Higher Education Quick Takes
Complete College America, a foundation-supported group seeking to improve graduation and completion rates of college students, is today launching a new program to encourage states to focus on these issues. The group is creating a grant program that will award 10 states grants of $1 million each to advance their efforts. In a Views essay at Inside Higher Ed today, Hilary Pennington, director of education, postsecondary success and special initiatives for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, outlines the thinking behind the new program.
Holy Family University has suspended John O'Connor as head men's basketball coach while investigating allegations that he assaulted a player during a practice, The Philadelphia Daily News reported. O'Connor could not be reached for comment, but the local Fox News station ran video of the alleged assault and quoted the player's lawyer raising questions about whether the university acted soon enough after learning of the allegation.
Mark Wattier, a longtime political science professor at Murray State University, has announced plans to retire amid a controversy over a comment he made about slavery when criticizing two black students who were late, the Associated Press reported. Wattier has admitted that he was wrong to reference slavery when talking to black students as he did, but his version differs from that made in a student complained. Wattier told the AP that he asked the students: "Do you know why you were late? There's a theory that a way to protest their master's treatment was for slaves to be late." But, according to the student complaint, he said: "It is part of your heritage. The slaves never showed up on time to their owners and were lashed for it. I just don't have the right to do that."
A state judge in Louisiana on Friday lifted another judge's order barring the state from supporting a possible merger of Southern University at New Orleans and the University of New Orleans, The Advocate reported. The injunction had been granted in a lawsuit -- still pending -- by critics of the idea of merging the institutions. Southern is a historically black institution, and its many defenders say that a merger would leave a new institution without Southern's traditional commitment to low-income, minority students. Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, has proposed the merger as a way to help both institutions, whose graduation rates he has said are too low.
Last year, Macalester College celebrated Presidents' Day with this funny video of the college's president, Brian Rosenberg, inhaling helium, eating three bowls of cereal, and generally making light of his presidential duties. While the video attracted considerable attention, the college decided against a sequel, instead posting a video about bad ideas for sequels. Today, Rosenberg plans to call the households of 18,000 alumni, parent and friends today -- at one time. The call will be the largest in the college's history. Special guests on the line will include Walter Mondale, the former vice president, and Tim O'Brien, the author, both Macalester alumni.
As Iowa politicians and educators have debated a legislator's proposal that the University of Iowa sell Jackson Pollock's "Mural" for $140 million, many have discussed what the wishes would have been of Peggy Guggenheim, the pioneer collector of modern art who donated the painting in 1951. Guggenheim died in 1979, but it turns out that she weighed in against the idea of Iowa ever selling her gift. In 1963, she heard a rumor that the university was considering a sale, and she wrote to the university's president stating that, if the university no longer wanted to hold on to "Mural," she wanted it back, to display at another museum, The Des Moines Register reported.
The letter -- and the university's reply, assuring Guggenheim that there were no plans to sell the painting -- may be found on the website Scribd, which also features letters suggesting that the university did explore whether Guggenheim's gift was conditional on the university holding on to the painting. (The advice the university received suggested the answer was ambiguous.)
The University of Arizona will today announce that it will open a National Institute for Civil Discourse as a nonpartisan center to promote research, education and public programming about civility in public life, The Washington Post reported. The honorary chairs of the new center will be two former U.S. presidents, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush. The University of Arizona is in Tucson, where six people were killed and Representative Gabrielle Giffords was shot in January.
Allegheny College is among the institutions already doing work in this area, sponsoring a survey and award to promote civility, and encouraging colleges to join the "Soapbox Alliance," a group of colleges and universities that refuse to let their facilities be used for closed political events.
The Idaho State Board of Education on Thursday suspended the Faculty Senate at Idaho State University, which voted no confidence last week in the university's president, Arthur Vailas, The Spokesman-Review reported. Officials of the board, which governs all public education in the state, said the decision was “the most reasonable action to take at this time" given what it characterized as the disconnect between the faculty and Vailas, for whom the board had recently expressed support. “The impasse between the leadership of the senate group and the administration has reached a point where the prospect of any kind of progress was simply non-existent. It’s time to start over.” The board directed Vailas to develop an interim faculty body, the newspaper reported.
A 62-year-old man was arrested Thursday for allegedly poisoning some of the old oak trees at a gathering place where Auburn University fans celebrate their sports victories, the Associated Press reported. The man was identified by authorities as the person who called into a radio show and admitted spreading herbicide around the oak trees. On the radio show he closed his comments with a statement of solidarity with the University of Alabama, saying "Roll Damn Tide."