Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 28, 2013

The Common Application, which has been posting increasingly optimistic updates about its attempts to fix the many bugs that surfaced in its new application system this fall, went even further on Friday. On the daily update on its Facebook page, the Common Application said that while some users experience slow response while updates were being made, "as we post this, everything is working normally." Judging from comments posted on that update, not everyone agrees. Some posts indicated that applicants and their high schools were no longer having problems. Others noted continued problems and poor response or no response from the help desk. Several said that they were going to alternatives -- such as snail mail -- for teacher recommendations. Many colleges have delayed early decision deadlines (November 1 at many institutions) but online comments suggests continued stress for applicants aiming for early decision.

The Universal College Application, a competitor to the Common Application (and with a fraction of participating colleges) announced on Friday that Washington University in St. Louis was a new participant. Washington University is the fifth college to join in the last month, amid growing frustrations with the Common Application. The others are: Hampshire and Trinity (Conn.) Colleges, and Princeton and Tufts Universities.

 

 

October 28, 2013

Edinboro University announced Friday that it will eliminate the jobs of more than 30 faculty members, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. Like other members of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education, Edinboro is facing tight budgets. The university said that six positions would be from the tenured or tenure-track faculty members. The remaining 25.8 full-time equivalent faculty cuts will be from those off the tenure track.

 

October 28, 2013

Peking University has issued an extended defense, in English, of its controversial decision to dismiss Xia Yeliang from the School of Economics The termination of Xia, a critic of the Chinese Communist Party, has widely been seen in the West as retribution for his political speech and has come at a time of an intensified crackdown on bloggers and activists who are critical of the government.

Peking’s statement says that this month's vote among faculty and school leaders not to renew Xia’s contract was the second such vote on this topic. The first, in 2012, resulted in 11 against renewal and 10 for, with one abstention. However, the university said it wanted to give Xia an opportunity to improve his performance and held a second vote this month, which resulted in 30 against renewal of his contract, 3 for, with one abstention. Xia’s contract will not be renewed when it expires in January.

“The reason that most members of the committee voted against the renewal of Xia Yeliang’s contract lies in the performance of his teaching and research,” the university's statement reads, in part. “With regard to his teaching, the result of annual teaching assessments since 2008 showed that he ranked lowest among the School faculties three times, the third lowest once, the fourth lowest once. His best performance was the sixth from the bottom twice. During the same period, more than 340 pieces of students’ complaints and criticism on his teaching were received, including a letter of request signed by over 20 students to demand replacing Xia Yeliang. Such a demand is extremely rare at Peking University. The students mostly complained about his digressive talks and excessive waste of time on materials irrelevant to the course. Some of the comments are sharp criticism, for example 'Please teach economics in class; don’t bullshit!' 'You put the cart before the horse.' 'Too much superficial digression.' 'His words are full of garbage.' "

The statement also says that Xia only published one paper in the Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index from August 2008 to January 2013. The university said that Xia is untenured and that it has terminated 25 people upon expiration of their contact since 2008, including Xia.

A New York Times article, however, noted that Xia is the first professor to be dismissed from the economics department in more than a decade -- a fact that was confirmed by Peking officials. In an interview, Xia maintained that his dismissal was politically motivated -- he cited warnings from the university's Communist Party secretary regarding his online pro-democracy writings -- and defended his academic performance. He said that the 340 negative evaluations represent a fraction of the thousands of students he has taught and that his name had appeared in a number of publications since 2008.

“All such records are in their hands right now, so they can say whatever they want," Xia told the Times.

 

 

October 28, 2013

As the National Collegiate Athletic Association contemplates how it will redesign its governance and membership structure, some groups, including conference commissioners, the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and the Division I Faculty Athletics Representatives Board, have suggested or at least been open to the notion of the largest athletic programs forming their own division. That would allow more leniency in how they could recruit and provide financial aid to athletes.

But the group that represents FARs in all divisions, the Faculty Athletics Representatives Association, wants Division I to stay intact. In a position statement obtained by Inside Higher Ed, the FARA Executive Committee argues that Division I institutions are committed to a group of core academic and athletic values and primarily compete against each other, so retaining the current division would be "the most practical option."

