Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 23, 2016

Governor Matt Bevin of Kentucky exceeded his authority in unilaterally cutting the budgets of the state's community colleges and universities last spring, the state's Supreme Court ruled Thursday. The court's 5 to 2 decision overturned a lower court's ruling in a lawsuit brought by the state's attorney general, Andy Beshear, with whom the governor has been clashing frequently, including over the makeup of university boards.

Bevin sought last spring to reduce the size of appropriations awarded to public institutions in the state by the General Assembly. The roughly $18 million he cut has been held in a separate account pending the Supreme Court's vote, the Louisville Courier Journal reported.

September 23, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute, Martin Krieger, professor of planning at the University of Southern California, explains that as we look deeper into what we thought we knew, new details emerge. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 22, 2016

A number of academics were among those announced today as winners of the MacArthur Fellows Program, widely called the "genius" grants, although that's not the term favored by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The winners (who don't apply but learn that they have won) are selected based on "exceptional creativity, promise for important future advances based on a track record of significant accomplishment and potential for the fellowship to facilitate subsequent creative work." They each receive $625,000, paid out over five years.

The winners in academe:

  • Daryl Baldwin, a linguist and cultural preservationist who is director of the Myaamia Center at Miami University of Ohio
  • Anne Basting, professor of theater at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee
  • Branden Jacobs-Jenkins, a playwright and master artist in residence at Hunter College of the City University of New York
  • Kellie Jones, associate professor of art history and archaeology at Columbia University
  • Subhash Khot, professor of computer science at New York University
  • Josh Kun, professor of communication at the University of Southern California
  • Maggie Nelson, a writer and faculty member at the California Institute of the Arts
  • Dianne Newman, professor of biology and geobiology at California Institute of Technology
  • Victoria Orphan, professor of environmental science and geobiology at California Institute of Technology
  • Manu Prakash, assistant professor of bioengineering at Stanford University
  • Claudia Rankine, professor of poetry at Yale University
  • Lauren Redniss, assistant professor of illustration at Parsons, the New School for Design
  • Mary Reid Kelley, a video artist and a senior critic at the University of Pennsylvania School of Design and a critic in painting at the Yale University School of Art
  • Rebecca Richards-Kortum, professor of bioengineering at Rice University
  • Julia Wolfe, a composer and associate professor of music composition at New York University
  • Gene Luen Yang, a graphic novelist who teaches writing at Hamline University
  • Jin-Quan Yu, professor of chemistry at the Scripps Research Institute.
September 22, 2016

Two U.S. senators on Wednesday proposed legislation that would give selective colleges that enroll relatively few low-income students (the bottom 5 percent of all institutions) four years to boost their enrollment numbers from this group or face paying a fee to continue being eligible for federal financial aid.

The bill also would use money from the fees to grant up to $8 million to colleges with mostly open admissions and low graduation rates (also bottom 5 percent) to improve their student outcomes. Colleges would need to opt in to be eligible for the completion money. If they failed to improve graduation rates, participating colleges could face a penalty and temporary loss of access to federal financial aid.

Senator Chris Coons, a Democrat from Delaware, and Senator Johnny Isakson, a Georgia Republican, proposed the legislation. They said the bill also would include competitive funding grants aimed at college completion, with priority going to minority-serving and historically black colleges. The proposal includes up to $200 million aimed at improving graduation rates, as well as nonfinancial rewards, such as bonus points in federal competitive grants or a reduced regulatory burden.

A news release about the proposal included supportive comments from a broad group of higher education leaders, including presidents of the University of California System and Georgia State University.

“Accessing quality, affordable higher education should be part of the American dream for those who choose to pursue it,” Isakson, a member of the Senate education committee, said in a written statement. “We’re working to even the playing field to make sure that’s a reality for students of all economic backgrounds at every college and university in the country. We’re modeling this new initiative after schools such as Georgia State University, which has opened its doors to more students while offering innovative ways to make tuition more affordable and creating a path to success for its students.”

