Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 16, 2019

Scholars were among the winners of Pulitzer Prizes for letters announced Monday. The categories won by scholars are:

  • Biography, awarded to Jeffrey C. Stewart, a professor of black studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, for The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke (Oxford University Press).
  • History, awarded to David W. Blight, the Class of 1954 Professor of American History and director of the Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance and Abolition at Yale University, for Frederick Douglass: Prophet of Freedom (Simon & Schuster).
  • Poetry, awarded to Forrest Gander, the A. K. Seaver Professor of Literary Arts and Comparative Literature at Brown University, for Be With (New Directions)

In addition, three reporters for the Los Angeles Times -- Matt Hamilton, Harriet Ryan and Paul Pringle -- won the prize for investigative reporting "for consequential reporting on a University of Southern California gynecologist accused of violating hundreds of young women for more than a quarter century."

April 16, 2019

The American Historical Association’s Professional Division will consider whether in-person interviews at the group’s annual meeting are worth continuing. John R. McNeill, AHA president and University Professor of history at Georgetown University, discussed the issue in a new column for Perspectives on History, the association’s newsmagazine. Registered searches at AHA’s conference have declined significantly already, McNeill wrote, from 270 in 2005 to just 20 this year. There are benefits to face-to-face initial interviews, he said. But the cost of attending the conference is prohibitive to some, and interviews that happen in hotel rooms or on barstools leave room for possible misconduct.

There are still many good reasons to attend the annual meeting, McNeill said, but “suffering, or inflicting, acute interview anxiety with diminishing odds of any reward for job seekers is no longer among them.” McNeill is seeking opinions on the issue through May, as the Professional Division makes it recommendation to the AHA’s governing council in June.

April 16, 2019

Seven students -- three graduate assistants and four undergraduates -- were arrested and cited with disorderly conduct Monday during a demonstration at Loyola University in Chicago. Students were protesting the university’s continued refusal to recognize graduate assistants as graduate employees and bargain collectively with their new Service Employees International Union-affiliated union. Loyola is among a number of institutions that disagree with a 2016 National Labor Relations Board decision saying graduate students are employees entitled to collective bargaining. 

Loyola said in a statement said it supports “students’ rights to express their opinions and perspectives.” The university said it believes that “stipends and scholarships do not make someone an employee” and that graduate assistants “remain graduate students." Loyola provides a “very competitive package of stipends and benefits to our graduate assistants and we are committed to continuing to do so," it added.

April 16, 2019

Textbook publisher Macmillan Learning is the first publisher to gain an ebook accessibility certification from Benetech, a nonprofit that develops accessible technology.

Benetech launched the Global Certified Accessible program in 2017. The program evaluates whether ebooks are accessible to people with reading barriers such as blindness, low vision, dyslexia or physical disability.

Publishers can certify individual ebooks as accessible under the program, but Macmillan Learning is the first publisher to have its ebook production process certified. Benetech will be randomly sampling books produced through this process each year to ensure its accessibility standards continue to be met. A news release said that all copyright 2019 Macmillan Learning titles would be certified.

Brad Turner, vice president of education and literacy for Benetech, said that several other publishers are close to having production processes certified. Publishers will be able to display the certification on their website and through retail partners such as VitalSource -- which recently announced plans to make its catalog searchable by accessibility features.

Turner said that several states and community college systems are starting to require independent verification that textbooks are accessible prior to making large orders. All Benetech-certified content meets WCAG 2.0 AA+ web-accessibility standards. The company works with publishers to change their production processes and ensure content is “born accessible,” said Turner.

“Benetech’s mission is to help people get access to information. Rather than play catch-up, we decided to go upstream to the publishers,” he said.

April 16, 2019

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will rename its engineering college after a $100 million donation from the Grainger Foundation, the university announced Monday. The foundation, named after an alumnus whose industrial supply company has more than 25,000 employees worldwide, has contributed more than $300 million over all to the university's engineering college, which will now be known as the Grainger College of Engineering.

April 16, 2019

Today on the Academic Minute, Joseph Reagle, associate professor of communication studies at Northeastern University, describes another type of hacking used to make life easier. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

April 15, 2019

Mark Riddell pleaded guilty on Friday to one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and honest services mail fraud and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, federal authorities announced. The charges relate to his helping some of those accused in the admissions scandal earn high scores on the SAT or ACT.

The Justice Department released a summary of what Riddell has admitted to doing, along with William Singer, who organized the scheme:

"In many cases, Singer facilitated the cheating by counseling his clients to seek extended time on the exams, including by having their children purport to have learning disabilities in order to obtain the required medical documentation. Once the extended time was granted, Singer instructed the clients to change the location of the exams to one of two test centers: a public high school in Houston, Texas, or a private college preparatory school in West Hollywood, Calif. Singer had established relationships at those locations with test administrators Niki Williams and Igor Dvorskiy, who allegedly accepted bribes of as much as $10,000 per test in order to facilitate the cheating scheme. Specifically, Williams and Dvorskiy allowed Riddell to take the exams in place of the students, to give the students the correct answers during the exams, or to correct the students’ answers after they completed the exams. Singer typically paid Riddell $10,000 for each test. Singer’s clients paid him between $15,000 and $75,000 per test … In many instances, the students taking the exams were unaware that their parents had arranged for the cheating."

April 15, 2019

Last week, Saturday Night Live took on the admissions scandal. And the show was back at it this week -- while also skewering some not involved in the admissions scandal who are in trouble with the law.

April 15, 2019

A student in the audience during a speech at the University of Missouri at Kansas City by Michael Knowles, a conservative commentator, was arrested after he sprayed Knowles with a water gun during his talk. Knowles's talk, "Men are Not Women," was criticized by some on campus as a deliberate attempt to hurt transgender people. Knowles on Twitter said that the university didn't do enough to protect his free speech rights, and he criticized university officials for questioning his views.

The university released a statement that said in part, "We have a responsibility to allow free speech, but we cannot condone physical disruptions of peaceful activities. We believe free speech can be exercised constructively in a way that doesn’t put people at risk. We are gathering facts and will review campus policies and procedures."

April 15, 2019

Boston University terminated David Marchant, professor of earth and environment, administrators announced Friday. The university said in November that it intended to dismiss Marchant, based on a lengthy investigation that found evidence he harassed a former graduate student (who is now a professor elsewhere) during a 1999 research trip to Antarctica. BU’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously last week to uphold that recommendation. Marchant, who was previously demoted from department chair and put on administrative leave, has not commented publicly on the case.


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