Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 25, 2012

More than 300 professors from around the world have signed a petition asking Appalachian State University to reinstate Professor Jammie Price, according to a news release. Price's supporters planned to hand Provost Lori Gonzalez the petition on Wednesday.  Price was suspended last month after showing an anti-pornography documentary in her sociology class. The video, which she checked out from the university library, included explicit scenes. Price was suspended after students complained that she had created a hostile learning environment by, among other things, not adequately warning them about the documentary's content. Price's advocates believe her suspension is a breach of academic freedom.

April 25, 2012

Chairs are transforming Harvard Yard. The Boston Globe reported that an experiment of placing brightly colored, portable chairs in Harvard University's iconic space has turned into a popular feature of the quad. While initial reaction was that the chairs "did not look very Harvard," students and visitors now use them not only to sit but to block the sun from electronic screens.

 

April 25, 2012

A U.S. District Court in Arizona last week approved a $145 million payment by Apollo Group, Inc., to settle a class action lawsuit, according to a corporate disclosure. Originally filed in 2004, lawyers for shareholders had alleged that company officials made misleading statements about a Department of Education investigation of student recruiting practices at the University of Phoenix. The court dismissed the securities-fraud verdict against Apollo and former company officials as a result of the settlement.

April 25, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, William Wood of Humboldt State University explains the search for natural sources of new antibiotics. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

April 25, 2012

Internet2, the higher education technology consortium, on Tuesday announced new master agreements with 16 companies in what the consortium is calling a major step toward eliminating the “transaction costs” that have made campus-based technology deployments unduly expensive for universities and vendors alike. Instead of negotiating individual contracts, Internet2’s 221 member colleges essentially will be able to opt in to a licensing agreement the consortium negotiated with more than a dozen providers of cloud computing services, including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Desire2Learn.

The agreements are part of Internet2’s Net+ Services project, which it unveiled last year. The goal of the project is to work with technology companies to tailor versions of their cloud-computing services to match the needs of colleges and universities, then enable institutions to buy licenses for those services through Internet2, rather than negotiating with companies on an individual basis -- a tedious, redundant exercise that was driving up the cost of doing business for everyone involved, says Shelton Waggener, the CIO of the University of California at Berkeley.

Internet2’s negotiations on behalf of its members do not merely constitute a group discount deal, but a “new operating paradigm for delivering services to higher education,” says Waggener. Campus technology budget makers “cannot trim [their] way to success,” he says. “It’s about creating models that allow us to keep the dollars in the classroom and the labs and not spend them on lawyers for contracts or shipping costs or wasted capacity.”

April 25, 2012

A faculty-administration agreement has cleared the way for a faculty union (including both tenure track and non-tenure-track faculty members) at the University of Oregon. The union -- organized jointly by the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers -- first submitted cards indicating that the professors wanted to unionize. The administration objected to the make-up of the bargaining unit, but negotiations resolved those differences, and the process of union certification is now expected to proceed. The new union is the result of a campaign by the AFT and the AAUP to jointly organize more faculty members at public research universities. Union organizers pledged to use collective bargaining to improve working conditions for all instructors in ways that would also improve the quality of education.

Robert Berdahl, interim president of the university, issued a statement in which he said that "we have acknowledged from the beginning that our faculty has the right to organize. We did not oppose the organization effort nor did we support it. We simply recognized the rights of those who chose this route." His statement added: "While the University of Oregon has a long history of working with collective bargaining units on our campus, a faculty union will present unique questions that must be addressed. This will be particularly true when we account for tenured and tenure-related faculty. For example, tenure-related issues typically involve peer review. The peer review process is an essential means by which universities have always assured the achievement of quality; it must remain central to how we evaluate faculty in the future, even with a union overlay."

April 25, 2012

As President Obama began a three-state tour of college campuses, making a speech in North Carolina about the importance of keeping the interest rates for federally subsidized loans at 3.4 percent, House and Senate Democrats said they intend to introduce legislation today to stop the rate from doubling and pay for the extension by ending a tax break for self-employed. The interest rate for subsidized loans, currently at a historic low, is scheduled to double to 6.8 percent on July 1 if Congress takes no action.

The bill, the Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act of 2012, would pay for the lower rate -- which costs about $6 billion per year -- by limiting a tax provision that allows owners of certain kinds of corporations, called S corporations, to avoid payroll taxes on their earnings. About 4 million S corporations exist in the US, including many professional offices like doctors or law firms, the Associated Press reported. They do not pay corporate earnings taxes, instead redirecting the income to their owners, who pay income taxes on that money (but not payroll taxes for Medicare or Social Security). Under the Democrats' bill, such corporations making more than $250,000 per year and with fewer than three owners would no longer be able to avoid payroll taxes.

It was unclear whether the plan would get any Republican support.

April 24, 2012

Westminster College, in Missouri, announced plans Monday to open a campus in the fall of 2013 in Mesa, Arizona. The college plans to offer majors in international business, environmental studies and transnational studies. Mesa has been encouraging colleges from elsewhere to set up programs in the area.

 

April 24, 2012

The Aspen Institute on Monday released a list of 120 community colleges that made the cut to be considered for the second annual Aspen Prize for Community College Excellence, which comes with a $1 million payout. The institute changed its criteria for evaluating community college performance, and this year's list includes 40 different institutions, meaning one-third of last year's eligible colleges were bumped. The process is based on graduation rates, degrees awarded, student retention rates and "equity in student outcomes." Josh Wyner, executive director of the institute's College Excellence program, said the formula was tweaked to better reflect steady performance rather than short-term spikes in numbers. The institute plans to name 10 finalists in September.

April 24, 2012

The University of Wisconsin at Madison has agreed to change the language in a letter it sends to accepted graduate students, following a complaint that one part of the letter was deceptive, The Wisconsin State Journal reported. The letter references a stipend and tuition waivers, and the wording that has been questioned also pledged "an additional year of support" for completing a master's degree. What the letter didn't reference was that the additional year involved a smaller stipend and a requirement to work as a teaching assistant.

 

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