Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, January 20, 2012 - 4:34am

Mountain State University's board on Thursday announced that it had fired Charles H. Polk as president. The Charleston Gazette noted that the West Virginia university had been facing accreditation problems both as an institution and for its nursing program, as well as criticism of Polks 7-figure compensation package.

Friday, January 20, 2012 - 3:00am

The American Council on Education and other higher education groups have filed a brief with the Colorado Supreme Court backing the right of the University of Colorado Board of Regents to dismiss Ward Churchill as a tenured professor of ethnic studies on the Boulder campus. Churchill has challenged the firing (unsuccessfully until now), arguing that he was dismissed, in violation of his First Amendment and academic freedom rights, because of his controversial writings. The university system says that the reason he was fired was for repeated instances of faculty misconduct, and that panels of professors played key roles in identifying these instances and concluding that they represented unprofessional conduct.

The brief filed by the college groups states that the principles of academic freedom should result in support for the university's position. "Because universities are the entities best suited to make decisions about their faculties, they are entitled to autonomy in adjudicating claims regarding academic integrity," the brief says.

Friday, January 20, 2012 - 3:00am

In today's Academic Minute, Pat Werhane of DePaul University reveals the psychological factors that contribute to recidivism in the American criminal justice system. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, January 20, 2012 - 3:00am

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon of Illinois on Thursday announced a proposed reform package aimed at improving the 20 percent graduation rate for the state's community colleges. In a speech and accompanying report, Simon, who is the governor's point person on education, made the case for performance-based funding and the creation of publicly available report cards that would evaluate each college's progress toward completion goals. And in order to ease the remedial math pressure on two-year colleges, she recommended that public high school students be required to take four years of math to graduate.

Friday, January 20, 2012 - 3:00am

Thursday protests at the University of California at Riverside that for much of the afternoon seemed to be heading toward an ugly conclusion ended with reports of some violence. Campus police had warned students multiple times earlier in the afternoon that they would use force against protesters if they didn’t back off, but that was hours before things escalated as the regents prepared to leave. Dozens of campus police officers in riot gear lined up outside the building, and later, students carried barricades and followed a long line of sheriffs marching into the building to escort the regents out. During the live stream, students said police used rubber bullets and batons against students, and at least one person was arrested. The Occupy protesters delayed the start of the UC Board of Regents meeting for about an hour, The Daily Californian reported. The students were protesting rising tuition and student debt, "privatization of higher education," and low pay for professors; some on the campus estimated that up to 2,000 students showed up. In November, UC Regents first called off meetings entirely, citing safety concerns over the planned protests, then tried to hold them via teleconference but ended prematurely when protesters made it impossible to hear. was this the resumption of the meetings that were called off then? dl *** it was a scheduled meeting but yes, I suppose they would have been continuing those previous meetings (which they actually tried to have via teleconference -ag.

Friday, January 20, 2012 - 3:00am

One of the holy grails for some players in the student learning outcomes movement is an assessment of an individual's skills or learning that employers might eventually accept in lieu of a college-awarded credential. Several major testing organizations have been building individualized versions of instruments that are most commonly used as institutional measures, and Thursday two of them -- ETS and the Council for Aid to Education -- announced that they were making those tests available to individuals through StraighterLine, which has made a name for itself to date by offering low-cost, online courses directly to students. Under the new arrangement, known as MyLine, beginning next fall students will be able to take ETS's Proficiency Profile and iSkills assessments or CAE's Collegiate Learning Assessment to try to prove their abilities to think critically, solve problems, or do the other things the tests aim to measure.

Officials of the companies -- which tend to sell their assessment products directly to institutions -- said via e-mail that StraighterLine was not the only channel they would use to offer the individualized versions of the assessments directly to students. "We want to deal more directly with learners in the future and we will," said Tom Ewing, a spokesman for ETS. "However, this agreement with StraighterLine allows us to gauge the interest and demand for such products and services, and to do so in cooperation with a company that already occupies that space."

Friday, January 20, 2012 - 3:00am

A federal panel continued Thursday to discuss ways to measure program quality at teacher education programs, the second of three days of discussion to kick off the process aimed at recommending new rules to govern how the nation's teachers are trained. The conversations, part of the Obama administration's push to change teacher education, focused on what information states should be required, or encouraged, to collect on teacher preparation programs, and what those programs should have to tell their students if they are considered unsuccessful and forced to shut down. But a central question, as yet unanswered, is whether the Education Department can dictate the states' evaluation criteria at all.

Meetings continue today, when the panel will tackle the definition of a "high-quality teacher preparation program."

Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 3:00am

Just a year after being hired to teach history at West Georgia College, an ambitious Newt Gingrich applied to be president of the public institution, the Wall Street Journal reports in an article that examines the paper trail that the political candidate left behind at what is now called the University of West Georgia. The newspaper's review finds that the chairman of the history department at Tulane, where Gingrich got his doctorate, described him to West Georgia as having a "single-minded purpose in life: to become a fine teacher-scholar." The college hired him at an annual salary of $9,700.

After his unsuccessful bid for the presidency, which drew "a chuckle" from administrators, according to one observer quoted by the Journal, he and a colleague created an "Institute for Directed Change and Renewal," which sought to help public schools modernize their operations. He undertook three unsuccessful campaigns for Congress while at West Georgia, before leaving the college in 1977 after being denied tenure. He was elected to Congress the next year.

Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 3:00am

Faculty anger is growing over comments made last week by Vice President Biden suggesting that faculty salaries are in part to blame for increased tuition rates. In a talk at a Pennsylvania high school, Biden said that "salaries for college professors have escalated significantly," and that colleges are spending a lot on salaries because there is "a lot of competition for the finest professors. They all want the Nobel laureates." In fact, faculty salaries haven't kept pace with inflation in recent years, and furloughs have amounted to de facto pay cuts for many professors.

The New Faculty Majority has organized an online petition -- signed by 619 people as of Wednesday night -- drawing particular attention to the minimal pay and benefits offered to non-tenure-track faculty members. The petition is addressed to Biden and says in part: "We are deeply troubled that you are perpetuating this dangerous myth. In fact, the majority of college and university professors in America, commonly known as adjuncts, now work as perpetually temporary, part-time academic laborers for poverty level wages, little to no eligibility for paid sick leave or health benefits, and almost no access to the basic tools of the profession, such as offices in which to meet students or computers on which to do their work.... Their average pay is $25,000 or less per year for having the same teaching loads and teaching responsibilities as their full-time colleagues."

On Wednesday, the American Association of University Professors also released a letter to Biden, praising the Obama administration's overall higher education policies, but taking issue with the vice president's comments on faculty salaries. Depending on the type of institution, the letter says, tuition rates have grown by 3 to 14 times the increases in faculty salaries in the last three years.

Thursday, January 19, 2012 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Jeff Sovern of St. John’s University (New York) explains efforts to make sure home buyers understand the terms of their loan. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

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