Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, August 2, 2013 - 4:35am

Millikin University, in Illinois, is standing behind a psychology professor whose past has become the focus of press attention in Illinois and in Texas, The Chicago Tribune reported. An article that appeared last week in The Georgetown Advocate asked "What Happened to Jim Wolcott?" That's the name of a 15-year-old who in 1967 killed his father (a professor at Southwestern University), mother and sister at their home in Georgetown, Texas. The shootings took place after Wolcott, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, had sniffed glue. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was institutionalized for six years. He then went on to higher education, earning a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and becoming a psychology professor and chair of behavioral sciences at Millikin -- under the name James St. James.

According to a statement from Millikin to the Tribune, the university only recently learned of the past of St. James. "Given the traumatic experiences of his childhood, Dr. St. James' efforts to rebuild his life and obtain a successful professional career have been remarkable. The university expects Dr. St. James to teach at Millikin this fall," the statement said. St. James declined to comment to the Tribune except to say that he planned to return to work.

 

 

Friday, August 2, 2013 - 3:00am

More than a year after its initial publication in Social Science Research, the debate over a controversial study concluding that children with parents who are gay are in some ways less successful as adults than their peers lives on – and is now directed at the journal’s editor.

In a post to his blog, Family Inequality, Philip N. Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, calls for editor James Wright, professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida, to step down. Cohen says he’ll boycott the journal as a contributor and reviewer until Wright leaves the Elsevier publication and urges others to do so.

Cohen says that Wright relied on paid consultants on the New Family Structures Study for peer reviews and didn’t disclose that when the article was first published in June 2012. He bases his argument in part on the fact that Paul Amato, professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, has said publicly that he consulted the study’s author, Mark Regnerus, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, for two days early on in the project.

Amato says in a recent post to Cohen’s blog that he disclosed that information to Wright, but Wright asked him to proceed with his review. However, Amato says his role in the study did not pose a conflict of interest, and he has reviewed other studies with which he has had some involvement. If there's no self-reported conflict, he says, journal editors in his experience don't care -- in part because reviewers are hard to come by.

It’s also been alleged that W. Bradford Wilcox, associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia with former ties to the conservative Witherspoon Institute that funded the study, served as a reviewer. He also consulted on the study, according to documents made public by the University of Texas. Wilcox, who also serves on the journal’s editorial board, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an e-mail, Wright said he has never publicly disclosed who reviewed the articles and doesn’t plan to. But he said that both “Amato and Wilcox mentioned their prior involvement with the Regnerus study in response to my initial reviewing request.  I asked, as I always do, whether this involvement precluded their writing an objective review. Both said no and so both were asked to proceed.”

Wright did not respond to a question about stepping down as editor. But he said there are no plans to retract the article, for which some, including Cohen, have called.

“[That] to my mind would require proof of fraudulent behavior, cooking the data, faking the analysis or something similar, none of which (so far as I know) has even been alleged, much less shown,” Wright said.

But Cohen said that instead of “seriously reviewing the paper, he essentially whispered into an echo chamber of backers and consultants, ‘We should publish this, right?’”

The criticism of Regnerus’s study came hard and fast and prompted a commentary package in the November issue of Social Science Research and an investigation by the University of Texas. Many said it was “bad science,” a poorly designed study that proved only what sociology already had established: that children from unstable homes have higher problem profiles later in life than children from stable, two-parent homes. Because many parents of children in the study had conceived their children in heterosexual relationships that ended when or before they came out as gay, the study did not have proper controls for studying the true effects of having parents who are gay, critics said.

Friday, August 2, 2013 - 3:00am

College students may notice prices of items in their campus stores and coffee shops decrease  — or at least not get any higher — thanks to a U.S. district judge’s ruling  that said the Federal Reserve’s 21-cent cap on debit-card transactions is too high.

In an opinion on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon agreed with retailers that the Fed’s limit on “swipe” fees that was set in 2011 did not come close to its own staff's recommendation for a cap of 12 cents. These fees are set by Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc., the biggest electronic-payment networks, which collect the money and give it to card-issuing member banks.

The judge wrote that the Fed “clearly disregarded Congress's statutory intent by inappropriately inflating all debit card transaction fees by billions of dollars...”

