Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 14, 2009

Twenty pairs of African and American colleges were awarded grants Monday to help them develop collaborations aimed at attacking economic, health care, agricultural and other problems in Africa. The $50,000 grants, which were funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and announced by Higher Education for Development, emerged from the work of the Africa-U.S. Higher Education Initiative, which aims to spur American universities to work closely with their African counterparts to build the continent's capacity to transform itself. Many of the American institutions awarded grants are large universities such as George Mason, Georgia State, Michigan State, Texas A&M and Virginia Tech Universities, but recipients also include Durham Technical Community College and private institutions such as Calvin and Wheelock Colleges.

April 13, 2009

Pennsylvania State University has stopped using and apologized for a video prepared to help faculty members learn how to deal with students who could pose a safety risk. The video -- no longer available at Penn State but posted by critics to YouTube -- shows a veteran as being unwilling to accept the grades he receives and unwilling to accept responsibility for his work. He accuses his professor of giving him low grades because of her opposition to the war in Iraq and makes ominous statements. After veterans' groups said that the video stereotyped veterans, Penn State pulled it. A statement it gave to The Centre Daily Times said: “Unfortunately, in our efforts to also highlight in this video the potential services that are available to veterans, the portrayal of the student as a veteran may be viewed by some as unfairly stereotyping members of this important constituency. Penn State sincerely regrets any misperception."

April 13, 2009

Many professors attacked by animal rights extremists have taken the approach of becoming as invisible as possible. But a profile in today's Los Angeles Times looks at a professor at the University of California at Los Angeles who is taking the opposite approach -- organizing a campus protest against the violent acts being committed by animal rights extremists.

"People always say: 'Don't respond. If you respond, that will give [the attackers] credibility,'" said J. David Jentsch, a neuroscientist whose car was set on fire. "But being silent wasn't making us feel safer. And it's a moot point if they are coming to burn your car anyway, whether you give them credibility or not."

April 13, 2009

Arizona State University may not think President Obama deserves an honorary degree, but it will name a scholarship program for him. At Arizona State, commencement speakers aren't automatically offered an honorary degree, and the university announced that it was thrilled to have him give the address, but would hold off on an honorary doctorate, given that he is just starting his tenure in office. As bloggers and others found that Arizona State had awarded honorary degrees in the past to Erma Bombeck, Hugh Downs and others who arguably have not influenced American society as has President Obama, many have questioned the decision not to award the president a degree. On Saturday, Arizona State announced that it was sorry for any implied insult, and was naming a major scholarship program for the president. Knox College, meanwhile, is reminding people that it thought Obama was worthy of an honorary back in 2005, when he was just starting out in the Senate.

April 13, 2009

Louisiana State University has fired Ivor van Heerden as a research professor and deputy director at the university's Hurricane Center. The New Orleans Times-Picayune reported that van Heerden -- who does not have tenure -- was not given a reason for his dismissal, and that the university isn't talking, citing confidentiality requirements. Van Heerden played a prominent role in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, criticizing the Army Corps of Engineers, among others.

April 13, 2009

Among the papers that will be presented at this week's annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association is one by an Ohio State researcher, Aryn Karpinski, that documents a decline in college grades for students who spend a lot of time on Facebook, as opposed to those who don't, The Times (London) reported. The gap is the equivalent of a letter grade, the research found. We would tell you more, but we need to share our feelings about this news on the walls of 829 close friends.

April 13, 2009

Students pushing for the resignation of Bob Kerrey as president of the New School took over a building Friday morning, and university officials responded by sending in the New York City police to retake the building. Nineteen people -- some but not all of them New School students -- were arrested when the police retook the building, and other students were also arrested. Students and many professors at the New School say that Kerrey has provided poor leadership for the institution. A building takeover in December ended after negotiations, with students vowing additional protests if Kerrey remained in office.

A statement from the university defended the need to call in the police. "[T]he university has allowed and accommodated every peaceful protest, teach-in, and demonstration. We have enforced our rules governing such events in such a way as to permit protests, so long as they don't endanger the safety of other members of the community or destruction of property," the statement said. But it continued by saying that the protesters on Friday were not being truthful. "Their claim that this was a simple political protest is false. Their entry into this building was forced, they removed a man who was cleaning the building, took his phone, injured a security officer, and did physical damage to the building. Accordingly, in this case the university asked the New York Police Department to remove and arrest those who were trespassing on our property. We suspended, pending administrative review, all New School students who were a part of this action. The New School prides itself on civic engagement. We have been and will continue to be a refuge for open and critical political debate. Students and faculty who choose to peacefully and passionately oppose the policies of the university will have their rights to do so protected as strongly as we protect our right to safely and securely operate our university."

Supporters of the protest held additional rallies Friday night.

New School in Exile, the protest group, posted videos of the protests and arrests on its Web site. The group said that Kerrey and police officers were lying about the way events transpired, and vowed to continue efforts to oust Kerrey.

April 10, 2009

What if the federal government held an auction and nobody came? That's essentially what happened this month, and the U.S. Education Department announced Thursday in a message to student loan providers that it was canceling its Congressionally mandated plan for state-by-state competitive bidding processes for the right to make federal student loans for parents. The auction, which was enacted as part of budget reconciliation legislation in 2007, was set to take place next week. But as the law was written, the auctions were to be held only in those states that received at least two requests from lenders -- and not a single state received two such requests, Daniel T. Madzelan, a senior department official, said in an e-mail message Thursday. Most states received no requests at all, he said. The auction idea had become increasingly fraught because of the economic downturn and with the Obama administration contemplating much broader changes in the federal student loan programs. Democratic leaders in Congress introduced legislation late last month that would have postponed the auction for a year -- which may not be necessary given the department's announcement Thursday.

April 10, 2009

Clark University has called off a lecture by Norman Finkelstein, saying that it would conflict with and possibly detract from a conference about the Holocaust on campus, The Boston Globe reported. John Bassett, the university's president, said in a letter to the campus paper that he canceled Finkelstein's talk due to "unfortunate scheduling" near a conference sponsored by the university's Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Clark is known for its programs in Holocaust studies. Finkelstein, an outspoken critic of Israel, is known for writing about the Holocaust that focuses on Israeli use of the history of the Holocaust to justify its actions. Finkelstein was invited to Clark by a group called Clark University Students for Palestinian Rights. The statement from Bassett said: "It is possible that our understanding of the Middle East conflicts would be enriched by conversations with Professor Finkelstein. It is my judgment, however, that having Professor Finkelstein speak on the same evening as our planned conference would only invite controversy and not dialogue or understanding."

April 10, 2009

C.D. Mote Jr., president of the University of Maryland at College Park, has decided that the institution will keep a two-minute prayer at graduation ceremonies. The Baltimore Sun reported that the University Senate -- which has student, faculty and staff members -- voted this week to recommend that the university end the prayer, saying that it was not inclusive. But Mote, in a statement, said that "for many people, a prayer of gratitude and a moment of reflection are an important part of our commencement tradition."

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