Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 3, 2014

The Obama administration has rescheduled a White House meeting with college leaders to discuss how to boost the success of low-income students in higher education.

The summit will now take place on Jan. 16, a White House official said Thursday. Leaders from higher education, philanthropy, business and city and state governments are expected to take part in the daylong event. As part of the event, the administration has been seeking voluntary commitments from colleges on how they plan to increase efforts to help low-income students.  

The meeting was supposed to take place last month, but it was postponed at the last minute because of President Obama’s travel to South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial service.

January 3, 2014

Following a vote by the leaders of the sociology department, the University of Colorado at Boulder says that Patricia Adler is clear to return to teaching her popular course on deviance. Adler has been warned last month that she needed to stop teaching the course because of concerns raised by administrators about a classroom exercise in which some assistant teaching assistants dressed as different types of prostitutes. The university gave a series of conflicting reasons for the concern about the course, which had been taught for years, with strong student reviews. Eventually, the university said that if Adler's course was reviewed, she could teach it again, and that review process is now complete. A spokesman for the university said: "Professor Adler is free to teach the course next semester if she so desires."

Adler currently has a lawyer talking to the university. She issued this statement: "Although it is gratifying that the Executive Committee in the Sociology Department has affirmed the Ad Hoc Committee’s decision to permit me to continue teaching a course that for 25 years has been held in high esteem with no reported complaints, the fact that it had to undergo this extraordinary scrutiny to reverse CU’s initial jump to judgment is a sad statement on what is occurring in universities. My case is just a small step in the fight to preserve academic freedom in universities around the globe. Many issues remain to be addressed in my ongoing relationship with the university, so my future is still unclear. I greatly appreciate the support I have received from students, faculty, and outside organizations."

 

January 3, 2014

China is moving to change the test that is generally the sole factor in university admissions, The Economist reported. Government officials have indicated that they want to add some subjective factors -- such as consideration of extracurricular activities -- to admissions decisions. Some educators are concerned that the current system (and possibly the new one) favor wealthier applicants. In the 1970s, half of students at prestigious Tsinghua University were from poor, rural areas. In 2010, that share was down to 17 percent.

 

January 2, 2014

Chinese parents who can afford to do so continue to make huge investments in their children's education by paying tuition for them to attend colleges and universities in the United States and other Western nations. But Financial Times (registration required) noted that some experts in China are questioning the (financial) value of the degrees earned abroad by Chinese students. There is no longer much of a wage premium for those who return. Further, the growing numbers of Chinese students going abroad means that it's no longer just the best and brightest. And some are questioning whether the Chinese students end up with enough knowledge of either the West or their home. Zong Qinghou, the second wealthiest man in China, who sent his only daughter to study abroad, recently said at a press conference that she "knows neither the current situation for Chinese enterprises nor the situation abroad."

 

January 2, 2014

The Kansas Board of Regents has ordered a review of its recently adopted and highly controversial rules on social media. The rules outline situations in which faculty members could be dismissed or disciplined in other ways over statements they make on social media -- and numerous faculty and civil liberties groups have said that the rules violate basic principles of academic freedom and the First Amendment rights of professors.

A statement issued by the Kansas Board of Regents did not withdraw the policy, but announced a review of it: "Because of concerns expressed regarding the Board of Regents’ policy regarding the improper use of social media, Board Chair Fred Logan has asked Andy Tompkins, president and CEO of the Board, to work with the university presidents and chancellor to form a workgroup of representatives from each state university campus to review the policy. Regent Logan requests that any recommendations for amendments to the policy from the workgroup be presented to the board’s Governance Committee by April 2014."

 

January 2, 2014

The past few weeks have seen a series of rulings on whether some parts of the new federal health law requiring employers to provide coverage that includes birth control should apply to religious institutions that oppose birth control or some forms of birth control. The new law exempts churches from birth control requirements that conflict with their beliefs, but this does not extend to religious institutions such as colleges and social service organizations. Under a compromise proposed by the Obama administration, such institutions will not have to pay for birth control coverage, but their employees and students will be able to obtain birth control through arrangements with insurance companies.

On Tuesday, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issued a temporary stay of the birth control requirement for religious institutions, and asked the Obama administration to file a response on Friday. The ruling came in a suit brought by an order of nuns that operates nursing homes for low-income people. Also in December, several religious colleges won injunctions against parts of the health care law, while the University of Notre Dame was denied such an injunction. Notre Dame is vowing to appeal. A Supreme Court ruling in the case involving the nuns could resolve many of these disputes. Justice Sotomayor's injunction was not a ruling on the merits of the case.

 

 

 

January 2, 2014

Lake Superior State University celebrates the end of every year by releasing a List of Words to be Banished from the Queen's English for Misuse, Overuse and General Uselessness.

Nominations are collected throughout the year and the "winners" are announced on New Year's Eve.

