Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 17, 2013

The Catholic University of America is defending a $1 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation to hire visiting professors in the business school. A group of Roman Catholic theologians and teachers sent an open letter to the university this month questioning the gift.  "Given the troubling track record the foundation has in making gifts to universities that in some cases include unacceptable meddling in academic content and the hiring process of faculty, we urge you to be more transparent about the details of this grant. Charles and David Koch have an ideological agenda when it comes to shaping the national debate over economics and politics that is not simply academic in nature," the letter says. "The Koch brothers are billionaire industrialists who fund organizations that advance public policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship. As you well know, Catholic social teaching articulates a positive role for government, an indispensable role for unions, just tax policies, and the need for prudent regulation of financial markets in service of the common good. We are concerned that by accepting such a donation you send a confusing message to Catholic students and other faithful Catholics that the Koch brothers’ anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing of a university sanctioned by Catholic bishops."

The university issued a statement noting that it has full control over the hiring process for the visiting professors. And a spokesman said via email that there is no Koch role identified at all in seeking candidates for the posts. The university's statement went on to question the appropriateness of the letter. "The  letter is presumptuous on two counts. First, its authors cast themselves as arbiters of political correctness regarding Charles Koch Foundation grants. They judge the foundation’s support of the arts and culture to be 'noble philanthropic work'; its underwriting of grants to universities elicits their 'serious concerns.' Second they seek to instruct the Catholic University of America’s leaders about Catholic social teaching, and do so in a manner that redefines the Church’s teaching to suit their own political preferences. We are confident that our faculty and academic leadership are well versed in Catholic social teaching and well equipped to apply it. We created a school of business and economics for the express purpose of promoting respect for the human person in economic life, based on the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, human dignity, and the common good. The aim of the Charles Koch Foundation grant — to support research into principled entrepreneurship — is fully consonant with Catholic social teaching. On that point the letter’s authors are strangely silent."

 

December 16, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Nadine Barlow of Northern Arizona University reveals why some craters on Mars have resisted erosion. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

December 16, 2013

California Polytechnic University at San Luis Obipso announced Thursday that one of its students has been diagnosed with meningitis. The student lives off campus and officials said that they did not believe there was a problem with broad exposure on campus. The announcement comes as officials at Princeton University and the University of California at Santa Barbara grapple with multiple cases of meningitis at their institutions. Princeton gave vaccines to thousands last week. The vaccines are not the standard ones used in the United States, but a new version for a strain that is showing up at Princeton. Santa Barbara officials are considering whether they should offer the same vaccine, The Los Angeles Times reported.

December 16, 2013

Charles M. Vest, who was president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from 1990 until 2004, died Thursday at the age of 72. Vest, who after he left MIT became president of the National Academy of Engineering, had been fighting pancreatic cancer. Vest was widely credited with a highly successful presidency, and with being an eloquent national advocate for science. While Vest led MIT, the institute launched a project (seen by many as the precursor of the massive open online course movement) in which all course materials were made available online and free. He also supported female professors at MIT who produced a report on the obstacles facing women at the institute, and Vest's endorsement led the institute to adopt many of their proposals. A full obituary from MIT may be found here.

December 16, 2013

Members of the American Studies Association have voted to endorse a resolution backing the academic boycott of Israel. Out of a total of 1,252 votes, 66.05 percent of members endorsed the resolution, 30.5 percent rejected it, and 3.43 percent abstained. The association’s elected National Council had previously endorsed the resolution before turning the question over to members for an association-wide vote.

The American Studies Association is the second major American scholarly association, after the Association for Asian American Studies, to endorse the boycott of Israeli universities. A full story from Inside Higher Ed will appear tomorrow.

 

December 16, 2013

Universities U.K. has withdrawn controversial guidance it released last month on gender segregation at “ultra-orthodox” religious events on campus after coming under criticism from the prime minister’s office. The guidance, which was intended to help British Universities balance their legal responsibility to protect freedom of speech while also meeting the requirements of nondiscrimination law, said that in regards to a hypothetical case study in which an outside religious speaker requested seating segregated by gender, “a balance of interests is most likely to be achieved if it is possible to offer attendees both segregated and non-segregated seating areas."

However, last week a spokesperson for the prime minister said that David Cameron felt “very strongly” that guest speakers should not be permitted to address segregated audiences and urged Universities U.K. to review the guidance, as the BBC reported. Universities U.K issued a statement saying that it had withdrawn the case study in question pending a legal review.

"Universities UK agrees entirely with the prime minister that universities should not enforce gender segregation on audiences at the request of guest speakers,” Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the British presidential association, said in a statement. “However, where the gender segregation is voluntary, the law is unclear. We are working with our lawyers and the [Equality and Human Rights Commission] to clarify the position.”

December 16, 2013

California has been the site of much high-level political excitement about the potential of new models of online education to provide introductory or remedial courses at low cost. But The San Jose Mercury News reported that the leaders of the University of California and California State University Systems -- in a joint appearance Friday -- were skeptical. Janet Napolitano, the UC president, said she thought online education probably wouldn't solve issues related to providing most courses, but could be a useful tool for specialized courses. Timothy White, the Cal State chancellor, meanwhile called the much-debated experiment between San Jose State University and Udacity a failure, the article said. It quoted him as saying: "For those who say, 'Well, Tim, you'll save a lot of money if ... you do more things online,' that's not correct." (A spokeswoman for California State University said Monday that the quotes attributed to White were inaccurate, and that his comments were not about a specific campus.)

 

December 16, 2013

The Texas A&M University Board of Regents on Saturday named Mark Hussey as interim president of the system's flagship campus at College Station, The Texas Tribune reported. Hussey, dean of agriculture and life sciences, has strong support on the campus and from the system administration. But his selection wasn't a sure thing when Governor Rick Perry, a Republican who has appointed all of the regents, backed another candidate, Guy Diedrich, the system's vice chancellor for strategic initiatives.

December 16, 2013

The Obama administration on Friday announced that it had convinced nearly 1,956 colleges and universities to adopt its financial aid “shopping sheet” -- a standardized template aimed at allowing students to easily compare the aid packages they are offered from different institutions. The administration has more than doubled since this summer the number of colleges committed to using the voluntary templates. In July, officials said that about 700 colleges had opted to use the shopping sheet in its first year.

The institutions that will now be using the forms enroll more than 43 percent of undergraduate students in the United States, an Education Department official said in a blog post. The department also announced Friday that it was making minor changes to the shopping sheet. The new version, will clarify that a university’s median borrowing statistic listed on the form only captures students who borrow at the institution. The revised shopping sheet will also feature a glossary of financial aid terms and an expanded customizable box where institutions can provide more individualized information about a student.  

December 16, 2013

The University of Colorado at Denver has placed Resa Cooper-Morning on leave from her job as cultural diversity coordinator in the ethnic studies department after a local news station reported that she was operating a phone sex business from her office. CBS4 broadcast information about her website promoting the business, and the university said it was taking the allegations "very seriously." Cooper-Morning declined to comment.

 

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