Microsoft announced Wednesday it is extending its "identity federation" services to its college and university clients who use Live@edu, the company’s integrated e-mail, calendar, instant messaging, and online file storage suite. An “identity federation” is a group of institutions that allows students, researchers, and employees who need to access password-protected Web sites at multiple institutions to use a single log-in identification and password. With thousands of institutions worldwide already using Live@edu, the federation is already built, said Cameron Evans, Microsoft’s chief technology officer, in an interview yesterday. Evans compared the service to the driver’s license system, where a person who acquired a driver’s license in Maryland can use it to drive or verify I.D. in each of the other 49 states, rather than having to acquire and carry around 50 different licenses. Identity federations are currently a hot topic in campus IT; Educause last year recognized several companies that had applied the concept to higher education with its Catalyst Award.
Higher Education Quick Takes
Americans United for Separation of Church and State has asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate whether Liberty University violated its tax-exempt status by throwing its weight behind a Republican candidate for the Virginia House of Delegates. The request states that Liberty's leaders used Liberty Champion, "ostensibly a student publication but one that is actually subject to university control, to run a series of articles" attacking the Democratic candidate (who lost narrowly) and backing the Republican. Americans United also said that Liberty "twice arranged for a 'voter guide' published by the Virginia Family Foundation to appear in the Champion" and that the guide "distorted" the Democratic candidate's views. Further, the complaint states that on Election Day, a senior Liberty official "drove around campus with the College Republicans, rounding up voters." Liberty officials told The Lynchburg News & Advance that the claims were "bogus" and part of a campaign of harassment by the group against the university.
The Illinois Senate on Wednesday approved legislation to reform a system in which legislators can give out college scholarships to anyone they want -- a system that has led to a series of cases of such scholarships going to those with ties to campaign donors, the Chicago Tribune reported. The Senate didn't go as far as backing the elimination of the scholarships, which some reform groups have urged. But the Senate would ban the award of scholarships to anyone whose family could be linked to a campaign contribution without the last five years. Further, family members of recipients would be banned for five years from making a contribution to the legislator who awarded the scholarship. The measure now moves to the House of Representatives.
More than 2,400 lecturers at the University of Montreal went on strike Wednesday, six months after their contract expired, CBC News reported. They want more money and smaller classes. University officials said that a strike was premature and said students would be hurt by a prolonged strike. The lecturers have been holding half-day and full-day walkouts, but the work action started Wednesday is open-ended.
The California Community Colleges -- the largest higher education system in the United States -- are projecting a 1 percent dip in enrollment this year. The shift reverses five years of enrollment growth, which brought the total number enrolled to nearly 3 million last year. In a press briefing, Jack Scott attributed the drop to deep budget cuts, which have in turn forced colleges to eliminate course sections. Statewide, he said, about 5 percent of course sections have been eliminated. “Our enrollment is not dropping due to a lack of demand,” he said. He noted that the community colleges statewide are actually educating about 200,000 more students than the state is providing funds for -- further stretching the capacity of the colleges.
University of Mississippi students want a mascot. They voted -- 2,510 to 856 -- on Tuesday to start the process of identifying a new mascot, to replace Colonel Rebel, who was abandoned in 2003 amid concerns that symbols of the Old South were seen as hostile by many minority students.
PLoS Medicine, an open access peer-reviewed journal, has announced it will no longer accept submissions of research findings supported by the tobacco industry. In an editorial, the journal cited two reasons for its decision. "First, tobacco is indisputably bad for health. Half of all smokers will die of tobacco use. Unlike the food and pharmaceutical industries, the business of tobacco involves selling a product for which there is no possible health benefit. Tobacco interests in research cannot have a health aim — if they did, tobacco companies would be better off shutting down business — and therefore health research sponsored by tobacco companies is essentially advertising.... Second, we remain concerned about the industry's long-standing attempts to distort the science of and deflect attention away from the harmful effects of smoking. That the tobacco industry has behaved disreputably — denying the harms of its products, campaigning against smoking bans, marketing to young people, and hiring public relations firms, consultants, and front groups to enhance the public credibility of their work — is well documented. There is no reason to believe that these direct assaults on human health will not continue, and we do not wish to provide a forum for companies' attempts to manipulate the science on tobacco's harms."
The University of California at Merced has banned from an art exhibit a student's series of photographs that mock Chancellor Steve Kang, the Associated Press reported. The photos, among other things, show the chancellor speaking into a microphone that has been covered with a condom. University officials said that the art exhibit is billed as a family event and that this series was inappropriate. A video by the student, showing and explaining her work, may be found here. She writes: "My piece is a reflection of the torn feelings students face when discovering themselves. It outlines the ability to love two different campus idols: Steve Kang, our chancellor, and Lady Gaga, a pop idol."
A report issued by Congress's investigative arm Tuesday provided few if any revelations about the state of university endowments, for anybody who has been paying close attention to the debate in Washington and elsewhere about whether colleges are spending aggressively enough from them. The study by the Government Accountability Office, which was mandated by Congress when it renewed the Higher Education Act in 2008, is descriptive rather than analytical in nature. It found that the vast majority of colleges have endowments of under $100 million (despite the wide publicity given to the most well-endowed institutions), that most of the money in the funds is restricted for specific uses (much if not most for financial aid), and that the value of the funds has risen by an average of 6.2 percent a year in inflation-adjusted dollars since 1989.
University administrators enthusiastically participated in a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on the state of research infrastructure at American institutions, telling a mostly sympathetic group of lawmakers that their financial needs are great if the country is to remain scientifically and economically competitive. The chairman of the House Science Subcommittee on Research & Science Education, Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), citing a 2005 report saying that "academic institutions were deferring $3.5 billion in needed renovation projects," said he was "worried that unless we actively modernize our R&D facilities that we could not only be spending federal research dollars inefficiently, but that we could lose our position as scientific leaders, finding it harder to attract top scientists and engineers." The academic administrators who testified -- Leslie Tolbert of the University of Arizona, Albert Horvath of Pennsylvania State University, John R. Raymond of the Medical University of South Carolina, and Thom Dunning of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -- offered various perspectives on the problems their institutions faced, but all of them sent the message that more federal funds, through the National Science Foundation or other agencies, were needed to help offset declines in fund raising, state appropriations and other funding sources. While nobody openly disagreed or said such support would be a bad idea, Rep. Vern Ehlers, a Michigan Republican who has long been a champion of science, said he had "mixed feelings" about the idea of direct research infrastructure support from the federal government and said it would represent "a change in direction" that the government should not undertake lightly.