Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 30, 2014

The Kansas Board of Regents is not budging on its proposal to regulate social media use.

The board's revised proposal, released Monday, does contain much of the language found in a draft released earlier this month by a working group of faculty and staff representatives from the state’s six public four-year institutions. It quotes the American Association of University Professors’ 1940 Statement of Principles, and states that employees are free to use social media in contexts involving research, teaching or shared governance.

“When you compare the original policy with the workgroup’s recommended policy, you will see that they have had a major impact on the board’s work in this area," Fred Logan, who chairs the board, said in a statement. "The revised policy will contain the strongest statement made by the board anywhere in its policy manual in support of academic freedom and First Amendment expression.”

But along with the additions, the proposal retains the two paragraphs that set off the months-long process of reaching a compromise.

The definition of improper social media use is still left up to the discretion of university administrators, who are tasked with balancing “the interest of the university in promoting the efficiency of the public services it performs through its employees against the employee’s right as a citizen to speak on matters of public concern.” Employees found to have improperly used social media could face sanctions such as “suspension, dismissal and termination,” the proposal reads.

“How do you put those two together -- the first half that looks pretty protective and the second half that looks pretty punitive and disciplinary?” said Charles R. Epp, the University of Kansas professor of public affairs and administration who co-chaired the workgroup. “Rather than reassuring faculty and staff, this mixed message is going to cause a lot of confusion and concern. I just don’t see it resolving the issue.”

The board will accept comments on the proposal until May 2, and will likely act on the policy during its meeting in mid-May.

April 30, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Lee Newman, associate professor at the State University of New York's College of Environment Science and Forestry, discusses phytoremediation as a potential clean-up method. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


April 30, 2014

U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois sent high school principals in his state a letter Tuesday urging them to shield their students from the "often irresistible lure" of for-profit colleges -- drawing a pointed response from one of his constituents, DeVry Education Group.

Durbin, a leader among the Congressional Democrats who are deeply skeptical of the for-profit higher education sector, told the principals that he was continuing his work in Washington to "correct federal policies that enable this industry to take advantage of students." But he asked the principals to do their part to "ensure that your students are receiving honest and accurate information about their higher education options. "Students can hardly ride a CTA bus, watch their favorite prime-time sitcom, or surf the internet without being bombarded by attention-grabbing advertisements from for-profit colleges offering a hassle-free enrollment process, federal financial assistance, flexible schedules and a promised path to high-paying jobs and a better life," Durbin wrote. "But too often it doesn't work out that way."

His letter cites statistics about the completion rates and debt loads of the colleges' students and suggests that principals remind their students that community colleges offer similar programs "at a fraction of the cost."

In its response, DeVry, which is based near Durbin's Chicago home, noted that DeVry has educated tens of thousands of Illinoisans since 1931 and that the company teams with the Chicago Public Schools on an Advantage Academy that lets students earn associate degree credits while in high school. The program, it notes, was started in tandem with the then-head of the city's schools, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, a close ally of Durbin's.

"The facts, and our history, demonstrate our commitment to Illinois students and their success in higher education," wrote Sharon Thomas Parrott, DeVry's senior vice president for external relations and global responsibility. "We encourage the senator to visit our Chicago campus, and our Advantage Academy, so that he can learn firsthand how we serve our students."

April 29, 2014

With the heads of federal science agencies set to testify at a Senate hearing today, a coalition of 50 research and university groups are again imploring the government to do its part to close what they call the "innovation deficit." The groups note that the level of federal investment in research and higher education needed to keep the United States as the world's leader in idea creation and innovation can be accomplished only if Washington policy makers agree to "stop sequestration, reduce long-term budget deficits, and stabilize the long-term national debt."

April 29, 2014

The hot presidential candidate in Ohio higher education doesn't have a Ph.D. or much in the way of campus administrative experience. But he sure can coach.

James P. Tressel, who resigned under pressure as Ohio State University's football coach in 2011, was named as one of three finalists for the presidency of the University of Akron, where he has served since 2012 as executive vice president for student success.

And Monday, the search committee at Youngstown State University -- which gave Tressel his first head coaching job and later made him its athletics director as well -- made him one of its three presidential finalists, too.

April 29, 2014

Universities should begin making patents and other industrial and commercial research count toward promotion and tenure, in an effort to stimulate such research nationwide, argues a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal. "There is a fundamental disconnect between technology transfer activities and incentives for faculty members in terms of merit raises, tenure and career advancement," Richard B. Marchase, co-author and vice president for research and economic development at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a news release. "Beyond the monetary benefit of licensing, which is small in most cases, there is presently little to no benefit to a faculty member's merit raises, tenure and career advancement."

The paper builds on a 2012 report from the National Research Council and other groups saying that business and industry have "largely dismantled large corporate research laboratories that drove American industrial leadership," and which argues that research universities must "fill the gap." In the new paper, called "Changing the Academic Culture: Valuing Patents and Commercialization Toward Tenure and Career Advancement," the authors argue that filling the research gap will entail changing the university "rewards culture" to value not only large research grants but also professors' patents and other commercial activities. Co-author Eric Kaler, president of the University of Minnesota, notes that this kind of work should not replace but "add to" traditional means of assessing scholarly activity. The paper's lead author is Paul R. Sanberg, senior vice president for research and innovation at the University of South Florida and president of the National Academy of Inventors. An abstract is available here.

April 29, 2014

Georgetown College in Kentucky will eliminate 20 percent of faculty positions and four majors to deal with a deficit brought on by an enrollment decline, Kentucky.com reported. The majors to be eliminated are computer science, French, German and music. The college is also ending temporarily its matching contributions to employee retirement accounts.

April 29, 2014

Nine students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have been diagnosed with mumps, Illinois Public Media reported. The students had all been vaccinated, but the mumps vaccine is not effective with all people. Ohio State University has faced a large mumps outbreak this semester.


April 29, 2014

Cedarville University has fired J.D. Winteregg, an adjunct professor of French, over an online video used in his Republican primary challenge to John Boehner, speaker of the House of Representatives, The Cincinnati Enquirer reported. Winteregg, who has Tea Party backing, has an ad that is a parody of a Cialis commercial about treating erectile dysfunction. In the Winteregg ad, Boehner's name is mocked and he is said to have "electicle dysfunction." In a statement confirming that Winteregg was no longer teaching, Cedarville said that the university "does not engage in partisan politics and holds a high regard for displaying Christian values in the community."





April 29, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Marco Bisoffi, associate professor of biological sciences at Chapman University, explains her studies of field cancerization to help treat the deadly disease. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.



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