Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

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 25, 2013

Students at the University of Rochester have been having an intense debate over a Confederate flag placed by one student in his residence window, The Democrat and Chronicle reported. A graduate assistant asked the student to take the flag down, but the university now says he had the right to have it up. But that doesn't mean everyone thinks he should have displayed the flag. The student says he is trying to reflect his cultural heritage, but many other students say that the flag is an insult to black students and others for whom Confederate symbols are viewed as hostile.

 

October 25, 2013

Application and enrollments rates at medical colleges are steadily increasing, but the Association of American Medical Colleges said the number of graduates could surpass the number of spots available in residency training programs in the next two years.

AAMC released data Thursday about application and enrollment rates and called for Congress to increase federal support for residency training programs to avoid a projected physician shortage.

In 2006, the association called for a 30 percent increase in enrollment at medical colleges to avoid projected physician shortages. Medical colleges are on track to meet that goal by 2017, said Darrell Kirch, AAMC's president and CEO. This year, 14 medical colleges increased class sizes by more than 10 percent. Now, the number of medical students has exceeded 20,000 for the first time. About half of the growth is attributed to the opening of medical colleges at the University of California at Riverside, University of Arizona at Phoenix, Central Michigan University and Quinnipiac University.

“Medical schools are doing their job, but this will not alleviate the doctor shortage unless we have a corresponding increase in residency training positions,” Kirch said.

Currently, there are about 25,500 first-year residency positions, he said. But, it’s likely that the number of medical college graduates will surpass the number of residency positions available in the next two years as enrollment rates are increasing at both allopathic and osteopathic medical colleges.

The total number of applicants for medical colleges grew by 6.1 percent and the first-time enrollment rate increased by 2.8 percent in 2013, according to the report. The rate of increase in both applicants and first-time enrollees doubled in the past year. In 2012, the total number of applicants increased by 3.1 percent and the first-year enrollment rate increased 1.5 percent.

October 25, 2013

More than 330 consumers have received financial compensation as a result of complaints they have made on a new federal database about the lenders for their student loans, according to a report released Thursday by the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. The report examined the results of complaints filed with the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's public Consumer Complaints Database. The 330 represent about 8 percent of all complaints filed. Another 500 borrowers (about 12 percent of complaints filed) had complaints closed with non-monetary agreements, such as changes in collection proceedings. "The CFPB levels the playing field for private student loan borrowers who may feel at the mercy of their student lender," said Laura Murray, consumer associate for the U.S. PIRG Education Fund. "Filing a complaint to the complaints database can get real results for consumers."

 

October 25, 2013

The board of the Foothill-De Anza Foundation, which supports the Foothill-De Anza Community College District, has voted to sell off holdings in fossil fuel companies. 350.org, a group pushing for colleges to adopt such policies, reports that Foothill-De Anza is the first community college to do so. Students who believe that divestment can help the environment by putting pressure on fossil fuel companies started their campaign for this action in a political science course, where they were urged to use citizen activism skills. About 1 percent of the foundation's $33 million endowment is currently invested in fossil fuel companies.

 

October 25, 2013

The top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee is questioning how the National Endowment for the Humanities awards its education grants. Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama sent a letter this week to Carol M. Watson, the acting chairwoman of the NEH, in which he demanded the agency explain its peer-review process for funding grants that explore “very indefinite” questions.

Sessions pointed to seven grants the NEH funded that seek to explore the following questions: “What is the meaning of life?”, “Why are we interested in the past?”, “What is the good life and how do I live it?”, “Why are bad people bad?”, “What is belief?”, “What is a monster?”, and “Why do humans write?”

“In the current fiscal environment, I question the appropriateness of such grants,” which ranged from about $23,000 to $25,000, Sessions wrote. He also expressed concerns about an NEH-funded program called “Bridging Cultures: Muslim Journeys Bookshelves” that distributed books, films, and other resources to more than 900 libraries around the country and provided money to hold discussion forums.

