Higher Education Quick Takes

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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.

Friday, May 21, 2010 - 3:00am

California State University campuses lost 10 percent of their collective teaching force in the last year, according to data released by the system's faculty union, the Los Angeles Times reported. The vast majority of lost jobs were held by adjunct lecturers, not by tenure-track faculty members. California State administrators said that while thousands of sections were eliminated due to budget cuts, the system hopes to restore many of those sections.

Friday, May 21, 2010 - 3:00am

New Jersey's Senate approved legislation Thursday that would require government workers -- including faculty and staff members at public colleges -- to live in the state, The Star-Ledger of Newark reported. The version of the measure that passed Thursday has been softened considerably from previous iterations, giving workers a full year to move and providing an appeals process. But given the nature of academic (particularly adjunct faculty) jobs, and the geography of New Jersey, which draws workers from nearby major metropolitan areas like New York and Philadelphia, the legislation, if it passes the Assembly and becomes law, could cause major headaches for public colleges in the Garden State.

Friday, May 21, 2010 - 3:00am

Christopher Clark has resigned as president of Bryn Athyn College, after less than a year in office, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Clark's major campaign as president has been to increase enrollment from 190. Bryn Athyn is affiliated with the General Church of the New Jerusalem, and he planned to reach out to more students of other faiths, which concerned some college constituencies.

Thursday, May 20, 2010 - 3:00am

Canadian academics and government leaders are analyzing the results of an effort to attract top research talent from other countries. As The Globe and Mail reported, the quality of international talent is considered high, leading many to say that the tactic of going after the best with generous offers was effective. A total of 19 researchers have committed to offers at Canadian universities. But as The Montreal Gazette reported, many female academics in Canada are asking why all 19 of those newly recruited faculty stars are men.

Thursday, May 20, 2010 - 3:00am

A committee at the University of Texas will study whether the university should maintain the name of a former Ku Klux Klan leader (who also served on the university's law faculty and in the Confederate military) on a residence hall, The Austin American-Statesman reported. Some on the campus have argued that keeping the name shows insensitivity to minority students.

Thursday, May 20, 2010 - 3:00am

New Jersey's student aid agency may have violated state ethics laws, misinterpreted executive orders on political contributions and other matters, and was governed by a board that was denied crucial information about its operations, according to a highly critical state audit released Tuesday. The state's inspector general's office said in its report on the audit that it had referred the Higher Education Student Assistance Authority to the state ethics commission for a possible inquiry into the "solicitation of a donation from a vendor of the authority by an employee."

Thursday, May 20, 2010 - 3:00am

Republicans in the House of Representatives on Wednesday once again rebuffed legislation (HR 5325) designed to strengthen federal support for academic research. For the second time in a week, an insufficient number of lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to renew the America COMPETES Act, the 2007 law that set out to double federal funding of the physical sciences. Republicans, who unanimously opposed the bill Wednesday, said they supported its goals but continued to believe it would authorize too much federal spending and create too many new programs. Democrats said that they were disappointed that the changes they had made in the legislation since last week were deemed insufficient, and that they would continue trying.

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