Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 25, 2013

As his lawyers warned he would, Evan S. Dobelle sued Westfield State University trustees and other officials Thursday challenging his being placed on leave a week ago, Masslive reported. Dobelle's lawsuit -- which follows Westfield State's decision last week to push him out amid allegations of misspending of state money -- accuses several trustees and the state's commissioner of higher education, Richard M. Freeland, and others of conducting a "guerrilla war" to force him from his job.

October 25, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Stephanie Pau of Florida State University explains why tropical forests may already have all the heat the ecosystem can tolerate. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


October 25, 2013

A major bank is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed against it by the University of Arizona Foundation and a major university donor that blame the bank for its role in an offshore tax shelter they all had stake in and the federal government later cracked down on.

The foundation and Karl Eller, a major donor who is the namesake of the university’s business school, claim in federal court they were duped by a number of financial advisers, including UBS, into investing in a “sham tax shelter.”

Eller and his wife invested more than $30 million in Cayman Island’s tax shelters and then donated part of their stake to the university foundation. Now, the Ellers and the foundation are seeking unspecified damages from UBS after the I.R.S. cracked down on the deal. Tax documents introduced into the court file by UBS show federal tax officials sought a tax adjustment from the foundation, but it's unclear what the foundation lost in the deal, if anything, because the foundation earlier this month declined to comment or to specify what sort of monetary damages it is claiming to have suffered.

In a federal court filing Thursday, UBS said the lawsuit should be dismissed because, among other things, the Ellers have failed to make their case. UBS also notes that the Ellers were told there was a 30 percent chance the I.R.S. would frown on the deal before the Ellers made their multimillion-dollar investment.

UBS's court filing also said the University of Arizona Foundation has failed to make any claim against UBS in the litigation. 

At the heart of the deal is the a complex financial instrument known as a contingent deferred swap, which the Ellers opted to use in an effort to reduce their tax liability and free up money they could turn over to the university foundation. A U.S. Senate investigation described the swaps as ways to generate “phony paper losses for taxpayers, using a series of complex, orchestrated transactions, structured finance, and investments with little or no profit potential.” The “phony paper losses” could then be used to reduce an investor’s tax burden.

The Ellers have given university or the foundation more than $23 million over the years. 

October 25, 2013

Students at the University of Rochester have been having an intense debate over a Confederate flag placed by one student in his residence window, The Democrat and Chronicle reported. A graduate assistant asked the student to take the flag down, but the university now says he had the right to have it up. But that doesn't mean everyone thinks he should have displayed the flag. The student says he is trying to reflect his cultural heritage, but many other students say that the flag is an insult to black students and others for whom Confederate symbols are viewed as hostile.


October 25, 2013

Application and enrollments rates at medical colleges are steadily increasing, but the Association of American Medical Colleges said the number of graduates could surpass the number of spots available in residency training programs in the next two years.

AAMC released data Thursday about application and enrollment rates and called for Congress to increase federal support for residency training programs to avoid a projected physician shortage.

In 2006, the association called for a 30 percent increase in enrollment at medical colleges to avoid projected physician shortages. Medical colleges are on track to meet that goal by 2017, said Darrell Kirch, AAMC's president and CEO. This year, 14 medical colleges increased class sizes by more than 10 percent. Now, the number of medical students has exceeded 20,000 for the first time. About half of the growth is attributed to the opening of medical colleges at the University of California at Riverside, University of Arizona at Phoenix, Central Michigan University and Quinnipiac University.

“Medical schools are doing their job, but this will not alleviate the doctor shortage unless we have a corresponding increase in residency training positions,” Kirch said.

Currently, there are about 25,500 first-year residency positions, he said. But, it’s likely that the number of medical college graduates will surpass the number of residency positions available in the next two years as enrollment rates are increasing at both allopathic and osteopathic medical colleges.

The total number of applicants for medical colleges grew by 6.1 percent and the first-time enrollment rate increased by 2.8 percent in 2013, according to the report. The rate of increase in both applicants and first-time enrollees doubled in the past year. In 2012, the total number of applicants increased by 3.1 percent and the first-year enrollment rate increased 1.5 percent.

