Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, January 6, 2010 - 3:00am

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has upheld a vacation of records penalty against Florida State University for an “academic fraud” scandal involving 61 athletes in 10 sports. Chief among those affected by the penalty, Bobby Bowden, former head football coach, must vacate up to 14 wins from 2004 through 2007 in which players who received help cheating on some of their exams participated. The penalty, which was appealed by Florida State when the rules violations were announced last March, has irked many Seminole fans because it essentially will prevent Bowden from becoming the all-time winningest coach in college football. (Bowden retired after Florida State’s bowl game this season as the second-winningest coach with 389 wins; Joe Paterno, coach at Pennsylvania State University, is still active and has 394 wins.) In addition to the records vacations in 10 sports, the NCAA also upheld its penalty against Brenda Monk, the former learning specialist at Florida State who “knowingly arranged for fraudulent academic credit for numerous student-athletes and provided improper academic assistance.” Monk retains a “show-cause penalty,” meaning that any institution that hires her by 2013 must explain “why it should not be penalized if it does not restrict [her] from having any contact with student-athletes.” Randy Spetman, Florida State athletic director, told the Associated Press that the institution was upset with the NCAA’s decision. Spetman said, "We believed that our administration did everything it possibly could to ferret out any and all improprieties in this matter."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 3:00am

What's a cause without a political action committee? With the college football bowl season at its apex, critics of the current method of crowning a nominal college football national champion -- the Bowl Championship Series -- have introduced what they call Playoff PAC, which they describe as a "federal political committee dedicated to establishing a competitive post-season championship for college football." The organization is sponsoring national television ads, aggregating other information and, ultimately, given its name, making political donations, with this stated goal: "Playoff PAC helps elect pro-reform political candidates, mobilizes public support, and provides a centralized source of pro-reform news, thought, and scholarship."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 3:00am

Two professors at the University of California at Irvine received envelopes Monday with the words "Black Death" written on them, and with an unidentified white powder in them, the Associated Press reported. Authorities are testing the white powder to determine what it is, and initial tests were negative for biohazards. The buildings where the two professors work -- one in sociology and the other in engineering -- were evacuated.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 3:00am

Cornell University, in the face of opposition from the Ivy League, has stopped including athletes in a financial aid enhancement announced a year ago. Under the program, selected groups of students who qualified for need-based aid and who were particularly desirable to the university -- including some athletes -- had the parental contributions in their aid packages reduced. "While we thought that including student-athletes with demonstrated need among those eligible for enhanced need-based aid awards meets Ivy League standards and practices, the league did not agree," said Simeon Moss, a spokesman for Cornell. The blog MetaEzra reported this week that the Ivy League was investigating the aid policy, apparently for concerns that it violated the Ivy ban on athletic scholarships. But Moss said that there was no investigation because the university has changed its aid rules. He added that Cornell was "committed to achieving competitive equity throughout the Ivy League." Some advocates for Cornell athletics have complained in recent years that because Harvard, Yale and Princeton Universities offer need-based aid to those from families at much higher incomes than can receive such aid at Cornell or other Ivies, those three institutions are effectively offering merit aid.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010 - 3:00am

Following in the footsteps of its wealthy peers across the Atlantic, the University of Cambridge plans to raise £400 million (about $635 million) in its first-ever bond offering, the Times of London reported. University officials told the newspaper that they worried about the first major borrowing in its 800-year existence, but that a bond issue was the best way to raise needed money for two building projects.

Monday, January 4, 2010 - 3:00am

Kalamazoo College, founded in 1833 as a Baptist institution, long ago dropped its religious affiliation. But The Detroit News reported that one Baptist requirement remains and that state legislation is needed to change that. The college's charter requires that 15 percent of trustees be Baptists "in good standing." Because the charter was approved by the Michigan Legislature, Kalamazoo must -- even as a private college -- obtain legislative approval for the change, and is now starting the process to do so. A spokesman for the college said that it has, to date, tried to keep the 15 percent requirement, but that it may not have always succeeded.

Monday, January 4, 2010 - 3:00am

The history department at Johns Hopkins University angered many of those applying for a faculty job in early modern European history last month by letting all 106 applicants for the coveted position know who had applied. An e-mail with an update on the status of the search didn't use the normal blind copy option, but included e-mail addresses for everyone. And this being a particularly good position, many of the applicants aren't publicly in a job search. Nothing Recedes Like Success, a history gossip blog, called the list "a Who's Who" of the field. A history jobs Wiki has several posts from those who received the e-mail. Among the comments: "Anyone who's 'secretly' on the market will be majorly P.O.'ed." "The first thing that struck me was that I knew a number of the emails: they're people I know personally! I'm googling the rest..." "I was sickened to see the list of e-mail addresses." William T. Rowe, history chair at Hopkins, said via e-mail that the department has sent an apology to everyone who applied for the job.

Monday, January 4, 2010 - 3:00am

While college football fans watched bowl games last week, chess fans were monitoring the Pan American Intercollegiate Chess Championship, generally considered the top college competition for the game. The winner was the University of Maryland-Baltimore County, a regular powerhouse. UMBC is known for attracting top international students. The team members are: Leonid Kritz, a grandmaster from Russia; Sergey Erenburg, a grandmaster from Israel; Giorgi Margvelashvili, an international master from the Republic of Georgia; Sasha Kaplan, an international master from Israel; and Sabina Foisor (alternate), a woman international grandmaster from Romania.

Monday, January 4, 2010 - 3:00am

President Obama last week issued an executive order that would speed up the release of classified material to the public, and could lead to the declassification of material that might otherwise have never been made public. Among other provisions, the executive order creates a principle that no records may be classified indefinitely, eliminates the right of certain intelligence officials to "veto" declassification, and orders that information never be classified if "significant doubt" exists about the need to classify. Historians and other scholars have complained for years, and in particular during the last Bush administration, that classification rules were impeding their work. Details about the executive order may be found on the Web site of the National Coalition for History.

Monday, January 4, 2010 - 3:00am

Lake Superior State University on Thursday issued its annual "List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness" and several of the 15 words are much used in academe, including "teachable moment," "app," "friend" (as a verb), "tweet" and "transparent/transparency." Several of the other words relate to the economic downturn and efforts to reverse it. These words include "shovel ready" and "stimulus." Wayne State University Word Warriors project meanwhile has released its annual list of "expressive words that have fallen out of use and deserve to return to conversation and prose." Among them: antediluvian, festoon, mendacity and unctuous.

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