Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Many German academics have been angered to learn of a deal between Deutsche Bank, Humboldt University and the Technical University of Berlin, under which the bank gave $17 million to finance the Quantitative Products Laboratory, to pay the cost of two endowed professorships. As The New York Times reported, the controversy is because of what the bank received: a say in the hiring of the professors, the right to have bank employees designated as adjunct professors, and a role in selecting topics for research by the research center.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Federal authorities on Thursday charged Thomas C. Briggs, formerly an administrative support specialist for international students at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, with falsifying student visa records, The Charlotte Observer reported. Briggs is charged with indicating that 66 foreign students were enrolled full time (a requirement for their visas) when he knew that was not the case. A lawyer for Briggs said that he acted not for profit or political motive, but to help students about whom he was concerned.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

To strengthen their states' capacity to graduate students and produce workers, governors should develop better measures of their public colleges' performance and productivity, use those measures to allocate state funds for the institutions, and free colleges and universities from overly restrictive regulations, the National Governors Association says in a new report. The report, released in conjunction with the association's annual meeting, is part of the Complete to Compete initiative of the group's chair, Governor Chris Gregoire of Washington.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Cornell and Columbia Universities announced Friday that they are expanding their efforts to collaborate in the management of their libraries. The latest step will be granting complete borrowing privileges and access to expert staff members at both universities' libraries to all students, faculty members and employees of the two institutions. In the last two years, the two library systems have been working to join forces in various ways, with the goals of saving money and improving services. Some of the efforts include the sharing of expert librarians in the fields of Slavic studies and Southeast Asian studies and expert catalogers in multiple languages, and creating a buying plan for Chinese materials that will reduce selection and processing costs at both institutions.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Connecticut State Representative Selim Noujaim, a Republican, was a key player in amending a bill in June so that some state scholarship funds that would have been restricted to students at public and private nonprofit institutions would also be available to those at for-profit institutions. The Hartford Courant reported that Noujaim is a trustee of Post University, for which the for-profit institution pays him $4,500 a year. Connecticut law bars public officials from taking any action that creates a "direct monetary gain" to a business with which the official is associated. Noujaim said he would have recused himself if the bill helped only Post, but said that there was no need to do so since it helped other for-profit institutions. He also said he was not involved in Post for the money, telling the Courant that "I'm in it for the kids."

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of California at Berkeley -- which set off a controversy last year by asking freshmen to send in saliva samples for a program on DNA -- is taking a new approach this year. The university is asking students to record their voices for a project that will examine accents and "map" the speaking styles of the class, The Los Angeles Times reported. About 30 percent of income Berkeley students report that English was not their first language. "It seemed like a good opportunity for me to learn something about our population and also give the incoming class a chance to learn something about each other, just by listening to each other," Keith Johnson, a linguistics professor who is leading the experiment, told the Times.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Boston College on Friday filed a brief in federal court, defending the right of oral historians to make confidentiality pledges, arguing that courts need to factor in academic needs when weighing requests for access to those records. The college's brief answers one filed by the U.S. government, which asserted that academic freedom is not a defense to protect the confidentiality of such documents. The U.S. government has taken the side of the British government, which is fighting for access to oral history records at Boston College that authorities in the U.K. say relate to criminal investigations of murder, kidnapping and other violent crimes in Northern Ireland. The college promised confidentiality to many of those interviewed and is trying to protect those pledges.

In its brief, Boston College says that it has never made an argument of an "absolute" right to protect confidentiality of oral history documents. But the college says that numerous federal courts have called for a balancing of interests in such cases, and that academic freedom and the rights of researchers are parts of the public policy equation that should be considered. The college's brief also says that the government unfairly cited oral history agreements between interview subjects and researchers at other universities -- agreements that don't go that far too protect confidentiality. These "selective" comparisons, Boston College said, didn't include topics as "traumatic as the Troubles in Northern Ireland." The brief closes by stating that forcing the college to release the documents in ways that violate confidentiality would create "a daunting impediment to collecting candid information about important subjects from willing participants in future oral history projects."

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Many community colleges have a range of athletic options for male students, but just a single team for women, and dozens of community colleges have gone years without any women on athletic rosters, The New York Times reported. As an example, it cited Los Angeles Southwestern College, where women make up two-thirds of students and a quarter of athletes.

Friday, July 15, 2011 - 3:00am

Japanese universities are reporting, to their relief, that most of the international students who left the country after the tsunami and associated nuclear worries, and whose programs haven't ended, are returning, The Japan Times reported. The universities have been pushing -- with help from the Japanese government -- for students to return. Visa procedures were simplified for those who didn't realize they would need a re-entry permit. And the Japanese government is paying for some return airfares for those who had to evacuate certain areas.

Friday, July 15, 2011 - 3:00am

The Thomas M. Cooley Law School, a freestanding institution in Michigan, on Thursday sued four anonymous individuals who have posted critical comments online and lawyers who have started an investigation into Cooley's job placement rates. The suits charge defamation, interference with business interests and other violations of the law. "With ethics and professionalism at the core of our law school's values, we cannot – and will not – sit back and let anyone circulate defamatory statements about Cooley or the choices our students and alumni made to seek their law degree here," said Brent Danielson, chair of Cooley's board, in an announcement of the suits.

One of the anonymous bloggers being sued runs a site called Thomas M. Cooley Law School Scam "to bring truth and awareness to the students getting suckered in by this despicable excuse for a law school." The blog questions Cooley's academic quality and charges that very few of its graduates find jobs. (Cooley says 76 percent of graduates find jobs, and that the figure was higher before the economic downturn.)

The law firm being sued is Kurzon Strauss, in New York, which ran a notice on the J.D. Underground website stating (according to the complaint) that it was "conducting a broad, wide-ranging investigation of a number of law schools for blatantly manipulating their post-graduate employment data and salary information" to take advantage of "the blithe ignorance of naive, clueless 22-year olds who have absolutely no idea what a terrible investment obtaining a J.D. is." The notice specifically requests information about Thomas Cooley and, according to the law school, suggested that it was "perhaps one of the worst offenders" in manipulating the data. Currently the J.D. Underground website features a posting with some similar language (but not nearly as strong) to that cited in the complaint, and another posting from the law firm retracting some of its earlier statements, suggesting that "certain allegations ... may have been couched as fact."

David Anziska, a partner in the firm, said in an interview Thursday that "this is one of the most ridiculous lawsuits filed in recent memory." Anziska said that the firm will not only defend itself, but plans to sue Cooley for its suit. He declined to comment on the status of the investigation into job-placement rates of Cooley and other law schools, but said that the notice prompted more than 50 responses.

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