Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 30, 2013
Norman Fortenberry, executive director of the American Society for Engineering Education, has issued an apology for the publication in the group's magazine Prism of an anti-gay letter. "I apologize. I wish to express deep regret for my error in judgment in advocating publication of Professor Wayne Helmer’s letter in the September issue of Prism and for the resulting anger, pain, disappointment, and embarrassment to ASEE members, officers, and staff and the LGBTQ community," said Fortenberry's statement. The Helmer letter said in part: "We would do well to teach the truth about the homosexual /lesbian/ bisexual/ transgender lifestyle. These dear people caught up in this destructive way of life need true help and true hope and not encouragement or approval of a detrimental, negative lifestyle."
 
The letter prompted an uproar by many members of the engineering society, and Fortenberrry -- while saying that the letter should have had a disclaimer -- had defended the decision to publish it. In his apology, Fortenberry expressed a new position. "My rationale in publishing the letter has been reported elsewhere and will not be repeated here," he wrote. "In that rationale I failed to recognize that there is a balance to be struck between representing a variety of viewpoints and not providing a platform for views that are generally considered outside the mainstream of public debate."
 
September 30, 2013

A Hong Kong businessman plans to donate $130 million to help the Technion, Israel's leading science university, establish a technology institute in China's Guangdong Province, The Wall Street Journal reported. Li Ka-Shing said he would provide the funds to a joint venture with China's Shantou University, to which he has contributed roughly $750 million over three decades. Local governments will provide a $147 million grant as well to create Technion Guandong Institute of Technology, the Journal reported.

September 27, 2013

More than 7,000 baby boomers have completed a degree or credential at a community college through the Plus 50 Completion Strategy, the American Association of Community Colleges announced Thursday.

The 18 community colleges that served 16,507 students age 50 and older used outreach and support strategies to help its adult learners. Strategies included offering students completion coaches, career development workshops and refresher courses in math and English. Of those who earned a degree or credential, 715 are now employed, according to an August 2013 report on the initiative. 

The Plus 50 initiative will expand to 100 community colleges and focus on helping adult learners complete degrees in education, health care and social services. 

September 27, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Jodi Tommerdahl of the University of Texas at Arlington explains efforts to understand how children use language in different social settings. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

September 27, 2013

An alternative, annual study of athletes’ graduation rates has again found that football players, especially those who are black, completed college within six years at rates lower than male non-athletes. The formula used in the Adjusted Graduation Gap study, out of the University of South Carolina’s Collegiate Sport Research Institute, calculates graduation rates differently than the Federal Graduation Rate and the NCAA’s Graduation Success Rate: because athletes are required to take full course loads, the AGG omits part-time students from the data, resulting in larger gaps between the athletes and non-athletes. While the NCAA consistently reports that athletes graduate at higher rates than non-athletes overall, the AGG finds the opposite.

Throughout Division I's Football Bowl Series programs, the 2013 football report found (findings are published quarterly by sport), athletes who entered college in 2005 graduated at rates 18 percentage points lower than non-athletes, and black players lagged by 24 percentage points. Consistent with previous findings, the five major FBS conferences showed the widest gaps, with the Pac-12 Conference faring the worst (a 28-percentage point gap), and the Big East (now the American Athletic) Conference finishing on top with just an 18-point difference. But the smallest gap overall, of 12 percentage points, was in the Mountain West Conference. However, smaller conferences did not necessarily fare better than larger ones in terms of race. For example, the Atlantic Coast and Mid-American Conference both had black football players graduating at rates 21 percentage points lower than white players.

At the smaller Football Championship Series programs, the mean AGG was only 9 percentage points -- a 10-point gap among black athletes and 6-point gap among whites. Players in one conference, the Southwestern Atlantic, actually graduated at rates 8 percentage points higher than non-athletes.

September 27, 2013

University presses -- like other publishers -- know that not all reviews will be favorable, and generally don't respond to most critiques of their books. But the debate over a new book published by Harvard University Press has led its director to issue a defense of the decision to publish. The book in question is The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact With Hitler, by Ben Urwand, a fellow at Harvard. The book has been praised by some for revealing the extent to which Hollywood avoided offending the Nazis, but has been harshly criticized by others for oversimplifying the history. The New Yorker has been particularly critical, with David Denby first publishing a negative review and then following up with a piece called "How Could Harvard Have Published Ben Urwand's The Collaboration?" In that piece Denby outlines what he considers to be numerous "omissions and blunders."

