Quick Takes: Fracas Over Assignment on Palin, $500,000 Payment to Frustrated Students, Extra Money for Rutgers Athletics, NCAA Clears Auburn, Historians vs. Cheney

September 22, 2008
  • An essay assignment about Sarah Palin has set off a furor in Colorado. Andrew Hallam, an adjunct in English at Metropolitan State College, asked students to write an essay analyzing how Sarah Palin's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention illustrated "fairy tale" concepts, and he is accused by Fox News and various conservative news sites of making the assignment in a way that would encourage students to mock Palin. Republican lawmakers have jumped on the reports, with some state legislators issuing a call for "immediate corrective action" against Hallam. Other press reports have raised questions about the criticisms of Hallam. The Denver Post noted that the student who raised the concerns about Hallam, Jana Barber, is the sister of one of the conservative leaders (Matt Barber, currently with Liberty Counsel and formerly with Concerned Women for America) who is now using the incident to criticize higher education. Another of Hallam's students sent an e-mail to The Rocky Mountain News saying that Hallam frequently assigned essays from particular points of view to teach critical thinking -- and that the idea of the assignment may have been misunderstood. Hallam referred Inside Higher Ed to a college spokeswoman. The spokeswoman said that no student had complained to the college at the time the press reports started, but that the college was investigating the matter and bars instructors from harassing or intimidating students. After becoming aware of the concern, she said, college officials met with Hallam. He "agrees that while he was attempting to provide his students with a current and relevant writing assignment that would civically engage them, he should have expanded the assignment to allow the students to focus on more than one political figure," the spokeswoman said. As a result, the assignment was broadened to include other political candidates.
  • Bates Technical College, in Washington State, has agreed to pay $500,000 to 16 former students who sued over a civil engineering technician/surveying program that they said didn't teach them much of anything, The News Tribune reported. Students complained that the lead instructor failed to show up for class much of the time. Those who got jobs later said that their employers told them they lacked basic job skills the program was supposed to teach. David Borofsky, president of the college, called the agreement "good for the college and good for the people involved."
  • New Jersey legislators quietly added $2.25 million in extra funds for Rutgers University athletics programs in recent years -- keeping the funds separate from the university's main allocation and away from scrutiny at a time of tight budgets for academic programs, The Star-Ledger reported. The report is likely to add to complaints from many professors that the university's push for football success has resulted in inappropriate priorities.
  • The National Collegiate Athletic Association has found no major violations by Auburn University in a case in which many football players took many credit hours of independent study without apparently doing much work. The Press-Register reported that only minor rules violations were found. The original pattern of credits was uncovered by The New York Times.
  • A federal judge on Friday ordered Vice President Cheney and his office to preserve all records related to the vice president's duties, pending a full review of a lawsuit brought by the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians and the Society of American Archivists. Historians have been worried that Cheney's office -- which has generally argued for only limited disclosure of federal documents -- might destroy many records of interest to scholars.
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