Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 5, 2017

From concerns about student debt to legislative attacks on tenure, some have suggested there’s a crisis of public confidence in U.S. colleges and universities. A new paper in The Journal of Higher Education examines how that confidence varies across social contexts, from political ideology to religion to parental career encouragement. Based on data from 2014’s nationally representative Religious Understandings of Science survey concerning some 10,000 Americans, the study finds that 14 percent of the American public report “a great deal” of confidence in higher education. Evangelical Protestants, Catholics, Jews, those who perceive a conflict between science and faith and "side" with religion, and political conservatives all are significantly less likely to report confidence in academe, while parents who are strong supporters of professional career paths for their children are much more likely to report confidence.

In general, Americans have more confidence in higher ed than they do in Congress, the press, corporations and religious institutions. But they have more trust in scientists and the military than they do in academe. One in five Americans has hardly any confidence in how colleges and universities are run. Those with higher education experience have more confidence in colleges and universities than those who don't, and African-Americans have less confidence relative to whites.

The study’s co-authors are David R. Johnson, an assistant professor of higher education leadership at the University of Nevada at Reno, and Jared L. Peifer, an assistant professor of management at Baruch College. Johnson said via email that public confidence in higher education “is rarely measured through survey research, despite the ‘crisis of confidence’ rhetoric that steadily percolates in the public sphere.” And when surveys have been done, he added, “they rarely examine how confidence varies by race, gender, religious background and other important demographic characteristics.”

“How Public Confidence in Higher Education Varies by Social Context” suggests that “contested legitimacy [of academe] occurs among some groups because universities do not actually know what is important to particular groups, they fail at communicating their legitimacy or they underperform in the eyes of some.” It's “equally possible that low confidence among some groups in the public is the result of a poor understanding of what universities, professors and students do,” it says, and the “content of these doubts is thus an important area for future research.”

April 5, 2017

Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences in Norway wants to become a full-fledged university, but if its pending application were to be approved, the institution does not yet know what it would be called.

Administrators have spent nearly $100,000 and about a year debating various names, according to the higher education publication Khrono (note: the article is in Norwegian). One option, Aker University, references the geographic region surrounding Oslo, while another, Nova University Oslo, emphasizes the newness of the institution.

Rector Curt Rice, the first non-Norwegian to lead an institution in the country, has suggested OsloMet, short for Oslo Metropolitan University. But the suggestion is facing resistance from the Language Council of Norway.

"All Norwegian government agencies are required to have Norwegian names," Åse Wetås, director general of the language council, told Khrono. "'Metropolitan' is not a Norwegian word, nor is the abbreviation 'Met,' so this won't do." (The council has approved both Aker and Nova.)

Rice, who holds a Ph.D. in general linguistics, on Tuesday fired back on Twitter. "The language council is speaking out of both sides of its mouth, because they know full well that 'metropol' is Norwegian," he wrote.

Rice, a reserve member of the board of the language council, is also drawing attention among Norwegian academics these days for an interview in the weekly newspaper Morgenbladet, in which he said researchers should publish in English, not Norwegian.

The university college is still working on the best Norwegian translation for Oslo Metropolitan University and plans to settle on a name in September.

April 5, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, David Ward, associate professor of marriage and family therapy at Pacific Lutheran University, breaks down the components of hope and how individuals can foster their own. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

April 4, 2017

Five universities in Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education have notified their local chapters of the system's faculty union about possible layoffs by the end of the 2017-18 academic year.

California, Cheyney, Clarion, Edinboro and Mansfield Universities all told the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties about the possibility as part of the institutions' collective bargaining agreement. While faculty members may not lose their jobs, the news adds to an atmosphere of uncertainty, said Kenneth Mash, the union's president.

"We understand finances are tight, but cutting programs and faculty members is penny-wise and pound-foolish," Mash said in a written statement. "Limiting opportunities will not help universities heal or grow. It certainly does nothing to encourage potential students to enroll."

Enrollment at the system of 14 state institutions has declined by 12 percent since 2010. It is facing a projected $79 million funding shortfall for next year.

April 4, 2017

France A. Córdova (right), director of the National Science Foundation, on Monday spoke out against President Trump's proposed cuts in science spending, WGBH reported. "We just cannot afford to give up," Córdova said in a talk at Northeastern University celebrating the dedication of the university's Interdisciplinary Science and Engineering Complex. She said that the cuts proposed by Trump would damage research efforts across the United States. "The discoveries that have made such a profound difference in the way we live and learn and work and communicate are all due to investments in basic research," Córdova said. "Half of our present GDP is due to investments in science and technology, and much of that investment has been by the federal government."

To date, the Trump administration has not made its proposal for the NSF budget for the next fiscal year, but the administration has proposed deep cuts to the National Institutes of Health and other agencies. It is unusual for those who lead federal agencies to speak out against cuts proposed by any administration. Córdova was nominated for her job by President Obama, and the Trump administration has kept her on.

UPDATE: The NSF disputes the WGBH account and says that Córdova's comments were about the importance of research generally and not about the Trump budget proposal.



April 4, 2017

Westech College, a for-profit college with three campuses in Southern California, shut down this week citing financial issues, the Los Angeles Times reported. The abrupt closure, which surprised students, was related to the U.S. Department of Education apparently sanctioning the college with its heightened cash monitoring penalty over concerns about a "lack of financial and administrative capability."

The trade college offered two-year degrees and certificates in computer systems, HVAC technology, veterinary assistance and other programs. It is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges.

