Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, June 27, 2016 - 3:00am

The imminent retirement of Rick Gerhart from the California Institute of Technology has scientists there distraught because he may be impossible to replace. As a profile in the Los Angeles Times explains, Gerhart is a glassblower who can create the unique equipment needed by Caltech professors for their experiments. Many universities once employed one or more glassblowers full time, but the positions are disappearing. Universities that used to have several glassblowers now may not have any. Caltech is doing a search to replace Gerhart, but other institutions have stopped trying. There is one program in the country -- at Salem Community College in New Jersey -- that prepares people for the career.

Monday, June 27, 2016 - 4:15am

Some SAT tutors who took the exam in May are raising questions about whether two items promoted stereotypes about women that may have hurt female students taking the test, The New York Times reported. Critics cited the theory of "stereotype threat," which holds that exposing people to a stereotype can hurt their performance. College Board officials deny that the items are problematic and say they found that female test takers in May did not score differently than they typically do.

One math question featured a chart showing that there are more boys than girls in math classes. Part of the writing test featured two historic essays, one of which argued that men have more stature than women and that the role for women is in the home.

Monday, June 27, 2016 - 3:00am

Monmouth University announced Friday that it is keeping the Woodrow Wilson name on the main administration building at the private New Jersey institution. The university examined the issue following a much publicized debate at Princeton University over an academic unit and a building honoring Wilson. Princeton is keeping the name, and Monmouth is following a similar approach. While the name will remain intact, "steps [will] be taken to ensure a comprehensive and balanced understanding of Wilson’s legacy." Critics of honors for Wilson have noted his racist actions as president and in other positions.

Monday, June 27, 2016 - 3:00am

Moody's recently downgraded 15 of Illinois's 27 community colleges because of the yearlong budget impasse in the Legislature.

"While most of the state's community colleges have strong ratings due to sound reserves and diverse revenue streams, the state's fiscal challenges have weakened the colleges' finances and left them vulnerable to further state aid delays and potential increases in pension costs," Moody's said.

Twenty-three of the colleges now have "negative" outlooks and could possibly see additional downgrades.

Monday, June 27, 2016 - 3:00am

Academic leaders, scholarly societies and student groups sent out a flurry of statements on Friday reacting to the British vote to exit the European Union, which many in higher education oppose and worry could harm research and inhibit the movement of students and scholars to and from the U.K.

Statements from the British Academy, which represents scholars in the humanities and the social sciences, and the Royal Society, which represents scientists, stressed the importance of mobility and the need to maintain financial support for research, which benefits from E.U. funding sources.

In various statements, U.K. university leaders -- about 100 of whom had signed an open letter prior to the vote opposing a leaving the E.U. -- affirmed their institutions' international outlooks and sought to assure current European students and staff that they are welcome and wanted. They also stressed that major changes are not expected to happen overnight: the process of Britain negotiating the terms of a withdrawal from the E.U. is expected to take at least two years.

In one such statement, Michael Arthur, the president and provost of University College London, wrote, “This morning, I have reassured UCL staff and students that, barring unilateral action from the U.K. government, the vote to leave the European Union does not mean there will be any immediate material change to the immigration status of current and prospective E.U. students and staff, nor to the U.K. university sector’s participation in E.U. programs such as Horizon 2020 and Erasmus+," programs for research funding and student exchange, respectively.

The National Union of Students expressed disappointment in the vote outcome. Pre-election polling from YouGov showed that young people overwhelmingly supported Britain remaining in the E.U. -- among 18- to 29-year-olds, 73 percent supported remaining in the union -- and in the university towns of Cambridge and Oxford, more than 70 percent of voters favored remaining, according to local election results reported by the BBC.

“This is clearly not the result that many young people wanted or voted for, but most important now is to ensure that students and young people are involved in the decisions that have to be made that will shape their future,” Megan Dunn, the national president of the student union, said. “We have urgent questions about how the vote to leave will affect students, particularly E.U. students in the U.K. and U.K. students studying in the E.U., and call on the government to offer clear assurances to them about their situation.”

