Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 17, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Lloyd White of Royal Holloway University discusses revisions to the map of the supercontinent Gondwana. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 17, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Congress passed legislation Wednesday night to re-open the federal government and increase the nation’s borrowing authority to avoid a default on its obligations.

Lawmakers voted to fund the government at the same level as this year through mid-January, ending a 16-day shutdown that, among other things, halted military tuition assistance and stalled a wide range of academic research.

But the measure keeps intact the automatic government spending cuts for the current fiscal year, known as sequestration, at least through January 15. Higher education advocates have blasted those cuts as detrimental to scientific research. The cuts, which took effect in March, have already reduced federal research funding by billions of dollars and prompted universities to lay off researchers and close laboratories.

Funding levels for federal research and federal student aid programs will be at stake in the budget negotiations between the House and Senate this fall, which will occur because of the deal reached Wednesday night. Those negotiations, which are also aimed at producing a long-term agreement to reduce the budget deficit, will be led by Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. 

October 17, 2013

The women's basketball coach at the College of the Holy Cross went on administrative leave Wednesday, a day after a former player filed a lawsuit accused him and the college of a pattern of physical and verbal abuse that was not stopped, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported. Bill Gibbons voluntarily stepped aside, the newspaper reported, after Ashley Cooper, who played on his team for two years, filed a lawsuit accusing him of hitting her on the back and bullying and humiliating her. The lawsuit also alleges that college officials put up with the behavior and failed to stop it. Gibbons declined comment to the newspaper, and college officials said in a statement that they had just received the lawsuit and were investigating its charges. "The physical, mental and emotional well-being of our students is our highest priority at Holy Cross," the college said in a statement explaining the coach's leave.

October 17, 2013

A faculty grievance committee at the University of North Dakota has found that an assistant professor of French was unfairly denied tenure based on her alleged lack of collegiality, the Forum of Fargo/Moorhead reported. Sarah Mosher, who has been at the university since 2008, was denied tenure last year and received a terminal contract for this academic year. The University Senate’s Standing Committee on Faculty Rights reviewed Mosher’s case during 32 hours of hearings – which were open to the public, at her request – last month. The committee delivered its report to North Dakota President Robert Kelley this week, recommending that he take a “proactive stance to resolve the underlying departmental issues surrounding this grievance.” The committee also found that the Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures Department, which recommended against Mosher’s tenure, suffered from “discord, dysfunction, chaos and interpersonal conflict.”

During hearings, witnesses said that she lacked collegiality by rolling her eyes at faculty meetings, slamming doors, being argumentative and competing for students, but performed well in the three areas required for tenure: teaching, scholarship and service. The committee found that collegiality was not an “implied” criterion, according to departmental and college policies, and that Mosher had not been intentionally disruptive to the department. Kelley has until Nov. 4 to decide whether to give Mosher another chance at applying for tenure, this time in accordance with college guidelines.

A university spokesman declined to comment on the matter, pending review by the president. Birgit Hans, the department chair, also declined to comment. Mosher could not immediately be reached for comment. Greg Scholtz, director of tenure, academic freedom and governance at the American Association of University Professors, said the organization historically opposes collegiality as a fourth tenure criterion, mainly due to the potential constraints it puts on academic freedom. It can encourage homogeneity and chill debate and discussion, AAUP says.

October 17, 2013

More than three-fourths of recent graduates in professional science master’s degree programs reported finding a job and, of those employed, 91 percent were working in a job closely or somewhat related to their field of study, according to the third annual Council of Graduate Schools’ survey.

The survey looked at the early career outcomes and job satisfaction of 490 professional master's degree holders who graduated between 2010 and 2013. Employment rates were highest among students who completed their degrees in the 2010-2011 academic year. The employment rate for 2010-2011 graduates was 91 percent; for 2011-2012 graduates, the rate was 88 percent; and, for the class of 2012-2013, the rate was 78 percent.

Of the respondents who were employed, 95 percent were working in a full-time position and a majority of the graduates from 2012-2013 reported they were working in a job that is closely or somewhat related to their field of study. The survey found that 68 percent of recent graduates who were working full-time reported earning more than $50,000 a year and that 72 percent of respondents were "very satisfied" or "generally satisfied" with the postgraduation employment prospects provided by their degree.

The professional science master’s degree programs provide students advanced training in the sciences without a Ph.D. and business skills without an M.B.A. The degree program was created in 1997 and, as of August 2013, was offered at 137 institutions. More than 5,000 professional science master's degrees have been awarded.

