Higher Education Quick Takes
WASHINGTON — The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education has sent a letter to the Education Department protesting the appointment of another interim director for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities rather than a permanent leader. The previous director, John Wilson, left in January to become president of Morehouse College. Historically black colleges have already felt under fire from the Obama administration since the Education Department tightened underwriting standards for parent PLUS loans, leading to a wave of loan denials that HBCU leaders say have fallen disproportionately on their institutions.
"The decision to have the White House Initiative on HBCUs without leadership for almost a year is confounding, especially given the administration's higher education goals and the vitally important role HBCUs must play in reaching the goals," the group wrote. "The appointment of yet another interim executive director does not bode well for the HBCU community, whose challenges are many, immediate, and likely to have lasting adverse impacts."
"We recognize the prominent role of our nation's historically black colleges and universities to provide students with a high-quality higher education and help our nation reach the 2020 goal for the U.S. to have the best educated, most competitive workforce in the world," Education Department spokesman Daren Briscoe said in a statement to Inside Higher Ed. "During this transition, we are continuing conversations to ensure the White House Initiative on HBCUs has the best leadership in place to harness the opportunities and navigate the challenges that face HBCUs today, and we are moving as quickly as possible to find a permanent executive director."
Ball State University has hired Guillermo Gonzalez -- a prominent figure in intelligent design -- as assistant professor in the department of physics and astronomy, The Star Press reported. Gonzalez was denied tenure at Iowa State University, where he said that he was being punished for his views, but his faculty colleagues said he was rejected based on traditional tenure criteria. A broad consensus exists among scientists that evolution, not intelligent design, explains the origins of the earth. And many scientists -- while having no problem with intelligent design as a focus in philosophy or religion classes -- object to science departments teaching it. Ball State is currently investigating a complaint that another faculty member in physics and astronomy was inserting religious, creationist views into a science course.
The University of Massachusetts System has adopted a new reporting mechanism on its progress in meeting state goals, and will replace a long report that few read with a simple brochure, The Boston Globe reported. The brochure will feature 21 broad goals, with a simple indication (not letter grades, but perhaps up and down arrows) of progress or lack thereof. Some campus officials opposed the new system, fearing it would oversimplify. But system officials said that this approach is important to promote transparency about how state funds are used.
Some alumni and others are questioning a plan by William Peace University to use two-thirds of its $33 million endowment to buy a retail center adjacent to campus, The Raleigh News & Observer reported. University officials said that the center would provide income now and could at some point in the future provide facilities for expanding the university. Others question devoting so much of the university's endowment to the project. Still others have raised questions about the university's refusal to release the names of the trustees who voted on the matter.
Xia Yeliang, an economics professor at Peking University, has confirmed to The South China Morning Post that his department will be voting on whether to expel him. Xia has written and spoken out critically about Chinese government policies. He is currently a visiting professor at Stanford University but plans to return to Beijing to defend his right to speak out and hold a faculty position at Peking University. "This is not coming from Peking University, this is coming from the central leadership," Xia said. "The state of academic freedom is getting worse and worse. Nowadays, you don't have the right to debate anymore. A university is a place that should be free and open."
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has filed an objection to a unionization bid by faculty members at the University Laboratory High School that the campus runs, The News-Gazette reported. The union organizers say that these faculty members are entitled to collective bargaining. But the university says that these teachers are part of a larger group of non-tenure-track faculty members at Urbana-Champaign, and that any consideration of a union should involve all such instructors, not just those at the high school.
Pima Community College has faced a series of controversies and been placed on probation by its accreditor in the last year, all the while generally defending its actions. But The Arizona Daily Star noted that the college's latest report on dealing with its accreditation woes takes a different approach, admitting problems and apologizing for them. Among other things, the college has been accused of ignoring issues of sexual harassment and moving too quickly to change admissions policies. Among the statements in the college's report that the Daily Star highlighted:
- "We accept full responsibility and say we are profoundly sorry for the serious breaches of integrity."
- "The era of inattention and heedlessness is over."
- "We failed to respond quickly and give proper credence to allegations of sexual misconduct."
- "Our constituents, stakeholders and colleagues spoke, but we did not listen. For this, we are truly sorry."
Students whose parents have university degrees but are working in jobs that don't typically require such a degree were likelier than their peers to question the value of applying to college, a new study of British college-aged youth finds. The study, conducted by Britain's Strategies Society Centre and funded by Universities UK and Pearson, compares the college-going aspirations and behavior of a group of academically qualified and interested British students who considered not applying to a university and those who never had any such hesitation. It is published in the wake of the British government's decision to significantly increase tuition levels.
The report provides a wealth of information about which factors are likeliest to deter students from considering enrolling and from ultimately doing so. In general, the data back up the conventional wisdom that students from economically disadvantaged families are more likely than their peers to consider not applying to attend a university. But while having a parent with a university education generally made students less likely to express concern about applying to college, that pattern did not hold true for those at lower socioeconomic levels.
“It seems that when young people weigh up the costs and benefits of higher education, the experience of their parents is paramount,” said James Lloyd, director of the Strategic Society Centre.