Monday, June 27, 2016 - 3:00am

The American Anthropological Association has issued a statement censuring the Israeli government for what it describes as “policies and practices that threaten academic freedom and the human rights of Palestinian and Israeli scholars.”

The statement of censure is one of multiple actions the association pledged to make after the membership narrowly voted down a proposal to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The anthropological group also sent letters Friday to Israel’s minister of education seeking changes in Israeli policies, and to the U.S. Department of State asking it to exert pressure in bringing such changes about.

Specifically, the association is seeking changes to Israeli policies that it says result in the following: "restricted freedom of movement for Palestinian academics and foreign academics going to the West Bank and Gaza," "restricted access to publications among libraries at West Bank and Gaza universities," "disparities in internet access that restrict academic pursuits at West Bank and Gaza universities," "unjust denial of full accreditation for Al-Quds University" (a Palestinian institution in the West Bank), "unjust denial of freedom of expression to Palestinian and dissenting Jewish faculty and students at Israeli universities," "unjust denial of freedom to Palestinian students for gathering and action," and "undue delays of salary payments to West Bank and Gaza university faculty."

Monday, June 27, 2016 - 3:00am

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev on Friday announced a $400 million gift that will more than double the size of its endowment. The university believes the gift, from the estate of Howard and Lottie Marcus, formerly of California, may be the largest ever bequest to an Israeli academic institution.

According to the university’s announcement, the Marcuses fled Nazi Germany in 1930s and lost most of their family members in the Holocaust. They met after immigrating to the U.S., where Howard worked as a dentist and Lottie as a secretary at a Wall Street firm. They made their fortune by investing early in what later became Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company chaired by Warren Buffett.

The Marcuses first encountered Ben-Gurion in 1997, after which they began supporting research in water, desalination and desert studies. Ben-Gurion President Rivka Carmi described the couple as "rare and special people" and as "Holocaust survivors who lived a simple and humble life and joined their fate and their legacy to that of the state of Israel."

Monday, June 27, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Fred Butcher, research associate with the Begun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education at Case Western Reserve University, explores how treating trauma in children may be the best way to keep them from ending up in a jail cell in the future. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, June 24, 2016 - 3:00am

Another Supreme Court ruling Thursday had much more direct relevance to higher education, but the justices also let stand a federal appeals court decision that blocked President Obama's 2014 executive actions protecting some adults who reside in the United States illegally. The court's 4-to-4 deadlock meant that the court upheld the state of Texas' successful challenge to the president's plan to expand his earlier "deferred action" rules that protected from deportation many young people brought to the country by their parents.

Among other things, the 2014 actions sought to expand the deferred action program by making deportation protections last for three years instead of two and allowing more young immigrants to qualify for the status. The orders would also “expand and extend the use” of a program that provides temporary work authorization to international students for 12 to 29 months postgraduation.

In comments Thursday, President Obama sought to reassure the hundreds of thousands of young people who benefited from the original deferred action program that Thursday's decision did not affect them. "These are students, they’re teachers, they’re doctors, they’re lawyers. They’re Americans in every way but on paper. And fortunately, today’s decision does not affect this policy. It does not affect the existing DREAMers," he said, referring to individuals covered by the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act.

Friday, June 24, 2016 - 3:00am

A woman who said she was gang-raped by Oregon State University football players met with the players' former coach on Thursday, 18 years after the assault. Mike Riley, now the head football coach at the University of Nebraska, had invited Brenda Tracy to discuss the rape with his team. "I don't feel like there's any type of unfinished business between me and Coach Riley at all," Tracy told ESPN. "I feel like he is a friend and an ally now."

Tracy didn't always feel this way. After Riley only suspended the players for one game each and said that they had made "a bad choice," Tracy said she "hated this man more than my rapists." She went public with her story in 2014 in an article published in The Oregonian. Since then, Tracy has helped Oregon State University lobby the Pac-12 Conference to adopt new rules barring teams from recruiting athletes who have been dismissed from other teams for violent behavior. Earlier this month, her son created a petition urging the National Collegiate Athletic Association to adopt similar rules.

"I think that every university should bring a survivor to speak to their team," Tracy said. "We have a unique viewpoint and a lot to offer on this problem. Who knows better how to fix this than someone who has been through it?"


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