Quick Takes: Democratic Candidates Back Military Recruiters, Texas Includes Immigrants in Veterans' Program, Mixed Financial Outlook for Colleges, Science Indicators, Pope Cancels Speech, Campaign Against UK Quality Agency

January 16, 2008
  • The three major contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination all pledged in a debate in Nevada Tuesday night that they would enforce vigorously a law -- unpopular on many campuses -- that requires institutions receiving federal funds to permit military recruiters on campus. The question was raised by Tim Russert, the journalist, not by the candidates themselves. Hillary Clinton answered "Yes" and then devoted her answer to the need to provide better benefits to people in the military. Asked in a follow-up specifically whether many of the leading universities without ROTC programs should have them, Clinton noted that many of these universities allow students to participate in ROTC through programs in the area, but added that these universities "should certainly not do anything that either undermines or disrespects the young men and women who wish to pursue a military career." Barack Obama and John Edwards also answered "Yes" to Russert's question and talked about other things -- Obama about how he wants more Americans in national service, including positions requiring foreign language knowledge that could help the military and Edwards about poor medical care veterans are receiving and low pay for reservists. None of the candidates (nor Russert's questions to them) noted the reason many colleges oppose the law -- that the colleges have policies barring recruiters who discriminate against gay people -- or the fact that following a Supreme Court ruling upholding the law, colleges have said they will follow the law. In addition, the Democrats didn't note that they've all endorsed changing the "don't ask, don't tell" law that colleges view as a violation of their anti-bias policies. A transcript of the debate may be found on the Web site of The New York Times.
  • The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board voted Tuesday to revise its rules for a veterans' tuition exemption program to include state residents who were not U.S. citizens when they entered the service. Though this had formerly been the state's policy, Texas' attorney general ruled in 2005 that residents also needed to be citizens to qualify, prompting the board to change its rules accordingly then. The board reported, however, that the attorney general recently backed away from his stance on citizenship, prompting the board's emergency meeting to revise the rules before the spring semester begins. Earlier this month, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund filed suit on behalf of six honorably-discharged veterans - who, as legal permanent residents when they entered the military, were ineligible for the benefit -- on the basis that denying them the exemption violates the Constitution's Equal Protection clause.
  • Standard and Poor's foresees a "slightly favorable" 2008 for the finances of higher education, with a solid year for financially secure colleges but potential trouble for institutions that are less secure, the ratings service said in a report Tuesday. "While the sector faces a potentially weaker economy, institutions with solid finances should easily maintain their competitive strength and financial characteristics. The risk of downward rating changes or outlook revisions could increase for institutions that didn't significantly benefit from the strong investment markets in 2002-2007 or substantial fundraising gifts." Standard and Poor's said that "most institutions" could face financial pressures from "weaker investment performance, rising expenses for energy, insurance, and borrowing costs, and for public universities, reduced state appropriations" in 2008.
  • Without more money, the competitive advantage of science in the United States is in danger of being eroded, according to "Science and Engineering Indicators 2008," released Wednesday by the National Science Foundation. The biennial report calls not only for more funding, but for better tracking of the research enterprise in the United States, compared to those abroad.
  • Pope Benedict XVI on Tuesday called off plans to visit La Sapienza tomorrow, responding to protests by scientists and some students, AFP reported. Some scholars said that the pope's visit was inappropriate, given church opposition to some areas of scientific research and to centuries-old treatment of people like Galileo. Others have accused the protesters of intolerance.
  • American academics who don't trust the ideas of the Spellings Commission may want to check out the campaign of a British professor against his country's Quality Assurance Agency. The Guardian reported on Warwick University's Thomas Docherty, and his new book, The English Question, or Academic Freedoms. The Guardian quotes Docherty as writing: "The QAA, for those of us who have suffered under its tawdry posturing, is a cancer that gnaws at the core of knowledge, value and freedom in education; its carcinogenic growth is now perhaps the greatest pervasive danger to the function of a university as a surviving institution.... The QAA would not presume to question the content of my seminars; but they will require an audit trail that 'proves' that I have somehow forced students to achieve certain 'learning outcomes' that are essentially guaranteed by the 'aims, objectives and teaching methods' of my module. They can check this - and thus assure everybody about the quality of my work - not from any actual experience of it, but rather from a paperwork audit trail. Even the content of the paperwork is less important than the mere fact of its existence, for the content is designed in turn to be so generalized and homogenized that it, too, is devoid of any meaningful content...."
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