Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 28, 2013

Half of new college graduates are surprised by their levels of college debt, according to a new national poll of graduates by Fidelity. And 39 percent of new graduates said that they would have made some different choices had they fully understood the level of debt they were building up in college.

May 28, 2013

The new athletic director of Rutgers University, Julie Hermann, was brought in to restore credibility to a program tarnished by the news that the former basketball coach had engaged in repeated verbal and physical assaults on his players. But The Star-Ledger reported that, while she was a volleyball coach at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville 16 years ago, Hermann was accused of verbally abusing her players to the point that the entire team signed a letter of protest. "The mental cruelty that we as a team have suffered is unbearable," the letter said. It accused her of calling them "whores, alcoholics and learning disabled." A number of team members discussed the way they said Hermann had upset them -- distress that returned when they read stories about her being named athletic director at Rutgers. (She left Tennessee shortly after the allegations, and became assistant to the athletic director at the University of Louisville.)

In an interview with the newspaper, Hermann said she didn't remember the letter, or such accusations being made. "I never heard any of this, never name-calling them or anything like that whatsoever," she said. The word "whore," Hermann added, is "not part of my vernacular. Not then, not now, not ever."

New Jersey politicians are now questioning the ability of Rutgers to put its athletics house in order. The university was criticized a few weeks ago when it had to admit that its new basketball coach lacks the Rutgers degree that the university said he had earned. And that was before the latest uproar. The Assembly speaker, Sheila Oliver, said she had lost "any semblance of confidence" that Rutgers could fix its problems, The Star-Ledger reported. "The questionable decision-making at this program so heavily funded by taxpayers continues to astound me," she said. A former governor, Democrat Richard Codey, called for the removal of the Rutgers president, Robert Barchi. "This is becoming Comedy Central. It's an embarrassment to the students and alumni of a great university and it's time Mr. Barchi takes his show on the road." The current governor, Republican Chris Christie, said Sunday that he plans to ask Rutgers officials about the controversy.

On Sunday, Hermann issued a statement reiterating her commitment to the Rutgers job and denying that she abused players verbally. "I am truly sorry that some were disappointed during my tenure as coach. For sure, I was an intense coach, but there is a vast difference between high intensity and abusive behavior," she said.

And President Barchi issued a statement of support for Hermann. "Since the announcement of her selection, some media reports have focused on complaints about aspects of her early career," he said. "Looking at Julie’s entire record of accomplishment, which is stellar, we remain confident that we have selected an individual who will work in the best interests of all of our student athletes, our athletics teams and the university."

May 28, 2013

Colleges have faced increased pressure in the last year from student and environment activists to sell off investments in fossil fuel companies, but most colleges that have acted on those requests have very small endowments, and relatively few such investments to start with. Brown University (which has a substantial endowment) on Friday announced that its board had discussed but not voted on the recommendation of the Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies that the university sell holdings in 15 companies that mine or burn coal. A university statement said that no formal action was taken on the advisory panel's report.

A Brown statement said: "During the business meeting of the corporation, members asked the university to identify ways to work with students, faculty, staff, peer institutions, and other strategic partners to develop a robust response to climate change and to assume a greater leadership role on the issue of CO2 emissions. Corporation action on the issue of divestment was not expected at this meeting, and the corporation confirmed that the complexity of the divestment issue warrants further discussion before responding to the ACCRIP’s recommendation."

May 28, 2013

Faculty leaders at Marshall University are raising questions about athletic spending, particularly in light of budget cuts to academic programs, The Herald-Dispatch reported. Faculty members say that they have been promised for years that athletics would become self-supporting, but that it remains a serious drain on funds. Last year, the athletics budget was nearly $25 million, and 46 percent of that was financed through student fees or direct university support. Professors are asking why those funds shouldn't be used to minimize academic cuts. Pamela Mulder, a psychology professor, told the newspaper that athletics was helping "very few people and not remotely connected to the physical well-being of our overall student body." David Steele, Marshall's associate athletics director, said that the university spends less on athletics than many of its peers. He added: "We're part of the institution, and we have to work together to make it work."

