Higher Education Quick Takes
In the federally mandated regulation that all distance education programs must obtain authorization from every state in which they enroll students, a much-touted solution has been a reciprocity agreement, under which states would agree to accept each other's authorization and spare large distance education programs from making up to 50 different applications. The Presidents' Forum and the Council of State Governments released a draft of such an agreement this week. The details of the authorization requirements are still scant, and will depend in part on the states who decide to join the effort, but the agreement would require minimum standards, including accreditation and legally mandated disclosures.
A later draft should be complete by this fall, and states are expected to begin joining the reciprocity agreement some time next year. The federal state authorization requirement has been challenged in court, but even if it is struck down, many believe that states will continue to enforce their own authorization rules.
University of North Carolina officials -- both at the system and campus levels -- are studying the impact of the state's new ban on gay marriage. The measure, passed Tuesday, says that the state can only recognize a marriage between a man and a woman as a "domestic legal union," and officials are uncertain what impact that could have on the generally limited benefits currently available to university employees with same-sex partners. In other states that have passed measures banning single-sex marriage or domestic partnerships, benefits offered by public colleges and universities for domestic partners have sometimes come under scrutiny and ruled illegal.
North Carolina, however, has not been a leader in providing such benefits to start with. Domestic partners are not eligible for the university system's state-provided health care plan. Some campuses, however, offer supplemental benefits such as life and dental insurance, and have allowed employees to cover domestic partners if the employees pay 100 percent of premiums. Some campuses have also allowed employees to include domestic partners in the use of campus recreational facilities.
At the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, students have been able to include domestic partners on health insurance plans as long as the students pay 100 percent of the costs. Likewise, students with domestic partners have been able to apply to live in on-campus family housing units.
The top appeals court in Alberta ruled Wednesday that Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the way universities treat students, Canada.com reported. The ruling came in a case concerning the University of Calgary's decision to punish two students for their criticism on Facebook of an instructor. The appeals court said that the university's decision could be challenged for infringing on the students' right to free expression. "The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms applies to the disciplinary proceedings undertaken by the university," said the decision.
A letter signed by 745 scholars, writers, artists and others issued a letter Wednesday denouncing the planned changes at the 42nd Street branch of the New York Public Library. The letter says that efforts to "democratize" the library will not do so, but will damage the library's scholarly role. “More space, more computers, a café and a lending library will not improve an already democratic institution," the letter says. "In fact, the absence of expert staff will diminish the accessibility of the collections to those who aren’t already experienced researchers, narrowing the constituency who can profitably use the library.” Signatories include the Nobelist Mario Vargas Llosa; Pulitzer Prize winners Frances FitzGerald, Margo Jefferson, David Levering-Lewis, Edmund Morris, Art Spiegelman and Annalyn Swan; and the writers Salman Rushdie, Jonathan Lethem, Amitav Ghosh, and Luc Sante.
Two recent Intellectual Affairs columns in Inside Higher Ed detailed the concerns of many scholars about the planned changes at the library. The president of the library wrote a column here last month defending the changes.
The percentage of new California high school graduates who enroll in the University of California and California State University Systems has dropped from 22 percent in 2007 to less than 18 percent in 2010, according to a report issued Wednesday night by the Public Policy Institute of California. Further, the enrollment of California high school graduates who have completed courses required for admission to the university systems has dropped from 67 percent to 55 percent. The declines are the apparent result of population growth at a time of deep budget cuts that have limited enrollment and led to tuition increases at many of the state's universities. The enrollment drop has been steepest among black students. While there has been a slight increase in the enrollment rates at community colleges, that has not offset the other declines. The report says that it appears that more California high school graduates than in the past are enrolling at four-year institutions outside the state.
Paul Burka, a well-connected writer at The Texas Monthly, blogged Wednesday night -- to the alarm of many faculty members at the University of Texas at Austin -- that the job of President Bill Powers may be in jeopardy. Burka wrote that he had learned of a move by University of Texas regents to remove Powers because of his opposition to a tuition freeze. Governor Rick Perry, a Republican who has selected the regents, has pushed the tuition freeze. Powers has argued that the university can maintain access through financial aid, and that some additional tuition revenue is needed to assure the best possible educational experience for students. Powers has also rejected many of the criticisms made of the university system by a think tank close to Perry.
Burka wrote: "I was told that the situation is fluid and may be happening as I write. My understanding, based on what a source with knowledge of the proceedings has conveyed, is that regents’ chairman Gene Powell asked Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa to recommend that Powers be fired. Cigarroa refused. The next step will likely be a special meeting of the board to take action. I have no indication that notice of the meeting has been posted."
A spokesman for UT Austin said via e-mail to Inside Higher Ed that that the university would offer no comment on Burka's report.
A former adjunct instructor at the University of Missouri at Kansas City says administrators changed an athlete’s failing grade and then stopped offering his career development class when he objected.
The Kansas City Star reports that the instructor, Henry Lyons, flunked an athlete in fall 2010 but was instructed by administrators to give the athlete class participation points and allow him or her to rewrite an essay. Lyons protested the change and suspects the alteration was a way to keep the athlete eligible for competition.
Administrators questioned the amount of feedback on the initial essay and criticized his department-approved syllabus, Lyons told The Star. Lyons said he has contacted the National Collegiate Athletic Association asking for an investigation. UMKC told The Star it would cooperate with an investigation, but denies wrongdoing.
Two trustees of Deep Springs College have filed a suit in a California court to block the institution from admitting women, The Los Angeles Times reported. Deep Springs is a 28-student, two-year college near the Death Valley, known for educating men in a highly intense environment in which they also manage the college's farm. Many of its graduates transfer to some of the most competitive colleges in the United States. In September, after years of debate in which student recommendations to admit women were rejected by the trustees, the board voted to admit women, and a process is under way to do so in the fall of 2013.
The lawsuit says that the college was founded with a gift for educating men, and that the college is doing well in its current set-up. As a result, the suit says, the college's board should not be able to deviate from the founder's intent. "If the trustees wish to have a coeducational college similar to Deep Springs, they are free to donate or raise the funds to create one according to their own vision," the suit says.
David Neidorf, president at Deep Springs, said he hoped the college would admit women, and that he had not yet read the suit, and so could not comment on it.
The faculty union of the University of Rhode Island has filed an unfair labor practice charge after the state's Board of Governors for Higher Education rejected a three-year contract that had been negotiated with the union, The Providence Journal reported. The board also rejected contracts for other public colleges, and for graduate students at the university. Board members said that they didn't have enough information on the financial implications of the contracts. A statement from the American Association of University Professors, which represents the faculty members and grad students at the university, blasted the move, saying that "board negotiators represented to us that they were authorized to reach agreement with us."