Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 25, 2013

Thomas F. Rosenbaum, provost of the University of Chicago, was on Thursday named as the next president of the California Institute of Technology. Rosenbaum is a physicist and the Caltech announcement said that his involvement in both undergraduate and graduate education was crucial to his appointment.

 

October 25, 2013

Lesley University adjuncts announced their intent to unionize Thursday under the auspices of the Service Employees International Union, which is driving a larger unionization movement across the Boston metropolitan area. The SEIU is mobilizing adjuncts across other metro regions, including Washington. Tufts University adjuncts voted in favor of a union last month, but Bentley University adjuncts voted against a union, they announced this week.

"By strengthening the support for part-time faculty we will improve the educational experience, and as a result advance enrollment and retention," Stella Johnson, adjunct professor of photography at Lesley, said in a news release. "We look forward to working together with the administration to solving the issues that confront our campus and profession and give higher education a brighter future."

Jack Dempsey, a longtime adjunct professor of English and public speaking at Bentley and part of the organizing committee there, said he was surprised and disappointed by the outcome -- 100 votes against and 98 for -- but said that Bentley adjuncts and SEIU were planning to appeal the decision. Because the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1, preceded the voting deadline of Oct. 3, it's possible that more "yes" votes arrived at the National Labor Relations Board Office by the deadline but could not be certified as timely and counted by the time the shutdown ended, he said. Adjuncts at Bentley want equal pay for equal work compared with tenure-track professors; health care insurance coverage; and "contract rights," including hiring preferences for veteran adjuncts and compensation for courses canceled at the last minute.

October 25, 2013

A new survey of how domestic Canadian students experience the internationalization of the campus by a Toronto-based consultancy finds mixed results. 

Of the 1,398 students surveyed by Higher Education Strategy Associates, 43 percent counted at least one international student among the five closest friends they made at university. Overall, the study found that students generally have positive attitudes toward the diversity that international students bring to their social lives and the classroom. 

However, the study also identified a number of tensions. Roughly half of respondents agreed with the statement that the presence of international students has considerably enriched their classroom learning experience. However, roughly a third said there have been occasions in which having international students in class hindered their learning experience.

Students in business and the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields – which attract large numbers of students from overseas – were least likely to agree that international students had enriched their learning experience. Across all fields of study, students who had a close international friend were more likely to say that international students enriched the classroom experience.

As for the issue of international instructors and teaching assistants, 70 percent of students said they took a course with an international instructor or T.A. who was difficult to comprehend because of his or her English or French ability (the survey is of domestic Canadian students, recall). And 32 percent said an instructor's language level had negatively impacted their ability to succeed in a course.

“None of this should be taken as an argument against internationalization,” the report concludes. “Rather, it suggests two things: first, that the values of internationalization are still in many ways adopted only superficially by Canadian students, and require strengthening. And second, that not enough attention is being paid to the dislocations caused by internationalization, particularly with respect to instructors’ official language abilities. Mitigating those problems is likely key to sustaining students’ support for internationalization over the long run; without it, the large minorities who have had less than positive experiences with campus internationalization could turn into majorities, and the resulting discontent could imperil the entire process."

October 25, 2013

The teaching assistant at the University of Iowa who mistakenly sent nude photographs of herself to her class is no longer leading the section, the Associated Press reported. The photos were sent as an attachment that was apparently meant to be a file with the answers to homework problems. The university said that the TA is still employed, but is performing non-teaching duties.

October 25, 2013
Faculty members housed in several main academic buildings at the University of Dayton were surprised Thursday to receive an e-mail from the institution telling them to take down "homemade" and "personal" signs on their office doors and in hallways, lest they be removed by maintenance personnel. Some faculty members said it was a violation of academic freedom, fearing they were being censored. "This includes information about campus events (e.g. a talk) and photos of historic figures (Nelson Mandela or Adrienne Rich), articles from newspapers, as well as anything that would note advocacy (and safe place) for any group/individual who needs it," one professor wrote in an e-mail to an academic listserv. "Is this happening at other universities you work at? How do I fight back?"
 