The FARA also wants the Division I Board of Directors to comprise a "small group" of university presidents (as it does currently) and CEOs "looking to position intercollegiate athletics through the changing and challenging landscape of American society." The group would not make policy but would set an overarching agenda and oversee NCAA leadership at lower levels. FARs, athletic directors, coaches, athletes and other stakeholders would have a say in policy development, and would be entitled to seats on the various boards, councils and committees that make rules.

October 28, 2013

Khan Academy last week released its first batch of videos to help students prepare for the revised version of the Medical College Admission Test, which will debut in 2015. The 150 videos were created by the winners of a student competition hosted this year in collaboration with the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a public health organization. The videos have been fact-checked by the AAMC. New videos will be added to Khan Academy's MCAT page over the course of 2014.

October 28, 2013

Brown University announced Sunday that its board has decided not to sell off investment holdings in coal companies. Brown's policies set out criteria for divesting the endowment of certain kinds of investments, and a letter released from Christina H. Paxson said that while she believed coal production causes "social harm," one of the criteria, she was not convinced on other requirements.

"The existence of social harm is a necessary but not sufficient rationale for Brown to divest," she wrote. "Once social harm is established, divestiture may be warranted if either divestiture is likely to help reduce the harm or the harm is sufficiently grave. Taking the second of these criteria first, is it the case that the social harm from coal is so grave that divestiture is warranted? Absent a bright-line threshold for gravity, this is a judgment call, and a difficult one at that. I believe that although the social harm is clear, this harm is moderated by the fact that coal is currently necessary for the functioning of the global economy. Coal is the source of approximately 40 percent of the world’s electricity, and it provides needed energy for millions of people throughout the world. In many regions, there are serious technological impediments to transitioning away from coal. In addition, coal is used in the production of other products, such as cement and steel, which are central to the economies of both developed and developing countries. The comparison to tobacco is instructive. Unlike tobacco, which arguably has no social value, a cessation of the production and use of coal would itself create significant economic and social harm to countless communities across the globe." She added that "Brown’s holdings are much too small for divestiture to reduce corporate profits. Furthermore, because the profits of these companies are determined primarily by the demand for their products rather than their stock prices, divestiture would not reduce profits even if Brown’s holdings were orders of magnitude larger."

The student group that has been pushing for divestment of coal holdings outlines its position here.

 

 

October 28, 2013

Just about every year, Halloween brings campus disputes over costumes built around ethnic or racial stereotypes. Several universities this year are trying -- in advance of Halloween -- to discourage offensive costumes. The University of Colorado at Boulder has put posters up on campus that show members of different racial and ethnic groups -- and some of the stereotypes that have been the basis of costumes. The tag line for the posters: "You wear the costume for one night. I wear the stigma for life." The University of Minnesota-Twin Cities sent a letter to students urging them to avoid costumes that perpetuate stereotypes, The Star Tribune reported.

 

October 28, 2013

Department chairs at the Columbia Gorge Community College in Oregon passed a resolution expressing no confidence in the college's president, who some said erred when announcing a high-profile personnel decision that warranted faculty input.. The nine department chairs passed a no-confidence resolution in President Frank Toda’s leadership.They are upset that Toda named a chief academic and student affairs officer without consulting faculty.

Faculty members are concerned that chief academic and student affairs officer Lori Ufford does not have the necessary background in academic instruction for the position, and are asking the president and the college’s governing body to agree to make future hires using a process that considers faculty recommendations.

Toda and Ufford did not respond to requests for comment.
 

October 28, 2013

Campus Equity Week -- organized by the New Faculty Majority to draw attention to the conditions of faculty members off the tenure track -- kicks off today. On different campuses there will be lectures, rallies and teach-ins. A list of events may be found here.

October 28, 2013

The University of Illinois at Chicago spent $1 million on a house for Chancellor Paula Allen-Meares when she took office five years ago. The idea was that the house would then be used for events that would support the university. But The Chicago Tribune reported that in the last four years, only 11 events have been held there. The article raises questions about why so much money was spent on a facility used for its stated purpose so rarely.

University officials defended the limited use of the house, saying that it is relatively small (4,600 square feet) and lacks street parking, making it a problematic location for many events. But Robert Easter, president of the university system, called for a committee to "make recommendations on the best use" of the house.

 

 

Pages

Back to Top