Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 2, 2013

More than a year after its initial publication in Social Science Research, the debate over a controversial study concluding that children with parents who are gay are in some ways less successful as adults than their peers lives on – and is now directed at the journal’s editor.

In a post to his blog, Family Inequality, Philip N. Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, calls for editor James Wright, professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida, to step down. Cohen says he’ll boycott the journal as a contributor and reviewer until Wright leaves the Elsevier publication and urges others to do so.

Cohen says that Wright relied on paid consultants on the New Family Structures Study for peer reviews and didn’t disclose that when the article was first published in June 2012. He bases his argument in part on the fact that Paul Amato, professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, has said publicly that he consulted the study’s author, Mark Regnerus, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, for two days early on in the project.

Amato says in a recent post to Cohen’s blog that he disclosed that information to Wright, but Wright asked him to proceed with his review. However, Amato says his role in the study did not pose a conflict of interest, and he has reviewed other studies with which he has had some involvement. If there's no self-reported conflict, he says, journal editors in his experience don't care -- in part because reviewers are hard to come by.

It’s also been alleged that W. Bradford Wilcox, associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia with former ties to the conservative Witherspoon Institute that funded the study, served as a reviewer. He also consulted on the study, according to documents made public by the University of Texas. Wilcox, who also serves on the journal’s editorial board, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an e-mail, Wright said he has never publicly disclosed who reviewed the articles and doesn’t plan to. But he said that both “Amato and Wilcox mentioned their prior involvement with the Regnerus study in response to my initial reviewing request.  I asked, as I always do, whether this involvement precluded their writing an objective review. Both said no and so both were asked to proceed.”

Wright did not respond to a question about stepping down as editor. But he said there are no plans to retract the article, for which some, including Cohen, have called.

“[That] to my mind would require proof of fraudulent behavior, cooking the data, faking the analysis or something similar, none of which (so far as I know) has even been alleged, much less shown,” Wright said.

But Cohen said that instead of “seriously reviewing the paper, he essentially whispered into an echo chamber of backers and consultants, ‘We should publish this, right?’”

The criticism of Regnerus’s study came hard and fast and prompted a commentary package in the November issue of Social Science Research and an investigation by the University of Texas. Many said it was “bad science,” a poorly designed study that proved only what sociology already had established: that children from unstable homes have higher problem profiles later in life than children from stable, two-parent homes. Because many parents of children in the study had conceived their children in heterosexual relationships that ended when or before they came out as gay, the study did not have proper controls for studying the true effects of having parents who are gay, critics said.

August 2, 2013

College students may notice prices of items in their campus stores and coffee shops decrease  — or at least not get any higher — thanks to a U.S. district judge’s ruling  that said the Federal Reserve’s 21-cent cap on debit-card transactions is too high.

In an opinion on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon agreed with retailers that the Fed’s limit on “swipe” fees that was set in 2011 did not come close to its own staff's recommendation for a cap of 12 cents. These fees are set by Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc., the biggest electronic-payment networks, which collect the money and give it to card-issuing member banks.

The judge wrote that the Fed “clearly disregarded Congress's statutory intent by inappropriately inflating all debit card transaction fees by billions of dollars...”

Swipe fees are “invisible” costs for consumers, because they force merchants to hike up costs of their merchandise in order to pay transaction fees to the banks. College students are especially affected, because the merchants most hurt by the swipe fees are those that sell inexpensive products like coffee and snacks — all products likely to be found in an on-campus store, said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director and senior fellow for U.S. PIRG. Additionally, swipe fees are the highest costs, after personnel, for campus bookstores, said Richard Hershman, who is the vice president of government relations for the National Association of College Stores. If higher education retailers don’t have to give as much money to the banks as a result of lower swipe fees, then they have more money to “return back to students," Hershman said.

August 2, 2013

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a major supporter of entrepreneurial education, has released two white papers about the results of those efforts. The papers note that entrepreneurial education is no longer on "the margins of higher education," as many more institutions have started efforts.


August 2, 2013

Hugo Schwyzer, who teaches history and women's studies at Pasadena City College, is dropping his controversial course on pornography, The Pasadena Star-News reported. Schwyzer said that his online activities have been so controversial (he has until now written regularly on sex and gender issues) that he needs to step back and focus on his family. He said this was especially important because he recently had an affair. The controversial course is about pornography, and Schwyzer clashed with administrators over his guest lecturers (some of whom are stars in the adult film industry). He told the Star-News he didn't want a repeat of the hostility from administrators toward his course. "I'm exhausted by threats and controversy," Schwyzer said. "I need a break."

