Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, September 10, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, John DesJardins, assistant professor of bioengineering at Clemson University, considers whether a football helmet can be concussion-proof. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 3:00am

U.S. News & World Report's rankings are out today, and while the methodology hasn't changed, the way the rankings operation calculates "assessment of excellence" (widely known as the reputation survey) has changed, apparently in response to the participation rates of college presidents and high school guidance counselors. Survey responses for those two groups make up 22.5 percent of the formula (15 percent from the presidents survey and 7.5 percent from the counselors survey). This part of the rankings has long been criticized. Presidents have been known to rank only their own institutions highly, and many experts say that presidents and guidance counselors seem always to favor historically strong institutions, or the most prestigious colleges over time.

This year 50 percent of presidents in the national universities category responded to the survey, and 46 percent of the leaders of national liberal arts colleges responded. Only 7 percent of high school counselors responded to the survey. While the presidential response rate hasn't fallen dramatically in recent years, as recently as 2005, 67 percent of presidents responded. The drop has prompted some to question whether enough presidents were responding for the survey to be meaningful. So this year, U.S. News for the first time combined the last two years of surveys of presidents. And after several years of combining the past two years of high school counselors, U.S. News is combining the last three years for that survey. The rankings methodology allows those who responded in multiple years to be counted each year they participate.

Robert Morse, who heads the rankings operation at U.S. News, gave this reason via email for the changes: "In both cases, this was done to increase the number of ratings each college received from the academic raters and high school counselors and to reduce the year-to-year volatility in the average peer score and high school counselor score."

We'll let other publications (and college public relations offices) boast about scores. But we can tell you that those at top of the various lists are … those whom you'd expect to find there.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 4:17am

The University of Iowa Faculty Senate has voted "no confidence" in the Board of Regents, The Iowa City Press-Citizen reported. Faculty members said that they were ignored in the process of choosing the university's new president, particularly when they urged the board not to select one of the four finalists, and then the board went on to select him. That finalist is Bruce Harreld, who was selected while lacking experience in higher education. The resolution adopted by the Faculty Senate said that the board showed a "blatant disregard for the shared nature of university governance."

After the vote, Bruce Rastetter, the board's president, issued a statement criticizing the Faculty Senate's action. "The landscape of higher education is changing and the current ways of operating are not sustainable," the statement said. "After listening to all stakeholder feedback as well as having frank conversations with each of the candidates, the board unanimously thought Bruce Harreld’s experience in transitioning other large enterprises through change, and his vision for reinvesting in the core mission of teaching and research, would ultimately provide the leadership needed. We are disappointed that some of those stakeholders have decided to embrace the status quo of the past over opportunities for the future and focus their efforts on resistance to change instead of working together to make the University of Iowa even greater."

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 3:00am

Newly unsealed search warrants show that the Federal Bureau of Investigation looked into whether an engineering professor at Ohio State University who resigned suddenly had shared defense secrets with the Chinese, The Columbus Dispatch reported.

The newspaper reported that Ohio State launched an internal investigation after Rongxing Li, an expert on Mars mapping efforts, stated on a January 2014 grant proposal to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration that he had no relationships with Chinese scientists, despite having recently spent a sabbatical at Tongji University, in Shanghai. Li resigned from Ohio State the following month, having indicated that he was caring for sick parents in China, at which point the university contacted the FBI due to the “unusual circumstances of Li’s departure and the restricted and sensitive nature of some of his research.”

FBI investigators searched Li’s home and stopped and searched Li's wife in March 2014 before she boarded a plane to China, seizing a computer, cell phone and several thumb drives, the latter of which contained restricted defense-related information, according to the warrant. No charges have been filed against Li or his wife.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 4:24am

Students in North Carolina's Richmond and Scotland Counties now have an option for two free years at a community college, The News & Observer reported. Richmond Community College is offering two free years if students earned a 3.0 grade point average in high school and have passed two college courses through the college's dual enrollment program. The program is the first of its kind in North Carolina.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 4:23am

Nearly 80,000 students on eight California State University System campuses have had their data breached, The Los Angeles Times reported. The students were participating in a required online course on sexual violence, provided by an outside vendor, We End Violence. Social Security numbers were not compromised, but the data breach exposed students' sign-in names, campus email addresses, gender, race, relationship statuses and sexual identities. The university is investigating.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 3:00am

It will be difficult to understand and ultimately improve the performance of American higher education without a better data infrastructure, and a federal student-level data system would be the best method for producing such data, a report from the Institute for Higher Education Policy argues. The report, which grew from a February 2015 meeting of researchers and policy makers on the topic, explores and analyzes seven possible methods of producing better data on student outcomes, such as improving the Education Department's current databases, leaning more heavily on the National Student Clearinghouse, and linking the emerging network of state-level data systems. Creating a federal unit records system would be the best approach, the report asserts, while noting that such a system is currently prohibited by Congress.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 4:30am

Female students at Harvard University have signed up for auditions to perform in the Hasty Pudding Theatricals' productions this year, The Boston Globe reported. If any of the women are selected, they would break a tradition of all-male burlesque productions in which some male students portray women. The women challenging the tradition say if Hasty Pudding wants to maintain its gender-crossing casting, they would be happy to portray male characters.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 3:00am

New college students all over the country this week are asking each other what kind of music they listen to, but Smith College took the idea a little further and asked all new students. After surveying the Facebook pages of its 570 incoming first-year students, Smith boiled all the likes and shares down to a 28-song playlist. Is Beyoncé on there? Of course. What about Coldplay, Bob Dylan and the Mountain Goats? You bet.

The entire list is available on Spotify, where the rest of the world can mouth the words to One Direction’s “Diana” alongside at least one Smith student.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Jennifer Itzkowitz, assistant professor of finance at Seton Hall University, examines the benefits of appearing at the beginning of the alphabet -- especially on the stock market. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


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