Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, August 22, 2013 - 3:00am

Florida International University has suspended Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity while investigating screen shots of a series of postings on the brothers' Facebook page, The Miami Herald reported. Members of the fraternity aren't talking, but the Facebook posts (some of which are published with the Herald article) refer to some women as "sorusitutes," quote the availability of drugs (sometimes with tiered pricing for brothers and non-brothers) and apparent encouragement to engage in hazing.

 

Thursday, August 22, 2013 - 3:00am

The University of Sydney is debating the censorship of the cover of a student newspaper -- Honi Soit -- which was forced to place black bars over portions of 18 photographs of students' vulvas. The Student Representative Council, which publishes the paper, ordered the addition of the black bars, citing Australian laws on obscenity, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Michael Spence, vice chancellor of the university, told the newspaper that "personally my view is the cover is demeaning to women but I do realize I'm not the target audience for Honi Soit. However, the student body at the University of Sydney has a long and proud tradition of independence and it's a tradition we will continue to uphold."

Despite all the efforts to block the cover, copies of the original cover leaked and can be found on various websites and Twitter. (Readers who do not wish to see close-up female genitalia may not wish to follow this link, which  shows the original version and the censored version.) While the body parts are not identified, some students have come forward to not only defend the project, but to point out their participation. See, for example, this blog post "That's My Vagina on Honi Soit."

The newspaper's website has been shaky with all the traffic since the controversy broke. But an editorial explaining the rationale behind the cover also was posted to the newspaper's Facebook page. "Eighteen vulvas. All belong to women of Sydney University. Why are they on the cover of Honi Soit?" says the editorial. "We are tired of society giving us a myriad of things to feel about our own bodies. We are tired of having to attach anxiety to our vaginas. We are tired of vaginas being either artificially sexualized (see: porn) or stigmatized (see: censorship and airbrushing). We are tired of being pressured to be sexual, and then being shamed for being sexual. The vaginas on the cover are not sexual. We are not always sexual. The vagina should and can be depicted in a non-sexual way – it’s just another body part. 'Look at your hand, then look at your vagina,' said one participant in the project. 'Can we really be so naïve to believe our vaginas the dirtiest, sexiest parts of our body?'"

 

 

 

 

Thursday, August 22, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Scott Schieman of the University of Toronto explains why greater work authority can undermine the health benefits that usually come with higher social status. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

Thursday, August 22, 2013 - 3:00am

The White House is keeping a tight lid on what might emerge during President Obama's two-day bus tour to address college affordability. But on the eve of those appearances, which begin today, sources said the president might seek to link federal financial aid to student outcomes, such as debt levels. Observers said that major proposal, which obviously would be controversial to many in higher education, likely would be accompanied by Obama signaling support for competency-based education, particularly programs that are not based on the credit-hour standard. However, the proposal's language was still being hashed out yesterday, sources said.

The New York Times also reported that the president's plan would involve linking federal aid to various student outcomes, likely with rating systems that compare colleges to their peer institutions.

Other parts of the Obama tour in upstate New York may be less controversial. In Syracuse, he is expected to highlight the "Say Yes to Education" program, which provides scholarships to students in participating schools in New York State with to attend public and participating private colleges, while also providing extensive support and guidance on preparing for colleges, The Post-Standard reported.

 

 

 

Thursday, August 22, 2013 - 4:24am

The University of Notre Dame plans to start admitting students who lack the legal documentation to reside in the United States. To date, Notre Dame has not had an official ban on such students, but has treated them as international students, who must have student visas to enroll. That rule effectively made enrollment impossible for undocumented students -- who typically were brought to the United States as young children and have lived in the U.S. for many years. Announcement of the shift in policy appeared on social media Wednesday night and was confirmed by a Notre Dame admissions official.

Notre Dame's policy to start admitting undocumented students as domestic students reflects a significant commitment for the university because Notre Dame is among the small number of private institutions that pledge to meet the full financial need of all admitted (non-international) students. Since undocumented students are barred from federal student aid programs, and because many of them are from low-income families, their financial need could be large. The aid commitment, however, will only be made to those admitted, and Notre Dame admissions are quite competitive.

