Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 3, 2013

Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese dissident who claimed that he was forced from his fellowship at New York University because of pressure from Beijing (a claim the university has vigorously denied), has found a new academic home – well, three homes, actually. He will splitting his time between fellow and advisory positions at the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank in New Jersey; the Catholic University of America's ​Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies; and the New Hampshire-based Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice (named after the late Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos). 

October 3, 2013

Further amending its controversial new health care policy, Pennsylvania State University announced this week that it would offer $100 to employees who complete an online wellness profile and biometric screening and agree to get a physical exam by late November. Those who already have completed their online wellness screenings also may delete them.

This summer, the university said it would punish – to the tune of $100 per month – employees who did not complete those tasks this semester, in an attempt to control ballooning health care costs through increased health awareness among those it insures. But last month, amid intense criticism from faculty, who said that questions in the third-party, online profile -- including those about mental health, alcohol use and family planning -- violated their privacy, Penn State dropped the requirement. (Businesspeople and lawmakers also had criticized the plan.)

Now it’s offering what it calls a “cash reward” for those who opt to complete screenings, or already have done so. The reward to employees whose covered spouses or domestic partners also complete the screenings is $150. "This is being done as a way of recognizing the many benefits-enrolled employees who are participating in the initiative, in light of the suspension of the penalty that originally had been tied to non-participation," Susan Basso, vice president for human resources said in a statement.

Brian Curran, professor of art history and president of the university's newly formed chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said via e-mail that that "it's obviously a good thing that they have moved from a stick to a carrot. The surcharge was much too severe and arbitrary, and it had the effect of driving many otherwise reluctant, mainly lower-paid employees, into complying with what they considered a very serious violation of their personal privacy."


October 3, 2013

The Army will close its Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs at 13 colleges and universities because of financial constraints. While one of the universities released a letter from the Army announcing the cuts on Wednesday, the reductions were ordered last month, before the government shutdown. The programs will close or realign by the end of the 2014-15 school year, according to an Army memo. “This action is not a reflection of either the quality of your program or the outstanding cadets you have produced,” Thomas R. Lamont, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, wrote in a letter to the chancellor of Arkansas State University, one of the institutions.

Other colleges and universities whose programs will be closed are Georgia Regents, East Tennessee State, Morehead State, North Dakota State, Northern Michigan and Tennessee Technological Universities; and the Universities of California at Santa Barbara, North Alabama, South Dakota, Southern Mississippi, Tennessee at Martin and  Wisconsin at La Crosse,  A spokesman for Georgia Regents University said the university had not received official word about changes to the program.

Arkansas State University will fight to reverse the decision to close its 77-year-old ROTC program, which currently serves 122 participants, Chancellor Tim Hudson said in a press release. So will the University of Southern Mississippi and University of Tennessee at Martin, officials said. A statement from William G. Kale, president of the University of North Alabama, said the university was "shocked to learn of this decision, which was made without consultation and came without warning."

Officials at the other institutions did not respond to requests for comment.


October 3, 2013

California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed legislation Wednesday that will tighten the rules on the kinds of bonds that community colleges and school districts can use, The Los Angeles Times reported. The legislation will bar the use of bonds that allow entities issuing them to delay repayment by decades, providing a short-term gain for districts, but creating long-term debt obligations and much more debt than would be the case with shorter term bonds. The new rules limit repayment periods to 25 years (down from 40) and require that interest payments total no more than $4 for every dollar borrowed.

October 3, 2013

Boston College is investigating a student who claimed anonymously on a Facebook "confessions" page that he had raped three women while at the college, The Boston Globe reported. "Confessions" pages are popular on many colleges with students posting anonymously about their hook-ups, crushes or traumas. But the confession to three rapes quickly upset many people on the campus. College officials said that the student who wrote the post turned himself in to authorities and said that it was all a hoax. Paul J. Chebator, dean of students, sent an e-mail to the campus calling the post "very disturbing." Students have organized an event for tonight to discuss the implications of the incident.




