Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 9, 2009

Bonnie Ashley has apologized for the tone of her communications with staff members at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where David Ashley, her husband, is president, The Las Vegas Sun reported. “I don’t want this to be misconstrued as an apology for being a strong-minded woman, but rather to show an awareness that it must be exercised in a more temperate fashion,” she wrote in a memo to the Board of Regents in which she volunteered to relinquish her "hostessing role" until the university system determines what it wants from her. Among the e-mails that have recently been made public are ones in which she told some staffers "You all are paid way too much for me to have to put up with the constant problems I am dealing with, and it’s just wasting my time.” Another said: “I should not have to tell you this ... you do NOT argue with the first lady ... that behavior is completely unacceptable.” In December, another presidential spouse -- Carol Petersen -- was the center of a dispute over allegations over how she treated staff members at the University of Tennessee. Not long after, John Petersen quit as president.

June 9, 2009

An arbitrator has rejected the grievance of the faculty union at Lakehead University, in Ontario, that the institution violated professors' rights when it replaced a campus e-mail system with Google's e-mail system. The professors had argued that because Google is based in the United States, e-mail communications could come under the rules of the Patriot Act and faculty members could have their privacy rights violated. As a result, they argued, the shift in e-mail service was a significant enough change that it should not have been made under the collective bargaining agreements in place. The arbitrator did not contest that the shift could pose a danger to faculty members, but ruled in favor of the university because of the lack of a contract provision requiring the university to assure the "absolute privacy" of professors. In response, the Canadian Association of University Teachers plans to advise faculty union chapters on how to assure better privacy protections in their contracts.

June 8, 2009

The Association of Research Libraries has adopted a policy discouraging members from agreeing to confidentiality clauses in the deals they make with publishers and other vendors. While the policy excludes true trade secrets, it states that a growing trend of including confidentiality clauses makes it difficult for libraries to negotiate when they are seeking deals. “While research libraries may have in the past tolerated these clauses in order to achieve a lower cost,” said Charles B. Lowry, the association's executive director in a statement, “the current economic crisis marks a fundamentally different circumstance in the relationship between libraries, publishers, and other vendors.” The association plans to create a mechanism by which its members can share information with one another about their agreements.

June 8, 2009

When T. Boone Pickens donated $165 million to Oklahoma State University in 2006 to build a state-of-the-art athletics "village," athletics boosters cheered and critics raised questions about priorities. Now the project is being deferred and still more money may be needed -- due to last year's Wall Street collapse. The money from the Pickens gift, along with some smaller gifts, had been in a special fund, and with investment earnings, its value was $407 million just prior to last year's investment drops. The Tulsa World reported that in a matter of weeks, the fund lost $282 million, forcing delays and more fund raising efforts before the project can get into full swing.

June 8, 2009

A key legislator is calling for the resignation of B. Joseph White, president of the University of Illinois, and other university leaders, as a result of a scandal in which politically connected applicants were given preference in getting in -- sometimes over the strong objections of admissions officers, the Chicago Tribune reported. The Tribune exposed the "clout' admissions system, which the university has since suspended. "They were trusted to protect our university.... In my eyes, they failed in that regard and they should resign," said Rep. Mike Boland, chair of the House Higher Education Committee. While many legislators helped get some applicants get in, the Tribune said that Boland's name does not appear on the patronage lists maintained by the university. A spokesman for the university said that no resignations are expected.

June 8, 2009

The Graduate Management Admission Council announced a new campaign Friday to recruit more black students into M.B.A. programs and to help them do well on the GMAT, the admissions test sponsored by the council and used for most M.B.A. programs. The mean score of black students taking the GMAT -- 434 -- is about 100 points lower than the mean for all test takers. The council is starting a series of programs, including the distribution of test preparation materials to historically black colleges and a pledge to those colleges that it will waive fees for any of their student who want to take the test but feel unable to do so for financial reasons.

June 8, 2009

Borrowers with lower total educational debt were much likelier to borrow private student loans instead of Stafford loans than were peers with more debt, as were students at public two-year colleges, according to a new analysis of private student loan borrowers. The analysis, by the financial aid expert Mark Kantrowitz, aims to shed new light on the reasons why some students who might qualify for federal student loans opt instead for costlier and riskier alternative loans.

June 8, 2009

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has a new solution to the budget problems at California's community colleges: more part-time instructors. The governor has asked legislators to suspend for five years state requirements that 50 percent of a community college district's educational expenditures be used for instructors' salaries, and that set a goal that 75 percent of instructional hours be taught by full-time faculty members, The Sacramento Bee reported. The community college system is currently facing hundreds of millions of dollars in cuts -- with the prospect of turning students away all over the state. The California Federation of Teachers, the largest union of community college faculty members, is opposing the idea. Fred Glass, a spokesman for the union, told the Bee: "Nothing the governor says these days surprises us. He seems to be using this [fiscal crisis] as an opportunity to slash-and-burn education."

June 8, 2009

The U.S. Education Department on Friday said that its primary grant program to stimulate higher education innovation would focus this year on community college programs designed to help adult students and displaced workers. In an announcement in the Federal Register, the Education Department said it would give special priority in this year's grant competition in the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education to "innovative strategies to benefit working adults and displaced workers who are pursuing degrees or credentials in community colleges," including those that improve "academic remediation; tutoring; academic and personal counseling; registration processes; students' course selection and scheduling; instructional delivery, student support services related to childcare," or other purposes.

June 8, 2009

A new report by Free Exchange on Campus, a coalition of groups opposed to David Horowitz's "Academic Bill of Rights" and similar measures, argues that the entire movement is built on false premises and is designed to attack higher education. The report, "Manufactured Controversy," notes that legislative successes for this movement have been minimal, but that the effort still needs scrutiny. "Fortunately, the work of these conservative critics of higher education has been repulsed. Each and every legislative attempt to circumscribe the free exchange of ideas has met stiff resistance and ultimately failed, while legal and institutional attempts have offered nothing more than Pyrrhic victories," the report says. "Even as the threat wanes, it is important to understand that the right-wing critics of higher education are opportunistic and that so long as the academy remains the location of independent thought and vigorous debate, it always will be a target." The study summarizes various groups that have encouraged the Academic Bill of Rights or similar measures, and explores their funding sources, among other issues. Several right-leaning foundations have played key roles, the study says.

Via e-mail, Horowitz said of the new study: "This latest Free Exchange 'report' is yet another Orwellian attack by the teacher unions that seeks to portray the defenders of academic freedom as its opponents. To describe critiques of academic abuses as 'attacks on education' is like describing the opposition to child abuse as 'attacks on adults.' But that's exactly what the Free Exchange report does. It is able to do this by misrepresenting the argument of its opponents, distorting the facts, and omitting the vast body of evidence demonstrating that abuses exist."

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