August 2, 2013

The University of California System bars those flying on the university's dime from using anything but economy class, unless there is a certified medical need. The Center for Investigative Reporting found that 6 of the 17 academic deans "routinely" are certified as having a medical need to fly business or first class, and that travel bills go up as a result. The article noted that one of the deans who does not fly economy is Judy Olian of the Anderson School of Management. The article said that she "has at least twice tackled the arduous 56-mile cycling leg of the long course relay at Monterey County’s Wildflower Triathlon, according to her expense records and race results. She described herself in a 2011 Los Angeles Times profile as a 'cardio junkie.' " None of the deans cited in the article would comment. A spokeswoman for the UCLA business school would not identify Olian's medical condition, but said that it does not interfere with her biking.

UCLA provided a statement defending the need for deans to travel: "While today’s times demand financial prudence, UCLA must make investments in travel and entertainment-related activities to continue its trajectory as one of the world’s top research universities and a national leader in securing gifts and research funding."

August 2, 2013

An article in Chemistry World explores the effect of new guidelines barring European Union funding for institutions in the occupied territories on Israel’s continuing access to European research and development grants. Of the eight universities in Israel, the new guidelines will likely have the most significant effects on Ariel University, which is located in the West Bank and was upgraded to university status last year despite protests from many Israeli academics. 

August 2, 2013

Altius Education, a for-profit company that runs Ivy Bridge College, announced late Thursday that Tiffin University, a nonprofit institution in Ohio, has been ordered by its accreditor to stop offering associate degrees through Ivy Bridge. Those degrees have been covered by Tiffin's accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission, which according to Altius said that the Ivy Bridge programs must end by October 20. Ivy Bridge allows students to earn associate degrees online that can then be transferred to other institutions, although that transfer has depended on the program's accreditation. Ivy Bridge said it would focus immediately on trying to help students transfer to accredited institutions.

The announcement offered this explanation of the Higher Learning Commission's action: "In 2010, the HLC board approved continuing accreditation for Tiffin University and Ivy Bridge College through 2020. Since then, the HLC has made changes to select policies and procedures, and on July 25, the HLC notified Tiffin University that the business structure of Ivy Bridge College did not align with their changes in policy and issued the October 20 deadline for disengagement."

Here is a 2011 article in Inside Higher Ed on the Ivy Bridge-Tiffin relationship, noting that the program had won many supporters.


August 2, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Vanessa May of Seton Hall University explains why domestic workers were denied the protections of labor law for most of the 20th century. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


August 2, 2013

After abruptly firing its president -- who had been in office for less than two years -- in May, Arcadia University’s board does not plan on naming an interim president by the time classes begin in the fall, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Instead, chief operating officer Nicolette DeVille Christensen will run the university with the full authority of a president, although not carrying that title. Christopher van de Velde, the board chair, told the Inquirer that Arcadia is being run “very well” by Christensen, and the board is not yet “ready” to start a presidential search.

“She’s been a leader for many years now at the university,” a spokeswoman said about Christensen to Inside Higher Ed. Christensen joined Arcadia in the summer of 2008 and served as vice president of the College of Global Studies.

In the past three years, Arcadia has had four different leaders. Former president Jerry Greiner announced in the fall of 2011 that he would retire at the end of the academic year, but he left his position several months shy of the semester's end. Interim President James P. Gallagher who followed after, was supposed to stay until a new president arrived, but also exited early, a source told the Inquirer. Carl "Tobey" Oxholm III was elected president in 2011 and then mysteriously fired this past spring. Oxholm was shocked when he was fired, and the board never offered an explanation for the decision. His removal spurred anger from faculty, students and community members.

August 1, 2013

The presidents of 165 universities issued a joint statement Wednesday calling on President Obama and Congress to deal with the "innovation deficit" facing the country. "Our nation’s role as the world’s innovation leader is in serious jeopardy. The combination of eroding federal investments in research and higher education, additional cuts due to sequestration, and the enormous resources other nations are pouring into these areas is creating a new kind of deficit for the United States: an innovation deficit. Closing this innovation deficit—the widening gap between needed and actual investments — must be a national imperative," says the letter. "The path for resolving appropriations, the debt limit, and a potential long-term budget agreement this fall is unclear. What should be clear is that the answer to our nation’s fiscal woes must include sustained strategic federal investments in research and student financial aid to close the innovation deficit and bolster our nation’s economic and national security for decades to come."

The letter was coordinated by the Association of American Universities and the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities.



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