Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 20, 2013

The head of the group that represents North Carolina community colleges trustees is also a higher education headhunter, the Raleigh News & Observer reported this week.

The newspaper said the North Carolina Association of Community College Trustees President Donny Hunter has interests that are "difficult to untangle." The paper said tax records show Hunter is paid $105,000 to be the association's president but also received nearly $118,000 from the association for services that included headhunting. Hunter said there is not a conflict of interest.

November 19, 2013

The University of Texas at Austin’s Young Conservatives of Texas chapter says its planned “catch an illegal immigrant game” is designed to raise awareness about illegal immigration, but the idea caused a stir online Monday. Planned for Wednesday afternoon, the game involves students running around campus to apprehend “several people walking around” with the words “illegal immigrant” displayed on their clothing.

“Any UT student who catches one of these 'illegal immigrants' and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card,” the event Facebook page says. “The purpose of this event is to spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives.” More than 220 people have confirmed their plans to attend on Facebook, but at least one commenter said she only “joined” the event so she could write comments opposing it.

Texas President Bill Powers said in a statement that the event is "completely out of line" with the university's values. "Our nation continues to grapple with difficult questions surrounding immigration," Powers said. "I ask YCT to be part of that discussion but to find more productive and respectful ways to do so that do not demean their fellow students."

November 19, 2013

Sebastian Thrun, founder of the massive open online course provider Udacity, is no stranger to controversy. The Stanford University research professor and Google fellow has previously said higher education in 50 years will be provided by no more than 10 institutions worldwide, and Udacity could be one of them. Thrun dropped another bombshell last week in a profile published in Fast Company, which claimed the “godfather of free online education” had changed course. “The man who started this revolution no longer believes the hype,” the article read. Instead of teaching hundreds of thousands of students in one session, Udacity’s future could look something like the company’s partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology and AT&T to create a low-cost master’s degree.

In reality, Thrun’s shift is more nuanced. Call it a refinement -- not a loss of faith.

“I am much more upbeat than the article suggests,” Thrun said in an email to Inside Higher Ed. “Over the summer, we had students pay for services wrapped around our open classes, and the results were about [20 times] better when compared to students just taking open MOOCs. We have now built the necessary infrastructure to bring this model to more students, while keeping all materials open and free of charge as in the past.”

Some critics of Thrun’s vision interpreted the article as a bit of poetic justice:

“After two years of hype, breathless proclamations about how Udacity will transform higher education, Silicon Valley blindness to existing learning research, and numerous articles/interviews featuring Sebastian Thrun, Udacity has failed,” wrote George Siemens, associate director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University. “This is not a failure of open education, learning at scale, online learning, or MOOCs. Thrun tied his fate too early to VC funding. As a result, Udacity is now driven by revenue pursuits, not innovation.”

Beyond schadenfreude, many responses cautioned against taking the profile as a sign that Thrun was abandoning higher education:

“It’s tempting to say good riddance,” wrote Michael Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University at Vancouver.

“Thrun can’t build a bucket that doesn’t leak, so he’s going to sell sieves,” Caulfield wrote. “Udacity dithered for a bit on whether it would be accountable for student outcomes. Failures at San Jose State put an end to that. The move now is to return to the original idea: high failure rates and dropouts are features, not bugs, because they represent a way to thin pools of applicants for potential employers. Thrun is moving to an area where he is unaccountable, because accountability is hard.”

Others said the profile marked a premature obituary for MOOCs, which exploded onto the higher education stage as recently as in 2012:

“After a long period of unbridled optimism and world-changing claims about the transformative potential of MOOCs, journalists are now proclaiming that MOOCs are dead, or at the very least broken,” wrote Shriya Nevatia, an undergraduate at Tufts University. “This is extremely dangerous. Instead of companies taking their ambitious proclamations and working hard to make them true, they say that MOOCs have failed, before they’ve even had a chance.”

Among MOOC skeptics, Audrey Watters, an education writer (and blogger for Inside Higher Ed), cautioned against thinking the format is dead:

“The Fast Company article serves as the latest round in MOOC hagiography: Thrun, the patron saint of higher education disruption,” Watters wrote. “And whether you see today’s Fast Company article as indication of a ‘pivot’ or not, I think it’s a mistake to cheer this moment as Udacity’s admission of failure and as an indication that it intends to move away from university disruption.... So yeah, perhaps it’s easy for many in higher education to shrug and sigh with relief that Thrun has decided to set his sights elsewhere. But if we care about learning -- if we care about learners -- I think we need to maintain our fierce critiques about MOOCs.”

November 19, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Brian Toon of the University of Colorado Boulder reveals how a weaker sun could have supported early life on Earth. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 19, 2013

William Penn, a Michigan State University professor who lost his teaching assignments for this semester after he was caught on tape denigrating Republicans, will be back in the classroom next semester, MLive reported. Since the incident, he has been paid for non-teaching duties.

