Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 2, 2014

Some students who attended the office hours of Dartmouth College President Phil Hanlon on Tuesday refused to leave and staged a sit-in that was still going on as of 9:30 p.m. The students are demanding that Hanlon endorse the "Freedom Budget" that they have created. That document includes numerous demands, including increased enrollment (to 10 percent each) of black, Latino and Native American students; the enhancement of many ethnic studies programs; a pledge to make 47 percent of postocs be people of color; and a requirement departments "that do not have womyn or people of color will be considered in crisis and must take urgent and immediate action to right the injustice." Hanlon expressed his commitment to diversity and inclusiveness. A statement from Dartmouth Tuesday night said that students who remain in the president's office "understand, based on discussions with campus safety and security that they are in violation of college policy."

April 2, 2014

Most North Carolina employers haven't heard of massive open online courses, but about three-quarters of them view MOOCs as having a positive effect on hiring decisions, a survey conducted by Duke University and RTI International shows. The study, founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, also suggests 71 percent of employers could see themselves using MOOCs for professional development.

April 2, 2014

Governor Andrew Cuomo, a New York Democrat, has backed away from a plan to use state funds for college programs in prisons. Cuomo and New York State's legislative leaders wrapped up work on a budget plan this week without funds for the effort, Gannett reported. At a press conference Tuesday, Governor Cuomo said that the plan would start up, but with private funds paying for it. "There was a feeling, primarily in the Senate, that we should not be using public funds to provide college courses in prison, that many families are struggling to pay for college and we shouldn't be using public funds to provide college courses in prison. I understand the sentiment. I don't agree with it, but I understand it and I understand the appearance of it," Cuomo said. The governor had argued that his original plan would save the state money, by reducing recidivism rates. But Senate Republicans and others opposed the idea from the start.

 

April 2, 2014

Last fall, Cornerstone Government Affairs registered to represent the National College Players Association in its efforts to lobby Congress on issues such as concussions, antitrust law and the like. But when officials of the association -- fresh off the National Labor Relations Board ruling last week that football players at Northwestern University have the right to bargain collectively -- make the rounds on Capitol Hill today and tomorrow to explain why athletes in big-time college sports should unionize, they will be doing so without Cornerstone in their corner.

The lobbying firm said in a statement Tuesday that it had just ended its pro bono relationship with the NCPA, which represents the Northwestern players and wants college athletes to have many more rights as well as more financial support from their institutions. That's because Cornerstone also represents (as paying clients) several universities that could be directly or indirectly affected if college players win the right to unionize. Among them: Rice University, whose football team -- like Northwestern's -- plays in the National Collegiate Athletic Association's Football Bowl Subdivision and would clearly be affected if the National Labor Relations Board were to uphold backing the players' union bid.

Also on Cornerstone's client list is DePaul University, which does not play big-time football but does play Division I basketball, a sport that would almost certainly be included in any major attempts to unionize college athletes.

The firm also represents public universities such as the University of Minnesota and the University of Northern Colorado. While only private institutions would be directly affected by an eventual NLRB ruling regarding athletes' unions -- collective bargaining at public colleges and universities is governed by state laws -- the sorts of systemic changes that the Northwestern players and the National College Players Association ultimately seek with their litigation and advocacy would affect the Minnesotas and Northern Colorados of the world, too.

"The recent Northwestern union decision would cause a conflict of interest with our current higher education clients," Geoff Gonella, Cornerstone's president, said in an emailed statement. "That is why out of an abundance of caution, we have recently ended our services for the NCPA going forward."

Even without a hired gun in D.C., the newly empowered players' group appears to be having no problem lining up meetings with members of Congress, according to various news accounts. After all, it is aligned with the United Steelworkers of America.

April 1, 2014

Institutional research offices at public colleges and universities that are part of state systems focused more heavily on data collection and report writing than on analysis and communication, and spend far more of their time examining student retention and graduation than issues related to campuses' use of money, people and facilities, the National Association of System Heads says in a new report. The study, based on surveys of campus and system IR officials and interviews with campus leaders, says that IR officials themselves are more confident than their bosses are about whether the institutional research offices can adapt to the increased demands on their institutions to use data to improve their performance.

"IR offices are running hard and yet many are still falling behind, deluged by demands for data collection and report writing that blot out time and attention for deeper research, analysis and communication," the report states. Institutional leaders "often expressed the need for some ‘outside’ help in this area, drawing from expertise from other complex organizations such as hospitals, where there is a sense that more is being done to use data to drive both accountability and change."

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April 1, 2014

A Princeton University student has sued the university and seven administrators, saying that they violated his rights when they reacted to a suicide attempt in his dormitory room by evicting him and asking him to withdraw from classes, NJ.com reported. The suit alleges that Princeton was not acting in the student's best interests, but was trying to avoid adverse publicity. A Princeton spokesman declined to comment on the specifics of the case. The suit comes at a time that colleges are under increased scrutiny -- in part due to new federal regulations -- over their responses to potentially suicidal students.

 

April 1, 2014

A study by the Saint Louis University medical school suggests that medical student depression and stress levels can be decreased without reducing the level of academic rigor. The medical school adopted a series of efforts designed to help students better manage their stress levels. Comparing the classes before and after the changes, the medical school found that the percentage of students who had depression fell from 27 to 11 percent. At the same time, board scores went up.

 

April 1, 2014

Bryn Mawr College is announcing today that it is dropping the vowels from its name and questioning the use of vowels generally. The college will now be known as Brn Mwr. The move is being described as the first major initiative of the college's new president, Kim Cassidy. A statement from Cassidy said: "This is the age of Twitter, every character counts. And really, what’s the difference, no one can pronounce our name anyway." The college also announced plans for an academic conference related to the institution's new skepticism of vowels. The conference is “The Hegemony of the Vowel: Incontinence and Lipogrammatics.” One of the planned sessions is "The Habermasian Response: Communicative Ir-Rationality?"

Faculty reaction has been mixed, with English professors expressing concern about the college's anti-vowel stance, particularly if it is to be applied to works of literature. See video below, where faculty discuss the issue. If you are feeling confused by Brn Mwr's actions, consider today's date.

April 1, 2014

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio must defend itself against charges that it failed to renew a nurse's contract because she had accused administrators there of sexual harassment, a federal appeals court ruled Monday. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit vacated part of a lower federal court's ruling dismissing the complaint brought by Monica Hague, saying that a jury could reasonably conclude that the university's reasons for letting Hague go were "pretextual" and that it may have retaliated against her. The divided appeals panel affirmed the lower court's dismissal of Hague's harassment and discrimination claims.

 

 

April 1, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Thalia Wheatley, associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Dartmouth College, scientifically deconstructs the way humans use figurative language to convey abstract ideas. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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