Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 4, 2013

Scholars and others are criticizing the University of London for a plan to sell four early editions of Shakespeare's plays, The Guardian reported. The university says it has other early editions of Shakespeare and could used the money raised at auction (perhaps up to $8 million) to refresh its collections. Richard Eyre, former director of Britain's National Theater, said: "Both in itself and as an emblematic gesture it is wrong. Partly because it sets a precedent: these things must be valued, and if academic institutions don't value them the game is up, really. It's completely wrong, indefensible."

 

September 4, 2013

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld a lower court's ruling that awarded three former female employees at Alabama State University about $1 million for discrimination and retaliation by their supervisors there. The ruling by a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit upheld a 2012 federal jury verdict holding Alabama State accountable for the behavior of John Knight, a former special assistant to the president and interim president, and LaVonette Bartley, who worked for Knight. (Knight is also a member of the Alabama House of Representatives.) The appeals panel supported the lower court's findings that Knight and Bartley regularly called the three employees "niggers" (both of the supervisors and two of the three plaintiffs were African-American -- the third was of mixed race) and sometimes engaged in sexual harassment, verbal and physical -- and that university officials failed to stop or respond to the harassment. "[W]e are unnerved by the apparent acquiescence to, if not outright condoning of, the abusive work environment created by its high-level employees," the 11th Circuit panel said. "Such conduct simply has no place in a work environment, especially at a publicly funded university."

Alabama State's president emeritus, William H. Harris, said in a statement Tuesday that the university "vehemently" disagrees with the court's ruling and denies that it discriminated. But "the court has spoken," Harris said, and "I want the public to be assured we have taken and continue to take seriously any allegation of discrimination. We will address appropriately any allegation of discrimination lodged against any person at this university."

September 4, 2013

The University of Wisconsin at Madison is this year for the first time letting all students pick the first and middle names they wish to appear on most university records, such as directories, The Wisconsin State Journal reported. Students will have the option of blocking their legal name from appearing in registration lists and other places. The policy is designed to make the university more inclusive, letting students who prefer not to use names for any number of reasons avoid them, officials said. (Legal names will still be used on transcripts, payroll records and for financial aid.) The LGBT Campus Center encouraged the development of the new policy. Some transgender students prefer not to use their legal names, which may be associated with a gender that doesn't reflect their identity.

 

September 4, 2013

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences released a “Humanities Report Card” Tuesday to accompany its earlier, lengthier Heart of the Matter report on the state of the humanities and social sciences. The academy described the report card as a “snapshot of the current data illustrating where the humanities are today.”

The report card is made up of infographics, data for which mainly were drawn from the academy’s existing Humanities Indicators statistical database. John Tessitore, director of programming for the academy, said the document is meant to be accessible to the general public, which has taken a keen interest in the original report, as well as academics and others involved in the humanities. It’s also meant to drive traffic to the Humanities Indicators, he said, which paint a much more detailed, data-driven portrait of the humanities in schools, colleges, work and other aspects of American life.

The Heart of the Matter, released in June, argued for more investment in the humanities and social sciences, citing their value in shaping an informed electorate and in helping students prepare for careers – not just jobs.

The report card is divided into several sections, including “The Value of the Humanities,” “Signs of Health” and “Challenges.”

Positive indicators include:

  • 84 percent of humanities majors are satisfied with their choice of major.
  • 19 percent of members of Congress majored in the humanities; 37 percent majored in the social sciences.
  • Three out of four employers say they want new hires with “precisely the sorts of skills that the humanities teach: critical thinking, complex problem-solving, as well as written and oral communication.”
  • Between 2000 and 2009, humanities majors scored 9 percent higher on the Graduate Management Admissions Test than did business majors.
  • Despite reports on declining numbers of humanities majors since the 1960s, the number of bachelor’s degrees in the humanities has grown since its nadir in the 1980s, with more than 185,000 degrees reported in each year from 2009 to 2011.

Negative indicators include:

  • The gap between average math and verbal scores on the SAT is growing.
  • Only 13 percent of college students learn “critical need” languages for international security and global competitiveness.
  • Reading for pleasure declined 11 percent from 1992 to 2008.
  • U.S. high school students ranked 10th in a recent international reading assessment.
  • In 2011, humanities research received only 0.48 percent of the amount of research and development funds dedicated to science and engineering in higher education.

Advocates of the humanities praised the document.

