Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 3, 2013

Chen Guangcheng, the Chinese dissident who claimed that he was forced from his fellowship at New York University because of pressure from Beijing (a claim the university has vigorously denied), has found a new academic home – well, three homes, actually. He will splitting his time between fellow and advisory positions at the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative think tank in New Jersey; the Catholic University of America's ​Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies; and the New Hampshire-based Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice (named after the late Democratic Congressman Tom Lantos). 

October 3, 2013

Further amending its controversial new health care policy, Pennsylvania State University announced this week that it would offer $100 to employees who complete an online wellness profile and biometric screening and agree to get a physical exam by late November. Those who already have completed their online wellness screenings also may delete them.

This summer, the university said it would punish – to the tune of $100 per month – employees who did not complete those tasks this semester, in an attempt to control ballooning health care costs through increased health awareness among those it insures. But last month, amid intense criticism from faculty, who said that questions in the third-party, online profile -- including those about mental health, alcohol use and family planning -- violated their privacy, Penn State dropped the requirement. (Businesspeople and lawmakers also had criticized the plan.)

Now it’s offering what it calls a “cash reward” for those who opt to complete screenings, or already have done so. The reward to employees whose covered spouses or domestic partners also complete the screenings is $150. "This is being done as a way of recognizing the many benefits-enrolled employees who are participating in the initiative, in light of the suspension of the penalty that originally had been tied to non-participation," Susan Basso, vice president for human resources said in a statement.

Brian Curran, professor of art history and president of the university's newly formed chapter of the American Association of University Professors, said via e-mail that that "it's obviously a good thing that they have moved from a stick to a carrot. The surcharge was much too severe and arbitrary, and it had the effect of driving many otherwise reluctant, mainly lower-paid employees, into complying with what they considered a very serious violation of their personal privacy."

 

October 2, 2013

Institutions that have so far experimented with massive open online courses have done so to improve the quality of education both in face-to-face courses and distance learning, even though many faculty members remain unconvinced that students taking MOOCs should be able to earn credits, a new survey by the American Council on Education and InsideTrack suggests.

The survey claims "the level of alignment it uncovered between administrators and faculty on the motivations and considerations for pursuing MOOCs" as one of its highlights, but all of the 108 faculty respondents were actively involved in teaching MOOCs. Still, the survey bills itself as the largest of its kind ever conducted.

The demographics may explain the overwhelming positivity found among faculty members: 93.5 percent of instructors thought teaching a MOOC was beneficial to them personally or professionally, and 78.7 percent were likely to recommend teaching one to their colleagues. While only a fraction of the institutions surveyed -- 5.7 percent -- offer academic credit for completing MOOCs, 35.6 percent of faculty members said students should be able to take the courses for credit.

“I'm more convinced than ever about the potential for MOOCs to serve students who would otherwise never have the opportunity (e.g. the teenage girl in Pakistan who took and passed my advanced computer science class),” one instructor said.

Inside Higher Ed's survey of faculty views on technology found a large gap between instructors who have taught online courses and those who haven't. Among the latter group, 15 percent of those surveyed said they thought online learning could produce outcomes similar to face-to-face courses. In comparison, one-third of faculty members with online teaching experience said the same.

The survey also gathered more anecdotal evidence from high-ranking officials at nine universities that have experimented with MOOCs. Generally speaking, the survey found administrators see MOOCs as a means to showcase the institution to a broader audience and improve faculty teaching methods.

“The residential experience is an important part of our future, but there’s a lot technology can do to enhance the educational experience on and off campus,” one administrator said. “MOOCs are one of many ways we’re exploring for bringing technology to the classroom.”

Faculty members share some of the same sentiments. Asked to identify their own priorities about MOOCs, 68.5 and 58.3 percent of instructors labeled increased access and more effective online pedagogy, respectively, as “very important.”

October 2, 2013

Indiana University will spend $15 million to create accessible digital copies of "video, recorded music and other irreplaceable material" created at the institution since its founding in 1820, President Michael A. McRobbie announced Tuesday during his State of the University address. The online archive, which McRobbie said will make materials "instantly and inexpensively available in digital form at any time not only to students, scholars and scientists throughout IU, but across the country and around the world,” will be available by the institution's bicentenary in 2020.

October 2, 2013

Northwestern University journalism students are required to spend one academic quarter in an unpaid internship, and to pay the university more than $15,000 in tuition for that quarter, ProPublica reported. The article noted that some students have raised questions about the system, and that the issue of unpaid internships (even without steep tuition charges) has attracted considerable attention. In response, Northwestern officials have started to ask employers if they would be willing to pay journalism interns minimum wage for their internships.

October 2, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Anthony Kontos of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center reveals when athletes playing youth sports are most likely to receive a concussion. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

October 2, 2013

A study released Monday suggests that being honored with a major scholarly prize may not improve the winner's productivity. George J. Borjas of Harvard University and Kirk B. Doran of the University of Notre Dame analyzed the impact of winning the Fields Medal, which is awarded every four years to the most talented mathematician under 40. Borjas and Doran compared the productivity (in research output) of mathematicians who won the medal and contenders who did not. (They found other prizes that are good predictors of winning a Fields, and so identified likely winners.) The research found that the winners and the contenders had nearly identical productivity before the winners won the Fields. But after winning the Fields, mathematicians see a decline in productivity. They also show more "cognitive mobility," working in new areas, which the authors note likely forces them to take longer to make findings and write papers. The paper was published by the National Bureau of Economic Research (abstract available here).

 

October 2, 2013

The U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights have approved the University of Montana's new sexual assault policy, cementing a resolution agreement that the federal government said would make Montana's procedures a "blueprint" for colleges nationwide. While some student activists and victims' rights advocates have lauded the terms of the settlement, which is more extensive than previous federal mandates, free speech organizations have expressed concern that Montana's policy is overbroad and violates the First Amendment. Whereas Montana's previous policy required an action to be "objectively offensive" to be considered harassment, OCR said "sexual harassment should be more broadly defined as 'any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,' " including "verbal conduct."

The new policy also requires all faculty to participate in a tutorial on sexual assault and campus regulations, and states that those who refuse will be reported to the Justice Department. Some faculty members have questioned Montana President Royce Engstrom about the provision, The Missoulian reported.

October 2, 2013

Arguably one of the most challenging openings among college presidencies today is the chancellor's job at City College of San Francisco, which faces a potential loss of accreditation, severe financial difficulties and tensions between the administration and faculty and student groups. Robert Agrella, a state-appointed special trustee, has named four finalists, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The finalists are Terry Calaway, former president of Johnson County Community College, in Kansas; Stephen M. Curtis, former president of the Community College of Philadelphia; Cathy Perry-Jones, vice president for administration at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities; and Arthur Q. Tyler, former president of Sacramento City College.

 

October 2, 2013

A student employment program placing students at jobs linked to their field of study, a pharmacy program targeting students from underserved communities and a campuswide math remediation program aimed to reduce completion time for students earning associate degrees are among the initiatives proven to increase Latino students’ success.

Excelencia in Education, a nonprofit that works to accelerate Latino student success in higher education, released the 2013 edition of “What Works for Latino Student Success in Higher Education,” which highlights 22 evidence-based initiatives at the associate, bachelor and graduate levels that increase achievement for Latino students.

Excelencia in Education identified bilingual education programs, access to opportunity programs, and partnerships as three areas that can improve Latino student success.

 

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