Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 3:00am

The California State University System spent $1.87 million on legal bills related to a whistle-blower lawsuit that it settled last month (for $2.7 million) with David Ohton, formerly a football strength coach at San Diego State University, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. Ohton's lawyer told the newspaper that said he initially offered to settle the case for an apology and his former coaching assignment -- with no money involved -- and that proposal was rejected. Ohton is leaving the university as part of the settlement. His suit focused on his demotion to other jobs, which he said was related to assistance he provided to a Cal State audit that was critical of spending practices in the athletics program at San Diego State.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 3:00am

A Louisiana judge granted an injunction Tuesday to block a study of a proposal to merge Southern University of New Orleans and the University of New Orleans, The Advocate reported. The injunction was sought in a suit by seven Southern students charging that the Louisiana Board of Regents in its current composition is unconstitutional, and thus lacks the authority to review the study that was under way until the injunction was issued. The lawsuit states that the board is required to represent the diversity of the state, but that all of the appointed members of the board are white. (Until recently there were some minority members, but the latest round of appointments replaced them.) Those bringing the suit, and many other supporters of Southern, a historically black institution, oppose the idea of a merger. Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, called for the study of the merger, citing low graduation rates at the two universities, but critics say that Southern has a valuable mission that would get lost in a combined institution.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Twenty-three academic groups issued a joint statement Tuesday condemning Glenn Beck, the television commentator, for language that has inspired others to make threats against Frances Fox Piven, a noted professor of sociology and political science at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Beck has said that he was only engaging in legitimate criticism of a scholar with whom he disagrees. The statement from the scholarly groups says in part: "We vigorously support serious, honest, and passionate public debate.... We support serious engagement on the research of Professor Piven and of others who study controversial issues such as unemployment, the economic crisis, the rights of welfare recipients, and the place of government intervention. We also support the right of political commentators to participate in such debates. At the same time, we insist that all parties recognize the rights of academic researchers not only to gather and analyze evidence related to controversial questions, but also to arrive at their own conclusions and to expect those conclusions to be reported accurately in public debates." The groups that signed the letter are:

  • American Anthropological Association
  • American Association of Geographers
  • American Council of Learned Societies
  • American Educational Research Association
  • American Sociological Association
  • Association for Humanist Sociology
  • Board, American Society of Criminology
  • Board, Research Committee 19 (Poverty, Social Welfare, and Social Policy) of the International Sociological Association
  • Board, Society for the Study of Social Problems
  • Consortium of Social Science Associations
  • Eastern Sociological Society
  • Linguistic Society of America
  • Mid-South Sociological Association
  • Midwest Sociological Society
  • National Women’s Studies Association
  • Pacific Sociological Association
  • Planners of Color Interest Group, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning
  • Rural Sociological Society
  • Social Science History Association
  • Social Science Research Council
  • Sociologists for Women in Society
  • Sociologists Without Borders
  • Southern Sociological Society
Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of California at Berkeley on Tuesday announced plans to spend more than $500,000 to add more than 30 foreign language courses, beginning in the next academic year. The additions are part of a broad effort at Berkeley to add sections of courses needed by freshmen and others to launch themselves in various courses of study. Sections will be added in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese. The news from Berkeley comes at a time that a number of public universities are scaling back language offerings, frequently citing the relatively small number of majors in various programs. The Berkeley announcement noted that the university's analysis has found that only a small minority of language students at the university are language majors, but that the instruction is essential for many courses of study and careers.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 3:00am

Gallaudet University announced Monday that it will eliminate 17 academic programs (pdf) in a gradual process that will end in August 2013. Six undergraduate majors, six undergraduate minors, three master’s degree programs, one educational specialist program, and one doctoral program will be affected. No faculty layoffs of any kind are planned. The programs include an undergraduate major and minor in French, majors in theater arts and computer science, and a master's program in deaf history.

