Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 30, 2016

Kaplan Test Prep is announcing today that it will offer free online PSAT instruction, starting in October. Kaplan will offer eight one-hour sessions live, with recordings available for those who can't participate live. Kaplan's announcement noted that, for many students, the PSAT is "the first meaningful step on their path to college."

The move comes at a time that more testing services are offering free test prep. The College Board has been boasting about the free test prep it is offering for the SAT through the Khan Academy. (And the College Board notes that this program is open to those preparing for the PSAT as well.) In April, ACT and Kaplan Test Prep announced a collaboration to provide free online instruction, taught by teachers, for low-income students. That service will be available to all, but those who are not low income will have to pay a fee, estimated to be under $200.

Asked if the latest announcement was part of competition in the free test prep space, Lee Weiss, Kaplan Test Prep vice president of college admissions programs, said via email: "Not at all. Kaplan has been developing our live online instruction capabilities for years. We know that good live teaching makes a meaningful difference in student performance, and we’ve recognized that quality live instruction is not available at scale. As technology has evolved, we saw an opportunity to use technology and our respective expertise to create something that didn’t yet exist."

August 30, 2016

​A physicist imprisoned in Iran for five years has been released on parole and will be allowed to leave the country, Nature reported.

Omid Kokabee was a Ph.D. student at the University of Texas at Austin when he was arrested in 2011 during a trip to his native Iran.  Kokabee, who was convicted of espionage-related charges, has stated that he was persecuted for his unwillingness to participate in Iran’s nuclear weapons program. He was granted temporary medical leave from prison this spring after having a kidney removed due to cancer. 

August 30, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute: Peter Weiss, research associate at the University of California Santa Cruz, explains why fog, and not rain, collects mercury from the atmosphere and what that could mean for coastal environments. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

August 29, 2016

U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin, angered many faculty members last week as word spread that he had suggested dealing with college costs by replacing instructors with documentaries of the sort made by the much honored Ken Burns.

"If you want to teach the Civil War across the country, are you better off having, I don’t know, tens of thousands of history teachers that kind of know the subject, or would you be better off popping in 14 hours of Ken Burns’s Civil War tape and then have those teachers proctor based on that excellent video production already done? You keep duplicating that over all these different subject areas," Johnson said. He added that ideas like this are blocked by the "higher education cartel" and tenured professors.

It also turns out Burns doesn't like the idea. He weighed in on Twitter:


August 29, 2016

Texas Woman's University announced Saturday that Shelly Barberee has resigned as head volleyball coach "to focus on personal matters." A statement from Barberee said that her resignation had no relationship to the recent hospitalization of eight of her players, and that since August 12, she has been on leave and not playing a role in the workouts.

The resignation was announced the day after the university said that the hospitalizations were due to rhabdomyolysis, a condition that involves breakdown of muscle tissue. “Although the investigation remains underway, Texas Woman’s University’s initial belief is that overexertion coupled with dehydration during practices last week caused these student-athletes to experience rhabdomyolysis,” said a statement from Monica Mendez-Grant, vice president for student life.


August 29, 2016

A federal judge issued an injunction Friday blocking the University of North Carolina from enforcing HB2, the law requiring state agencies to block transgender people from using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity, with regard to transgender students and employees of various campuses who have sued over the law. The judge ordered further hearings on other parts of the law and claims against it. The injunction notes that UNC and state officials have said that transgender people have -- without incident -- been using bathrooms of their choice for some time before this year's enactment of HB2.

The university system issued a statement indicating that it would follow the court order, but that nothing would change as a result. "Our attorneys are still in the process of reviewing the court’s 83-page order, and we will fully comply with its directive," the statement said. "We have long said that the university has not and will not be taking steps to enforce HB2. As President [Margaret] Spellings has emphasized all along, the university has been caught in the middle of a conflict that we did not create between state law and federal guidance. We welcome resolution of these issues by the court so that we can focus all of our efforts on our primary mission—educating students. As reflected in long-standing university policy, we do not discriminate on the basis of sex, sexual orientation or gender identity, and we are fully committed to being open and welcoming to individuals of all backgrounds."

Whatever final decision the judge issues is almost certain to be appealed.


August 29, 2016

The University of California at Berkeley announced last week it was indefinitely suspending plans to build a planned global higher education hub “due to the continued need to address significant budgetary challenges confronting the university.” The hub had been proposed by Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who earlier this month announced plans to resign from his post amid growing faculty frustrations, an inquiry into alleged misuse of public funds involving personal use of a fitness trainer without payment, and criticisms of the university’s handling of sexual harassment allegations.

Dirks announced plans for the “Berkeley Global Campus” on 130 acres of land the university owns in Richmond Bay in late 2014. Berkeley had hoped to attract leading foreign institutions and private industry partners to establish satellite locations on the land, which is located about 10 miles from the main campus. Without any state funding earmarked for the purpose, Berkeley was counting on would-be university and corporate partners and private donors to bring the capital to develop the imagined campus. 

Berkeley said in its announcement that it will “continue to explore options for the site that reflect new priorities for the campus around enrollment growth and housing in the near future.” 

August 29, 2016

Two students at Ithaca College were stabbed -- one of them fatally -- at Cornell University early Sunday morning. Officials from the Ithaca Police Department arrived on the Cornell campus just before 2 a.m. and responding to reports of "a large fight" and found the two men who had been stabbed. The fight followed a student-organized event at Cornell. The injured student was hospitalized, treated for non-life-threatening injuries and released. A statement from Ithaca College identified the student who was killed as Anthony Nazaire. The statement said: "Anthony was a 19-year-old sophomore majoring in business administration from Brooklyn, N.Y. He graduated from Brooklyn Theater Arts High School, and at IC he was a member of the executive board of Brothers4Brothers, a student organization dedicated to empowering men of color on our campus."


August 29, 2016

Many colleges issue press releases in August about their incoming classes, noting academic successes (record high SAT or ACT scores, for example), and all kinds of demographic information (numbers of minority students, the gender split, etc.). The last year has seen many more colleges let applicants indicate that they are transgender, and -- in what may be a first -- Williams College included the data in its press release on the incoming class. " Of the 552 incoming students, 267 identify as men, 251 as women. Two identify as trans or transgender, and one identifies as non-binary," says the release. A spokeswoman for the college said that officials there did not know of other colleges that have included this information in press releases, but that the goal was to be inclusive.

Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, a group that advocates for transgender students (and many other groups of students), said he had never previously seen a college issue a press release as Williams did. "It makes sense, now that schools are starting to ask gender identity and sexual orientation on their admissions applications," he said. "They have the information.  This is the first I have heard of it being done. Campus Pride heavily encourages colleges to start to do exactly this."



August 29, 2016

The University of New Mexico wants to terminate a professor accused of sexual harassment whom it previously had decided to censure instead, The Albuquerque Journal reported. Cristobal Valencia, an assistant professor anthropology, was due to return to the classroom this fall, following a paid suspension last semester and a note of censure. But the university changed course after media reports about the case and, according to New Mexico officials, new allegations of harassment emerged. The university said it was reopening its investigation into Valencia earlier this month, and soon moved to suspend him anew.

“The anthropology chair, along with the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, will continue to work with faculty and students in the department as part of their ongoing efforts to provide academic support and counseling to students requesting it, and to increase education and prevention efforts in future,” Dianne Anderson, spokesperson, said in a statement to the Journal. Neither Valencia nor his attorney returned the newspaper’s requests for comment. 


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