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Quick Takes: Trustee Quits at William

February 20, 2008
  • A member of the board of the College of William & Mary has sent an unusually frank letter of resignation to student leaders, in which he calls into question the way board members made the decision not to renew the contract of Gene Nichol as president. In the letter, Robert Blair praises Nichol, particularly for his efforts to diversify the campus, and says that he and others argued to keep Nichol on as president. When he realized he was in the minority, Blair said he accepted the decision with disappointment and accepted the good faith of trustees with whom he disagreed. Wrote Blair in his message: "There has been an incipient effort by some members of the Board of Visitors to pick apart President Nichol's accomplishments. To what end? They gained their stated objective. I have also seen mean-spirited communications that are not worthy of the professional deliberations of any managing board, but most especially not the Board of Visitors of William and Mary. Such communications call into question the real motivation for the initial decision not to renew the president's contract." A spokesman for the college said he had not seen the resignation letter and could not comment on it.
  • Both Stanford University and Washington University in St. Louis are joining the movement in which colleges are adding significantly to grants for many students. Stanford's plan will essentially make it possible for students to pay nothing for tuition if they are from families with incomes under $100,000, and nothing for room and board if their families have incomes under $60,000, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. Washington University in St. Louis is replacing loans with grants for students whose family income is under $60,000, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
  • Students were able to return to their dormitories Tuesday at Union University, in Tennessee, which suffered extensive tornado damage two weeks ago. Classes are scheduled to resume today. Of 1,100 students whose dormitories were damaged, only about 350 are able to live in their rooms, and the remainder are in local apartments or a hotel, The Commercial Appeal of Memphis reported.
  • Journalism school woes: Nicholas Lemann, the dean at Columbia University, was trying to send class project evaluations back to his students and accidentally sent them his own self-evaluation of his performance, a memo intended for the provost. The future journalists promptly leaked the dean's self-evaluation to Jim Romenesko's blog, and he shared Lemann's thoughts with a broader audience. The memo includes an overview of journalism education and the particular challenges faced by Columbia as an expensive graduate program. Lemann fares better on Romenesko, however, than John Lavine, dean of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Several professors sent him a memo, now on the blog, expressing concern about his response to criticisms of his use of student quotes in his column in the school's magazine. Some students have questioned the quotes authenticity.
  • The board of Wake Technical Community College voted Tuesday to initiate an athletics program that will begin with four sports and grow to seven by 2010, the Triangle Business Journal reported. The sports program, which will cost $176,000 in its first year and be financed by doubling student activity fees to $20 from $10, will "offer students new opportunities and a richer college experience ... build college spirit and bring new community support for Wake Tech," the two-year college's president, Stephen Scott, said in a prepared statement.
  • Monday was a busy day for higher education issues in the U.S. Supreme Court, as the justices declined to hear three cases with relevance to colleges. First, the court turned aside (without comment, as is its custom) a case in which Xavier University of New Orleans, on behalf of other entities damaged by Hurricanes Katrina, had sought the right to sue insurance companies over damaged property. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled last August that even if the plaintiffs could prove that insurers had been negligent, the policies held by the plaintiffs excluded floods from coverage. In the second case (known as Cottrell v. National Collegiate Athletic Association), the court declined to hear an attempt by two former football coaches at the University of Alabama to reinstate the National Collegiate Athletic Association as a plaintiff in a challenging the fairness of the association's investigative and rules enforcement procedures. And lastly, the court let stand a 2007 appeals court decision in which a student loan marketing company, OneSimpleTuition, had unsuccessfully sued the Education Department challenging limits on re-consolidation of student loans that had been contained in the 2005 budget reconciliation legislation, and challenging, by extension, the underlying constitutionality of the law.
  • Some students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill were left aghast when a biology professor told his class that "the moral thing for older mothers to do" is to "abort the fetus" if it's tested positive for Down syndrome. One student, who has a brother with the condition, wrote a letter to the editor calling the remarks "disgraceful." "Essentially, this guy is condoning the killing of people with Down Syndrome. Children and adults with Down Syndrome are a blessing," she wrote to The Daily Tar Heel on Monday. Other students, however, thought the comments were justified and believed they were a legitimate expression of ideas in the classroom. The professor, Albert Harris, later said he meant to provoke discussion. "I believe that if I'm going to expect students to express their opinions, I have to express mine," he said. "This can't help being partly an opinions class." He said that if he were in the same position, he "would have kept the baby."
  • Over the last five years, Britain has spent 800 million pounds (or about $1.5 billion) on efforts to improve graduation rates. But new data show that the graduation rates haven't budged at all, much to the frustration of lawmakers who found the funds for the retention efforts, The Guardian reported.
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