Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 26, 2013

New York State has sued Trump University for making false claims and operating as an unlicensed educational institution from 2005 to 2011, The New York Times reported. Trump University earlier changed its name to the Trump Entrepreneur Initiative after the New York State Education Department said it was deceptive for the for-profit institution to call itself a university. The lawsuit announced Saturday says that the Donald Trump led organization encouraged people "to spend tens of thousands of dollars they couldn’t afford for lessons they never got." As an example of a false claim, the suit says that Donald Trump claimed in promotional materials that he selected instructors to teach a curriculum he devised. In reality, the state attorney general says, Trump didn't pick the instructors or create the curriculum. A lawyer for Trump said that the suit was politically motivated and that the vast majority of students were satisfied with their courses.


August 26, 2013

In another sign of tightening Chinese oversight of higher education, the government has barred a law professor -- Zhang Xuezhong of the East China University of Political Science -- from the classroom, the Associated Press reported. Zhang has been faulted by Chinese authorities for advocating that the country have a constitution under which the Communist Party would operate rather than having the constitution (as is currently the case) operate only within the rules of the party. Officials have said that Zhang's positions are unconstitutional.

August 26, 2013

An article in The New York Times explores the role of ESPN in college football and how the network has arguably become more influential than conferences, the National Collegiate Athletic Association or (not that there was much doubt) faculty members at various institutions. The article traces the network's role in picking match-ups, scheduling game times and encouraging trends such as games that are not on Saturday.


August 23, 2013

Pennsylvania State University held a telephone press conference for reporters Thursday regarding its “Take Care of Your Health” wellness initiative. Administrators said the plan was an educated and well-intentioned attempt at managing skyrocketing health care costs – projected to grow by 13 percent by next year absent intervention – without passing that burden on to employees through higher deductibles and co-pays. Susan Basso, vice president for human resources, said Penn State’s average employee deductible is about $250, compared to a regional average of $1,500.  The university believes that its new plan will lead to earlier detection of illnesses, leading to better health outcomes for employees and lower health care costs in the long run for Penn State, she said.

Donald Fischer, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Highmark Health Services, Penn State’s insurance provider, said that several studies – included one funded by Highmark– showed that such measures led to $1.65 in health care savings for every $1 spent on wellness initiatives. An independent researcher involved in that study, Ron Z. Goetzel, director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, said the study offered sophisticated controls and was published in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s backed up by additional independent studies, he said.

The call followed a media blitzkrieg of negative coverage of the wellness measure, capstoned by a Harvard Business Review blog post called “The Danger of Wellness Programs: Don’t Become the Next Penn State.” Faculty have expressed outrage at the program’s punitive surcharges of $75 to $100 for not completing biometric screenings, online wellness profiles and physical exams, and for smoking and covering spouses and domestic partners eligible for health insurance through their own employers. Some faculty also have raised concerns about the uploading of their personal medical information into WebMD online, a third-party electronic records system.

During the call, David Gray, Penn State’s senior vice president, said seeds of the plan were in place as far back as 2008, and that the Faculty Senate was briefed on the plan in 2011, before the Jerry Sandusky story broke. He called that a fact some in the media “missed."

Basso said that although other university wellness programs have focused on positive participation incentives, Penn State saw no cost savings after pouring “millions” of dollars into such incentives in the past. Surcharges were the most “transparent” way to drive participation, she said, rather than artificially inflating health care contributions for employees to then offer a discount. No personal information will be used for punitive purposes and the employee medical information recently uploaded to WebMD will never be available to Penn State other than in aggregate form, she said.

August 23, 2013

Entrepreneurship education, once considered a “niche program” has become a “hot” area of focus that is now expected in most M.B.A. programs and is primarily focused on experiential, rather than theoretical learning, said Sarah Gardial, dean of the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business and president of the MBA Roundtable.

Those two points were among the top findings in an M.B.A. Roundtable study, which sought to better understand what approaches MBA programs are taking to teach topics related to entrepreneurial thought. The study relied on data gathered from interviews with and surveys from 137 M.B.A. program directors.

