Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, March 19, 2012 - 3:00am

Jewish students, faculty members and organizations are angry at the State University of New York for changing its academic calendar so that Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur will no longer be holidays and spring break will no longer be scheduled to overlap with Passover and Easter, The Jewish Week reported. Charles Robbins, vice provost for undergraduate education, told the newspaper that the idea was to treat all religious groups the same (not offering any holidays as university holidays), while encouraging faculty members and others to be flexible with those whose observances require them to miss some classes. "We are trying to be respectful of all religions," Robbins said. "We want to be equally welcoming to everybody."

Rabbi Joseph Topek of the Stony Brook Hillel has posted on his blog a critique of the new calendar, the adoption of which he wrote is in contrast to a long history of support at Stony Brook for students of many faiths. "We are very concerned that this policy will result in large numbers of faculty and staff being unable to teach classes on major holidays and large numbers of students will miss important course work," he wrote. "New York State Education Law (Section 224-a) requires the institution to provide all students with an equivalent make up opportunity for any required work missed due to religious observance. We all know, however, that the student-teacher relationship is not an equal one, and many students are intimidated or frightened by the prospect of revealing personal information to a teacher in order to ask for make up work."

Monday, March 19, 2012 - 3:00am

Many academics in Israel are angry over the selection of a business executive, Amos Shapira, as president of the University of Haifa, Haaretz reported. Supporters of the pick have argued that the university needs a leader who will promote change. But many in Israel believe that presidencies should go to academics. Danny Gutwein, a professor of Jewish history at Haifa, called Shapira's selection a step in "the Finance Ministry's hostile takeover of the universities." He rejected the idea that the business perspective is needed. "The premise that a commercial-business administration will rescue the universities is an addictive bit of propaganda," he said. "Essentially, as a consequence of the budget cuts the Finance Ministry forced on the universities, they have been administered as a 'business' for about two decades. And yet, experience shows that the more the universities adopt business logic, the greater the crisis in which they find themselves."

Monday, March 19, 2012 - 3:00am

Members of the University of Southern Mississippi pep band chanted “Where’s your green card?” Thursday at an opposing basketball player from Puerto Rico, The Kansas City Star reported. But it was Southern Mississippi, not Kansas State University freshman Angel Rodriguez, that was sent home after the game. The Golden Eagles lost the second-round National College Athletic Association tournament game, 70-64.

Southern Mississippi President Martha Saunders issued a statement after the game apologizing to Rodriguez and saying that “The words of these individuals do not represent the sentiments of our pep band, athletic department or university.” Rodriguez, a 19-year-old guard from San Juan, is an American citizen by virtue of his birth in the U.S. territory.

As Rodriguez prepared to shoot free throws, members of the Southern Miss band were caught on tape chanting the racially charged phrase. Southern Mississippi’s interim athletics director apologized to his Kansas State counterpart after the game, the Hattiesburg American reported, and hoped to have the pep band director meet with Rodriguez. The pep band director stopped the chant and apologized to a TV reporter who filmed it, the American reported.

Monday, March 19, 2012 - 3:00am

Enrolling in college in the United States remains a top goal of students at national high schools in major Chinese cities, according to a new poll by Art & Science Group, which advises American colleges on enrollment strategies. The survey found that nearly all (94 percent) of students at these high schools are interested in college in an English-speaking country, and that 78 percent are interested in enrolling in the United States. Asked to rate the quality of colleges in the United States, Britain and Canada, the Chinese students gave the U.S. the best marks for academic quality, teaching critical thinking, the quality of facilities and prestige. Britain was on top in campus beauty and an emphasis on the liberal arts. (The scores were quite close for most categories.) Asked to identify challenges to study in the United States, 45 percent worried that they might not be academically prepared, 37 percent said that they didn't know enough about American colleges and universities, 28 percent said that they were concerned about their English skills, 25 percent worried about being far from home and 21 percent worried about whether their families could afford it.

Monday, March 19, 2012 - 3:00am

Dharun Ravi -- the former Rutgers University student who used a webcam to spy on his roommate, Tyler Clementi, kissing another man in their dorm room, tweeted about it and set up another viewing for other students days later -- was convicted Friday on charges of committing a hate crime, invasion of privacy and bias intimidation.