Swipe fees are “invisible” costs for consumers, because they force merchants to hike up costs of their merchandise in order to pay transaction fees to the banks. College students are especially affected, because the merchants most hurt by the swipe fees are those that sell inexpensive products like coffee and snacks — all products likely to be found in an on-campus store, said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director and senior fellow for U.S. PIRG. Additionally, swipe fees are the highest costs, after personnel, for campus bookstores, said Richard Hershman, who is the vice president of government relations for the National Association of College Stores. If higher education retailers don’t have to give as much money to the banks as a result of lower swipe fees, then they have more money to “return back to students," Hershman said.

Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 4:23am

The White Student Union, a new organization, is drawing complaints at Georgia State University. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that the group is not officially recognized and may not involve very many people at all, but that when notices about it started to appear on campus, a number of people complained. Georgia State -- where 38 percent of students are white, 35 percent are black, 12 percent are Asian and 7 percent are Latino -- prides itself on having a diverse, inclusive campus. Officials said that the non-recognized groups have the right to hold events and publicize them, and that the university does not regulate the views of student organizations.

Patrick Sharp, who organized the group, said there was a need for white people to discuss issues such as immigration and affirmative action. "If we are already minorities on campus and are soon to be minorities in this country why wouldn’t we have the right to advocate for ourselves and have a club just like every other minority?" Sharp said. “Why is it when a white person says he is proud to be white he’s shunned as a racist?"

 

Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 3:00am

It wasn't pretty, and advocates for students aren't happy with it. But after almost two years of fits and false starts, Congress on Wednesday passed legislation that would tie interest rates on federal student loans to the market and, at least in the short term, forestall hefty increases that were to hit new borrowers beginning this fall.

The legislation passed the House of Representatives by a wide margin (392-31, with 10 abstentions) after originating in the Senate, which approved it last week. The measure, when signed by President Obama, will reset interest rates on federally guaranteed loans each July based on the previous May's auction of 10-year Treasury bills. Undergraduate loans -- those that are federally subsidized as well as those that are not -- would be set at the Treasury rate plus 2.05 percentage points, while loans for graduate students would be set at 3.6 points above the Treasury rate, and loans for parents at 4.6 percentage points over the T-bill rate. The maximum rate would be capped at 8.25 percent for undergraduate loans, 9.5 percent for graduate student loans, and 10.5 percent for parent loans.

Even as both chambers overwhelmingly backed the compromise, the parties continued to bicker about whose previous versions of the bills were worse, and took credit for different parts of the compromise.

 

Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 4:25am

The University of Maryland University College -- an institution known for distance education -- has announced that it will award academic credit to those who complete six massive open online courses and who pass tests offered for those courses, CBS News DC reported. The MOOCs are introductory mathematics and science courses, and are offered by Coursera and Udacity.

 

Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 3:00am

The U.S. Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday approved a renewal of the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the federal law that governs work force training. The bill, which hasn't been updated in 15 years, would overhaul a broad range of job training programs at community colleges. The two-year sector supports the legislation. It faces an unclear future, however, in part because the U.S. House of Representatives passed a much different job training bill earlier this year.

Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Kerry Clark of the University of North Florida explains why Lyme disease is becoming a threat in areas beyond the northeastern United States. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 3:00am

A new federal law requires colleges to step up their efforts to prevent sexual assaults, including through the controversial practice of mandatory training for students. A leading provider of training in financial literacy and alcohol education and prevention, Everfi, is today releasing HAVEN, which has been used so far by 700,000 students at 180 institutions and is designed to fulfill the requirements of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SaVE Act).

 

Thursday, August 1, 2013 - 3:00am

Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, at a legislative hearing in Michigan on Wednesday, referred to minority student as "dark ones," The Detroit Free Press reported. Hillsdale does not accept any federal funds and thus resists many data-gathering initiatives of government agencies. In his testimony, Arnn described a time he said state officials visited campus to see if he had enough "dark ones" enrolled. Many legislators criticized Arnn for the language.

Hillsdale released a statement later on Wednesday in which it said that Arnn was "sorry if such offense [over his language] was honestly taken." The the issue people should focus on, the statement said, was "state endorsed racism." The statement noted that Hillsdale was founded by an abolitionist in 1844 and has always barred discrimination based on "nationality, color or sex." The statement added that "[r]acial polarization is increasing rather than decreasing in our nation today," and that the solution to thise problem is to "return to the principles of the nation," such as "a colorblind Constitution."

 

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