Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 19, 2013

Suzanne Fortier, principal and vice chancellor (the equivalent of president) of McGill University, has issued a statement in which the university formally opposes a "charter of values" proposed by Quebec's government that would bar public employees -- including those who work at universities -- from wearing religious head coverings or "overt" religious symbols. While the proposal could affect many religious people, it is widely viewed as a response to the non-Christian immigrant population in the province. "The proposal to prohibit our professors and staff from wearing visible religious symbols runs contrary to our principles. The wearing of such symbols in no way interferes with the religious and political neutrality of McGill as an institution. All the members of the university community with whom I have spoken on this issue are clearly worried about the proposal, and would like to see it withdrawn," said Fortier's statement. The Montreal Gazette reported that other universities are also concerned about the proposal, but that McGill is the first to take so public a stance.

 

September 19, 2013

Higher Education for Development (HED) faces a possible 80 percent reduction in its operating budget, which could force it to close out its grant programs prematurely. HED, which manages development-oriented partnerships between American universities and institutions abroad as a subcontractor of sorts for the U.S. Agency for International Development, was informed by the agency via an August 7 e-mail that its operating budget for the fiscal year starting October 1 will be just $1 million – a drop from $4.9 million this current year.

“We said at that level we close everything down by the middle of December and it will be utter chaos,” said Terry Hartle, senior vice president of government relations and public affairs for the American Council on Education, which oversees HED. “They [U.S.A.I.D.] said that’s not what we had in mind; we need to think about another way to do this.”

For its part U.S.A.I.D. said in a statement that "discussions with ACE/HED regarding programming and budget levels are ongoing at this time, and no final decisions have been made. U.S.A.I.D. is highly committed to increasing our engagement with higher education institutions to harness their intellectual energies, research capabilities, community connections, and capacity building expertise to address the toughest development challenges."

Hartle said that ACE and HED have not received anything in writing about the budget since the August 7 e-mail. He said that in discussions U.S.A.I.D. has been very clear that it does not want to force the end of any partnerships prematurely. "They'd like to have the partnerships run, but they would like to not have to pay the cost of having them monitored and evaluated according to the U.S.A.I.D. standards that they have dictated," he said.

He added that the problem seems to stem from the fact that U.S.A.I.D. wants to move away from the model of having HED and other similar entities function as middlemen in awarding, managing and evaluating government grants. That’s fine, Hartle said: “Government agencies change priorities; they change directions. But what is so surprising is that they would do this so close to the start of a fiscal year without recognizing the serious consequences of taking such a step."

HED currently administers $50 million in grants, managing 41 partnerships in 25 countries involving 93 institutions. Its portfolio of projects, present and past, can be found here

September 19, 2013

The University of California System is turning to celebrities for a new crowdfounding approach to raise money for financial aid, The Los Angeles Times reported. Celebrities are pledging access and performances if their supporters can raise set amounts of money. Jamie Foxx, the actor, will for example "rap a song like Bill Clinton, President Obama  and Monique from the movie 'Precious'" if his fans raise $20,000. The idea is to attract young alumni and others who are not interested in traditional fund-raising appeals, officials said.

September 19, 2013

The U.S. Department of Labor on Wednesday announced $475 million in work force development funding for community colleges. The money is the third installment of a $2 billion program the Obama administration created to encourage two-year institutions to deepen ties with employers and community partners. So far the project has drawn positive reviews. The 57 new grants will support work in every state.

September 18, 2013

Georgetown University is today announcing the largest gift in its history, $100 million from Frank H. McCourt Jr., a former owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, The Washington Post reported. The funds will be used to elevate a public policy program to a full-fledged school at the university.

 

September 18, 2013

As Congress debates over a stopgap spending measure to keep the government open past October 1, the group representing America’s elite research universities on Tuesday issued a statement protesting efforts by Congress impose restrictions on or ban federal funding for social and behavioral science research.

The Association of American Universities said called those efforts “disturbing” and “inappropriate,” arguing that they would “relegate such research to second-class status in federal research funding.”

Congress in March approved a ban on the use of National Science Foundation funds for political science research. Proponents of the measure, which was sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, a Republican, argued that federal dollars should flow only to research projects that involve the physical or biological sciences or technology fields. A House subcommittee earlier this year approved a measure barring economic health research at the National Institutes of Health, but it was not included in this year’s legislation to fund the government.

“Even in the context of federal budget constraints, we believe that actions by Congress to de-fund or stigmatize entire disciplines of research would severely cripple, in principle and practice, the federal government’s historically productive commitment to the funding of basic research across all disciplines,” the statement said. It also said that social and behavioral science research was important to addressing the nation’s challenges in a variety of areas such as national security, public safety and transportation. 

September 18, 2013

Minerva Schools at KGI, the ambitious (and still heavily theoretical) project that aims to educate some of the world's best students online but in residential settings, said this week that it would give its first group of undergraduates four years of free tuition when they enroll next fall, but ultimately charge $10,000 in annual tuition and under $30,000 in total costs. The project, which is seeking accreditation through Keck Graduate Institute, part of the Claremont University Consortium, aims to enroll students who could qualify for Ivy League and other highly competitive universities but would opt for an experimental alternative. The project has been the subject of both significant interest (and support from powerful friends, such as Bob Kerrey and Lawrence Summers) and a good bit of skepticism.

Minerva's founder, Ben Nelson, said in the news release that it would ultimately charge $10,000 a year in tuition and $18,850 in room and board, and that it would offer scholarships and low-interest loans.

 

 

September 18, 2013

Among the more notable pieces of recent education research was a study finding that most of the high-ability, low-income students in the country never apply to a single competitive college, even though they would likely be admitted and be offered aid. The research found that active outreach, explaining to such students what their options are, and providing application fee waivers, can encourage more of them to apply. Today, state officials in Delaware, together with the College Board and representatives of Ivy League universities, Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are announcing a plan to reach all such students in Delaware and to provide the kind of counseling that the research says could make a difference. Other Delaware high school students -- who may not be at as high levels of academic ability -- will also receive outreach, with college options that might work for them.

 

 

September 18, 2013

Grand Valley State University administrators have removed a sculpture of a wrecking ball from campus, and Miley Cyrus played a role, MLive reported. Students had noticed a similarity between the sculpture and a prop in the new Cyrus video for her song "Wrecking Ball." Students -- at least one of them nude -- were reenacting the video on the real sculpture at Grand Valley State. Officials took away the artwork, saying that they were not sure it could support the students.

 

September 18, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Jordan Okie of Arizona State University explains why some species have evolved to tremendous sizes. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

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