Quick Takes: New Research Rules Urged at VCU, Ads Banned From History Course, Savings Decline, Another Conference Location Controversy, Vanderbilt Replaces Loans With Grants, 'Working Mother' Honors Cornell and Harvard, Tidings from IRS, Beheaded Croc

October 2, 2008
  • A panel of faculty members and administrators has urged Virginia Commonwealth University to adopt new guidelines for research contracts that would assure that ties to companies are public and that researchers are free to publish the results of their work. The report also suggests that research be "consistent with VCU's mission," meaning that it should "be aimed at promoting the health and welfare of people and their communities." The panel was appointed after The New York Times reported on Virginia Commonwealth's research ties to Philip Morris USA -- and arrangements in which most of the ties were kept secret and the company had control over many research findings, which couldn't be released without the tobacco corporation's permission. When the Times piece appeared, VCU officials condemned it and said that the ties to Philip Morris were not out of the ordinary, but the report issued by the university's own committee points to conditions for academic freedom that were not present in the various arrangements with the company. Eugene P. Trani, president of the university, said in an e-mail to faculty members that the panel's recommendations would receive "thoughtful and thorough consideration."
  • Even in these tight financial times, it turns out there are some sponsorship deals universities won't take. The Missoulian reported that the University of Montana has called off a sponsorship deal between Kyle Volk, an assistant professor of history, and El Diablo, a local Mexican restaurant. Under the deal, the restaurant gave $250 to the history department and Volk put El Diablo's logo on the syllabus, handed out stickers for the restaurant, and mentioned the restaurant in class. Richard Drake, chair of the department, told the newspaper that the deal was a humorous way to draw attention to the department's lack of funds. But the university said that in-class advertising is against institution rules.
  • More than one third of parents have either decreased the amount of money they save for children's college costs or stopped saving completely, according to a new survey by Fidelity. Many parents reported that, with the economy getting tighter, day-to-day expenses made it impossible to save as much as they wanted.
  • The National Communication Association is the latest group to face boycott threats over its plans to hold its annual meeting at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, in San Diego. Doug Manchester, an owner of the hotel, is a major donor to the campaign to ban gay marriage in California, a fact that has led many professors to say that the association should not be giving funds to the hotel. A Facebook group offers suggestions for departments to move events off site. But a statement from the association's leaders defends the decision to keep the meeting at the hotel. The statement notes that Manchester is only a part owner of the hotel and that the Hyatt chain has won honors from gay organizations.
  • Vanderbilt University announced Wednesday that it would replace loans with grants in all need-based financial aid packages. Vanderbilt is among the minority of private institutions that both admit students without regard to financial need and pledge to meet the full need of all students. The replacement of loans with grants is expected to cost $15 million annually.
  • Cornell and Harvard Universities, and the health care systems of the University of Wisconsin and Virginia Commonwealth University, have all made the list of 100 best employers by Working Mother magazine.
  • The Internal Revenue Service has released a draft of the special survey it plans to send to 400 four-year colleges about their financial and governance practices. The "compliance questionnaire," which is designed in part to give the IRS information it might use to decide whether to delve more aggressively into the question of whether colleges and other charities are providing benefits to society “commensurate” to their financial wealth, is 33 pages long. Even the instructions are 9 pages long. College officials will begin receiving them in the next few days, IRS officials said in a news release.
  • Florida authorities and the University of Miami are investigating what happened to a crocodile that was discovered beheaded in a canal at the university's campus, The Miami Herald reported. The animal's tail was also chopped off.
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