Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 15, 2013

Russian officials have pledged to investigate why there have been major layoffs at Moscow State University, RIA Novosti reported. The government has been pushing the university to raise employee salaries, but has not provided funds for the increased pay.

 

November 15, 2013

In a rare move, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Thursday revoked the tenure of a longtime faculty member. Louis Wozniak, associate professor of industrial enterprise and systems engineering, was removed from teaching in 2010, after he sent an email to students that said he only remembered the names of those students with whom he had had sex. Wozniak said it was clearly a joke, but some found it offensive, and the university launched an investigation into his behavior going back to a prior complaint that he was passed up for a $500 teaching award, the Chicago Tribune reported. A faculty committee cleared Wozniak of most of the charges against him, but the University of Illinois Board of Trustees voted unanimously to revoke his tenure and terminate his employment immediately under university statutes, after finding “clear and convincing” evidence that he “can no longer be relied on to perform his university duties and functions in a manner consonant with professional standards of competence and responsibility.”

In its decision, the board said it did not treat the case lightly, given the gravity of tenure, but added: “There is nothing more fundamental to the mission of a university than to protect its relationships with its students. This includes ensuring that student confidences are maintained and that information is not published about them without the consent required by University policies. Every student of this University deserves nothing less than our complete and unwavering support of these policies.  Prof. Wozniak has refused to meet this most basic understanding."

Wozniak, who joined the faculty in 1966, did not immediately return a request for comment. Greg Scholtz, director of tenure, governance and academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors, said the association was keeping a file on Wozniak's case and would be concerned if the procedures Illinois followed to arrive at Thursday's decision violated AAUP guidelines. It does not appear that any such violations occurred, he added.

November 15, 2013

Robert Sternberg -- president of the University of Wyoming since July -- announced his resignation on Thursday. In a statement released by the university, he said, "I care a great deal about this university. And I have come to realize that as wonderful as the University of Wyoming is, it may not be the best fit for me as president. So I tendered my resignation today to the Board of Trustees." The announcement followed a meeting of nearly nine hours in executive session of the university's board.

During his time in office, Sternberg has pushed for change in the senior administrative ranks, and three deans and five other administrators have left their positions. While turnover in the administrative ranks is common when new presidents take over, the pace of change at Wyoming has been speedy and controversial -- and some who have left (especially the law dean) have been public about their frustration. The university statement, however, quoted the board president as backing the direction in which Sternberg was leading: “The board fully accepts and endorses the personnel changes and changes in direction at the university that have taken place in the last several months that emphasize and reinforce the university’s land-grant mission with service to the people of Wyoming, its state government and the economy.”

Sternberg spent much of his career as a psychology professor at Yale University and is a leader in the field of measuring non-cognitive abilities. He was named president at Wyoming after serving as provost at Oklahoma State University. In that position and at Wyoming, he has spoken out repeatedly about the mission of land-grant universities. In an interview with the editorial board of The Casper Star-Tribune this week, he defended his leadership, and said he was carrying out the plans he had discussed with the trustees. “I am doing exactly what they hired me to do," he said.

 

November 15, 2013

Members of Congress this week heard from higher education advocates and researchers on ways to restructure the federal government’s student aid programs as lawmakers continue their series of hearings on reauthorizing the Higher Education Act. The education committees in both chambers convened separate hearings Wednesday and Thursday to discuss various ways to change federal student aid. Lawmakers heard about simplifying the administrative barriers for students applying for aid, restructuring Pell Grants to better incentivize completion, and improving income-based repayment options for student borrowers.

Lawmakers on both sides appeared to be in agreement that the application process to apply for federal aid needs to be simpler. Both Senators Tom Harkin and Lamar Alaxander, respectively the Democratic chair and Republican ranking member of the Senate education committee, said Thursday they believed there was a general consensus on simplifying the process by which students apply for federal aid.

Proposals on simplifying how the federal government doles out billions of dollars in grants, loans and education tax credits each year, meanwhile, are likely to be more fraught.

