Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies approved legislation on Wednesday that would fund the National Science Foundation at $6.7 billion in fiscal year 2012 -- 2.8 percent less than the budget for fiscal 2011, and less than the flat-funded NSF budget approved by the House Appropriations Committee in July.

The legislation would also provide $680 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, $70 million less than in fiscal 2011. It would eliminate funding for Technology Innovation Program grants and the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, which helps organizations -- including colleges -- improve their efficiency and competitiveness.

The full Appropriations Committee will meet to debate and amend the legislation today.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

Peter Lepage, dean of arts and sciences at Cornell University, on Wednesday released a letter in response to recent allegations by alumni of the Africana Studies and Research Center that the university is treating the center in ways that are "regressive and colonial in nature." Lepage said he wanted to assure alumni that the center would soon launch searches for three to five faculty members over the next two years (building on a faculty of eight), and that funds would be provided to create a Ph.D. program. Lepage said he wanted to provide "reassurance and optimism" about the center's future.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

Costs most commonly incurred by colleges rose in 2011 at greater than the national rate of inflation and more than twice as much as they did in 2010, according an annual report by the Commonfund Institute on what it calls the Higher Education Price Index. The index, which includes factors such as faculty, administrative and staff salaries and fringe benefits, services, supplies and utilities, aims to calculate an inflation rate that more closely captures higher education spending than does the national inflation index. In 2011, according to the Commonfund Institute, those costs rose by 2.3 percent, above the 2.0 percent national inflation rate and far above 2010's 0.9 rate for the higher education index. All categories of costs except for administrative salaries and service employee salaries rose, the institute said.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

Conde Nast, publisher of Vogue, announced plans Wednesday to open a fashion college in London, BBC reported. Initial plans do not call for degrees to be awarded, but officials are in discussion about affiliations with various universities. Topics for courses to be offered include the history of fashion and design, the fashion year, and journalism and business skills related to the fashion industry.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

The American Civil Liberties Union on Wednesday sued Linn State Technical College over its decision to test all of its students for drugs. Administrators at the Missouri college, whose comprehensive drug-testing program is believed to be a first for a public institution, said the approach was justified because many of its students are in programs (such as aircraft maintenance) in which they will operate sometimes dangerous equipment. But the ACLU said that college officials' acknowledgment that they will test students whom they do not suspect of drug use made the program clearly unconstitutional.

Thursday, September 15, 2011 - 3:00am

The Open Society Foundations on Wednesday announced a grant program that will provide $20 million to colleges and universities that integrate debate into the curriculum, across disciplines. "Today’s undergraduates are the first to come of age in a post 9/11 world. Students around the world have few if any recollections of a time before the 'war on terror,' " said a statement from Noel Selegzi, director of the Youth Initiative at the Open Society Foundations. "Debate helps us recognize that public policy is best developed when the force of an argument, and not the argument of force, is most potent."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - 3:00am

Watch what you tweet. The student government of the College of Charleston voted 15-to-14 (short of the two-thirds required) on Tuesday to impeach Ross Kressel as student body president, The Post and Courier reported. Kressel nearly lost his job amid campus debate over his Twitter account, where he expressed views about women, black people, his student government colleagues and others that offended many on the campus. The controversy set off a debate over the appropriateness of his tweets and of holding student leaders accountable for what they write online. After the vote, Kressel offered the following advice for those who use Twitter: "If it would upset your mom, don't post it."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - 3:00am

Poets & Writers magazine has released its annual rankings of M.F.A. programs -- in the face of an open letter from 190 faculty members in writing programs who are questioning the methodology behind the effort. The rankings feature some factual data (on such issues as job placement, fellowship availability and so forth). But the main ranking -- of popularity -- is based on a survey of prospective applicants on where they plan to apply.

The open letter takes issue with this approach. "To put it plainly, the Poets & Writers rankings are bad: they are methodologically specious in the extreme and quite misleading. A biased opinion poll — based on a tiny, self-selecting survey of potential program applicants — provides poor information," says the letter. Leslie Epstein, one of the organizers of the effort, and a novelist who is director of the Boston University creative writing program, said the idea of letting applicants rank programs was "analogous to asking people who are standing outside a restaurant studying the menu how they liked the food. Why wouldn’t you ask those who’ve actually eaten there for an informed opinion?”

The magazine is standing behind the rankings -- while noting that it shares its methodology, and urges potential applicants to look at a wide range of information in deciding on programs to consider. Mary Gannon, editorial director, released a statement in which she defended the use of an applicant survey and rejected the idea of focusing on faculty quality, as some have suggested. "To continue the analogy Leslie Epstein used to describe our approach in the press release, that would be like asking diners who only frequent their favorite restaurant to assess the quality of all restaurants," she said.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Wade Robison of the Rochester Institute of Technology examines the philosophical assumptions at the heart of sustainability ethics. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011 - 3:00am

A recent incident at Canada's York University illustrates the reason students may want to listen to what gets said in class -- at least before seeking anyone's dismissal. The Toronto Star reported that Cameron Johnston, a social sciences professor, was talking to students about the difference between facts and opinions, and the role of dangerous opinions. As an example of a dangerous opinion, he offered the idea that "all Jews should be sterilized." A female student, who heard the statement as the professor expressing his own view, quickly left class, alerted Jewish groups on campus and elsewhere, and websites started demanding the professor's dismissal. Not only doesn't Johnston believe the statement, but he is Jewish.

 

Sheldon Goodman, co-chair of Toronto's Center for Israel and Jewish Affairs, told the Star: "This event is an appropriate reminder that great caution must be exercised before concluding a statement or action is anti-Semitic."

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