Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The faculty, key administrators and the board of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have all now approved a new system for faculty governance, potentially ending a long conflict between faculty leaders and President Shirley Ann Jackson. The dispute over faculty governance started in 2006, when the Faculty Senate voted to extend voting rights to non-tenure-track faculty members and the administration objected, saying that the Faculty Senate could not do so, given the role of faculty committees in topics such as tenure review. As the dispute escalated, RPI killed the body, replaced it with a new interim body, and was widely criticized by faculty groups such as the American Association of University Professors. The new constitution for faculty governance authorizes the election of non-tenure-track faculty members for some seats in the Faculty Senate and on some (but not all) committees.

The Albany Times Union reported that the adoption of the new constitution may signal an improvement of relations between professors and Jackson, although the article noted that the student government at RPI recently asked the institute's board to remove Jackson (a request the board rejected). The Times Union also noted that RPI's accreditor, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, has been pushing for a restoration of a faculty governance system.

 

Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Missouri State University officials are apologizing for the actions of their band, which played "Dixie" at the dedication of a park where three black men were lynched in 1906, The Springfield News-Leader reported. Black leaders complained that the selection was offensive. Missouri State officials said that the band leader did not understand the historical significance of the song, and that it would not again be performed at public events.

 

Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Illinois State University allows five nonprofit groups in the state to be counted as employees of the university, gaining them access to the state's pension system for university employees, The Chicago Tribune reported. The university defends the practice as a way to help the groups (which include several education-related associations and the Special Olympics), and says that the policy doesn't cost the state money. The university doesn't pay these employees and the organizations make contributions to the pension fund. But others say that those payments don't cover costs for all employees, and that the practice is inappropriate at a time of concern about the financial stability of the pension system.

 

Monday, December 19, 2011 - 4:28am

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- which pioneered the idea of making course materials free online -- today announced a major expansion of the idea, with the creation of MITx, which will provide for interaction among students, assessment and the awarding of certificates of completion to students who have no connection to MIT.

MIT is also starting a major initiative -- led by Provost L. Rafael Reif -- to study online teaching and learning.

The first course through MITx is expected this spring. While the institute will not charge for the courses, it will charge what it calls "a modest fee" for the assessment that would lead to a credential. The credential will be awarded by MITx and will not constitute MIT credit. The university also plans to continue MIT OpenCourseWare, the program through which it makes course materials available online.

An FAQ from MIT offers more details on the new program.

While MIT has been widely praised for OpenCourseWare, much of the attention in the last year from the "open" educational movement has shifted to programs like the Khan Academy (through which there is direct instruction provided, if not yet assessment) and an initiative at Stanford University that makes courses available -- courses for which some German universities are providing academic credit. The new initiative would appear to provide some of the features (instruction such as offered by Khan, and certification that some are creating for the Stanford courses) that have been lacking in OpenCourseWare.

 

 

Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Tea Party organizers and others are gathering petitions for a statewide vote in California to repeal the state's Dream Act, which authorizes students who do not have the legal right to reside in the United States to receive state financial aid, The Los Angeles Times reported. It is unclear whether the organizers will be able to gather enough signatures to get their proposal on the ballot. Polls have shown that 55 percent of state residents oppose the law that gave the students aid eligibility, but the outcome of California ballot measures is difficult to predict.

 

Friday, December 16, 2011 - 3:00am

The National Institutes of Health announced Thursday that it is accepting an Institute of Medicine panel's recommendations to cut back on most research involving chimpanzees. A statement by Francis S. Collins, director of the NIH, noted that scientists have valued research with chimpanzees as "the closest relatives" to humans. And he said key medical advances have been based in part on work with the animals. "However, new methods and technologies developed by the biomedical community have provided alternatives to the use of chimpanzees in several areas of research," he said. While further research with chimpanzees may still be needed in a few key areas, the NIH wants to move away from supporting work where the use of chimpanzees is not truly necessary, he said. While the NIH is developing procedures to to adopt this approach, the agency will not make new awards for research involving chimps.

 

 

Friday, December 16, 2011 - 3:00am

It turns out that Tiger Mother may be almost a pushover compared to Wolf Dad, the nickname of Xiao Baiyou, who has written a book about how he managed to get three of his four children prepared for and admitted to Peking University, NPR reported. He told his story in a book originally titled Beat Them Into Peking University. He extols the values of discipline. "I have more than a thousand rules: specific detailed rules about how to hold your chopsticks and your bowl, how to pick up food, how to hold a cup, how to sleep, how to cover yourself with a quilt," Xiao said. "If you don't follow the rules, then I must beat you."

Friday, December 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Governor Rick Scott on Thursday called for the board of Florida A&M University to suspend James Ammons as president, The Orlando Sentinel reported. The Florida A&M board reprimanded Ammons this week, but stopped short of suspending him, amid an investigation into a hazing-related death of a student from the university's marching band. The governor's announcement came shortly after the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced that it was investigating "fraud and/or misconduct" in connection with its inquiry into the student's death. Ammons has said that he is working hard to prevent hazing.

 

Friday, December 16, 2011 - 3:00am

A committee of the Pennsylvania Legislature has recommended expanding the reach of two-year colleges in rural counties, and has proposed a new state institution that would include multiple campuses or learning centers. The Pennsylvania Commission on Community Colleges isn't sold on the idea, arguing that its members already offer the services the proposed college would. The commission also questioned whether a new institution would be the "best use of the state's limited funds."

Friday, December 16, 2011 - 4:29am

The Pentagon -- responding to criticism from Congress and higher education associations -- has agreed to delay by 90 days (until March 30) new rules on tuition benefits for service members. A letter to senators who opposed the new rules said that the additional time will be used to deal with concerns various groups have expressed. Many colleges say that the guidelines go too far in prescribing how programs must award academic credit and process student payments, among other issues. And many fear that the system -- if used for service members -- could be extended to veterans or other groups of students.

 

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