Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, September 24, 2012 - 3:00am

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas on Friday told an audience at the University of Florida that he doesn't trust rankings of law schools and that he may have a bias against those who graduated from so-called top law schools, the Associated Press reported. Thomas is a graduate of Yale University's law school, but he said that "my new bias, which I now embrace, is that I don't eliminate the Ivies in hiring, but I intentionally prefer kids from regular backgrounds and regular  students."

He said he has been thinking about rankings since his law clerks -- graduates of law schools that aren't at the top of various rankings -- told him that they were being mocked on law blogs as "TTT," for "third-tier trash." Thomas said he doesn't believe that the best talent comes from highly ranked law schools. "I never look at those rankings. I don't even know where they are. I thought U.S. News & World Report was out of business," Thomas said. "There are smart kids every place. They are male, they are female, they are black, they're white, they're from the West, they're from the South, they're from public schools, they're from public universities, they're from poor families, they're from sharecroppers, they're from all over.... I look at the kid who shows up. Is this a kid that could work for me?"

Monday, September 24, 2012 - 3:00am

Problems with linking Internal Revenue Service data to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid have led to delays in processing financial aid applications and, in some cases, discouraged students from enrolling, according to the Council for Opportunity in Education. The council said many of its TRIO programs, which help low-income students get ready for college, have reported problems with the data retrieval tool. The tool links students', or their families', tax information directly to the FAFSA, but students who don't use it are often asked to provide a tax transcript for verification. Because the IRS and Education Department work on different schedules, getting the transcript has been an issue for some low-income students, and some TRIO programs have reported that students aren't enrolling because of problems processing their application, said Kimberly Jones, associate vice president for public policy at the council.

The National Association for Student Financial Aid Administrators said the delays have been frustrating, but they haven't heard from their members that the problems have blocked students' access to aid. Still, the problems are likely to persist, because the IRS processes some tax returns well after April 15 -- after many financial aid awards are made -- and retrieving the data will continue to be difficult. 

Monday, September 24, 2012 - 3:00am

Shirley M. Tilghman announced Saturday that she will leave the presidency of Princeton University in June, and will return to the faculty there. Tilghman has served as president since 2001, and had an unusual route to the presidency. She had been serving as the faculty-elected member of the presidential search committee when other members of the panel asked her to leave that role so she might be considered for the presidency. As Princeton's leader, she has been a national advocate for women in science and for improvements in science education, while overseeing growth in Princeton's undergraduate student body and completion of a $1.88 billion fund-raising campaign.


Monday, September 24, 2012 - 4:23am

Christopher Newport University, following a protest letter from the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia, may change its protest policy, The Daily Press reported. The university requires groups planning a protest to provide notice 10 days in advance. Last week, the university refused to grant an exception to the rule when some students wanted to protest a visit by Paul Ryan, the Republican vice presidential candidate. Ryan's visit was announced only a day in advance, so there was no way those who wanted to protest could have met the university's 10-day requirement. "It is very disconcerting that an institution of higher education, which is supposed to educate young people, has instead abridged their constitutional rights," said Claire Gastañaga, executive director of the ACLU of Virginia. In response to the ACLU letter, the university has invited the student government to propose changes in the protest rule, and has said that it will try to have changes in place soon, given that the election season may lead to other situations similar to the Ryan visit.


Monday, September 24, 2012 - 3:00am

Saylor.org, a clearinghouse for open educational resources (OER), announced on Thursday that it has teamed up with Google to offer its recently unveiled line of free online courses through Google's new massive open online course (MOOC) platform. Google leaped into the MOOC fray earlier this month with Course Builder, which it has pitched as an "open-source," do-it-yourself platform for colleges and individuals that want to adapt their courses to the trendy MOOC format.

Saylor.org, which is run by the nonprofit Saylor Foundation, recently announced it will be opening 240 peer-reviewed courses. It also announced partnerships with Excelsior College and StraighterLine that could give learners who take those courses pathways to formal college credit. Right now the Saylor courses live on their own website; the organization has not yet promised to migrate the lot of them to Google's platform -- just one for now, an introductory course in mechanics.