But Cilla Shindell, university spokeswoman, said the e-mail, sent at the request of campus maintenance, was merely a reminder of existing guidance that faculty members should install small bulletin boards instead of hanging things directly on doors or walls in those buildings, which were refurbished several years ago. Greg Scholtz, director of tenure, academic and governance for the American Association of University Professors, said the organization has no policy related to wall or door hangings, and a university policy against them would violate academic freedom only if it was a form of censorship. Still, said Carolyn Roecker Phelps, associate professor of psychology and president of Dayton's Academic Senate, "Personally, I do think it detracts from what we consider the life of the university. ...You can see it when you walk down the hallways. Where there are things posted on doors there are exchanges happening. Even without the person being [in his or her office], it adds a richness I think will be lost."
October 25, 2013

Career Education Corporation, a major for-profit higher education chain, on Thursday announced the sale of its European education properties to a private equity firm. The company said it expects to receive $277 million in cash for the deal, which includes all of the for-profit's international schools division. Career Education's share price shot up 51 percent after it announced the news.

October 25, 2013

The University of Kansas has ended the suspension of a professor whose Twitter comment about the National Rifle Association angered many -- but the professor will not be returning to class this year. David Guth "has been assigned additional non-classroom responsibilities in the William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications for the remainder of the semester, including various service and administrative assignments," said a statement from the university. "Those assignments will be completed away from campus to the greatest extent possible. The decision, made by Provost Jeffrey Vitter and approved by Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little, is based on the recommendation of a seven-member committee of faculty and staff, assembled at the chancellor’s request. The committee was asked to assess the current environment and recommend whether Guth could return from administrative leave without disrupting the student learning environment."

 

October 25, 2013

As his lawyers warned he would, Evan S. Dobelle sued Westfield State University trustees and other officials Thursday challenging his being placed on leave a week ago, Masslive reported. Dobelle's lawsuit -- which follows Westfield State's decision last week to push him out amid allegations of misspending of state money -- accuses several trustees and the state's commissioner of higher education, Richard M. Freeland, and others of conducting a "guerrilla war" to force him from his job.

October 25, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Stephanie Pau of Florida State University explains why tropical forests may already have all the heat the ecosystem can tolerate. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

October 25, 2013

A major bank is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit filed against it by the University of Arizona Foundation and a major university donor that blame the bank for its role in an offshore tax shelter they all had stake in and the federal government later cracked down on.

The foundation and Karl Eller, a major donor who is the namesake of the university’s business school, claim in federal court they were duped by a number of financial advisers, including UBS, into investing in a “sham tax shelter.”

Eller and his wife invested more than $30 million in Cayman Island’s tax shelters and then donated part of their stake to the university foundation. Now, the Ellers and the foundation are seeking unspecified damages from UBS after the I.R.S. cracked down on the deal. Tax documents introduced into the court file by UBS show federal tax officials sought a tax adjustment from the foundation, but it's unclear what the foundation lost in the deal, if anything, because the foundation earlier this month declined to comment or to specify what sort of monetary damages it is claiming to have suffered.

In a federal court filing Thursday, UBS said the lawsuit should be dismissed because, among other things, the Ellers have failed to make their case. UBS also notes that the Ellers were told there was a 30 percent chance the I.R.S. would frown on the deal before the Ellers made their multimillion-dollar investment.

UBS's court filing also said the University of Arizona Foundation has failed to make any claim against UBS in the litigation. 

At the heart of the deal is the a complex financial instrument known as a contingent deferred swap, which the Ellers opted to use in an effort to reduce their tax liability and free up money they could turn over to the university foundation. A U.S. Senate investigation described the swaps as ways to generate “phony paper losses for taxpayers, using a series of complex, orchestrated transactions, structured finance, and investments with little or no profit potential.” The “phony paper losses” could then be used to reduce an investor’s tax burden.

The Ellers have given university or the foundation more than $23 million over the years. 

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