Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, June 24, 2010 - 3:00am

Peter Erlinder, a professor at the William Mitchell College of Law, returned to his Minnesota home from Rwanda this week, after authorities there who had arrested him allowed him to leave, the Associated Press reported. Erlinder was in Rwanda to help defend an opposition presidential candidate. Erlinder spoke Wednesday about his experience, saying that it is possible that no one would have learned of his situation if he hadn't been able to summon a U.S. embassy official when he was arrested on May 28. He said that airline records indicated erroneously that he had left the country so nobody at the embassy knew he was still in Rwanda.

Thursday, June 24, 2010 - 3:00am

Financial considerations are driving talk of realignment among college sports conferences outside the high-profile Bowl Championship Series leagues, too -- but in different ways. The Associated Press reports that several Arkansas colleges that belong to the Division II Gulf South Conference are contemplating leaving and teaming up with Oklahoma institutions that are now in the Lone Star Conference. The Arkansas colleges are citing escalating travel costs within the Gulf South, which stretches east to Georgia.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - 3:00am

The author Wendell Berry is withdrawing his personal papers from the University of Kentucky to protest several university policies, including the naming of a basketball dormitory in honor of the coal industry and an emphasis on becoming a top research university in a way that Berry believes will detract from the institution's traditional land grant mission, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported. In a letter obtained by the newspaper, Berry wrote: "The university's president and board have solemnized an alliance with the coal industry, in return for a large monetary 'gift,' granting to the benefactors, in effect, a co-sponsorship of the university's basketball team.... That — added to the 'Top 20' project and the president's exclusive 'focus' on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics — puts an end to my willingness to be associated in any way officially with the university." A university spokesman said the institution was disappointed with the decision -- especially because it had purchased many of Berry's works to be in the same collection with the personal papers.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - 3:00am

A report by three outside experts on suicide has urged Cornell University to continue for now the barriers placed on bridges over gorges in the wake of six suicides in the last academic year. The barriers have been described as temporary, but the report says that it is "vital" to keep the barriers while longer-term changes are considered. The suicides have given the gorges "iconic status" as suicide sites, the report says, even though the rate of suicide over time at Cornell (not the cluster in the last year) has been consistent with national higher education data. "Most individuals who jump from iconic sites are ambivalent, act impulsively, [and] choose a specific site," the report says. So if these individuals are deterred from suicide at a particular time, they most often do not later kill themselves, meaning that the barriers have a "substantial probability" of saving lives. Susan Murphy, vice president for student and academic services, said in a statement: "The beauty of our landscape is vital to the identity of Cornell and Ithaca. I'm confident that we will find a way to balance our need to experience the natural beauty of the gorges with our concern for the safety of our most vulnerable students and community members."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - 3:00am

A federal judge last week upheld the decision of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to reject a proposed master's degree in science education from the Institute for Creation Research, The San Antonio Express-News reported. The judge said he found no reason put forth that the board did not act within its authority in rejecting the awarding of the degrees.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - 3:00am

Major reforms to benefit New York State's university systems are alive but are the subject of disagreement among key legislative leaders, The New York Times reported. The reforms would give the university systems more control over setting tuition rates and using tuition revenue - steps university leaders say are much needed. Gov. David A. Paterson and Senate Democrats are backing the plan, but Assembly Democrats are resisting -- and the disagreement is stalling budget talks in the state.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - 3:00am

The American Association of University Professors has issued a statement harshly criticizing East-West University for telling all adjuncts that they should would not be hired this summer and would need to be interviewed by the chancellor to obtain future assignments -- moves that the university says reflect a commitment to hiring good adjuncts but that many see as an effort to hurt a union organizing drive. "The actions of East-West University may have set a new low in managerial practice and have damaged both the institution’s labor relations and its educational quality. Blanket non-renewals, which in reality are large-scale layoffs, are a problematic employment practice that detracts from educational quality," said the AAUP statement.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - 3:00am

Two business executives hired to restructure the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences in the wake of the president's ouster have quit, The Kansas City Star reported. The executives were hired after the previous president was forced out amid allegations of excessive spending and compensation. One of the executives who quit questioned whether the institution was committed to making the changes it needs.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010 - 3:00am

An experimental City University of New York program designed to graduate community college students quickly has surpassed its goal of graduating at least half of its initial 1,000-student cohort in three years. City and university leaders gathered Tuesday to celebrate the 53 percent graduation rate achieved by the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), launched in 2007. The final graduation rate for the experimental project is expected to reach 56 percent by the fall, as more students earn their degree this summer. Participants in ASAP must attend class full-time, and they receive free tuition, books and transportation for staying enrolled. Additionally, these students take small courses grouped in blocks during the daytime and receive intense personal advising and tutoring. Last year, university officials accurately projected that their efforts would help them surpass their 50 percent graduation goal – a rate that is more than three times the national average for urban two-year institutions.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010 - 3:00am

Five Congressional Democrats on Monday asked the U.S. Government Accountability Office to begin a study of for-profit higher education that would look at institutional quality and business practices. The request comes just days after a House of Representatives hearing on accreditation that included criticism on the sector, and on the same day that witnesses were announced for Thursday's Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing on the for-profits. (The group scheduled to testify has a decided slant against the sector. The witnesses are Kathleen Tighe, the U.S. Department of Education's inspector general; Steven Eisman, an investor who has warned that the sector is "as socially destructive and morally bankrupt as the subprime mortgage industry"; Yasmine Issa, a former student at the for-profit Sanford Brown Institute; Margaret Reiter, a former California deputy attorney general and consumer advocate; and Sharon Thomas Parrott, chief compliance officer at DeVry, Inc.)

The request for a GAO review came from the chairs of the House and Senate education committees -- Rep. George Miller of California and Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa -- and three other influential members, Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois and Reps. Timothy Bishop of New York and Ruben Hinojosa of Texas. Citing "recent press reports [that] have raised questions about the quality of proprietary institutions" in a letter to the GAO, the members requested information on the sector's recent growth, as well as data on program quality, student outcomes and the amount of corporate revenues that comes from the Title IV federal financial aid program and other government sources. They also asked for a consideration of whether the Education Department's regulations on Title IV program integrity (in the process of being revised) do enough to safeguard against waste and fraud.

Harris N. Miller, president of the Career College Association, the sector's largest lobbying group, said he welcomes the review. "We have every expectation that the GAO, using facts and figures, will provide a full and fair review." He also asked that the Education Department hold off on issuing final regulations aimed at ensuring integrity in federal financial aid programs: "Secretary Duncan has said repeatedly he wants to get the regulatory changes right, and waiting for the GAO to conduct its study is one way to further that goal."

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