Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 12, 2015

In today's Academic Minute, Somshuvra Mukhopadhyay, a pharmacologist at the University of Texas at Austin, discusses research on Parkinson's disease. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


February 11, 2015

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation this week released results from a survey it commissioned of faculty attitudes, with a particular focus on courseware that can "personalize" learning. FTI Consulting conducted the survey, receiving roughly 4,000 responses.

Daniel Greenstein, the foundation's director of postsecondary success, summarized the findings in a written statement. He said the survey found that a significant number of faculty members are "open to using courseware and other innovations to improve their students' success." The report also described specific obstacles faculty face in "evolving their practice," he said, and detailed what colleges can do to reduce or eliminate those obstacles.

“It’s vital to better understand the views of faculty and what supports they say they need to continue to advance student outcomes,” Greenstein said of the survey.

February 11, 2015

Three people, including students at University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University, were shot and killed near UNC's Chapel Hill campus Tuesday. The university sent out a number of safety alerts throughout the evening, though police and UNC offered little detail into the nature of the shootings. "We are sensitive to the impact an incident of this nature has on campus and in the community," the university stated. "We understand you want to know the facts as quickly as possible. At the same time, we must respect the job our Chapel Hill police have as they investigate this crime."

Police released the names of the victims early Wednesday, and charged 46-year-old Craig Stephen Hicks with first degree murder. The victims were identified as Deah Shaddy Barakat, a UNC dentistry student; Yusor Mohammad, Barakat's wife and a prospective UNC student; and her sister, Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha, a student at NC State. All three victims are believed to have been Muslim, fueling speculation that the students may have been targeted for their religion and prompting a number of Twitter users, frustrated at what they believe to be a lack of media coverage, to begin tweeting out the hashtag #MuslimLivesMatter. Hicks identifies as an atheist, and is vocally anti-religion.

In a statement Wednesday, police said they believe "the crime was motivated by an ongoing neighbor dispute over parking," but that they are investigating whether religion played a role in the killing. “We understand the concerns about the possibility that this was hate-motivated and we will exhaust every lead to determine if that is the case," Chris Blue, chief of the Chapel Hill Police Department, said. "Our thoughts are with the families and friends of these young people who lost their lives so needlessly."

February 11, 2015

The College of Charleston was partially evacuated Tuesday following a bomb threat that turned out to unfounded.

A caller reported two bombs on campus, one in a residence hall and one in the student center, according to local media. Students were evacuated from those buildings and classes held in the surrounding area were canceled for the afternoon. 

Police announced about 4:30 p.m. that the campus had been cleared and no bombs were found. But that followed a lot of confusion earlier in the day. The college sent out an alert that a bomb had been found, then sent an alert a few minutes later saying that police were still searching the campus. The college said the false alert was caused by a college dispatcher who misunderstood the police department's codes.

Students and faculty on social media also were upset by the college’s communication of the bomb threat, criticizing the college’s emergency protocol and delayed decision to cancel classes. One student posted: “Has anyone figured out how to stay sheltered and go to class at the same time? I’m dying to know.” Here’s a collection of reactions posted to social media and compiled by The Post and Courier

February 11, 2015

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, plans to propose that public universities be required to freeze tuition in graduate and professional programs at whatever levels exist on July 1, the Associated Press reported. The measure is of concern to many university leaders who say that increases for medical and law school can be handled by students who have lucrative job prospects ahead.


February 11, 2015

A former instructor at the University of Alabama has been indicted for allegedly making more than $375,000 by encouraging students to buy their textbooks from his company, AL.com reported. University officials said that the instructor last taught there in 2013.


February 11, 2015

In today's Academic Minute, David Cox, a fellow at the University of Surrey, discusses how he built the world's smallest snowman as part of a recent nanotech experiment. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


February 10, 2015

Thirteen protesters were arrested Monday evening following a daylong sit-in at the president's office of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.

Students and a few nonstudents organized the protest to demand changes that they said were needed to promote diversity and inclusiveness on campus. The group, known as Whose Diversity?, is seeking a range of changes, including increased financial support for Latino studies, a commitment to one all-gender bathroom in every building on campus and an end to crime alerts that note the race of suspects. The university released a statement Monday afternoon in which it said it supported the right of peaceful protest and expressed a willingness to join in discussions about the goals of the students who were protesting. On the students' Twitter feed, they said that the response was inadequate.

A statement released by the university Monday night said the students were warned repeatedly that remaining in the president's office after 6 p.m., when it closes, would constitute trespassing. "The university took this action [the arrests] as a last resort after trying to have a dialogue for nearly seven hours. We regret that individuals chose arrest over a peaceful conclusion. The protesters were cooperative and the arrests occurred without incident," the statement said. On the student protesters' Twitter feed, numerous comments criticized the decision to arrest students, and vowed that the movement would continue to push its demands.

The university has published a list of the demands and the university's responses.


February 10, 2015

A Canadian instructor under fire for teaching anti-vaccine views that clash with science has asked for and been granted a leave from the health class she was teaching, The Globe and Mail reported. Queen's University, in Ontario, has faced intense scrutiny and criticism over the teachings of Melody Torcolacci, who has declined to respond to questions from the press. Students have shared PowerPoints and class notes indicating that they were being taught to doubt that vaccines are effective. Students have complained in the past, but the issue has received increased attention amid the current measles outbreak in the United States. The university has said that it is investigating the matter.

Amid all the attention to the issue at Queen's, Richard Reznick, dean of health sciences, published a blog post in which he described how medical, nursing and other health students are taught that vaccines are safe and effective, and that they are valuable in promoting health.


February 10, 2015

A new report -- funded by the Independent Petroleum Association of America -- argues that colleges that sell holdings in fossil fuel companies are likely to pay a financial price for doing so. The report is by Daniel Fischel, a consultant who is emeritus professor at the University of Chicago Law School. He analyzed the performance of two hypothetical portfolios over a 50-year period, including energy-related stocks in only one of the portfolios. The portfolio without energy stocks had average annual returns of 0.7 percentage points less than the one with the energy stocks. Fischel released his findings in an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal called "The Feel-Good Folly of Fossil-Fuel Divestment."

The findings are sure to be challenged. Many proponents of divestment, for example, do not deny that energy stocks have done well historically, but suggest that changes in society, energy policy and the environment will make many energy companies less profitable in the years ahead. Others note that various divestment movements have always been opposed as financially questionable, and that colleges that have divested have not reported financial harm.




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