October 17, 2013

Following last year’s academic scandal and its continuing repercussions, a group of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill faculty members wants officials to use the nationally televised UNC-University of Miami football game tonight “to reaffirm its core values and to lead by example." In a statement obtained by Inside Higher Ed, UNC’s Athletic Reform Group made a series of “bold action” recommendations to improve athlete welfare, including addressing long-term health care needs of students who are injured in their sport, and not enrolling athletes who are underprepared academically through special admissions processes.

The statement acknowledges the budding All Players United movement, in which athletes wrote APU on their wrist tape during televised games to protest their treatment by the National Collegiate Athletic Association. The UNC group, led by Lewis Margolis, associate professor of maternal and child health, and the history professor Jay M. Smith, does not advocate for compensation for athletes. But it does argue a related point, and one that speaks to the no-show classes that were primarily filled by athletes.

“At least the university must ensure that the education offered athletes in their scholarship agreement is a bona fide university education filled with the measurable learning experiences typical of an undergraduate education at Carolina,” the statement reads. “Henceforth, the university should affirm the validity of the scholarship agreement by attaching the provost’s signature to the contract.”

October 17, 2013

Fast Company's Co.Exist reports on the unlikely home-to-be of a professor at Huston-Tillotson University: a 33-square-foot dumpster in Austin, Tex., where the university is located. Jeff Wilson, dean of the University College and associate professor of biological sciences, has taken on the alter ego of Professor Dumpster for the Dumpster Project, which aims to get students thinking about sustainable environmental practices. As part of the project, Wilson sold most of his belongings for $1 apiece and has been living (secretly) in his office at the university, but decided to make the move into the dumpster (which he plans to do soon) to give students a project: "to ultimately show one can have a pretty good life in a dumpster,” according to Co.Exist.

In addition to giving his students that challenge, Wilson and the project have created a curriculum they will use to educate elementary and secondary school students on environmental issues, focused on the Professor Dumpster character (think Bill Nye the Science Guy).

October 16, 2013

The agency that accredits community colleges in California and Hawaii is facing criticism for encouraging officials at the colleges it accredits to write letters of support on its behalf in the accreditor's battle with the U.S. Education Department, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, part of the Western Association of Colleges and Schools, was reprimanded by the federal agency in August after the accreditor threatened to terminate the accreditation of City College of San Francisco, among the country's largest institutions. In response to a complaint filed by unions affiliated with the San Francisco institution, department officials found the commission out of compliance with several of its rules, and ordered a review.

According to the Los Angeles Times article, officials of the accrediting commission sent an Oct. 8 letter urging business officers at California's community colleges to sent the agency "letters of support" that it could forward on to the Education Department. Union officials called the request inappropriate; the commission's president defended it."The 133 colleges that are members of ACCJC have an interest in helping to ensure their accrediting body achieves renewal of federal recognition," Barbara Beno, the commission's president, said in an e-mail to the newspaper.

October 16, 2013

City College of San Francisco, fighting for its life amid an accreditor's call to shut it down, will announced today the hiring of an experienced administrator and antiterrorism expert as its first permanent chancellor in 18 months, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. The hiring of Arthur Q. Tyler, former president of Sacramento City College and a former state-appointed trustee at another California community college, Compton College, comes at a time when the 80,000-student San Francisco institution is reporting to a special trustee as it challenges a decision by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges to strip its accreditation, citing significant financial and management problems.

Today's announcement of a new chancellor is another step cited by state community college leaders as evidence -- marshaled to try to make the case to the accrediting agency -- that the institution has made significant progress in responding to the many issues it cited.

October 16, 2013

Students at the American Public University System have dropped 13,100 course registrations this month largely because the partial government shutdown has halted tuition assistance to active-duty service members, the university’s parent company disclosed to investors on Tuesday. The company, American Public Education, Inc., said that registration for October classes has declined by 20 percent compared to the same month last year.  

American Public is one of the largest recipients of federal money that subsidizes tuition for active-duty service members. Active-duty military personnel take typically take between one and 1.5 courses at a time, a company spokesman said. 

Since the shutdown began on October 1, branches of the armed forces have not processed existing applications for tuition assistance or authorized new requests.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University also said Tuesday that its enrollment of active-duty service members in October classes had fallen by about 37 percent -- 1,459 students -- compared with the same month last year. A spokeswoman for the university said it was unclear whether the suspension of tuition assistance had caused the decrease. Some institutions, such as Ashford University, Southern New Hampshire University and Northeastern University, have said they would cover the amount of financial aid that active-duty service members would have received from the Pentagon. Kaplan University also announced on Tuesday it would provide that benefit to affected students.

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