The announcement comes after a university task force spent seven months reviewing 99 undergraduate and graduate academic program offerings “on a set of agreed-upon common criteria for recommending growth, monitoring, restructuring, merging, or discontinuing.” A campus-wide public comment session followed. The review was prompted in an effort to meet the goals set out in the university’s “Vision 2020” plan, explained Benjamin J. Soukup, chair of the university’s board of trustees. “We feel these recommendations will help us meet those milestones and dramatically improve our offerings to ensure Gallaudet’s continued growth and success,” he said.

Jane Dillehay, chair of the Gallaudet Faculty Senate, issued the following statement on its behalf: "As a whole we recognize that resources are limited and our ability to support all of our programs effectively are limited. Our first commitment is to provide an educational experience to prepare today's students for their futures. While many faculty remain concerned with flaws in the process, the Program Prioritization Task Force was a product of shared governance. The university provost and president have pledged to continue that approach in developing an implementation plan for transition to help students complete their studies by August 2013, place faculty in other programs to avoid layoffs, and reallocate resources to support our stronger programs."

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 3:00am

A group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers said Monday that they would seek to use budget legislation the House will consider this week to try to block the Education Department from carrying out regulations requiring vocational programs (and all programs at for-profit colleges) to ensure that they prepare students for "gainful employment." In an interview in his office, Representative John Kline (R-Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, said that he and three other lawmakers would sponsor an amendment to the continuing resolution legislation that the House could take up as early as today. The measure would bar the Education Department from using any of its appropriated funds in 2011 to promulgate or enforce the gainful employment regulations, which for-profit college officials have fought on a variety of fronts.

Kline, who spoke with reporters along with Representative Alcee Hastings, a Florida Democrat, said the lawmakers were confident that the House would pass the legislation, and hoped that that vote would send a "strong signal" to "the administration and our friends in the Senate" that "somebody ought to take another look at" the wisdom and fairness of the rules. "We have an opportunity right now to make a statement." Kline said the lawmakers objected both to the one piece of the gainful employment regulation that the department has already published -- which requires institutions wishing to create new vocational programs to get the Education Department's approval to do so -- and to the forthcoming portion of the rules that would institute a new set of outcomes that vocational programs would have to meet.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 3:00am

The ratings outlook for nonprofit higher education's 2011 remains mixed, according to a report issued Monday by Standard & Poor's. In 2011, "operating results and demand will likely be uneven, and institutions with high debt and limited liquidity could experience severe stress," according to the report. However, "many institutions will perform favorably over the next year," and, in the long-term, the credit profile remains stable. Standard & Poor's does not expect public colleges as a whole to face more serious difficulties than private colleges -- despite state funding cuts. But the credit-rating agency projects that public four-year colleges will experience increased competition from both private and community colleges.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 3:00am

Next Generation Learning Challenges, a program that plans to disburse $20 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to educational technology projects over the next two years, on Monday released the 50 higher-ed finalists for its first round of grants. The projects were chosen as finalists based on their potential impact on college access and completion through the development and use of open courseware, blended learning, "deeper" learning, and learning analytics. About 60 percent of the finalists are expected to receive grants. The foundation is currently working on selecting the winners, which are expected to be announced in early spring.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Holona Ochs of Lehigh University examines how we decide when to tip and how social factors influence the amount. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011 - 3:00am

Brown University will stop all future investment in HEI Hotels and Resorts, a real estate company under scrutiny for its treatment of workers. Any current investments held by Brown will not be affected "since they may be difficult or impossible to divest from due to long-term commitments," according to Luiz F. Valente, chair of Brown's Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies, which recommended the investment review. Critics have said that HEI interferes with union organizing and other worker rights. “After conferring with the Investment Committee of the Corporation, the university's governing body, the university has accepted ACCRIP's recommendation,” wrote Sarah Kidwell, Brown’s director of news and communications, in a statement via e-mail. The Brown Student Labor Alliance had lobbied for years for this result, said Lenora Knowles, a member of the alliance, and who said that "this is a big accomplishment" that assures "our university is using this money in a way that is not compromising the values of students.” HEI declined to comment on Brown's move, but has in the past disputed criticisms of its labor practices.

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