Education Department May Decentralize Budget Functions

Betsy DeVos, the U.S. secretary of education, is seeking to break apart the department's budget office, Politico reported. The department recently removed at least two top budget officials and plans to decentralize its budget functions. Politico reported that the White House's Office of Management and Budget has opposed the plan. The department budget office has long held a substantial amount of power, a former department official said. It has had a strained relationship with DeVos, according to Politico, possibly in part because The Washington Post last year published the office's budget request before its official release.

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Review of Alberto Manguel, 'Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions'

Alberto Manguel has long since taken the title -- once held by Jorge Luis Borges -- of the bookworm’s bookworm. He is the voice of the species, or the closest thing we have to a celebrity at any rate. The opening pages of Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions (Yale University Press) must elicit feelings of mingled envy and humility from anyone making do with a paltry few thousand volumes packed into any space that can be requisitioned as a shelf.

A critic and an editor of literary anthologies as well as an author in his own right, Manguel lived in rural France in a house next to “a barn, partly torn down centuries ago, large enough to accommodate my library, which by then had grown to thirty-five thousand books.” A private collection, its organization followed a private logic. The basic layout was “determined by the language in which the books were written,” which sounds straightforward enough: “without distinction of genre, all books written originally in Spanish or French, English or Arabic (the latter a language which I can’t speak or read) sat together on a shelf.”

But exceptions had to be made. Books have a way of arranging themselves by affinity sometimes: “Certain subjects -- the history of the book, biblical commentaries, the legend of Faust, Renaissance literature and philosophy, gay studies, medieval bestiaries -- had separate sections … I had on the shelves dozens of very bad books which I didn’t throw away in case I ever needed an example of a book I thought was bad. Balzac, in Cousin Pons, offered a justification for this obsessive behavior: ‘An obsession is a pleasure that has attained the status of an idea.’”

With Manguel, obsession has attained the status of a career: this is at least the 10th volume he has published concerning books, libraries and reading. He calls it an elegy, for the book barn is no more. Obliged to leave France for reasons he suggests it would be too tiresome to relive in writing, he had to box the books up and put them in a warehouse -- hence the book’s title, which also alludes to a well-known lecture by Walter Benjamin, the German critic and cultural historian.

Speaking in the early 1930s about the experience of unpacking his library after two years in storage, Benjamin used the occasion to reflect on being a book collector -- something that Manguel, however prone to hoarding he may seem, very definitely is not.

Benjamin, who was, among other things, one of the earliest and most perceptive critics to write about Kafka, was a very driven reader -- but he was willing to sell off his Kafka volumes in order to afford to add an item or two to his collection of rare children’s books. “The most profound enchantment for the collector,” he said, “is the locking of individual items within a magic circle in which they are fixed as the final thrill, the thrill of acquisition, passes over them.” To the collector, so defined, reading is at best irrelevant, at worst potentially damaging to the printed artifact itself.

Benjamin depicts unpacking his library as an emotional return to memories of finding and acquiring the items he has collected: “It is certainly not an elegiac mood but, rather, one of anticipation.” Manguel’s experience couldn’t offer a greater contrast. Packing up his library “is like playing a film backwards, consigning visible narratives and methodical reality to the regions of the distant and the unseen, a voluntary forgetting … If unpacking a library is a wild act of rebirth, packing it is a tidy entombment before the seemingly final judgment.”

And in cardboard coffins, at that. Manguel calls his books “packed and gone,” but the library’s fate is left unclear.

Implied here, I think, is that the Manguel had managed finally to put his books into an order that made sense -- that expressed something meaningful about what he had read and how he’d lived, a pattern that might never be restored.

Packing My Library is more essay collection than memoir. The division into “chapters” and “digressions” seems arbitrary; not even the slightly melancholic tone provides a viable commanding structure. For while the author admits feeling that his days as a writer are winding down, his final pages mark a rebirth of sorts: wherever his boxes of books end up, Manguel himself is now in Argentina, serving as director of the National Library (a position once held by Borges). Settling into the work, he felt at first “like those characters in a Jules Verne novel who find themselves on some faraway island and have to conjure up survival skills they never knew they had.” Packing My Library is a book about the past that seems likely to turn into a prologue.

