Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Michael Habib of the University of Southern California reveals why rarely-used behaviors can determine an animal’s evolutionary success. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 3:00am

Researchers at a Spanish university, la Universidad Carlos III of Madrid, have unveiled special intelligent glasses for use by professors when teaching. The glasses have multiple views for the professor, who can see notes for lecture delivery while wearing them. Further, the professor can look at students and then a symbol will appear -- selected by the student -- to indicate whether the student understands the content, and whether the student would like the professor to slow down. The professors who invented the glasses said that they would eliminate the need for a student to make a public statement about not understanding lecture content.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 3:00am

After years of prodding from fans and some football coaches, the powers-that-be in college sports (meaning the presidents of the conferences whose members play big-time football) voted to stage a four-team playoff to decide the sport's champion. The first game hasn't even been played yet, but already calls are coming from some coaches and many fans for more -- and the closest thing college sports has to a faculty voice is trying to cut the campaign off at the pass.

The I-A Faculty Athletics Representatives group, made up of professors charged by their institutions to represent faculty interests regarding athletics, issued a statement Tuesday discouraging talk of an eight- (or more) team playoff in the future. "The ink is barely dry on the long-term agreement recently reached by ... conference commissioners and the ... Presidential Oversight Committee for a four-team college football playoff system, yet there are already individuals both within college athletics and from the media calling for more. Enough is enough," the statement said.

“The four-team College Football Playoff design is far superior to any expanded playoff system that would add more teams playing more games over more weeks, thereby further interfering with academic obligations, inevitably overlapping with final exams and extending into a second semester, and increasing risks for serious injuries," said Brian Shannon, president of the faculty representatives' group and the Charles (Tex) Thornton Professor of Law at Texas Tech University. "[We] would strongly oppose any further playoff expansion.”

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 3:00am

Europe's universities need to focus on teaching, and to assure that all professors and instructors know how to teach, says a new report from the European Union's High-Level Group on the Modernization of Higher Education. The report calls for "certified teacher training" for all instructors by 2020. A statement from the co-chairs of the working group said: "[M]any higher education institutions do not place enough emphasis on teaching in comparison to research, even though both are core missions of higher education. This needs rebalancing. The role of teaching in defining academic merit needs a stronger emphasis and recognition, especially in career terms. Ultimately, we should not forget that this is about the students -- how to offer them the best possible learning environment and education."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 3:00am

In a letter to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on Monday, consumer advocacy groups, higher education associations and others asked the bureau to require that colleges give prior approval before students borrow private loans, saying that the bureau has the power to require full certification by institutions. Right now, students "self-certify," meaning they sign off on a form that includes information about federal student loans and other forms of financial aid. Requiring colleges to certify that they are aware of the loans, the groups argued, would help ensure that students have already maxed out their federal loan options (many private loan borrowers have not), because federal loans usually offer lower interest rates and more flexible repayment options than private loans.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 4:15am

New York University is breaking new ground in compensation for higher ed executives and star faculty members by providing loans for vacation homes, The New York Times reported. President John Sexton received $1 million in loans for a home on Fire Island, while others have received assistance to buy second homes in other prime vacation areas. The article notes that many colleges provide homes for presidents, and some institutions in places like New York City -- where housing is expensive -- provide housing assistance for many others. But the article says that help for second homes is "all but unheard-of in higher education."

John Beckman, a university spokesman, told the Times: "The purpose of our loan programs goes right to the heart of several decades of sustained and successful effort at NYU: to transform NYU from a regional university into a world-class research residential university." The loans help attract and retain talent, he said.

Among the critics of the practice quoted in the article was Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, a former president of George Washington University who has been a defender of high salaries and benefits for higher education leaders. "That’s getting to be a little too sexy even for me, and I have a good sense of humor about these things," he said. "I don’t think that’s prudent. I don’t mind paying someone a robust salary, but I think you have to be able to pass a red-face test."

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 4:20am

A former professor on Monday was named the 500th person on the "most wanted" list of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, The Los Angeles Times reported. The dubious distinction went to Walter Lee Williams, who formerly taught anthropology, gender studies and history at the University of Southern California, and won a teaching award there in 2006. He is wanted for multiple sex crimes against children abroad.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Leah Lakdawala of Michigan State University reveals how technology is allowing sex discrimination to begin before birth. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 3:00am

The Educational Testing Service today announced two new assessment tools to measure student learning. Test takers of the iSkills assessment and Proficiency Profile standard form will be able to earn an "electronic certificate which can be shared with an unlimited number of recipients in academia and beyond," the nonprofit testing organization said in a written statement. The profile assesses critical thinking, reading, writing and mathematics, while iSkills measures a student's ability to navigate and use information through digital technology. The certificates will be offered through colleges' testing programs, ETS said, as well as through StraighterLine, an online course provider.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 3:00am

Transylvania University announced Monday that R. Owen Williams will step down as president after the 2013-14 academic year. The statement from the university indicated that the board supported Williams and quoted the board chair, William T. Young Jr., as saying: “It is with regret that we accept his resignation.” Faculty members have been calling for Williams to step down, saying that he has cut them out of decision-making and in particular objecting to what they see as his applying new tenure standards to candidates before those standards were supposed to be used.


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