October 25, 2013

More than 330 consumers have received financial compensation as a result of complaints they have made on a new federal database about the lenders for their student loans, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The report examined the results of complaints filed with the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's public Consumer Complaints Database. The 330 represent about 8 percent of all complaints filed. Another 500 borrowers (about 12 percent of complaints filed) had complaints closed with non-monetary agreements, such as changes in collection proceedings. "The CFPB levels the playing field for private student loan borrowers who may feel at the mercy of their student lender," said Laura Murray, consumer associate for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. "Filing a complaint to the complaints database can get real results for consumers."


October 25, 2013

The board of the Foothill-De Anza Foundation, which supports the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, has voted to sell off holdings in fossil fuel companies. 350.org, a group pushing for colleges to adopt such policies, reports that Foothill-De Anza is the first community college to do so. Students who believe that divestment can help the environment by putting pressure on fossil fuel companies started their campaign for this action in a political science course, where they were urged to use citizen activism skills. About 1 percent of the foundation's $33 million endowment is currently invested in fossil fuel companies.


October 25, 2013

The top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee is questioning how the National Endowment for the Humanities awards its education grants. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama sent a letter this week to Carol M. Watson, the acting chairwoman of the NEH, in which he demanded the agency explain its peer-review process for funding grants that explore “very indefinite” questions.

Sessions pointed to seven grants the NEH funded that seek to explore the following questions: “What is the meaning of life?”, “Why are we interested in the past?”, “What is the good life and how do I live it?”, “Why are bad people bad?”, “What is belief?”, “What is a monster?”, and “Why do humans write?”

“In the current fiscal environment, I question the appropriateness of such grants,” which ranged from about $23,000 to $25,000, Sessions wrote. He also expressed concerns about an NEH-funded program called “Bridging Cultures: Muslim Journeys Bookshelves” that distributed books, films, and other resources to more than 900 libraries around the country and provided money to hold discussion forums.

The program, according to an NEH press release, “is intended to address both the need and desire of the American public for trustworthy and accessible resources about Muslim beliefs and practices and the cultural heritage associated with Islamic civilizations.” Sessions said that the program raised questions about the use of federal funds “on behalf of just one religion,” and demanded that NEH provide an itemized list of similar programs related to sects of Christianity and Judaism.

Earlier this year, the House Appropriations Committee introduced legislation that would have cut the budget for the NEH nearly in half for the current fiscal year that began on October 1. The House Republican budget plan this year said that the NEH “can no longer be justified.” In March, Congress approved legislation in March that prohibits the National Science Foundation from funding political science research unless a project promotes national security or U.S. economic interests. 

October 25, 2013

Thomas F. Rosenbaum, provost of the University of Chicago, was on Thursday named as the next president of the California Institute of Technology. Rosenbaum is a physicist and the Caltech announcement said that his involvement in both undergraduate and graduate education was crucial to his appointment.


October 25, 2013

Lesley University adjuncts announced their intent to unionize Thursday under the auspices of the Service Employees International Union, which is driving a larger unionization movement across the Boston metropolitan area. The SEIU is mobilizing adjuncts across other metro regions, including Washington. Tufts University adjuncts voted in favor of a union last month, but Bentley University adjuncts voted against a union, they announced this week.

"By strengthening the support for part-time faculty we will improve the educational experience, and as a result advance enrollment and retention," Stella Johnson, adjunct professor of photography at Lesley, said in a news release. "We look forward to working together with the administration to solving the issues that confront our campus and profession and give higher education a brighter future."

Jack Dempsey, a longtime adjunct professor of English and public speaking at Bentley and part of the organizing committee there, said he was surprised and disappointed by the outcome -- 100 votes against and 98 for -- but said that Bentley adjuncts and SEIU were planning to appeal the decision. Because the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1, preceded the voting deadline of Oct. 3, it's possible that more "yes" votes arrived at the National Labor Relations Board Office by the deadline but could not be certified as timely and counted by the time the shutdown ended, he said. Adjuncts at Bentley want equal pay for equal work compared with tenure-track professors; health care insurance coverage; and "contract rights," including hiring preferences for veteran adjuncts and compensation for courses canceled at the last minute.


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