Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 20, 2013

The U.S. Education Department announced Tuesday its plan to convene a panel of negotiators to hammer out new regulations on how colleges disburse federal student aid and rewrite a controversial rule requiring online programs to obtain permission from each state in which they enroll students.

The negotiated rule making committee is also expected to tackle the underwriting standards for PLUS loans, the conversion of clock hours to credit hours when awarding credit, and rules governing when a student can receive federal aid for repeated coursework, according to a notice set to appear in Wednesday’s Federal Register.

The department plans to appoint negotiators who represent various constituencies, including students, consumer advocates, businesses, state officials and representatives from different types of institutions. It is currently seeking nominations for members of the committee. The panel will meet for three, three-day sessions in February, March and April, the department said.

The list of topics announced Tuesday, while tentative, largely round out the remaining issues that the Obama administration had announced as regulatory priorities for its second term. The department has already announced its plan to hold a separate negotiated rule making session in January to write new campus safety rules. It is also in the process of negotiating a rewrite of the “gainful employment” rules on for-profit and community colleges that a federal judge blocked earlier this year. That committee met Tuesday for its penultimate day of negotiations and appears destined to finish its work without reaching consensus on a set of rules, leaving the department in the position of being able to impose its own rules.

November 20, 2013

A senior member of the House Education and the Workforce Committee wants to hear more about adjunct professors' working conditions. Through an "eForum" announced Tuesday, Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) will investigate the effect of increased employment of adjunct faculty on their quality of life, as well as on student learning. In a news release, Miller said there was a "huge lack of understanding" about what it means to be adjunct.

“We should all be alarmed about what’s been happening to higher education labor over the last couple decades,” he said. “Tuition keeps skyrocketing. Yet the people doing the bulk of the work educating college students are getting less and less compensation. There are adjuncts who make between $2,000 and $3,000 per course for a semester, with no benefits. There are adjuncts on food stamps. I think the Congress should be taking a serious look at this phenomenon.”

Miller asked adjuncts to share their stories on the forum website, answering the following questions:

  • For how long have you worked as a contingent faculty or instructor?
  • How would you describe the working conditions of contingent faculty and instructors at your college or university, including matters like compensation, benefits, opportunities for growth and advancement, job stability, and administrative and professional support?
  • How do those conditions help or hinder your ability to earn a living and have a stable and successful career in higher education? What impact, if any, do those working conditions have on students or higher education generally?
  • How do those working conditions help or hinder your ability to do your job, or how do they otherwise affect students in achieving their educational goals?

Miller was among several lawmakers who last week expressed interest in hearing more about adjunct employment issues during a committee hearing on the effects of the Affordable Care Act on higher education. Their comments came following testimony by Maria Maisto, president of the New Faculty Majority, a national adjunct advocacy organization. She spoke about how many institutions have cut their maximum course loads for adjuncts ahead of the health care law taking effect, to avoid having to offer coverage to adjuncts qualifying as full-time employees, or pay a fine (as highlighted in Inside Higher Ed's recent survey of campus human resources officers. In an email, Maisto said she was "thrilled" that Miller had followed up so quickly with the eForum announcement.

"I think that this will be a terrific way for the committee to collect more information confirming what I testified about last week -- the appalling conditions of adjunct and contingent faculty and the repercussions for students and for the country, especially as the cost of college is skyrocketing," she said. "Of course we have volumes and volumes of stories and research, as well, and we will be happy to share that with the committee."
 

November 20, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Peter Dodson of the University of Pennsylvania explains how the fossilization process can make individual fossils hard to interpret. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

November 19, 2013

Brandeis University on Monday suspended its partnership with Al-Quds University, citing the failure of leaders at the Palestinian university to condemn a recent protest in which demonstrators used the traditional Nazi salute and honored "martyred" suicide bombers. In a statement on its website, Brandeis said that President Frederick Lawrence had acted after asking the president of Al-Quds to issue an "unequivocal condemnation" of the protests. But the statement published on the Al-Quds website -- an English translation of which the president of Al-Quds, Sari Nusseibah, sent to Brandeis -- criticized "Jewish extremists" who "spare no effort to exploit some rare but nonetheless damaging events or scenes which occur on the campus of Al Quds University," as well as calling for a respectful campus environment. Brandeis called the statement "unacceptable and inflammatory," and said it would suspend the relationship with Al-Quds.

 

 

 

 

November 19, 2013

The University of Texas at Austin’s Young Conservatives of Texas chapter says its planned “catch an illegal immigrant game” is designed to raise awareness about illegal immigration, but the idea caused a stir online Monday. Planned for Wednesday afternoon, the game involves students running around campus to apprehend “several people walking around” with the words “illegal immigrant” displayed on their clothing.

“Any UT student who catches one of these 'illegal immigrants' and brings them back to our table will receive a $25 gift card,” the event Facebook page says. “The purpose of this event is to spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives.” More than 220 people have confirmed their plans to attend on Facebook, but at least one commenter said she only “joined” the event so she could write comments opposing it.

Texas President Bill Powers said in a statement that the event is "completely out of line" with the university's values. "Our nation continues to grapple with difficult questions surrounding immigration," Powers said. "I ask YCT to be part of that discussion but to find more productive and respectful ways to do so that do not demean their fellow students."

November 19, 2013

Sebastian Thrun, founder of the massive open online course provider Udacity, is no stranger to controversy. The Stanford University research professor and Google fellow has previously said higher education in 50 years will be provided by no more than 10 institutions worldwide, and Udacity could be one of them. Thrun dropped another bombshell last week in a profile published in Fast Company, which claimed the “godfather of free online education” had changed course. “The man who started this revolution no longer believes the hype,” the article read. Instead of teaching hundreds of thousands of students in one session, Udacity’s future could look something like the company’s partnership with the Georgia Institute of Technology and AT&T to create a low-cost master’s degree.

