Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, May 24, 2010 - 3:00am

Faculty members are warning that the University of Alabama at Huntsville is "in peril" because of flawed priorities, falling applicant interest and deep budget cuts, The Huntsville Times reported. Fifty-two faculty members issued a letter about their concerns last week, arguing that while the administration makes major investments in some areas, key academic fields face debilitating cuts. The university released a statement saying that while it would discuss these concerns with professors, it would not "debate these issues in the media."

Monday, May 24, 2010 - 3:00am

The board of the San Jose/Evergreen Community College District is promising tighter oversight of senior administrators after the release of a law firm's investigation of certain activities of Chancellor Rosa Perez, who is currently on sick leave and will be leaving her position in June, The San Jose Mercury News reported. The board is also asking the local district attorney to investigate whether Perez violated laws. The law firm's report concluded that Perez may have violated conflict of interest laws by buying a house and sharing expenses with her partner, whom she supervised as an administrator at the college. Further, the report cited numerous trips -- some of which her partner made as well -- as being "not cost effective" for the college district. The investigations were prompted by reports in the Mercury News and KGO-TV. Perez could not be reached for comment.

Monday, May 24, 2010 - 3:00am

The Texas Board of Education on Friday approved new history standards that have angered many historians, The Dallas Morning News reported. Critics have said that the standards inject political views into most consideration of modern history, elevating the role of President Reagan above others, for example, and offering a much more positive assessment of Sen. Joseph McCarthy than many scholars find justified. In a victory for the critics, the board returned Thomas Jefferson to the list of political philosophers considered worth studying.

Monday, May 24, 2010 - 3:00am

A poll of professors at Kean University, commissioned by the faculty union but managed by an outside group, found that 83 percent expressed no confidence in President Dawood Farahi. Farahi has been involved in a series of disputes with professors, the most recent over a reorganization plan pushed by the administration to eliminate most departments and merge academic programs into larger schools. Kean officials did not respond to requests for comment on the vote.

Monday, May 24, 2010 - 3:00am

Betty White won a spot guest hosting "Saturday Night Live" after a massive Facebook campaign was begun on her behalf. While academics were not instrumental in that effort, they are very much a force behind a new Facebook campaign to have Slavoj Žižek named as a guest host of SNL. While the philosopher and sociologist has something of a cult following, why SNL? "Let's face it: Žižek is hilarious. The man will surely shine as host of Saturday Night Live," says the campaign's home page, which suggests Britney Spears as the musical guest for the show. Posts on the campaign's wall feature fans' favorite Žižek moments, and some alternate suggestions for musical guest (Lady Gaga, of course, although others argue for the Slovenian group Laibach).

The campaign was created by Alexander Hanna, a graduate student at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Via e-mail, he said that the idea came to him during an IM discussion with a friend at 3 a.m. one day last week. While Hanna acknowledged that Žižek probably lacks Betty White's fan base, "there's some pie-in-the-sky vision I have of enough non-academics learning of the group to dig and find out who he is, then joining the group, leading to some kind of grand introduction of public intellectualism in the U.S." Should Lorne Michaels call for skit ideas, Hanna suggested "a rambling monologue about how the decadence of late capitalism has culminated into this one moment" or possibly a Žižek discussion of applying the ideas of his Pervert's Guide to Cinema to live sketch comedy.

Monday, May 24, 2010 - 3:00am

Students at San Diego State University, who have for years taken advantage of their proximity to Mexico for various education and research programs, are protesting a California State University System decision shutting down all joint programs in Tijuana, the Los Angeles Times reported. While Cal State officials say the move was necessary in light of a surge in drug-related violence, the students say that parts of Tijuana are quite safe and that valuable projects are being stymied. On Saturday, 35 students and faculty members went to Tijuana to take part in everyday activities -- hoping to draw attention to the normal functioning that is evident in the city.

Monday, May 24, 2010 - 3:00am

The U.S. Education Department on Friday awarded $250 million to 20 states to develop or expand longitudinal data systems to track students throughout their educational systems and into the workforce. The funds, for which all states and the District of Columbia applied, were made available through the American Recovery and Restoration Act. The states and their allocations are: Arkansas, $9.8 million; Colorado, $17.4 million; Florida, $10 million; Illinois, $11.9 million; Kansas, $9.1 million; Maine, $7.3 million; Massachusetts, $13 million; Michigan, $10.6 million; Minnesota, $12.4 million; Mississippi, $7.6 million; New York, $19.7 million; Ohio, $5.1 million; Oregon, $10.5 million; Pennsylvania, $14.3 million; South Carolina, $14.9 million; Texas, $18.2 million; Utah, $9.6 million; Virginia, $17.5 million; Washington, $17.3 million; Wisconsin, $13.8 million.

Friday, May 21, 2010 - 3:00am

A longtime donor to Washington University in St. Louis has committed a gift of $60 million to the institution, most of which will come without strings attached, to allow the university to pursue new academic opportunities, its officials announced today. James F. McDonnell -- of the family behind McDonnell Douglas Corp. -- will provide $48 million for a new unrestricted endowment and $12 million for two existing programs that support undergraduate and graduate study.

Friday, May 21, 2010 - 3:00am

The University of California, Berkeley's College of Letters and Science is not yielding to calls for it to drop its plan to ask incoming freshmen and transfers to submit a DNA sample to be analyzed for three genes that have to do with the metabolism of food and drinks. A Tuesday Inside Higher Ed news story opened the floodgates of media coverage by other national and local media outlets. Though Berkeley officials have said the assignment is completely optional and anonymous, the project has been a lightning rod for criticism.

Alix Schwartz, the college's director of undergraduate academic planning, said she and her colleagues are "definitely not canceling the program" in response to the backlash. "Even the negative or ill-informed attention" brought to the plan would "add to the dialogue, and dialogue was what we hoped to generate," she said. Some faculty have voiced concerns about genetic testing "but their response is not hysterical, and we are all talking and listening to one another."

In a letter to Berkeley administrators -- and to Mark Yudof, president of the University of California System -- the Council for Responsible Genetics called the project "woefully naïve." While seemingly harmless, the group's president wrote, the test results have "the risk of increasingly being used out of context in ways that are contrary to the interests of the individual, perhaps even discriminatory, and privacy-invasive." The Center for Genetics and Society, a nonprofit based in Berkeley that has no affiliation with the university, has also asked administrators to cancel the program.

Friday, May 21, 2010 - 3:00am

The selection of architects for the Milton Friedman Institute for Research in Economics has renewed controversy over the University of Chicago's planned center to honor the late professor. The university announced last night that Ann Beha Architects has been selected for the project -- just hours after faculty critics issued a press release questioning why architects had been selected with minimal public discussions of the next stages of the project. The controversy isn't about the architects, but the center itself. Many professors have feared that the institute would be so focused on honoring Friedman that it would be associated only with one (right-wing) school of thought. Further, faculty members question the need for a new institute, especially compared with other priorities. "We would hate to think that the university's evident fixation on financial assets and its desire to exploit the Friedman brand name for fund-raising purposes would lead it to neglect its most valuable assets, its students, faculty and staff, while committing itself to a project whose very name reinforces a narrow, retrograde, and now demonstrably failed set of social and economic policies," says a statement announcing a drive to question the next stages in the center.

The architects hired by the university are being asked to renovate a building that has been used by the Chicago Theological Seminary, which is moving to a new facility. The university announcement was fairly routine (except being rushed out after the university was criticized for not having revealed the news). The university has said repeatedly that the Friedman project will be consistent with academic standards, and will not be restricted in any way to scholarship consistent with the late professor's views.

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