Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, April 9, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Catherine Murphy, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, discusses her work with gold on a nanoscale level. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 3:00am

Peter Diamandopoulos, who was president of Adelphi University from 1985 to 1997, died last week, The New York Times reported. Diamandopoulos was forced from office after the New York State Board of Regents removed most of the university's trustees, finding that they did not exercise oversight as his salary increased to unreasonable levels and the university's finances fell apart. It was highly unusual for the state board to take such action with regard to a private college. Diamandopoulos was a friend and ally of John Silber, the late Boston University president, and talked of turning Adelphi into a more academically rigorous institution, but many faculty members and others questioned his vision and his record at carrying it out.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 3:00am

M. D. Anderson Cancer Center violated professional norms as well as its own policies regarding academic freedom and tenure in failing to renew two long-term professors. That’s the upshot of a report out today from the American Association of University Professors on the nonrenewal of Kapil Mehta and Zhengxin Wang from 2012-13. Like all professors at M. D. Anderson, Mehta and Wang were employed on a seven-year “term tenure” contract, and were not renewed after having each been granted tenure in previous cycles. Both received unanimous faculty recommendations for their tenure renewals, but they were denied at the institutional level and never provided reasons why in writing, according to the report. Their appeals -- to the same office that denied them tenure in the first place -- were rejected.

The A.A.U.P. expressed significant concern about the idea of temporary tenure, which it called a contradiction in terms, last year in an article on the cases in Inside Higher Ed. In its full investigative report, A.A.U.P.  says that University of Texas-affiliated cancer center -- like many other research institutions -- is facing decreased funding opportunities and so putting greater pressure on the faculty to do more with less. But M. D. Anderson is unusual and in violation of the principles of tenure in making its faculty reapply for tenure every seven years under the guise of accountability, the report says. It’s also unusual in that it didn’t follow its own procedures for transparency regarding the two tenure decisions. A.A.U.P.’s report also suggests procedural irregularities in the review of a third, pretenure professor who was demoted to a classified position. The investigating committee noted additional concerns about shared governance and the overall climate for academic freedom at M. D. Anderson, especially under President Ronald DePinho, who began in 2011.

Mehta is finishing out the end of his term at M. D. Anderson and pursuing other opportunities. He said the A.A.U.P. investigation so far hasn’t changed his situation but he hopes it will prevent other scholars from being treated similarly in the future. Wang found a faculty position at Clark Atlanta University.

Via email, an M. D. Anderson spokesman said the institution had "many serious issues" with the report, especially its focus on DePinho, who did not initiate the term tenure policy, which has been in effect for decades. The spokesman also questioned A.A.U.P.'s assertions that both professors hadn't been given reasons for their tenure denial, since the provost told Mehta in writing that he'd been denied because he was not expected to meet his funding target. In an official letter of response to A.A.U.P., M. D. Anderson said its current tenure renewal rate remains high, at 97.7 percent.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 3:00am

The U.S. Department of Education on Monday clarified that colleges are able to take some active steps to help students avoid excessive loan amounts.

Federal law requires that colleges in most cases disburse to students any amount of federal loan they request so long as they are eligible for it.

Colleges have pushed for legislation that would give them the ability to limit the borrowing of some students who they are concerned might be taking on more loans than they would be able to repay. The federal government penalizes colleges when large numbers of their former students who took out federal loans default on that debt. The department wrote in the new guidance that colleges, as part of their loan entrance counseling program, may require students to take a test of the material presented, complete a budget or other exercises designed to improve the student’s understanding of the implications of borrowing.

However, those measures may not “unreasonably” impede students’ access to a loan. Colleges, for instance, can’t set a minimum required score on a financial literacy test or force students to justify their need for a loan. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 3:00am

A plane crash killed all seven on board a small aircraft serving some who came to Indianapolis for the Final Four, The Indianapolis Star reported. Among those killed were two athletics officials at Illinois State University: Aaron Leetch, deputy director of athletics for external operations, and Torrey Ward, associate head coach of the men's basketball team.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 3:00am

Texas State University is the latest institution to accidentally mail acceptance materials to those whom the institution was not actually accepting. The Austin American-Statesman reported that 450 people whose applications were not completed received welcoming materials about orientation and housing.

 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 3:00am

Brown University on Tuesday released the final report of its sexual assault task force, which recommends that the university adopt a new "unified policy" that defines gender-based harassment, sexual violence, relationship and interpersonal violence, and stalking as "prohibited conduct." Among the dozen other recommendations, the task force also urged the university to centralize all university processes dealing with sexual assault in a recently created Title IX office. The university hired its first Title IX officer last week. The task force's report comes after a much-criticized sexual assault investigation that involved a botched drug test and prompted more than 400 students to protest on campus.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 3:00am

Previous gifts from the Rady Family Foundation helped to create the Rady School of Management at the University of California at San Diego. On Tuesday, the university announced a $100 million pledge from the foundation to, among other things, recruit and retain faculty members.

 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Jessica Nolan, a psychologist at the University of Scranton, explores the psychology of recycling. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015 - 4:28am

Female students -- especially in their first year -- are more likely to actively participate and less likely to feel anxious if they have the chance to work in small groups that are majority female, according to a new study that will appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The study was led by Nilanjana Dasgupta at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and its emphasis was on women in male-dominated fields such as engineering. Tracking 120 undergraduates, the researchers found an impact on whether the women were in female-majority small groups, and that this had a positive impact, even if the class was mostly male. The researchers suggest more attention be paid to the composition of small groups that are common for team projects and group learning in engineering and other science and technology fields.

 

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