Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 9, 2015

The Lumina Foundation today released its sixth annual report on the national college completion push it has helped lead. The foundation said 40 percent of working-age Americans held a two- or four-year degree in 2013, a modest improvement from the previous year's rate of 39.4 percent. Lumina's goal is for 60 percent of adults to hold a credential by 2025. Large attainment gaps persist by race, found the report, which breaks the gaps down by city and state.

April 9, 2015

Michigan State University has announced that it will phase out the burning of coal in its campus power plant by the end of 2016. Currently the plant burns natural gas, biomass and coal. But the university said that it was dropping coal because of its commitment to sustainability. Changing energy costs and new federal emission rules make the change financially viable as well, the university statement said.

 

April 9, 2015

Inside Higher Ed is pleased to release today "New Debates About Accountability," our latest compilation of articles. As with other such print-on-demand booklets, the compilation groups together news articles and opinion essays representing a range of views. The booklet is free and you may download a copy here. And you may sign up here for a free webinar on Wednesday, April 29, at 2 p.m. Eastern, about the themes of the booklet.

April 9, 2015

Northern Michigan University has ousted Cheryl Reed as faculty adviser to the student newspaper, much to the dismay of many student journalists, The Detroit Free Press reported. Reed is credited with encouraging much more aggressive journalism and much more frequent use of open records requests. The shift has angered many administrators, who say that the student journalists were not always accurate.

 

April 9, 2015

The council of the University of Cape Town announced Wednesday that it has voted to remove a statue of Cecil Rhodes from the campus. The vote followed years of criticism for keeping the statue. Rhodes donated the land on which the university is located, but he is considered by many to be a symbol of the apartheid system that denied basic human rights to black people in South Africa.

 

April 9, 2015

James Ritchie, a male student, has resigned as women's officer of the student union at the University of Tasmania. Ritchie's recent election to that post set off a furor. He has said repeatedly that he is committed to fighting discrimination against women.

A petition calling for his removal states that support for women's equality isn't the only qualification for the position. "The role of women’s officer is more than just about ‘doing things’ for women students, it is also about representation. In what have historically been male-dominated institutions, with a persistently patriarchal culture, it is important that women’s rights, needs, interests and concerns in the university context are voiced through someone elected to directly represent them. In light of persisting social issues of gender inequality, discrimination and under-representation of women in positions of influence and power at university and beyond, we believe it is not much to ask that women students are ensured a dedicated student representative to not only represent their specific concerns as a student body, but also to simply carve out and ensure space for women in the Tasmanian University Union Student Representative Council," the petition says.

In his resignation statement, Ritchie criticized those who called for his ouster. "How can we as a society expect our men to stand up for women if they are mocked and insulted for trying to help the cause?" he wrote. "I challenge all those that have ridiculed me and asked me to resign, what are you going to do now? How are you going to ensure as a community we work to eradicate discrimination and injustice for women? This still takes place daily around the world. Surely a starting point cannot be hating those who are wanting to do good."

April 9, 2015

In today's Academic Minute, Catherine Murphy, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, discusses her work with gold on a nanoscale level. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

April 8, 2015

Peter Diamandopoulos, who was president of Adelphi University from 1985 to 1997, died last week, The New York Times reported. Diamandopoulos was forced from office after the New York State Board of Regents removed most of the university's trustees, finding that they did not exercise oversight as his salary increased to unreasonable levels and the university's finances fell apart. It was highly unusual for the state board to take such action with regard to a private college. Diamandopoulos was a friend and ally of John Silber, the late Boston University president, and talked of turning Adelphi into a more academically rigorous institution, but many faculty members and others questioned his vision and his record at carrying it out.

April 8, 2015

M. D. Anderson Cancer Center violated professional norms as well as its own policies regarding academic freedom and tenure in failing to renew two long-term professors. That’s the upshot of a report out today from the American Association of University Professors on the nonrenewal of Kapil Mehta and Zhengxin Wang from 2012-13. Like all professors at M. D. Anderson, Mehta and Wang were employed on a seven-year “term tenure” contract, and were not renewed after having each been granted tenure in previous cycles. Both received unanimous faculty recommendations for their tenure renewals, but they were denied at the institutional level and never provided reasons why in writing, according to the report. Their appeals -- to the same office that denied them tenure in the first place -- were rejected.

The A.A.U.P. expressed significant concern about the idea of temporary tenure, which it called a contradiction in terms, last year in an article on the cases in Inside Higher Ed. In its full investigative report, A.A.U.P.  says that University of Texas-affiliated cancer center -- like many other research institutions -- is facing decreased funding opportunities and so putting greater pressure on the faculty to do more with less. But M. D. Anderson is unusual and in violation of the principles of tenure in making its faculty reapply for tenure every seven years under the guise of accountability, the report says. It’s also unusual in that it didn’t follow its own procedures for transparency regarding the two tenure decisions. A.A.U.P.’s report also suggests procedural irregularities in the review of a third, pretenure professor who was demoted to a classified position. The investigating committee noted additional concerns about shared governance and the overall climate for academic freedom at M. D. Anderson, especially under President Ronald DePinho, who began in 2011.

Mehta is finishing out the end of his term at M. D. Anderson and pursuing other opportunities. He said the A.A.U.P. investigation so far hasn’t changed his situation but he hopes it will prevent other scholars from being treated similarly in the future. Wang found a faculty position at Clark Atlanta University.

Via email, an M. D. Anderson spokesman said the institution had "many serious issues" with the report, especially its focus on DePinho, who did not initiate the term tenure policy, which has been in effect for decades. The spokesman also questioned A.A.U.P.'s assertions that both professors hadn't been given reasons for their tenure denial, since the provost told Mehta in writing that he'd been denied because he was not expected to meet his funding target. In an official letter of response to A.A.U.P., M. D. Anderson said its current tenure renewal rate remains high, at 97.7 percent.

April 8, 2015

The U.S. Department of Education on Monday clarified that colleges are able to take some active steps to help students avoid excessive loan amounts.

Federal law requires that colleges in most cases disburse to students any amount of federal loan they request so long as they are eligible for it.

Colleges have pushed for legislation that would give them the ability to limit the borrowing of some students who they are concerned might be taking on more loans than they would be able to repay. The federal government penalizes colleges when large numbers of their former students who took out federal loans default on that debt. The department wrote in the new guidance that colleges, as part of their loan entrance counseling program, may require students to take a test of the material presented, complete a budget or other exercises designed to improve the student’s understanding of the implications of borrowing.

However, those measures may not “unreasonably” impede students’ access to a loan. Colleges, for instance, can’t set a minimum required score on a financial literacy test or force students to justify their need for a loan. 

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