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Quick Takes: CUNY Considers New Kind of Community College, More Evidence of Economic Woes, Affirmative Action Ban Upheld, Plan for a Free Online University, Finalists for Book Critics' Awards, Academics and the Obama Impact

January 26, 2009
  • The City University of New York is considering plans for a new community college that would also be a new kind of community college. The New York Times reported that ideas under consideration include requiring students to be enrolled full time and limiting majors to fields with good opportunities. The concept comes at a time that CUNY's community colleges -- like many nationwide -- are experiencing an enrollment surge.
  • Trends in bond rating provide new evidence of an eroding economic situation for higher education. Data released by Moody's Investors Service Friday show that in the higher education and nonprofit rating division (in which most of the entities rated are colleges), 2008 saw 29 upgrades and 16 downgrades. While that ratio may seem favorable, consider that in 2007 there were 38 upgrades and 11 downgrades. Another worrisome sign: Of the 29 upgrades, 12 were in the first quarter of 2008, 8 were in each of the second and third quarters, and 1 was in the last quarter. Of downgrades, 9 of 16 came in the fourth quarter.
  • A Nebraska judge has upheld a state vote to ban public higher education and other state agencies from considering race and ethnicity in hiring and admissions decisions. Voters in Nebraska overwhelmingly approved the measure in November. A suit challenging the vote cited irregularities in the petitions gathered to place the item on the ballot. But the Associated Press reported that Judge Karen Flowers found that any irregularities were not sufficient in quantity or significance to overturn the voters' wishes.
  • An Israeli entrepreneur is planning the University of the People, a global and largely free degree-awarding, online university that will rely in part on peer-to-peer teaching and professors -- some volunteer -- to plan assessments, The International Herald Tribune reported. Students would be required to pay only small fees to enroll ($15 to $50) and for exams ($10 to $100), but students from poor countries would receive discounts.
  • The National Book Critics Circle on Saturday announced finalists for work published in 2008. University presses' books are finalists in fiction (M. Glenn Taylor's The Ballad of Trenchmouth Taggart, West Virginia University Press), poetry (Juan Felipe Herrera's Half the World in Light, University of Arizona Press), criticism (Reginald Shepherd's Orpheus in the Bronx: Essays on Identity, Politics, and the Freedom of Poetry, University of Michigan Press and Seth Lerer's Children’s Literature: A Reader’s History from Aesop to Harry Potter, University of Chicago Press), and nonfiction (George C. Herring's From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign Relations Since 1776, Oxford University Press). A complete list of finalists may be found here.
  • Academics are busy debating the significance of the still-new Obama presidency. Ray Friedman, a professor at Vanderbilt University's Owen Graduate School of Management, has released research showing that at moments in the 2008 campaign in which Barack Obama was doing particularly well, the test-taking gap between black and white test-takers narrowed to a point that it was virtually eliminated. “Our results document compelling evidence of the power that real-world, in-group role models like Obama can have on members of their racial or ethnic community,” said Friedman. Not everyone is convinced. Claire B. Potter, a historian at Wesleyan University who blogs as Tenured Radical, questioned the study's assumptions about testing, self-esteem and what really matters in education. Her critique is a post called "Barack Is (Not) Responsible For Making All Things Good: The Radical Disputes The Proposal That There Is An 'Obama Effect' On Education." Meanwhile, The New Republic sees the Obama administration, compared to the Clinton administration, as the triumph of the values of Harvard University's law school over that of Yale University. That analysis is getting questioned by Daniel W. Drezner and PrawfsBlawg. But with all of those Harvard law professors headed to Washington, will Cambridge feel the loss? "Will the last faculty member please turn out the lights?" joked a law school spokesman to The Boston Globe, but despite what rivals might wish, Harvard law shows every sign of being able to survive, even with a quorum of professors in D.C.
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