Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, July 8, 2013 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON — The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education has sent a letter to the Education Department protesting the appointment of another interim director for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities rather than a permanent leader. The previous director, John Wilson, left in January to become president of Morehouse College. Historically black colleges have already felt under fire from the Obama administration since the Education Department tightened underwriting standards for parent PLUS loans, leading to a wave of loan denials that HBCU leaders say have fallen disproportionately on their institutions.

"The decision to have the White House Initiative on HBCUs without leadership for almost a year is confounding, especially given the administration's higher education goals and the vitally important role HBCUs must play in reaching the goals," the group wrote. "The appointment of yet another interim executive director does not bode well for the HBCU community, whose challenges are many, immediate, and likely to have lasting adverse impacts."

"We recognize the prominent role of our nation's historically black colleges and universities to provide students with a high-quality higher education and help our nation reach the 2020 goal for the U.S. to have the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world," Education Department spokesman Daren Briscoe said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed. "During this transition, we are continuing conversations to ensure the White House Initiative on HBCUs has the best leadership in place to harness the opportunities and navigate the challenges that face HBCUs today, and we are moving as quickly as possible to find a permanent executive director."

 

Monday, July 8, 2013 - 4:27am

Ball State University has hired Guillermo Gonzalez -- a prominent figure in intelligent design -- as assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy, The Star Press reported. Gonzalez was denied tenure at Iowa State University, where he said that he was being punished for his views, but his faculty colleagues said he was rejected based on traditional tenure criteria. A broad consensus exists among scientists that evolution, not intelligent design, explains the origins of the earth. And many scientists -- while having no problem with intelligent design as a focus in philosophy or religion classes -- object to science departments teaching it. Ball State is currently investigating a complaint that another faculty member in physics and astronomy was inserting religious, creationist views into a science course.

 

Friday, July 5, 2013 - 4:20am

The University of California has abandoned plans for large, widespread increases in graduate and professional school tuition, The Los Angeles Times reported. The original plan would have resulted in major increases for about 14,000 students. Now only about 800 students, primarily in nursing, will be affected. And those who still face an increase would see costs go up by about $619 a year, not the $2,700 originally planned. Governor Jerry Brown had strongly opposed the originally planned increases.

Friday, July 5, 2013 - 3:00am

The U.S. Department of State strengthened its warning against travel to Egypt on Wednesday and is now urging American citizens to leave the country, likely prompting another round of evacuations of American students on study abroad programs. The Arabic Overseas Flagship Program, which enrolls 18 students from five American universities, announced that it was relocating from Egypt to Morocco earlier this week.

Among the other evacuations so far, a spokeswoman for AMIDEAST, a nonprofit organization that runs study abroad programs in Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Oman, and Tunisia, said that all 26 of its students in Egypt have left, with many electing to join AMIDEAST programs in other countries. ABC News reported that Fulbright program participants are being required to leave the country. Southern California Public Radio reported that the University of California at Davis has brought home a group of ten students on a faculty-led study abroad program focused on Egyptian authors and filmmakers, as well as the faculty member and her son. The Austin American-Statesman reported that 30 students on the University of Texas at Austin’s Center for Arabic Study Abroad program, which is based at the American University in Cairo, are being flown to a safe place. The program will determine, after six days, whether it is safe to return to Egypt.

The American University in Cairo, which originally had 95 American students enrolled this summer, is not requiring students to leave, a spokeswoman said. Students there have the option of taking their courses in their dormitory or, if they choose to evacuate, completing their studies online. The university's two campuses, in Tahrir Square and New Cairo, remain closed through Saturday.

Friday, July 5, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Tal Ezer of Old Dominion University explains why one section of the Atlantic coast is more vulnerable to sea level rise than others. And if you missed Thursday's Academic Minute (on what makes a good citizen) because of the Independence Day holiday, you can catch up on it here. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, July 5, 2013 - 3:00am

Lawmakers in Oregon have passed legislation authorizing a study and pilot of the idea of replacing tuition at public colleges and universities with commitments by students to repay a small percentage of future income to the state, The New York Times reported. In Oregon, a class at Portland State University did extensive research on the idea. The idea has also been much discussed (but without legislative action comparable to Oregon's) in California.

Friday, July 5, 2013 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON — After protests from historically black colleges that new underwriting standards for Parent PLUS loans have hurt their institutions, the Education Department has told colleges it will simplify the appeals process for students who are denied loans but stands by its new criteria. In a notice sent to institutions, the department announced it would create lists of applicants who are eligible to appeal loan denials and inform applicants by e-mail if they qualify. 

Since the department tightened underwriting standards in 2011, 400,000 parents have been denied loans. The denials have fallen disproportionately on historically black colleges, leaders of those institutions have argued in asking the Obama administration to reconsider.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 3:00am

Cengage Learning, Inc., the second largest publisher of higher education course materials in America, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Tuesday. The move had been expected by financial analysts.

The company hopes to eliminate about $4 billion of its $5.8 billion in debt, the company said in a statement. The company's chief financial officer, Dean Durbin, blamed the company's woes on the move away from traditional printed textbooks to digital offerings, cuts in government spending since the recession, and piracy of its materials.

In a court filing, he said the company is working on a new business plan and pointed in particular to MindTap, a new cloud-based platform the company has elsewhere described as "more than an e-book and different than a learning management system." The company expects to continue to make timely payments to its vendors and offer the same wages and benefits to its employees, it said in a press release.

“The decisive actions we are taking today will reduce our debt and improve our capital structure to support our long-term business strategy of transitioning from traditional print models to digital educational and research materials," CEO ​Michael Hansen said in a statement. "Cengage Learning began an operational transformation six months ago under the leadership of our new senior management team, which is executing bold plans to enhance our customer relationships and introduce innovative digital and print products and solutions to meet our customers’ evolving needs."

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 3:00am

Sonoma State University is apologizing for an incident in which a student working an an orientation event for new students was told by an administrator to remove her necklace because it had a cross on it, and that might offend other students. The Liberty Institute, a group that defends the rights of religious people, has written the university, demanding that the student be allowed to wear the cross, which is an expression of her religious faith. A spokeswoman for the university said that the student never should have been asked to take off the necklace, and that the university regrets the incident and wants to make sure nothing similar happens in the future.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Oliver Beckers of Indiana University explains how parasitism and impending death influence the mate choice of one insect species. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

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