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Quick Takes: Scholar Released From Iranian Prison, Harvard's $34.9 Billion, Fire Warnings, Gender Gap in Vet Schools, Early Obstacles at 2-Year Colleges, Purdue Pays $500,000 in Student's Death, Questions on Private Loans, Criticism of Anti-Boycott Stance

August 22, 2007
  • Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center for Scholars, was released on bail from a prison in Iran Wednesday, Reuters reported. Esfandiari, an Iranian-American, was visiting her mother when she was arrested in May and charged with espionage -- a charge viewed by her scholarly colleagues as clearly absurd. Reuters quoted Esfandiari's lawyer as saying that she would be able to leave the country. The Wilson Center, which has been involved in efforts to free Esfandiari, has maintained a Web site with extensive information on the case.
  • Harvard University announced Tuesday that its endowment enjoyed returns of 23 percent in the fiscal year ending June 30, bringing its total value to $34.9 billion. Harvard's endowment is the largest of any university in the world; income from the endowment provides 32 percent of the university's annual income. While national comparisons aren't available yet for this fiscal year, here's some perspective. If you took last year's endowment totals for the top seven public universities (several of them systems) -- the University of Texas, the University of California, the University of Michigan, the University of Virginia, the University of Minnesota, Ohio State University and the University of Pittsburgh -- and added them together, they would still need a few hundred thousand dollars to reach Harvard's level.
  • With the number of fires in campus housing increasing in recent years, federal officials on Wednesday released statistics designed to impress upon students the importance of fire safety. Two key data points: The number of fires increased to 3,300 in 2005, up from 1,800 in 1998. Cooking equipment causes 72 percent of dormitory fires.
  • Schools of veterinary medicine are increasingly struggling to recruit male students. The Boston Globe reported that women made up 89 percent of last year's new vet students at Tufts University and that at Michigan State University and the University of California at Davis, women make up 88 percent and 81 percent, respectively, of incoming students.
  • Six of 10 students who enter California community colleges with high school diplomas and plans to transfer to four-year institutions either drop out or lower their academic goals after just one semester, according to a new report from Policy Analysis for California Education.
  • Purdue University announced Wednesday that it paid $500,000 to the parents of Wade Steffey, a student who died in January when he entered an electrical vault in the basement of a dormitory -- through a door that was unlocked or not securely latched -- and was accidentally electrocuted. His body was not found for two months, despite extensive searches. The university also agreed to establish a $100,000 scholarship in Steffey's memory.
  • A new analysis from the American Council on Education found that many students who take out private loans would qualify for federally backed loans, which typically have lower interest rates and more protections for borrowers. The new report is similar to several others in the last year.
  • Karen Hitchcock, the principal of Queen's University, in Ontario, is among the many college and university presidents who have condemned a push by Britain's main faculty union for a boycott of of Israeli academics and universities. Hitchcock placed a statement, in which she called the boycott "antithetical to the core value of academic freedom," on the university's Web site. Now the Queen's Coalition Against Racial and Ethnic Discrimination is criticizing Hitchcock, saying she should not have taken a position on the boycott without seeking the opinions of others at the university. Margaret Pappano, a professor of English literature and a member of the group, told The Toronto Star that the move was "blatantly political," adding that "you can't be silent for years about what's gone on to Palestinian academic freedom and suddenly issue a statement of support for Israeli academic freedom without it having political connotations."
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