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Quick Takes: Offensive Party at Tarleton State, Blackboard Patents to Be Reviewed, SMU Profs Seek Vote on Bush Institute, Senate Saves Tax Break for College Workers, Ohio U. Cuts Teams, Gender Gaps in Canada, Praise for Athletes' Travel Safety

January 26, 2007
  • Black students and many others at Tarleton State University, in Texas, are furious about a party organized by some white students on Martin Luther King Day, which they marked with black stereotypes. Photographs of the party were posted online on students' Web pages, and they show students eating fried chicken, posing as gang members, and drinking. One woman appears as Aunt Jemima. While the photos have been removed from the students' Web sites, they are online at The Smoking Gun. The president of Tarleton State, Dennis P. McCabe, issued a statement condemning the party and announcing a forum to discuss the incident. While his statement affirmed students' right to free expression, he added that he and others had a right to criticize that expression. "I challenge students to make character an important priority as they pursue their studies at Tarleton," he wrote.
  • The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has agreed to review a series of patents awarded to Blackboard for its educational software products, which dominate the course-management industry. The request for the review came on behalf of a group of open-source providers, who have feared that Blackboard's patents could be used to squelch their efforts. The concerns grew when Blackboard sued Desire2Learn, another corporate provider of course-management tools. Lawyers for those challenging Blackboard's patent called the patent office's decision to review the patents an important step in their campaign, but Blackboard officials noted that most such requests for a review are granted, and said that the decision to grant the review did not reflect on the strength of Blackboard's patents. Reviews of this nature can take years to be completed.
  • More than one-fourth of Southern Methodist University faculty members have signed a petition, turned in Thursday, to demand a full faculty referendum on plans for a public policy institute -- which would not report to the university -- as part of plans for President Bush's presidential library, for which the university is the likely home. Plans for the policy institute have been of particular concern to professors because of reports that President Bush plans to set it up with an explicit agenda of advancing his political views. To professors, it would be inappropriate for an institute with even an informal link to SMU to have such an ideological agenda. As concern over the institute grew, SMU officials announced that it would be independent of the university, reporting to the president's foundation, but that has only added to the concerns. SMU -- Laura Bush's alma mater -- pushed hard to win the competition to be the site of the presidential library, and officials have said that it would bring great research benefits to the institution, and that the institute is part of the full package.
  • A cherished higher education perquisite dodged a bullet Thursday in the U.S. Senate. As senators continued their weeklong debate on Democratic legislation to increase the minimum wage, they considered an amendment from Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) that would have extended through 2008 a slew of tax breaks for small businesses -- and paid for it (in a last-minute change) by ending the tax-free status of programs through which some colleges and universities pay for their employees' children to attend college. Kyl and other supporters argued noted that the Joint Committee on Taxation, a bipartisan group, had recommended an end to the higher education tax break, and said the amendment was designed to end an inequitable situation. The tax treatment of college tuition reimbursement by employers should be "the same for a son or daughter of a college professor as for the son or daughter of a pizza shop worker," Kyl said. But Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), echoing arguments that college lobbyists scurried to make against the amendment that these tax breaks are just as likely to go to lowly paid janitors and cafeteria workers as to professors and administrators. Senators voted by a margin of 50 to 42 to table the proposed amendment.
  • Ohio University announced Thursday that it was eliminating its men's indoor and outdoor track and field teams, its men's swimming and diving team, and women's lacrosse. The university said that it needed to cut spending on athletics and that the changes would also help the university comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which requires gender equity in education programs.
  • Among Canadian college and university students, women are now a clear majority, but faculty hiring for women has lagged significantly, according to an analysis published in the new issue of Academic Matters, a Canadian journal. The issue examines a number of equity issues in higher education.
  • The National Transportation Safety Board has praised colleges and athletic associations for improving travel procedures for teams in the wake of a crash that killed some members and coaches of the Oklahoma State University basketball team in 2001. Specifically, the board -- in a statement released this week -- praised the recommendations that have been distributed by the American Council on Education, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and United Educators, which, among other things, called for the use of commercial planes whenever possible.
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