Quick Takes: Stimulus Bill's Pell Funds at Risk, New Furor Over Ben Stein, Bias Perceived in Policy Research, Degrees for Sale, House Passes Security Bill, Charges Divide UMass, Quincy Wants Independence, Cheyney Brawl, 2 Colleges Drop Football

  • As the Senate continued debate over its version of the economic stimulus package, college leaders grew increasingly concerned about the prospect that billions of dollars in financial aid for students could be stripped from the legislation.
  • February 4, 2009
  • As the Senate continued debate over its version of the economic stimulus package, college leaders grew increasingly concerned about the prospect that billions of dollars in financial aid for students could be stripped from the legislation. The House and Senate versions of the measures would provide $15.6 billion and $13.9 billion, respectively, to increase the maximum Pell Grant and hundreds of millions of dollars in additional aid for students, which college leaders and advocates for students have said is needed to keep current students in school (and potentially off the unemployment rolls or from competing with workers for precious jobs) and to give recently laid-off workers funds to learn new skills. But as Republican lawmakers have criticized the bill as being tilted too much toward social program spending rather than tax cuts, and President Obama has made noises about trying to satisfy those concerns, aid for students has been specifically mentioned as un-stimulative spending. Not quite on the level of the replacement sod for the National Mall, but even some Democrats like Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska have questioned whether student aid belongs in a stimulus bill. "You don't want to be against Pell Grants," Nelson told the Associated Press. "But the question is, how many people go to work on Pell Grants? Should it be in this legislation?" In his speech Tuesday at the annual meeting of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, Education Secretary Arne Duncan strongly defended the Pell Grant spending, but urged the audience of private college leaders to get busy urging their elected officials to support it. "It is on the fence," Duncan said.
  • Ben Stein, the author and actor, has withdrawn as commencement speaker at the University of Vermont, following controversy over his selection. Stein has attracted many campus fans over the years, but of late he has attracted much criticism for his criticism of evolutionary theory. Dan Fogel, president at Vermont, told The Burlington Free Press that he invited him based on a well-received economics lecture on the campus, and was taken aback by the criticism the invitation attracted. Fogel said he told Stein about the uproar, but didn't pressure him to withdraw. In an interview with the paper, Stein called the controversy "pathetic."
  • When people learn about public policy research with which they don't agree, they frequently doubt its validity and assume that the researchers' biases must have influenced the findings, a study has found. The study was based on interviews with people about various research findings, some that would appear consistent with liberal thinking, others with conservative thinking, and one that could not be easily placed on the political spectrum. "Our findings raise concerns about how social science researchers are seen by the public," said Robert MacCoun, a professor of public policy, law and psychology at the University of California at Berkeley who conducted the research and is publishing it in the journal Political Psychology. "Because researchers' ideological views are supposed to be irrelevant to their empirical results, even partial support for the attitude attribution effect is impressive and troubling."
  • Michael Cherner, the former director of the computer center at Touro College's Brooklyn campus, on Tuesday pleaded guilty to receiving bribes and falsifying business records in creating Touro degree transcripts for three public school teachers who never attended the college, Newsday reported. He faces up to three years in prison.
  • The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday passed a bill that would authorize creation of a new Justice Department division, the National Center for Campus Public Safety, the Associated Press reported. The center would be authorized to issue grants to campuses for training and research on ways to prevent violent incidents at colleges.
  • An arrest a year ago continues to spark debate and racial divisions at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, The Boston Globe reported. Jason Vassell, a student at the time, is charged with stabbing two men. Supporters of Vassell, who is black, say he was defending himself against an unprovoked racial attack by two intruders. Students and professors rallied Tuesday on behalf of Vassell, on the anniversary of the incident.
  • Quincy College -- one of the few remaining municipally owned colleges -- is seeking to become a private college, The Patriot Ledger reported. Officials in Quincy, Mass. appear ready to back the shift, although the process will take several years. Quincy currently offers associate degrees, but has opted to seek private status and not to become a state community college, in part to preserve the option of offering four-year degrees.
  • Cheyney Univerisity of Pennsylvania has banned all parties on campus, as officials continue to investigate a brawl involving hundreds -- many of them apparently not Cheyney students, The Delaware County Times reported. Four students were arrested, but university officials are particularly concerned that video of the brawl was posted on YouTube, and the graphic fighting scenes have been denounced by many student leaders as an unfair representation of Cheyney. While the YouTube video was removed, some of it may be seen in this local news report.
  • Two members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s Division III are trimming their football teams -- one for serious financial reasons. Blackburn College, a Presbyterian institution in central Illinois, is facing a $750,000 budget deficit next year. Officials note that cutting the football team will save the college about $150,000. According to an NCAA release, "Principia cited the small size of its football team, the experience level of team members and ability to prepare to compete as reasons for suspension of its program."
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