Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 15, 2013

Carnegie Mellon University has announced a $67 million gift from the investor David A. Tepper. The funds will be used for a quad that officials plan as an "academic hub" for the business school and other programs.

 

November 15, 2013

A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate seeks to tackle the rising cost of textbooks by giving states an incentive to experiment with open educational resources. The Affordable College Textbook Act, introduced by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Al Franken, Democrats of Illinois and Minnesota, respectively, would create a grant program that would fund the creation of new textbooks -- as long as they are made available for free online.

Durbin previously had parts of a similar bill included in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, though those provisions only required publishers and higher education institutions to inform students about the cost of textbooks. 

Dean Florez, president of the 20 Million Minds Foundation, said the bill, coupled with first lady Michelle Obama's new focus on access to higher education, represents "a groundswell for a national discussion for the cost of textbooks." While he expressed some concerns about the bill's chances in the U.S. House of Representatives, Florez said "Durbin’s bill is going straight to the president."

November 14, 2013

Google on Wednesday announced a $3.2 million grant that four organizations will share to produce data-based research on how student veterans are faring in college. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Student Veterans of America, Posse Foundation and Veterans of Foreign Wars will study which colleges are the most successful at supporting student veterans, which campus programs have the biggest impact and how veterans' majors of study match up with employment opportunities. The resulting report will be made public, Google officials said, and the company will fund the expansion of programs that are found to be the most effective.

November 14, 2013

University of California students need another tuition freeze in the coming year, and a more rational approach to tuition than the past mix of freezes and large percentage increases, Janet Napolitano said Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times reported. Napolitano -- the new president of the university system -- made the proposal to the university's Board of Regents. Over the long run, she said, the university must strive to keep costs to students and families under control. "I want tuition to be as low as possible, and I want it to be as predictable as possible," she said. Napolitano said that she wanted to work "to bring clarity to, and reduce volatility in, the tuition-setting process." She also said she wanted to increase the number of transfer students from the state's community colleges.

 

November 14, 2013

The University of Colorado at Boulder is starting a major marketing campaign so that more people know about the university's academic excellence, and to fight the campus reputation as a party school, The Boulder Daily Camera reported. Officials did focus groups in which they asked people for celebrities that they associated in some way with the university, and answers such as Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan reinforced the concern about the impact of the party school reputation. The new campaign is called "Be Boulder," and focuses on accomplishments and qualities of Boulder students, faculty members and alumni.

November 14, 2013

Faculty members at George Washington University last week sounded the alarm about a new online course policy that appeared to present a breach of academic freedom, but the outrage quickly evaporated after the administration specified it only applied to accessibility testing and technical issues.

The furor was sparked by a memo sent from Provost Steven Lerman’s office that some faculty members interpreted as the administration granting itself the power to share course content with outside groups and change it without consulting the instructor.

“In order to provide centralized review of GW’s online courses to ensure compliance with legal requirements imposed by federal, state, or district law (e.g., that materials are reasonably accessible as required under federal disability laws) , the Provost’s Office may, at its discretion, grant access to online course materials and recordings of online discussions to auditors, outside contractors, or designated University personnel for the purpose of reviewing such materials for legal compliance or to propose improvements to GW’s online education programs,” the memo read.

Lerman clarified the administration’s intentions during a Faculty Senate meeting last Friday, said Charles A. Garris, a professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science who was in attendance.

“They put forth this badly written memo, and there was a big misunderstanding, and they have absolutely no intention of releasing online course materials without faculty members’ authorization,” Garris said. “I think it was more more or less a tempest in a teapot.”

Garris’s take on the situation shows how the faculty’s outrage has deflated over the weekend. When the issue was reported in the student newspaper The GW Hatchet on Friday, Philip W. Wirtz, vice dean of programs and education, was quoted as saying the policy appeared “to be a clear trampling of faculty rights.”

Paul S. Berman, vice provost for online education and academic innovation, further elaborated on the policy in a statement.

“The policy is only meant to help the university ensure that all of our online courses are in compliance with various legal and accreditation requirements by allowing us to grant access to administrators or to third parties hired by the university to audit for such compliance issues and make recommendations,” Berman said.

For example, the university could grant access to an outside consultant to test if an online course conforms to accessibility standards, or to check the robustness of student identity verification methods and exam integrity, Berman said.

“Sometimes this access must be granted on an expedited basis, making it not feasible to track down every faculty member that may be involved in order to get individualized permission, and since these are legal or accreditation requirements, it is not something that is optional in any event,” Berman said. “Thus, this policy will simply help streamline the compliance process. No broader scope or review of course content or curriculum is contemplated by this policy.”

November 14, 2013

University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst said Wednesday that students misinterpreted her response to their speaking out against sexual assault on campus, The Hartford Courant reported. After seven students filed a Title IX complaint (and subsequent lawsuit) against the university in October, alleging that the university failed to protect them from sexual violence, Herbst said the claims were “astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue.” Students held a rally in protest, and state lawmakers called for a hearing on sexual assault on Connecticut campuses (which took place Wednesday afternoon). But on Wednesday Herbst said she was not suggesting the students were lying, but was rather responding to “the broad allegation of institutional indifference.”

November 14, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Sophie Wuerger of the University of Liverpool explains how our perception of color remains constant even though our vision degrades with age. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

November 13, 2013

California's Foothill-De Anza and Butte-Glenn community college districts have received $17 million from the state to develop a "one stop" online education portal, the colleges announced. The project will provide funding and support for all of California's 112 community colleges to offer courses through the statewide portal, which will feature a common course management system and student supports. Faculty members will play a leadership role in the work, college officials said.

November 13, 2013

The University System of Georgia Board of Regents voted on Tuesday to merge Kennesaw State University and Southern Polytechnic State University. The merger, announced on Nov. 1 as a foregone conclusion by the board, is now a sure thing. The merging itself will play out over the next several years and students will not attend the new institution, which will keep the Kennesaw name, until 2015.

The plan, which was announced to the surprise of most people on both campuses, met some opposition from students and alumni at Southern Poly.

The Georgia system has already merged eight institutions in an effort to, among other things, save money. So far, countless hours have been spent on the mergers, and historic institutions’ names have been wiped off the map. And, so far, the 31-campus system has saved only about 0.1 percent -- an estimated $7.5 million -- of its $7.4 billion operating budget.

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