October 3, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Shermali Gunawardena of the State University of New York at Buffalo explains how traffic moves along the neuronal highways in the brain. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


October 2, 2013

College students are pretty much evenly split in their religious identification, with 32 percent each identifying as religious and "spiritual but not religious," and 28 percent calling themselves secular, according to Trinity College's latest American Religious Identification Survey. Respondents include about 1,700 randomly selected students at 38 four-year colleges and universities nationwide, about two-thirds of which were public, who chose to complete the voluntary survey. Religious students were significantly more likely to identify as conservative (34 percent), while secular students (44 percent) most often identified as liberal. Not surprisingly, opinions on public policy issues seemed to vary based on religious identification, but some less so than others. For instance, while 35 percent of religious students and 67 percent of secular ones said it's "very true" that women must defend their reproductive rights, and half of religious and 95 percent of secular students said same-sex marriage should be legalized, 57 percent of religious and 81 percent of secular students said the country needs more gun control.

October 2, 2013

Institutions that have so far experimented with massive open online courses have done so to improve the quality of education both in face-to-face courses and distance learning, even though many faculty members remain unconvinced that students taking MOOCs should be able to earn credits, a new survey by the American Council on Education and InsideTrack suggests.

The survey claims "the level of alignment it uncovered between administrators and faculty on the motivations and considerations for pursuing MOOCs" as one of its highlights, but all of the 108 faculty respondents were actively involved in teaching MOOCs. Still, the survey bills itself as the largest of its kind ever conducted.

The demographics may explain the overwhelming positivity found among faculty members: 93.5 percent of instructors thought teaching a MOOC was beneficial to them personally or professionally, and 78.7 percent were likely to recommend teaching one to their colleagues. While only a fraction of the institutions surveyed -- 5.7 percent -- offer academic credit for completing MOOCs, 35.6 percent of faculty members said students should be able to take the courses for credit.

“I'm more convinced than ever about the potential for MOOCs to serve students who would otherwise never have the opportunity (e.g. the teenage girl in Pakistan who took and passed my advanced computer science class),” one instructor said.

Inside Higher Ed's survey of faculty views on technology found a large gap between instructors who have taught online courses and those who haven't. Among the latter group, 15 percent of those surveyed said they thought online learning could produce outcomes similar to face-to-face courses. In comparison, one-third of faculty members with online teaching experience said the same.

The survey also gathered more anecdotal evidence from high-ranking officials at nine universities that have experimented with MOOCs. Generally speaking, the survey found administrators see MOOCs as a means to showcase the institution to a broader audience and improve faculty teaching methods.

“The residential experience is an important part of our future, but there’s a lot technology can do to enhance the educational experience on and off campus,” one administrator said. “MOOCs are one of many ways we’re exploring for bringing technology to the classroom.”

Faculty members share some of the same sentiments. Asked to identify their own priorities about MOOCs, 68.5 and 58.3 percent of instructors labeled increased access and more effective online pedagogy, respectively, as “very important.”

October 2, 2013

Indiana University will spend $15 million to create accessible digital copies of "video, recorded music and other irreplaceable material" created at the institution since its founding in 1820, President Michael A. McRobbie announced Tuesday during his State of the University address. The online archive, which McRobbie said will make materials "instantly and inexpensively available in digital form at any time not only to students, scholars and scientists throughout IU, but across the country and around the world,” will be available by the institution's bicentenary in 2020.

October 2, 2013

Northwestern University journalism students are required to spend one academic quarter in an unpaid internship, and to pay the university more than $15,000 in tuition for that quarter, ProPublica reported. The article noted that some students have raised questions about the system, and that the issue of unpaid internships (even without steep tuition charges) has attracted considerable attention. In response, Northwestern officials have started to ask employers if they would be willing to pay journalism interns minimum wage for their internships.


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