Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 17, 2013

Fast Company's Co.Exist reports on the unlikely home-to-be of a professor at Huston-Tillotson University: a 33-square-foot dumpster in Austin, Tex., where the university is located. Jeff Wilson, dean of the University College and associate professor of biological sciences, has taken on the alter ego of Professor Dumpster for the Dumpster Project, which aims to get students thinking about sustainable environmental practices. As part of the project, Wilson sold most of his belongings for $1 apiece and has been living (secretly) in his office at the university, but decided to make the move into the dumpster (which he plans to do soon) to give students a project: "to ultimately show one can have a pretty good life in a dumpster,” according to Co.Exist.

In addition to giving his students that challenge, Wilson and the project have created a curriculum they will use to educate elementary and secondary school students on environmental issues, focused on the Professor Dumpster character (think Bill Nye the Science Guy).

October 17, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Lloyd White of Royal Holloway University discusses revisions to the map of the supercontinent Gondwana. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 17, 2013

WASHINGTON -- Congress passed legislation Wednesday night to re-open the federal government and increase the nation’s borrowing authority to avoid a default on its obligations.

Lawmakers voted to fund the government at the same level as this year through mid-January, ending a 16-day shutdown that, among other things, halted military tuition assistance and stalled a wide range of academic research.

But the measure keeps intact the automatic government spending cuts for the current fiscal year, known as sequestration, at least through January 15. Higher education advocates have blasted those cuts as detrimental to scientific research. The cuts, which took effect in March, have already reduced federal research funding by billions of dollars and prompted universities to lay off researchers and close laboratories.

Funding levels for federal research and federal student aid programs will be at stake in the budget negotiations between the House and Senate this fall, which will occur because of the deal reached Wednesday night. Those negotiations, which are also aimed at producing a long-term agreement to reduce the budget deficit, will be led by Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington and Republican Representative Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. 

October 17, 2013

The women's basketball coach at the College of the Holy Cross went on administrative leave Wednesday, a day after a former player filed a lawsuit accused him and the college of a pattern of physical and verbal abuse that was not stopped, The Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported. Bill Gibbons voluntarily stepped aside, the newspaper reported, after Ashley Cooper, who played on his team for two years, filed a lawsuit accusing him of hitting her on the back and bullying and humiliating her. The lawsuit also alleges that college officials put up with the behavior and failed to stop it. Gibbons declined comment to the newspaper, and college officials said in a statement that they had just received the lawsuit and were investigating its charges. "The physical, mental and emotional well-being of our students is our highest priority at Holy Cross," the college said in a statement explaining the coach's leave.

October 17, 2013

A faculty grievance committee at the University of North Dakota has found that an assistant professor of French was unfairly denied tenure based on her alleged lack of collegiality, the Forum of Fargo/Moorhead reported. Sarah Mosher, who has been at the university since 2008, was denied tenure last year and received a terminal contract for this academic year. The University Senate’s Standing Committee on Faculty Rights reviewed Mosher’s case during 32 hours of hearings – which were open to the public, at her request – last month. The committee delivered its report to North Dakota President Robert Kelley this week, recommending that he take a “proactive stance to resolve the underlying departmental issues surrounding this grievance.” The committee also found that the Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures Department, which recommended against Mosher’s tenure, suffered from “discord, dysfunction, chaos and interpersonal conflict.”

During hearings, witnesses said that she lacked collegiality by rolling her eyes at faculty meetings, slamming doors, being argumentative and competing for students, but performed well in the three areas required for tenure: teaching, scholarship and service. The committee found that collegiality was not an “implied” criterion, according to departmental and college policies, and that Mosher had not been intentionally disruptive to the department. Kelley has until Nov. 4 to decide whether to give Mosher another chance at applying for tenure, this time in accordance with college guidelines.

A university spokesman declined to comment on the matter, pending review by the president. Birgit Hans, the department chair, also declined to comment. Mosher could not immediately be reached for comment. Greg Scholtz, director of tenure, academic freedom and governance at the American Association of University Professors, said the organization historically opposes collegiality as a fourth tenure criterion, mainly due to the potential constraints it puts on academic freedom. It can encourage homogeneity and chill debate and discussion, AAUP says.

October 16, 2013

Students at the American Public University System have dropped 13,100 course registrations this month largely because the partial government shutdown has halted tuition assistance to active-duty service members, the university’s parent company disclosed to investors on Tuesday. The company, American Public Education, Inc., said that registration for October classes has declined by 20 percent compared to the same month last year.  

American Public is one of the largest recipients of federal money that subsidizes tuition for active-duty service members. Active-duty military personnel take typically take between one and 1.5 courses at a time, a company spokesman said. 

Since the shutdown began on October 1, branches of the armed forces have not processed existing applications for tuition assistance or authorized new requests.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University also said Tuesday that its enrollment of active-duty service members in October classes had fallen by about 37 percent -- 1,459 students -- compared with the same month last year. A spokeswoman for the university said it was unclear whether the suspension of tuition assistance had caused the decrease. Some institutions, such as Ashford University, Southern New Hampshire University and Northeastern University, have said they would cover the amount of financial aid that active-duty service members would have received from the Pentagon. Kaplan University also announced on Tuesday it would provide that benefit to affected students.

October 16, 2013

Dow Lohnes, one of a handful of major law firms that specializes in the practice of higher education law, announced Tuesday that its Washington office is merging with Cooley LLP, a much larger firm that has a significant foothold in Silicon Valley, where education technology firms have been popping up virtually by the day.

The partnership of Dow Lohnes's higher education practice -- which is best known for its regulatory work with nonprofit and for-profit colleges, and for helping colleges and companies navigate the regulatory hurdles when they collaborate -- with Cooley's expertise in litigation and transactions and its ties to the education technology sector will "add a Silicon Valley view to our Washington view," said Michael B. Goldstein, co-chair of Dow Lohnes's higher education practice.

October 16, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Cornelia Class of Columbia University explains the importance of rare earth elements in the manufacture of electronics. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 16, 2013

Gloucester County College in New Jersey plans to change its name to more formally align itself with nearby Rowan University, and to create an "exclusive agreement" in which students who enroll in the two-year institution will sign a non-binding letter to enroll at the university and earn the right to enroll there if they maintain a 2.0 grade point average, South Jersey Times reported. If approved by state officials, the community college will become Rowan College of Gloucester County, and in addition to the transfer pathway, students at the county college who choose to remain there instead of transferring can take Rowan courses at a 15 percent discount.

October 16, 2013

The agency that accredits community colleges in California and Hawaii is facing criticism for encouraging officials at the colleges it accredits to write letters of support on its behalf in the accreditor's battle with the U.S. Education Department, the Los Angeles Times reported. The Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, part of the Western Association of Colleges and Schools, was reprimanded by the federal agency in August after the accreditor threatened to terminate the accreditation of City College of San Francisco, among the country's largest institutions. In response to a complaint filed by unions affiliated with the San Francisco institution, department officials found the commission out of compliance with several of its rules, and ordered a review.

According to the Los Angeles Times article, officials of the accrediting commission sent an Oct. 8 letter urging business officers at California's community colleges to sent the agency "letters of support" that it could forward on to the Education Department. Union officials called the request inappropriate; the commission's president defended it."The 133 colleges that are members of ACCJC have an interest in helping to ensure their accrediting body achieves renewal of federal recognition," Barbara Beno, the commission's president, said in an e-mail to the newspaper.

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