Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 3:00am

College enrollment fell by 467,000 in the fall of 2012, according to a Census Bureau report released Tuesday. The decline followed substantial increases in previous years. Most of the 2012 decline came from older students (those 25 and older). Their enrollment fell by 419,000.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Dana Hawley of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University explains why diseases evolve more virulent strains that pose a greater threat to the host. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 3:00am

A professor of vocal music education at the University of Wisconsin at Superior is on paid leave as the institution investigates revelations that he is a convicted sex offender. Reports surfaced late last month that Matthew Faerber pleaded guilty in 1991 to two counts of attempted sexual abuse of a child and was sentenced to six months in prison, when he was the choir director at Murray High School in Utah, the Duluth News Tribune reported. Both counts involved 13-year old students.

Faerber was hired in 1998, before Superior required employee background checks (in 2007).

Faerber told the News Tribune: “This went through the court system; I have paid for what I did,” he said. “I have been clean 100 percent.”

A university spokeswoman said Superior is conducting an investigation to ensure the safety of current students. No complaints have been filed against Faerber at Superior, according to the newspaper. It’s unclear if or when he’ll be allowed to return to campus. In an e-mail, the spokeswoman said "we need to be diligent and thorough in our fact-finding investigation before we can draw conclusions."

 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 3:00am

Scholars and others are criticizing the University of London for a plan to sell four early editions of Shakespeare's plays, The Guardian reported. The university says it has other early editions of Shakespeare and could used the money raised at auction (perhaps up to $8 million) to refresh its collections. Richard Eyre, former director of Britain's National Theater, said: "Both in itself and as an emblematic gesture it is wrong. Partly because it sets a precedent: these things must be valued, and if academic institutions don't value them the game is up, really. It's completely wrong, indefensible."

 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 3:00am

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a lower court's ruling that awarded three former female employees at Alabama State University about $1 million for discrimination and retaliation by their supervisors there. The ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a 2012 federal jury verdict holding Alabama State accountable for the behavior of John Knight, a former special assistant to the president and interim president, and LaVonette Bartley, who worked for Knight. (Knight is also a member of the Alabama House of Representatives.) The appeals panel supported the lower court's findings that Knight and Bartley regularly called the three employees "niggers" (both of the supervisors and two of the three plaintiffs were African-American -- the third was of mixed race) and sometimes engaged in sexual harassment, verbal and physical -- and that university officials failed to stop or respond to the harassment. "[W]e are unnerved by the apparent acquiescence to, if not outright condoning of, the abusive work environment created by its high-level employees," the 11th Circuit panel said. "Such conduct simply has no place in a work environment, especially at a publicly funded university."

Alabama State's president emeritus, William H. Harris, said in a statement Tuesday that the university "vehemently" disagrees with the court's ruling and denies that it discriminated. But "the court has spoken," Harris said, and "I want the public to be assured we have taken and continue to take seriously any allegation of discrimination. We will address appropriately any allegation of discrimination lodged against any person at this university."

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 4:27am

The University of Wisconsin at Madison is this year for the first time letting all students pick the first and middle names they wish to appear on most university records, such as directories, The Wisconsin State Journal reported. Students will have the option of blocking their legal name from appearing in registration lists and other places. The policy is designed to make the university more inclusive, letting students who prefer not to use names for any number of reasons avoid them, officials said. (Legal names will still be used on transcripts, payroll records and for financial aid.) The LGBT Campus Center encouraged the development of the new policy. Some transgender students prefer not to use their legal names, which may be associated with a gender that doesn't reflect their identity.

 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 3:00am

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a “Humanities Report Card” Tuesday to accompany its earlier, lengthier Heart of the Matter report on the state of the humanities and social sciences. The academy described the report card as a “snapshot of the current data illustrating where the humanities are today.”

The report card is made up of infographics, data for which mainly were drawn from the academy’s existing Humanities Indicators statistical database. John Tessitore, director of programming for the academy, said the document is meant to be accessible to the general public, which has taken a keen interest in the original report, as well as academics and others involved in the humanities. It’s also meant to drive traffic to the Humanities Indicators, he said, which paint a much more detailed, data-driven portrait of the humanities in schools, colleges, work and other aspects of American life.

The Heart of the Matter, released in June, argued for more investment in the humanities and social sciences, citing their value in shaping an informed electorate and in helping students prepare for careers – not just jobs.

The report card is divided into several sections, including “The Value of the Humanities,” “Signs of Health” and “Challenges.”

