Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 18, 2018

The Social Science Research Council has called on researchers, research funders, the U.S. government and the private sector to forge new partnerships to address the challenges facing social science research.

In a report published Monday, the SSRC said that social science research faces serious threats from “dwindling federal funding” and “widespread skepticism about data.” Without action, the report suggests that social science might fail in its central objective -- to improve human lives.

The 52-page report, which was authored by a special SSRC task force over 18 months, includes recommendations such as creating a central database for public and private social data and forging new public-private funding relationships that could counter recent declines in federal research funding.

September 18, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Jamie Maguire, assistant professor of neuroscience at Tufts University School of Medicine, explores a treatment that could help new mothers with postpartum depression. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 17, 2018

After the SAT make-up test was given this weekend, reports again circulated on social media that the make-up test included many questions from an SAT widely available in Asia. An educator who works in China told Inside Higher Ed that his students reported to him about the use of these "recycled" questions, and that one student told him she had taken a practice test with the questions the day before the exam. The educator asked not to be identified because he said he did not want to anger the College Board, which has been criticized for using old test questions even though the questions circulate in Asia. The last regular SAT was an example of a test in which many reported seeing questions that had been used before and that were widely available at test-prep centers in China and Korea.

A spokesman for the College Board said via email to Inside Higher Ed: "Theft of undisclosed forms continues, and we cannot comment publicly on form usage. We are making progress in both combatting theft and cheating, and in developing more items and test forms than ever before."

September 17, 2018

With professional associations under pressure to do more to fight misconduct by their members, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced Saturday that its governing council had approved a fellow revocation policy. The policy, which takes effect Oct. 15, outlines a process by which the association may consider and act on revoking the status of an elected fellow "in cases of proven scientific misconduct, serious breaches of professional ethics, or when the fellow in the view of AAAS no longer merits the status of fellow." That includes sexual harassment.

Margaret Hamburg, association president and chair of its council, said in a statement that harassment "has no place in science" and "we must do more as a scientific community to create a respectful and supportive environment for our colleagues and students." Hamburg added, "We need effective and responsive policies in academic departments and institutions, scientific societies, and government agencies that define expectations of behavior and provide clear reporting processes, as well as consequences for violations."

September 17, 2018

Stanford University has announced that it is changing the names of two buildings that currently honor Junípero Serra (right), an 18th-century Roman Catholic priest who created missions throughout California. While Serra is considered a hero by many and was declared a saint by Pope Francis in 2015, many Native Americans contend that Serra worked to destroy the cultures and beliefs of those who lived in California before the missionaries arrived. In addition, the university said that it will seek approval from Santa Clara County and the U.S. Postal Service to rename Serra Mall (below), the pedestrian and bicycle mall at the front of the Stanford campus that serves as the university's official address, as "Jane Stanford Way," to honor one of the co-founders of the university. The university will not seek to rename Serra Street on its campus.

A statement from the university cited several reasons for the decisions. "Serra's establishment of the mission system is a central part of California history, and his life's work led to his canonization by the Roman Catholic Church in 2015," the statement said. "At the same time, the historical record confirms that the mission system inflicted great harm and violence on Native Americans, and Stanford has several features named for Serra even though he played no direct role in the university's history."

September 17, 2018

The University of Central Florida (UCF) chief financial officer and vice president for administration and finance, Bill Merck, stepped down Thursday after an auditor revealed the university had misused $38 million in state funds to construct the newly-opened Trevor Colbourn Hall, Orlando Weekly reported.

In a statement to the UCF campus, Dale Whittaker, university president, said that the university paid back the $38 million to the state by tapping into the university's auxiliary and concession funds. The Board of Governors, which oversees the state university system, is concerned that the misstep could have consequences for the system's budget process.

"We're going to have a more difficult time, as we should, with the Legislature, making sure we know what the hell we're doing here and we're on top of things," Ned Lautenbach, board chairman, told the Orlando Weekly. "I am personally very disappointed in this."

The university will undergo an external investigation into the "process, procedures and personnel concerning how we finance facilities," Whittaker wrote. Whittaker appointed Misty Shepherd, associate vice president and CFO at the UCF Foundation, as interim vice president for administration and finance and Kathy Mitchell, associate director of University Audit, to serve as interim CFO.

September 17, 2018

A new report from New America looks at Broward College's successful effort to embed industry certifications into a wide number of degree programs, an approach the think tank says could be a model for other colleges to emulate.

Certifications can pay off in the labor market. But their cost -- typically more than $100 -- often is a barrier for low-income students. And while many colleges embed some certifications into degree programs, New America said these efforts tend to be limited in nature and benefit relatively few students.

Broward, a Florida community college that also offers four-year degrees, has been helped by a state program that reimburses the cost of certification exams for in-demand occupations. But the college stands out, New America found, with 1,349 eligible certifications earned by students last year.

"In contrast to other colleges we interviewed, integrating certifications into degree program is a college-wide priority at Broward, closely tied with other efforts to ensure student success such as guided pathways and career coaching," according to the report. "Certification attainment is measured, rewarded and actively promoted to students, employers and internal college stakeholders."

September 17, 2018

Results from an EAB survey of more than 6,000 recent graduates from five public universities show that students who start their job searches at least six months before graduating, have a paid internship or join extracurricular organizations are more likely to get a good job after graduating. However, the research firm said most students do not participate in those activities.

For example, 34 percent of students started looking for a job between 6-12 months before graduation. Just 32 percent of surveyed students had a paid internship, while 31 percent had participated in an academic student organization.

"Students are increasingly focused on the kind of job and salary they can get right out of school. And administrators want to know what they can do to help students achieve their goals," Brandon Chinn, an EAB associate principal, said in a written statement. "This survey underscores how important it is for students and schools to be purposeful and proactive about career preparation. It also shows that too few students are doing so."

September 17, 2018

Mark J. Bird, a professor of sociology emeritus at the College of Southern Nevada, faces felony weapon charges after he shot himself in the arm in a campus bathroom late last month, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. A witness told police that Bird said he'd shot himself in protest of President Donald Trump, but no additional details were available. A spokesperson for the college did not say what disciplinary actions, if any, it would take in the case, according to the Review-Journal. A court hearing is scheduled for Bird this week.

September 17, 2018

After ruling that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos unlawfully delayed an Obama administration loan rule designed to protect defrauded student borrowers, a federal district court judge is still weighing what, if any, provisions of the rule should go into effect.

The case is unfolding as the Education Department completes a more restrictive overhaul of the borrower defense regulations that DeVos launched last year. If the department issues the new rule by Nov. 1, it would go into effect in July of next year.

Judge Randolph Moss is considering whether the much more generous Obama rule should take effect in the meantime.

Certain mandatory provisions of the rule, such as automatic "closed school" discharge for borrowers whose institution shut down, would benefit students. Others, such as a ban on arbitration agreements and new financial responsibility requirements, would affect colleges -- many of them in the for-profit sector.

In a hearing on the case Friday, attorneys for the Education Department asked the judge for another chance to more adequately justify its delay of the rule. The government and for-profit industry representatives argued sudden implementation of the rule would be disruptive and a logistical nightmare.

But Adam Pulver, an attorney with Public Citizen, argued that federal law requires that the 2016 rule now go into effect. And he said continued delay of the rule means continued harm for borrowers.

Moss in the Friday hearing expressed skepticism that the dropping forced arbitration provisions in particular would be an "earth shattering" change for colleges.

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