The study found that 91 percent of MBA entrepreneurship programs use at least some form of experiential learning. The teaching in these programs focuses on an apprenticeship model of education, where the learning is largely hands on, and students are mentored and coached rather than taught. This is a sharp contrast from traditional business school methods of teaching, Gardial said. She said this report on entrepreneurial programs could provide a model for other areas of business school to create a “healthier balance” between theory and “doing.” The study also found that 85 percent of the MBA programs surveyed offered entrepreneurship, and a third of executive MBA programs are likely to have 75 percent or more of their students participate in entrepreneurship offerings.



August 23, 2013

The family of a Frostburg State University football player who died after sustaining a head injury during practice in 2011 has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletic Association, the Washington Times reported. The lawsuit, which argues that Derek Sheely’s death was preventable and that coaches ordered players to lead with their heads in drills, also names Frostburg State’s head football coach, running backs coach and assistant athletic trainer. Filed in Montgomery County Circuit Court, the suit also says athletes who complained of concussion symptoms were called “gripers” and ordered to return to practice, after which they had to clean the field.

This is not the only head trauma-related lawsuit the NCAA faces. USA Today also reported this week that after a U.S. district court judge granted a stay in the case, a 2011 lawsuit filed against the NCAA by four former athletes seeking damages for the lasting effects of concussions may end in a settlement.

August 23, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Katharine Maus of the University of Virginia explores the 16th century view of property as revealed in the works William Shakespeare. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


August 23, 2013

The monthlong string of hate crimes that prompted a federal investigation and culminated in Oberlin College canceling classes for a day in the spring was a hoax orchestrated by two students who have since been removed from campus, The Daily Caller reported Thursday. After police suggested in March that a person spotted in Ku Klux Klan-like robes around the campus Afrikan Heritage Center may have just been someone wrapped in a blanket, some speculated (noting high-profile cases elsewhere) that the sighting, as well as incidents of racist and anti-Semitic notes, posters, harassing emails and graffiti, were hoaxes. After he was caught, police records show, one of the students told campus cops, “I’m doing it as a joke to see the college overreact to it as they have with the other racial postings that have been posted on campus.” The students took responsibility for some but not all of the incidents.

In response to an Inside Higher Ed query, Oberlin spokesman Scott Wargo confirmed that two students "who may [have been] responsible" were identified and "removed from campus" back in March. "While we take issue with the characterizations reflected in the Daily Caller article, we are constrained from commenting further by federal law and the need to preserve the integrity of our ongoing internal judicial processes," Wargo said.

August 23, 2013

Southern Illinois University is the latest institution to limit graduate assistants' workloads ahead of the Affordable Care Act's so-called "employer mandate" taking effect. In an e-mail sent earlier this week to Southern Illinois' Graduate School deans, chairs and graduate directors, Susan M. Ford, interim dean, said that starting in January the school will no longer approve graduate assistant contracts over a 50 percent assignment  -- what typically equates to a 20-hour workweek. Under the Affordable Care Act, large employers such as colleges and universities will have to provide employees working 30 hours or more weekly with health insurance, or face fines, beginning in January 2015.

"This restriction relates to the university's current understanding of the Affordable Care Act and its impact on the way [graduate assistant] benefits will be determined," reads the email, obtained by Inside Higher Ed. "This restriction is consistent with practice being enacted at universities across the country and put in place after consultation with the various offices involved with [graduate assistant] benefits on campus."

Ford did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how many students the new policy could affect.

Earlier this summer, the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa announced it was limiting graduate students' workloads universitywide ahead of the Affordable Care Act. Adjunct instructors at dozens of institutions across the country also have seen their workloads limited for the same reasons.

August 23, 2013

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has denied an appeal by Virginia Intermont College to hold on to its accreditation. SACS cited a number of financial issues in saying that the college should not continue to be accredited, and loss of accreditation would deny students eligibility for federal student aid. The college announced that it is seeking a federal injunction to block SACS from removing accreditation, pending further legal actions. College officials said that the institution was starting the semester with plans to continue operating.



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