Google is not the only MOOC platform provider that has expressed an interest in letting other developers and course designers build freely on its code. edX, a nonprofit MOOC provider funded by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has been talking about making its own software platform similarly "open source."

Google's arrival in the fray has produced some unusual bedfellows. Peter Norvig, the company's director of research, has been involved with Udacity, a for-profit MOOC provider that grew out of an open teaching experiment Norvig led last year with Sebastian Thrun, a colleague of Norvig's at both Google and Stanford. Google has now made Norvig a figurehead for Course Builder, and he has been talking up a potential collaboration with edX. "edX shares in the open source vision for online learning platforms, and Google and the edX team are in discussions about open standards and technology sharing for course platforms," wrote Norvig in a blog post for Google.

"We're all still experimenting to find the most effective ways to offer education online," he says in a video introducing Course Builder. "And that's why we're so excited to be offering this initial set of tools: so that there will be more of us trying different approaches and learning what works."

Monday, September 24, 2012 - 4:25am

Cornell University officials are criticizing an e-mail sent to student leaders by an unknown person with the fake signature of David Skorton, the university's president. The fake e-mail appears to suggest a lack of interest in dealing with bias issues on the campus. Tommy Bruce, vice president for communications at Cornell, sent an e-mail to student leaders to tell them the alleged Skorton e-mail was a forgery. In a statement, Bruce said: "In a community of trust, that is Cornell, where our collective efforts should focused on improving the Cornell experience and lifting the climate on campus, this fraudulent behavior can have serious unintended consequences." The text of the fake e-mail can be found here.

Monday, September 24, 2012 - 3:00am

A new blog -- MLA Jobs, with the slogan "putting the AACK! back in the tenure track" -- is a parody of the sort of job postings for which job seekers hope to interview at the annual meeting of the Modern Language Association. Many of the fake ads poke fun at the increasingly complicated qualifications that departments are seeking (such as multiple, not necessarily related, specialties). Other postings take aim at recent controversies, such as the push by some trustees at the University of Virginia for the institution to expand online.

A fake ad for the university "seeks Professor of English with specialty in 'educational' technology for setting up MOOCs. Position will be responsible for attracting national attention with bombastic, unproven claims about the future of education; ideal candidate will be heavily read in David Brooks." And referring to the recent controversy over job postings that require applicants to have recent Ph.D.s, there is an ad "looking for soft, fresh faces. Stale Ph.D.s are requested to mist themselves prior to applying."

Monday, September 24, 2012 - 3:00am

The owners of the Hobby Lobby craft store chain on Friday announced that they would give a 217-acre former high school campus in western Massachusetts to the foundation for Grand Canyon University, a for-profit Christian institution. Grand Canyon will open a second on-ground campus at the site, adding to its growing campus in Phoenix and a relatively large online presence. The company hopes to enroll 5,000 students at the new campus by 2018, investing an estimated $150 million in it over five years.

Friday, September 21, 2012 - 4:23am

The University of the Philippines has barred a planned showing today of "Innocence of Muslims," the film that has sparked violent outrage in much of the Middle East, the Associated Press reported. The film was to have been screened in a course discussing freedom of expression.


Friday, September 21, 2012 - 3:00am

Adjuncts at Duquesne University’s McAnulty College and Graduate School of Liberal Arts have voted 50 to 9 to form a union, the United Steelworkers union announced Thursday. The union, the collective bargaining agent for the adjuncts, said that Duquesne administrators now have a legal duty to bargain with them. Last week, the National Labor Relations Board voted to count the ballots on the adjunct vote. The ballots were impounded following an appeal by Duquesne that the adjuncts should not be allowed to unionize because a union might affect the Roman Catholic university’s religious freedom. The NLRB decided to count the votes saying that if the effort was defeated, there would be no reason to consider the appeal. Now that the votes favor a union, the university’s appeal will go forward.


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