 

 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 3:00am

A think tank report released Tuesday argues for making student loans -- but only some student loans -- dischargeable under federal bankruptcy laws. The report from the Center for American Progress joins other recent calls for more protection for distressed borrowers than they now have, but it recommends targeted rather than blanket bankruptcy protection for student loan borrowers, based not on their source (the federal government or private lenders) but on the repayment terms and the educational and repayment track record of the institutions whose students received them.

Under the plan, certain types of products could qualify as "qualified student loans," which would both need to meet set definitions of borrower-friendly terms (low interest rates, access to favorable repayment options) and be available only to students at institutions and academic or training programs that "by virtue of their graduate employment rates" or other outcome measures "give graduates a reasonable chance to repay." Qualified loans would not be dischargeable in bankruptcy, but all loans that did not meet that definition would be.

The group argues that moving to such a system would prod lenders to create loans that were better for borrowers, and discourage predatory practices because both lenders and, quite possibly, institutions could be on the hook if loans that didn't "qualify" were able to be discharged in bankruptcy.

"Including some student loans in bankruptcy reforms and expanding borrower protections through Qualified Student Loans will ultimately maintain bankruptcy as the narrow path of last resort it was designed to be, while giving those burdened by student debt a chance for a fresh start," says the center's report, which was written by Joe Valenti, director of the center's asset building program, and David Bergeron, a longtime Education Department official who is now its vice president for postsecondary education.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 3:00am

Raritan Valley Community College, in New Jersey, has signed an articulation agreement enabling graduates to transfer to the London-based University of Greenwich, The Messenger-Gazette reported. James B. Ventantonio, the college's interim president, described it as the first of a number of articulation agreements Raritan Valley hopes to forge with foreign universities. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 3:00am

After a summer of unexpected setbacks and amid a growing chorus of doubt, Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun on Tuesday dismissed the idea that his company's model for high-quality, low-cost education isn't working.

Speaking to Information Week, Thrun said the MOOC provider has almost "found the magic formula" for how to produce and run its online courses. Udacity hit a major snag last month after disappointing results led one of its two university partners, San Jose State University, to pause its partnership. According to a leaked report, students enrolled in the $150 classes provided by Udacity performed much worse than their peers in traditional courses -- especially in remedial math. Thrun maintains the data was published "in an incomplete form, with a very strong bias," and that results from summer courses will show that more than half of the students passed their courses.

Thrun said the numbers should provide an incentive for San Jose State to resume the partnership in 2014.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 3:00am

MALDEF, the Latino civil rights organization, on Tuesday announced a suit against Pomona College over the tenure denial of Alma Martinez, who had taught in the theater and dance department. The suit says that the college discriminated against Martinez on the basis of her gender and national origin. While details of the alleged discrimination were not provided, the MALDEF statement said that Martinez had unanimous backing for tenure from her department. A college spokesman told The Los Angeles Times that there was no bias involved in the decision, but that he could not discuss the case because it is in litigation.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013 - 3:00am

A University of Chicago student’s essay about her experience of sexual harassment while studying abroad in India had attracted about 350,000 page views by Tuesday morning, CNN reported. Many Indian readers sympathized with the story – some men offered their personal apologies -- but others warned against making generalizations about India or Indians.

The student, a South Asian studies major named Michaela Cross, said she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is on a leave of absence from Chicago. (A spokesman for the university contacted by CNN confirmed that Cross is a student there but did not confirm details of her leave.) In the essay, posted under a pseudonym, Cross described spending three months “in a traveler's heaven and a woman's hell. I was stalked, groped, masturbated at; and yet I had adventures beyond my imagination. I hoped that my nightmare would end at the tarmac, but that was just the beginning."

In a statement provided to CNN, the University of Chicago said it was committed to caring for students' safety and providing support to students before, during and after the study abroad experience. "We also place extremely high value on the knowledge our students seek by traveling and studying other civilizations and cultures, and we are committed to ensuring they can do so in safety while enriching their intellectual lives."

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