Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 7, 2014

Inside Higher Ed was wrong to assume on Monday that Rutgers University had resolved the controversies over its selection commencement speaker. The first speaker was to be Condoleezza Rice, the former secretary of state, but she withdrew amid student and faculty protests. On Monday, it appeared that Rutgers had a noncontroversial choice in former New Jersey Governor Thomas H. Kean. That choice is now being criticized, but not for anything related to Kean. It turns out that, before announcing Kean, the university had approached Eric LeGrand to speak, and he had accepted. LeGrand is a former Rutgers football player who was paralyzed in a game in 2010, and who has gone on to be an inspiring public speaker.

NJ.com reported that LeGrand was called Monday night by the athletics director and told that the university president  "decided to go in another direction for political reasons." News that Rutgers had apparently disinvited LeGrand quickly spread, and the university then apologized, announced that LeGrand and Kean would both speak, and said that there had never been a plan for LeGrand alone to speak.

May 7, 2014

College students fail to eat or exercise in ways that would reduce their chances of cancer later in life, according to a study by Northwestern and Northeastern Illinois University researchers. The study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, found that 95 percent of college students fail to eat the recommended amount of fruit and vegetables (at least five servings a day), and more than 60 percent report not getting enough physical activity.

May 7, 2014

Congressional Democrats on Tuesday announced legislation to allow existing student loan borrowers to refinance their debt at lower interest rates.

Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and 22 of her Democratic colleagues introduced a bill that would let borrowers who took out both federal and private loans before 2013 to refinance that debt at the current interest rate on federal student loans. “Exploding student debt is crushing young people and dragging down our economy,” Warren said in a statement. “Allowing students to refinance their loans would put money back in the pockets of people who invested in their education.”

Representatives George Miller of California and John Tierney of Massachusetts plan to introduce identical legislation in the House. The refinancing program would be paid for under the Democrats’ proposal by enacting the so-called “Buffett Rule,” which would end some tax breaks for millionaires. That’s likely to face stiff opposition among Republicans.

The proposal is part of a broader election-year effort by Democrats to focus on college affordability and rising student loan debt. Other proposals by Senate Democrats would seek to hold colleges more responsible for student loan defaults.  

Under a bipartisan agreement reached last year, interest rates on federal loans are now tied to Treasury notes. For the current academic year, interest rates were set at 3.86 percent for undergraduates and 5.41 for graduate students. The Congressional Budget Office projects that those rates will increase for the coming academic year to 5.09 percent and 6.64 percent, respectively. The rates will be officially set after a Treasury note auction this week. 

May 7, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, King Davis, director of the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin, discusses his research from the Central Lunatic Asylum for the Colored Insane. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
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May 7, 2014

Stanford University, which has the fourth-largest endowment of any American college, will stop directly investing in coal mining companies. The university announced its limited divestment plan Tuesday citing decades-old investment principles that tell Stanford’s trustees to make as much money as they can but also give trustees the option to avoid investing in companies that “create substantial social injury.” The burning of coal is considered a major contributor to global climate change.

Stanford’s trustees and an advisory panel concluded “coal is consistent with this policy given the current availability of alternatives to coal that have less harmful environmental impacts,” the university said.

Other universities, such as Harvard University, have resisted pressure to divest from fossil fuel stocks, citing their obligation to make money and what little effect their investment decisions might have. Stanford’s endowment of $18.6 billion in the 2013 budget year is just over half of Harvard’s. It’s not clear how much Stanford has invested in coal companies currently.

“Moving away from coal in the investment context is a small, but constructive, step while work continues, at Stanford and elsewhere, to develop broadly viable sustainable energy solutions for the future,” Stanford President John Hennessy said in a statement.

Stanford did not prevent itself from investing in other fossil fuel stocks, including oil and natural gas. The burning of both gas contributes, to varying degrees, in the greenhouse gas effect. Oil and natural gas stocks have risen substantially over the past several years at the same time coal stocks have plummeted. Stanford said the new policy applies to investments it manages directly but that it would also encourage its external money managers to divest from coal too.

May 7, 2014

Boston College is offering to return to the interview subjects oral history recordings that were made about "the Troubles," a period of intense protest and violence in Northern Ireland from the 1960s until the 1980s. British authorities (with backing from their U.S. counterparts) fought in U.S. federal court to obtain the recordings for use in possible prosecutions, and in the end obtained some recordings that many believe led to a recent detention for questioning. The use of oral history recordings in this way, in violation of confidentiality requirements made by researchers to the participants, has alarmed many scholars.

While Boston College was under court order to turn over some recordings, it currently is not under any such order. So the college issued this statement: "If Interviewees in the Belfast Project express their desire to have their interviews returned to them, Boston College will accommodate their request upon proper identification. Given that the litigation surrounding the subpoenas has concluded, we believe that it is the appropriate course of action to take at this time."

Chris Bray, a historian who written on the case (and criticized Boston College for not protecting the confidentiality of the recordings), said he believed the college's offer was unrealistic. Some of those recorded would be revealing their identities if they come forward to get the tapes, and the college could then be forced to reveal their identities, he said via email. "Since at least some of the interviews can't be safely returned to unidentified interviewees, and since BC can't guarantee that it will refuse to cooperate with future fishing expeditions in the collection, I think the collection should be immediately and entirely destroyed," he said.

 

May 7, 2014

With more than 500 member colleges, the Common Application remains a key force in admissions, even after taking a lot of hits in the last year for a botched launch of a new software system. But a competitor, the Universal College Application, is seeing growth. In the last year, as problems hit the Common Application, Universal added 12 new members, bringing its total to 43. Today, Universal is announcing six more members: Brandeis and Colgate Universities, the College of Mount Saint Vincent, the Universities of Chicago and Rochester, and Wilson College.

 

May 7, 2014

Legislation moving in the New York Senate and Assembly would require colleges to disclose the actual costs of study abroad programs and any financial relationships between study abroad providers and colleges, The Albany Times Union reported. Legislators are concerned that some study abroad programs actually cost colleges much less than institutions reveal to students, who may be paying the equivalent to the higher expenses they face at their home institutions.

 

May 6, 2014

A new study published Monday in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences uses two longitudinal surveys to attempt to explain the relative academic advantage of Asian-American students, on average, compared to white students. It appears to be about work ethic. "We find that the Asian-American educational advantage is attributable mainly to Asian students exerting greater academic effort and not to advantages in tested cognitive abilities or socio-demographics," says the abstract, available here.

 

May 6, 2014

Muhamed McBryde has been sitting on the sidelines during wrestling matches, unable to compete on behalf of the State University of New York at Buffalo because of National Collegiate Athletic Association rules requiring that players be clean-shaven. As a Muslim, McBryde said that doing so would violate his religious beliefs. Now the NCAA has granted him a waiver so he can compete, The Buffalo News reported. However, he will be required to wear a face mask and chin strap to cover the beard.

 

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