Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 15, 2013

Carnegie Mellon University has announced a $67 million gift from the investor David A. Tepper. The funds will be used for a quad that officials plan as an "academic hub" for the business school and other programs.

 

November 15, 2013

A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate seeks to tackle the rising cost of textbooks by giving states an incentive to experiment with open educational resources. The Affordable College Textbook Act, introduced by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Al Franken, Democrats of Illinois and Minnesota, respectively, would create a grant program that would fund the creation of new textbooks -- as long as they are made available for free online.

Durbin previously had parts of a similar bill included in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, though those provisions only required publishers and higher education institutions to inform students about the cost of textbooks. 

Dean Florez, president of the 20 Million Minds Foundation, said the bill, coupled with first lady Michelle Obama's new focus on access to higher education, represents "a groundswell for a national discussion for the cost of textbooks." While he expressed some concerns about the bill's chances in the U.S. House of Representatives, Florez said "Durbin’s bill is going straight to the president."

November 15, 2013

California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, warned the University of California Board of Regents Thursday, that the university system is going to need to look to internal savings to finance improvements, The Los Angeles Times reported. Brown spoke at a meeting at which the board approved a tuition freeze (consistent with the governor's thinking), but also a request to the state for $120 million beyond what he has proposed in his state budget plan. "The big, bad state is not going to bail you out at a rate that is different from what we are doing," Brown said. And he said that the university can't rely on its reputation for "quality and greatness" to get around budget realities.

"Remember that students, unfortunately, are the default financiers of higher education in America," he said. "We are going to have reshape the way things are done.... We are going to have to get into concrete trade-offs of how do you live within your means."

November 15, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Deanne Rogers of Stony Brook University discusses the evidence for subterranean water on Mars. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 15, 2013

More than 20,000 people have signed a petition urging Iowa State University to end a course that critics say encourages the proliferation of puppy mills, The Des Moines Register reported. But the university says the course doesn't exist, and that the outrage is over some materials the university has produced to help dog breeders improve the treatment of animals in their care.

November 15, 2013

The University of Southern California Rossier School of Education announced Thursday that it will offer alumni of its graduate program "continuous" support in their professional lives. Alumni with professional challenges or questions can call the school and will receive a "plan for improvement" and input from faculty members on a "Rapid Response Team" that USC is creating.

 

November 15, 2013

Bowie State University has announced that it is ending student health insurance due to the increased costs associated with the new federal health care law. The university is encouraging students to either get on their parents' plans or participate in Maryland's health insurance exchange.

 

November 15, 2013

Cornell University officials fired its head men’s lacrosse coach Ben DeLuca on Thursday, nearly two months after the team was temporarily suspended following a “keg race” hazing incident involving “coerced alcohol consumption by underaged freshmen.” The team is currently ranked third nationally, but is not playing in fall competitions due to the suspension. Cornell President David J. Skorton has taken a tough stance on hazing, saying in 2011 that the Greek system would ban pledging to help curb the practice.

November 15, 2013

Russian officials have pledged to investigate why there have been major layoffs at Moscow State University, RIA Novosti reported. The government has been pushing the university to raise employee salaries, but has not provided funds for the increased pay.

 

November 14, 2013

Faculty members at George Washington University last week sounded the alarm about a new online course policy that appeared to present a breach of academic freedom, but the outrage quickly evaporated after the administration specified it only applied to accessibility testing and technical issues.

The furor was sparked by a memo sent from Provost Steven Lerman’s office that some faculty members interpreted as the administration granting itself the power to share course content with outside groups and change it without consulting the instructor.

“In order to provide centralized review of GW’s online courses to ensure compliance with legal requirements imposed by federal, state, or district law (e.g., that materials are reasonably accessible as required under federal disability laws) , the Provost’s Office may, at its discretion, grant access to online course materials and recordings of online discussions to auditors, outside contractors, or designated University personnel for the purpose of reviewing such materials for legal compliance or to propose improvements to GW’s online education programs,” the memo read.

Lerman clarified the administration’s intentions during a Faculty Senate meeting last Friday, said Charles A. Garris, a professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science who was in attendance.

“They put forth this badly written memo, and there was a big misunderstanding, and they have absolutely no intention of releasing online course materials without faculty members’ authorization,” Garris said. “I think it was more more or less a tempest in a teapot.”

Garris’s take on the situation shows how the faculty’s outrage has deflated over the weekend. When the issue was reported in the student newspaper The GW Hatchet on Friday, Philip W. Wirtz, vice dean of programs and education, was quoted as saying the policy appeared “to be a clear trampling of faculty rights.”

Paul S. Berman, vice provost for online education and academic innovation, further elaborated on the policy in a statement.

“The policy is only meant to help the university ensure that all of our online courses are in compliance with various legal and accreditation requirements by allowing us to grant access to administrators or to third parties hired by the university to audit for such compliance issues and make recommendations,” Berman said.

For example, the university could grant access to an outside consultant to test if an online course conforms to accessibility standards, or to check the robustness of student identity verification methods and exam integrity, Berman said.

“Sometimes this access must be granted on an expedited basis, making it not feasible to track down every faculty member that may be involved in order to get individualized permission, and since these are legal or accreditation requirements, it is not something that is optional in any event,” Berman said. “Thus, this policy will simply help streamline the compliance process. No broader scope or review of course content or curriculum is contemplated by this policy.”

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