Higher Education Quick Takes
In today’s Academic Minute, Brick Johnstone of the University of Missouri explains efforts to pinpoint the location of the religious experience through brain imaging. In Monday's Academic Minute, Bridget Chesterton of the State University of New York College at Buffalo discussed the common experience of European immigration to the Americas. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.
The University of Michigan is seeking to join a federal suit challenging a new Michigan law that bars graduate research assistants from unionizing, The Detroit Free Press reported. The move to join the suit is somewhat unusual in that Michigan's senior administrators have spoken out against the unionization of research assistants during a recent organizing drive at the university. The administrators maintain that the graduate students who work as research assistants should be seen as students, not employees. And that was the same rationale cited by Republican legislators who pushed the new law. But the University of Michigan Board of Regents is controlled by Democrats, who back union rights for the graduate students, and who opted to have the university join the suit.
Charles B. Reed announced Thursday that he would retire as chancellor of the California State University System after 14 years. During that period, Cal State has grown in size by about a quarter (to 427,000 students), implemented several programs that have become national models (including a major initiative to expand outreach to minority and low-income high school students), and shepherded the campuses through one massive budget cut after another. Along the way, even his well-honed political acumen -- he was a former chief of staff to the governor of Florida -- was not enough to satisfy many critics, especially members of Cal State's faculty union.
Reed spent 13 years as chancellor of Florida's public university system before moving to Cal State, meaning that he has overseen two of the country's biggest public university systems for more than 25 years in total.
The University of Missouri System announced Thursday that the University of Missouri Press will be phased out during the fiscal 2013 year. Officials cited the difficulty of providing financial support for the press, which currently receives a $400,000 annual subsidy. A spokeswoman said that the university was studying its contracts with authors whose books have been signed by the press, but whose works have not yet been published. In recent years, the press has attempted to cuts costs through a variety of measures (including layoffs) but savings were not sufficient, the university statement said. Numerous staff members at the press did not respond to calls seeking comment. Several presses have closed or suspended operations in recent years.
The American Association of University Professors announced Thursday that it has authorized a committee to investigate a decision by Southern University at Baton Rouge last year to declare a financial exigency and a proposed reorganization that could lead to at least 35 faculty members losing their jobs. “The declaration of financial exigency and the reorganization plan went forward without adequate faculty input,” said Jennifer Nichols, senior program officer at the AAUP. “The declaration of this exigency gives the administrators more leeway in terminating tenured faculty members.” Nichols said that at least 10 tenured faculty members had received notices of termination so far.
According to The Advocate in Baton Rouge, the restructuring aims to cut about $8 million from the university’s budget in the next school year. Employees at the university were subjected to furloughs for the current fiscal year.
Administrators at the university have said that state budget cuts made the declaration of a financial emergency and a reorganization necessary, and they received input from faculty members during the process.
Robert J. Birgeneau, the chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley, on Thursday issued a statement opposing a proposed state constitutional amendment that would limit out-of-state (including international) enrollment to 10 percent -- roughly twice the limit Berkeley uses. "Our policy of increasing non-resident undergraduate enrollment to 20 percent of our student body is crucial to ensuring a predictable and reliable revenue stream and maintaining affordability for our California students while also enriching the educational experience for our students," Birgeneau wrote. "Students from other parts of the United States, and from around the world, are valuable members of the Cal community and it has been my long-held view that an increase in out-of-state and international undergraduate students is a critical educational goal at Berkeley. In addition to generating funds for educational support and financial aid, they also bring perspectives, experiences, and cultures to the campus, that benefit all students."
State Senator Michael Rubio, who proposed the amendment, said that he wanted to ensure that "California students get a fair shot at attending our University of California system -- and not be turned away simply because a wealthy student from the East Coast or abroad shows up with a checkbook in hand."
Wesleyan University president Michael S. Roth announced in a Washington Post blog post that the university will offer a three-year undergraduate degree. Roth says a three-year degree could save students about 20 percent off the cost of a degree. Roth, who graduated in three years when he was a student at Wesleyan in the 1970s, said the program is not for everyone but could be a pathway embraced by students concerned about the cost of education. While many colleges offer three-year degree programs, most of them have been at public universities rather than small, private liberal arts colleges, many of which have stressed the intangible benefits of the four-year undergraduate experience.
A federal appeals court on Thursday directed a lower court to overturn its March 2011 ruling in a legal fight between the University of Illinois and The Chicago Tribune, saying that the student privacy issues raised in the case would be better addressed by a state court. The ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit states that the newspaper's claim to the information it sought from the university -- about student applicants and their parents, as part of the Tribune's 2009 investigation into political influence in the admissions process -- arose under state law rather than federal law. Numerous higher education groups had joined the university in arguing that the lower court's decision would undermine student privacy protections.
Neither a Republican nor a Democratic bill to keep the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent could muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster in the Senate on Thursday, meaning that rates are still scheduled to double on July 1. The Republican proposal would have paid for the $6 billion extension by eliminating a preventive care fund in the health-care overhaul; it failed, 34-62. The Democratic proposal would have changed a tax provision that allows some small business owners to avoid paying payroll taxes; it failed to advance on a 51-43 vote.