Gov. Jennifer Granholm decided not to veto funds for Michigan State University's agricultural extension programs after striking a deal in which the university agreed to restructure the programs to focus on environmental issues, the Detroit Free Press reported. Granholm had been widely expected to veto much of the $64 million in state funds that Michigan State's extension and experiment station programs receive annually, but changes announced by the university Wednesday appeared to have averted the cuts.
Higher Education Quick Takes
The University of Florida received attention this month for a spoof disaster planning document -- place on the university's Web site with other disaster preparedness documents -- on dealing with a zombie attack. On Wednesday, an improv student group called Theatre Strike Force demonstrated what a zombie attack might actually look like. The Independent Florida Alligator has video of the "attack."
Colleges have seen a surge in the rates at which students are being diagnosed with H1N1 or similar flu illnesses, according to new data from the American College Health Association. The association has been using a national sample of 270 colleges and universities to track the spread of H1N1, and, in the last week, the rate of cases increased by 34 percent. In addition, several regions where H1N1 had appeared to be in decline -- the Northeast, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest -- saw increases. Of the colleges in the survey, 97 percent reported new cases. Details on the latest data are available here.
The higher ed technology group Educause on Wednesday released its based on the results of its "Core Data Service Fiscal Year 2008 Summary Report," annual survey of 930 colleges and universities. This year's installment focuses on information technology trends on campuses between 2004 and 2008. Centralized IT funding rose, but only in proportion to enrollment and inflation. Outsourcing became more popular: In 2008, 70 percent of colleges used an external supplier for at least one IT function, and the use of homegrown systems decreased for all categories except library information systems. Colleges have increasingly turned to commercial vendors for learning management systems and e-mail clients, with a number of campuses considering dropping institutional e-mail addresses altogether, the report says.
Monday, Butler University formally withdrew the libel and defamation lawsuit it had filed against Jess Zimmerman, an undergraduate student who kept an anonymous blog that criticized senior administrators. The case did not name Zimmerman directly, and instead was filed against “Soodo Nym,” the moniker he used to write the blog. Even after Zimmerman went public and admitted he was “Soodo Nym,” Bobby Fong, Butler's president, told faculty multiple times, as he did in one statement, that “The university did not, has not, and will not sue Jess Zimmerman.” By university administrators' logic, because they had not named Zimmerman directly in the suit, they had not technically ever sued a student. Zimmerman and many professors and other students took issue with this stance in the days following his public outing. On Zimmerman's new blog, he even kept a running tally of the number of days the lawsuit remained active in Marion County court following Fong’s statement that the university was not suing him. Ultimately, the suit remained in force for a week.
Michael Blickman, the university’s attorney, noted in a statement that the university had begun an “internal disciplinary process” to punish Zimmerman last week, before the suit was dropped. Of the move, Blickman said, “The university and its administrators strongly support freedom of speech and academic freedom. The free exchange of ideas is fundamental to academic life. However, the University also has a commitment and duty to protect the safety of all its members and ensure the opportunity to teach and to learn freely.” Zimmerman, by contrast, criticized how the disciplinary process was being handled in his blog: “I worry about them since the president, on numerous occasions, has seen fit to pronounce me guilty. I would have hoped that we could have the trial first and the verdict second, but that isn’t the way Butler has decided to operate."
An article in The Huffington Post explores continuing concerns over whether oversight of research subjects is sufficient to protect participants. While some instances of insufficient protection have received widespread public attention, the article says, others have not and the Obama administration has suggested interest in the issue by appointing a critic of oversight to lead the Office of Human Research Protections.
The lawyer for a woman who has accused three University of Arkansas basketball players of rape is demanding a special prosecutor in the case after local officials declined to prosecute. The Associated Press reported that the lawyer cited conflicts of interest by the university, which conducted initial investigations into the allegations. For instance, the lawyer noted that a university police officer -- in a videotaped interview -- said "I don't do anything to an athlete that I'm not comfortable with the fact that this is going to become national news." Further, the request noted that the local prosecutor who declined to bring charges is the son-in-law of the former Arkansas athletics director, Frank Broyles, an icon in the state, and the brother-in-law of an athletics department spokesman. The prosecutor said that his relatives played no role in his decision, which he said was motivated by a lack of evidence.
The U.S. Education Department published final regulations today carrying out a broad array of changes that Congress made last year made in student grant, campus crime and other programs in the Higher Education Act. The changes include guidelines for a year-round Pell Grant, increased reporting about fire safety, and the first-ever requirements governing illegal file sharing. On Wednesday, the department published final rules to carry out changes made to student loan programs in the Higher Education Opportunity Act. Among the many provisions, which were published in the Federal Register, include changing how student loan default rates are calculated, requiring colleges to disclose significantly more information about their relationships with lenders, and expanding loan cancellation to a slew of other fields. Also Wednesday, the department announced that it was seeking new suggestions for innovative student aid changes it should support through the reconstituted Experimental Sites Initiative. The program, under which the federal government eases certain red tape for experiments that ease the delivery of aid to students without increasing waste or fraud, was ended by the Bush administration last year to the consternation of the 100-plus colleges in the program. Congress extended the authority of the existing experiments through next July, but many colleges have ended their experiments, given the planned phaseout. A department spokeswoman said that the department is seeking ideas about possible experimental designs into which it would then invite colleges to participate. Suggestions are due December 18.
Well, you can't say that Sen. Lamar Alexander isn't an equal opportunity irritant to his successors as U.S. education secretary. Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who headed the federal agency during the first Bush administration, won the eternal gratitude of many college leaders by stopping Education Secretary Margaret Spellings dead in her tracks two years ago when she tried to use the federal regulatory process to bring about major changes in higher education accreditation. (Alexander argued that Spellings was trying to work around Congress, and helped pass legislation to make sure she couldn't; the secretary wasn't pleased.) On Wednesday, he took to the Senate floor to criticize Spellings' successor, Arne Duncan, on roughly similar grounds. He was unhappy that Duncan had sent a letter this week urging college presidents to get their campuses ready for a possible switch to the government's direct student loan program, even though Congress has yet to pass -- and the Senate has yet to consider -- legislation that would mandate such a switch, by ending lending through the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan Program. "The secretary's gotten a little ahead of himself," Alexander said, adding that the "Washington takeover" of the loan program -- he's not a fan of President Obama's proposal -- requires Congressional approval because "we have more than one branch of government in this town." He urged the administration to stop trying to ram through legislation that would force thousands of colleges to switch loan programs by July 1, which could result, Alexander said, in a "14 million car pileup on the interstate highways of American education," envisioning students unable to get loans because of administrative disarray in the government-run program. Administration officials have repeatedly said that colleges have found it much easier to switch loan programs than critics allege, and that they are intent on making changes that will pour tens of billions of dollars more into student aid programs.
Metropolitan Community College has announced plans to sue five other community colleges in Nebraska, in an escalating dispute over state financing of the institutions, The Omaha World-Herald reported. Metro, in Omaha, has been arguing that the state's financing formula unfairly favors colleges in rural areas. The suit is over allegations that the other colleges submitted incorrect information about tuition rates to the state, so that the formula would provide them with more money. Officials of the other colleges were quoted as saying that they were responding to Metro submitting questionable figures itself.