Higher Education Quick Takes
The Obama administration's emphasis on the importance of college to get trained for a job has left some advocates for general education disappointed. On Tuesday, First Lady Michelle Obama, however, offered a strong endorsement of the liberal arts. Speaking at a program to encourage students to go to college, Obama was asked for her thoughts on the best college majors. While she noted the growth of careers in the health professions, she first suggested that students worry less about major than what educators tend to talk about as critical thinking and communication skills. "I have to say I’m not as up on the exact right college majors, but I think -- here’s my answer: That’s the beauty of a liberal arts education, and I value liberal arts education because you’re really getting a broad skill set. And I think one of the things that’s important to be able to do in life is learn how to read and write -- write really well and articulate your views. So if you’re planning on going to graduate school, if you’re going to law school, for example, almost any liberal arts major that’s pushing you into writing where you have to write a thesis maybe, a large research paper at the end of the year, that kind of stuff is really good preparation for law school," she said.
The Colorado branch of the American Association of University Professors has released a report charging that two faculty members who lost their teaching jobs were the victims of political decision-making that violates principles of academic freedom. One of them is Ward Churchill, who was fired as an ethnic studies professor after findings of research misconduct. The state AAUP found his dismissal suspect because the investigation into research misconduct followed an uproar over some of Churchill's controversial writings. The other was Phil Mitchell, who taught in a special residential program, and who the AAUP says was unpopular with some faculty members for his conservative political and religious views. A spokesman for the Boulder campus, where both men taught, said that both cases were about issues other than politics and that appropriate faculty reviews were key to the outcome of both cases.
Jack Conway, Kentucky's attorney general, was easily re-elected Tuesday. Conway, a Democrat who is leading a 22-state joint investigation of for-profit colleges, has become a pariah to some Kentucky for-profits, whose administrators had donated to the campaign of his challenger, Todd P'Pool. Conway received a late endorsement from Howard Dean, and withstood Sarah Palin's recent backing of his opponent. The former Senate candidate has pledged to continue his pursuit of bad actors among for-profits, which includes two active lawsuits, five open investigations and the multi-state group of attorneys general.
The Oregon University System will not fight the state appeals court decision that overturned its system-wide gun ban and in effect legalized concealed carry, the system announced Tuesday. The court ruled in September that the ban, which prohibited guns and other weapons from Oregon’s seven public campuses, was illegal because only the state legislature has the authority to make such a rule. The system had said at the time it would consider an appeal. “While we feel strongly that the court decision is not in the best interests of our students and campus communities, we do not want to go through a long and costly process that may produce the same outcome,” George Pernsteiner, the system’s chancellor, said in a statement Tuesday. “Instead, we have started work on internal processes that are already in place or that we can put in place that will maintain a reasonable and satisfactory level of campus safety and security. ” Those include internal conduct codes, contracts and other policies that could be expanded to “reduce the likelihood of firearms on campus to the extent legally possible,” the statement said. It is still a felony under state law to carry a firearm in a public building or adjacent grounds without a valid concealed weapons permit.
The board of Pennsylvania State University, struggling to respond to a growing sex-abuse scandal, vowed in a statement issued late Tuesday to take "swift, decisive action." The statement also said that trustees are "outraged by the horrifying details" emerging. "We hear those of you who feel betrayed," said the statement, which announced that the board on Friday will appoint a new committee "to determine what failures occurred, who is responsible and what measures are necessary to insure that this never happens at our University again and that those responsible are held fully accountable."
Many are calling for the ouster of everyone -- including the legendary football coach, Joe Paterno -- who knew of possible sex abuse against children and didn't do everything possible to stop it. But on Tuesday, hundreds of students -- with the crowd getting as large as 1,500 -- rallied for Paterno. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that the students marched to Paterno's home, shouting "We are Penn State!" and "Hell no Joe won't go."
The Daily Collegian, the student newspaper at Penn State, published video of Paterno from Tuesday night telling the students how proud he is of them, and vowing that "we're always going to be Penn State." (UPDATE: On Wednesday, Paterno announced plans to retire at the end of the current football season.)
The Faculty Senate at Mississippi Valley State University has voted "no confidence" in President Donna Oliver, The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Miss., reported. A letter from faculty members cited five reasons for the vote: "(1) the continued decline in enrollment, (2) no faculty pay raises in five years, (3) no serious efforts to raise outside funds, (4) the general treatment of fellow faculty members and (5) the university not being moved in a positive direction." Oliver said she was surprised by the vote, adding that she hoped to work well with professors. She disputed the grievance on raises, saying that those who have won tenure or been promoted have received raises. She also said that enrollment declines preceded her arrival at the university.
With voters in an anti-tax move, many higher education leaders didn't see 2011 as an ideal time for bond referenda, but a few went forward -- with mixed results:
- Texas voters approved a measure that will authorize the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board to issue bonds to create a long-term funding source for a student loan program, Bloomberg reported. Educators said that the authorization was key to meet rising demand for student loans.
- Voters in the San Mateo Community College District failed to give the necessary super-majority to authorize $564 million in bonds for facilities improvements and technology at the California system's three colleges, Peninsula Press reported. The measure received support from 52.8 percent of voters, not the required 55 percent.
- In North Carolina, voters narrowly approved a quarter-cent sales tax increase that will finance construction and renovation at Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, The Asheville Citizen-Times reported.
Some of the students, faculty members and alumni outraged that Cooper Union is considering plans that would end its policy of free tuition are turning their attention to the institution's finances, The New York Times reported. Cooper Union officials have cited a deteriorating financial position to justify the possibility of charging tuition, and many of those close to the institution say that they should have learned of fiscal difficulties earlier. Many are now calling for an inquiry into the roots of the financial problems.
The people in charge of Football Bowl Subdivision teams, institutions and conferences are “overwhelmingly” white and male, but at 19, the number of minority head coaches reached a record high in the 2011 season, according to a new study from the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. “Even though there was progress toward diversity, we can hardly say we are close to looking like America when it comes to who is leading college sport,” said Richard Lapchick, the institute’s director and principal author of the report. Of the college presidents at the 120 institutions, 90.8 percent are white and 81.7 percent are male. Among athletics directors, 88.3 percent are white and 95.8 percent are male. Commissioners of the institutions' conferences are all white and male. In total, 91.2 percent of the 365 campus leadership positions accounted for in the report are filled by white people. Seventy-five percent and 84.2 percent of the college presidents and athletic directors, respectively, are white men (only three presidents are minority women). In contrast, black students make up the majority -- 52.1 percent -- of the athletes playing football for the colleges.