Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, February 19, 2010 - 3:00am

Federal Bureau of Investigation agents on Thursday raided offices at Sonoma State University, The Press Democrat reported. The FBI investigation apparently focuses on possible misuse of federal grant funds through an institute that was shut down at the university in 2007.

Friday, February 19, 2010 - 3:00am

The Anti-Defamation League on Thursday came out against calls by some Jewish groups to boycott the University of California at Irvine (in enrollment and donations) because of controversies over campus events related to Israel, most recently a talk by the Israeli ambassador to the United States, who was repeatedly interrupted by protesters. The ADL praised the university's leaders for responding quickly in condemning the interruptions, even while noting concerns over numerous anti-Israel events. However, the ADL said that a boycott of a university would not be an appropriate way to respond even to legitimate concerns. Abraham H. Foxman, ADL's national director, said: "We are surprised that those who call for a boycott fail to recognize that it is a double-edged sword that legitimizes a tactic so often used against Jews and Israel, particularly in academic settings. We believe academic boycotts are inappropriate, harmful and counterproductive, and will not work to resolve the situation on campus."

Friday, February 19, 2010 - 3:00am

The University of Maryland at Baltimore made $410,000 in "questionable" payments to a senior administrator for a sabbatical he did not take and to conduct summer research, and failed to disclose the payments to a legislative budget committee, a state audit has concluded. The audit by the Maryland General Assembly's Office of Legislative Audits found that the "senior management employee" -- whom neither the audit nor the university identified -- had received $350,000 in 2007 as compensation for sabbatical leave that the employee was "eligible for, but never actually took," on top of an annual salary salary of $360,000. The audit said that the university's president, David J. Ramsay, had approved the payment even though the university's policies and those if the University System of Maryland "do not contain any provisions that allow employees to be paid for unused sabbatical leave." (Ramsay issued a statement about the audit.) The audit also found that the same employee had received a total of $60,000 from 2007 to 2009 for summer research -- compensation that was approved not by the manager's supervisor, but by a subordinate. The administrator's compensation package had not been submitted to the state's attorney general or the system's Board of Regents for review.

Friday, February 19, 2010 - 3:00am

The University of Hawaii at Manoa's athletics department may be facing a deficit as high as $10.1 million, The Honolulu Advertiser reported. Among the reasons for the growing deficit: growing travel costs and declining ticket sales.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 3:00am

High schools in eight states have agreed to participate in a project aimed at using a system of "board examinations" to get high achieving students to do college-level work as early as 10th grade, the National Center for Education and the Economy announced Wednesday. Under the plan, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, high schools in Connecticut, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Vermont will give volunteering students one of a series of exams (such as ACT’s QualityCore, the College Board’s Advanced Placement exam, or Pearson/Edexcel’s IGCSE and A-level programs) near the end of 10th grade, and those who pass will earn a high school diploma and the chance (if they choose) to enroll in any open admissions college in their state the following fall. Students can also opt to stay in high school and take courses designed to prepare them for admission to a selective college. Students who fail the exam will be prepped to help them pass it the next time they take it. “By introducing these Board Examination Systems in pilot high schools in these states as early as the 2011-2012 school year, we will begin a process that will ultimately prepare dramatically more students for college success and greatly reduce the high number of students who now take remedial courses in college,” said Marc Tucker, president of the national center.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 3:00am

A committee studying enrollment strategy at the University of Texas at Austin has recommended that undergraduates be required to finish their degrees in 10 semesters, the Associated Press reported. The current average length of time is 8.5 semesters. Students enrolled in programs for which the expected completion time is longer than 8 semesters would be exempt, and appeals could be filed for special circumstances. The rationale for the proposal is that the university can't meet demand for space if too many students take too long to graduate.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 3:00am

Taking a page from President Obama's recent criticism of Wall Street bankers, Education Secretary Arne Duncan sharpened his rhetoric about the student loan industry in urging Congress to pass an overhaul of federal student aid programs during a telephone news conference with reporters Tuesday. Student loan providers "had a free ride from taxpayers for too long," Duncan said, calling for passage of the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act that has passed the House and has been stalled for months behind health care legislation in the Senate. "It's a simple choice: subsidize banks or invest in children," Duncan said of the legislation, which would stop the origination of loans by banks and compel all colleges to participate in the department-run direct loan program. The administration would use savings from the change, which were originally estimated at $87 billion but have arguably shrunk since then, to increase Pell Grants, buttress community colleges, and invest in early childhood education, among other things. Lenders have challenged many aspects of the president's plan and have been working hard to win over enough Democratic senators to threaten passage of the legislation and build support for an alternative.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 3:00am

George Washington University accidentally sent about 200 applicants it was rejecting an e-mail congratulating them and welcoming them to the institution, The Washington Post reported. The university followed up a few hours later with an explanation, no doubt disappointing the early decision applicants, for whom GW was their first choice college.

Thursday, February 18, 2010 - 3:00am

The University of California at Berkeley, barred by the state from considering race in admissions, is today announcing a major, privately supported effort to create an inclusive curriculum and campus. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that a $16 million gift -- which could grow considerably with matching funds -- will pay for a variety of efforts. Among them: five endowed chairs, including one on disability and one on gay rights; funds to revise 30 courses to emphasize community and public service; and scholarships for transfer students from community colleges, who are more likely to be black, Latino or from low-income families than are students who enroll as freshmen.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010 - 3:00am

Historians -- some with ties to the Kennedy family and some who have studied the family -- have created a Web site to denounce the History Channel for a forthcoming mini-series that they say is full of distortions. The site features a petition that says: "The script for the upcoming 'The Kennedys' miniseries on The History Channel is right-wing character assassination, not 'history.' Until The History Channel stops running politically motivated fiction as historical 'fact,' I will refuse to watch their programming." Steve Kronish, the primary writer for "The Kennedys" and a co-executive producer of "24," told The Huffington Post that the script that led the historians to organize was still evolving. "My feeling is, if you want to take the position that we are doing a hatchet job on the Kennedys why don't you wait until we show it," Kronish said. "Then you can decide if we have been salacious or unfair... that is the time to make the criticism. Not when we are in the very beginning stages of this project."

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