Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, October 9, 2015 - 3:00am

Friends and colleagues of Tomas Lindahl, a professor of microbiology at Sweden’s Linkoping University, rushed to congratulate him on winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry earlier this week, but it was a case of mistaken identity. The real winner was another Tomas Lindahl, also Swedish, who works at the Francis Crick Institute and Clare Hall Laboratory in London. (His prize-winning research centers on how cells repair their DNA.)

The two have been mixed up by fellow scientists for decades, but the confusion reached its peak when friends of the Sweden-based Lindahl deluged him with emails and the local government in Linkoping sent out a congratulatory press release before quickly withdrawing it, the Associated Press reported. The mistaken winner reportedly was in good spirits, telling a local newspaper that “it's sort of fun actually. To be mixed up with a Nobel Prize winner when I'm doing research in chemistry myself.” Referring to December’s Nobel banquet, he added, “But it would be really nice to go to the party.”

Friday, October 9, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Brian Obach, professor of sociology at the State University of New York at New Paltz, shows how the organic movement found help from an unlikely source. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 3:00am

The Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success -- a group of more than 80 colleges planning a new application platform -- was announced last week and quickly ran into considerable criticism. On Wednesday, in response to some of that criticism, the coalition sent a letter to high school counselors announcing that the launch of a key feature was being pushed back from January to April. The reason for the shift, the letter said, was "to allow for more time to engage and answer questions and for counselors to be closer to finishing their work with the current senior class." That feature was originally called a portfolio, a name that was dropped in favor of "virtual college locker." The locker will be a tool for high school students, starting in ninth grade, to save work they have done in any medium, as well as records of meaningful experiences they have. Many high school counselors have complained that the new locker will be complicated to produce and thus will favor wealthier students, who will receive more help.

Further, the letter reiterated and elaborated on past statements pledging to work with counselors as the new system is developed, and to make sure the new system helps low-income students.

Several critics of the new system said via email Wednesday night that they were pleased with the move to push back the launch of the locker, and with the promises to continue to consult with others, but that their larger concerns were unchanged.

Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 3:00am

Colleges across the country will observe a moment of silence today to honor the victims of the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon. The American Association of Community Colleges is requesting student and faculty members show their solidarity in supporting UCC's campus by joining a moment of silence today at 11 a.m. Pacific, 2 p.m. Eastern and on social media using the hashtag #IamUCC.

Last week the campus of roughly 3,000 students became the site of the third-most-deadly shooting to occur on a college campus.

Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 4:23am

Eastern Kentucky University called off classes midday Wednesday and for the rest of the week, based on a threat found in a bathroom (see photo from university police at right). The university is also relocating a football game tonight against Tennessee Tech University to the campus of Georgetown College, in Kentucky. Details from the university's public safety officers and senior administrators may be found here.

Meanwhile, at Southern Oregon University, officials called off all classes Wednesday after a note was discovered that referenced the mass shooting at Umpqua Community College, The Oregonian reported.

Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 4:27am

The Brown Daily Herald, the student newspaper at Brown University, has apologized for publishing two opinion columns this week that angered many minority students. One of the pieces remains online with a note of apology. The other, which editors decided not to publish online after the print version of the newspaper was already being printed with the column, appeared in print only and not online. The editors said that they should not have published either column, one of which they said was based on the idea of biological differences among the races and the other of which suggested that Native Americans should be thankful for the colonial arrival in America.

"Newspapers have a sacred responsibility to promote the free exchange of ideas, but that responsibility is designed to protect both those with controversial opinions and those whose voices are frequently excluded," the apology from the newspaper said. "The Herald’s opinions section has too infrequently been a platform for the latter."

Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 3:00am

The job market for college graduates is in for a third straight year of “explosive” growth, according to the largest annual survey of U.S. employers. Michigan State University’s Recruiting Trends report projects a 15 percent jump in hiring across all degree levels, driven primarily by growing companies and employee turnover. “Most signs point to another explosive year of growth in the job market for college graduates,” said Phil Gardner, director of the collegiate employment research institute and lead author of the nationwide survey of 4,700 employers. “Even if the economic headwinds strengthen, the college job market should withstand a bump in the road.”

Starting salaries are more of a mixed bag, though. They should grow between 2 and 5 percent over all, and some fields, like engineering and information technology, are likely to see even bigger hikes. But others may see starting salaries drop or lag behind inflation, and most employers, 61 percent, say they will not change them at all this year.

Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 12:05am

Indiana University suspended its chapter of Alpha Tau Omega after a video surfaced that allegedly showed the fraternity chapter at IU forcing pledges to perform oral sex on women. The explicit video was posted online and shared on social media Wednesday. It shows a group of men cheering on a young man -- clad only in boxer shorts -- as he engages in oral sex with a fully nude woman on a mattress. Other men, also wearing only underwear, sit on the floor nearby as the man on the mattress appears to struggle to push away from the woman.

In a letter informing the chapter of its suspension, the university wrote that the fraternity allegedly violated the student code of conduct by performing "hazing activities which perpetuate sexual misconduct."

"The allegations, of which there appears to be credible video evidence, include a purported new chapter member being encouraged to perform a sex act on a female in the presence of several other chapter members," the university said in a statement. "Indiana University takes its responsibility to foster a culture of care and respect among the students on its campuses extremely seriously. If true, the alleged actions on the part of some members of the Alpha Tau Omega chapter run completely contrary to that commitment."

Wynn Smiley, CEO of Alpha Tau Omega's national organization, released a statement Thursday, saying that "the video is highly offensive and is antithetical to the values" of the fraternity. ATO has a history of misconduct at IU, and recently spent four semesters on social probation. The chapter was once notorious on campus for throwing a now-discontinued annual lingerie party known as "Ménage à Tau."

Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 3:00am

Svetlana Alexievich, a Belarussian author, this morning was named winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. She was honored “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.” Her books have explored the realities of life in the Soviet Union, covering topics such as the experiences of women in World War II, the impact of the Chernobyl disaster, and the Soviet war in Afghanistan. Information on her writing may be found here.

Thursday, October 8, 2015 - 3:00am

The Drake Group, an organization pushing for more emphasis on academics in college sportsshould this be "in the intercollegiate athletic system" (since this isn't about games)? -sj, urged the National Collegiate Athletic Association on Wednesday to discontinue using the metrics it uses to determine academic eligibility.

In a position statement, the group argued that the NCAA's academic measures -- which include a Graduation Success Rate and an Academic Progress Rate -- are "public relations smokescreens hiding widespread exploitation of academically underprepared athletes and academic fraud." The calculations behind the metrics are flawed, the Drake Group said, because they do not permit comparison with nonathlete students, do not recognize institutional differences in mission and invite academic fraud when "mismatched recruits are denied appropriate remediation through academic support services."

"Academic integrity in intercollegiate athletics requires a system of checks and balances, transparent academic metrics and safeguards that ensure that learning occurs, not just that athletic eligibility is maintained," Gerald Gurney, president of the Drake Group, said in a statement. "When the NCAA fails to rely on comparator metrics to the nonathlete student body, no 'speed limit' is available to keep athletic programs honest. Unless academic standards for athletes are anchored to institutional academic standards and expectations for all students, athlete academic standards will float with the tide of institutional greed."

While many critics of big-time college sports have long questioned the reliability of the NCAA's academic requirements, the Drake Group wrote its recent analysis following a "comprehensive assessment of the strengths and weaknesses" of the measurements. The group recommends that the NCAA abandon its current metrics, use the federal graduation rate, require mandatory five-year scholarships and adopt a "commonly accepted measurement of good academic standard," including requiring athletes to attain a minimum cumulative grade point average of 2.0.


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