Higher Education Quick Takes
The White House is keeping a tight lid on what might emerge during President Obama's two-day bus tour to address college affordability. But on the eve of those appearances, which begin today, sources said the president might seek to link federal financial aid to student outcomes, such as debt levels. Observers said that major proposal, which obviously would be controversial to many in higher education, likely would be accompanied by Obama signaling support for competency-based education, particularly programs that are not based on the credit-hour standard. However, the proposal's language was still being hashed out yesterday, sources said.
The New York Times also reported that the president's plan would involve linking federal aid to various student outcomes, likely with rating systems that compare colleges to their peer institutions.
Other parts of the Obama tour in upstate New York may be less controversial. In Syracuse, he is expected to highlight the "Say Yes to Education" program, which provides scholarships to students in participating schools in New York State with to attend public and participating private colleges, while also providing extensive support and guidance on preparing for colleges, The Post-Standard reported.
The University of Notre Dame plans to start admitting students who lack the legal documentation to reside in the United States. To date, Notre Dame has not had an official ban on such students, but has treated them as international students, who must have student visas to enroll. That rule effectively made enrollment impossible for undocumented students -- who typically were brought to the United States as young children and have lived in the U.S. for many years. Announcement of the shift in policy appeared on social media Wednesday night and was confirmed by a Notre Dame admissions official.
Notre Dame's policy to start admitting undocumented students as domestic students reflects a significant commitment for the university because Notre Dame is among the small number of private institutions that pledge to meet the full financial need of all admitted (non-international) students. Since undocumented students are barred from federal student aid programs, and because many of them are from low-income families, their financial need could be large. The aid commitment, however, will only be made to those admitted, and Notre Dame admissions are quite competitive.
A new requirement that private colleges in Malaysia teach a compulsory course in Islamic and Asian Civilization Studies has been politically controversial. The move has been described as a step toward increasing "Islamization" of the country’s colleges, as The Malay Mail Online has reported, and some argue that the course should be an elective. Government officials reject the argument that non-Muslim students should not be required to take the course, saying that the course covers not only Islamic civilization but also Chinese, Indian and Malay civilizations, as the Star reported. The course is already required of all students in public institutions.
Foreign branch campuses in Malaysia are among the institutions that are subject to the new requirement. Christine Ennew, provost of the University of Nottingham’s campus in Malaysia, told Inside Higher Ed in an e-mail interview that Nottingham has taught subjects mandated by the Malaysian government since the campus's establishment in 2000: a 1996 law governing private education providers mandates that private institutions teach compulsory courses in Malaysian studies and courses related to Islam for Muslim students and moral studies for non-Muslim students. What’s changed, she said, is the nature of the mandatory subjects, including the introduction of the new Islamic and Asian Civilization Studies course.
Asked whether the government’s move raises concerns about issues of institutional autonomy, Ennew said, “We’ve been delivering the teaching of compulsory subjects in relation to broad, externally defined content for 13 years – it was a requirement that we were aware of when we made the decision to establish a campus in Malaysia. And Malaysia is not the only country that asks for certain subjects to be taught to students. The key point is that these subjects are outside of the core curriculum and so [the] government is not interfering in the content of our degree programs.”
An Australian student attending Oklahoma’s East Central University on a baseball scholarship was shot and killed last week by three teenagers who were “bored” and decided to kill someone for fun, CBS News reported. Christopher Lane was out for a jog in Duncan, Okla., where his girlfriend and her family live, when he was shot in the back.
A statement from East Central University said that Lane, a Melbourne native, earned an associate degree in business administration from Redlands Community College, also in Oklahoma, before enrolling at East Central. The head baseball coach, Dino Rosato, remembered Lane as “a person I wanted to be around. He was a young man with great character.”
Florida International University has suspended Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity while investigating screen shots of a series of postings on the brothers' Facebook page, The Miami Herald reported. Members of the fraternity aren't talking, but the Facebook posts (some of which are published with the Herald article) refer to some women as "sorusitutes," quote the availability of drugs (sometimes with tiered pricing for brothers and non-brothers) and apparent encouragement to engage in hazing.
The University of Sydney is debating the censorship of the cover of a student newspaper -- Honi Soit -- which was forced to place black bars over portions of 18 photographs of students' vulvas. The Student Representative Council, which publishes the paper, ordered the addition of the black bars, citing Australian laws on obscenity, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Michael Spence, vice chancellor of the university, told the newspaper that "personally my view is the cover is demeaning to women but I do realize I'm not the target audience for Honi Soit. However, the student body at the University of Sydney has a long and proud tradition of independence and it's a tradition we will continue to uphold."