September 22, 2016

The California State University System's governing board this week voted to increase its graduation rates by 2025, an effort that will cost an estimated $400 million or more. The system said it would seek to hit a 70 percent rate (meaning the six-year rate for freshmen), which would be a 13 percentage point increase from the current rate of 57 percent. The graduation-rate push also will include efforts to close achievement gaps for underrepresented and low-income students.

September 22, 2016

Lafayette College has reaffirmed its decision to deny tenure to Juan Rojo, the assistant professor of Spanish who launched a hunger strike after being denied tenure last month. Rojo, who has since ended his strike, had asked Lafayette’s Board of Trustees to reconsider his case, as three faculty panels endorsed his tenure bid before President Alison Byerly rejected it. Citing some negative comments in student evaluations of Rojo’s teaching, Byerly said she could not concur with the faculty panels because teaching is Lafayette’s most important tenure criterion.

The board once again concurred this week. Its “decision to deny tenure was based on the compelling reason that distinction in teaching, as required by the standard agreed to by the board and set forth in the Faculty Handbook, had not been demonstrated,” Edward W. Ahart, board chair, wrote to Rojo.

The professor said via email that the decision was “not exactly a surprise, but it still stings.” It also underscores important questions about the president’s role in tenure decisions and about the place for student ratings of teachers in personnel decisions, he said.

September 22, 2016

Three universities in the San Francisco Bay Area are coming together to launch a biomedical science center funded by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and pediatrician Priscilla Chan, his wife. The $600 million center, known as the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, is the first investment made by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, a philanthropic limited liability company created last year to improve education and cure disease, among other goals. Researchers at Stanford University, as well as two University of California campuses, San Francisco and Berkeley, will work together at the center, which will be located on UCSF's campus.

September 22, 2016

Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, on Tuesday commented on racist posters targeting Sikhs found on the University of Alberta campus, the CBC reported. Trudeau wrote on Twitter in regard to the posters, “We're proud of the enormous contributions Sikhs make to this country every day.”

Alberta campus police are investigating the posters, which featured a picture of a Sikh man with the messages "F--K YOUR TURBAN" and "If you are so obsessed with your third-world culture, go the f--k back to where you came from."

September 22, 2016

Today on the Academic Minute, Kelly Purtell, assistant professor in the department of human sciences at Ohio State University, explores whether mixed age groups can hinder older children. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 21, 2016

Northwestern University has lifted a ban on Jacqueline Stevens (right), a professor of political science there, teaching and working on campus. But the university is demanding that she change her teaching in some ways and her conduct in interacting with her faculty colleagues. Further, the university moved her office away from her colleagues in political science. The university banned her from campus over the summer, saying that her presence raised safety concerns for some colleagues. Stevens has maintained that she is being punished for being highly critical of the Northwestern administration.

The case has attracted considerable attention because Stevens has in fact been a critic of the administration, and many professors are skeptical when prominent campus critics face potential disciplinary action against them. However, some faculty members at Northwestern strongly dispute the idea that she is being punished for her politics, and say she has created problems in her department.

Northwestern has not commented directly on the situation. But Stevens on Tuesday released a letter she received Monday from Adrian Randolph, dean of arts and sciences. In the letter, Randolph said that the university is considering "disciplinary procedures" against Stevens. With regard to teaching, Randolph cited complaints from graduate students. With regard to her colleagues, Randolph said she has demonstrated "a lack of civility" and engaged in "the bullying of junior colleagues, staff and students."

In a new post on the website where she has shared news about her situation, Stevens said that Northwestern is engaged in a "tactical retreat" by letting her return to campus. The post criticized the administration's characterizations of her interactions on campus. She noted the many letters from former students and others that have been sent to Northwestern on her behalf, and she said that she does not engage in the bullying of which she is accused. "I engage in critical inquiries and discussion, but it is never personalized," she wrote.

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