A statement from Harvard University Press says in part: "We stand by the integrity of our refereeing and editorial procedures. A thorough review process is standard at Harvard, where we take very seriously the imprimatur of the university’s name. Though not all reviewers agree with Urwand’s interpretation of the actions he describes, nearly 60 pages of notes and documentation enable readers to judge for themselves the strength and validity of his presentation. Via his agent Urwand has responded to Denby and the New Yorker, but as yet we have no indication that his response has been published."

 

September 27, 2013

Benedictine University, in Illinois, has barred alcohol in student residencies, even for students of legal drinking age, The Chicago Tribune reported. The move comes two weeks after two women -- one a student at the university and the other her friend -- reported being sexually assaulted after attending a party at which alcohol was served.

 

September 27, 2013

Academics at the University of Toronto and elsewhere are rushing to condemn a visiting lecturer there who said in an interview that most female authors are not worth including on his syllabus. The controversy concerns comments David Gilmour gave to the website Hazlitt. He said: "I'm not interested in teaching books by women. Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories. But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love. Unfortunately, none of those happen to be Chinese, or women. Except for Virginia Woolf. And when I tried to teach Virginia Woolf, she’s too sophisticated, even for a third-year class. Usually at the beginning of the semester a hand shoots up and someone asks why there aren’t any women writers in the course. I say I don’t love women writers enough to teach them, if you want women writers go down the hall. What I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth."

As outrage over those comments spread, Gilmour told The Globe and Mail that his comments had been “totally, totally misinterpreted,” and that he believes Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro are “top-flight international writers.It’s just that I don’t connect with the material as profoundly as I do with, say, Phillip Roth’s The Dying Animal." The latest comment has not stopped a round of criticism. Paul Stevens, acting chair of Toronto's English department and a professor of early modern literature, said Gilmour’s comments "constitute a travesty of all we stand for," and noted that "David Gilmour is not a member of the Department of English at the University of Toronto."

September 27, 2013

The University of Iowa has only 94 students in this year's entering law school class, down from 155 members a year ago. 

The College of Law has been working to lower the number of law students in incoming classes but the drop from last year’s class size was not anticipated. The law school wants to cap incoming class sizes at 150, university spokesman Tom Snee said. The fall class of 2012 is a drop from the 180 students entering in the fall of 2011 and the 203 students in 2010.

"As you can see from there, we've been reducing the size of our incoming class each year. The goal is to get it to 150 students,” Snee said. “This is obviously beyond what we anticipated.”

Snee said the law school could have admitted more students to reach the 150 goal, but limited the class size instead of lowering academic standards.

“With significantly fewer applicants to choose from this year, we were left with a decision: maintain the number of students in the incoming class or maintain the high quality of our student body,” Dean Gail B. Agrawal wrote in a letter last month.  “You will not be surprised to learn that we chose to protect the caliber of the class, rather than its size."

Recently, other law schools have announced plans to place limits on the number of new students in response to the job market for graduates.  

In March, Northwestern University School of Law announced plans to cut the size of its fall 2013 incoming class by 10 percent.  

Last fall, the University of California Hastings College of the Law admitted 20 percent fewer students than in years past.  Hastings College of the Law chancellor and dean Frank Wu said the decision was made to reflect the shrinking job market for law school graduates. Previously, three law schools —Touro Law Center and Albany Law School in New York and Creighton University School of Law in Nebraska — developed plans to decrease the size of incoming classes.

 

September 26, 2013

Union College in New York has asked current leaders of the Sigma Delta Tau chapter to put its pledging activity on hold as the college and national sorority review hazing claims, as detailed by a former member in a Cosmopolitan article

“We don’t tolerate hazing at Union,” a college spokesman, Phillip Wajda, wrote in an e-mail. “The column references incidents that allegedly took place three years ago and we are working with the national chapter of Sigma Delta Tau to review the claims.”

In the column, a former sorority member and recent graduate of the college details her experience pledging Sigma Delta Tau, which she said included line-ups, lock-ins and being accessible 24-7. Tess Koman wrote that the benefits of sorority involvement outweighed the hazing. “From the very beginning, one message colors everything you do: if you want what we have, if you want to be worthy of our attention, if you want to be one of us, you’ll do what we say. Oh, also? You are not to tell ANYONE about it,” Koman wrote.

 

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