The program, according to an NEH press release, “is intended to address both the need and desire of the American public for trustworthy and accessible resources about Muslim beliefs and practices and the cultural heritage associated with Islamic civilizations.” Sessions said that the program raised questions about the use of federal funds “on behalf of just one religion,” and demanded that NEH provide an itemized list of similar programs related to sects of Christianity and Judaism.

Earlier this year, the House Appropriations Committee introduced legislation that would have cut the budget for the NEH nearly in half for the current fiscal year that began on October 1. The House Republican budget plan this year said that the NEH “can no longer be justified.” In March, Congress approved legislation in March that prohibits the National Science Foundation from funding political science research unless a project promotes national security or U.S. economic interests. 

October 25, 2013

Thomas F. Rosenbaum, provost of the University of Chicago, was on Thursday named as the next president of the California Institute of Technology. Rosenbaum is a physicist and the Caltech announcement said that his involvement in both undergraduate and graduate education was crucial to his appointment.

 

October 25, 2013

Lesley University adjuncts announced their intent to unionize Thursday under the auspices of the Service Employees International Union, which is driving a larger unionization movement across the Boston metropolitan area. The SEIU is mobilizing adjuncts across other metro regions, including Washington. Tufts University adjuncts voted in favor of a union last month, but Bentley University adjuncts voted against a union, they announced this week.

"By strengthening the support for part-time faculty we will improve the educational experience, and as a result advance enrollment and retention," Stella Johnson, adjunct professor of photography at Lesley, said in a news release. "We look forward to working together with the administration to solving the issues that confront our campus and profession and give higher education a brighter future."

Jack Dempsey, a longtime adjunct professor of English and public speaking at Bentley and part of the organizing committee there, said he was surprised and disappointed by the outcome -- 100 votes against and 98 for -- but said that Bentley adjuncts and SEIU were planning to appeal the decision. Because the government shutdown, which began Oct. 1, preceded the voting deadline of Oct. 3, it's possible that more "yes" votes arrived at the National Labor Relations Board Office by the deadline but could not be certified as timely and counted by the time the shutdown ended, he said. Adjuncts at Bentley want equal pay for equal work compared with tenure-track professors; health care insurance coverage; and "contract rights," including hiring preferences for veteran adjuncts and compensation for courses canceled at the last minute.

October 25, 2013

A new survey of how domestic Canadian students experience the internationalization of the campus by a Toronto-based consultancy finds mixed results. 

Of the 1,398 students surveyed by Higher Education Strategy Associates, 43 percent counted at least one international student among the five closest friends they made at university. Overall, the study found that students generally have positive attitudes toward the diversity that international students bring to their social lives and the classroom. 

However, the study also identified a number of tensions. Roughly half of respondents agreed with the statement that the presence of international students has considerably enriched their classroom learning experience. However, roughly a third said there have been occasions in which having international students in class hindered their learning experience.

Students in business and the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields – which attract large numbers of students from overseas – were least likely to agree that international students had enriched their learning experience. Across all fields of study, students who had a close international friend were more likely to say that international students enriched the classroom experience.

As for the issue of international instructors and teaching assistants, 70 percent of students said they took a course with an international instructor or T.A. who was difficult to comprehend because of his or her English or French ability (the survey is of domestic Canadian students, recall). And 32 percent said an instructor's language level had negatively impacted their ability to succeed in a course.

“None of this should be taken as an argument against internationalization,” the report concludes. “Rather, it suggests two things: first, that the values of internationalization are still in many ways adopted only superficially by Canadian students, and require strengthening. And second, that not enough attention is being paid to the dislocations caused by internationalization, particularly with respect to instructors’ official language abilities. Mitigating those problems is likely key to sustaining students’ support for internationalization over the long run; without it, the large minorities who have had less than positive experiences with campus internationalization could turn into majorities, and the resulting discontent could imperil the entire process."

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