Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 12, 2013

High school guidance counselors were trading emails and posting comments on listservs Wednesday about unexpected packages from the College Board containing stickers showing a cow. Many wondered why they were receiving the packages -- some were annoyed at the cost and apparent effort to promote College Board services. Others thought the College Board was showing a sense of humor. The source of the stickers? On the last PSAT, there was a question involving a cow that led to much social media discussion after the test.

 

December 12, 2013

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."
 

 

December 12, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Candi Cann of Baylor University reveals the rising popularity of alternative memorials to the dead. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

December 12, 2013

Under Secretary of Education Martha J. Kanter will return to academic life after she leaves her post this week as the federal government’s top higher education official.

New York University announced Wednesday that Kanter, who first joined the Education Department at the beginning of the Obama administration in 2009, would become a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Higher Education at the university’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development. She will begin her tenure at NYU in January. “The access, equity, and success of and for our nation’s students will be first and foremost on my mind,” Kanter said in a news release provided by NYU. “I will teach, write and work on what I hope will be only those things where I can have the greatest impact on excellence and equity to change the lives of others for the better."

Prior to her post at the Education Department, Kanter was chancellor of the Foothill-De Anza Community College District in California and was previously president of De Anza College. 

Ted Mitchell, the former president of Occidental College and current head of New Schools Venture Fund, has been tapped as Kanter’s replacement. His nomination is awaiting confirmation by the Senate.  

December 11, 2013

More evidence that all that texting you see isn't about academics? Researchers at Kent State University tracked how much time students spend on their phones, and their grades. More use of phones is negatively related to grades, but positively related to anxiety. The research appears in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

December 11, 2013

The college commission of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools took several institutions off of probationary or warning status at its meeting this week, including the University of Virginia, Fisk and Florida A&M Universities, and Greensboro College. UVa had faced scrutiny from the accreditor because of an effort by a cadre of trustees in summer 2012 to dump President Teresa A. Sullivan. SACS' president, Belle Wheelan, said the university had presented evidence that it had changed its governance policies to ensure that a small minority of the board could not bring about change in leadership. "The board has right to fire president -- in fact, it has the responsibility to do so in some cases. But it is the board that has that right, not a minority of the board -- that was the issue with them," Wheelan said.

Fisk, which has faced significant financial problems that most visibly led it to sell its high-profile art collection, came off probation because the SACS commission was persuaded that its new president had raised sufficient money and had it "heading in the right direction," Wheelan said. Florida A&M, which has undergone enormous turmoil and turnover in the face of a fatal hazing scandal, was taken off probation even though most of its top officials are serving on an interim basis, Wheelan said. Greensboro has resolved many of its financial troubles, the agency determined.

SACS placed or continued another set of institutions on warning status at the meeting, including several because of financial issues (Newberry College, Allen University, Midcontinent University), Norfolk State University (financial and governance issues), Hampden-Sydney College (failure to have sufficient representation of full-time faculty), and Erskine College. (Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version.)

December 11, 2013

College students from middle-income families are more likely to end up with student loan debt than their peers from both lower and higher socioeconomic backgrounds, a new study has found.

The research by Jason Houle, an assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth College, will be published in January in Sociology of Education. “Children from middle-income families make too much money to qualify for student aid packages, but they do not have the financial means to cover the costs of college,” Houle writes in the article. The study found that students from families earning between $40,000 to $59,000 per year racked up 60 percent more debt than lower-income students and 280 percent more than their peers whose families earned between $100,000 and $149,000 per year. A similar trend held for more affluent middle-income families earning up to $99,000 annually. 

December 11, 2013

Zhang Xuezhong, a law professor at East China University of Political Science and Law, said Tuesday he had been fired after refusing to apologize for publications championing constitutional law in China, The New York Times reported.

Officials at the Shanghai-based university did not respond to the Times’s requests for comment. However, Zhang obtained and circulated an internal university memo that accuses him of breaking university rules by “forcibly disseminating his political views among the faculty and using his status as a teacher to spread his political views among students.”

The memo cites an e-book he authored, New Common Sense: The Nature and Consequences of One-Party Dictatorship

The dismissal of Zhang, who had been banned from the classroom earlier this year, comes amid concerns regarding increasing restrictions on political speech in China and in the aftermath of the controversial dismissal of Xia Yeliang, an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party, from the economics faculty at Peking University. Peking maintains that Xia was fired for his poor teaching and research record, but many believe his criticism of one-party rule was the real reason.

 

December 11, 2013

Details emerged Tuesday about allegations that tests prepared for use at Florida International University were being stolen and sold. The university announced Monday that three people -- two of them students -- had been arrested in such a scheme, but released few details. Officials said Tuesday that the case involved hacking into a professor's email account, stealing four tests, and then selling them to students for $150 each, The Sun Sentinel reported.

December 11, 2013

Students in courses hosted by Coursera, the massive open online course provider, can now access lessons on the go -- as long as they have an iPhone. The MOOC provider launched an official mobile app on Tuesday, allowing iPhone users to browse courses, receive notifications from the courses they are enrolled in, and stream and download lectures.

Additional features such as in-video quizzes and private courses are not yet available. The official app is in development for other platforms, according to Coursera's website, but for now, Android users have to make do with several unofficial options. Coursera is the first of the larger MOOC providers to create an app, but competitors such as edX may soon follow. "We are working on a mobile solution for a global audience -- we think of mobile from the [inexpensive Android tablet] Akash to the iPhone," an edX spokesman said in an email.

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