Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 3:00am

Faculty and student leaders who have expressed a lack of confidence in the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, president of Saint Louis University, had been trying to patch things up with the president and the board, which backs him. But The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a leaked memo to trustees has inflamed tensions. In the letter, posted to the Facebook group "SLU Students for No Confidence," the board chair urges fellow trustees not to talk to the press and to trust the advice of an outside public relations firm hired to help calm the situation. Comments posted to the site suggest that Father Biondi's critics are furious at the idea that the controversy at the university is a situation that can be managed by image consultants.

 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 4:25am

Wellesley College is joining edX, one of the primary providers of massive online open courses, or MOOCs, The Boston Globe reported. Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said that the college will try to preserve some of the features of liberal arts colleges in its four MOOCs to be offered through edX. The courses will allow instructors to divide classes into small groups for discussions. "We want to create the aura of a small-group setting, so that students can discuss among themselves," Agarwal said. To date, research universities have dominated the MOOC space. edX's other members are Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas System. Of the 33 institutions that offer MOOCs through Coursera, only one -- Wesleyan University -- is a liberal arts college.

 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 4:28am

A new blog for grad students and professors who need a little distraction as the semester winds down is "When in Academia." Nothing long to read -- just quick images on such topics as "When I realize that the professor I was talking about was within earshot," "When a student asks me to excuse a sorority-related absence," "When someone says that I blame everything on capitalism" and "When I hear undergrads talking about their plans for holiday break."

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 3:00am

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has issued a stay of its ruling that invalidated a vote by Michigan citizens to bar public colleges and universities from considering race in admissions decisions. The ruling by the appeals court will not take effect until the Supreme Court has decided on an appeal, The Detroit News reported.

 

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 3:00am

As President Obama's first term nears an end, two Education Department officials -- Russlynn Ali, head of the department's Office of Civil Rights, and Justin Hamilton, the department's chief spokesman -- are leaving the federal government. Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights, headed an office widely perceived as more aggressive than its predecessors on issues like such as Title IX and sexual harassment. Seth Galanter, the office's deputy assistant secretary for policy, will take her place as acting assistant secretary. Hamilton plans to work on education reform outside the federal government; Daren Briscoe, a former deputy press secretary, is acting press secretary.

The departures are among several from education policy positions as Obama's first term draws to a close. Zakiya Smith, a key White House adviser on higher education policy, left in November for the Center for American Progress.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012 - 3:00am

The chancellor of Patrick Henry College, an evangelical Christian college in Virginia, briefly threatened legal action against authors of Queer Patrick Henry College, a blog about being gay at the institution, over their use of the college's name. In a Facebook message, Michael Farris, the college's president, said he would take legal action against Facebook to force the group to change its name because it violated the college's copyright. After the blog's authors, three anonymous students at Patrick Henry, posted about the threat, Farris rescinded it in a Facebook comment. 

Franciscan University of Steubenville, a conservative Roman Catholic college in Ohio, made a similar legal threat over name use against a group of gay alumni earlier this year.

Monday, December 3, 2012 - 3:00am

University of Central Arkansas officials are pledging to stop a practice -- recently revealed -- of using funds from the tutoring center and admissions office budgets to subsidize the salaries of coaches, the Associated Press reported. In recent years, about $89,000 of the tutoring center's $217,000 budget has gone to coaches' salaries.

 

Monday, December 3, 2012 - 3:00am

The U.S. House of Representatives voted 245-139 on Friday in favor of the STEM Jobs Act, a Republican-backed measure that would make 55,000 visas available for foreign graduates of U.S. universities with advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering or mathematics. The bill is unlikely to progress in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Although there is bipartisan support for visas for STEM graduates, many Democrats oppose a provision of the bill that would eliminate the Diversity Visa Program, which allocates visas for  those coming from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. The White House opposes the STEM Jobs Act, as does NAFSA: The Association of International Educators, which said, in a statement, “In the acrimonious political debate about immigration reform, we lose our way by embracing a mistaken, zero-sum approach to permanent immigration.”

Monday, December 3, 2012 - 3:00am

The American Federation of Teachers is proposing today a new national exam that all new teachers -- whether prepared by teacher education or other programs -- would have to take to be certified. "Just as in professions widely recognized for having a set of rigorous professional standards, such as law or medicine, teaching must raise standards for entry into the profession through a process similar to the bar process in law or the board process in medicine," says an AFT report, "Raising the Bar." "There has been significant debate about the quality of teacher preparation programs — both traditional and alternative. By requiring all teacher candidates to pass a universal assessment, we ensure all teachers who enter the classroom, whether trained in a traditional program or alternatively certified, meet the same standards of competence."

The report also calls for tougher standards for teacher education programs. "Completion of a set of program requirements including a minimum G.P.A., documentation and demonstration (through midpoint and exit examinations) of an understanding of fundamental or 'high-leverage' practices needed to be an effective beginning teacher, and at least a full year of successful clinical experience" are needed, the report says. It also says that new teacher education graduates should be able to demonstrate "mastery of subject-matter knowledge and competence in content-specific pedagogical approaches, as demonstrated by passage of a rigorous written exam."

Sharon P. Robinson, president and CEO of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, offered this reaction via e-mail, to the AFT report: "AACTE is encouraged by the vision expressed by the American Federation of Teachers. A national 'bar' for teachers, including a teacher performance assessment, would represent the consensus of the broader professional community concerning novice teacher capabilities. The community of teacher educators, working with accomplished teachers across the country, has been working to create such an examination. edTPA has just been field tested by 7000 candidates from more than 160 institutions from 22 states. As we go forward, we look forward to working with the AFT and the full range of stakeholders in the education community to make the vision of a performance-based profession a reality."

 

Monday, December 3, 2012 - 3:00am

Dixie State College, in Utah, is considering changing its name to reflect its status as a university and is also considering an end to the "Dixie" part of its name at the same time, the Associated Press reported. The name reflects the identity of a group of 19th-century Mormon settlers from the South who wanted to turn Utah into a cotton-growing region. Advocates of a name change say that Dixie has associations with the slave-owning or segregated South, while defenders of the name say that it reflects Utah history and doesn't prevent the college from promoting equity and diversity.

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