Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 1, 2009

Six former student affairs officials are suing the University of Southern Maine, charging that they lost employment there because of age bias, The Portland Press Herald reported. The university recently reorganized many student services functions, and many jobs were shifted, with those in old jobs allowed to re-apply for the new positions. Those suing, all over 50, say that their age was a factor in their not being hired. The university denies any discrimination. An unusual factor in the suit: One of the plaintiffs is a state senator. who formerly was director of career services and professional life development.

December 1, 2009

Many European universities lack the autonomy they need to excel, according to a new report by the European Universities Association. The report notes that most governments voice support for autonomy (and cut back on the share of budgets they provide), but said that, in many cases, too much government oversight remains. Financial management is a key area where government controls remain, the report says. "The main issues mentioned were related to the low levels of public funding, short funding contracts which made planning difficult, line-item budgets and a lack of independent financial capacity, such as lack of ownership of university buildings or limitations on universities’ employment policies," the study says. In addition, it says that "reporting procedures were also perceived to be heavy and cumbersome, and, in a number of cases, irrelevant." The report also bemoans "a lack of ability to determine the level of tuition fees or to decide on their introduction."

December 1, 2009

The season for many college football teams ended last weekend, which meant the start of the season that follows: firing time for many coaches. Monday brought the dismissals of head coaches at the Universities of Notre Dame and Virginia, following closely on the heels of dismissals or resignations of their peers at Marshall University, the University of Akron, and the University of Louisville, among others. While the changes are mostly about X's and O's, and the coaches' relative lack of success in winning football games, they are also about $$'s. Notre Dame will pay Weis as much as $18 million to buy out the rest of his 10-year contract (though other news reports have described that figure as exaggerated), while Virginia will spend $4.5 million to rid itself of Al Groh.

December 1, 2009

La Salle University has agreed to pay $7.5 million to cover the lifetime costs of caring for a former football player who suffered brain trauma in a 2005 game, the Associated Press reported. The family of Preston Plevretes had sued the Philadelphia-area university, alleging that it allowed him to play even though he had endured a concussion in a practice weeks earlier; the university had argued that the brain injury resulted entirely from the second blow. The settlement, which did not include any admission of wrongdoing by La Salle, came on the day a trial was to begin in the case. Brain injuries from football have been the focus of increasing attention this fall, in the wake of a National Football League-sponsored study that suggests a greater risk at all playing levels than previously acknowledged. La Salle officials said in a statement Monday that "[f]rom the time of Preston’s injury, the university community, led by those who know Preston and his family, have been hoping and praying for his recovery. That hasn’t changed."

November 30, 2009

Legislation in India to allow foreign universities to create branches in the country, and to create a system for regulating them, has been delayed, The Calcutta Telegraph reported. The legislation, rather than moving forward, will be reviewed to resolve differences among various government agencies. The newspaper characterized the review as placing the bill "into cold storage." Universities in the United States and elsewhere, many of which have been hoping to enter the market in India, have been watching the bill and hoping for its passage.

November 30, 2009

Florida Gulf Coast University has suspended Patrick Davis as associate professor of counseling amid allegations that he has an inappropriate relationship with a student, The Naples Daily News reported. Two other professors requested an investigation into Davis, charging that he was having a romantic relationship with one of his graduate students, was the father of her child, and had changed her grades. The newspaper found gift registries suggesting wedding plans for Davis and the student, who has not been identified. Davis was not quoted in the article. But an August report on NBC2 about the allegations quoted Davis as sending an e-mail to the university in which he said that the charges were "unfounded and untrue" and "I must say that the avid interest in my personal life seems a bit unbalanced."

November 30, 2009

The student union of the University of British Columbia has filed a complaint with the United Nations, seeking to have it declare that tuition increases in Canada violate the country's commitment to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The complaint states that Canada and British Columbia are not attempting to comply with the covenant, a United Nations treaty. Among its provisions is the following statement about higher education: "Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education." While the complaint has attracted considerable press attention in Canada, Maclean's reported that some students are upset about the effort and are pushing for its reconsideration. It is unlikely that American students could try to file a similar complaint: While President Carter signed the covenant, the U.S. Senate never ratified the treaty.

November 30, 2009

Senior Harvard University officials -- especially then-president Lawrence Summers -- repeatedly ignored warnings that the university's investment strategies were placing far too much cash (needed for short-term spending) in risky investments, The Boston Globe reported. The placement of the cash in risky investments has been a key reason why Harvard, which even after investment losses is by far the wealthiest university in the world, has been forced to make many cuts in the last year; such cash reserves, had the advice been followed, would have been easily accessible. Summers declined to comment for the article, but a friend of his familiar with the Harvard investment strategy noted that conditions changed after Summers left the presidency and that the university had the time to change its strategy prior to last year's Wall Street collapse.

November 30, 2009

Joanne Burrows, president of Clarke College, recently received five $100 bills in the mail and an unusual letter of apology, The Telegraph Herald reported. The anonymous letter writer confessed to having stolen a portable radio from a faculty lounge at the Iowa college 55 years ago, and expressed the hope of making amends for the "foolish act."

November 30, 2009

Five Rice University faculty members -- two of them department chairs and three of them holding endowed chairs -- have published an op-ed in The Houston Chronicle sharply criticizing the merger talks between Rice and the Baylor College of Medicine, saying that the risks would be too great for Rice. The article notes that the medical school (which is independent of Baylor University) relies for its revenue on funds associated with patient care and biomedical research -- and that these revenue streams are vulnerable to shifts in the economy or the health care system. These concerns are exacerbated, the faculty members say, because the medical college is "on shaky financial footing and its current situation is not financially tenable." The faculty members conclude: "We aspire to stand among the world’s greatest universities. Can this vision be attained more quickly by diverting our course and merging with BCM, or will Rice simply become a medical school with a small, and possibly impoverished, university attached? Nobody knows for sure, but we firmly believe that merging poses an unacceptable risk to Rice University." A Rice Web site offers analysis of why the university is negotiating for the merger.

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