Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Southern California today will announce a $200 million gift to rename its College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, the Los Angeles Times reported. The donation, from David Dornsife, an alumnus, and his wife Dana, comes with no restrictions on how it can be spent, to the delight of President C. L. Max Nikias, who told the newspaper the gift was "transformative." USC plans to use the funds to support faculty hiring, research and fellowships, and its officials said the money would especially bolster the humanities and social sciences, the Times said.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 3:00am

The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation on Tuesday to rewrite the country's patent laws, mostly in ways that strengthen the hand of institutions (including research universities) and companies over individual inventors. Ninety-five senators voted for the measure, which was backed by many higher education groups. The legislation is designed to align the U.S. patent system more closely with those in other major countries, and it would alter the law so a patent for an innovation would be granted to the first inventor to file an application for it, rather than to the creator of the innovation.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 3:00am

Pennsylvania's four-year institutions of higher education would see a nearly 50 percent cut in state support while community colleges would escape relatively unscathed, according to a budget proposal released Tuesday by Governor Tom Corbett. State support for the 14 universities in the State System of Higher Education and the four state-related institutions, Pennsylvania State University, Temple University, the University of Pittsburgh and Lincoln University, all would be reduced by about 50 percent -- from nearly $1.1 billion to $554 million. The state's 14 community colleges would see funding decrease by 1 percent -- from $214 million to $212 million.

"I am here to say that education cannot be the only industry exempt from recession," Corbett, a Republican who is in his first year in office after serving as the state's attorney general. "I ask nothing more of our best educated people than to face up to a hard economic reality. The system in which you have flourished is in trouble." Corbett also noted that increasing levels of state subsidy over the past decades had not done anything to hold down tuition hikes during that period.

The union representing the faculty of the universities of the state system warned that the cuts, if they stand, will result in "massive" tuition increases and threaten to wreak long-term economic damage. Penn State's president, Graham Spanier, called the cut "devastating" and added that the drop in state support that it represents -- from 8 percent to 4 percent of the university's total budget -- "suggests a redefinition of Penn State’s role as Pennsylvania’s land-grant institution."

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 3:00am

The leader of the University of the District of Columbia's trustees told members of Washington's city council that the board may require President Allen Sessoms to repay some of the university funds he spent on first-class airfare, The Washington Post reported. Sessoms has come under fire for his spending practices, and the chairman of the UDC board told a sometimes tense meeting of the D.C. Council that the trustees may require the president to reimburse some funds. As has been true in Sessoms' past presidencies, too, his leadership has deeply divided the UDC campus.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011 - 3:00am

Oregon State University strongly defended itself Tuesday against a local politician's highly publicized charges that the university is trying to expel his children because of his political views. Art Robinson, who lost a bid to unseat U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio in November and plans to challenge him again in 2012, began an aggressive Internet campaign Monday (backed by articles in several conservative publications) alleging that Oregon State is acting against his three children, all of whom are in graduate school at the university.

Robinson, who calls the university a "liberal socialist Democrat stronghold," suggests that the university is engaging in "political payback" because of DeFazio's earmarks and other support for Oregon State, and in the process makes a series of charges about "wild drunken parties" and other alleged misbehavior by faculty members at the grad school. In its statement, Oregon State officials said they had investigated Robinson's charges (which they said he began making last fall) and found them "baseless.... It is regrettable that Mr. Robinson continues to spread these false claims, causing concern where none is due. Despite the significant and ongoing attention that the university has given these matters, he has engaged in a pattern of inflammatory and reckless communication riddled with inaccuracies."

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Nevada at Reno -- facing steep budget cuts from the state -- on Monday announced a plan to eliminate numerous programs and, with them, 225 positions, of which 150 are currently filled. Among the programs that will be eliminated: the School of Social Work, degrees in theater and French, the assessment office and the special collections division of the library.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- It's one thing for Clayton M. Christensen to share with a bunch of Washington think tankers his warnings that colleges must change or die, as he did at the American Enterprise Institute last month. But directly to the faces of college presidents themselves, at the annual gathering of their main national association? Yet there was the Harvard Business School professor known for documenting how industries get transformed by "disruptive technologies" on Monday, telling hundreds of college chiefs at the annual meeting of the American Council on Education that he was not at all sure in 20 years if their institutions would still be around. Some of Christensen's ideas (drawn from a paper he co-wrote with Henry Eyring of Brigham Young University-Idaho called "The Innovative University: Changing the DNA of Higher Education") and comments may have stung, notably his prediction that distance education, done well, can subject existing higher education to disruption that could render many existing institutions irrelevant in two decades. "There is good reason for many of us to think that we might be okay in 20 years. But I think we might be wrong," he said.

But with a good-natured, deadpan delivery and a powerful personal story -- having re-learned how to speak after suffering a stroke in July -- Christensen captivated an audience that could well have found his comments disturbing instead.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 3:00am

A new report suggests that Indian universities may be able to recruit substantial numbers of Indian graduate students in the United States to return. The issue is key because Indian universities badly need to recruit more faculty talent, and many have assumed that those who come to the United States for graduate study are unlikely to consider jobs in India. The new study -- by researchers at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, Pennsylvania State University and the Tata Institute of Social Sciences -- interviewed 1,000 Indians who are either pursuing or have finished graduate work in the United States. Only 8 percent said that they strongly preferred to stay in the United States. While many cited obstacles to going home, their answers suggested that the right packages and conditions could attract many of them.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Keith Pomakoy of Adirondack Community College examines the use of the term "genocide" in connection with recent events in Libya. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011 - 3:00am

Roland Toups has resigned as a member the Louisiana Board of Regents, under pressure from Governor Bobby Jindal, as the board is facing criticism that all of its gubernatorial appointees are white, The Times-Picayune reported. Jindal, a Republican, is pushing a plan to merge historically black Southern University in New Orleans with the University of New Orleans. Defenders of Southern are attacking the plan in part by questioning whether the Board of Regents, which will play a key role in considering the plan, is out of compliance with a state constitutional requirement that it reflect the population of Louisiana. An aide to the governor said that the diversity issue was a reason Toups was asked to resign.

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