Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

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Friday, September 17, 2010 - 3:00am

The University of California is routinely ignoring its own policies on proxy votes involving stocks in its endowment, according to an investigation by Bay Citizen, a nonprofit journalism organization whose work appears in The New York Times. The university's rules require a case-by-case analysis on proxy measures involving social issues, but the analysis found that the university appears to routinely vote against measures that would seem to require such an analysis -- without evidence of a study having taken place. Melvin Stanton, the university’s associate chief investment officer, told the Bay Citizen: "Our focus is doing what is best to improve the financial wherewithal of a particular company,” adding that "we’re not really focusing on social issues.”

Friday, September 17, 2010 - 3:00am

The chancellor of the University of New Orleans is out of a job -- though he and the president of the Louisiana State University System offered different perspectives on whether he jumped or was pushed. The LSU System announced Thursday that its president, John V. Lombardi, had accepted the resignation of Timothy Ryan, chancellor of the New Orleans institution since 2003, and that Lombardi and a team of system officials and local board members would oversee the campus until a successor is named. Later Thursday, Ryan held a news conference at which he told reporters that he had been called to Lombardi's office and "fired" because he "would not allow the LSU System to run UNO as a branch campus of LSU in Baton Rouge." The LSU system released a letter in which Lombardi said he was accepting a recent offer by Ryan to resign. Ryan admitted at the news conference that he had made such an offer, but said he had done so only after essentially being forced out. The LSU system is facing significant budget cuts, and the system's statement said that the interim management team would "conduct a thorough, top-to-bottom review of UNO's strengths in preparing to manage the difficult budget process" over the next year.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

The Higher Education Price Index (HEPI) for fiscal 2010, was 0.9 percent, less than half the 2.3 percent rate for FY2009, according to the Commonfund Institute, which calculates the figure. The index is intended to be used, like an inflation rate, in examining college budgets and policies. The idea is that colleges' expenses are sufficiently different from those in national inflation rates to merit a separate figure. The chief reason for this year's low rate was that two spending categories used in calculating the rate -- materials and utilities -- saw declines in prices.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has overturned the arson conviction of Briana Walters for an attack on a horticulture laboratory at the University of Washington, The Seattle Times reported. The appeals court ordered a new trial for Walters, of the Earth Liberation Front, saying that the judge in the trial -- who has since died -- improperly allowed some evidence into the trial and failed to question jurors about whether they were exposed to news about the case. "While the evidence against Waters may have been sufficient to sustain her conviction, our review of the record does not leave us convinced that her conviction was fairly obtained," the decision granting a new trial said.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

The Justice Department on Wednesday published revised regulations on certain aspects of the Americans With Disabilities Act, dealing with some issues that relate to higher education. More detail is provided on the obligations to make sure that their athletic stadiums are sufficiently accessible to people with physical disabilities, for example, an issue on which some universities and advocates for those with disabilities have clashed in the past. Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education, said she had not yet studied the revisions -- which are lengthy and complicated -- in detail, but that it appeared that the department had responded to concerns expressed by colleges about some parts of earlier drafts of the regulations. One example is in another part of the regulations -- concerning service animals. The regulations state, for instance, that "service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability." Meloy said that some colleges have received requests to treat other animals -- including reptiles -- as service animals and that officials wanted specificity of the sort outlined in the regulations.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

Ohio State University announced Wednesday that its new senior vice president for university development is Andrew A. Sorensen. The appointment is unusual in that Sorensen already has been a university president, twice -- serving at the University of South Carolina and the University of Alabama. While many former presidents return to faculty positions, it is unusual -- but not unheard of -- for them to take administrative positions in which they aren't president. Among those who have done so: Thomas G. Burish, provost of the University of Notre Dame, who was president of Washington and Lee University.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

During a year in which the University of California at Berkeley faced deep budget cuts, furloughs and student unrest, did it become a much better institution? Times Higher Education released its world rankings Wednesday night -- and Berkeley came in at #8, an impressive gain from #39 last year. And once again, the power of methodology changes is evident in rankings. After last year's rankings were widely criticized -- with many citing Berkeley's relatively low grades as an example that something must have been wrong with the formula -- Times Higher switched rankings partners and changed its methodology. (Among other changes, the weight has been reduced for the "reputational survey" -- with separate surveys on teaching and research.) Generally, American universities fare well in the formula, occupying 7 of the top 10 spots, and all of the top 5.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

Georgia State University is enjoying its first season of college football, and now another Georgia institution is moving down that path. Kennesaw State University has had a committee studying the possibility of adding football, and it announced Wednesday that the panel was recommending that the team be added. There was, however, one glitch in the announcement. Vince Dooley, the legendary University of Georgia coach who led the committee, briefed the campus on the recommendations, announcing that he wanted to see football come to Kansas State University. The crowd corrected him.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

Some at Harvard University question whether the university should honor Martin Peretz, the editor of The New Republic, in light of one of his recent blog posts, The Boston Globe reported. In the post, he wrote: “Frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims,’’ and argued that Muslims have hardly “raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood.... So yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse." He has since apologized and said that he doesn't believe that, but critics at Harvard say this is not a time to go ahead with plans to name an undergraduate research fund in his honor. Alumni and others have raised $500,000 for the fund. Peretz taught at Harvard for 40 years. Harvard issued a statement indicating that it has no intention of blocking the honor, saying that “it is central to the mission of a university to protect and affirm free speech, including the rights of Dr. Peretz, as well as those who disagree with him, to express their views.’’

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

Labor leaders are criticizing plans by the University of California to require a greater employee contribution to the pension fund, the Los Angeles Times reported. With the university projecting a deficit in the pension fund as high as $21 billion, it started requiring payments by itself (of 4 percent of salaries) and of employees (2 percent) this year. Under a plan that could be approved as soon as today, those shares would increase to 5 percent for employees and 10 percent for the university. Future changes could raise the retirement age or create two tiers of benefits, with new employees not receiving everything going to those currently employed. Union leaders argue that many of these changes will have a disproportionate impact on those at the low end of the salary scale.

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