Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, July 30, 2012 - 3:00am

Three faculty members at the University of the District of Columbia obtained Ph.D.s from what critics call a diploma mill -- an unaccredited institution that requires relatively little work to earn a degree -- according to Fox News. The professors, in the university’s criminal justice department, received the degrees from Commonwealth Open University, which is registered in the British Virgin Islands and claims to be accredited by the Wiener School for Advanced Studies on Global Education and Distance Learning.

The university is not recognized by a recognized accrediting agency in the United States or Britain, and it is not recognized by the Department of Education to receive federal financial aid, either.

Alan Etter, vice president of university relations and public affairs at the University of D.C., wrote in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed that the university is looking into the legitimacy of Commonwealth Open University and the professors’ relationships with it, and administrators want to understand the questions surrounding the professors' degrees before making any judgments.

“The professors in question are all productive, have good histories and are committed to student achievement,” he wrote, adding that the university considers more than academic credentials when hiring faculty.

Monday, July 30, 2012 - 3:00am

The Michigan Supreme Court ruled Friday that an ordinance of Michigan State University -- which states that "no person shall disrupt the normal activity" of a university employee -- is unconstitutional because it is too broad, The Detroit Free Press reported. The case started with a challenge by a student who was cited for violating the ordinance after a nonviolent dispute with an employee charged with enforcing parking rules. The state's high court ruled that the ordinance was so broad that it covers constitutionally protected speech.

Monday, July 30, 2012 - 3:00am

The biggest factor in setting the pay levels of for-profit CEOs is corporate profitability, according to the preliminary findings of an investigation by Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, a Maryland Democrat. Cummings examined the compensation of executives at 13 publicly traded for-profits, asking for documentation on whether the companies linked executive pay to the performance of students. Only three companies provided specific references to how they weigh student achievement in setting compensation, according to a statement from Cummings.

Monday, July 30, 2012 - 3:00am

The University of Oxford, responding to concerns about equity for transgender students, has dropped the dress code that has been in place for students at some formal academic events, BBC News reported. The current rules, which will end August 4, require male students to wear a dark suit, black shoes and a white bow tie and a plain white shirt and collar under their black gowns. Women must wear a dark skirt or trousers and a white blouse. The rules were criticized as forcing transgender students into traditional gender roles.

Monday, July 30, 2012 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Laura Bix of Michigan State University explains efforts to increase the visibility of warning labels on medication. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

Monday, July 30, 2012 - 3:00am

A plea agreement has led to charges being dropped against the University of California System over the 2008 lab fire that killed Sheri Sangji, a research assistant at the University of California at Los Angeles, The Los Angeles Times reported. The system agreed to follow new safety measures and to endow a $500,000 scholarship in Sangji's name. Charges remain against Patrick Harran, a chemistry professor who was the lab supervisor.

 

Monday, July 30, 2012 - 4:23am

Authorities arrested a Kent State University sophomore Sunday after he allegedly posted a message on Twitter threatening to shoot up the campus, The Plain Dealer reported. The student was charged with inducing panic and aggravated menacing.

 

Friday, July 27, 2012 - 3:00am

Moody's Investors Service's U.S. Higher Education Mid-Year Outlook, released Thursday, paints a grim picture for higher education in which existing challenges of heightened competition for students, declining revenue sources, and backlogged maintenance get worse, while new problems emerge.

Problems that the ratings agency sees on the horizon for higher education institutions include the following:

  • Based on poor returns in financial markets, Moody's expects that after endowment spending is accounted for, endowment portfolios will decline for fiscal year 2012, the first decline since 2009.
  • An increase in outcomes-driven state and federal funding, federal regulation, re-examination of the tax-exempt status for nonprofit universities, and a demand for better disclosure for all universities.
  • An increased level of political attention on affordability in higher education and student loan burdens through the presidential election.
  • A greater number of warnings and sanctions imposed by accreditation agencies as those organizations seek to avoid tighter regulations from Congress.

The agency says public colleges and universities will have to shift toward a more market-driven approach rather than continuing to act as state agencies, "which means accelerating the pace of tuition increases or enrolling a higher percentage of out-of-state students, and adjusting their operating models to allow for surpluses that can be carried over as cash reserves." The conflict between that model and public pressure to continue to act as low-cost institutions with a public mission of accessibility is likely to lead to more conflicts between boards, administrators, and faculty members similar to what transpired at the University of Virginia last month.

Friday, July 27, 2012 - 3:00am

Portland State University expelled and banned from campus a graduate student who a classmate said had made threatening remarks involving guns and a professor, The Oregonian reported. The article describes how the university acted quickly after receiving the report and about how Henry Liu says the university unfairly viewed him as, in his words, a "crazy Asian shooter." Liu denies making the remarks attributed to him, and a psychiatrist concluded that he poses no danger to himself or others.

Friday, July 27, 2012 - 3:00am

Britain's University of Manchester has unveiled a "pray-o-mat," a small booth in which people can listen to, and join in, 300 pre-recorded prayers from a range of faiths, in 65 different languages. The project is part of study on multi-faith spaces. Ralf Brand, the lead researcher, said that "though the pray-o-mat is a bit tongue-in-cheek, there is a serious message to what we're doing. Successful multi-faith spaces do not need to be flashy or expensive. In many places a small, clean and largely unadorned space can serve adequately."

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