November 14, 2013

University of Connecticut President Susan Herbst said Wednesday that students misinterpreted her response to their speaking out against sexual assault on campus, The Hartford Courant reported. After seven students filed a Title IX complaint (and subsequent lawsuit) against the university in October, alleging that the university failed to protect them from sexual violence, Herbst said the claims were “astonishingly misguided and demonstrably untrue.” Students held a rally in protest, and state lawmakers called for a hearing on sexual assault on Connecticut campuses (which took place Wednesday afternoon). But on Wednesday Herbst said she was not suggesting the students were lying, but was rather responding to “the broad allegation of institutional indifference.”

November 14, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Sophie Wuerger of the University of Liverpool explains how our perception of color remains constant even though our vision degrades with age. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

November 14, 2013

Google on Wednesday announced a $3.2 million grant that four organizations will share to produce data-based research on how student veterans are faring in college. The Institute for Veterans and Military Families, Student Veterans of America, Posse Foundation and Veterans of Foreign Wars will study which colleges are the most successful at supporting student veterans, which campus programs have the biggest impact and how veterans' majors of study match up with employment opportunities. The resulting report will be made public, Google officials said, and the company will fund the expansion of programs that are found to be the most effective.

November 14, 2013

University of California students need another tuition freeze in the coming year, and a more rational approach to tuition than the past mix of freezes and large percentage increases, Janet Napolitano said Wednesday, The Los Angeles Times reported. Napolitano -- the new president of the university system -- made the proposal to the university's Board of Regents. Over the long run, she said, the university must strive to keep costs to students and families under control. "I want tuition to be as low as possible, and I want it to be as predictable as possible," she said. Napolitano said that she wanted to work "to bring clarity to, and reduce volatility in, the tuition-setting process." She also said she wanted to increase the number of transfer students from the state's community colleges.

 

November 14, 2013

The University of Colorado at Boulder is starting a major marketing campaign so that more people know about the university's academic excellence, and to fight the campus reputation as a party school, The Boulder Daily Camera reported. Officials did focus groups in which they asked people for celebrities that they associated in some way with the university, and answers such as Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan reinforced the concern about the impact of the party school reputation. The new campaign is called "Be Boulder," and focuses on accomplishments and qualities of Boulder students, faculty members and alumni.

November 14, 2013

Faculty members at George Washington University last week sounded the alarm about a new online course policy that appeared to present a breach of academic freedom, but the outrage quickly evaporated after the administration specified it only applied to accessibility testing and technical issues.

The furor was sparked by a memo sent from Provost Steven Lerman’s office that some faculty members interpreted as the administration granting itself the power to share course content with outside groups and change it without consulting the instructor.

“In order to provide centralized review of GW’s online courses to ensure compliance with legal requirements imposed by federal, state, or district law (e.g., that materials are reasonably accessible as required under federal disability laws) , the Provost’s Office may, at its discretion, grant access to online course materials and recordings of online discussions to auditors, outside contractors, or designated University personnel for the purpose of reviewing such materials for legal compliance or to propose improvements to GW’s online education programs,” the memo read.

Lerman clarified the administration’s intentions during a Faculty Senate meeting last Friday, said Charles A. Garris, a professor in the School of Engineering and Applied Science who was in attendance.

“They put forth this badly written memo, and there was a big misunderstanding, and they have absolutely no intention of releasing online course materials without faculty members’ authorization,” Garris said. “I think it was more more or less a tempest in a teapot.”

Garris’s take on the situation shows how the faculty’s outrage has deflated over the weekend. When the issue was reported in the student newspaper The GW Hatchet on Friday, Philip W. Wirtz, vice dean of programs and education, was quoted as saying the policy appeared “to be a clear trampling of faculty rights.”

Paul S. Berman, vice provost for online education and academic innovation, further elaborated on the policy in a statement.

“The policy is only meant to help the university ensure that all of our online courses are in compliance with various legal and accreditation requirements by allowing us to grant access to administrators or to third parties hired by the university to audit for such compliance issues and make recommendations,” Berman said.

For example, the university could grant access to an outside consultant to test if an online course conforms to accessibility standards, or to check the robustness of student identity verification methods and exam integrity, Berman said.

“Sometimes this access must be granted on an expedited basis, making it not feasible to track down every faculty member that may be involved in order to get individualized permission, and since these are legal or accreditation requirements, it is not something that is optional in any event,” Berman said. “Thus, this policy will simply help streamline the compliance process. No broader scope or review of course content or curriculum is contemplated by this policy.”

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