After finding out about Ravi’s actions in September 2010, Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

Ravi, 20, faces up to a decade in prison and potential deportation to India after being convicted on all 15 counts. He was acquitted on some components of the bias intimidation charges. In some instances, the jury didn’t find that Ravi had invaded Clementi’s privacy “with the purpose to intimidate” because of sexual orientation, but it determined Ravi did know his actions would cause Clementi to be intimidated because of his sexual orientation. In other words, the jury decided Ravi was motivated by bias, but didn’t necessarily intend to harm Clementi.

The jury also found Ravi guilty on counts of tampering with evidence (for deleting text messages and tweets, and posting false tweets), witness tampering (for trying to influence what student Molly Wei, who testified against Ravi as part of a plea deal, told police), and hindering apprehension or prosecution (for lying to police, preventing a witness from providing testimony and destroying evidence).

Ravi turned down a plea deal last year and declined to testify in the trial. The jury deliberated for three days.

The case has generated new state and federal laws aimed at combatting cyberbullying.

Monday, March 19, 2012 - 3:00am

A new poll by YouGov finds that both conservative and liberal Americans value higher education, but that they differ on their perspectives on the college experience. The poll, conducted after Rick Santorum made his campaign criticisms of academe, found that majorities of both conservatives and liberals believe that higher education is at least "somewhat important" to achieving financial success, but liberals are much more likely than are conservatives to see higher education as very important to such success. A similar pattern was found on the question of whether four years of college leaves a person better educated. Both liberals and conservatives believe that this is "somewhat" true, but liberals are much more likely than conservatives to believe that such a person is "much more educated."

Monday, March 19, 2012 - 3:00am

A federal budget cut -- from $43 million to $27 million -- in funds for low-income students to pay for Advanced Placement tests is likely to result in many low-income students being unable to pay for the tests, The New York Times reported. States have been reporting to school districts that many of their low-income students will have to pay $15 for each of the first three exams they take, and then $53 each for any additional exam. Some students are reporting that they will take fewer exams as a result.

Monday, March 19, 2012 - 4:24am

Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, is pushing a series of controversial reforms of higher education, The New York Times reported. He has added test-based admissions at the public universities and has issued evaluations that many fear could be used to shut down some private institutions, which he has termed "garage universities."

 

Monday, March 19, 2012 - 3:00am

More than 100 top faculty members at the University of Illinois sent a new letter to the Board of Trustees seeking the dismissal of Michael Hogan as president of the university system, The News-Gazette reported. Faculty anger has been growing in recent months against Hogan, who following a meeting at which board members urged him to repair faculty relations said he would do so, and apologized for the breakdown. But a new letter suggests that the faculty leaders have not been impressed by the new efforts by Hogan. While the faculty leaders thanked the board for taking their earlier concerns seriously, they added in their new letter that it was time for a new president. It is "all the more urgent that action be taken quickly to preserve the credibility of the board in the public arena as well as internally amongst the faculty, staff and students of the university," the letter said. "A board that does not act when there is a president who is so ethically and reputationally compromised as to be unable to function is one that is, in truth, itself unable to effectively govern the institution that it stewards."

Friday, March 16, 2012 - 3:00am

The New York Legislature on Thursday passed a plan supported by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that will cut retirement benefits for future state and local government workers, The New York Times reported. The cuts would affect new employees at public institutions such as the State University of New York and the City University of New York. According to the Times, the measure would save $80 billion for state and local governments over the next 30 years, even though one of the more contentious proposals in the measure -- a plan that would let new workers opt out of a traditional pension and let them choose something similar to a 401(k) --– would now be open only to new non-unionized workers who earn $75,000 or more, under a concession made by Cuomo.

Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress, a union representing 20,000 faculty members and staff at CUNY, said the plan -- also referred to as Tier 6 -- flowed from an ideological agenda of protecting the rich. “Tier 6 will hit CUNY especially hard; it will undermine CUNY’s ability to attract and retain the best faculty in national searches.  I remember being told more than 20 years ago when I came to CUNY that one thing CUNY was able to offer was good benefits, including a decent pension,” Bowen said.

“We were hoping it would be defeated but that is not the way it turned out,” said Denyce Duncan Lacey, Director of Communications for the United University Professions, a union representing 35,000 faculty members and professional staff at state-operated SUNY campuses.
 

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