Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, April 21, 2014 - 3:00am

Bryant University has told graduating seniors that they should refrain from taking selfies during commencement, USA Today reported. The president of Bryant, Ronald Machtley, is a social media fan and regularly participates in selfies with students. But officials worry that if many graduates stop for a selfie, the length of the ceremony could get too long.

 

Monday, April 21, 2014 - 3:00am

University of Illinois officials fear a massive wave of retirements across all three system campuses due to a glitch in a recently adopted pension reform law. A wording change -- apparently not intended -- in the law could give people much larger retirement benefits if they leave by the end of June than after that. Officials are working on a fix with the state, and warning that the system could be seriously disrupted by retirements if a solution cannot be found to the problem.

 

Monday, April 21, 2014 - 3:00am

The University of Louisville has agreed to pay $346,844 to Angela Koshewa, who is retiring as the institution's top lawyer, The Courier-Journal reported. Details on why this agreement would be needed were unavailable, but both signed a deal stating that the money reflects a "desire to settle … any and all possible claims and differences among them." The move follows other large payments to departing senior officials.

 

Monday, April 21, 2014 - 3:00am

An article in The Wall Street Journal explores the rise of collegiate table tennis (calling it ping pong apparently offends those who are serious about the sport). Texas Wesleyan has built up a powerhouse team that dominates American college competitions, but Mississippi College -- with recruits from China -- is emerging as a challenger.

 

Monday, April 21, 2014 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Jayanth Banavar, dean of the College of Computer, Mathematical, and Natural Sciences at the University of Maryland at College Park, discusses how geometry plays a significant role in development and evolution. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

Friday, April 18, 2014 - 3:00am

The U.S. Department of Education is proposing new eligibility requirements for Parent PLUS loans. Under draft regulatory language sent this week to members of the department’s negotiated rule making panel, parents would generally be barred from taking out PLUS loans if they have any type of debt exceeding $2,085 that is 90 or more days delinquent or that has been sent to a collection agency or charged off. The proposal also changes the look-back period for that “adverse credit” history from five years to two years.

Under a separate policy change that goes into effect July 1, families that are denied a Parent PLUS loan because of an adverse credit history may appeal to the Education Department, which can then provide the loan if there are "extenuating circumstances."

The department’s standards for obtaining a PLUS have been a source of controversy since at least 2011, when officials quietly tightened the requirements. Leaders of historically black colleges and universities and for-profit colleges -- which enroll large numbers of students who rely on PLUS loans -- have said the changes were denying underserved students access to the loans they need to pay for college. Presidents of black colleges, in particular, have pushed the Obama administration to make it easier for families to access the loans. Some consumer advocates and think tanks, on the other hand, argue that the department should keep its credit standards -- or even tighten them further -- so that parents aren’t saddled with large amounts of debt that they cannot possibly repay.

Debit Cards and State Authorization

The department also circulated this week a revised version of its proposal to more tightly regulate campus debit cards. The latest draft keeps in place some of the restrictions on the marketing of campus debit cards as well as the ban on certain account and ATM fees.

In addition, department officials put out a second draft of their rewritten state authorization rule. The proposal would reinstate a requirement -- which a federal judge struck down for procedural reasons in 2012 -- that providers of online education obtain approval from each and every state in which they enroll students.

The new draft of that rule keeps in place a controversial provision that would essentially require states to subject all distance education providers to a formal regulatory review (as opposed to approving the program on the basis of its accreditation or another reason). Some state regulators have said that requirement would impose substantial new burdens on them; it would also likely require many states to change their laws.

The rule making panel will meet in Washington next Wednesday through Friday to discuss the proposals. The department also last week formally added a fourth negotiating session, which will take place May 19-20. 

Friday, April 18, 2014 - 4:31am

Faculty members at University of Maine campuses, coping with (and protesting) deep budget cuts throughout the system, were frustrated to learn this week of a $40,000 raise for a top financial official of the system, The Bangor Daily News reported. The salary of Rebecca Wyke, vice chancellor for administration and finance, went to $205,000 recently, up from $165,000 -- even as layoffs and other cuts have been instituted. System Chancellor James Page, said "Is it a lot of money? Yes." But he said Wyke was a finalist for a position elsewhere that would have paid her more. And he said that the system would have been hurt by her departure, adding that "you do need to have the right people in place to get the job done.”

 

Friday, April 18, 2014 - 3:00am

Rudy Fichtenbaum, professor of economics at Wright State University, will remain  president of the American Association of University Professors for a second term, the organization announced Thursday, along with the other winners of its recent election. Fichtenbaum defeated Jane Buck, a past president of the AAUP, 2,114 to 1,964. The other top three officers also are incumbents. Henry Reichman, professor emeritus of history at the University of California at East Bay, will stay on as first vice president, while Susan Michalczyk, professor in the Honors Program at Boston College, remains second vice-president. Michele Ganon, professor of accounting at Western Connecticut State University, is treasurer.

All four candidates ran on a platform called “Organizing for Change,” advocating for collective bargaining for faculty where possible and building strong advocacy chapters elsewhere. A full list of vote tallies, opponents and other elections results is available here.

Via email, Fichtenbaum said that today the need for a “bigger and stronger AAUP is greater than at any time since the founding of the AAUP nearly 100 years ago. The corporate attack on public higher education has led to dramatic declines in state support for higher education and ballooning student debt, particularly for working class students and students of color. The values and principles of academic freedom, shared governance and economic security for all of the members of our profession are foundational, because they enable us to fight back against the corporate agenda and ensure that higher education serves the common good.”

Fichtenbaum added: “It is gratifying that our entire slate was reelected and I think it shows our members believe the changes we are making will help strengthen the AAUP.”

Officers serve two-year terms.

Friday, April 18, 2014 - 4:33am

The Women's Law Project has filed a complaint with the U.S. Education Department, charging that universities in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education are violating gender equity laws by failing to provide enough opportunities for women, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The complaint cited Clarion University as an example, stating that women make up 60 percent of the undergraduate student body, but only 47 percent of varsity athletes. Systemwide, the complaint says, there are 900 slots needed to bring women to an appropriate share. A system spokesman denied any violations.

 

Friday, April 18, 2014 - 3:00am

A former assistant professor of medicine and anatomy and cell biology at Wayne State University is accusing the university of fraudulently obtaining more than $169 million in federal grant dollars in a whistleblower lawsuit, the Detroit Free Press reported. Christian Kreipke says the university falsely reported research costs, such as grossly exaggerating the cost of lab rats ($235,000 for 300) or lab technicians' salaries. Kreipke says he reported the alleged fraud, and was later fired in retaliation for being a whistleblower. He filed the complaint in 2012 and it only recently was unsealed in a U.S. District Court.

Wayne State has not been charged with any crime, although federal investigators are familiar with the case and in court documents have expressed an interest in following the lawsuit, according to the report. In a statement, Wayne State officials said: "“The author of the litigation — an individual who was terminated from his employment for research-related misconduct — has attempted to challenge his termination multiple times using several approaches. Without exception, every such attempt has failed decisively. Should Wayne State be served with this latest claim, we will defend aggressively, and we are confident that it will result in dismissal, as have all of his earlier attempts.”

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