Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 13, 2013

The University of Oslo has in a surprising turnaround cleared Anders Behring Breivik to enroll in a handful of political science courses, the Norwegian broadcaster NRK reported on Wednesday. Norwegian law guarantees inmates the right to some form of employment or education, but the news that Breivik had applied to study political science caused an outcry this summer from the families of his victims. The university rejected Breivik's application because he had not finished his high school degree. Breivik, convicted of killing 77 people in a 2011 bombing and shooting massacre, was sentenced to 21 years of "preventive detention" in 2012. The sentence may be definitely extended.

According to the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang, Breivik will study three introductory political science courses, one each in political theory, international politics, and public policy and administration. Breivik will not receive an academic degree for his studies, but he will receive credit should he receive a passing grade. Nor will Breivik personally interact with any of Oslo's faculty members; the university will loan all academic materials to Skien prison. With directions provided by the university, Breivik will study independently and submit his work from prison.

September 13, 2013

Sheldon Hackney who served as president of Tulane University and the University of Pennsylvania, died Thursday at the age of 79, The Vineyard Gazette reported. Hackney died from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, widely known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Hackney was respected as a historian (he focused on the American South), and his presidencies were generally considered successful.

But the end of Hackney's Penn presidency saw him and the university become the focus of a national debate on free speech. A student had shouted from his dorm room for a group of students below to stop making noise and he had called them "water buffalo." The students below were minority students and the student who shouted faced a university hearing over alleged insensitivity. (The student who shouted "water buffalo" said that the words came from an Israeli phrase for loud, rude people and had nothing to do with race.) The case galvanized many who felt that colleges were going too far in their push to promote sensitivity and that such efforts were intruding on free speech rights.

Hackney left Penn in 1993 when President Clinton nominated him to become chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities. While Hackney was confirmed for that post, his confirmation hearings featured extensive discussion of the "water buffalo" case, which drew more attention than his plans for the NEH. At the endowment, one of Hackney's major projects was to encourage public discussion of difficult issues through a program called "A National Conversation on American Pluralism and Identity."

 

September 12, 2013

Nassau Community College adjuncts have been on strike this week, following the Board of Trustees’ rejection of a proposed contract settlement it said it couldn’t afford.

The Adjunct Faculty Association, an independent union representing 2,600 adjunct faculty, has been without a contract since 2010. The union's proposed contract"The union's proposed contract"? -*****Yes---cfsj would have lasted through 2018, and offered a retroactive pay raise of 4.9 percent each year, costing $14.5 million, Long Island Newsday reported. The college said the total cost would have been $63.4 million.

Adjuncts went on strike Monday and plan on continuing to picket each afternoon. Public employees are prohibited from striking under the Public Employees Fair Employment Act and Nassau adjuncts will be fined two days' pay for each day they strike.

Union leaders could not immediately be reached for comment. In a statement on the union website, Charles Loiacono, president, called the fine “a very small penalty for standing up for the agreement that we have negotiated with the County; and it’s certainly nothing compared with the indignity and disrespect shown to us by the [board].”

In an e-mail, Alicia Steger, a college spokeswoman, said: "A professor who teaches a three-credit [course] gets about $5,100. That is the highest of the colleges in the area.  We have heard numerous reports from adjuncts who teach elsewhere that they would love to teach at NCC. So, that is our answer to the claim of unfair working conditions."

September 12, 2013

After months on the fence, Wake Forest University officials decided to join a partnership created by the company 2U to access a pool of for-credit online courses offered by more than a half dozen universities.

The effort, known as Semester Online, proved controversial at Wake Forest's North Carolina neighbor, Duke University, where faculty shot down the idea in April. Wake Forest took its time before joining and at one point questioned the Semester Online business model. But following a faculty vote on Monday that gave the green light, the university announced Wednesday it will join the consortium, which includes the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Northwestern University and the University of Notre Dame.

“We have engaged in an ongoing campus-wide dialogue about how Wake Forest might best utilize online tools and other technological innovations to effectively enhance our high-touch, face-to-face educational experience," said Provost Rogan Kersh in a statement. "Semester Online is the first online program that is able to offer this level of engagement to our students and faculty.”

September 12, 2013

Improper oversight of money by a former top official at the University of Arkansas caused the university's advancement division to run up back-to-back multimillion-dollar shortfalls, according to a legislative audit released this week.