April 4, 2017

In a mixed opinion, a federal judge ruled Friday to dismiss a claim that the American Studies Association operated outside the scope of its bylaws in endorsing a boycott of Israeli academic institutions, while allowing the plaintiffs’ claims of corporate waste, breach of contract and violation of the D.C. Nonprofit Corporation Act on the part of the ASA to move forward.

Judge Rudolph Contreras’s ruling came in a lawsuit against the association and six of its former leaders filed by a group of American studies professors who challenged the organization’s endorsement of the academic boycott of Israel in December 2013. In the ASA’s favor, Judge Contreras dismissed the plaintiffs’ argument that endorsing the boycott was an ultra vires action -- that is, it was outside the scope and purpose of the organization as outlined in its constitution and bylaws.

“The boycott resolution was, at the very least, reasonably in furtherance of the ASA’s organic documents and Articles of Incorporation, which provide that the ASA was organized exclusively for educational and academic purposes, and that the object of the ASA is the promotion of American culture through, inter alia, ‘the encouragement of research, teaching, publication, [and the] strengthening [of] relations among persons and institutions in this country and abroad devoted to such studies,’” Contreras’s opinion states. “The boycott resolution was aimed at promoting academic freedom abroad, solidarity with foreign institutions and scholars, and encouraging an array of studies at foreign institutions.”

On the other hand, Judge Contreras found that the plaintiffs presented a “plausible case for breach of contract” in regard to their allegations that the ASA failed to follow its own rules in voting on the boycott resolution. The judge also rejected ASA’s argument that a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs would violate the First Amendment rights of the defendants, finding that the individual defendants had “voluntarily assumed roles where their right to expression would be limited by bylaws, the common law and statute. Because [the] defendants voluntarily assented to these laws and the ASA’s constitution and bylaws, the court’s interference with speech is passive and incidental to enforcement of a contract.”

“This is important because it shows that the First Amendment can be used as a pretext for associations that are violating their own internal principles and the rights of their members with these boycotts,” said Kenneth L. Marcus, one of the lawyers for the plaintiffs and the president of the Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law. Marcus heralded the judge’s opinion as an “important victory.”

“You may recall that our opponents had derogated our complaint as being meritless and a violation of the First Amendment. We feel a great vindication by this court order demonstrating that the case does in fact have merit and we will be able to move forward,” Marcus said.

"The parts that are left, as I understand from reading what the court wrote, have to do with our bylaws and how they were interpreted at the moment in 2013," said Robert Warrior, the president of ASA and the Hall Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Kansas. "That seems to me that we’re in a different kind of argument than if the ultra vires argument had been found to be a valid one to move forward with."

Warrior described the ultra vires claim as “an argument that tends to shut down discussion over controversial issues.”

April 4, 2017

The State University of New York at Buffalo announced Monday that it would eliminate its baseball, men's soccer, men's swimming and diving, and women's crew teams, moves designed to save $2 million. Buffalo officials said cutting the number of sports it offered to 16 from 20 would allow the university to lower the hefty institutional subsidies it provides to athletics while keeping the university in compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. Sixteen is the fewest number of sports that institutions in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Football Bowl Subdivision are allowed to offer.

Buffalo has significantly ratcheted up its spending on sports, and especially football, in the last decade, as it returned to the highest levels of NCAA competition in football. The university provided a subsidy approaching $25 million (on a total budget of nearly $32 million) in the 2014-15 academic year, according to federal data collected by USA Today.

April 4, 2017

A plan by Singapore-based Raffles Education Corp. to buy Santa Fe University of Art and Design has been scuttled amid scrutiny from an accrediting agency, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported. Raffles, which has been trying to break into the American higher education market, had sought to buy the Santa Fe institution, which is affiliated with (but not owned by) Laureate Education. The New Mexican said that the Higher Learning Commission, which accredits the for-profit university in Santa Fe, postponed a vote on its approval of the deal, reportedly leading the university to call it off.

April 4, 2017

With the Trump administration reportedly debating whether to reverse Obama administration guidance on how colleges should investigate sexual assault, a group of trial lawyers has released a report suggesting the current processes on many campuses are unfairly slanted against the accused.

The guidance, issued in a 2011 Dear Colleague letter, was meant to clarify areas of the law, the administration said at the time. It beefed up protections for victims of sexual assault and was a way to push colleges to more thoroughly respond to complaints. Such guidance does not carry the force of law, but it did contain a threat that colleges’ federal funding could be revoked should they fail to comply

The American College of Trial Lawyers, in a report last month, said this prospective loss of funding, combined with heavy media attention on cases of sexual assault, has resulted in colleges sometimes disregarding the rights of those accused and on occasion recklessly siding with someone making a complaint to avoid backlash.

It suggested that:

  • All hearings in sexual misconduct cases be conducted keeping in mind even the appearance of partiality -- fact finders assigned to the cases should be vetted for any conflicts of interest or affiliations.
  • Anyone accused in a case should be provided with full details of the allegations against them and kept abreast of all evidence as the case proceeds.
  • Those accused should be advised of their right to a lawyer and be allowed to have one present at all stages of an investigation.
  • Parties, including the one accused, should be allowed to do cross-examination of witnesses. (This could be particularly controversial, considering it is generally advised that victims do not interact with the alleged perpetrator. The lawyers' group notes that court systems have said there are alternate ways to see victim testimony, such as via a tape-recorded message or closed-circuit TV.)
  • The accused should be provided with a written record in case they wish to appeal.



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