Despite all the efforts to block the cover, copies of the original cover leaked and can be found on various websites and Twitter. (Readers who do not wish to see close-up female genitalia may not wish to follow this link, which shows the original version and the censored version.) While the body parts are not identified, some students have come forward to not only defend the project, but to point out their participation. See, for example, this blog post "That's My Vagina on Honi Soit."
The newspaper's website has been shaky with all the traffic since the controversy broke. But an editorial explaining the rationale behind the cover also was posted to the newspaper's Facebook page. "Eighteen vulvas. All belong to women of Sydney University. Why are they on the cover of Honi Soit?" says the editorial. "We are tired of society giving us a myriad of things to feel about our own bodies. We are tired of having to attach anxiety to our vaginas. We are tired of vaginas being either artificially sexualized (see: porn) or stigmatized (see: censorship and airbrushing). We are tired of being pressured to be sexual, and then being shamed for being sexual. The vaginas on the cover are not sexual. We are not always sexual. The vagina should and can be depicted in a non-sexual way – it’s just another body part. 'Look at your hand, then look at your vagina,' said one participant in the project. 'Can we really be so naïve to believe our vaginas the dirtiest, sexiest parts of our body?'"
MOOC provider Coursera on Tuesday announced Lila Ibrahim will become its first president. Ibrahim, who will continue to serve as an operating partner for the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, previously spent 18 years with the chip maker Intel. "Lila has worked closely with the company founders over the past year," Coursera founders Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller wrote in a blog post. "She has been consistently passionate about education and brings the experience to help us turbo charge Coursera’s growth." Ibrahim will join Koller and Ng to form Coursera's executive team.
Case Western Reserve University has announced an overhaul of its law school curriculum, The Plain Dealer reported. Among the changes: increased writing requirements, student work for clients starting from the first semester of law school, a third-year semester in a clinical position and a required leadership course at Case's business school.
Citing concerns about shared governance, faculty members at Pennsylvania State University have formed an advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors. The association has two kinds of chapters: advocacy, for non-unionized faculty, and union. It’s unclear whether Penn State’s unique public-private status (it’s state-supported but privately chartered) would prevent future attempts to unionize, given current restrictions on tenure-track faculty unions at private institutions.
Brian Curran, president of the new chapter and professor of art history, said he couldn’t comment on any intent to unionize “at this time.” But through the advocacy chapter, he said he hoped to bring to Penn State a kind of transparency and shared governance that is lacking through the Faculty Senate. For example, he said, the body has no means of sending out mass e-mails to faculty to alert them of decisions.
The Faculty Senate president did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Penn State faculty expressed outrage this summer at the university's new “Take Care of Your Health” wellness initiative, which requires that all faculty complete biometric screenings and online wellness profiles that include questions some faculty have said are invasive, such as those pertaining to mental health and frequency of testicular self-exams. Faculty who don’t complete the annual screenings will have to pay a $100 monthly surcharge.
Additional surcharges have been announced for smokers and for coverage for spouses and domestic partners eligible for insurance through their own employers.
The university has said that attempts to control its skyrocketing health care costs through voluntary measures proved unsuccessful. Susan Basso, vice president for human resources, has said the university's new program complies with health care privacy laws and that personal information will be used for health promotion only.
In an e-mail, a university spokesman said Penn State values shared governance "because we do encourage participation in many aspects of decision-making. We balance this with our need for administrative accountability." To that end, members of the faculty and staff were consulted on the health care plan as early as 2011, he said.
In other Penn State news, Harvard Business Review dedicated a blog post to the wellness initiative Tuesday called “The Danger of Wellness Programs: Don’t Become the Next Penn State.”
The post’s authors, well-known benefits experts Tom Emerick and Al Lewis, wrote that “Wellness is supposed to 'empower' employees but instead did just the opposite at Penn State. Ironically, the only thing that has empowered Penn State employees has been fighting back against this misdirected wellness tyranny.” Instead of a “‘culture of wellness,’ Penn State has created a culture of resentment,” they wrote, arguing that “Take Care of Your Health” may not save the university much money after all.
Basic calculations “would have told them that their 43,000 covered lives probably incurred a total of only about 100 wellness-sensitive medical inpatient events, like heart attacks, of which a few might have taken place in people who were not previously diagnosed and were therefore at least theoretically avoidable, saving the tiniest fraction of their healthcare spending. But we'll never know because they embarked on a prevention jihad against their employees without knowing the value of what they were trying to prevent.”