November 19, 2013

Four members of the U.S. Senate’s education committee announced Monday that they were forming a bipartisan task force to examine the impact of federal regulations on colleges and universities. Senators Lamar Alexander and Richard Burr, both Republicans, and Senators Barbara Mikulski and Michael Bennett, both Democrats, said that they were concerned some regulations were overly burdensome for institutions of higher education. The task force “will conduct a compressive review of federal regulations and reporting requirements affecting colleges and universities and make recommendations to reduce and streamline regulations, while protecting students, institutions and taxpayers,” the senators said in a statement.

Nicholas Zeppos, the chancellor of Vanderbilt University, and William Kirwan, the chancellor of the University System of Maryland, will co-chair the task force, which is to include 14 college and university presidents and higher education experts. Colleges have long complained that they are unduly burdened by an array of legislative and regulatory obligations that are often confusing and unevenly enforced by the Education Department. That argument has routinely been made by the American Council on Education, the umbrella group for higher education lobbying groups, which will provide “organizational assistance” for the task force.

Lawmakers are currently gearing up to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which expires at the end of this year. The chair of the Senate education committee, Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, has said he wants to have a draft of the legislation by early this year after the committee completes a series of 12 hearings on various higher education issues. Alexander, the panel’s senior Republican, has said he wants to “start from scratch” in rewriting the Higher Education Act so as to eliminate burdensome requirements.  

November 19, 2013

Brandeis University on Monday suspended its partnership with Al-Quds University, citing the failure of leaders at the Palestinian university to condemn a recent protest in which demonstrators used the traditional Nazi salute and honored "martyred" suicide bombers. In a statement on its website, Brandeis said that President Frederick Lawrence had acted after asking the president of Al-Quds to issue an "unequivocal condemnation" of the protests. But the statement published on the Al-Quds website -- an English translation of which the president of Al-Quds, Sari Nusseibah, sent to Brandeis -- criticized "Jewish extremists" who "spare no effort to exploit some rare but nonetheless damaging events or scenes which occur on the campus of Al Quds University," as well as calling for a respectful campus environment. Brandeis called the statement "unacceptable and inflammatory," and said it would suspend the relationship with Al-Quds.

 

 

 

 

November 18, 2013

Taylor Ashton Davis, a student at Kirkwood Community College, has been charge with assaulting a professor with whom she apparently had a relationship, The Cedar Rapids Gazette reported. She was also charged with assaulting a police officer who came to campus amid a report that student was "hitting a professor." The professor, who was not named in the police report, told authorities that he had been “in an intimate relationship that he tried to end about one year ago but has been somewhat ongoing,” according to the complaint. Kirkwood says that its faculty members “are not to develop relationships of a romantic or sexual nature with a student who is currently enrolled in his/her class or program, a student who is current receiving guidance/coaching from him/her, or an employee he/she is currently supervising.” No information was available on whether the student was enrolled in the professor's courses.

 

Taylor Ashton Davis
November 18, 2013

The squeeze that research universities are feeling because of federal budget cuts may put their credit ratings at risk, Moody's Investor Services said Friday. The rating agency did not formally change its outlook on research universities but did warn that the budget reductions, known as sequestration, are a negative development for the creditworthiness of those institutions. “Increasing pressure on federal research funding is credit negative for research universities, especially those with less-established records that will likely be less successful in securing grants in the current strained environment,” Moody’s wrote in its weekly credit outlook report. “Many universities built up their research infrastructure, both physical and faculty, in the mid-2000s, expecting increasing grants and contracts would cover the cost of their investments,” the report adds. “Now that the anticipated funding is constrained, some universities will struggle to cover the increased fixed costs, resulting in weakening operating performance.”

Moody’s cited a survey released this week that found 70 percent of large research universities had experienced funding reductions or delayed research projects due to sequestration.

Higher education and research advocates have said the sequester budget cuts, which first took effect in March, are severely detrimental to scientific discovery and the nation’s economic competitiveness. College presidents and their lobbyists in Washington are pressing lawmakers to end sequestration, which will trigger another round of across-the-board cuts in mid-January unless Congress acts to stop it. 

November 18, 2013

Rutgers University at New Brunswick, which faced a major scandal this year over a videotape showing its basketball coach mistreating players, is now being accused of failing to deal with against the defensive coordinator on its football team, NJ.com reported. A former football player and his parents say that Dave Cohen, defensive coordinator, found him in a study hall, called him a "pussy" and a "bitch," and threatened to head-butt him. Rutgers says that Cohen apologized and was reprimanded and that it thought the matter had been resolved to the player's parents' satisfaction -- statements they are now contesting.

 

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