Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Today was supposed to be the day when the next big shoe dropped in the frenzied free-for-all over conference affiliations in big-time college football, with the governing boards of the Universities of Oklahoma and Texas scheduled to meet to discuss expected moves by those institutions. But the Atlantic Coast Conference sent another set of shock waves through the industry by announcing Sunday that Syracuse University and the University of Pittsburgh had decided to bolt the Big East Conference and join the ACC.

The moves by Pitt and Syracuse appeared to take other members of the Big East Conference by surprise, and angered some, who questioned whether Pitt's chancellor, Mark Nordenberg, was shooting straight when, as chair of the league's board, he called for Big East solidarity on several key issues. The defections appear to put the Atlantic Coast league on a path to becoming the first 16-member Football Bowl Subdivision league and to threaten the viability of the Big East as a football conference.

Developments later today, meanwhile, could put another existing league at similar risk, if Texas and Oklahoma, as expected, say they are leaving (or considering leaving) the Big 12 Conference for the Pacific-12 Conference (or perhaps another league, in Oklahoma's case).

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Italian authorities announced Friday that they had discovered a fake university operating in Verona, AFP reported. About 10 students were paying $9,600 for courses that they were falsely told told would be recognized elsewhere. The university was called Carolus Magnus (Charlemagne).

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Oxford has agreed to let a furniture manufacturer attach the names of various buildings and alumni to such items as bookcases, desks and sofas that it sells. The Telegraph reported that some faculty members find the money-making venture a bit tacky. Peter Oppenheimer, an emeritus professor, said: “Words fail me. It is vulgar, inappropriate and unauthorized by the university at large.... This does absolutely nothing for the university other than cheapen its image.” Perhaps those faculty members who are upset can take comfort that Oxford has yet to go as far as many American universities when it comes to where they will let their names and logos appear.

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges last week declared a state of financial emergency, based on state budget cuts. The move authorizes any of the 34 community and technical colleges to use an expedited process for layoffs of tenured faculty members. A spokeswoman for the board stressed that the board wanted the colleges to have the option, but that this does not mean the colleges will use it. She noted that the last time the board took this action, only one college used the authority for layoffs of tenured faculty members.

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

A global survey of international students found that only 4 percent of them used social media in deciding to select a university outside of their home country, and only 6 percent were influenced by staff members at various campus fairs, Times Higher Education reported. The survey was conducted by i-Graduate, which conducts research and consults on international education issues. William Archer, director of i-Graduate, presented the results last week at a meeting of the European Association of International Education. He said that the findings suggest that many universities are spending too much money on social media, and in-person fairs.

Monday, September 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Colleges and universities face major security flaws with Blackboard Learn, potentially leaving systems vulnerable to students who want to change their grades, or others seeking private information, SC Magazine reported. According to the magazine, which is based in Australia, university officials there had to threaten to issue a security alert to get Blackboard to do so.

Matthew Maurer, a spokesman for Blackboard, told Inside Higher Ed via e-mail that the article was correct that there was a security flaw, and that this problem was not unique to Australian universities. But he said that the article (which has been circulating among some American IT officials) had an "exaggerated fashion" in describing the problem. "There's not a single reported case of exposure, just the theoretical," he said. Maurer said that many of the issues were very quickly fixed, and that the company is now providing information to colleges and universities so they can see that there are not serious problems remaining.

He acknowledged that the magazine article played a role in the timing of an alert that went out last week to colleges that use Blackboard Learn. But he said that the company didn't notify everyone immediately only because the normal practice is that "we would never do so until the investigation is complete lest we spread bad information." He added: "We've had a lot of client questions in the last few days as you can imagine, but once they get their hands on the facts most have acknowledged that these are not huge issues."

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Apple -- a popular company in China -- is under fire there for plans to open an outlet of some kind in the library of Peking University, AFP reported. Websites are posting many critical comments, even though the Apple facility being planned is reportedly more a place to demonstrate products than to sell them. "Setting up in a school is acceptable, but it should be separated from teaching facilities," said one post. "The store occupies space in the library, despite it having so few seats already."

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Tyndale University College and Seminary, a Christian Canadian university, has called off a visit by President George W. Bush next week. While the university cited a "scheduling change," the announcement came as some alumni and a professor started a petition drive against Bush's planned, invitation-only appearance, The Toronto Star reported.

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Iowa has apologized to Representative Michele Bachmann, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, for a tweet on the university Twitter account. The Associated Press reported that the tweet was attempting to joke about reports of a cougar being sited in Iowa City, and said "I didn’t know Bachmann was in town. Bah-dum-bum." After the AP asked about the tweet, it was removed.

Friday, September 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist at the London School of Economics and Political Science, has apologized for comments he posted on a blog in May, "Why are black women less physically attractive than other women?" Times Higher Education reported that he apologized as the the London School of Economics released a critical review of the incident, finding that he had "ignored the basic responsibility of a scientific communicator to qualify claims made in proportion to the certainty of the evidence."

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