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Colorado College removes honors for early president, found to have sexually harassed and assaulted many women

Investigation documents how an early president of the college harassed and assaulted numerous women. Board strips his name from two buildings and revokes his honorary degree.

Lutheran Seminary Fires President

United Lutheran Seminary on Wednesday fired its new president, Reverend Theresa Latini, amid continuing controversy over Latini's prior work for an organization that encouraged gay Christians to stop being gay. While Latini has renounced that group's work, many affiliated with the seminary have been questioning not only her appointment but why board members who knew about her background did not share that information widely.

A statement Wednesday by the board said in part, "Guided by our wish to act decisively and seeking God’s blessed guidance, the board voted to end Dr. Theresa F. Latini’s position as president of the United Lutheran Seminary. This decision was made based on the board’s concern that the ongoing controversy surrounding her naming as president made it extremely difficult to overcome the issues related to trust as the president of this institution. With the understanding that there is much work to be done in healing, and recognizing her significant value and gifts, the Board recognized that her ongoing tenure would present a significant obstacle to moving forward."

Latini said via email that she was being scapegoated, and that United Lutheran was facing challenges from its recent creation from merging two Lutheran seminaries. "I had been eager to help this newly-combined organization to flourish," she said. "However, given the longstanding, historic divisions between the predecessor schools and what I believe to have been a politically based whisper campaign against me and other members of the board, it became clear that certain parts of the organization were not going to stand behind me and that I could not be effective as president. I have been scapegoated by an historically divided institution resistant to unification, and have been given little chance to respond to the accusations against me."

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The overcommercialization of university mascots (opinion)

When I was in grade school in the 1960s, my dad took me to a few Penn State football games. And then in the 1970s, I was back in Beaver Stadium as a reporter hanging out in the press box. For a few games, I roamed the sidelines as a part-time sports photographer.

Later, I had the good fortune to work for Penn State. For half a dozen years while serving as vice president overseeing university communications, I watched the games from the luxury suites with donors, politicians, alums, special guests and senior administrators.

All that time, the Nittany Lion mascot was an important part of the game-day experience. In fact, the mascot has held his job for more than a century. And he has been a vital contributor to Penn State’s reputation around the world. The furry mascot is one of the single most valuable images of the 100,000-student school.

When I oversaw the marketing and branding efforts at Penn State, our staff conducted national public opinion surveys to get a good sense how Americans viewed the university. Year after year, the Nittany Lion mascot was always one of the very top mentions by people around the country. We regularly used him in TV, print and social media advertising encouraging high school students to enroll.

And it worked. His image, and the overall marketing program, attracted more applications to Penn State than to just about any other higher education institution in the country.

I don’t go to games any longer, but I do follow the university and the team, and I don’t like what I see the beloved Nittany Lion mascot doing these days. He’s sold out. Literally, he is sold out to commercial companies.

In addition to being one of the key images for one of the largest, most well-known universities in the nation, the mascot now sells coffee and doughnuts in his spare time. He has joined with mascots of other major universities across America to sell home mortgages. And he appears in television commercials selling beef jerky with Sasquatch.

The mascot can be seen in advertisements aired around the country during college and pro football games, as well as on social media platforms like Facebook. The Nittany Lion mascot is not alone in selling out. He appears in the 30-second beef jerky commercial with the University of Iowa’s Herky the Hawk. They are having their portrait painted by Bigfoot. You can view the commercial on YouTube.

And the mascot is showing up on TV and online, promoting Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans. He is in good company. In the 45-second version of the ad that you can view on YouTube, he appears with a tiger, elephant, duck, bull and other major university mascots. They are doing flips, giving high fives and executing their trademark moves every student and alum of their institutions memorized long ago.

