Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, January 15, 2016 - 3:00am

A South Korean court ordered a professor to pay 10 million won, or $8,262, to each of nine women who claim that her book on Japan’s World War II-era military brothels defamed them, The New York Times reported.

The women, South Koreans who say they were forced to work in the brothels, object to Park Yu-ha’s 2013 book, Comfort Women of the Empire, which critics argue parrots the views of Japanese apologists. Park, a professor of Japanese literature at Sejong University, in Seoul, said she will appeal the civil verdict. She also faces a separate criminal trial for alleged defamation.

Scholars argue that nationalist passions in Japan and South Korea, as well as in China, have distorted historical study of the euphemistically named "comfort women." Amid continuing historical disputes about whether women were "coerced" into the brothels and the extent of the Japanese government's direct involvement, the Japanese and South Korean governments recently announced a settlement in which Japan apologized to the women and pledged $8.3 million for their care in old age.

Friday, January 15, 2016 - 3:00am

The New York City Independent Budget Office released a report this week detailing how much the city could spend on offering free tuition at its seven City University of New York community colleges.

The report details that the city could spend as little as $138 million, limiting to three years the tuition assistance for full-time students, or a high of $232 million for an unlimited number of years for all full- and part-time students. The report estimates that providing free tuition to all students would cost $3,456 per student. That figure takes into account the shares of students who do and do not receive state or federal financial aid.

Over all the CUNY system enrolled 58,000 full-time and 40,000 part-time students in 2013. The annual tuition rate is $4,800, but the report details the total cost of attendance, including books, supplies, travel and living expenses, which is $12,000 for students living at home and $24,800 for independent students.

Friday, January 15, 2016 - 4:08am

Trinity University in Texas on Thursday announced that it would opt out of the state's new campus carry law, becoming the 20th private college there to do so, according to The Texas Tribune. The law, which will take effect this year, allows guns into public college classrooms and dormitories, to the consternation of many academics in Texas and elsewhere. While the law obligates public institutions, it allows private nonprofit colleges to opt out, and many of them are choosing to do so.

"The safety of our students, faculty, staff and visitors is our highest priority," Danny Anderson, Trinity's president, said in the university's statement. "A weapons-free environment is the best learning environment for a residential campus like Trinity."

The Texas Tribune is keeping a running list of colleges opting out of the law.

Friday, January 15, 2016 - 3:00am

A slate of candidates for Harvard University's Board of Overseers is running a campaign in the alumni election on the platform of making the university free, The New York Times reported. The slate also wants Harvard to reveal more information about how it make admissions decisions. The candidates believe that such information may reveal discrimination against Asian-American applicants. While the Board of Overseers (whose members are elected by Harvard alumni) is an influential player in Harvard governance, the university is ultimately governed by the Harvard Corporation.

Friday, January 15, 2016 - 4:18am

A contract extending Nike's sponsorship deal with Ohio State University's athletics program is worth $252 million in cash and apparel over 15 years, apparently the richest in college sports, The Wall Street Journal reported. The newspaper reviewed the contract between the apparel maker and the university; the deal apparently just tops the value of a similar arrangement, valued at $250 million, between Nike and the University of Texas at Austin.

That's not a coincidence, according to the Journal. It quoted Ohio State's athletics director, Gene Smith, as saying that the university waited to negotiate its deal until it saw the value of Nike contract renewals with Texas and the University of Michigan, so that it could have the most lucrative arrangement.

The deal will bring Ohio State $112 million in sports apparel and equipment and $103 million in cash over 15 years beginning in 2018-19, according to the Journal. Some of the funds will reportedly be used for scholarships for nonathletes.

Friday, January 15, 2016 - 3:00am

Illinois Republican Governor Bruce Rauner appears to be trying to stymie attempts by the state's Democratic-controlled Legislature to pay back universities that have covered the cost of millions in state grants this academic year.

Illinois continues to operate without a fiscal 2016 higher education budget, and as a result public funding for Monetary Award Program grants for some 125,000 students hasn't been approved (despite the fact that recipients last year were promised the funds by the state). In the midst of the ongoing budget crisis, most public and private universities have covered the grants, warning students they could be on the hook for the cash if the state doesn't eventually fund the MAP program.

Senate Democrats introduced a bill this week seeking $182 million to pay universities back for covering the grants in the fall. But a memo from Richard Goldberg, the governor's deputy chief of staff, sent to legislators just before the legislative introduction indicates that the measure does not have the support of the governor. The memo criticizes colleges and universities for cronyism, reckless spending and constant tuition hikes, according to the Associated Press.

Meanwhile, public funding for the state's public universities is also in limbo as the Legislature and governor spar over the budget.

Friday, January 15, 2016 - 3:00am

The Association of American Universities on Thursday issued a statement affirming its opposition to the movement to boycott Israeli universities. The AAU formally opposed the boycott movement in 2013, but opted to affirm its position in light of the recent overwhelming vote at the American Anthropological Association's annual meeting to back the boycott. (That vote is awaiting approval of the association's membership.)

The statement from AAU affirming its position says, in part: "Efforts to address political issues, or to address restrictions on academic freedom, should not themselves infringe upon academic freedom. Restrictions imposed on the ability of scholars of any particular country to work with their fellow academics in other countries, participate in meetings and organizations, or otherwise carry out their scholarly activities violate academic freedom. The boycott of Israeli academic institutions therefore clearly violates the academic freedom not only of Israeli scholars but also of American scholars who might be pressured to comply with it. We urge American scholars and scholars around the world who believe in academic freedom to oppose this and other such academic boycotts."

Friday, January 15, 2016 - 3:00am

In recent years the number of credit-rating downgrades to colleges and universities has significantly outnumbered the number of upgrades given by Standard & Poor's credit rating agency. And the trend is expected to continue, but slow, in the coming year.

Yet some institutions will experience more financial difficulty than others, depending on their size, academic standing and financial strength. The result is a bifurcated outlook for higher education in 2016, according to a new report from Standard and Poor's.

"We believe most institutions have adapted to the 'new normal' of more competition for students and limited tuition flexibility and are taking advantage of their individual strategic positions to continue operating successfully," the report states. "However, these factors are not affecting all institutions equally. Schools with national or international reputations and growing resources will likely be able to capitalize on opportunities to further strengthen their positions, while smaller, regional schools will continue to struggle to differentiate their brands, which will require additional investment and resources that could weaken their credit profiles in 2016."

Friday, January 15, 2016 - 3:00am

College bookstores looking to lure students back from Amazon and other online retailers may want to consider meeting them where they are -- on their smartphones, according to a survey conducted by OnCampus Research, the research arm of the National Association of College Stores. Smartphones are in virtually every student's pocket (97 percent), and 40 percent of surveyed students said they would consider downloading an app from their college bookstore. About half of the respondents (48 percent) said they would sign up for text message alerts notifying them of sales and other promotions. College bookstores may also want to redesign their websites. The most important feature (69 percent) students look for when shopping online, according to the report, is a mobile-friendly website.

Friday, January 15, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Justin Dressel, assistant professor of physics at Chapman University, explains how quantum physics has a lot to do with what shows up on the digital pictures on your screen. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


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