Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, May 18, 2015 - 4:24am

An article in The New York Times details how Axact, a software company in Pakistan, operates a network of 370 websites that sell fake college and university degrees, earning the company millions of dollars a year. The websites feature videos with actors playing the parts of professors and others. The article quotes former employees as saying that the customers are a mix of people who know they are buying a fake degree and others who are duped into believing they are enrolling in legitimate institutions. A lawyer for the company denied that it was engaged in these activities and wrote to the Times that its reporter was “coming to our client with half-cooked stories and conspiracy theories.”

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 3:00am

The College of Engineering at Pennsylvania State University has disabled its network in response to two cyberattacks, the university said on Friday. One of the attacks was confirmed to originate in China, according to FireEye, the IT security firm the university hired to investigate the breach. The Federal Bureau of Investigation alerted the university to the attacks last November, and an investigation showed hackers breached the network as early as September 2012. The university said it believed the hackers were after intellectual property, and that there is "no evidence to suggest that research data or personally identifiable information (such as Social Security or credit card numbers) have been stolen."

Ken Westin, a security analyst at the IT security company Tripwire, called the attacks a "wake-up call" for higher education. "I hate to be the harbinger of bad news, but I don’t think this is the only breach like this. I think there are quite a few more than have been detected, as well as many that haven’t," Westin said in a statement.

The college expects the network to be down for several days while the university works to upgrade its security measures.

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 3:00am

Kennesaw State University announced Friday that it has placed Abby Dawson, director of advising and internships in the Department of Exercise Science and Sport Management, on administrative leave. On Thursday, a video went viral showing an academic adviser -- Dawson -- threatening to call security on a student as he allegedly waited for assistance. The student also said via Twitter that the adviser canceled previous attempts to meet and was unhelpful when he tried asking her questions over email. The student's complaint and video attracted widespread attention at Kennesaw State and elsewhere.

Kennesaw State's Friday statement said that the university would conduct a full investigation into what happened.

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 3:00am

Pace University is cutting the salaries of law school professors by 10 percent, The New York Law Journal reported. The Pace law school is facing a deficit, and the salary cuts are part of a plan to close the deficit without relying on layoffs or tuition increases.

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 4:26am

Three New Jersey colleges are appearing to be more competitive than they are in admissions by counting incomplete applications, NorthJersey.com reported. Ramapo College of New Jersey, for example, says that about 10 percent of the applications it counts were never completed. By its count, Ramapo's acceptance rate is about 52 percent. But if it only counted completed applications, its acceptance rate would be 58 percent.

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 3:00am

The owner of the defunct Ivy Bridge College has sued the Higher Learning Commission over the institution's demise two years ago. The lawsuit, which Ivy Bridge filed in a federal court last week, alleges that the accreditor unlawfully shut down the college as part of a politically motivated "witch hunt."

Ivy Bridge was an unusual public-private partnership between Tiffin University, a small nonprofit institution located in Ohio, and Altius Education, a Silicon Valley-based education technology company. The two entities paired up to offer online, two-year degrees under the Ivy Bridge brand. It enrolled roughly 3,000 students in 2013.

The commission raised questions about Ivy Bridge's ownership structure, arguing that Altius had too much control of the program. The accreditor, affiliated with the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, also criticized aspects of the academic quality of the degree tracks, although it had praised Ivy Bridge in previous years. Tiffin was forced to withdraw from the partnership as a result of the commission's scrutiny, and Ivy Bridge and Altius collapsed.

Ivy Bridge's lawsuit claims the commission failed to follow its legal standards during its "complete sham" of a crackdown on the partnership. "HLC was under political pressure to kill nontraditional higher education, so that's what it did," the lawsuit said.

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 3:00am

Sweet Briar College's commencement on Saturday was sure to be notable, given that the college's board plans to shut the institution down in the next few months. The day before commencement, James F. Jones Jr., the president, announced that he would be skipping the ceremony, with regret, because, he said in an email to the campus, "It has come to my attention that there are faculty members and alumnae who have threatened, sometimes quite publicly, to repeatedly disrupt the ceremony tomorrow should I preside."

On Saturday, the commencement address was given by Teresa Tomlinson, an alumna who is mayor of Columbus, Ga. Tomlinson spoke about how valuable her liberal arts education at Sweet Briar has been to her life and career. And she decried "false narratives" about the future of women's colleges, liberal arts colleges and rural colleges. She cited Winston Churchill's World War II "Never Give In" speech at the Harrow School and urged the graduates and others to push hard for Sweet Briar's survival.

Toward the end of her speech, she addressed the administrators and trustees who came up with the plan to close: "As to those who have led us to this regrettable point, let us endeavor to forgive them. Forgive their lack of transparency, their lack of inclusiveness, their lack of perseverance and their failure of faith, because, truly, they know not what they have done.”

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 3:00am

Harold Hamm, CEO of Continental Resources, a major Oklahoma oil company, urged the University of Oklahoma to fire earth science researchers whose findings displeased him, Bloomberg reported. Their research focused on increases in earthquakes in the state. Bloomberg obtained email records in which a dean recounted the demands and Hamm's request to serve on a search committee to pick a new head for geology research at the university. The faculty members in question were not fired and Hamm did not get appointed to the search committee.

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 3:00am

Public universities under strong control from their state legislatures and governing systems are having a more difficult time responding to the financial pressures on public higher education, according to a new report from Moody's. State governments can control decisions as wide ranging as tuition rates to faculty pay levels to procurement, despite the fact that many legislatures with such policies have also dramatically dropped their funding levels. A recent credit outlook report from Moody's says such an environment prevents "leaders from taking decisive actions to address economic and market challenges," and can weaken a college's financial standing in an era of economic difficulty for higher education (last year, 20 percent of Moody’s rated public universities saw a decline in revenue).

"Competing priorities from multiple stakeholders, including state government, governing boards, faculty, students and alumni, will inhibit some public universities from quickly adjusting either to ongoing funding reductions or broader changes in their market landscape," said Moody's May 14 Weekly Credit Outlook for Public Finance. "Inability to adapt to economic and market realities will reduce the competitiveness of some public universities and contribute to growing fiscal challenges," the report continued. "Universities that have greater flexibility to adjust revenue, such as through tuition increases and growth in out-of-state enrollment, or to modify their operating model will outperform the sector."

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 3:00am

An art professor at the Cooper Union who is a member of the Gulf Labor Coalition reported that he was denied entry to the United Arab Emirates upon arrival at the Dubai airport for “security” reasons on May 11. Walid Raad, who has spoken publicly about labor conditions in the Gulf, particularly as they pertain to the construction of the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, is reportedly the third member of the labor coalition to be denied entry to the UAE this spring and the second professor (the first was Andrew Ross, a professor of social and cultural analysis at New York University, which has a campus in Abu Dhabi).

“A couple of weeks ago, the Guggenheim stated that its Abu Dhabi branch is ‘an opportunity for a dynamic cultural exchange and to chart a more inclusive and expansive view of art history,’” Raad said in a written statement. “I agree. But I’ve wondered for some time now whether travel bans and deportations will be the fate of artists, writers and others who actually engage in this dynamic cultural exchange.”

The UAE embassy in Washington did not respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

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