Selfie was the banned word with the most nominations. One nomination of the word said: “People have taken pictures of themselves for almost as long as George Eastman's company made film and cameras. Suddenly, with the advent of smartphones, snapping a ‘pic’ of one's own image has acquired a vastly overused term that seems to pop up on almost every form of social media available to us…. A self-snapped picture need not have a name all its own beyond ‘photograph.’ It may only be a matter of time before photos of one's self and a friend will become ‘dualies.’ LSSU has an almost self-imposed duty to carry out this banishment now.”

Twerk/twerking also had many nominations. "Time to dance this one off the stage," said one nomination letter.

Hashtag also was banished. The university's release says: "We used to call it the pound symbol. Now it is seeping from the Twittersphere into everyday expression. Nearly all who nominated it found a way to use it in their entries, so we wonder if they’re really willing to let go. #goodluckwiththat"

Further, this year's list suggests ending all the words that are created by adding "aggedon" or "pocalypse" to some other word.

Other words and phrases banished by Lake Superior State this year:

  • Twittersphere
  • Mister Mom
  • T-bone
  • ____ on steroids
  • Intellectually/morally bankrupt
  • Adversity (in athletics)
  • Fan base (in athletics)

 

 

January 2, 2014

A faculty panel at the University of Colorado at Boulder has found no problems with a course on deviance at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The review found that the course and its professor -- Patricia Adler, a professor of sociology -- generally get high reviews. The review follows complaints by administrators about an in-class event in which some volunteer assistant teaching assistants dress up as various kinds of prostitutes. Administrators have suggested that the exercise may make some students feel uncomfortable, although there have never been formal complaints about the issue and the course has been popular for years. The faculty panel said that "properly conducted role-playing and skits are meritorious pedagogical techniques. If skits are used in the future, it will be appropriate for Professor Adler to document that those involved, whether students in the class, undergraduate teaching assistants (ATAs), or graduate teaching assistants (TAs), give full informed consent to participate, including to the possibility of being filmed, and can opt out of participation at any time without penalty, if, indeed, this is the standard being used throughout the university for in-class participation." The panel concluded that there was no reason the course could not continue.

Many faculty groups (at Boulder and nationally) have been calling for the university to endorse that view (the university has said that such a review was necessary) and to retract a series of statements offering different reasons for the concern about the course. Via email, a spokesman for the university said that if the executive committee of the sociology department endorses the report, Adler can continue to teach the course. But the spokesman said that the university wasn't retracting any statements. "We understand the concerns of various groups and organizations that have weighed in, but they are not privy to all the facts in the case," he said. The statements were not intended to reflect on Adler, he said, but to affirm the idea "that student welfare in the classroom is a co-equal concern for the institution alongside academic freedom."

 

 

January 2, 2014

An investigation by Bloomberg has found that there have been a total of 60 fraternity-related deaths since 2005, and that 9 of those deaths have been at events linked to a single fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. Colleges have suspended or closed at least 15 chapters in the past three years, and have disciplined more than 100 chapters since 2007. The article by Bloomberg also details hazing practices, describing an eight-week initiation at Salisbury University, for example, in which a pledge alleged and the university confirmed that fraternity members "forced pledges to drink until they almost passed out and dressed them in women’s clothing and diapers.... Fraternity members confined recruits for as long as nine hours in a dark basement without food, water or a bathroom, while blasting the same German rock song at ear-splitting volume."

Frank Ginocchio, SAE’s general counsel, told Bloomberg that the the deaths linked to events at the fraternity reflected a "perfect storm," not a problem with the organization. “We try, and we keep on trying,” Ginocchio said. “I don’t think our procedures, our rules and risk management are much different from any other fraternity. We’ve all had some bad cases and sad occurrences.” The fraternity says that it does not tolerate hazing.

 

January 2, 2014

The Common Application, which had severe technological problems in the early fall, but which has seen a more stable system recently, was able to process more applications on December 31 (the day of the year at which it typically receives the largest number of applications) than it did a year ago on the same day. But late on New Year's Day and continuing for a few hours, many of those filing were unable to do so.

Prior to the New Year's Day difficulties, social media featured only scattered complaints about slow response time, or difficulty with certain parts of the process, but most comments were simply from students boasting about being done with applications.

Rob Killion, executive director of the Common Application, said via email that the system processed 154,904 applications on Tuesday (9 percent more than the previous year), and  165,128 recommendation forms (a 42 percent increase). Counting optional writing supplements that were filed, he said that the total amounted to 5.23 submissions per second all day long. Another 122,00 applications were filed New Year's Day. He said that the volume of inquiries at the support desk has been "relatively light." Through Jan. 1, the total number of applications filed is up 12 percent, to more than 2.5 million.

Some of those filing late on New Year's Day did have difficulties. According to a post by Common Application on its Facebook page Thursday morning, the problem is now solved, but social media posts indicate it was fairly traumatic for some applicants who thought they were about to miss deadlines. The Common Application post says: "Between 11:35 p.m. Eastern and 2:35 a.m. Eastern some users had difficulty using the system, particularly during the first of those three hours. However, since 2:35 Eastern (50 minutes ago) you should be able to work without a problem. Have no fear - all member colleges with a January 1 deadline will accept any application submitted promptly today. Sorry to keep you up a little later tonight!"

 

 

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