Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Colleges and universities face major security flaws with Blackboard Learn, potentially leaving systems vulnerable to students who want to change their grades, or others seeking private information, SC Magazine reported. According to the magazine, which is based in Australia, university officials there had to threaten to issue a security alert to get Blackboard to do so.

Matthew Maurer, a spokesman for Blackboard, told Inside Higher Ed via e-mail that the article was correct that there was a security flaw, and that this problem was not unique to Australian universities. But he said that the article (which has been circulating among some American IT officials) had an "exaggerated fashion" in describing the problem. "There's not a single reported case of exposure, just the theoretical," he said. Maurer said that many of the issues were very quickly fixed, and that the company is now providing information to colleges and universities so they can see that there are not serious problems remaining.

He acknowledged that the magazine article played a role in the timing of an alert that went out last week to colleges that use Blackboard Learn. But he said that the company didn't notify everyone immediately only because the normal practice is that "we would never do so until the investigation is complete lest we spread bad information." He added: "We've had a lot of client questions in the last few days as you can imagine, but once they get their hands on the facts most have acknowledged that these are not huge issues."

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Australian universities have been experiencing major security flaws with Blackboard Learn, potentially leaving systems vulnerable to students who want to change their grades, or others seeking private information, SC Magazine reported. According to the magazine, university officials in Australia had to threaten to issue a security alert to get Blackboard to do so.

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The Internal Revenue Service formally declared last week that employers -- including colleges and universities -- can provide cell phones to workers for business purposes without the worker paying any tax on the benefit. The issue has been raised in IRS audits of several major universities, and colleges had been hopeful that this change was coming in the wake of a provision included in the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 last fall, which removed cell phones from the definition of listed property, a category that normally requires additional recordkeeping by taxpayers. But the IRS declaration provides a formal measure of relief to college officials.

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Chris Impey of the University of Arizona explores ancient light in an effort to better understand the lifecycle of supermassive black holes. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

A Canadian scientist has been stripped of a federal research grant after authorities found that his application materials and C.V. included claims that he had conducted research and published findings about the research -- even though the research and publications did not exist, Postmedia News reported. The Canadian research agency that took action against the scientist declined to identify him.

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

The U.S. Senate's Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved legislation that would slice 2.8 percent from the 2012 budget for the National Science Foundation. The measure, which allocates funds for several science-related agencies, would provide $6.7 billion for the NSF, and also include a cut for the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Following a legal hearing in which John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America, was asked to defend his gradual elimination of coeducational dorms on the campus, the professor who filed the complaint against him told Inside Higher Ed that additional complaints against two archbishops affiliated with the university are forthcoming. John Banzhaf, a George Washington University professor of public interest law, had said in news releases leading up to Thursday's hearing of the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights that Garvey’s presentation would determine whether he would also charge Rev. Allen H. Vigneron and Rev. Donald W. Wuerl with aiding and abetting illegal sex discrimination under the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act.

Father Vigneron is chairman of Catholic’s Board of Trustees, and Father Wuerl is the university’s ex officio chancellor and its liaison to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The D.C. statute prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and commercial space, and public accommodations on the basis of sex and other factors such as race, religion and marital status. If the human rights office decides that Banzhaf’s complaint is legally valid, it may begin an investigation.

Reached for comment Thursday afternoon, a Catholic spokesman, Victor Nakas, said, “We remain confident that the law is on our side and neither local nor federal law require us to provide co-ed housing.”

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Ruth J. Simmons announced Thursday that she will step down from the presidency of Brown University at the end of the academic year. Simmons, who is in her 11th year as Brown's president, and who was earlier the president of Smith College, said that it was a good time to plan a transition for the university and for herself. She plans to resume teaching at Brown.

Simmons received much attention as the first black woman to lead an Ivy League university, and some of her work related to issues of race and history, particularly in appointing a panel to study to links between Brown's founders and the slave trade. But she also led successful campaigns to increase the size of the faculty, and to provide substantially more money than in the past to financial aid. In recent years, she has generally won high marks from the university for navigating the tight budget environment created by the economic downturn.

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Three universities and three university hospital units have been named to Working Mother magazine's list of the 100 best companies as employers of working mothers. The universities are Cornell University, the State University of New York at Buffalo and Yale University. The hospital systems are University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics, Virginia Commonwealth University Health System and Yale-New Haven Hospital.

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

The textbook rental company Chegg has made another move in its effort to recast itself as a "social education platform" by buying Zinch, a company that matches high school students with colleges and scholarships, the company announced on Thursday. Zinch is the fifth company Chegg has bought since last September, joining the schedule-making site CourseRank, the homework-help sites Cramster and Student of Fortune, and the class-notes marketplace Notehall. The acquisition of Zinch, which also provides services to undergraduates looking at grad schools, is Chegg's first foray into capturing high school customers. "Chegg now provides resources to students at every major milestone before, during and after their college career -- including bridging the gap from high school to college," the company said in a press release. Chegg, once known only as "Netflix for textbooks," started its transformation as a one-stop educational bazaar after raising over $200 million in venture funding, sparking rumors of an imminent IPO.

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