Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010 - 3:00am

The University of California Board of Regents voted Monday to cut retirement health benefits to deal with massive deficits in the fund that is supposed to pay for them, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The standard retirement age will move to 65 from 60 and the early retirement age to 55 from 50 -- delaying the age at which people can receive various levels of benefits. The university system will gradually reduce its share of retiree health costs from 89 percent to 70 percent, and will impose a two-tier system in which new employees will receive a less generous package. The changes have faced the most criticism from low-wage employees at the university, and unions representing some of those employees still must approve changes in their contracts to reflect the new policy. University officials have said that they have no choice but to adopt these changes to keep the retirement fund solvent.

Monday, December 13, 2010 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON – Things stayed mostly cordial Friday during a Q&A session between a top Education Department official, at times on the defensive, and a roomful of for-profit college officials, investors and advocates.

On the final day of a symposium sponsored by the Association of Private Sector Colleges and Universities here, James Kvaal, the relatively new deputy undersecretary of education, made a brief speech before fielding questions regarding the Obama administration's "gainful employment" rules, accusations of hostility against for-profit colleges, and complaints of unfair expectations. Kvaal took no detours from the administration's public stances -- expressing an appreciation both for the important role for-profit institutions play and, “at the same time,” for the added responsibility they bear to ensure that their graduates achieve gainful employment, especially when riddled with debt.

Kvaal disputed an assertion that the Obama administration is hostile toward the for-profit sector. When asked why for-profits face an “apples-to-apples comparison” to other institutions when they serve a disproportionate number of low-income and non-traditional students, Kvaal maintained that they cannot be excepted from quality standards and could serve students better.

When Kvaal said he thought the program integrity rules -- the regulations unrelated to gainful employment -- were “pretty clear across the board,” several people snickered or shook their heads. Kvall then urged them to submit questions or comments so the department can clarify any uncertainty. In his opening speech, Kvaal said that not all for-profit institutions are bad, and that the sector is important because of its diversity of programs and institutions, capacity for innovation and growth, and services for non-traditional students.

Monday, December 13, 2010 - 3:00am

The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education will shut its doors next July, 12 years after it was founded to prod and improve higher education from the "outside looking in," the group's founders said. In an editorial in the latest issue of the center's publication, National CrossTalk, Patrick M. Callan, the center's president, and James B. Hunt Jr., the head of its board and former governor of North Carolina, said that the center was never intended to "be a permanent institution." Callan and Hunt cited as the center's primary achievements the creation and institutionalization of the "Measuring Up" report, which is taking a hiatus after a decade of grading states on the performance of their higher education systems, and National CrossTalk, and a five-state experiment with student learning outcomes.

Monday, December 13, 2010 - 3:00am

A panel that oversees the names of buildings at Eastern Illinois University has rejected the idea of renaming Douglas Hall, which is named for Stephen Douglas, the senator who debated Lincoln and who advocated the rights of individual states to keep slavery, The Journal Gazette and Times-Courier reported. The Faculty Senate at the university urged that the name be changed, arguing that Douglas was not worthy of being honored with a building at a state university. Critics of the faculty proposal said that Douglas should not be judged by today's standards, although faculty members noted that many of his contemporaries viewed his as an ardent defender of slavery, to the detriment not only of slaves but of the United States.

Monday, December 13, 2010 - 3:00am

Bennie Wilcox, former dean of law at Kaplan University, was convicted Friday of sending threatening e-mail messages to various Kaplan officials, Bloomberg reported. The e-mails were sent under other names, but prosecutors charged Wilcox sent them. He has denied the charges and has maintained that he was framed in retaliation for being a whistle blower in a suit charging Kaplan with various violations of federal student aid rules.

Monday, December 13, 2010 - 3:00am

Colorado State University has created a new panel to consider the admission of some athletes and musicians of "exceptional talent" who don't meet regular admissions criteria. While the new committee will not just focus on admitting athletes, The Coloradoan reported that the impetus for creating the panel was a dispute over eight athletes who had been denied admission through the standard process. After the athletic director appealed, all of the athletes were admitted.

Monday, December 13, 2010 - 3:00am

A federal judge has ruled that Martin Gaskell, an astronomer formerly at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, has the right to sue the University of Kentucky over a job offer he didn't get after search committee members focused on his criticism of evolutionary theory, The Louisville Courier-Journal reported. Gaskell was the leading candidate for the job before discussion on the search committee turned to his views on evolution, according to court documents. Gaskell says he lost the job due to illegal religious discrimination because of his religious views as a Christian. But university officials have argued that one's views on evolution are relevant in hiring for scientific positions.

Friday, December 10, 2010 - 3:00am

After a public copyright dispute in January, the Association for Information and Media Equipment says it has filed suit against the University of California at Los Angeles and the system’s Board of Regents. The association, a trade group that represents 16 educational media companies, objected to UCLA’s practice of allowing students to stream copyrighted videos on their course websites. Since course websites are not classrooms, the group said, the “fair use” exemptions for educational use do not apply. UCLA has said that since the course websites are password-protected, streaming videos on the site is the same as showing them in class, except far more convenient for students and professors. Allen Dohra, president of the trade group and vice president of Ambrose Video Publishing, which is named as a co-plaintiff in the suit, said in a press release that UCLA is undermining Ambrose’s own streaming service, which it offers at a price to subscribers. “UCLA’s behavior spells catastrophe for the entire educational video market, which increasingly will turn to streaming video,” the group said in the release.

Friday, December 10, 2010 - 3:00am

An Education Department report issued Thursday faulted Virginia Tech for failing to notify the campus of danger after the first shootings in 2007 on an April day that left 32 dead. The report says that the university should have notified the campus as soon as the first reports came in, and that failure to do so violated federal requirements. The university issued a statement strongly objecting to the report, saying that Virginia Tech officials acted on the best available information and well within federal reporting requirements.

Friday, December 10, 2010 - 3:00am

The University of Phoenix on Thursday published its third annual report on the academic outcomes of its students. Inside Higher Ed articles on earlier iterations of the report examined the strengths and flaws of the university's approach; this year's report shows little change in the institution's graduation rates, and compares its students' performance on tests of information literacy and academic proficiency to students at peer institutions. Phoenix's report remains unusual, in both for-profit and traditional higher education, for its straightforwardness and high visibility.

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