Higher Education Quick Takes
California State University on Wednesday released the results of a months-long evaluation of the accessibility, for students with disabilities, of Google Apps for Education, a popular suite of software tools used by approximately half of nonprofit colleges. "The applications tested had varying levels of accessibility; most had significant accessibility problems which inhibit users of assistive technology from successful, regular use of the products," wrote the task force members, who since last fall had been testing various features -- Google Mail Chat, Google Calendar, Google Docs, Google Sites -- that Google provides to colleges with its Google Apps suite.
However, despite these findings, the California State task force stopped short of recommending that colleges refrain from using Google Apps. Instead, the committee recommend a series or "workarounds" and "best practices" to help minimize the disadvantages of students with disabilities. "Due to the extent of the accessibility issues discovered, limiting use (when possible) of Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations, Forms, Calendar, Sites and Gmail Chat in large group, student-centric or public-facing activities is recommended until native accessibility of those products improves. In addition, limiting the use of Google Documents, Spreadsheets, Presentations and Calendar to administrative or back-office applications or activities is recommended when possible."
This is not the first time anyone has flagged accessibility barriers in Google's popular campus software: In March, students filed civil rights complaints against New York University and Northwestern University after those institutions adopted Google Apps. The U.S. Department of Education also recently warned colleges against adopting "emerging technologies" that discriminate against students with disabilities.
Marquette University has announced revised policies on dealing with sex assault charges. The Journal Sentinel reported that chief among the changes is that the university will report all allegations to the Milwaukee police. The move follows criticism of the university over two incidents in which allegations of sexual assault by athletes at the university were not immediately reported to authorities, leading to delays that critics say made it less likely that criminal charges could have been filed.
The University of Texas System is preparing a pilot program designed to shave a year off of the time it takes someone to earn an undergraduate degree and an M.D., The Austin American-Statesman reported. Under the first pilot, selected students at UT-Austin would be assured a spot in one of the system's medical schools and could finish their undergraduate degree in three years. Texas is becoming a center for experimentation in shortening the time to become a doctor. Texas Tech University is starting a three-year M.D.
WASHINGTON -- Congress's watchdog-in-chief wants to drastically expand the amount of information made public about how the federal government spends its money -- and some research university leaders say the plan would impose a mammoth burden with little benefit to taxpayers. Representative Darrell Issa, chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, has proposed the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which would essentially require a similar level of reporting for all federal grants, contracts and other spending to which the tens of billions of federal stimulus spending was subjected. Under the law, recipients of federal funds would have to report to a single database information about all the money they receive, and a new independent agency would be charged with ferreting out misspending.
With the legislation due to be considered by Issa's committee Wednesday, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, and the Council on Governmental Relations issued a statement arguing that the proposed measure, like the Recovery Act, would "impose substantial new costs on universities’ research enterprises, significantly reducing productivity with little benefit to the nation." The groups added: "The public rightfully demands that its tax dollars be spent usefully and wisely. Money is wasted, however, when researchers and administrators are forced to spend their time making needless calculations and filling out forms."
WASHINGTON -- Another federal program important to colleges is due for potentially painful scrutiny from Congressional Republicans. Representative Virginia Foxx, the North Carolinian who heads the House of Representatives higher education subcommittee, announced Tuesday that the panel would hold a hearing tomorrow to look into what its title calls "flawed monitoring of national service programs" by the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps and other programs. Foxx said the hearing was prompted by news reports -- trumpeted in the conservative press -- that the agency had pulled two AmeriCorps workers from a New York City program after determining that they may have engaged in inappropriate lobbying while working for Planned Parenthood.
A state audit has blasted the management of a transportation research center -- completion of which was to have cost tens of millions of dollars -- at South Carolina State University, The Post and Courier reported. The project is currently $83 million short of funds and has no plans for obtaining them. University officials said that the report provided them with some vindication by disputing earlier reports of up to $50 million in missing funds. The audit accounted for the funds, and said that they had been poorly spent. In one example, the project paid $40,000 for real estate costs for property the university didn't buy. In another case, the university billed and received reimbursement for $200,000 from two federal agencies for the same expense.
Yale University, which recently announced that it is phasing out an institute to study anti-Semitism, is creating a new institute to study the same subject. The soon-to-be-gone center received an unfavorable review from a faculty committee, but some in the pro-Israel blogosphere have suggested that its elimination resulted from its willingness to talk about Muslim anti-Semitism in ways that made some uncomfortable. Others, however, including experts in anti-Semitism, have raised questions about whether the original center mixed advocacy with scholarship in a way that may have been inappropriate. The news that Yale is creating a new center (under direct control of faculty members, unlike the original center) was praised by the Anti-Defamation League, which had criticized the decision to eliminate the first center.
California legislators have affirmed in drafts of the state budget that the University of California may not spend state funds on athletics. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the move followed a request by the university to ease a previous ban. University officials said that they made the request for bookkeeping reasons, and not out of any desire to spend state funds on athletics. But after Brian Barsky, a computer science professor at the Berkeley campus, noticed and criticized the request, lawmakers explicitly banned any state spending on athletics.