Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 3:00am

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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 3:00am

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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 3:00am

The University of Illinois is getting ready for its first admissions deadlines without "clout" admissions -- the system that led to a major scandal over the way politically connected applicants received special treatment. The Chicago Tribune reported that new protections have been added barring the kind of influence that went on routinely in the past and that would make public any attempts at influencing the process.

Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 3:00am

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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 3:00am

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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 3:00am

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."

Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 3:00am

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.

Thursday, October 29, 2009 - 3:00am

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.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 - 3:00am

Those frustrated by the numerous errors in the new edition of the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association will be able to get a correct version. Until now, the association has insisted that it would be wasteful to issue new editions, and it urged those who bought the book to just use an online compilation of corrections. But on Tuesday, an organizer of a boycott movement for the error-laden version announced that the association had agreed to offer corrected versions.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009 - 3:00am

Congressional negotiators completed work Tuesday on a compromise spending bill that would provide $167.5 million apiece in the 2010 fiscal year to the National Endowments for the Humanities and for the Arts. The compromise legislation, which would fund the Department of the Interior and several other agencies, would give the two cultural agencies more than the $161.3 million that the Senate proposed providing, but slightly less than the $170 million that the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee would have provided.

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