The YouTube description says, “When it comes to leading cheers and one-handed push-ups, mascots have all the confidence in the world -- except when it comes to mortgages. Luckily for them, there's Rocket Mortgage by Quicken Loans. Now they're confident on and off the field. Get your own mortgage confidence at”

The Nittany Lion appears several times in the ad. Early on, he is seen running past a crowd of cheering fans in Beaver Stadium. He carries a blue-and-white Penn State flag with the university's sports logo past a blue wall also emblazoned with the logo. Fans in the background cheer, “We are Penn State!” In another quick scene in the ad, we see the lion crowdsurfing over a group of fans. In a third scene, he does a backward flip in front of a crowd of fans and the sports logo. The ad ends with a group of about a dozen college mascots, and there again is the Nittany Lion doing his famous (at least among Penn Staters everywhere) frenzied ear-scratching move.

You can even watch a special two-minute behind-the-scenes video that explains how all the mascots were flown in from around the country to film the commercial.

The university mascot has also been deployed to sell coffee and doughnuts. He popped up as an ad in my Facebook news feed last fall clutching Dunkin’ Donuts cups in his paws, promoting $1 cups on Mondays following a Penn State football team win. You can see a photo of the mascot with his coffee standing in Beaver Stadium in news coverage of the deal.

While all this may make for fun television, it is doing the Nittany Lion and Penn State a big disservice. Athletic departments should not be selling out their university mascots. I realize hiring multimillion-dollar coaches and building and operating expansive facilities to train, feed, entertain, tutor and pamper athletes is expensive. Penn State’s athletic budget was $144 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year.

But a mascot has a bigger role to play for an institution, especially for the best-known institutions. They are a symbol of pride and tradition.

The Nittany Lion mascot has been a central image for Penn State since 1904. He’s wildly popular with students, alums and residents of the state. By any measure, he has been a successful mascot for the institution. He was recently named a new inductee to the Mascot Hall of Fame, a multimillion-dollar facility being built in Whiting, Ind.

If you are an alum or a super Penn State fan, you can book the lion for an appearance at your wedding. I’m fine with that because the lion is doing what he was originally created to do: help promote school spirit.

A good mascot is priceless for a brand. Mickey Mouse, Tony the Tiger, Mr. Clean, Captain Morgan, the Geico Gecko, Colonel Sanders, the Jolly Green Giant and even Burger King’s creepy looking king are tied inextricably with their brands. They are pure pop culture icons.

In higher education successful mascots are a key part of our institutions’ brands. They should not be pitching beef jerky and home mortgages on their days off.

Bill Mahon is president of Ground Zero Ready Communications, a former vice president of university relations at Penn State and a partner of the Ketchum University RepProtect suite of services.

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The Penn State Nittany Lion mascot
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Online Learning Consortium announces Effective Practice Award winners

The Online Learning Consortium yesterday announced eight winners of its annual Effective Practice Awards. The honors reward "effective techniques, strategies and practices" that adhere to the consortium's five pillars of quality: access, learning effectiveness, faculty satisfaction, student satisfaction and scalability.

Tackling the 'Childcare–Conference Conundrum'

In a new opinion piece in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, a Working Group of Mothers in Science considers “How to Tackle the Childcare–Conference Conundrum.” Primary caretakers of dependent children “face inequitable hurdles to fully attending and participating in conference activities because of responsibilities related to pregnancy, breastfeeding and caretaking,” the article says. “It’s a serious problem because it creates a culture of inequity for parents, with mothers generally experiencing greater disadvantages than fathers because of biological, prejudicial, and often socially driven childcare demands.” 

With solutions “seemingly elusive,” the authors wrote, “many women, and occasionally men, make a calculated decision to forego conference attendance and suffer the career consequences.” What can be done? The authors suggest that research societies and conference organizers follow what they call a “CARE” model, for childcare, accommodating families, offering resources and establishing social networks. As for childcare, the working group says that smaller conferences may offer financial support for individually arranged childcare and that larger ones may offer care onsite.

