Quick Takes: Laptops' Educational Value Questioned, Hearing on Tax Breaks, 'Science' Panel Suggests Reforms, Civil Rights Project Leaves Harvard for UCLA, Oxford Dons Reject Power Shift, Aid From Ariz. State, Felons in Dorms, Grawemeyer in Psychology

November 29, 2006
  • A study at Carnegie Mellon University of sophomore classes in its School of Design has found that using laptops changes the way students work -- but not all of those changes are positive. Among the positive findings: Students spent more time on assignments and interacted with different kinds of people (in this case, people outside of design courses) in seeking help on assignments. Among other findings, however, were that the longer hours spent working didn't translate into better quality of work, and that students were more likely to be isolated and working alone.
  • It's official: The Senate Finance Committee plans a December 5 hearing to examine whether tax breaks for tuition lead colleges and universities to raise their prices. In a news release distributed late Tuesday, the committee said the hearing -- entitled “Report Card on Tax Exemptions and Incentives for Higher Education: Pass, Fail, or Need Improvement?” -- was part of the panel's charge to "closely examine what colleges and universities are doing to justify their tax-exempt status," what with "tuition going up every year, endowments growing bigger every year, and the salary of another college president breaking the million-dollar mark seemingly every week." With colleges getting "billions of dollars in tax breaks" and students and parents getting billions more in tax relief, the release said, "it's only logical and responsible that we look at what institutions of higher learning are doing to keep tuition affordable and education accessible to students from every income level.   We need to make sure that colleges and universities don't respond to every new tax incentive for students and parents with new tuition increases.  Otherwise we’re just treading water, and tax incentives for students aren’t effective in helping students get ahead." Those scheduled to testify include scholars who study higher education and tax policy, like Bridget Terry Long and Susan M. Dynarski of Harvard University; current and former college presidents, including Patricia McGuire (current) of Washington's Trinity University and James J. Duderstadt (former) of the University of Michigan; Michael Brostek, director of tax issues on the Government Accountability Office's strategic issues team, and Daniel Golden, deputy Boston bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal and author of a recent book on the admission of alumni children and donors' kids to elite colleges (yes, it is unusual for a reporter to testify before Congress).
  • A panel created by the journal Science to study what led to the publication of fraudulent stem-cell studies by a South Korean researcher found that the journal followed its normal procedures, but needed tougher review processes in place. The panel recommended -- and the journal's leaders have endorsed -- the idea of flagging certain high-profile studies for extra scrutiny, clarifying authors' duties, requiring authors to provide additional data, and seeking to establish common standards with other top journals.
  • The Civil Rights Project, a research center that is one of the top sources of studies on race, ethnicity and education is moving from Harvard University to the University of California at Los Angeles, The Boston Globe reported. Gary Orfield, the center's director, will also be moving to UCLA.
  • Following months of intense debate, faculty members at the University of Oxford on Tuesday voted down a governance overhaul that would have given more power to the equivalent of the kinds of boards of trustees that govern American colleges. The vote -- 730 to 456 -- was a major defeat for John Hood, the vice chancellor of Oxford (its top position), who has made governance reform a top issue. Hood noted, however, that there is a provision to appeal the decision via a mail ballot to all faculty members, only some of whom were present to vote Tuesday. A total of about 4,000 could vote in a mail ballot. Hood and others have said that his governance plan   -- which would give more managerial control to people who are not at the university -- is necessary for Oxford to thrive in a modern era. But many Oxford dons have opposed the move, saying that it would destroy the academic values that have sustained the university.
  • Arizona State University on Tuesday announced that it was expanding a program that provides full tuition, fees, books, room and board for low-income students. The program has been available for those with family incomes below the federal poverty level of $18,850. Hundreds of additional students will now qualify under a higher income ceiling of $25,000.
  • The discovery that a University of Akron student living in a dormitory was a felon has prompted the university to consider whether it should start asking applicants or those seeking to live in dorms about whether they have a criminal past, the Associated Press reported. Harry Collier, 45, the student, is in jail facing several charges, but until recently he was living in a dorm with a 19-year old freshman. Collier previously served five years in prison for robbing a 70-year-old woman with a pellet gun, the AP reported.
  • Three professors at the University of Parma, in Italy, will today be named winners of the University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Psychology. The researchers -- Giacomo Rizzolatti, Vittorio Gallese and Leonardo Fogassi -- have identified a “mirror neuron” system of brain cells in monkeys that also exists in humans.
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