Higher Education Quick Takes
Late Wednesday the U.S. Department of Education released further revisions to its proposed gainful employment regulations, which would impose standards on vocational programs at for-profit institutions and community colleges. The new proposal dropped a loan repayment rate threshold that was added earlier in the negotiated rulemaking process, which is scheduled to conclude today.
The Education Department also released an analysis of how institutions would fare under the rules. Individual colleges were not named. The data showed that 13 percent of programs would fail under the standards. That number is more than double the amount that would have failed under the 2011 attempt to set gainful employment regulations.
Research universities are using a wide range of tools to assess and improve undergraduate education, and they are adding methods for assessment and improvement, according to a survey released Thursday by the Association of American Universities. Institutions are mixing the use of quantitative data (such as graduation rates) with student surveys and other tools.
CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research and a major force in global science, on Thursday voted to admit Israel as the first non-European full member nation, and as the first nation added since 1999. At a time that some academics in the United States and Europe are pushing to isolate Israel, the move by CERN was hailed by officials in Israel as a reflection of the strength of the country's scientific enterprise. Israel has been an associate member of CERN, a status countries must maintain for two years prior to consideration for full membership.
The University of Texas Board of Regents -- after long hours behind closed doors Thursday to discuss the performance of Bill Powers as president of the flagship campus at Austin -- decided to keep him on, The Dallas Morning News reported. Powers is popular with students and faculty members, but he has clashed with board members who are close to Governor Rick Perry, a Republican. Francisco Cigarroa, chancellor of the UT system, said after the meeting that relations between Powers and the board have become "strained," but that Powers was working to improve them.
The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group of business and civic leaders who have backed Powers, issued this statement late Thursday: “Bill Powers is an outstanding higher education leader for Texas and for the country. That his job was ever in question is a sad indictment of the current state of affairs in Texas, in which the undue influence of the governor’s office trumps common sense and good governance. It is our hope that moving forward all of the Board of Regents will support President Powers and focus on strengthening the entire system for the benefit of all Texans, without some of the board members disrupting the flagship."
Meanwhile, the Board of Regents at Texas A&M University is facing its own controversy. The board is scheduled to vote Saturday on an interim president for the flagship campus. Chancellor John Sharp has reportedly nominated Mark Hussey, the system's vice chancellor and A&M's dean for the College of Agriculture and Life Science, for the position, and Hussey has faculty support, The Bryan-College Station Eagle reported. But Governor Perry is reportedly pressing regents (all of whom he has appointed) to instead pick Guy Diedrich, the system's vice chancellor for strategic initiatives, and a friend of Perry's.
Overall enrollment in higher education fell by 1.5 percent in fall 2013, marking the second consecutive year of decline, the National Student Clearinghouse estimated Thursday in a report. Enrollments edged up over fall 2012 at four-year private and public institutions, by 1.3 and 0.3 percent, respectively, but dropped by 3.1 and 9.7 percent at community colleges and four-year for-profit institutions, the clearinghouse report said. No region gained students in year-over-year numbers, but the Midwest (-2.6 percent) suffered most with the other regions dipping by less than a percentage point.
The report also provides data on enrollments by state and gender, among other counts.
Yeshiva University this week announced plans for deep budget cuts, the continuation of cuts to faculty retirement accounts and the sale of some buildings owned by the university, The Jewish Daily Forward reported. Like many universities, Yeshiva lost a considerable share of its endowment after the economic downturn started in 2008. But Yeshiva also lost about $100 million due to investments with Bernard Madoff. And the university has been sued for millions by men who say that, as boys, they were abused at the university's high school -- and that officials ignored the problem. In October, Moody's Investors Service Moody's Investors Service downgraded the university's bond rating to Baa2 from Baa1, citing "the university's weak liquidity with a full draw on operating lines of credit, expected covenant breach on lines of credit, deep operating deficits driving negative cash flow, and uncertainty regarding the outcome of litigation."
Continued, mandatory tenure systems for law professors got a high-profile vote of support recently from two past presidents of the Association of American Law Schools. Robert A. Gorman, professor emeritus of law at the University of Pennsylvania, and Elliot S. Milstein, professor of law at American University, sent a letter to the American Bar Association in favor of its current requirement that law schools offer professors a system of earning tenure as a condition of accreditation. That stipulation has come under fire in recent years, and it is now under review by the ABA’s Section on Legal Education and Admission to the Bar. The reviewing council has asked for comment on several proposed alternatives to that requirement, one of which does away with does away with the tenure requirement entirely. Another requires enough “security of position” for faculty to ensure academic freedom and quality recruitment, but does not require tenure as it is traditionally understood. In their letter, Gorman and Milstein argue that it is a necessary condition of employment, given the unpopular positions law school faculty members must argue. Judges and civil servants enjoy tenure-like conditions, they argue, and those who disapprove of tenure frequently misunderstand it. It’s a not a guaranteed job for life, they say, but a means of attracting and retaining top educators.
In an email, Milstein said: “As both teachers and scholars, law professors often play an important role in a society built on the rule of law, to be critical of injustice and advocate for change. Furthermore, clinical professors and their students represent clients whose positions are sometimes unpopular with the powerful. Internally, law school governance is often a process in which what will be taught, how it will be taught, to whom, and by whom are contentious issues. Decisions about what is valued in a law school have an effect on the nature of the legal profession and concomitantly upon law itself.”
In addition to the authors, 14 other past presidents of the Association of American Law Schools have signed on. Barry Currier, managing director of accreditation and legal education at the ABA, said the council had received the letter and added it to a growing list of feedback on the tenure proposals. The council is expected to vote on the matter at either its March or June meetings, he said.
The Graduate Student Organizing Committee at New York University late Wednesday announced that eligible graduate teaching assistants had voted overwhelmingly this week to form a union. GSOC, part of the United Auto Workers, reached a deal with NYU last month in which an election could go forward and the university would halt legal efforts to block an election, and would recognize the results of the vote. The move will make NYU the only private university with unionized teaching assistants. A pro-union outcome had been widely expected. The election was supervised by the American Arbitration Association.
NYU released a statement this morning saying: "We were glad to come to a joint agreement with the UAW on going forward with a prompt election and maintaining neutrality during the voting. We congratulate the graduate students and the UAW on the vote. The university will now enter what we expect to be productive negotiations with the union."