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Quick Takes: Probe in Miss., Safety Bill Altered, Indicted Official Had Prior Conviction, New Grades at Harvard Law, Communication Profs Condemn Illinois, Title IX Settlement, UCLA's New Prime, From Princeton to DeVry, State College Leader Retires

September 29, 2008
  • Allegations surfaced Friday that Vance Watson, interim president of Mississippi State University, used university staff and equipment for landscaping the Jackson, Miss., home of Thomas Meredith, the commissioner of higher education for the state. As a result, The Clarion-Ledger reported, Meredith requested and was granted a leave, pending an investigation of the complaints. Watson, who is a candidate to lead Mississippi State on a permanent basis, had a statement on the matter released by the university saying that "the presidential search at MSU is being influenced by those who appear intent on discrediting him and the values he represents."
  • Federal lawmakers have agreed to strip from a school safety bill that Congress is expected to pass this week provisions that would require colleges and universities to produce and publish annual campus safety plans and to develop plans to respond to emergencies such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters. College leaders have complained that the new legislation would largely mirror changes required as part of the Higher Education Opportunity Act that was enacted this summer, and that passing the new law could muddy the waters by creating confusion.
  • William Gilbert, associate vice president of management facilities at the College of Southern Nevada, was recently indicted on charges that he stole the services of college employees, as well as services and equipment, to build his large home. Gilbert denies wrongdoing. The Las Vegas Sun reported that in 1991, he was convicted of embezzlement and spent three months in jail -- and that college officials were unaware of this when they hired him in 1997.
  • Harvard University's law school is following the recent move by Stanford University's law school and replacing letter grades with four levels of grading: Honors, Pass, Low Pass, and Fail. The blog Above the Law printed a memo from Elena Kagan, the dean, outlining the move, which Harvard officials had earlier said they were considering. The law schools at Yale University and the University of California at Berkeley have similar policies, which supporters say encourage a better learning environment.
  • The National Communication Association has issued a statement condemning a University of Illinois ethics policy that bars faculty members from wearing political buttons, attending political rallies on campus, and various other activities. While the policy is not being actively enforced and administrators have called for "common sense" in viewing it, it was recently distributed to faculty members and declared to be official policy -- alarming many faculty members. "By not allowing faculty and staff to display buttons, pins, or bumper stickers or attend political rallies of any kind, the University of Illinois is sending the message that faculty should not engage in discussions of a political and/or controversial nature," the statement says. "Not only does this suggestion limit their right to free expression, it seeks to suppress their ability to think and act critically in response to significant contemporary concerns. College campuses are places for faculty and staff to actively express their views and opinions on a variety of topics, including politics."
  • San Diego State University has agreed to pay $1.45 million to settle a sex discrimination suit by a former women's swimming coach. The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Deena Deardurff Schmidt sued in 2007, charging that the university provided "unequal and inadequate" pay, facilities, and other support for women's teams. The university noted that the settlement did not involve "any determination of liability."
  • Mathematicians at the University of California at Los Angeles have discovered a 13-million-digit prime number, the Los Angeles Times reported. The discovery is part of the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search.
  • The line between for-profit and nonprofit higher education continues to blur. The new chairman of the board of DeVry Inc. is Harold T. Shapiro, former president of Princeton University and the University of Michigan.
  • Constantine (Deno) Curris announced Friday that he plans to retire as president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, the organization he has led since 1999.
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