Higher Education Quick Takes

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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.

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 3:00am

Reverend Warren Hall, a priest and director of campus ministry at Seton Hall University, says he lost his job for a Facebook post backing the NO H8 campaign, which opposes homophobia and backs gay marriage, NJ.com reported. Father Hall posted about his firing on Twitter, but then removed the tweet. Seton Hall officials referred questions to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Newark, which appoints the director of campus ministry. A spokesperson for the archdiocese said that priests are periodically reassigned. The article, however, noted that Father Hall has been in his position only one year while his predecessor had served five years.

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 3:00am

The director of Boston University's African Presidential Center has accused the university of having broad problems with racial discrimination, which he says is reflected in plans to close the center, which focuses on African studies, The Boston Globe reported. The university says that it is closing a number of centers that have failed to raise money, and that these centers are on a range of topics. But the director of the center denies having been given a fund-raising target.

Monday, May 18, 2015 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Abe Springer, a professor at Northern Arizona University, discusses his work on springs and their integral place in our environment. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, May 15, 2015 - 3:00am

Kennesaw State University said Thursday it is "reviewing the concerns" of a student who posted a video online showing an academic adviser threatening to call security on the 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, who is black, uploaded the video Wednesday night. By Thursday evening, the original tweet -- which was captioned "rude advisors at Kennesaw. [Shaking my head]" -- had been retweeted more than 6,000 times.

A Twitter hashtag, #ItsBiggerThanKSU, has prompted online discussions about racism on college campuses, but it has also lead to a deluge of more general complaints about poor academic advising. Several other Kennesaw State students have now come forward with similar complaints about the adviser shown in the video, posting images of email exchanges with her that they believe illustrate the adviser's contempt for the students she's meant to help.

"Kennesaw State officials take seriously all student concerns and are dedicated to promoting a positive academic advising experience," the university said in a statement. "Kennesaw State University officials are working with a student to review his concerns regarding the behavior of an academic adviser."

Friday, May 15, 2015 - 3:00am

About 30 percent of college marching band members surveyed in a new national study reported that they had observed hazing in their programs. Few of the students said they ever reported the behavior, however. “Despite all of our efforts, the message about hazing is still not getting out there,” Jason Silveira, an assistant professor of music education at Oregon State University and one of the study's authors, stated. “Band participants might say, 'it’s no big deal, it’s what we do.' It may not be a big deal to that person, but to someone else it may be.”

The researchers surveyed more than 1,200 students who participate in National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I marching band programs in 30 states. The most common acts of hazing, the students said, involved public verbal humiliation or degradation. Students said they were hesitant to report the hazing, usually due to fear of "social retaliation."

Friday, May 15, 2015 - 3:00am

The National Council on Teacher Quality regularly issues reports on the state of teacher education programs, finding that many do not meet the group's standards for rigorous preparation. On Thursday, the University of North Carolina system released a study it did in collaboration with NCTQ that raises questions about the value of meeting the standards. In a series of comparisons of classroom teachers working in North Carolina who graduated from programs that NCTQ says adhere to its standards and those who graduated from other programs, teachers in the former group were more effective at improving students test scores in only 15 of 124 comparisons. In 5 comparisons, the graduates of NCTQ-approved programs were less effective. And in the vast majority of 104 comparisons, there was no difference.

The NCTQ issued an analysis of the study emphasizing other points than the large majority of comparisons that found no difference between the performance of teachers who graduated from programs that met the council's standards and those that did not. The council press release said that "graduates of teacher prep programs with higher NCTQ ratings are more effective on average than graduates of programs with lower ratings, no matter if the measure of effectiveness is student test scores or teacher evaluations." Further, the council noted, the researchers found that “NCTQ standards are grounded in available research and completely transparent.”

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