Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 23, 2014

In an interview in The New Yorker, President Obama expressed support for affirmative action in higher education, and questioned how precisely a Supreme Court deadline for phasing out the consideration of race should be viewed. The article looks broadly at President Obama's influence on the federal court system, and touches on affirmative action toward the end of the piece. In a landmark Supreme Court decision upholding the right of public colleges to, under certain circumstances, consider race in admissions, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor suggested that they should no longer be needed in 25 years. Justice O'Connor, since retired from the court, wrote the decision in 2003. Asked about that deadline, Obama told the magazine that Justice O’Connor would “be the first one to acknowledge that 25 years was sort of a ballpark figure in her mind.”

Generally, Obama signaled continued support for affirmative action. “If the University of Michigan or California decides that there is a value in making sure that folks with different experiences in a classroom will enhance the educational experience of the students, and they do it in a careful way,” the universities should be allowed to consider race and ethnicity, he said.

At the same time, however, he said that the best long-term solution to unequal opportunities in American society is improvement of the K-12 education system. “I understand, certainly sitting in this office, that probably the single most important thing I could do for poor black kids is to make sure that they’re getting a good K-through-12 education. And, if they’re coming out of high school well prepared, then they’ll be able to compete for university slots and jobs. And that has more to do with budgets and early-childhood education and stuff that needs to be legislated," Obama said.

 

October 23, 2014

Lasell College, in Massachusetts, has suspended its service learning trip to Uganda out of a commitment to gay rights as well as concerns about terrorism and the spread of Ebola.

In a statement, the college said that “the dangerous situation in Uganda for the LGBT community is repugnant to our community and safety of our students would be overly compromised.” The statement cited several reasons for canceling the trip, including the persecution of LGBT individuals following the passage of a harsh anti-gay law last February; the possibility that the law, since nullified, could be reinstated; travel advisories from other countries, including the United Kingdom, on the threat of terrorism in Uganda; and the spread of the Ebola virus in African countries. The U.S. Department of State has not posted a warning against travel to Uganda, although it does rate the country as being at high risk for terrorism. Uganda has not had any cases of Ebola during the current outbreak.

Lasell had sponsored two trips to Uganda in the past two years.

October 23, 2014

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the Presidents' Forum this week released a policy report that explores the potential for an external quality review process for "non-institutional" providers in higher education. This emerging field include companies and nonprofits that offer courses, modules or badges. Most of this sector is online, non-credit and low-cost.

The two groups last year formed a commission to look at options for quality assurance in the space. The commission's report describes three possibilities: a voluntary, cooperative effort by providers; a voluntary service offered by an existing third-party association; or a new external group created for this purpose.

"The commission calls upon the postsecondary education community to seize this moment as a critical time to consider development, adoption and extension of new approaches that address the need for institutional and organizational quality review," the report said.

October 23, 2014

Towson University has suspended Rabbi Barry Freundel from his faculty position, following his arrest on charges of secretly recording women as they bathed in a Jewish ritual bath at the synagogue he led in Washington, The Baltimore Sun reported. The university acted amid reports that he took some Towson students to the synagogue and fears that he may have engaged in inappropriate activity with them. Fruendel has entered a plea of not guilty but has not commented on the charges.

 

October 23, 2014

Japan's government is starting a grant program that will provide support for up to 10 years for 37 universities in the country to seek to become more globally competitive, The Japan Times reported. Thirteen of the universities are being urged to develop plans to reach the global level of Harvard University or the University of Oxford. The other universities are being encouraged to improve, but without those aspirations. The funds will be used to recruit more faculty and students from outside Japan, and to boost rankings.

October 23, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Phillip Sponenberg, professor of pathology and genetics at the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine at Virginia Tech, profiles the issue of domestic extinction. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

October 22, 2014

More than 1,000 people have signed a letter opposing the appearance today of George Will, the nationally syndicated columnist, at Miami University in Ohio. The university is standing by the appearance, citing free speech grounds, but critics cite a controversial column Will wrote casting doubt on the movement to prevent sexual assaults on campus. The column was widely condemned by advocates for women who have been sexually assaulted for the way it criticized campus efforts to prevent and punish assaults, and for how it characterized those who have reported assaults. A line that caused particular anger said that such efforts "make victimhood a coveted status that confers privileges."

In another phrase that outraged many, he referred to the "supposed campus epidemic of rape, a.k.a. 'sexual assault.'" A statement on the Miami women's and gender studies program page on Facebook says: "The Miami I believe in is committed to creating a welcoming and safe environment for all of our students. I am disappointed that a speaker who clearly does not respect women, or take the issue of sexual assault seriously is being given a platform to speak, particularly because such inflammatory rhetoric has the potential to revictimize and retraumatize our students. This is not acceptable."

Scripps College revoked an invitation to Will over the column.

 

October 22, 2014

The University of South Florida has called off an agreement to host 14 journalists from Africa, citing concerns about Ebola, The St. Petersburg Tribune reported. Only two of the journalists were from countries that currently have Ebola outbreaks. The State Department, which runs the exchange program asked the university if it would accept the journalists from elsewhere in Africa and South Florida still declined.

October 22, 2014

The National Student Clearinghouse this week announced it would use a grant from the Lumina Foundation to create a national, automated system for exchanging "reverse transfer" student data. Reverse transfer in this case refers to when a transfer student's four-year institution sends credits back to a two-year institution from which the student transferred. The nonprofit Clearinghouse wants to help by creating a standardized and centralized way for colleges to exchange reverse-transfer credits. As many as two million students could earn associate degrees through the project, according to the Clearinghouse.

October 22, 2014

Despite increasing public scrutiny and a number of lawsuits in recent years, including one against the National Collegiate Athletic Association that ended in a $70 million settlement and stricter injury guidelines, most colleges believe their concussion management plans do a good job of protecting students from head trauma, according to a study published Tuesday in the American Journal of Sports Medicine. Nearly 99 percent of the 907 institutions who participated in the study said their concussion management plans protected athletes "well" or "very well." At the same time, about 7 percent of individual respondents did not indicate that their institutions had a concussion management plan in place, which is not in line with NCAA guidelines. 

When asked to indicate who has final responsibility for returning athletes to play after a concussion, 83.4 percent said the team doctor, 72.8 percent said the athletic trainer, 31 percent said specialist physician, and 6.8 percent said coach. Nearly 7 percent said the final responsibility fell to the athlete. NCAA guidelines state that return-to-play should be decided by the team physician or athletic trainer.

About 40 percent of respondents said concussion education for coaches needed improvement. "Although a large majority of respondents indicated that their school has a concussion management plan, improvement is needed," the authors wrote. "Increasing scientific evidence supporting the seriousness of concussion underscores the need for the NCAA to use its regulatory capabilities to ensure that athletes’ brains are safe."

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