Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 3:00am

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, plans to propose that public universities be required to freeze tuition in graduate and professional programs at whatever levels exist on July 1, the Associated Press reported. The measure is of concern to many university leaders who say that increases for medical and law school can be handled by students who have lucrative job prospects ahead.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 3:00am

A former instructor at the University of Alabama has been indicted for allegedly making more than $375,000 by encouraging students to buy their textbooks from his company, AL.com reported. University officials said that the instructor last taught there in 2013.


Wednesday, February 11, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, David Cox, a fellow at the University of Surrey, discusses how he built the world's smallest snowman as part of a recent nanotech experiment. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 3:00am

Thirteen protesters were arrested Monday evening following a daylong sit-in at the president's office of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Students and a few nonstudents organized the protest to demand changes that they said were needed to promote diversity and inclusiveness on campus. The group, known as Whose Diversity?, is seeking a range of changes, including increased financial support for Latino studies, a commitment to one all-gender bathroom in every building on campus and an end to crime alerts that note the race of suspects. The university released a statement Monday afternoon in which it said it supported the right of peaceful protest and expressed a willingness to join in discussions about the goals of the students who were protesting. On the students' Twitter feed, they said that the response was inadequate.

A statement released by the university Monday night said the students were warned repeatedly that remaining in the president's office after 6 p.m., when it closes, would constitute trespassing. "The university took this action [the arrests] as a last resort after trying to have a dialogue for nearly seven hours. We regret that individuals chose arrest over a peaceful conclusion. The protesters were cooperative and the arrests occurred without incident," the statement said. On the student protesters' Twitter feed, numerous comments criticized the decision to arrest students, and vowed that the movement would continue to push its demands.

The university has published a list of the demands and the university's responses.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 4:22am

A Canadian instructor under fire for teaching anti-vaccine views that clash with science has asked for and been granted a leave from the health class she was teaching, The Globe and Mail reported. Queen's University, in Ontario, has faced intense scrutiny and criticism over the teachings of Melody Torcolacci, who has declined to respond to questions from the press. Students have shared PowerPoints and class notes indicating that they were being taught to doubt that vaccines are effective. Students have complained in the past, but the issue has received increased attention amid the current measles outbreak in the United States. The university has said that it is investigating the matter.

Amid all the attention to the issue at Queen's, Richard Reznick, dean of health sciences, published a blog post in which he described how medical, nursing and other health students are taught that vaccines are safe and effective, and that they are valuable in promoting health.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 4:19am

A new report -- funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America -- argues that colleges that sell holdings in fossil fuel companies are likely to pay a financial price for doing so. The report is by Daniel Fischel, a consultant who is emeritus professor at the University of Chicago Law School. He analyzed the performance of two hypothetical portfolios over a 50-year period, including energy-related stocks in only one of the portfolios. The portfolio without energy stocks had average annual returns of 0.7 percentage points less than the one with the energy stocks. Fischel released his findings in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal called "The Feel-Good Folly of Fossil-Fuel Divestment."

The findings are sure to be challenged. Many proponents of divestment, for example, do not deny that energy stocks have done well historically, but suggest that changes in society, energy policy and the environment will make many energy companies less profitable in the years ahead. Others note that various divestment movements have always been opposed as financially questionable, and that colleges that have divested have not reported financial harm.



Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 3:00am

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel picked up additional momentum this weekend when the University of California Student Association approved a resolution calling on the UC regents to divest from corporations complicit in violations of Palestinians’ human rights. But the system-wide student government went even further than that, endorsing a second resolution urging the university to divest from national governments it describes as being “engaged in human rights abuses and violence,” including not only the government of Israel, but also those of Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, Sri Lanka -- and the United States.

The resolution cites a range of abuses on the part of the U.S. government: drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, high rates of incarceration, disproportionate targeting of racial minorities by police forces, the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, and its activities in “directly supporting and propping up numerous dictatorships around the world with weapons sales and foreign aid.”

BDS activists celebrated the Student Association's stance: the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the University of California at Los Angeles issued a statement describing the vote in favor of the first, Palestinian-specific resolution as “undoubtedly the largest victory thus far in the campus divestment movement in the United States.” The group noted that student governments at six individual UC campuses, as well as the union representing UC teaching assistants and other graduate student workers, have already endorsed divestment.

Advocates of the BDS movement are often criticized for singling out Israel -- of all the objectionable regimes in the world -- for special criticism. Indeed, the conservative Cornell University law professor William A. Jacobson described the combination of resolutions at UC as illustrative of the problems with the approach. “The U. Cal. student government has proven a point I’ve made repeatedly in terms of the academic boycott: If you are going to boycott Israel, then you need to apply those standards to the whole world, which will result in boycotting yourselves,” he wrote in his Legal Insurrection blog

Just because the system-wide UC Student Association passed the resolutions -- the full texts of which are linked in the meeting minutes -- doesn’t mean the Board of Regents will necessarily take them up. In 2010, the University of California released a statement affirming the board's policy of divesting from a foreign government, or with companies doing business with that government, only in cases in which the U.S. government has declared a regime guilty of committing acts of genocide (which it has not done in the case of Israel). In forwarding that statement, a UC spokeswoman said Monday that the university’s position and policies have not changed.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 3:00am

Bryn Mawr College, a women's institution, announced Monday that it would admit certain groups of transgender students. Bryn Mawr's old policy did not ban transgender applicants, saying only that Bryn Mawr was a women's college and that "how an individual self-identifies in terms of gender, or any changes in self-identification while a student is enrolled here, are personal matters and not something the college tracks." The new policy explicitly welcomes some transgender applicants. The new policy states that the college's mission is "to educate women to be future leaders -- and in this mission context more clearly articulates the eligible undergraduate applicant pool. In addition to those applicants who were assigned female at birth, the applicant pool will be inclusive of transwomen and of intersex individuals who live and identify as women at the time of application. Intersex individuals who do not identify as male are also eligible for admission. Those assigned female at birth who have taken medical or legal steps to identify as male are not eligible for admission."

Bryn Mawr's move follows similar announcements from Mills, Mount Holyoke and Scripps Colleges.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 3:00am

Saint Louis University officials are refusing to go along with the demands of some students that the institution revoke an invitation to St. Louis County prosecutor Bob McCulloch, whose handling of the Ferguson investigation has been criticized by many as making it inevitable that no charges would be brought in the shooting death of Michael Brown. The Associated Press reported that the Black Law Students Association has pushed for the invitation to be revoked. But university officials, citing principles of academic freedom, have refused to do so.


Tuesday, February 10, 2015 - 3:00am

The Competency-Based Education Network (C-BEN) announced Monday that it has added 15 new college members. The Lumina-funded group now features 30 institutions and 4 public college systems, all of which either offer competency-based degrees or are creating them. The C-BEN was created for participants to share information on the emerging form of higher education. New members include several community colleges, a midsized for-profit chain and large universities, including the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and the University of Texas System.


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