Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 30, 2009

Gov. Jennifer Granholm decided not to veto funds for Michigan State University's agricultural extension programs after striking a deal in which the university agreed to restructure the programs to focus on environmental issues, the Detroit Free Press reported. Granholm had been widely expected to veto much of the $64 million in state funds that Michigan State's extension and experiment station programs receive annually, but changes announced by the university Wednesday appeared to have averted the cuts.

October 30, 2009

The University of Florida received attention this month for a spoof disaster planning document -- place on the university's Web site with other disaster preparedness documents -- on dealing with a zombie attack. On Wednesday, an improv student group called Theatre Strike Force demonstrated what a zombie attack might actually look like. The Independent Florida Alligator has video of the "attack."

October 30, 2009

Just under 11.5 million students were enrolled in a college or university in the fall of 2008, and 39.6 percent of all Americans aged 18 to 24 were enrolled -- both figures that set records, according to an analysis released Thursday by the Pew Research Center. Community college enrollments accounted for almost all of the gains over the previous year, consistent with the enrollment booms they experience when the economy falters.

October 30, 2009

Presidents of Division I universities in the National Collegiate Athletic Association moved ahead Thursday on several changes designed to rein in perceived abuses and excesses in big-time college basketball. The Division I Board of Directors approved a set of recommendations aimed at limiting the flow of money to third parties (like informal sports agents) who have increasingly cropped up in the college recruiting pipeline, and increasing the penalties against college coaches who violate the new guidelines. The board also endorsed and put on the agenda for a vote at January's NCAA Convention a set of proposals that would cut the length of the men's basketball season by one game, to 28, and restrict the number of physical education courses that basketball players who transfer from two-year colleges can count toward their credentials. The association's Executive Committee also formally began its search to replace Myles Brand as the NCAA's president.

October 29, 2009

Well, you can't say that Sen. Lamar Alexander isn't an equal opportunity irritant to his successors as U.S. education secretary. Alexander, a Tennessee Republican who headed the federal agency during the first Bush administration, won the eternal gratitude of many college leaders by stopping Education Secretary Margaret Spellings dead in her tracks two years ago when she tried to use the federal regulatory process to bring about major changes in higher education accreditation. (Alexander argued that Spellings was trying to work around Congress, and helped pass legislation to make sure she couldn't; the secretary wasn't pleased.) On Wednesday, he took to the Senate floor to criticize Spellings' successor, Arne Duncan, on roughly similar grounds. He was unhappy that Duncan had sent a letter this week urging college presidents to get their campuses ready for a possible switch to the government's direct student loan program, even though Congress has yet to pass -- and the Senate has yet to consider -- legislation that would mandate such a switch, by ending lending through the bank-based Federal Family Education Loan Program. "The secretary's gotten a little ahead of himself," Alexander said, adding that the "Washington takeover" of the loan program -- he's not a fan of President Obama's proposal -- requires Congressional approval because "we have more than one branch of government in this town." He urged the administration to stop trying to ram through legislation that would force thousands of colleges to switch loan programs by July 1, which could result, Alexander said, in a "14 million car pileup on the interstate highways of American education," envisioning students unable to get loans because of administrative disarray in the government-run program. Administration officials have repeatedly said that colleges have found it much easier to switch loan programs than critics allege, and that they are intent on making changes that will pour tens of billions of dollars more into student aid programs.

October 29, 2009

Metropolitan Community College has announced plans to sue five other community colleges in Nebraska, in an escalating dispute over state financing of the institutions, The Omaha World-Herald reported. Metro, in Omaha, has been arguing that the state's financing formula unfairly favors colleges in rural areas. The suit is over allegations that the other colleges submitted incorrect information about tuition rates to the state, so that the formula would provide them with more money. Officials of the other colleges were quoted as saying that they were responding to Metro submitting questionable figures itself.

October 29, 2009

The University of Illinois is getting ready for its first admissions deadlines without "clout" admissions -- the system that led to a major scandal over the way politically connected applicants received special treatment. The Chicago Tribune reported that new protections have been added barring the kind of influence that went on routinely in the past and that would make public any attempts at influencing the process.

October 29, 2009

Colleges have seen a surge in the rates at which students are being diagnosed with H1N1 or similar flu illnesses, according to new data from the American College Health Association. The association has been using a national sample of 270 colleges and universities to track the spread of H1N1, and, in the last week, the rate of cases increased by 34 percent. In addition, several regions where H1N1 had appeared to be in decline -- the Northeast, Southeast, Mid-Atlantic and the Midwest -- saw increases. Of the colleges in the survey, 97 percent reported new cases. Details on the latest data are available here.

October 29, 2009

The higher ed technology group Educause on Wednesday released its based on the results of its "Core Data Service Fiscal Year 2008 Summary Report," annual survey of 930 colleges and universities. This year's installment focuses on information technology trends on campuses between 2004 and 2008. Centralized IT funding rose, but only in proportion to enrollment and inflation. Outsourcing became more popular: In 2008, 70 percent of colleges used an external supplier for at least one IT function, and the use of homegrown systems decreased for all categories except library information systems. Colleges have increasingly turned to commercial vendors for learning management systems and e-mail clients, with a number of campuses considering dropping institutional e-mail addresses altogether, the report says.

October 29, 2009

Monday, Butler University formally withdrew the libel and defamation lawsuit it had filed against Jess Zimmerman, an undergraduate student who kept an anonymous blog that criticized senior administrators. The case did not name Zimmerman directly, and instead was filed against “Soodo Nym,” the moniker he used to write the blog. Even after Zimmerman went public and admitted he was “Soodo Nym,” Bobby Fong, Butler's president, told faculty multiple times, as he did in one statement, that “The university did not, has not, and will not sue Jess Zimmerman.” By university administrators' logic, because they had not named Zimmerman directly in the suit, they had not technically ever sued a student. Zimmerman and many professors and other students took issue with this stance in the days following his public outing. On Zimmerman's new blog, he even kept a running tally of the number of days the lawsuit remained active in Marion County court following Fong’s statement that the university was not suing him. Ultimately, the suit remained in force for a week.

Michael Blickman, the university’s attorney, noted in a statement that the university had begun an “internal disciplinary process” to punish Zimmerman last week, before the suit was dropped. Of the move, Blickman said, “The university and its administrators strongly support freedom of speech and academic freedom. The free exchange of ideas is fundamental to academic life. However, the University also has a commitment and duty to protect the safety of all its members and ensure the opportunity to teach and to learn freely.” Zimmerman, by contrast, criticized how the disciplinary process was being handled in his blog: “I worry about them since the president, on numerous occasions, has seen fit to pronounce me guilty. I would have hoped that we could have the trial first and the verdict second, but that isn’t the way Butler has decided to operate."

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