Rosemary Feal, executive director of the Modern Language Association, in an e-mail commended the academy for its statistical focus on the past two decades, noting that some of the conversations about the so-called decline of the humanities have relied on outdated data or historical scopes that don't illuminate current realities. Based on the data, there are things to celebrate about the state of the humanities, and causes for concern, she added.

James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said it shows "why humanities education benefits individuals and their communities. And then it tells us what we are accomplishing in that area, and what we are not."

Beyond the statistics, he said, it's important to consider much of the general public "knows the landscape" underlying the report card, and ways to improve it. "I suspect there is a broad consensus on the importance of young children being read to by their parents; and then having qualified teachers as they get older," he said in an e-mail, referring to statistics in the report. "And when these things aren't happening enough we have to publicize that deficiency in our public culture. We also need to be prepared to suggest ideas for improvement. President Obama cannot issue an executive order requiring parents or older siblings to read to young children. How do we encourage such activity? What sorts of professional development and hiring policies do we need to increase the number of students who learn history from qualified teachers?"

 

 

September 3, 2013

A Chinese student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fell victim to a scam upon arriving at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, the News-Gazette reported. The student, who apparently had limited English ability, was trying to figure out how to catch a bus to Champaign at around 6 p.m. when a man approached, said the bus wouldn’t be there until midnight, and offered to drive him to his destination for $1,000. The student agreed; upon arrival, the man wrote down the cost of the trip as being $4,800. The student did not have that much money on hand but gave him what he had – believed to be $4,240.

The website for UIUC's International Student and Scholar Services office does include information on transportation to campus.

September 3, 2013

College Measures, which produces state-by-state college performance data, has released a report of key takeaways about the earnings of college graduates in five states. Associate degrees and certificates often hold their own in the job market relative to bachelor's degrees, the report found. It also said the value of credentials in STEM fields are sometimes oversold by policy makers. And the discipline in which students earned a credential influences their wages more than which college they attended. College Measures, which is a joint venture of the American Institutes for Research and Matrix Knowledge Group, created the study based on data from Arkansas, Colorado, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

September 3, 2013

Mike Scott, a county sheriff in Florida, is criticizing Florida Gulf Coast University -- and specifically President Wilson Bradshaw -- for a planned concert for the fall featuring the hip-hop performers Ludacris and Kendrick Lamar. The News-Press of Fort Myers, Fla., obtained e-mail messages between Scott and Bradshaw about the event. Scott questioned why the sheriff's office should help with security and why the university would host an event featuring performers who use explicit language (including the n-word) that offends many people. And Scott specifically noted Bradshaw's race. "I can’t for the life of me begin to imagine why a black university president would sanction such vile content; especially so proximate to the golden anniversary of Dr. King’s speech."

Bradshaw responded by noting that the university had found that the performers had appeared without incident at more than 200 colleges, and that students selected them. "As a university president -- black or white -- periodically there are expressed views related to students and faculty that the president doesn’t personally or professionally sanction or share," Bradshaw responded. "In this case, our students indicated a strong interest in inviting these performers."

September 3, 2013

The University of Cambridge has ended the use of gender-specific rules for attire in graduation ceremonies, The Telegraph reported. Until now, men were required to wear suits, and women a dress or skirt. Now, all students have those options, and must also be neatly dressed. Students pushed for the changes, saying that the old rules were unfair to those who did not want to wear clothing associated with traditional gender identities.

 

September 3, 2013

A professor of psychology at Central Michigan University is on paid leave, facing embezzlement charges. Justin Dohoon Oh-Lee is accused of creating aliases to collect more than $35,000 in subject stipends from Parkinson’s disease research he oversaw, the Morning Sun reported. He allegedly used the funds to gamble at casinos across the country, including in Las Vegas. A senior university auditor found irregularities in Oh-Lee’s professional development account in April and contacted police, according to the report. Another university official noticed suspicious activity in an account related to Oh-Lee’s research in November 2012.

Oh-Lee is out on bail. He did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.

In an e-mail, a university spokesman said the institution is aware of the charges against Oh-Lee, and is conducting an internal investigation as it continues to cooperate with outside legal authorities concerning the case.
 

September 3, 2013

Jennifer J. Raab, president of Hunter College of the City University of New York, has had considerable success with fund-raising and building projects, The New York Times reported. But she has also seen rapid turnover in key positions, especially in the College of Arts and Sciences. One assistant dean departed with a letter accusing her of "personal attacks and a culture of fear and mistrust." Raab defended her management of the college, and said that critics were outliers.

 

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