Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, December 2, 2009 - 3:00am

A semi-annual report to Congress by the National Science Foundation's Office of the Inspector General documents five new cases of scientific misconduct by university researchers since the last such report in March, and lists actions taken by the science foundation in six cases described by the IG's office in that March report. These semi-annual reports are the main way in which the NSF makes public cases of scientific wrongdoing, and it does so in a limited way -- without identifying the wrongdoers or their institutions. The new cases described in the September 2009 report, which was released this week, include the following: A professor at a South Dakota university resigning after plagiarism was discovered in an NSF grant proposal; a Pennsylvania university doctoral student purposefully falsifying data and conclusions in five NSF-supported manuscripts; a Nevada research professor fabricating images in an NSF proposal; a Nevada university doctoral candidate submitting a dissertation grant proposal that contained others' work; and two primary investigators at a Wyoming university plagiarizing in a total of four NSF grant proposals. The inspector general's report also notes several major audits the office has conducted examining institutions' spending of NSF grant money, including findings involving the University of Michigan, Georgia Institute of Technology, and Cornell University, among others.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 - 3:00am

Yoga instructors went to federal court on Tuesday, seeking to block the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia from regulating the programs that train yoga teachers, The Washington Post reported. The council views its oversight as a routine part of its role overseeing all kinds of training programs, including bartending schools, not just those run by traditional colleges and universities. But yoga instructors say that their work can't be viewed in the same way. Suzanne Leitner-Wise, a plaintiff and president of U.S. Yoga Teacher Training, told the Post: "Yoga is the study of the self through direct experience.... You simply can't put regulations on that. It's just dumb."

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 - 3:00am

Student advocacy groups published two studies Tuesday that draw attention to student loan debt at a time when the economy -- and their job prospects -- are imperiled. The Project on Student Debt released "Student Debt and the Class of 2008," which finds that the average senior who had college loans graduated last spring with $23,200 in debt, at a time when his or her odds of landing a job were at long-time lows. The group also published a state-by-state map with detailed borrowing and other information by college. Meanwhile, U.S. PIRG and several other groups issued a briefing paper that, citing concerns about private student loan debt, urges Congress to pass legislation to create a Consumer Financial Protection Agency, which has been embroiled in controversy over proposed exemptions for for-profit colleges that make loans to their students.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 - 3:00am

A report being released today by the Brookings Institution documents the national decline in coverage of education issues. During the first nine months of 2009, only 1.4 percent of national news coverage focused on education issues, the study found. And much of the coverage that did occur was focused on issues beyond education -- such as crime or H1N1. The study found that coverage of community colleges is "especially" poor.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009 - 3:00am

With much fanfare, Harvard University's law school last year announced that it would waive tuition for third-year students who pledge to work for five years in public service following graduation. While Harvard and many other law schools have loan-forgiveness programs, the new effort was believed to be the first program of its kind. With the university's endowment now smaller, the law school announced this week that it is phasing out that program; while it will meet the commitment for those enrolled today, it will not extend the effort to future classes. The law school noted, however, that it has increased financial aid for students.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 - 3:00am

Many European universities lack the autonomy they need to excel, according to a new report by the European Universities Association. The report notes that most governments voice support for autonomy (and cut back on the share of budgets they provide), but said that, in many cases, too much government oversight remains. Financial management is a key area where government controls remain, the report says. "The main issues mentioned were related to the low levels of public funding, short funding contracts which made planning difficult, line-item budgets and a lack of independent financial capacity, such as lack of ownership of university buildings or limitations on universities’ employment policies," the study says. In addition, it says that "reporting procedures were also perceived to be heavy and cumbersome, and, in a number of cases, irrelevant." The report also bemoans "a lack of ability to determine the level of tuition fees or to decide on their introduction."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 - 3:00am

The season for many college football teams ended last weekend, which meant the start of the season that follows: firing time for many coaches. Monday brought the dismissals of head coaches at the Universities of Notre Dame and Virginia, following closely on the heels of dismissals or resignations of their peers at Marshall University, the University of Akron, and the University of Louisville, among others. While the changes are mostly about X's and O's, and the coaches' relative lack of success in winning football games, they are also about $$'s. Notre Dame will pay Weis as much as $18 million to buy out the rest of his 10-year contract (though other news reports have described that figure as exaggerated), while Virginia will spend $4.5 million to rid itself of Al Groh.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 - 3:00am

La Salle University has agreed to pay $7.5 million to cover the lifetime costs of caring for a former football player who suffered brain trauma in a 2005 game, the Associated Press reported. The family of Preston Plevretes had sued the Philadelphia-area university, alleging that it allowed him to play even though he had endured a concussion in a practice weeks earlier; the university had argued that the brain injury resulted entirely from the second blow. The settlement, which did not include any admission of wrongdoing by La Salle, came on the day a trial was to begin in the case. Brain injuries from football have been the focus of increasing attention this fall, in the wake of a National Football League-sponsored study that suggests a greater risk at all playing levels than previously acknowledged. La Salle officials said in a statement Monday that "[f]rom the time of Preston’s injury, the university community, led by those who know Preston and his family, have been hoping and praying for his recovery. That hasn’t changed."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 - 3:00am

A new study examines an unusual situation within economics: Writing more papers can be linked with higher salaries for professors but also with lower reputations. Writing about the work, Daniel Hamermesh of the University of Texas at Austin, and co-author of the study, says: "The question is why writing more (essentially ignored) papers has opposite effects on reputation and salary? Are university administrators ignorant, rewarding something visible that in fact reduces the scholar’s quality, as measured by his/her colleagues? We tested lots of explanations for the anomaly, but none described it well." The paper was published by the National Bureau for Economic Research and the other author is Gerard Pfann of Maastricht University.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 - 3:00am

About 150 students who said that they had more than 10,000 student signatures on petitions jammed a City Council meeting in Pittsburgh Monday, opposing a plan by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to add a 1 percent tax on tuition, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The mayor says that the funds are needed for city services, while students and colleges say it is an inappropriate way to raise money. Many of the students said that they were bothered by the tax plan's implication that students hurt the city. Rotimi M. Abimbola, student president at Carnegie Mellon University, said: "We really, really need to dispel this myth that students are a burden to the city." Many colleges nationwide are watching the debate in Pittsburgh with concern that the tax idea, if enacted, will spread.

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