Higher Education Quick Takes
Xavier University of Louisiana is planning layoffs and other cuts to deal with a $5 million deficit created when fewer students enrolled this year than had been expected, The Times-Picayune reported. At this point, faculty members will not be subject to layoffs. The university is cutting its contribution to all employees' health insurance. Enrollment this fall is 3,178, down more than 200 from last fall, and below the 3,300-3,400 estimates the university made for the year. Officials blame the poor economy and tighter student loan eligibility rules for the decline.
The Common Application has been facing criticism from some high school counselors and college admissions officials over two changes being made: the elimination of a "free choice" essay topic, and an announcement that the essay maximum of 500 words will be strictly enforced. On Tuesday, the Common Application issued a letter defending the changes. The association said that applicants would have five essay prompts "that will allow students to thoughtfully and creatively write about themselves and their interests." The letter predicted that once the prompts are announced, people will see that applicants have plenty of options. On the length limit, the Common Application noted that colleges can (and some do) have applicants fill out supplemental forms, with essays of whatever length is acceptable to the colleges. The letter notes that Common Application members have varying ideas about essay length, but that some institutions lack the resources to review long essays or see longer essays as "a hurdle for applicants."
The American Association of University Professors has written an open letter expressing its growing concerns about Yale University’s planned joint campus with the National University of Singapore. The letter raises the fundamental question of “whether academic freedom, and the personal freedoms that are a necessary prerequisite to its exercise, can in fact be sustained on a campus within what is a substantially authoritarian regime.”
Yale professors have raised similar concerns about Yale-NUS College in the past, in addition to criticizing the process through which the liberal arts college was approved: Yale faculty never took a vote. The AAUP’s letter calls on the Yale Corporation to release all documents and agreements related to Yale-NUS, arguing that this is the only way through which “a healthy atmosphere for shared governance” can begin to be restored. The association also raises 16 specific questions that it says should be discussed in open forums. These deal largely with restrictions on speech and individual freedoms in Singapore and include: "What risks to students and faculty are inherent in forms of campus speech, from Internet postings and email messages to broadcast lectures, that may be critical of the government, its laws, and its officials, including members of the Singapore judiciary?" "Can Yale-NUS community email be protected from government surveillance, even if email is sent unencrypted?" and "What risks to students, staff, and faculty with various sexual orientations are posed by Singapore's laws?" (Singapore criminalizes gay sex.)
Yale-NUS' president, Pericles Lewis, said the letter only recently came to his attention. In a statement, he reaffirmed that "academic freedom will be a bedrock principle of the college." Lewis' statement does not address restrictions on speech and personal freedoms specific to the Singaporean context, but states that the college's personnel practices are being developed based on its policies of academic freedom and non-discrimination.
Officials at Pennsylvania State University are condemning a party by Chi Omega sorority at which members wore sombreros and fake mustaches and held signs saying "Will mow lawn for weed and beer" and "I don't cut grass, I smoke it," WTAJ News reported. A blog published a photograph of the event, setting off debate over the party.
About 150 Emory University students rallied in the institution's quad Tuesday afternoon to protest program cuts that the university's College of Arts and Sciences announced in September. In a news release, protesters said the administration was not taking time to listen to their concerns. Administrators disputed that charge, saying they had sponsored forums and that the university has not moved forward on any changes since the September announcement. The university's president met with a small group of protesters for more than two hours Tuesday afternoon to discuss their concerns.
An article in The New York Times looks at a growing student movement to push colleges to sell their endowment holdings in fossil fuel, coal and oil companies. To organizers, such moves are seen as a way to combat climate change. With a few exceptions -- such as the 1980s movement to sell stocks of companies doing business in apartheid-era South Africa -- colleges have generally resisted moves to use their endowment holdings to encourage causes. Two small colleges -- Unity College and Hampshire College -- have adopted policies that will end investments in fossil fuels, but institutions with large endowments have thus far declined to get behind the new movement.
About a dozen students occupying the clock tower at Cooper Union, protesting the decision by the president of one of the last remaining institutions to offer students a tuition-free education to take it off that short list. The students, who began their protest Monday, vowed Tuesday to remain until their list of demands, including the president’s resignation and a hiring freeze, are met. The occupation is the latest action by students unhappy with the steps taken by President Jamshed Bharucha, who said in April that the institution would start charging for some new graduate programs, and might start charging tuition for all students after 2013. Police have been in and out of the clock tower, and Bharucha said in a statement Tuesday that his first priority is the safety of the students, whose full tuition is covered through scholarships. Faculty members held a press conference at the site Tuesday afternoon, reaffirming their support for a tuition-free college.
In today’s Academic Minute, Sera Young of Cornell University explores why some pregnant women experience a compulsion to eat odd things. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
Faculty and student leaders who have expressed a lack of confidence in the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, president of Saint Louis University, had been trying to patch things up with the president and the board, which backs him. But The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a leaked memo to trustees has inflamed tensions. In the letter, posted to the Facebook group "SLU Students for No Confidence," the board chair urges fellow trustees not to talk to the press and to trust the advice of an outside public relations firm hired to help calm the situation. Comments posted to the site suggest that Father Biondi's critics are furious at the idea that the controversy at the university is a situation that can be managed by image consultants.
Wellesley College is joining edX, one of the primary providers of massive online open courses, or MOOCs, The Boston Globe reported. Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said that the college will try to preserve some of the features of liberal arts colleges in its four MOOCs to be offered through edX. The courses will allow instructors to divide classes into small groups for discussions. "We want to create the aura of a small-group setting, so that students can discuss among themselves," Agarwal said. To date, research universities have dominated the MOOC space. edX's other members are Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas System. Of the 33 institutions that offer MOOCs through Coursera, only one -- Wesleyan University -- is a liberal arts college.