Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 6, 2018

Richard Spencer, the white supremacist leader, spoke at Michigan State University to a small crowd of about three dozen while about 500 people protested outside, The Lansing State Journal reported. Spencer blamed the low attendance at his talk on the protests. Others at Michigan State said that his message was repulsive and that there was never demand at Michigan State to hear him. Fights broke out at the protests outside, and more than 20 people were arrested on various charges.

March 6, 2018

The Pearson Family Members Foundation pledged $100 million to the University of Chicago three years ago to create a center to find new ways to resolve global conflicts. But the Chicago Tribune reported that the foundation is now suing the university to get back the $23 million already given and plans to halt the remainder of the gift. The foundation says that the university has failed to hire a full-time director, hire faculty members and create the programs stipulated with the gift. The university says that it has in fact hosted events, held courses and started a range of programs in accordance with the gift plans.

March 6, 2018

A regional accreditor has approved Purdue University's acquisition of Kaplan University, clearing the way for Purdue University Global, a boundary-testing online venture that is slated to launch in April.

The Higher Learning Commission was the final regulatory hurdle for Purdue Global, which had previously gotten green lights from the U.S. Department of Education and the state of Indiana.

Purdue first announced the proposed acquisition last April. The public university will pay only a nominal fee up front for Kaplan, which enrolls 32,000 students, has 15 campus locations and employs 3,000. Kaplan, however, will continue to run a large portion of the new online university's nonacademic functions, including marketing and advertising, admissions support, financial aid administration, technology and human resources support, accounting, and facilities management.

Critics worry that Kaplan will have too much influence over Purdue Global, which will enjoy certain advantages as a public institution. Some faculty members at Purdue also have complained about the governance structure of the university.

However, Mitch Daniels, Purdue's president and a Republican former governor of Indiana, has said that Purdue Global will extend the university's land-grant mission by making its credentials more accessible to working adults in the state who lack college degrees. He also has pledged that no state money will flow to the new university. With HLC's decision, Purdue "hopes to take a leading role in online learning nationally," Daniels said.

"It opens a new era for our institution, with the opportunity to expand our land-grant mission to millions of adult students around the country," he said Monday in a written statement. "That opportunity brings with it the responsibility to provide the highest quality online education, not only to our new adult learners, but to all residential and online Boilermaker students."

March 6, 2018

A new study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences finds little to no agreement among reviewers of grant applications to the National Institutes of Health. After replicating the NIH’s peer-review process, researchers analyzed 43 reviewers’ ratings and critiques of the same 25 grant applications. After eliminating weaker proposals, reviewers did not agree on the applications’ quality in either their quantitative or qualitative evaluations. Reviewers also differed in how they translated applications’ strengths and weaknesses into a numeric rating. The study’s authors say that the reviewer ended up having more to do with a grant application’s success than the proposed research. 

“We’re not trying to suggest that peer review is flawed, but that there might be some room to be innovative to improve the process,” co-author Elizabeth Pier, a postdoctoral fellow in educational psychology at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, said in a news release. Among other changes, Pier and her co-authors recommend a modified lottery system, in which weaker proposals are eliminated and the remaining applications are funded at random.

March 6, 2018

The University of Delaware bears no legal responsibility for the 2013 death of a student killed by a pickup truck while crossing a highway after drinking to excess at an off-campus sorority party, a state judge ruled last week. The parents of Ethan Connolly sued the university, the sorority, a caterer and other parties, alleging that each had breached some obligation to Connolly in causing his death. The family accused the university of doing too little to oversee off-campus parties.

But in a bluntly written opinion, Superior Court Judge Ferris W. Wharton said, "None of the defendants breached any claimed duty to Ethan and no action or inaction on the part of any defendant was a proximate cause of Ethan's death. The sad and inescapable truth is that Ethan, and only Ethan, was responsible for his own death."

March 6, 2018

Although some federal higher ed accountability measures have been ineffective, they should be preserved and strengthened, not scrapped, the Department of Education's inspector general says in a report released Monday. 

The report's conclusions contradict the approach Republican lawmakers would take to accountability for colleges and universities in House legislation and a Senate GOP white paper. And it appears to give ammunition to critics who argue that a reauthorization of the Higher Education Act must maintain existing protections, especially those targeting for-profit colleges.

The PROSPER Act, which House Republicans advanced out of committee in December, would eliminate separate definitions of nonprofit and for-profit institutions. It would also kill the 90-10 rule, which limits the proportion of revenue a college can generate from federal student aid, and the gainful-employment rule, which holds career education programs accountable for producing too many graduates with debt they can't repay. 

The inspector general's report found that both measures could be improved but said the for-profit sector was deserving of special scrutiny. 

"As the OIG has testified before Congress on issues involving proprietary schools over the years, the sector continues to present itself as a high-risk area for the Department," the report says. "This sector, unlike public and nonprofit schools, must produce profit for owners and stockholders, which can create an incentive to evade compliance with obligations to students and taxpayers."

The report found that eliminating existing accountability rules without a proven substitute would create higher risks for students and taxpayers, including loan defaults and loan discharges that would hurt long-term viability of federal programs. But a single loan repayment metric offered by the PROSPER Act would require massive data collection and be subject to manipulation, the report found. 

March 6, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Edward Guinan, professor of astronomy at Villanova University, explores whether food could be grown on Mars. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.



March 5, 2018

Harvard University has placed a professor -- Jorge Domínguez, the Antonio Madero Professor for the Study of Mexico and chairman of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies -- on leave following reports that several former students and colleagues accused him of harassment, The Boston Globe reported. The Globe earlier reported that in 1983 Harvard disciplined Domínguez but did not take away his job "for sexually harassing a female faculty member and a graduate student." The Chronicle of Higher Education has also reported on other accusations against him. Domínguez has denied wrongdoing.

An email to Harvard students, quoted by the Globe, said that the leave will continue until a full investigation is complete, and that the university will not tolerate sexual harassment.”

March 5, 2018

Lehigh University’s Board of Trustees voted for a second time Friday to take no action on a request from the faculty to rescind President Trump’s honorary degree, awarded in 1988.

A large majority of Lehigh's faculty members voted in favor of revoking Trump’s degree. Of 472 eligible faculty members, 357 voted on the measure, and of these members, 83 percent were in support of the motion to rescind the president's honor.

The board wrote in a statement released Friday, “​T​he members of the board are committed to doing what is in the best interests of the university as a whole, including most especially demonstrating openness to and respect for the broad views and perspectives of our many university constituencies.”

In August, following Trump’s controversial remarks about the violence in Charlottesville, Va., Lehigh University alumni organized a petition to request the action, accruing more than 31,000 signatures to date. The board voted to take no action on the request last October.

Lehigh rescinded an honorary degree awarded to disgraced performer Bill Cosby in 2015. Cosby’s degree was bestowed on him in 1987.

March 5, 2018

Authorities have identified the two people shot dead in a Central Michigan University dormitory Friday morning. They are the parents of James Eric Davis Jr., a Central Michigan student who is a suspect in their murders.

Parents were on campus Friday to pick up students, who were starting spring break. Central Michigan called off all campus activities Friday as the younger Davis fled the scene. More than 100 officers were involved in the search for him. He was arrested Saturday morning, shortly after midnight. An article in The Chicago Tribune reported that Davis had been acting oddly the day before the shootings, and that he said that day that he believed someone was trying to harm him.

Other parents were arriving on campus to pick up their children, and the university urged them to go to a hotel nearby and not to meet on campus.


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