Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 4, 2013

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a “Humanities Report Card” Tuesday to accompany its earlier, lengthier Heart of the Matter report on the state of the humanities and social sciences. The academy described the report card as a “snapshot of the current data illustrating where the humanities are today.”

The report card is made up of infographics, data for which mainly were drawn from the academy’s existing Humanities Indicators statistical database. John Tessitore, director of programming for the academy, said the document is meant to be accessible to the general public, which has taken a keen interest in the original report, as well as academics and others involved in the humanities. It’s also meant to drive traffic to the Humanities Indicators, he said, which paint a much more detailed, data-driven portrait of the humanities in schools, colleges, work and other aspects of American life.

The Heart of the Matter, released in June, argued for more investment in the humanities and social sciences, citing their value in shaping an informed electorate and in helping students prepare for careers – not just jobs.

The report card is divided into several sections, including “The Value of the Humanities,” “Signs of Health” and “Challenges.”

Positive indicators include:

  • 84 percent of humanities majors are satisfied with their choice of major.
  • 19 percent of members of Congress majored in the humanities; 37 percent majored in the social sciences.
  • Three out of four employers say they want new hires with “precisely the sorts of skills that the humanities teach: critical thinking, complex problem-solving, as well as written and oral communication.”
  • Between 2000 and 2009, humanities majors scored 9 percent higher on the Graduate Management Admissions Test than did business majors.
  • Despite reports on declining numbers of humanities majors since the 1960s, the number of bachelor’s degrees in the humanities has grown since its nadir in the 1980s, with more than 185,000 degrees reported in each year from 2009 to 2011.

Negative indicators include:

  • The gap between average math and verbal scores on the SAT is growing.
  • Only 13 percent of college students learn “critical need” languages for international security and global competitiveness.
  • Reading for pleasure declined 11 percent from 1992 to 2008.
  • U.S. high school students ranked 10th in a recent international reading assessment.
  • In 2011, humanities research received only 0.48 percent of the amount of research and development funds dedicated to science and engineering in higher education.

Advocates of the humanities praised the document.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, in an e-mail commended the academy for its statistical focus on the past two decades, noting that some of the conversations about the so-called decline of the humanities have relied on outdated data or historical scopes that don't illuminate current realities. Based on the data, there are things to celebrate about the state of the humanities, and causes for concern, she added.

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said it shows "why humanities education benefits individuals and their communities. And then it tells us what we are accomplishing in that area, and what we are not."

Beyond the statistics, he said, it's important to consider much of the general public "knows the landscape" underlying the report card, and ways to improve it. "I suspect there is a broad consensus on the importance of young children being read to by their parents; and then having qualified teachers as they get older," he said in an e-mail, referring to statistics in the report. "And when these things aren't happening enough we have to publicize that deficiency in our public culture. We also need to be prepared to suggest ideas for improvement. President Obama cannot issue an executive order requiring parents or older siblings to read to young children. How do we encourage such activity? What sorts of professional development and hiring policies do we need to increase the number of students who learn history from qualified teachers?"



September 4, 2013

Governor Jerry Brown has, since his inauguration in January of 2011, yet to appoint a member to the University of California Board of Regents, even though 5 of the 18 spots are vacant, The Los Angeles Times reported. Three of the positions have been open for 18 months. The vacancies are surprising to some because Governor Brown has attended board meetings and spoken out on university issues more than many governors have in the past, so he is clearly interested in the university system. Further, the seats are generally considered to be among the political plums available to a governor. A spokesman said that the governor was aware of the vacancies and focused on finding the best candidates.


September 4, 2013

The University of California at Irvine, ed tech company Instructure and entertainment network AMC will this fall come together to offer a free, eight-week-long online course based on the hit TV show "The Walking Dead." LINK WILL GO ONLINE TOMORROW

Instructure will provide the class, called "Society, Science, Survival: Lessons from AMC’s 'The Walking Dead,' " through its MOOC platform, Canvas Network. Brian Whitmer, co-founder of Instructure, said the company came up with the idea after casting about for ideas about how to infuse its online course offerings with pop culture. "We have a lot of fans at the company," Whitmer said. "There was overwhelming feedback that this would be 'freaking awesome.’ "

Each module of the course will use examples seen in the first three seasons of the show and tie it to topic areas including mathematics, physics, public health and social sciences. Even though the course uses clips and other materials provided by AMC, lecturer Sarah E. Eichhorn said she is not concerned that the company's involvement affects the course's integrity. "I just saw this as a venue to promote my discipline and share some interesting mathematics," Eichhorn said. "No money is exchanging hands on any sides."

