Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, February 2, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Joseph Chandler, assistant professor of psychology at Birmingham-Southern College, explains how even music written to make you snooze may play only a small part in the actual process of dozing off. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, February 1, 2016 - 3:00am

It's probably for the best that Voltaire (at right) isn't around to see what's going on in the best of all possible states, by which we mean Kentucky. The new Republican governor, Matt Bevin, told reporters last week that he wants to change funding formulas for public higher education so that colleges and universities receive more money for study in fields like engineering and less for others.

"There will be more incentives to electrical engineers than French literature majors. There just will," Bevin (left) told reporters, the Associated Press reported. "All the people in the world that want to study French literature can do so, they are just not going to be subsidized by the taxpayer."

Bevin's comments are similar to those of presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush, both from Florida, who have questioned liberal arts majors such as philosophy and psychology, respectively.

Jeffrey N. Peters, a professor of French literature at the University of Kentucky, responded to his governor's proposal with an essay in The Lexington Herald-Leader in which he charged that Bevin was trying to have the government, not students, decide what to study. Further, Peters noted that language graduates go on to many careers, including business, in which they use the skills they learn (even if they aren't speaking, for example, French) in their jobs. "At this moment of rapid globalization, majors in our department learn to become well-rounded citizens of the world, both by studying abroad and by studying the world’s great thinkers and artists, ancient and modern, Eastern and Western," Peters wrote. "They learn to speak and write effectively in both English and their chosen world language, and they come to understand the importance for their future professional lives of thoughtful communication and confident self-presentation."

The governor has indicated that he's fine if private colleges offer French literature. That distinction may be relevant given that Peters pointed out the governor's undergraduate major at (private) Washington and Lee University: Japanese and East Asian studies.

Monday, February 1, 2016 - 4:18am

Two students at Virginia Tech have been charged in the death of a 13-year-old local girl, The Washington Post reported. One student is charged in the abduction and murder of the girl. The other Virginia Tech student is charged with helping to dispose of the body.

The arrests stunned people at Virginia Tech. The Post could not reach family members of the arrested students, who are being held in jail.

Monday, February 1, 2016 - 3:00am

Melissa Click, a faculty member in communications at the University of Missouri at Columbia, has reached a deal to avoid third-degree assault charges she faced in connection with blocking a student journalist from access to a protest in a public space on campus, The Kansas City Star reported. Click will avoid prosecution in return for a year of probation and 20 hours of community service. Prosecutors said the deal was similar to those offered to similar offenders.

Monday, February 1, 2016 - 3:00am

An arbitrator has ruled that the University of Southern Maine and the University of Maine System did not violate their contract with a faculty union when Southern Maine laid off 26 instructors in 2014, the university system said in a news release. According to system officials, the arbitrator concluded that Southern Maine acted reasonably and with an "excess of caution" when it imposed the layoffs amid significant financial strain. Maine officials acknowledged that the arbitrator ruled that the university acted prematurely in the dismissal of one faculty member.

“We are grateful the arbitrator affirmed the hard but necessary work former President Flanagan and his team did to reduce expenses at the University of Southern Maine,” said James H. Page, chancellor of the University of Maine System. “We look forward to continuing our collaboration with our faculty to improve university scholarship, research and service to Maine.”

Representatives of Southern Maine's faculty union could not be reached for comment about the arbitrator's ruling. But the union's president, Susan Feiner, a professor of economics at the university, told the Portland Press Herald, “While this is not the decision [the union] hoped for, we are glad the decision has been published. The faculty will continue to put students’ interests first. Students, their families and the state of Maine suffer when departments are closed and full-time faculty stripped out of departments. If UMaine System managers hope to recruit and retain students, they must invest in faculty who deliver world-class education. This decision is a serious blow to the academic reputation and future vitality of all UM universities.”

Monday, February 1, 2016 - 3:20pm

The American Association of State Colleges and Universities this week announced a project to work with 44 of its member institutions to substantially change students' experience during their first year of college. The project is aimed at improving college completion rates, with a particular eye at helping low-income and first-generation college students, as well as members of minority groups. The public university group said the work would feature several proven methods of improving student retention and success.

"We know a lot of things that work," said George Mehaffy, the association's vice president for academic leadership and change. "The logical place to start was the first year."

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and USA Funds are contributing funds to the project. The work will include a focus on "institutional intentionality," Mehaffy said, such as through changes to the administrative structure and budgeting process of participating colleges. It also will include elements of curriculum redesign and changes to the roles of faculty members, staff and students.

One likely outcome, said Mehaffy, would be degree maps and narrower, more defined pathways for students to get to graduation.

"There are too many choices for students," he said, which can be "paralyzing."

(Note: This article was taken down temporarily to comply with an embargo.)

Monday, February 1, 2016 - 3:00am

The University of California has acknowledged in court documents that its negligence played a role in the 2014 death of a UC-Berkeley football player who collapsed after a strenuous workout, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The university acknowledged its liability in the death of Ted Agu, whose family has sued the institution. University officials told the newspaper that they declined to contest liability so they could focus attention on compensating the family fairly.

The documents were obtained by an investigative reporting program at the university and shared with the San Francisco newspaper.

Monday, February 1, 2016 - 3:00am

Cornell University's Board of Trustees voted to establish a College of Business, the university announced Saturday.

The new College of Business will include Cornell’s three existing accredited business programs: the School of Hotel Administration, the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, and the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. Cornell administrators hope the decision will spur more collaboration between the schools while also strengthening the university’s reputation.

The decision came amid protests from Cornell faculty and alumni. After the change was first announced, a group of alumni created a petition in opposition to the idea, some saying that it would affect their donations to Cornell. And the Faculty Senate, worried about shared governance issues with the program being created before academic issues had been determined, asked the Board of Trustees to table the proposal. Instead, the board voted unanimously in favor of the change.

Many of the details of the new college -- like governance and academic processes -- will be finalized over the next few months by leaders and faculty members from the three existing schools.

Monday, February 1, 2016 - 3:00am

President Obama announced Saturday that his next budget will include new funds and programs to promote computer science education in elementary and secondary schools, with the goal that all students in those schools should be exposed to computer science. While the focus is on K-12 education, colleges and universities are expected to be involved in some of the efforts, particularly those on teacher training. The Bootstrap program by Brown University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute is expected to be involved.

Monday, February 1, 2016 - 3:00am

Non-tenure-track faculty members at Wells College -- full time and part time -- have voted to unionize and to be represented by the Service Employees International Union, The Ithaca Times reported. The SEIU is attempting to organize adjuncts in common geographic regions. In May, adjuncts at nearby Ithaca College voted to unionize with SEIU.


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