Higher Education Quick Takes
Tik Root, a Middlebury College student who was studying in Syria and was detained there while observing recent protests, has been released. A statement from Ron Liebowitz, the college's president, thanked State Department officials and members of Vermont's Congressional delegation for work to assure Root's release.
Rising costs have led to much more scrutiny of the Pell Grant Program, but The Huffington Post noted that a key Republican may be taking criticism of a program that once had bipartisan support to a new level. Representative Denny Rehberg, a Montana Republican who is chair of the House subcommittee with jurisdiction over Education Department appropriations, compared Pell Grants to welfare in a radio interview and said that there was a major problem of people receiving the funds year after year without ever graduating. "So you can go to college on Pell Grants -- maybe I should not be telling anybody this because it’s turning out to be the welfare of the 21st century," said Rehberg. "You can go to school, collect your Pell Grants, get food stamps, low-income energy assistance, section 8 housing, and all of a sudden we find ourselves subsidizing people that don’t have to graduate from college. And there ought to be some kind of commitment and endgame."
Charles McCaslin, a Southern Methodist University junior, quit his position as chair of the Texas College Republicans last week after video surfaced of him describing a hook-up and calling those opposing his preferred candidate for chairmanship of the national college Republican group "nerds and fags," The Dallas Morning News reported. The comments came in his endorsement of another candidate for the national position. McCaslin has since apologized. The video is here:
Faculty members and alumni of Norfolk State University are increasingly concerned about the closed nature of the search, without any public discussion even of finalists, The Virginian-Pilot reported. University leaders have said a completely private search -- far more common at private colleges than at public institutions like Norfolk -- will yield better candidates. The university's board reportedly selected three finalists in December, offered the job to one of them and was turned down by the preferred candidate.
Sure colleges all seem to be talking about their global partnerships these days, but Bryn Mawr College has selected today -- April 1 -- to announce higher education's "first intergalactic partnership between a liberal arts college and an alien research university." The pact is with Bithnian University of Science and Technology, also known as BUST. Bryn Mawr's president, Jane McAuliffe, issued this statement on the breakthrough: "Global partnerships are so 2010. Bryn Mawr is simply beyond global, and we are boldly going where no college has gone before. Our students need to learn to be intergalactic citizens." McAuliffe's excitement over the news has apparently prompted her to adopt a Princess Leia look (see the college's home page). Bryn Mawr did note in its announcement that some students -- known as "Earthers" -- aren't happy with the alliance, and that protests are being planned. "I, for one, don’t welcome our alien overlords,” Katherine Bakke, a senior, is quoted as saying. “At Bryn Mawr we talk about students wanting to make a meaningful contribution to the world. What part of ‘world’ doesn’t the administration understand?” If you are at all confused by this news from Bryn Mawr, we refer you to today's date.
Ohio Governor John R. Kasich on Thursday signed legislation that would effectively bar the faculties of Ohio public colleges from unionizing -- even though many of them already engage in collective bargaining. Faculty unions have fought hard against the legislation, but Republican legislators have generally backed it and had enough votes to get the bill through, so the outcome was not a surprise. Ohio has until now been fertile ground for faculty unions, and is a key state in the collective bargaining activities of the American Association of University Professors.
Cary Nelson, national president of the AAUP, issued this statement Thursday: "This is a black day in American labor history. The basic human rights of 400,000 public sector workers in Ohio have been cast aside by a legislature and a governor who are opposed to the principle that employees should have a voice in their own working conditions. These politicians -- enemies of democracy -- will themselves answer to the will of the people in November."
Even as judges and politicians debate the new Wisconsin law barring the faculty at the University of Wisconsin from unionizing, another campus in the system has voted to engage in collective bargaining. Faculty members at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point have voted, 283-15, to be represented by a local of the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT started a major campaign to unionize Wisconsin campuses after their faculty won the right to collective bargaining in a 2009 law that the new legislation repeals.
The Apollo Group announced Thursday that the accreditor of its University of Phoenix subsidiary was intensifying a review of its recruiting and admissions practices after an initial information request "raised a number of questions about the University of Phoenix's oversight of its recruiting, admissions and financial aid practices and the ability of those practices to serve students effectively while providing them with clear and accurate information." The initial review by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools was prompted, Apollo said, by last summer's Government Accountability Office investigation into recruiting practices at Phoenix and other for-profit colleges.
The Higher Learning Commission's president, Sylvia Manning, said that the accreditor had treated the GAO inquiry like it would a formal complaint made against one of the colleges it accredits. "In this case we believe there are issues that are relevant to our criteria for accreditation and we have accordingly taken them seriously," she wrote. Manning added that the accreditor had conducted similar reviews of other HLC-accredited colleges named in the GAO report, though she declined to identify them.
Karen Pletz, former president of Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, was indicted Thursday on 24 counts related to alleged embezzlement of $1.5 million from the university, as well as making false statements on her tax returns and engaging in money laundering, The Kansas City Star reported. According to the indictment, she forged the approval of her board for a series of bonus payments. Pletz has denied wrongdoing and entered pleas of not guilty.