Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 19, 2013

Suzanne Fortier, principal and vice chancellor (the equivalent of president) of McGill University, has issued a statement in which the university formally opposes a "charter of values" proposed by Quebec's government that would bar public employees -- including those who work at universities -- from wearing religious head coverings or "overt" religious symbols. While the proposal could affect many religious people, it is widely viewed as a response to the non-Christian immigrant population in the province. "The proposal to prohibit our professors and staff from wearing visible religious symbols runs contrary to our principles. The wearing of such symbols in no way interferes with the religious and political neutrality of McGill as an institution. All the members of the university community with whom I have spoken on this issue are clearly worried about the proposal, and would like to see it withdrawn," said Fortier's statement. The Montreal Gazette reported that other universities are also concerned about the proposal, but that McGill is the first to take so public a stance.

 

September 19, 2013

Higher Education for Development (HED) faces a possible 80 percent reduction in its operating budget, which could force it to close out its grant programs prematurely. HED, which manages development-oriented partnerships between American universities and institutions abroad as a subcontractor of sorts for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was informed by the agency via an August 7 e-mail that its operating budget for the fiscal year starting October 1 will be just $1 million – a drop from $4.9 million this current year.

“We said at that level we close everything down by the middle of December and it will be utter chaos,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs for the American Council on Education, which oversees HED. “They [U.S.A.I.D.] said that’s not what we had in mind; we need to think about another way to do this.”

For its part U.S.A.I.D. said in a statement that "discussions with ACE/HED regarding programming and budget levels are ongoing at this time, and no final decisions have been made. U.S.A.I.D. is highly committed to increasing our engagement with higher education institutions to harness their intellectual energies, research capabilities, community connections, and capacity building expertise to address the toughest development challenges."

Hartle said that ACE and HED have not received anything in writing about the budget since the August 7 e-mail. He said that in discussions U.S.A.I.D. has been very clear that it does not want to force the end of any partnerships prematurely. "They'd like to have the partnerships run, but they would like to not have to pay the cost of having them monitored and evaluated according to the U.S.A.I.D. standards that they have dictated," he said.

He added that the problem seems to stem from the fact that U.S.A.I.D. wants to move away from the model of having HED and other similar entities function as middlemen in awarding, managing and evaluating government grants. That’s fine, Hartle said: “Government agencies change priorities; they change directions. But what is so surprising is that they would do this so close to the start of a fiscal year without recognizing the serious consequences of taking such a step."

HED currently administers $50 million in grants, managing 41 partnerships in 25 countries involving 93 institutions. Its portfolio of projects, present and past, can be found here

September 19, 2013

The University of California System is turning to celebrities for a new crowdfounding approach to raise money for financial aid, The Los Angeles Times reported. Celebrities are pledging access and performances if their supporters can raise set amounts of money. Jamie Foxx, the actor, will for example "rap a song like Bill Clinton, President Obama  and Monique from the movie 'Precious'" if his fans raise $20,000. The idea is to attract young alumni and others who are not interested in traditional fund-raising appeals, officials said.

September 19, 2013

The U.S. Department of Labor on Wednesday announced $475 million in work force development funding for community colleges. The money is the third installment of a $2 billion program the Obama administration created to encourage two-year institutions to deepen ties with employers and community partners. So far the project has drawn positive reviews. The 57 new grants will support work in every state.

September 19, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Lauren Hale of Stony Brook University reveals the connection between a teen’s sleep and diet choices. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 19, 2013

Occidental College has settled lawsuits filed by at least 10 current or former students who sued over the institution's handling of complaints they brought about sexual assaults, The Los Angeles Times reported. Details were not available, but reportedly include payments to the plaintiffs and a pledge on their part not to discuss their cases.

 

September 19, 2013

Tufts University has found one of its professors guilty of ethics violations during a study of vitamin-enriched rice in China, National Public Radio reported.

In a report released Tuesday, Tufts says that Guangwan Tang, associate professor of nutrition science and policy, failed to comply fully with federal regulations for research in human subjects in her study of so-called “golden rice.”

The rice, which contains high amounts of Vitamin A, is designed to treat malnutrition. But Chinese activists last year accused Tang and her Chinese partners of failing to notify parents of children involved in the study that the rice also was genetically modified. Nature reported that Chinese journalists said the information had been withheld from parents purposely because some involved in the project felt it was “too sensitive.”

Tufts says Tang will be banned from research involving human subjects for two years, followed by a two-year probation in which all human research must be overseen by a colleague.

Tang did not respond to a request for comment.

In an e-mail, a Tufts spokeswoman said that although Tang’s positive results regarding the effectiveness of golden rice in addressing malnutrition were still valid, “[w]e regret that deviations from certain approved protocols and standards occurred. Tufts has strengthened our policies and procedures to prevent recurrence of such problems, and we remain committed to conducting research of the highest quality, with rigorous oversight.”

September 19, 2013

Noodle, the education company founded by John Katzman (who founded Princeton Review and the company now known as 2U), will today announce a new effort to make it easier for colleges to deal with all the requests they receive for data from rankings providers -- and to assure more common data. The Common Data Library will be open to any reputable ranker (a yet-to-be-determined panel of college officials will decide who qualifies) with which colleges want to share data. In theory, a college could avoid putting together separate data sets to share with the growing number of entities requesting the data. Katzman said that the approach not only would save colleges time and money (they won't be charged for the service), but would promote accuracy. He noted that -- because different rankings ask questions in slightly different ways -- single institutions can be listed as having differing tuition rates or other data points.

September 18, 2013

As Congress debates over a stopgap spending measure to keep the government open past October 1, the group representing America’s elite research universities on Tuesday issued a statement protesting efforts by Congress impose restrictions on or ban federal funding for social and behavioral science research.

The Association of American Universities said called those efforts “disturbing” and “inappropriate,” arguing that they would “relegate such research to second-class status in federal research funding.”

Congress in March approved a ban on the use of National Science Foundation funds for political science research. Proponents of the measure, which was sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a Republican, argued that federal dollars should flow only to research projects that involve the physical or biological sciences or technology fields. A House subcommittee earlier this year approved a measure barring economic health research at the National Institutes of Health, but it was not included in this year’s legislation to fund the government.

“Even in the context of federal budget constraints, we believe that actions by Congress to de-fund or stigmatize entire disciplines of research would severely cripple, in principle and practice, the federal government’s historically productive commitment to the funding of basic research across all disciplines,” the statement said. It also said that social and behavioral science research was important to addressing the nation’s challenges in a variety of areas such as national security, public safety and transportation. 

September 18, 2013

Minerva Schools at KGI, the ambitious (and still heavily theoretical) project that aims to educate some of the world's best students online but in residential settings, said this week that it would give its first group of undergraduates four years of free tuition when they enroll next fall, but ultimately charge $10,000 in annual tuition and under $30,000 in total costs. The project, which is seeking accreditation through Keck Graduate Institute, part of the Claremont University Consortium, aims to enroll students who could qualify for Ivy League and other highly competitive universities but would opt for an experimental alternative. The project has been the subject of both significant interest (and support from powerful friends, such as Bob Kerrey and Lawrence Summers) and a good bit of skepticism.

Minerva's founder, Ben Nelson, said in the news release that it would ultimately charge $10,000 a year in tuition and $18,850 in room and board, and that it would offer scholarships and low-interest loans.

 

 

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