Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- An immigration bill unveiled early Wednesday morning by a bipartisan Senate group would provide an expedited pathway to citizenship for young immigrants in the U.S. illegally and expand visas for highly educated workers. The bill -- a compromise among eight Republican and Democratic Senators -- still faces a tough road in Congress, but the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities praised it as an important step.

"It contains many welcomed changes to immigration policy that would go a long way toward advancing both the interests of universities and our nation," M. Peter McPherson, the group's president, said in a statement. “As employers, universities want to be able to hire and retain the most talented researchers and educators throughout the world without having to run into bureaucratic red tape. And as educators, we want to retain our most talented international students and keep them in the U.S. where they can contribute to our economy and strengthen our communities."


Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 3:00am

Education Sector and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni announced Wednesday that they are withdrawing a report issued in March claiming that faculty teaching loads had gone down substantially, contributing to the rising cost of higher education. That report, "Selling Students Short," said that "from 1987-1988 to 2003-2004, the average number of courses tenured and tenure-track faculty taught per term ... declined 25 percent. It is hard to overstate how dramatic this decline has been." The report argued that colleges would have kept their spending lower had they not made it possible for faculty members to spend less time in the classroom. At the time it was released, several faculty groups questioned the data, and pointed to problems with the report, such as its failure to reflect on the much increased use of non-tenure-track faculty members, who typically teach many more courses than do other professors.

The announcement Wednesday said that the two groups no longer felt that the data from 1987-88 were comparable to those from 2003-4. For example, professors who were not teaching any classes were excluded from the earlier data, but not the latter data. "[W]e cannot determine whether teaching loads for the typical professor declined, stayed the same, or increased," said a blog post from Andrew Gillen, the research director at Education Sector.

Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 3:00am

Last week, faculty members in Emory University's College of Arts and Sciences rejected a vote of no confidence in President James W. Wagner. Over the last year, Emory's decision to end some academic programs frustrated many professors, particularly in the humanities. Opposition grew in February, when Wagner's column in the alumni magazine offered as a model for compromise the three-fifths compromise, in which Northern and Southern politicians creating the U.S. Constitution agreed to count each slave in the South as three-fifths of a person for purposes of taxation and Congressional representation. While Wagner apologized for using the example, many people at Emory were stunned that he could be unaware that the compromise is widely viewed as a particularly ugly and racist moment in U.S. history.

On Tuesday, the Faculty Council (an elected faculty body representing all of the university's units) issued a statement of support for Wagner.  "We acknowledge the hurt to our community caused by President James Wagner’s use of the three-fifths compromise clause in his column in the Winter, 2013, issue of the Emory Magazine. He has sincerely apologized for this mistake in multiple venues, and he has held many listening sessions to hear concerns from the community. We as the University Faculty Council accept his apology. While his words were insensitive, they were not malicious in intent, and discussion of them has revealed failures throughout our community to live up to the diverse and inclusive ideal to which we aspire," said the statement.

It went on to describe Wagner's use of the three-fifths example as "particularly unfortunate because it detracts from many endeavors Emory University has initiated under his leadership. Emory has apologized for the role of slavery in building the institution, hosted the 'Slavery and the University' conference, which drew attendees from across the U.S., and created the Transforming Community Project in which people from across the university engaged with our history and current experiences of race, gender, sexuality, and other forms of human difference."

The Faculty Council's statement concluded: "We state our firm support for his continued leadership in the years ahead to continue the work yet to be done."

Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 3:00am

A new survey from ACT shows the continued gap between those who teach in high school and those who teach in college when it comes to their perceptions of the college preparation of today's students. Nearly 90 percent of high school teachers told ACT that their students are either “well” or “very well” prepared for college-level work in their subject area after leaving their courses. But only 26 percent of college instructors reported that their incoming students are either "well" or "very well" prepared for first-year credit-bearing courses in their subject area. The percentages are virtually unchanged from a similar survey in 2009.

Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 3:00am

Preliminary results of the vote at Montana State University to decertify its union shows the final margin will be even smaller than the decision to unionize in 2009, which won by a meager 12 votes. After the 375 ballots were counted at the Montana Department of Labor and Industry in Helena, the effort to decertify the Associated Faculty of MSU leads by five votes, 190 to 185. The union, which is affiliated with the statewide MEA-MFT, has challenged four ballots, while its opponents have challenged two.

Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Andrew Stephen of the University of Pittsburgh explains how your behavior may be influenced by social media connections. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


Thursday, April 18, 2013 - 4:20am

A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that a lower court was too quick to reject a former student's request for dismissal of a suit against her by Trump University. The student sued Trump University after she took some of its courses and they failed to live up to her expectations and claims she said were made in advertising. Trump University (which has since been renamed to remove "university" from its name, but which is called its former name in the ruling) then sued the student for defamation, and she tried unsuccessfully to have the suit dismissed. The appeals court on Wednesday ruled that it would be difficult to win a case against the student for defamation because Trump University was a much discussed institution (in part because of the celebrity of its founder, Donald Trump) and that debate about its quality was very much in the public sphere.

"We have very little difficulty concluding that a public controversy existed over Trump University's educational and business practices," the decision says. "As Donald Trump himself admits on the Trump University website, Trump University provoked public attention nearly from the outset, much of it derisive.... [A]ny general interest in Trump University stemming from its celebrity founder soon ripened in an actual dispute over Trump University's business and educational practices."

A lawyer for Trump University said that it would appeal, the Associated Press reported.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 3:00am

Officials of the College of Charleston and the Medical University of South Carolina are talking about a merger, The Post and Courier reported. Charleston Mayor Joe Riley organized the discussions, and said that he believed the city needed a comprehensive research university.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 3:00am

Western Michigan University has called off a plan to build a new dining hall that would have required the destruction of hundreds of trees, MLive.com reported. Students and faculty members have been campaigning against the dining hall, and the university agreed to call off the original plan and look for alternatives. "As we studied the proposed site and plans for a new dining hall in the valley and received the final environmental assessment by our staff, it became clear that the project would have required the removal of more than 500 trees -- a far larger number than original estimates," said President John Dunn in an e-mail to the campus.


Wednesday, April 17, 2013 - 3:00am

A Chinese graduate student at Boston University was the third victim of Monday's bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the university announced Tuesday.  University officials said that the student, whom it did not identify pending approval from his family, was among a trio of B.U. students and friends who watched the end of the marathon from near the finish line. Another graduate student was injured and remains hospitalized, the university said. Boston-area colleges continued to report that some of their students were injured, including seven from Emerson College.


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