Higher Education Quick Takes
Eric Barron, president of Florida State University, has asked the Faculty Senate to review the terms of a grant from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation "to ensure that the integrity of Florida State University was protected," The Miami Herald reported. The terms include provisions giving foundation-appointed committee members the right to review candidates for faculty positions and effectively veto power over hires, and academics at Florida State and elsewhere have criticized these terms as giving the foundation inappropriate control over academic decision-making. To date, however, Barron has strongly defended the grant agreement (which was made before he became president). The Faculty Senate currently has no formal role in reviewing gifts or grants that relate to academic decisions, and the body is considering whether it needs to review such arrangements.
These meetings, conferences, seminars and other events will be held in the coming weeks in and around higher education. They are among the many such that appear in our calendar on The Lists on Inside Higher Ed, which also includes a comprehensive catalog of job changes in higher education. This listing will appear as a regular feature in this space.
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Six weeks have passed since the comment period closed on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ proposed rules for how student health plans provided by colleges and universities would be affected by the health care overhaul. But Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, Democrat from West Virginia and chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, waited until Friday to weigh in with a letter to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that reiterated his call for protecting students with pre-existing conditions and guarding against dollar limits on care, and for avoiding unexpected dropped coverage because of clerical errors. But he also went to great lengths to call out insurance companies that say student health plans should not be subject to that law because their market is a volatile one with unique administrative costs.
Rockefeller’s letter, which references various articles and other research, focuses mostly on minimum medical loss ratios, or the percentage of every consumer’s dollar that goes toward actual health care rather than administrative costs. The standard ratio ranges from 80 to 85 percent, but as data the senator cites in his letter show, the ratios for the largest student health plans range from 44 to 94 percent – and the fact that many carriers exceed the 80-percent threshold undercuts their protests, he says.
It’s not surprising to see the pro-Affordable Care Act senator trying to make sure Sebelius isn’t swayed by the insurers’ comments, said Bryan A. Liang, executive director of the Institute of Health Law Studies at the California Western School of Law. This allows Rockefeller to not only make a clear statement after the comment dust settled, but also remind Sebelius that she too has called on insurers to embrace health care reform. The letter is also particularly timely as more states are applying for ACA waivers, Liang said. Steven M. Bloom, director of federal relations for the American Council on Education, said there’s nothing in the letter that ACE would disagree with; in its own comments ACE took a more ambivalent position on the medical loss ratios, recommending that HHS follow guidance from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners.
The amount of science and engineering research space at research-performing colleges and universities grew by 4 percent between FY 2007 and FY 2009, from 188 million to 196 million net assignable square feet, according to the National Science Foundation's biennial Survey of Science and Engineering Research Facilities. The growth follows relatively flat space availability in previous surveys.
A move to get DePaul University students to call for the institution to stop selling the Sabra brand of hummus, which is owned in part by an Israeli company, failed to get enough votes. A large majority of students who voted in the referendum backed the idea of kicking Sabra off campus, but DePaul requires referendums to have 1,500 voters to be considered valid, and not enough students voted to reach that threshold. DePaul's administration never said that the results of the vote would be followed, even if 1,500 students voted. Students for Justice in Palestine, which pushed for the vote, issued an open letter arguing that it had won a "landslide victory" -- even if the election lacked enough voters to count. The Chicago office of the American Jewish Committee issued a statement noting that "too few of DePaul’s 25,000 students cared enough even to vote."
The Syrian Studies Association last week issued a statement noting that its members are "deeply saddened by the violence that is occurring throughout the country" and "are particularly distressed by reports of deliberate shootings and mass arrests." The statement also noted the "disappointment of the many researchers who are unable to conduct their work under existing circumstances." The association is recommending that scholars who were planning fieldwork in Syria this summer "cautiously evaluate developments inside Syria before traveling." Members of the association are also being urged to "do everything they can to provide informed and accurate background and commentary regarding events in Syria, so that policy-makers and the general public alike benefit from the insights of scholars who have devoted time and energy to understanding the subtleties of Syria's internal and regional affairs."
Finally the association appeals to any members with connections to Syrian authorities to "impress upon them the importance of unrestricted channels of news and information, which offer the only viable foundation for an appreciation of the objectives and motivations of all sides in any dispute."
Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat who has become a leading critic of for-profit higher education, took to the Senate floor Thursday night to criticize ads that he said were encouraging students to enroll at such institutions, The Hill reported. "The ad that just really troubles me shows a lovely young woman who says you can go to college in your pajamas.... You don't even have to get out of bed to go to college, and she's got a computer on her bed there." He added that "I don't believe anybody should fall for that, but some must, and they end up signing up for these for-profit schools, getting deep in debt with a worthless diploma when it's all over."
The Hill identified this ad -- in which the actress playing a student starts by saying "I love learning new things in my pajamas" -- as the one that concerned Durbin:
The ad is for EducationConnection.com, which promotes online higher education. While many of the colleges it promotes are for-profit, others are not.
Georgetown University's commencement ceremonies were smooth except for one problem -- a typo on the program cover -- The Washington Post reported. Georgetown University appeared as Georgetown Univeristy. Georgetown plans to make corrected programs available.
A review committee has recommended that the University of Massachusetts at Amherst not renew the contract of Chancellor Robert Holub, setting the stage for the flagship to have had four chancellors in a decade, The Boston Globe reported. Holub declined to comment on his job status, but defended his record to the Globe, saying that various academic indicators were all headed in the right direction. But people familiar with the deliberations about Holub's future said that he was faulted for, among other things, poor political instincts and insufficient concern over declines in black enrollment.