work at the university.


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Midwestern colleges launch campuses built on public-private collaboration

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Throughout the Midwest, a new name highlights interest of universities and politicians in technology transfer.


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