 

 

May 28, 2013

Ninety-two percent of tenured faculty members at Green River Community College have voted no confidence in President Eileen Ely, The Seattle Times reported. The faculty members criticized an atmosphere that they say has cut them out of decision-making and numerous unilateral changes that have led to, among other things, significant turnover among senior officials at the college. Ely told the Times that she disagreed with the faculty statement, but valued the input of professors and hoped to have a "courageous conversation" with those who organized the vote. Faculty leaders said that they did not ask those without tenure to vote because they did not want to endanger their job security.

May 28, 2013

The Australian National University forced the student newspaper (threatening it with loss of funds and possible action against editors) to remove a satirical graphic about Islam, The Australian reported. The graphic was part of a series that had satirized various other faiths as well. This one referred to certain Muslim beliefs about women as constituting a "rape fantasy." University officials noted that graphics that mock Islam have set off violent incidents in numerous countries in the past. A statement from the university said: "In a world of social media, [there is] potential for material such as the article in question to gain attention and traction in the broader world and potentially harm the interests of the university and the university community." Woroni, the student newspaper, published its own account of the controversy, questioning the university's response. The student paper apologized to any offended, but also noted that the item in question was satire and was part of a series that satirized other faiths. The paper's editorial added that "Woroni is concerned about the implications of these events for freedom of speech and, more generally, the role of student publications. Woroni regularly features material that is challenging, and even at times confronting. By their very nature, universities are forums to critique ideas and beliefs. University newspapers – as a platform for students – should ideally reflect this role."

 

May 28, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Andrew Marsh of the University of Warwick reveals how nanodiamonds could help keep your energy costs down and your laundry sparking white. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 28, 2013

Pro-Israel students at McGill University are protesting a plan to give an honorary degree on Thursday to Judith Butler, co-director of the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California at Berkeley, The Montreal Gazette reported. Butler is a major figure in literary and feminist scholarship, but she is controversial because her activism for the Palestinian cause extends to support of the movement to boycott Israel, a movement that critics see as equivalent to calling for the destruction of Israel. Ilana Donohue, co-president of McGill Students for Israel, said: "She’s an accomplished scholar, but her views on Israel would be quite disturbing to many students. She doesn’t believe in a Jewish state and we want other schools to think twice before giving her awards because it offends students." Christopher Manfredi, dean of arts at McGill, said Butler is being honored for her scholarship, and that the university supports freedom of expression even if "comments are controversial or considered objectionable by some."

May 28, 2013

Many commencement addresses are forgotten by graduates and their guests as soon as the ceremony is over. But this year, the address at Wesleyan University is getting good online buzz by being built around an unlikely line: "[W]hat I’d like to say to all of you is that you are all going to die." The line, from Joss Whedon, the screenwriter and television producer, actually wasn't meant to be gloomy. Whedon, a member of Wesleyan's Class of 1987, talked about remembering (and not agreeing with) the message of the address by a somewhat cynical Bill Cosby in 1987, and his counter-message mixes idealism and realism.

"I’m confronted by a great deal of grand and worthy ambition from this student body. You want to be a politician, a social worker. You want to be an artist. Your body’s ambition: Mulch. Your body wants to make some babies and then go in the ground and fertilize things. That’s it. And that seems like a bit of a contradiction. It doesn’t seem fair. For one thing, we’re telling you, 'Go out into the world!' exactly when your body is saying, 'Hey, let’s bring it down a notch. Let’s take it down.' And it is a contradiction. And that’s actually what I’d like to talk to you about. The contradiction between your body and your mind, between your mind and itself. I believe these contradictions and these tensions are the greatest gift that we have, and hopefully, I can explain that."

The address goes on to focus on such contradictions and urges students to accept and thrive under them. "You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key — not only to consciousness-but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in. It’s not just parroting your parents or the thoughts of your learned teachers. It is now more than ever about understanding yourself so you can become yourself."

The full text of the address may be found here.

 

May 28, 2013

As the nation awaits a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on affirmative action in higher education, an analysis in The New York Times finds signs of lagging diversity in elite professions. The issue is important because one argument offered to defend the consideration of race and ethnicity by elite colleges and universities is that these institutions provide a pathway to prestigious careers. The Times analysis found that while about 12 percent of the population of working Americans is black, only 3.2 percent of senior executive positions at top companies are held by black people. Further, only about 5 percent of physicians are black and 3 percent of architects are black -- figures that have not changed in at least two decades. The article also noted that the share of lawyers who are women or from minority groups fell in 2010, the first decline since data collection started in 1993.

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