“Onsite facilities, such as those provided by the Society for Neuroscience and the Society for Integrative and Comparative Biology, allow for frequent check-ins from parents and support breastfeeding,” the article says. “Conference organizers can now connect with companies that specialize in professional onsite conference childcare, often with their own liability policies. Providing childcare for dependent children of all ages is an important step, as is ensuring affordability for conferencing parents,” many of whom are students, postdoctoral fellows or early-career researchers.

Funding such efforts could be achieved by “redistributing the way society funds are used to support these efforts, modestly increasing registration and/or exhibitor fees, or by soliciting donations from registrants and/or exhibitors on their registration form, for which donors would receive a decal advertising their support for parents in science,” the paper notes. It further suggests that host organizations support caregivers who travel to conferences along with academics through travel and housing grants. Conferences also should allow babywearing among participants, it says, offer lactation spaces and consider “family-friendly” dates and venues in planning -- such as by avoiding holidays and weekends when childcare centers are closed.

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U South Florida Adjuncts Form Union

Adjuncts at the University of South Florida voted to form a union affiliated with Service Employees International Union, they announced Tuesday. The tally was 326 in favor of unionization and 91 opposed. Some 900 part-time professors on the university’s three campuses were eligible to vote. South Florida’s administration opposed unionization, saying it preferred to work with adjuncts directly on issues of pay and working conditions.

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Brown Dean Will Become President of Williams

Photo of Maud S. MandelMaud S. Mandel, dean of the college at Brown University, has been named the next president of Williams College. At Brown, Mandel has been involved in efforts to promote diversity and inclusiveness, including the First-Generation College and Low-Income Student Center. She is also a professor of history and Judaic studies, and her scholarship examines policies and practices of inclusion and exclusion in 20th-century France, and their impact on ethnic and religious minorities such as Jews, Armenians and Muslim North Africans.

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Texas Pulls Plug on Oil Institute After 3 Years, $12.8M

The University of Texas System pumped $12.8 million in endowment proceeds into the Texas Oil and Gas Institute but has now decided to shut down the operation after about three years, making it the latest in a series of institutes started and quickly shuttered by the system’s Board of Regents.

In 2014, regents unanimously voted to establish the institute, according to the Austin American-Statesman. Officials at the time talked about “at least a 10-year plan,” and they went on to hire a prominent industry figure, Jeffrey Spath, as its executive director in September 2015. But shortly afterward, officials began reining in the institute’s mission. By last November they had decided to shut it down, and it will officially close by the end of this month.

Spath alone received a total of $7.1 million in compensation for working 28 months, although officials argued his pay was reasonable given lofty goals originally assigned to the institute. Spath told the American-Statesman he had support from the board when he was hired, but the support dropped over time.

“I fought uphill battles from day one on staffing and performing research,” he told the newspaper. “It just kept getting smaller and smaller in scope.”

Research had been listed as an essential function for Spath’s position, but he was soon told the institute would not be allowed to conduct research. The Texas Constitution does not allow the UT system to use proceeds from the Permanent University Fund for research. Spath also said he received “pushback” from the system when he wanted to travel and meet with energy ministers and CEOs around the world in attempts to sell data analysis services to companies.

It didn’t make sense for the institute to conduct research because other departments at Texas public universities were doing similar work, administrators said. Still, they argued the institute had accomplishments, including a considerable internship program and financial benefits.

The institute more than paid for itself by analyzing previously collected data, they said. The analysis helped to increase revenue from millions of acres of land in West Texas that is rich in oil and gas and is owned by the university system. The system leases the land to oil and gas companies in exchange for payments that are deposited into the Permanent University Fund, which benefits the UT and A&M systems.

Previously, the UT System has launched other initiatives using money from the Permanent University Fund, only to soon close them. Last month it closed an Institute for Transformational Learning, on which it spent $75 million since 2012. A year ago it ended plans for a data science institute in Houston despite already having spent more than $200 million to acquire roughly 300 acres of land.

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