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Quick Takes: Obama's Pick for Education Secretary, Pomona Keeps Alma Mater, New Mexico President Defends Salary, Layoffs at Santa Fe, New Loan Plan in New York, Critique of U.S. Privacy Rules, Gross Messages for Students

December 16, 2008
  • Arne Duncan, the superintendent of schools in Chicago, is expected to be named today by President-elect Barack Obama as his pick for education secretary, The New York Times reported. Duncan is well regarded by advocates of school reform -- and is widely praised for changes he pushed in Chicago, where he is a friend of Obama's. Duncan has not been a player on higher education policy, although it has been widely assumed that the education secretary would be selected primarily for K-12 credentials.
  • Pomona College is lifting a ban on singing its alma mater, Hail, Pomona, Hail, at college events, but will hold off on returning the song to commencement ceremonies. The college suspended all public singing of the alma mater in the spring, following reports that it was originally written for a blackface minstrel show. In a letter released Monday, President David Oxtoby, noted that there has never been a suggestion that the song's words themselves were offensive. He wrote that "traditions -- like people -- should be judged on their merits, not on the basis of historical associations unconnected to their actual character." Oxtoby also noted that the evidence linking the alma mater to a minstrel show is "contradictory and open to interpretation." And further, he said that "there is the troubling idea that all things associated with an imperfect past should be considered tainted even if there is nothing inherently objectionable about them." Because some current students object to the alma mater, it will not be part of commencement "for the present," he wrote, but alumni and others may sing it at other official events. Oxtoby was more critical of another Pomona song, The Torchbearers, which he said should undergo "a thoughtful revision of some of the words" because they "make reference to Native American traditions in ways that are, at best, stereotypical and, at worst, offensive." Detailed reports of a Pomona committee that studied the college's songs may be found here.
  • With record budget cuts being ordered at colleges and universities around the country, some presidents are cutting their own salaries. But David Schmidly, president of the University of New Mexico, isn't touching his $587,000 in compensation. The Albuquerque Journal reported that, at a meeting attended by hundreds of students and professors to discuss the budget picture, Schmidly said that other presidents earn more than he does and are cutting their pay as a publicity stunt. According to the Journal, audience members snickered when Schmidly compared his salary unfavorably to those of other presidents and said that the stock market collapse might make it impossible for him to retire.
  • The College of Santa Fe, a private institution in New Mexico that may soon be taken over by a public university, has laid off nine staff members and eliminated several vacant positions, officials confirmed Monday. Overall, 16 positions in the college were affected by either layoffs, restructuring or position eliminations. Most of the impacted positions were administrative positions in marketing and recruitment, officials said. The college, which is more than $30 million in debt, could be taken over by New Mexico Highlands University if a proposed deal gains legislative approval. Marcia Sullivan, a spokeswoman for the college, said the layoffs were not a condition of negotiations with Highlands. That said, Highlands is expected to take on more of the college's marketing and recruitment functions if the deal is approved. "As we are involved in that less and less, they will become involved in that more and more," Sullivan said.
  • New York Gov. David A. Paterson will today announce a new student loan program designed to help 45,000 students a year -- both at public and private colleges. Interest rates are expected to be considerably lower than those provided by lenders outside federal programs.
  • The U.S. Education Department's rewrite of federal rules governing student privacy will "make it much more difficult for journalists and parents to investigate the performance of schools and colleges," the Student Press Law Center said Monday. The center, which advocates on behalf of student journalists, said the department's revamped regulations for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which were released last week, would "greatly expand the definition of what qualifies as a confidential 'education record' to include even records with all names, Social Security numbers and other individually identifying information" redacted.
  • If you want college students to wash their hands after going to the bathroom (a goal of many campus health experts), you need to be gross. That's the conclusion of University of Denver researchers who tried a number of promotional efforts, but succeeded in changing student behavior only when they used graphic images and tag lines such as "Poo on you, wash your hands" or "You just peed, wash your hands."
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