Just three months after Susan Hockfield announced her plans to retire as president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT's board said Tuesday that it had hired Provost L. Rafael Reif to succeed her. The remarkably quick (for major research universities) succession came about not for a lack of candidates -- MIT considered more than 100, said its board chairman, John S. Reed -- but because Reif emerged so clearly as a "uniquely qualified candidate," Reed said. Reif was centrally involved in many of the institute's most innovative efforts in his seven years as provost, including the creation of MITx and its recent expansion, with Harvard University, into EdX. “I cannot tell you that this is a dream come true,” Reif told reporters after his selection, “because this is a dream I never dared to imagine.”
With regents appointed by Texas Governor Rick Perry reportedly interested in ousting Bill Powers as president of the University of Texas at Austin, reporters asked Perry about Powers on Tuesday. The Associated Press reported that Perry declined to talk about the subject, saying only "I got a state to run," and adding that he doesn't focus on any one campus. Perry did say that the move by the University of Texas Board of Regents to freeze tuition (over the objections of Powers) sent a "good message" about controlling college costs. And Perry praised the $10,000 degrees several universities have started at his urging. (Many experts question whether these programs are sustainable and some see costs being shifted to other students.)
Faculty members and librarians at Kean University voted no confidence in the university's Board of Trustees this week, with 94 percent of responding faculty members saying they had lost faith in the board. Professors have clashed with the university's president, Dawood Farahi, for several years. Tensions came to a head early this year when the faculty accused Farahi of including false information on his résumé. After an investigation in which lawyers hired by the board found that Farahi had falsified some of the statements on earlier résumés, the board voted seven to four to keep Farahi in place, a decision that further angered faculty members. Professors voted no confidence in Farahi in 2010.
Ada Morell, chair of the board, said in a statement that she was not surprised by the outcome of the vote, particularly because the faculty union is negotiating a new contract with the state. "Such votes are a common tool employed by labor leaders and part of the democratic process," she said.
The vote of no confidence in the trustees comes after outside groups have continued to find problems with the university. In spring 2011, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education found that the university failed to comply with two of its standards: measuring student learning outcomes and institutional effectiveness. Since the board voted to keep Farahi in place, the commission found that the university is failing to comply with two additional standards: general education and institutional integrity, or adherence to ethical standards and stated policies. A report by the NCAA questioned the institution's control over its athletics department, particularly its women's basketball program.
Legislation in Illinois would bar public universities from using state funds, tuition revenue or student fees for search firms, The News-Gazette reported. The University of Illinois has spent almost $6 million on search firms over the last nine years, including funds on some searches that did not work out well. Critics question whether the spending is necessary, while board members say that search firms have recruited top talent.
A compromise may be in the works on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie's controversial plan to merge Rutgers University at Camden and Rowan University. Christie has insisted on a merger, and has been facing opposition from faculty and student groups, some legislators and the Rutgers board. The Star-Ledger reported that the compromise involves an independent board for a merged institution, but a continued role for Rutgers in oversight of academic degrees, and some version of Rutgers in the name. It remains unclear if the compromise will pass, but it emerged from behind-closed-doors talks involving key legislators and university officials.
A report Wednesday night in a reliable Texas blog that some members of the University of Texas Board of Regents were maneuvering to fire Bill Powers as president of the Austin campus had students and faculty members rallying behind Powers on Thursday. Regents who are close to Governor Rick Perry are reportedly angry that Powers has argued for small tuition increases for his campus, rather than the tuition freeze requested by Perry. Powers has also defended his faculty members from criticisms made by a think tank with close ties to Perry. Hours after the blog post revealed the tensions, students had created Facebook pages to line up support. In less than 24 hours, I Stand With Bill Powers had nearly 10,000 members, most of them students and alumni.
Many wrote that they trusted Powers's views of the university's budget needs and that they worried about the impact of the board rejecting his tuition requests or firing him. One woman who graduated last year wrote: "I full-heartedly support President Bill Powers as the President of our esteemed university. I know that if he leaves, the results will be devastating. There would be no top-quality candidate that would wish to work at a university where politics play such a heavy handed role, and where such a leader is not free to voice his opinion without fear of retaliation. President Powers has been an incredible driving force in raising the standard, rigor, and value of a University of Texas degree, and should continue to do so."
Faculty leaders were circulating a resolution Thursday, on which they hope to vote Monday, to back Powers. "Recognizing the extraordinary efforts exerted by UT Austin President Bill Powers and his administrative team in support of the recent proposal for a modest, well-documented, and crucial tuition increase, the Faculty Council strongly commends them for seeking to protect and enhance the quality of our students' education and the value of their degrees, as well as the research and public service achievements of the faculty. The fact that the regents ultimately rejected the proposal diminishes neither the campus's need for such financial support nor the efforts made to attain it," the resolution says.
Late Thursday, Powers released a short statement: "I love The University of Texas, and it’s an honor to serve as its president. I am deeply grateful for the support of our students, faculty, staff, and the thousands of members of the UT family. I will continue to work with the entire UT community to move the university forward. At this moment, I am focused on the more than 8,000 students who will graduate next week and make immeasurable contributions to society -- extending the university’s legacy of excellence and our positive impact on Texas."