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Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 4:24am

A contentious lawsuit by a law professor against the dean of the Widener University law school has been settled, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The suit by Lawrence Connell charged that Dean Linda L. Ammons defamed him by making false statements that he was racist and sexist. Connell argued that those statements were made because of his conservative political views. No terms of the settlement were announced, except that Connell no longer works at Widener.

Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 3:00am

The never-ending saga of the University of North Dakota's Fighting Sioux nickname and logo has been extended again, with the university tentatively embracing the controversial moniker while a statewide referendum plays itself out, the Associated Press reported. After several years of machinations and stops and starts, the university stopped calling its teams the Fighting Sioux in late 2010 under pressure from the National Collegiate Athletic Association, whose 2005 campaign to end the use of Native American nicknames and mascots considered to be "hostile and abusive" targeted about 20 colleges. At risk was the university's ability to play host to NCAA championships, among other things. But state legislators approved a law last March requiring the university reinstate the Fighting Sioux name, which was promptly repealed in a special legislative session last November, citing the continued threat of NCAA retribution.

Now a group of Fighting Sioux advocates are petitioning to force a statewide vote on the matter, and the university's president said he had reinstated the name and logo to honor the state's referendum process, which mandates that a law must be in effect if it is to be legally challenged. The AP said that state officials would meet soon to decide whether to once again seek legal action to block reinstatement of the law, since the NCAA remains poised to punish North Dakota if the Fighting Sioux nickname is retained.

Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Alice Quillen of the University of Rochester reveals the process used to detect and describe objects orbiting distant stars. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 3:00am

California's Legislative Analyst's Office issued an extensive report Wednesday that praised some aspects of Governor Jerry Brown's plan to finance higher education in 2012-13 but said the proposal could "unduly" curtail student access and would limit the legislature's right to set budgets for different types of institutions. The analysis says that the governor's plan to impose grade point average requirements on the receipt of some state student aid and to cut need-based aid for students at private institutions would "unreasonably harm access" to postsecondary education. The analyst's office also proposes changes to the program that grants fee waivers to community college students, and notes that the plan would impose devastating cuts on the three systems of public higher education if voters do not approve a tax increase in November.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

Blackboard today unveiled a “more modern” look for its industry-leading learning management system, Blackboard Learn, which has been criticized in some quarters for being hard to use and unappealing to look at. The new interface is meant to “surface” some of the system’s features — especially its real-time assessment tools — in the hope that instructors will use them more frequently. The new design also puts an emphasis on customization: a “course entry wizard” guides instructors through the process of setting up courses “based on different pedagogical models and content models,” according to Brad Koch, director of product development. Afterward, instructors can manually rearrange items on their course pages and select from a buffet of design themes (“pizzazz,” “coral,” “mosaic,” etc.). Notably, the new interface will be capable of assuming the form of the LMS interfaces for WebCT and Angel Learning, which Blackboard bought years ago — a possible attempt to keep those clients as the company begins to stop supporting the legacy versions of the WebCT and Angel LMS products.

In recent months, competitors have attempted to cast Blackboard as aesthetically retrograde and more concerned with the needs of high-level administrators than those of individual instructors. During a demo of the new interface last week, Ray Henderson, the president of Blackboard Learn, said the company was aware of the knocks against its interface. And while he insisted that back-end integrations with campus information systems were still Blackboard’s trump card against more lightweight entrants to the LMS marketplace, “We think design and user experience [will only get] more important,” Henderson said.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

Moody's Investors Service said this week that a class action filed against 12 law schools last week could endanger those schools' financial positions, since they rely overwhelmingly on tuition revenue, and a lawsuit alleging that a school inflated graduation and employment statistics is not a strong selling point for attracting students. "The lawsuits are credit negative for the law schools given the potential for reputational damage leading to application and enrollment declines that would pressure tuition revenue," Moody's analyst Emily Schwarz wrote in the ratings agency's weekly credit outlook.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

If it happened in football, it would be a big-time violation of NCAA rules. But Webster University announced this week that it had recruited Susan Polgar -- winner of four world championships -- her Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence, and her national championship team away from Texas Tech University, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The move helps make St. Louis a major force in the sport. Nearby, Lindenwood University has announced that it will start to offer chess scholarships in an attempt to build up the chess team there.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

Colleges and universities must transform undergraduate education in sciences, math and engineering -- in large part by expanding the reach of "evidence-based teaching approaches" -- if the United States is to meet a goal of producing 1 million more bachelor's and associate degree holders in those fields within a decade, the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology said in a report issued Tuesday. The report, released in conjunction with a webcast featuring the presidents of the University of Virginia and Anne Arundel Community College and other higher education leaders, is built around evidence that significant numbers of those who enter college inclined to study math and science abandon those plans within the first two years, often citing uninspiring introductory courses or an environment that is "unwelcoming" to some groups.

To overcome those problems and produce more graduates -- which the report joins previous studies in arguing is essential to stimulate economic innovation and feed the U.S. work force -- the report from President Obama's science advisory council calls for catalyzing "widespread adoption" of empirically proven teaching methods in key science courses, establishing discipline-based federal programs to train graduate students and faculty members in those methods, replacing standard lab courses with "discovery-based research courses" (and using federal programs to help redesign those courses), closing the "mathematics-preparation gap" that leaves so many students unprepared for college-level science and technical courses, and clearing paths for would-be science and math students from K-12 to community colleges and then to four-year institutions.

The White House's agenda and suggestions overlap significantly with other reports and recommendations made in recent years, including an aggressive push announced last fall by the Association of American Universities.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

The American Federation of Teachers Executive Council on Tuesday reaffirmed a commitment to collaborating with the American Association of University Professors on advocacy efforts and union organizing. The announcement extends a relationship created in 2008 as part of an effort to bring more faculty members -- especially at research universities -- into collective bargaining. The joint effort resulted in a big win with the unionization of faculty members at the University of Illinois at Chicago (although the university is challenging the win). Currently, the AFT and AAUP are jointly organizing faculty members at the University of Oregon.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012 - 3:00am

An investigation by The Washington Post has revealed many millions in earmarks -- grants made by members of Congress to specific institutions, bypassing peer review -- that have gone to colleges that employ close relatives of the lawmakers who obtained the funds, or who have such relatives on their boards. For example, Representative Robert Aderholt, an Alabama Republican, helped get about $440,000 for the University of Montevallo while his wife was on its board. Or there's Representative Robert E. Andrews, a New Jersey Democrat, who won $3.3 million over the last 10 years for a scholarship program at the Rutgers University School of Law in Camden, where his wife is an associate dean in charge of scholarships. And Rep. Robert E. Latta, an Ohio Republican, co-sponsored earmarks worth $2.8 million for Bowling Green State University while his wife was a senior vice president there.

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