The U.S. Education Department's inspector general issued a generally positive assessment last week of the department's ability to help colleges make the transition to the government's direct student loan program. The report found that the department's Federal Student Aid office expanded its capacity sufficiently as the competing Federal Family Education Loan Program struggled last year and that the department "appears to have access to sufficient resources to assist schools with the transition to the Direct Loan program" going forward. The audit report says that the department will lean heavily on contractors during the transition, though, and that the department will have to monitor the situation closely "to reduce related performance risk."
Higher Education Quick Takes
In Montana, students at two-year colleges borrow more per year than do students at four-year public colleges and universities, The Missoulian reported. The article noted that tuition rates are 30 percent higher at the four-year colleges. A key reason for the discrepancy is that the two-year college students are more likely than their four-year counterparts to have family obligations and to have full-time jobs (or to have had full-time jobs before starting college). The non-college expenses these students face are motivating the borrowing.
The latest data from the American College Health Association suggest some good news on the spread of H1N1. Of campuses being tracked by the association, 90 percent reported new cases of H1N1 or similar illnesses. That is down from 95 percent the week before. All but seven states reported significant declines in disease activity from Nov. 14 through Nov. 20. More information about the association's tracking of H1N1 may be found here.
Legislation in India to allow foreign universities to create branches in the country, and to create a system for regulating them, has been delayed, The Calcutta Telegraph reported. The legislation, rather than moving forward, will be reviewed to resolve differences among various government agencies. The newspaper characterized the review as placing the bill "into cold storage." Universities in the United States and elsewhere, many of which have been hoping to enter the market in India, have been watching the bill and hoping for its passage.
Florida Gulf Coast University has suspended Patrick Davis as associate professor of counseling amid allegations that he has an inappropriate relationship with a student, The Naples Daily News reported. Two other professors requested an investigation into Davis, charging that he was having a romantic relationship with one of his graduate students, was the father of her child, and had changed her grades. The newspaper found gift registries suggesting wedding plans for Davis and the student, who has not been identified. Davis was not quoted in the article. But an August report on NBC2 about the allegations quoted Davis as sending an e-mail to the university in which he said that the charges were "unfounded and untrue" and "I must say that the avid interest in my personal life seems a bit unbalanced."
The student union of the University of British Columbia has filed a complaint with the United Nations, seeking to have it declare that tuition increases in Canada violate the country's commitment to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The complaint states that Canada and British Columbia are not attempting to comply with the covenant, a United Nations treaty. Among its provisions is the following statement about higher education: "Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education." While the complaint has attracted considerable press attention in Canada, Maclean's reported that some students are upset about the effort and are pushing for its reconsideration. It is unlikely that American students could try to file a similar complaint: While President Carter signed the covenant, the U.S. Senate never ratified the treaty.
Senior Harvard University officials -- especially then-president Lawrence Summers -- repeatedly ignored warnings that the university's investment strategies were placing far too much cash (needed for short-term spending) in risky investments, The Boston Globe reported. The placement of the cash in risky investments has been a key reason why Harvard, which even after investment losses is by far the wealthiest university in the world, has been forced to make many cuts in the last year; such cash reserves, had the advice been followed, would have been easily accessible. Summers declined to comment for the article, but a friend of his familiar with the Harvard investment strategy noted that conditions changed after Summers left the presidency and that the university had the time to change its strategy prior to last year's Wall Street collapse.
Joanne Burrows, president of Clarke College, recently received five $100 bills in the mail and an unusual letter of apology, The Telegraph Herald reported. The anonymous letter writer confessed to having stolen a portable radio from a faculty lounge at the Iowa college 55 years ago, and expressed the hope of making amends for the "foolish act."
President Obama on Tuesday created a new Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, and named two university presidents to lead it. Amy Gutmann of the University of Pennsylvania will be chair and James W. Wagner of Emory University will be the vice chair. “As our nation invests in science and innovation and pursues advances in biomedical research and health care, it’s imperative that we do so in a responsible manner," said Obama in a statement. "This new Commission will develop its recommendations through practical and policy-related analyses."
An anti-evolution group -- backed by the actor Kirk Cameron -- has been spending time this week handing out copies of The Origin of Species that feature an introduction that undercuts Darwin's analysis. Cameron helped with the effort at the University of California at Los Angeles, but some students there challenged him, questioning whether the project was deceptive and whether there was scientific validity for his views. And this being a college campus, students filmed the discussion and posted it online.