Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 21, 2013

A University of Chicago student’s essay about her experience of sexual harassment while studying abroad in India had attracted about 350,000 page views by Tuesday morning, CNN reported. Many Indian readers sympathized with the story – some men offered their personal apologies -- but others warned against making generalizations about India or Indians.

The student, a South Asian studies major named Michaela Cross, said she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and is on a leave of absence from Chicago. (A spokesman for the university contacted by CNN confirmed that Cross is a student there but did not confirm details of her leave.) In the essay, posted under a pseudonym, Cross described spending three months “in a traveler's heaven and a woman's hell. I was stalked, groped, masturbated at; and yet I had adventures beyond my imagination. I hoped that my nightmare would end at the tarmac, but that was just the beginning."

In a statement provided to CNN, the University of Chicago said it was committed to caring for students' safety and providing support to students before, during and after the study abroad experience. "We also place extremely high value on the knowledge our students seek by traveling and studying other civilizations and cultures, and we are committed to ensuring they can do so in safety while enriching their intellectual lives."

August 21, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Professor Nancy Kim of the California Western School of Law explores the nature of Internet-based contracts we often agree to without careful consideration. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

August 21, 2013

King's College London has accepted Arjun Singh, a 14-year-old resident of Hong Kong to enroll for a physics degree, and he would be the youngest international student ever to enroll, The South China Morning Post reported. But there is a chance he may not be able to go to Britain, as that country's visa rules require students to be at least 16. His family is scrambling to find a way for him to get around the rule.

 

August 21, 2013

MOOC provider Coursera on Tuesday announced Lila Ibrahim will become its first president. Ibrahim, who will continue to serve as an operating partner for the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, previously spent 18 years with the chip maker Intel. "Lila has worked closely with the company founders over the past year," Coursera founders Andrew Ng and Daphne Koller wrote in a blog post. "She has been consistently passionate about education and brings the experience to help us turbo charge Coursera’s growth." Ibrahim will join Koller and Ng to form Coursera's executive team.

August 21, 2013

Case Western Reserve University has announced an overhaul of its law school curriculum, The Plain Dealer reported. Among the changes: increased writing requirements, student work for clients starting from the first semester of law school, a third-year semester in a clinical position and a required leadership course at Case's business school.

 

August 21, 2013

Citing concerns about shared governance, faculty members at Pennsylvania State University have formed an advocacy chapter of the American Association of University Professors. The association has two kinds of chapters: advocacy, for non-unionized faculty, and union. It’s unclear whether Penn State’s unique public-private status (it’s state-supported but privately chartered) would prevent future attempts to unionize, given current restrictions on tenure-track faculty unions at private institutions.

Brian Curran, president of the new chapter and professor of art history, said he couldn’t comment on any intent to unionize “at this time.” But through the advocacy chapter, he said he hoped to bring to Penn State a kind of transparency and shared governance that is lacking through the Faculty Senate. For example, he said, the body has no means of sending out mass e-mails to faculty to alert them of decisions.

The Faculty Senate president did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.

Penn State faculty expressed outrage this summer at the university's new “Take Care of Your Health” wellness initiative, which requires that all faculty complete biometric screenings and online wellness profiles that include questions some faculty have said are invasive, such as those pertaining to mental health and frequency of testicular self-exams. Faculty who don’t complete the annual screenings will have to pay a $100 monthly surcharge.

Additional surcharges have been announced for smokers and for coverage for spouses and domestic partners eligible for insurance through their own employers.

The university has said that attempts to control its skyrocketing health care costs through voluntary measures proved unsuccessful. Susan Basso, vice president for human resources, has said the university's new program complies with health care privacy laws and that personal information will be used for health promotion only.

In an e-mail, a university spokesman said Penn State values shared governance "because we do encourage participation in many aspects of decision-making. We balance this with our need for administrative accountability." To that end, members of the faculty and staff were consulted on the health care plan as early as 2011, he said.

In other Penn State news, Harvard Business Review dedicated a blog post to the wellness initiative Tuesday called “The Danger of Wellness Programs: Don’t Become the Next Penn State.”

The post’s authors, well-known benefits experts Tom Emerick and Al Lewis, wrote that “Wellness is supposed to 'empower' employees but instead did just the opposite at Penn State. Ironically, the only thing that has empowered Penn State employees has been fighting back against this misdirected wellness tyranny.” Instead of a “‘culture of wellness,’ Penn State has created a culture of resentment,” they wrote, arguing that “Take Care of Your Health” may not save the university much money after all.

Basic calculations “would have told them that their 43,000 covered lives probably incurred a total of only about 100 wellness-sensitive medical inpatient events, like heart attacks, of which a few might have taken place in people who were not previously diagnosed and were therefore at least theoretically avoidable, saving the tiniest fraction of their healthcare spending. But we'll never know because they embarked on a prevention jihad against their employees without knowing the value of what they were trying to prevent.”

August 20, 2013

Americans may be embracing social media and online publications faster than research can determine its effect on science communication, and science understanding can be skewed by the increasingly personalized Web, asserts an article in the Aug. 13 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

As early as 2006, 70 percent of Americans searched online for answers to science-related questions, noted Dominique Brossard, a professor of life sciences communication at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, but search engine algorithms could mean public opinion about controversial topics -- like climate change or stem cell research -- is impacted by how those search engines list the results to a query.

Researchers themselves are increasingly turning to social media to keep up with the most recent scientific developments, according to a report from the National Science Foundation. In 2010, one-fifth of neuroscientists and a quarter of physicians surveyed said they read blogs or used social media one or more times a day. "Science as an institution is, more than ever, in need of public support as federal funding is shrinking and scientific issues become more and more entangled with social and ethical considerations," the article reads. "A theoretical understanding of the processes at play in online environments will have to be achieved at a faster rate if science wants to leverage the online revolution for successful public engagement."

August 20, 2013

Career Education Corp. has agreed to a $10.25 million settlement with New York's attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman. The for-profit chain, which owns Colorado Technical University and Sanford Brown, had been the subject of an inquiry by Schneiderman over allegedly inflating its graduates' job placement rates. The settlement includes $9.25 in restitution to former students and a $1 million penalty to the state, according to a news release from the attorney general's office. The company has also agreed to "substantial changes" in how it calculates job placement rates.

August 20, 2013

A Florida appeals court has reduced -- from $10 million to $200,000 -- the amount the University of Central Florida must pay to the family of a football player who died after drills in 2008, the Associated Press reported. The ruling concerned the extent to which the university has immunity from various types of lawsuits. The appeals court also denied a request by the university's athletics division for a new trial.

August 20, 2013

The proportions of American undergraduates who received federal financial aid (57 percent) or at least some form of financial aid (71 percent) in 2011-12 both rose considerably from 2007-8, when the proportions were 47 percent and 66 percent, respectively, a new federal report shows.

The National Postsecondary Student Aid Study, which the U.S. Education Department's National Center for Education Statistics releases every four years, provides a wealth of data about how students are financing their higher education, based on a survey of about 100,000 students.

Among other findings:

  • About 40 percent of students borrowed federal loan funds in 2011-12, up from 35 percent in 2007-8. The average amount they borrowed rose to about $6,400 from about $5,000.
  • The proportion of students on federal grants rose sharply, to 42 percent from 28 percent, due to a significant expansion (now partially undone) in funding and eligibility criteria for Pell Grants.
  • The proportion of students on state grants remained largely flat, at 15 percent, but the percentage of full-time dependent students on state grants dipped to 26 percent from 29 percent, as some states contracted their aid funds.

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