Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 3, 2013

California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed legislation Wednesday that will tighten the rules on the kinds of bonds that community colleges and school districts can use, The Los Angeles Times reported. The legislation will bar the use of bonds that allow entities issuing them to delay repayment by decades, providing a short-term gain for districts, but creating long-term debt obligations and much more debt than would be the case with shorter term bonds. The new rules limit repayment periods to 25 years (down from 40) and require that interest payments total no more than $4 for every dollar borrowed.

October 3, 2013

Boston College is investigating a student who claimed anonymously on a Facebook "confessions" page that he had raped three women while at the college, The Boston Globe reported. "Confessions" pages are popular on many colleges with students posting anonymously about their hook-ups, crushes or traumas. But the confession to three rapes quickly upset many people on the campus. College officials said that the student who wrote the post turned himself in to authorities and said that it was all a hoax. Paul J. Chebator, dean of students, sent an e-mail to the campus calling the post "very disturbing." Students have organized an event for tonight to discuss the implications of the incident.

 

 

 

October 3, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Shermali Gunawardena of the State University of New York at Buffalo explains how traffic moves along the neuronal highways in the brain. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

October 3, 2013

Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese dissident who claimed that he was forced from his fellowship at New York University because of pressure from Beijing (a claim the university has vigorously denied), has found a new academic home – well, three homes, actually. He will splitting his time between fellow and advisory positions at the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank in New Jersey; the Catholic University of America's ​Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies; and the New Hampshire-based Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice (named after the late Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos). 

October 3, 2013

Further amending its controversial new health care policy, Pennsylvania State University announced this week that it would offer $100 to employees who complete an online wellness profile and biometric screening and agree to get a physical exam by late November. Those who already have completed their online wellness screenings also may delete them.

This summer, the university said it would punish – to the tune of $100 per month – employees who did not complete those tasks this semester, in an attempt to control ballooning health care costs through increased health awareness among those it insures. But last month, amid intense criticism from faculty, who said that questions in the third-party, online profile -- including those about mental health, alcohol use and family planning -- violated their privacy, Penn State dropped the requirement. (Businesspeople and lawmakers also had criticized the plan.)

Now it’s offering what it calls a “cash reward” for those who opt to complete screenings, or already have done so. The reward to employees whose covered spouses or domestic partners also complete the screenings is $150. "This is being done as a way of recognizing the many benefits-enrolled employees who are participating in the initiative, in light of the suspension of the penalty that originally had been tied to non-participation," Susan Basso, vice president for human resources said in a statement.

Brian Curran, professor of art history and president of the university's newly formed chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said via e-mail that that "it's obviously a good thing that they have moved from a stick to a carrot. The surcharge was much too severe and arbitrary, and it had the effect of driving many otherwise reluctant, mainly lower-paid employees, into complying with what they considered a very serious violation of their personal privacy."

 

October 3, 2013

The Army will close its Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs at 13 colleges and universities because of financial constraints. While one of the universities released a letter from the Army announcing the cuts on Wednesday, the reductions were ordered last month, before the government shutdown. The programs will close or realign by the end of the 2014-15 school year, according to an Army memo. “This action is not a reflection of either the quality of your program or the outstanding cadets you have produced,” Thomas R. Lamont, assistant secretary of the Army for manpower and reserve affairs, wrote in a letter to the chancellor of Arkansas State University, one of the institutions.

Other colleges and universities whose programs will be closed are Georgia Regents, East Tennessee State, Morehead State, North Dakota State, Northern Michigan and Tennessee Technological Universities; and the Universities of California at Santa Barbara, North Alabama, South Dakota, Southern Mississippi, Tennessee at Martin and  Wisconsin at La Crosse,  A spokesman for Georgia Regents University said the university had not received official word about changes to the program.

Arkansas State University will fight to reverse the decision to close its 77-year-old ROTC program, which currently serves 122 participants, Chancellor Tim Hudson said in a press release. So will the University of Southern Mississippi and University of Tennessee at Martin, officials said. A statement from William G. Kale, president of the University of North Alabama, said the university was "shocked to learn of this decision, which was made without consultation and came without warning."

Officials at the other institutions did not respond to requests for comment.

 

October 2, 2013

Northwestern University journalism students are required to spend one academic quarter in an unpaid internship, and to pay the university more than $15,000 in tuition for that quarter, ProPublica reported. The article noted that some students have raised questions about the system, and that the issue of unpaid internships (even without steep tuition charges) has attracted considerable attention. In response, Northwestern officials have started to ask employers if they would be willing to pay journalism interns minimum wage for their internships.

October 2, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Anthony Kontos of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center reveals when athletes playing youth sports are most likely to receive a concussion. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 2, 2013

A study released Monday suggests that being honored with a major scholarly prize may not improve the winner's productivity. George J. Borjas of Harvard University and Kirk B. Doran of the University of Notre Dame analyzed the impact of winning the Fields Medal, which is awarded every four years to the most talented mathematician under 40. Borjas and Doran compared the productivity (in research output) of mathematicians who won the medal and contenders who did not. (They found other prizes that are good predictors of winning a Fields, and so identified likely winners.) The research found that the winners and the contenders had nearly identical productivity before the winners won the Fields. But after winning the Fields, mathematicians see a decline in productivity. They also show more "cognitive mobility," working in new areas, which the authors note likely forces them to take longer to make findings and write papers. The paper was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract available here).

 

October 2, 2013

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights have approved the University of Montana's new sexual assault policy, cementing a resolution agreement that the federal government said would make Montana's procedures a "blueprint" for colleges nationwide. While some student activists and victims' rights advocates have lauded the terms of the settlement, which is more extensive than previous federal mandates, free speech organizations have expressed concern that Montana's policy is overbroad and violates the First Amendment. Whereas Montana's previous policy required an action to be "objectively offensive" to be considered harassment, OCR said "sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as 'any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,' " including "verbal conduct."

The new policy also requires all faculty to participate in a tutorial on sexual assault and campus regulations, and states that those who refuse will be reported to the Justice Department. Some faculty members have questioned Montana President Royce Engstrom about the provision, The Missoulian reported.

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