NBC News today announced "Education Nation," a week of events in September that will bring together leaders from politics, all levels of education and policy experts, focused on a two-day summit at Rockefeller Plaza. Attendees are expected to include U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Delaware Gov. Jack Markell, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, and Al Sharpton. University presidents who will be participating include Susan Hockfield, president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Bill Pepicello, president of University of Phoenix. Several hundred people -- including students and parents -- are expected at the summit. Content from the summit and special stories on education issues will be featured on “NBC Nightly News,” “Today,” “Meet the Press,” “Your Business,” MSNBC, CNBC, Telemundo, msnbc.com and nbclearn.com. NBC announced that the effort is also being supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the University of Phoenix, the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, American Express, Raytheon, Tishman Speyer and Scholastic.
Higher Education Quick Takes
BP has been offering lucrative research contracts -- with signing bonuses -- to marine science researchers in the Gulf region, and the deals have alarmed scientists because of confidentiality clauses and restrictions on access that would be allowed to results, The Press-Register reported. In one case, the company tried to sign on the entire marine science of an Alabama university but was rebuffed over the confidentiality clauses, the newspaper said. One contract offer obtained by the Press-Register would have barred scientists from publishing their research, sharing it or speaking about data collected for at least three years. More than one scientist said that the financial offer was $250 an hour -- and the contract suggests that the work would be used for BP's legal defense. BP declined to comment.
The Educational Testing Service announced last week that it is suspending registrations in Iran for the Test of English as a Foreign Language. ETS cited the new sanctions against Iran adopted by the United Nations and the United States, which make it impossible for ETS to handle payments from Iran. The New York Times reported that many experts on international education are outraged by this news, given that the TOEFL is taken by Iranians who want to come study in the United States -- precisely those Iranians who may someday promote democracy in their home country. An official with the International English Language Testing System, a British-based system known by the acronym IELTS, which is a competitor to TOEFL, told Inside Higher Ed that IELTS continues to be offered in Iran.
The House of Representatives Appropriations Committee approved a 2011 spending bill Thursday that would increase funds for the National Institutes of Health by $1 billion and provide $5.7 billion to keep the maximum Pell Grant at its current level, closing an existing shortfall. Most other student aid programs would be held at their 2010 levels under the legislation, but Rep. David Obey, the Wisconsin Democrat who heads the panel, noted that the measure would provide the first significant increase in a decade in job training grants through the Workforce Investment Act.
The University of Texas Investment Management Company is worried enough about the state of the markets that it spent $500 million (about 3 percent of its value) on buying gold, The Houston Chronicle reported. Bruce Zimmerman, CEO of the fund, told the University of Texas Board of Regents this week that the move reflected "a lack of confidence in financial markets," adding that " I wish I could tell you the future looked rosy. Unfortunately, that's not our view. At best, we believe the future is uncertain."
A group called Jewish Voice for Peace -- which is highly critical of Israel's government -- is organizing petitions and hoping to force votes by TIAA-CREF to divest from holdings in companies that the group says "proï¬t from the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem." The group notes past TIAA-CREF policies on investments in companies linked to the Sudan and says that Israel should be the next country sanctioned in this way. TIAA-CREF is opposing the divestment idea. "While TIAA-CREF acknowledges participants’ varying views on Israeli and Palestinian policies and the Gaza Strip and West Bank, we are unable to alter our investment policy in accordance with those views. Our responsibility to earn a competitive financial return on the retirement savings entrusted to us by 3.7 million participants obliges us to invest in a diverse line-up of companies across all sectors of the global economy," said a statement from the pension giant. As to the Sudan comparison, TIAA-CREF noted that its policies there have been consistent with those of the U.S. government, which does not endorse a boycott of Israel. "We believe that concerns about the situation in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank are best addressed by U.S. foreign policy and lend themselves less to using one’s shareholder status to influence portfolio companies," said the statement.
The National Collegiate Athletic Association has put Ball State University on three years' probation for rules violations in its women’s tennis program. The NCAA report, released Wednesday, notes that Kathy Bull, former coach, required her players “to participate in playing and practice hours that exceeded time limitations," “failed to provide two calendar days off per week” and “required student-athletes to participate in mandatory athletic activities during the summer vacation period.” In addition to the probation, the women’s tennis team at Ball State will have its allowable playing and practice time limited further this coming season. Bull received a three-year show-cause order, which “outlines how athletic duties must be limited” if she takes another coaching job.
Birmingham-Southern College has announced deep cuts and layoffs, following the discovery of errors in the way the college was awarding financial aid that have resulted in the need to cut spending by about $10 million a year, The Birmingham News reported. The cuts include 51 layoffs, pay cuts that average 10 percent for all employees (but that are larger for those who are more highly compensated), two one-week furloughs for non-faculty employees, and suspension of contributions to retirement funds.
Betty White is becoming a community college professor -- of the fictional variety. The Los Angeles Times reported that she will guest star on the NBC show "Community," playing June Bauer, " an esteemed but slightly unhinged anthropology professor." The show was originally the cause of much concern among community college educators, but many have come around.
The University of Michigan's medical school recently toughened its conflict of interest rules by barring pharmaceutical industry funding to support continuing medical education. That leaves some wondering why the university's president, Mary Sue Coleman, sits on the board of Johnson & Johnson, The Detroit Free Press reported. Coleman sees the situations as different, noting that she is not involved with the kinds of decisions at the medical school that could directly involve Johnson & Johnson's products. "It's essential that U-M have a voice and interact with the business world," a university spokesman told the Free Press. "She thinks it's her duty to understand what the commercial world is doing."