Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, April 8, 2010 - 3:00am

A report by United Educators, which insures many colleges and universities, finds that students brought 38 percent of claims against the institutions from 2004 to 2008. Of the student claims, 80 percent involved bodily injuries (many in cases in which alcohol was involved). Of the bodily injury claims, the top category was slips and falls (29 percent), followed by assaults (20 percent), vehicle and other accidents (19 percent) and athletics (9 percent).

Thursday, April 8, 2010 - 3:00am

Two anonymous donors have saved the baseball team at the University of Wisconsin at La Crosse. In a statement, Chancellor Joe Gow said, “Massive state budget cuts forced us to end funding for baseball at the close of the 2008-9 academic year, and it appeared that we would have to end a key program with a long and rich history. Fortunately, many private donors came forward, and thanks to their kindness, the UW-L baseball program is able to operate during the current year.” The La Crosse Tribune reports that the $100,000 donation helped the team reach its five-year funding goal of $175,000, a benchmark it was required to meet by the UW system to ensure its continuation. Still, the gift assures the team's survival for only five more years. Boosters say they are working to make the team self-sufficient by 2015.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 - 3:00am

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments in a case over whether public universities can require religious organizations (like other entities) to abide by nondiscrimination rules as a condition of recognition and funding, Cornell University has been having a similar debate. While some Cornell units are part of the State University of New York, the university as a whole is a private institution, and so has been able to consider the issue without being forced by courts to come down on one side or another. Currently, the university requires recognized groups to abide by nondiscrimination rules (including those covering sexual orientation) with regard to membership, but permits groups to discriminate on the basis of religious beliefs with regard to their leaders. The Student Assembly wants to end that exemption and has drafted policies that would do so. But David Skorton, Cornell's president, who has the final say, has issued a letter suggesting that the Student Assembly scale back its policy. Skorton backed the right to require complete nondiscrimination as a requirement for receiving student activity funds. But he said that religious groups should continue to be exempt from the requirement -- for their leaders only, not for their membership -- for other matters of university recognition (such as access to university facilities).

In his letter, Skorton noted that even if Cornell is not bound by court cases, they matter to the university. "Private corporations and universities -- and Cornell University is both -- are not compelled by law to recognize or extend constitutional rights to individuals or organizations. However, many private universities, including Cornell, typically have chosen to do so as a matter of policy," he wrote. "When considering the basis and boundaries of such rights, private universities typically look to clearly established constitutional law (as developed by the courts) for guidance. And when determining how such constitutionally recognized rights as freedoms of speech, press, association, and religion should inform and/or be incorporated into university policy documents, private universities (including Cornell) are cognizant, as they should be, of their own First Amendment right as a private university of academic autonomy to determine appropriate educational policy."

Skorton also noted that he viewed his position as one of compromise, involving competing rights, between the university's interest in barring bias and the religious groups' interest in adhering to their beliefs. He said that this approach does support the right of religious groups to make decisions (such as barring gay students from leadership positions) that he doesn't necessarily endorse. Such bans, he said, "may strike many of us as outdated, indeed offensive; but First Amendment principles protect even offensive speech and, within certain limits, recognize the right of private associations to tailor their membership and leadership practices."

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 - 3:00am

Mariam Stricklen, a tenured professor of crop and soil sciences at Michigan State University, has retracted an article she published in the journal Nature Reviews Genetics, writing that she unintentionally included a paragraph from an unpublished article she had reviewed for another journal, Plant Science, The Lansing State Journal reported. Stricklen, who is currently on medical leave, wrote that she is under treatment for a medical condition that has caused memory difficulties. Ian Gray, Michigan State's vice president for research, said that disciplinary action had been taken in the case.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 - 3:00am

The Lecturers' Employee Organization at the University of Michigan is protesting the non-renewal by the university of the union's vice president, Kirsten Herold, who has taught there for 18 years. Union leaders and the American Federation of Teachers, with which the campus unit is affiliated, see the non-renewal as retaliation for strong leadership of the union, and note that in negotiations over a new contract, the union has been pushing for more protections so that lecturers cannot be victims of "bogus" evaluations. A spokeswoman for the university said that while she could not discuss personnel matters, Michigan follows procedures for lecturers' evaluations as spelled out in the current contract. The spokeswoman also said that there was "no connection" between any personnel decision and the negotiations with the union.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 - 3:00am

At a February meeting where San Francisco's school board considered and approved a plan to offer more ethnic studies courses, the dean of ethnic studies at San Francisco State University offered that any ninth grader who took one of the new courses would receive six credits at the university. There was one problem. As The San Francisco Chronicle reported, the university's president didn't know about the offer and, it turns out, the president and many others on the campus don't think the idea is appropriate. At this point, the offer is off.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 - 3:00am

A South Carolina judge on Tuesday extended a temporary order that is keeping in place the board of Erskine College. Leaders of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church have been trying to gain control of the board, in part by firing many of its members, and college alumni and others have filed suit to block those actions.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010 - 3:00am

Florida's government and public colleges need to consider a range of policies to enroll and graduate more Latino students, according to a report released Tuesday by Excelencia in Education. The report calls for better outreach to students (and their parents) well before their college years, for more scholarship assistance, and for better coordination among different providers of education. With the Latino population growing in Florida, the report notes that the state's overall educational attainment is at risk. Among all Floridians aged 25 through 64, 37 percent have at least an associate degree. The figure is only 23 percent for Latinos.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 - 3:00am

The American Federation of Teachers on Monday began "What Should Count?," a Web site with articles and discussions about the accountability movement in higher education. The goal of the site is to provide "a platform for bringing the faculty and staff perspective to those who create policies and practices around these issues."

Tuesday, April 6, 2010 - 3:00am

The American Association of University Professors on Monday announced that it is beginning a formal investigation into the case of Ivor van Heerden, who was a leading whistle blower in the analysis of what went wrong after Katrina hit New Orleans, and who is suing Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, charging that he was fired from his position at the university's hurricane research center because of anger over his criticisms of the Army Corps of Engineers. The university, while declining to discuss details about the case, has denied that he lost his job for that reason.

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