UC-Irvine was announced as a major Coursera partner in September 2012. Melissa Loble, assistant dean of distance education, said the partnership with Instructure represents another avenue for the institution to experiment with online education.

"We’ve used Coursera in the past because that’s where an opportunity came to us," Loble said. "We really believe in experimenting with all MOOC providers."

The class "meets" for the first time on Oct. 14 -- one day after the first episode of the fourth season airs.

September 3, 2013

The University of Cambridge has ended the use of gender-specific rules for attire in graduation ceremonies, The Telegraph reported. Until now, men were required to wear suits, and women a dress or skirt. Now, all students have those options, and must also be neatly dressed. Students pushed for the changes, saying that the old rules were unfair to those who did not want to wear clothing associated with traditional gender identities.


September 3, 2013

A professor of psychology at Central Michigan University is on paid leave, facing embezzlement charges. Justin Dohoon Oh-Lee is accused of creating aliases to collect more than $35,000 in subject stipends from Parkinson’s disease research he oversaw, the Morning Sun reported. He allegedly used the funds to gamble at casinos across the country, including in Las Vegas. A senior university auditor found irregularities in Oh-Lee’s professional development account in April and contacted police, according to the report. Another university official noticed suspicious activity in an account related to Oh-Lee’s research in November 2012.

Oh-Lee is out on bail. He did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

In an e-mail, a university spokesman said the institution is aware of the charges against Oh-Lee, and is conducting an internal investigation as it continues to cooperate with outside legal authorities concerning the case.

September 3, 2013

Jennifer J. Raab, president of Hunter College of the City University of New York, has had considerable success with fund-raising and building projects, The New York Times reported. But she has also seen rapid turnover in key positions, especially in the College of Arts and Sciences. One assistant dean departed with a letter accusing her of "personal attacks and a culture of fear and mistrust." Raab defended her management of the college, and said that critics were outliers.


September 3, 2013

A survey of 3,700 scientists across disciplines has found large numbers reporting that their research and the way they spend their time have been severely affected by the across-the-board budget cuts ordered by Congress. The survey -- conducted by the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular in collaboration with other science groups -- reported the following findings, among others:

  • 18 percent are considering continuing their research career in another country.
  • 64 percent report that they are having difficulty getting grant funding.
  • 45 percent have a colleague who has lost his or her job.
  • 80 percent report that the time they spend writing grant applications has increased.
  • 64 percent said that their grant funding has decreased.


September 3, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Anders Garm of the University of Copenhagen reveals what starfish vision can teach us about the evolution of more complex eyes. 

And if you missed Monday's Academic Minute because of the Labor Day holiday, you can catch up on it here.

Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


September 3, 2013

The trend of college newspapers shifting more editions from print to online is growing, Poynter reported. Publications are noting that they save money and that campus readers increasingly prefer to get information online, not in print. Among the publications that have recently announced shifts: The Daily Illini of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, The Maneater of the University of Missouri at Columbia and The Aztec of San Diego State University.



September 3, 2013

Geraldo Rivera, the media personality, took to Twitter last week to report that Duquesne University had revoked an invitation for him to participate in a symposium on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President Kennedy. "Just heard Duquesne Univ cancelled my appearance at JFK assassination panel because of 'selfie'. Fact I first aired Zapruder film less impt.," Rivera wrote. The "selfie" reference is to a naked photograph of himself (primarily of top half of his body) that he recently posted online (click here only if you want to view the photo). A spokeswoman for the university confirmed the report, and via e-mail cited the university's Roman Catholic heritage. "The administration felt that Mr. Rivera’s decision to post a nearly naked picture of himself on social media was inappropriate and inconsistent with who we are as a Catholic Spiritan university and therefore withdrew the invitation," she said.

The spokeswoman added: "We warn our students not to post questionable material on social media due to the possibility of negative consequences -- you could consider this teaching by example."



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