Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, August 17, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, George Washington University’s Ami Zota explains a new study she did on cadmium and its connection to accelerated aging of human cells -- and the risk of developing a serious health problem relatively early in life. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, August 14, 2015 - 3:00am

Phyllis M. Wise, who resigned a week ago as chancellor of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and then was told Wednesday that she was being dismissed instead, fired back Thursday evening.

In a statement sent to reporters, along with a request that they not contact her, she said that the University of Illinois board broke an agreement it and the system president made with her. Further, she said that the $400,000 she was due to receive was not a bonus or an exit payment, but money to which her contract entitled her. (University officials, who have characterized the funds as a bonus, declined to comment on Wise's statement.) In the statement, Wise also denied that she had any "illegal intentions" in her use of personal email accounts. University officials (and her own email records, in some cases) have suggested she was trying to avoid having email comments become subject to public records requests. The statement also says that Wise is consulting with lawyers on her options.

Here is the statement in full:

For close to four years I have been devoted to helping the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign recognize its limitless potential. We’ve achieved inspiring successes but recent events have distracted us from focusing on the university’s future. In the past week, the news media has reported that I and other campus personnel used personal email accounts to communicate about university business; some reports suggested I did so with illegal intentions or personal motivations. This is simply false. I acted at all times in what I believed to be the best interests of the University. In fact, many of these same communications included campus counsel, board members, and other campus leaders.

On Tuesday, in the spirit of placing the university first, I acceded to the board’s and the president’s request that I tender my resignation. In return, the university agreed to provide the compensation and benefits to which I was entitled, including $400,000 in deferred compensation that was part of my 2011 employment contract. The $400,000 was not a bonus nor a golden parachute; it was a retention incentive that I earned on a yearly basis. As the university knows, months before this controversy began, I had begun discussions with campus development leaders about gifting an amount equal to my deferred compensation package to the College of Medicine.

Yesterday, in a decision apparently motivated more by politics than the interests of the university, the board reneged on the promises in our negotiated agreement and initiated termination proceedings. This action was unprecedented, unwarranted and completely contrary to the spirit of our negotiations last week. I have no intention, however, of engaging the board in a public debate that would ultimately harm the university and the many people who have devoted time and hard work to its critical mission. Accordingly, I have again tendered my resignation as chancellor and will decline the administrative position as adviser to the president. These recent events have saddened me deeply. I had intended to finish my career at this university, overseeing the fulfillment of groundbreaking initiatives we had just begun. Instead, I find myself consulting with lawyers and considering options to protect my reputation in the face of the board’s position. I continue to wish the best for this great institution, its marvelous faculty, its committed staff and its talented students.

Friday, August 14, 2015 - 4:26am

An Oregon appeals court has rejected an appeal from a former Eastern Oregon University administrator who wants the state to pay his costs defending himself from a suit he won that accused him of raping a co-worker at a conference they attended for work, The Oregonian reported. The former administrator contends that the two had consensual sex after drinking. The appeals court did not weigh in on the claims of the co-worker or the former administrator, and assumed for legal purposes that his version (consensual sex) was correct. But the appeals court said he was not entitled to reimbursement from the state based on his claim that he was at the conference for work-related reasons, and so should be reimbursed for legal expenses. The appeals court ruled that the administrator "was not hired to engage in sexual conduct with other employees." Further, the court ruled, that there was "no evidence" that the administrator, "in engaging in sexual conduct with plaintiff, was motivated by a purpose to serve EOU."

Friday, August 14, 2015 - 4:21am

More than 80 years ago, the state of Michigan promised Native American tribes that if they would give up land Central Michigan University needed to expand, Native American students would forever attend public colleges in the state free. But as The Detroit News reported, the state has not been providing nearly enough money to keep its promise. This year the state provided only $3.8 million of the $8.5 million needed for the program. As a result, the colleges and universities that enroll Native American students lose money since they can't charge tuition, but the state doesn't provide the funds it promised, either. College and tribal officials are pushing the state to keep its promise, saying that failing to do so means that colleges have a disincentive to recruit Native American students.

Friday, August 14, 2015 - 3:00am

The University of Texas at Austin will move a statue of Jefferson Davis, the Confederate president, from a prominent campus location to a history museum. At the same time, other statues of Confederate leaders will remain in their current locations, but may have plaques added to them explaining their history and providing more context. The decision seems unlikely to satisfy students and others who have been pushing for the removal of all the Confederate statues, and some traditionalists who have accused the university of being politically correct.

Friday, August 14, 2015 - 3:00am

Instructure, the company behind the learning management system Canvas, plans to go public later this year, according to Reuters. The news organization, quoting unnamed sources, suggests the company has already filed for an initial public offering, and that the company will be valued at between $500 and $800 million. Reuters previously broke the news that Blackboard is exploring a sale.

An Instructure spokesperson declined to comment on the rumor.

Friday, August 14, 2015 - 3:00am

Law students are suing Texas A&M University, saying the institution is taking credit for their work but not giving them alumni status.

Texas A&M purchased the Texas Wesleyan School of Law in Fort Worth in 2013 for $73 million, and in its advertising touts the achievements of the school's students before the merger. Yet much to the anger of former Wesleyan students, Texas A&M is not granting the graduates alumni status.

According to The Houston Chronicle, after the merger Texas Wesleyan effectively ceased to exist, leaving thousands of students who graduated from law school there without an alma mater that will recognize them.

Friday, August 14, 2015 - 3:00am

The Mayor of Bristol, Conn., is writing to college and university presidents throughout the state, letting them know that if they're looking to expand their reach, his town is open for business.

Mayor Ken Cockayne says 13 of the state's 15 largest cities have colleges or universities in town -- a boon to their citizens, who have easy access to college.

​“Unfortunately, Bristol is not one of those lucky 13,” Cockayne told The Bristol Press. But he's hoping his letters spark some interest: "In the end, you’ll never know unless you ask.”

Friday, August 14, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Tracy Alloway, associate professor of psychology at the University of North Florida, discusses her research on children who lie. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, August 13, 2015 - 3:00am

Senior University of Akron officials apologized Wednesday for poor communication while carrying out plans to cut millions of dollars in spending and more than 200 jobs, the Akron Beacon Journal reported. Hundreds of protesters attended a board meeting where the apologies were made, but they were over communication, not the substance of the cuts.

A major complaint was that the university has continued to spend significantly on nonacademic functions, such as a football team that attracts few fans and a presidential home renovation that cost nearly $1 million. One symbol of that renovation's cost is a $556.40 olive jar (without olives) purchased for the president's bedroom. At Wednesday's protest, an alumnus, Wendy Duke, read her poem, “Ode to an Antique Jar,” with these words: “O Olive Jar! You are empty while I am sad. I cannot afford to fill thee with expensive imported olives. For I am still paying off my student loans ….” Protesters also brought olives to the meeting (above right) and posted photographs to social media.

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