Positive indicators include:

  • 84 percent of humanities majors are satisfied with their choice of major.
  • 19 percent of members of Congress majored in the humanities; 37 percent majored in the social sciences.
  • Three out of four employers say they want new hires with “precisely the sorts of skills that the humanities teach: critical thinking, complex problem-solving, as well as written and oral communication.”
  • Between 2000 and 2009, humanities majors scored 9 percent higher on the Graduate Management Admissions Test than did business majors.
  • Despite reports on declining numbers of humanities majors since the 1960s, the number of bachelor’s degrees in the humanities has grown since its nadir in the 1980s, with more than 185,000 degrees reported in each year from 2009 to 2011.

Negative indicators include:

  • The gap between average math and verbal scores on the SAT is growing.
  • Only 13 percent of college students learn “critical need” languages for international security and global competitiveness.
  • Reading for pleasure declined 11 percent from 1992 to 2008.
  • U.S. high school students ranked 10th in a recent international reading assessment.
  • In 2011, humanities research received only 0.48 percent of the amount of research and development funds dedicated to science and engineering in higher education.

Advocates of the humanities praised the document.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, in an e-mail commended the academy for its statistical focus on the past two decades, noting that some of the conversations about the so-called decline of the humanities have relied on outdated data or historical scopes that don't illuminate current realities. Based on the data, there are things to celebrate about the state of the humanities, and causes for concern, she added.

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said it shows "why humanities education benefits individuals and their communities. And then it tells us what we are accomplishing in that area, and what we are not."

Beyond the statistics, he said, it's important to consider much of the general public "knows the landscape" underlying the report card, and ways to improve it. "I suspect there is a broad consensus on the importance of young children being read to by their parents; and then having qualified teachers as they get older," he said in an e-mail, referring to statistics in the report. "And when these things aren't happening enough we have to publicize that deficiency in our public culture. We also need to be prepared to suggest ideas for improvement. President Obama cannot issue an executive order requiring parents or older siblings to read to young children. How do we encourage such activity? What sorts of professional development and hiring policies do we need to increase the number of students who learn history from qualified teachers?"

 

 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 4:30am

Governor Jerry Brown has, since his inauguration in January of 2011, yet to appoint a member to the University of California Board of Regents, even though 5 of the 18 spots are vacant, The Los Angeles Times reported. Three of the positions have been open for 18 months. The vacancies are surprising to some because Governor Brown has attended board meetings and spoken out on university issues more than many governors have in the past, so he is clearly interested in the university system. Further, the seats are generally considered to be among the political plums available to a governor. A spokesman said that the governor was aware of the vacancies and focused on finding the best candidates.

 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 3:00am

The University of California at Irvine, ed tech company Instructure and entertainment network AMC will this fall come together to offer a free, eight-week-long online course based on the hit TV show "The Walking Dead." LINK WILL GO ONLINE TOMORROW

Instructure will provide the class, called "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s 'The Walking Dead,' " through its MOOC platform, Canvas Network. Brian Whitmer, co-founder of Instructure, said the company came up with the idea after casting about for ideas about how to infuse its online course offerings with pop culture. "We have a lot of fans at the company," Whitmer said. "There was overwhelming feedback that this would be 'freaking awesome.’ "

Each module of the course will use examples seen in the first three seasons of the show and tie it to topic areas including mathematics, physics, public health and social sciences. Even though the course uses clips and other materials provided by AMC, lecturer Sarah E. Eichhorn said she is not concerned that the company's involvement affects the course's integrity. "I just saw this as a venue to promote my discipline and share some interesting mathematics," Eichhorn said. "No money is exchanging hands on any sides."

UC-Irvine was announced as a major Coursera partner in September 2012. Melissa Loble, assistant dean of distance education, said the partnership with Instructure represents another avenue for the institution to experiment with online education.

"We’ve used Coursera in the past because that’s where an opportunity came to us," Loble said. "We really believe in experimenting with all MOOC providers."

The class "meets" for the first time on Oct. 14 -- one day after the first episode of the fourth season airs.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013 - 3:00am

Some of the nearly 100 undergraduate students in a new dormitory at Michigan's Cornerstone University will have an unusual view out of their bedroom windows -- and at least the passing risk of getting hit by a foul ball, MLive reported. Facing a campus space crunch as its residential population grew, the university built a 48-room residence hall -- as the second and third floors of the facility ringing its new baseball stadium, above a ground floor that contains athletics offices and concessions, among other things.

“I’m going to sit on my bed and watch baseball games,” one student, Matt Lewis, told MLive. “You can’t do much better than that.”

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