According to the audit, the former vice chancellor for the advancement division, Brad Choate, allowed the division to spend more than it had: $2.1 million more in the budget year that ended in summer 2011 and $4.1 million more in the budget year that ended in summer 2012.

Choate no longer works at the university. The university says that the shortfalls affected only the advancement division and that the university as a whole remained in the black. The university is now in the “best fiscal shape in its entire history," its officials said Wednesday. 

“Our own review and now the legislative and UA System audits found that the division was, in effect, borrowing on anticipated revenues to pay current bills -- that’s unacceptable and it cost two employees their jobs,” Chancellor G. David Gearhart said in a statement. “But no taxpayer dollars or private funds were lost, not one penny. All expenditures were for legitimate university needs in preparation for a major capital campaign. The division unfortunately overspent its projected budget.”

September 12, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Reinhard Stöger of the University of Nottingham reveals how pesticides can alter the DNA and behavior of honeybees. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

September 12, 2013

After several years of declines, California community colleges are seeing enrollment increases this year. Data released Wednesday by the community college system's chancellor's office indicated that the median percentage increase in enrollment is 2.5 percent, and a 5 percent increase in the number of sections. In contrast, last year at this time, the colleges were seeing an enrollment decline of 4.8 percent and a section reduction of 3.3 percent. College budgets are healthier in part due to a tax measure pushed by Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, approved by voters in November.

 

September 12, 2013

An article in The Crimson White, the student newspaper of the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa, has set off considerable concern with its allegations that sororities at the institution reject potential members who are black. The article details the attempts of two black women with the credentials and characteristics sororities say they value who were the latest to fail to break what the newspaper called "an almost impenetrable color barrier." The national Pi Beta Phi, one of the sororities whose Alabama chapter was mentioned in the article, told USA Today that the organization was starting an investigation of the allegations. A black board member at Alabama is calling for the university to investigate.

 

September 12, 2013

Pennsylvania State University faculty could vote to urge a delay in Take Care of Your Health, the controversial new health care plan for university employees, by a year. implies that the faculty has the power to do this -- is that true? can't the admin continue to igno**********Yeah, I don't know. The faculty senate thinks it has authority but i don't know what uni says since they didn't comment. Have made that clearer at end.---CF

More than 100 members of the Faculty Senate -- a little less than half the body -- moved this week to hold a special meeting by the end of the month to vote on postponing the plan. Such an action is rare for the Faculty Senate, Brent Yarnal, professor of geography and body president, said in an e-mail.

Employees have complained about details of the plan since they were announced this summer, including punitive surcharges of up to $100 monthly each for not completing a biometric screening, smoking and covering spouses eligible for health insurance through their own employers. Faculty and staff members also have raised privacy concerns about the uploading of years of personal medical information onto a third-party provider's website and the nature of the questions in a mandatory, online wellness profile, such as those about drinking habits and mental health.

University administrators have repeatedly said that serious intervention is needed if the university is to tackle skyrocketing health care costs, predicted to increase by 13 percent next year, and that previous, voluntary programs to mitigate costs have not been effective. All information collected and its uses comply with federal health care privacy laws, Penn State has said, including that it is only reported to the university in aggregate form.

Brian Curran, professor of art history and president of the institution's new advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors, called the meeting "a major victory for us."

A university spokeswoman did not return a request for comment on the Senate matter. It is unclear if the body has the authority to delay the plan, even if it votes to do so.

September 11, 2013

Researchers are tapping into data on students to nudge students through college, according to a report released Tuesday by Education Sector.

Technology-driven behavioral nudges range from providing students with course recommendations based on the performance of past students to offering study advice via text messaging or counseling over the phone. “By giving students information-driven suggestions that lead to smarter actions, technology nudges are intended to tackle a range of problems surrounding the process by which students begin college and make their way to graduation,” said the report.

Some researchers found that sending reminders about placement tests, orientation and pre-college tasks via text messages to low-income high school graduates increased the likelihood students would be on campus in the fall.

The report, “Nudge Nation: A New Way to Prod Students Into and Through College,” advocated for further research on mining data for students’ benefits.

“Like many other technology initiatives, these ventures are relatively young and much remains to be learned about how they can be made most effective,” the report said. “Already, however, nudge designers are having a good deal of success marrying knowledge of human behavior with the capacity of technology to reach students at larger scale, and lower cost, than would be possible in person.”

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