Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 5, 2014

Educational Testing Service this week announced that it is offering digital badges that students can earn by taking two assessments the group released last year. Those tests -- the Proficiency Profile and iSkills assessments -- seek to measure what students learn in college. They are not designed to be used by employers, for now at least. But they might have job market potential at some point.

Now students can earn digital badges based on their performance on the two assessments. For example, badges are linked to all four skill areas the Proficiency Profile measures: mathematics, writing, reading and critical thinking. The badges can be added to a Mozilla "backpack" and shared with an "unlimited number of recipients in academia and beyond," ETS said in a news release.

February 5, 2014

Radford University announced Tuesday that it is adding women's lacrosse, but cutting three other teams, The Roanoke Times reported. The teams being cut are women's field hockey, women's swimming and diving, and men's track and field. The university said that the changes were part of a "realignment" to improve athletic offerings, but those associated with teams being cut said they were dismayed.

February 5, 2014

A group of 50 organizations has written to officials at the White House and U.S. Department of Education to "urge the administration to issue promptly a stronger, more effective" set of gainful employment regulations. The group includes higher-education associations, faculty unions, consumer advocates and veterans organizations.

In December a panel of department-appointed negotiators failed to reach consensus on the proposed rules, which would affect vocational programs at for-profit institutions and community colleges. The department is expected to issue its final draft standards in coming months. A period of public comment will follow their release.

February 5, 2014

Jeff Wilson, associate professor of biological sciences at Huston-Tillotson University, moved into a dumpster Tuesday, planning to live there for a year. Working with students, he plans to show how one could live in a dumpster, using much less space and energy than Americans typically consume. “The overarching goal ... is to test whether one can have a pretty good life while treading lightly on the planet — all from a dumpster that is 1 percent the size of the average new American home,” he said.

February 5, 2014

A bill pending in the New York Assembly that would prohibit the use of state aid to fund or pay membership dues to academic organizations that endorse the academic boycott of Israel was withdrawn from consideration by that body’s Higher Education Committee on Monday, The Albany Times Union reported. A spokesman for the bill’s sponsor, the Assembly speaker, Sheldon Silver, told the newspaper, “We are addressing some concerns with the bill." The spokesman did not elaborate further.

The move comes days after a similar bill passed the New York Senate by a wide margin. Similar legislation has also been filed in Maryland, prompting a renewed statement of protest from the American Association of University Professors on Tuesday.

“While it is the position of the AAUP that academic boycotts contravene the principles of academic freedom, the Association has nevertheless asserted that it is 'the right of individual faculty members or groups of academics not to cooperate with other individual faculty members or academic institutions with whom or with which they disagree,' the association said in the statement. “Legislative interference in academic decision-making and with the freedom of scholars to associate and exchange views with their peers is even more dangerous than the academic boycotts this legislation is intended to oppose. That is because this legislation undermines constitutionally protected academic speech and debate in order to promote a particular viewpoint.”

The New York and Maryland bills were introduced after the American Studies Association endorsed a controversial boycott of Israeli universities in December. The American Studies Association has also issued a statement condemning the New York anti-boycott bill.

February 5, 2014

The Middle East Studies Association’s Committee on Academic Freedom has weighed in on the case of Emad Shahin, a prominent political scientist whose indictment on charges of espionage and subversion last month made international headlines. As The New York Times has reported, Shahin, who has taught at the American University of Cairo, Harvard University and the University of Notre Dame, was charged along with former President Mohamed Morsi and several other senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders with conspiring with foreign organizations to undermine Egypt’s national security. He was the second scholar to be targeted in what The Times described as a crackdown on critics of last summer’s military take-over.

Shahin, the editor of the Oxford Encyclopedia of Islam and Politics, called the charges “baseless,” politically motivated,” and “beyond preposterous” and said he had never been a member or supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“Dr. Shahin is well known in both Egypt and the United States as a critic of the authoritarian policies and practices of the Egyptian state. He has been a consistent voice for democracy, pluralism and the rule of law throughout the political tumult in Egypt since January 2011,” the Committee on Academic Freedom wrote in a letter to Egypt's Minister of Justice. “We agree, therefore, with Dr. Shahin when he surmises that his 'true offense' is that he has been vocal in his criticism of 'the course of political events in Egypt since last summer.' We are deeply concerned that his indictment signals a decision on the part of the Egyptian state to hound all of its political opponents—regardless of partisan or ideological affiliation — and thereby suppress political dissent.”
 

February 5, 2014

Business and academic leaders and philanthropists on Tuesday unveiled TheDream.US, a program to provide scholarships to undocumented immigrants who qualify for the Obama administration's deferred action initiative. The new program awarded an initial 39 scholarships to recipients, who must have financial need and meet academic requirements both prior to and after receiving the grants and have financial need. Undocumented immigrants are ineligible to receive federal financial aid and are barred from many state programs as well.

A dozen colleges and universities have signed on to the program at its start. They are Borough of Manhattan Community College, Bronx Community College and Kingsborough Community College in New York, part of the City University of New York; California State University at Long Beach, El Paso Community College, Long Beach City College, Miami Dade College, Mount Washington College, South Texas College, Trinity Washington University, and the University of Texas-Pan American and University of Texas at El Paso.

February 5, 2014

Representative Rob Andrews of New Jersey, one of the top Democrats on the House education committee, announced Tuesday that he was resigning from Congress later this month.

Andrews told supporters that he was leaving Congress to join a Philadelphia-based law firm. He told The New York Times that his decision had nothing to do with an ethics investigation into his alleged misuse of his campaign funds.

Andrews has been a longtime supporter of for-profit colleges in Washington, especially compared with some of his Democratic colleagues in the Senate who have been critical of the sector. He most recently joined a letter expressing concern over the Obama administration’s efforts to impose “gainful employment” regulations on the industry.  

Andrews's resignation follows the announcement last month by Representative George Miller, the top Democrat on the House education panel, that he will not seek re-election at the end of this year. 

February 5, 2014

In today's Academic Minutes, Jennifer Neal of Michigan State University reveals the assumptions that many children have about friendship and gender. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 4, 2014

George Washington University has opted not to move ahead with building a campus in China. Under the leadership of the university’s former business school dean and vice president for China operations, Doug Guthrie, the university had explored the possibility of seeking approval from the Chinese Ministry of Education to develop a campus in partnership with the University of International Business and Economics, in Beijing. (Only five Western universities, including Duke, Kean and New York Universities, in the U.S., have such approval.). Guthrie was fired from his administrative posts in August for budget overages.

“The university did not have a formal plan to build a campus in China,” the university’s provost, Steven Lerman, said in a statement. “We had been looking at a variety of options, and with the help of a faculty advisory group, we decided instead to enhance existing partnerships such as our new Confucius Institute and study abroad programs."

In an interview, Guthrie said he believed the administration’s decision to be a result of pushback from the Faculty Senate. “It’s fully within the right of the administration and the faculty to decide what direction they want to go, but my hope is that universities will go as deep into relationships with China as they can,” said Guthrie, who’s now a professor of international business and management at George Washington. “That was always my vision.”

The decision not to build a China campus was first reported by the student newspaper, The GW Hatchet

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