In reality, Thrun’s shift is more nuanced. Call it a refinement -- not a loss of faith.

“I am much more upbeat than the article suggests,” Thrun said in an email to Inside Higher Ed. “Over the summer, we had students pay for services wrapped around our open classes, and the results were about [20 times] better when compared to students just taking open MOOCs. We have now built the necessary infrastructure to bring this model to more students, while keeping all materials open and free of charge as in the past.”

Some critics of Thrun’s vision interpreted the article as a bit of poetic justice:

“After two years of hype, breathless proclamations about how Udacity will transform higher education, Silicon Valley blindness to existing learning research, and numerous articles/interviews featuring Sebastian Thrun, Udacity has failed,” wrote George Siemens, associate director of the Technology Enhanced Knowledge Research Institute at Athabasca University. “This is not a failure of open education, learning at scale, online learning, or MOOCs. Thrun tied his fate too early to VC funding. As a result, Udacity is now driven by revenue pursuits, not innovation.”

Beyond schadenfreude, many responses cautioned against taking the profile as a sign that Thrun was abandoning higher education:

“It’s tempting to say good riddance,” wrote Michael Caulfield, director of blended and networked learning at Washington State University at Vancouver.

“Thrun can’t build a bucket that doesn’t leak, so he’s going to sell sieves,” Caulfield wrote. “Udacity dithered for a bit on whether it would be accountable for student outcomes. Failures at San Jose State put an end to that. The move now is to return to the original idea: high failure rates and dropouts are features, not bugs, because they represent a way to thin pools of applicants for potential employers. Thrun is moving to an area where he is unaccountable, because accountability is hard.”

Others said the profile marked a premature obituary for MOOCs, which exploded onto the higher education stage as recently as in 2012:

“After a long period of unbridled optimism and world-changing claims about the transformative potential of MOOCs, journalists are now proclaiming that MOOCs are dead, or at the very least broken,” wrote Shriya Nevatia, an undergraduate at Tufts University. “This is extremely dangerous. Instead of companies taking their ambitious proclamations and working hard to make them true, they say that MOOCs have failed, before they’ve even had a chance.”

Among MOOC skeptics, Audrey Watters, an education writer (and blogger for Inside Higher Ed), cautioned against thinking the format is dead:

“The Fast Company article serves as the latest round in MOOC hagiography: Thrun, the patron saint of higher education disruption,” Watters wrote. “And whether you see today’s Fast Company article as indication of a ‘pivot’ or not, I think it’s a mistake to cheer this moment as Udacity’s admission of failure and as an indication that it intends to move away from university disruption.... So yeah, perhaps it’s easy for many in higher education to shrug and sigh with relief that Thrun has decided to set his sights elsewhere. But if we care about learning -- if we care about learners -- I think we need to maintain our fierce critiques about MOOCs.”

November 19, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Brian Toon of the University of Colorado Boulder reveals how a weaker sun could have supported early life on Earth. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 19, 2013

William Penn, a Michigan State University professor who lost his teaching assignments for this semester after he was caught on tape denigrating Republicans, will be back in the classroom next semester, MLive reported. Since the incident, he has been paid for non-teaching duties.

November 19, 2013

Four members of the U.S. Senate’s education committee announced Monday that they were forming a bipartisan task force to examine the impact of federal regulations on colleges and universities. Senators Lamar Alexander and Richard Burr, both Republicans, and Senators Barbara Mikulski and Michael Bennett, both Democrats, said that they were concerned some regulations were overly burdensome for institutions of higher education. The task force “will conduct a compressive review of federal regulations and reporting requirements affecting colleges and universities and make recommendations to reduce and streamline regulations, while protecting students, institutions and taxpayers,” the senators said in a statement.

Nicholas Zeppos, the chancellor of Vanderbilt University, and William Kirwan, the chancellor of the University System of Maryland, will co-chair the task force, which is to include 14 college and university presidents and higher education experts. Colleges have long complained that they are unduly burdened by an array of legislative and regulatory obligations that are often confusing and unevenly enforced by the Education Department. That argument has routinely been made by the American Council on Education, the umbrella group for higher education lobbying groups, which will provide “organizational assistance” for the task force.

Lawmakers are currently gearing up to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, which expires at the end of this year. The chair of the Senate education committee, Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, has said he wants to have a draft of the legislation by early this year after the committee completes a series of 12 hearings on various higher education issues. Alexander, the panel’s senior Republican, has said he wants to “start from scratch” in rewriting the Higher Education Act so as to eliminate burdensome requirements.  

November 18, 2013

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association on Friday called off its football championship game for the year after the quarterback for Winton-Salem State University was allegedly assaulted by players for Virginia State University, The Winston-Salem Journal reported. One Virginia State player has been arrested and Winston-Salem officials said that more may have been involved. A statement from the conference said that it has barred the Virginia State football team from postseason play. Keith Miller, president of Virginia State, issued this statement: "Virginia State University has indefinitely suspended a member of the VSU football team. Further, VSU will pursue a thorough internal investigation into Friday’s incident of which the findings and recommendations will be reported directly to me. We will include both students and alumni in this internal investigation process. Based on the report, further disciplinary action may be forthcoming. Playing on a VSU athletic team is a privilege. Student-athletes who fail to live up to the ideals of our institution will forfeit that privilege. We have a zero tolerance policy toward acts of violence, on or off campus, and we take that policy very seriously."

 

 

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