Some Texas educators and legislators are pushing back against a draft of the state budget, released earlier this week, that would cut $39 million by closing four community colleges. Richard Rhodes, chair of the Texas Association of Community Colleges and president of El Paso Community College, harshly criticized the plan. In a statement, he wrote: “This budget makes it clear that there is no longer a state policy when it comes to community colleges. If a college grows and educates more students the state does not live up to its commitment by funding growth. However, if a college is perceived by state bureaucrats as somehow growing too slowly, the state will cut all of an institution’s funding.” Democrats and even some Republicans in the state legislature have also expressed their displeasure with the proposed cuts. According to The Dallas Morning News, Rep. Dennis Bonnen, a Republican from Angleton, asked the House floor: “Why would we ever have a staff recommendation as a starting point that creates a headline that says Brazosport College would be closed?”
Higher Education Quick Takes
One of the largest publicly traded higher-education companies said Wednesday that it would cut 600 jobs over the next several months, citing changes in its own business strategy and the "slowing student enrollments across the private-sector postsecondary education industry." The announcement by Career Education Corp., which has about 13,000 employees at about 90 campuses, was the latest signal that for-profit colleges are seeing significant changes in the face of more federal and state scrutiny about their financial aid and other practices.
The "eminent scholars" program at Florida Atlantic University is supposed to attract top faculty talent with higher pay and reduced teaching expectations, relative to other professors. But The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reported that the program has divided many arts and sciences faculty members, with some of those outside the program arguing that these eminent professors are "overpaid and underworked." Meanwhile some of those who are in the program are filing grievances over being asked to take on an extra course or two on top of the two a year that are the standard for the program.
The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has announced a $150 million grant from the Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan Charity Foundation for genetic research, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. The funds will pay for a new building and endowed professorships, among other purposes.
With most college students still opting for printed textbooks in lieu of electronic ones, publishers are taking aim at an unlikely demographic in order to make e-books look cool: slackers. CourseSmart, a consortium aimed at marketing and selling e-books on behalf of the four top textbook companies, has teamed up with the website CollegeHumor.com to hold an essay contest in which participants are asked to boast of their slacker bona fides. “We’re looking for the smartest slacker,” explains a spokesman for CollegeHumor — a popular destination for procrastinating students — in a promotional video on the site. “We want to hear your story of the smartest, cleverest, most creative academic shortcut you’ve ever taken, short of cheating.” The winner of the contest will get $1,000 and a year’s worth of e-book access from CourseSmart, as well as the privilege to have his or her story immortalized in a short, animated video on CollegeHumor.com. CollegeHumor.com, started by two college freshmen in 1999, has seen its brand blossom in recent years. It now publishes original content and hosts 3.3 million unique page views each month.
Pensacola State College on Tuesday fired a tenured professor, Robert Ardis, over allegations that he used a sabbatical to obtain a master's degree from a diploma mill and then presented that degree to obtain a promotion and higher salary, The Pensacola News Journal reported. Ardis did not attend the meeting at which he was fired. A union representative who was at the meeting on his behalf said that he was still reviewing documents that might be the basis of a possible appeal and that Ardis "looks forward to his day in court."
The team of big movers advocating the use of technology to advance the national college completion agenda just got some more muscle. The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation has joined forces with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on the Next Generation Learning Challenges, or NGLC — a series of grants for technology-based, completion-oriented projects. Hewlett will be contributing $1.4 million to the program, adding to the $20 million Gates has already committed. NGLC, which is co-sponsored by Educause, is currently reviewing hundreds of proposals submitted in the first round of grants, which focus on higher education. Despite its comparatively small funding stake, Hewlett is expected to be deeply involved in various strategic aspects of NGLC, which it has advised for several months.
Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, this week proposed budget cuts for higher education that stand out even in a year of deep budget cuts. For community colleges, she wants to cut state funding in half, Capitol Media Services reported. For four-year universities, she wants to cut state support by 20 percent. The governor's budget director told the news service that "inefficiencies" in higher education can be eliminated so that the four-year institutions don't have to raise tuition. As for community colleges, the governor is hoping that they can bring in more funds from local support and tuition.
The Middle East Studies Association is urging the Turkish Coalition of America to withdraw a lawsuit against the University of Minnesota over materials, since removed from the university's genocide studies website, calling a website of the Turkish group an "unreliable" source for information about the Armenian genocide, which most scholars say happened, and which the Turkish group questions.
In a letter to the coalition, the Middle East studies group said: "Your organization, and those who hold perspectives different from those expressed by scholars associated with the Center, certainly have the right to participate in open scholarly exchange on the history of the Armenians in the late Ottoman Empire or any other issue, by presenting their views at academic conferences, in the pages of peer-reviewed scholarly journals or by other means, thereby opening them up to debate and challenge. We are distressed that you instead chose to take legal action against the University of Minnesota and its Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, apparently for having at one point characterized views expressed on your website in a certain way. We fear that legal action of this kind may have a chilling effect on the ability of scholars and academic institutions to carry out their work freely and to have their work assessed on its merits, in conformity with standards and procedures long established in the world of scholarship. Your lawsuit may thus serve to stifle the free expression of ideas among scholars and academic institutions regarding the history of Armenians in the later Ottoman Empire, and thereby undermine the principles of academic freedom."
Bruce Fein, one of the lawyers for those suing the University of Minnesota (a group that includes a student there), rejected the criticisms from the Middle East scholars. Via e-mail, Fein said that "it is obvious that the letter writers never bothered to read the complaint.... The complaint explicitly renounces what the misinformed letter authors assert: that we are challenging the right of professors to voice their opinions about the reliability of web or other information sources. The complaint questions the authority of a state school to de facto prohibit students from visiting websites solely because of the viewpoint expressed and not for any bona fide educational purpose. If I were a teacher, I would give an F grade to the letter for failure of the writers to do their homework and egregiously misrepresenting the facts without even contacting the opposing side."