Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 16, 2015

An Education Department report urges the panel that advises the education secretary on accreditation issues to terminate federal recognition of the agency that accredits nursing programs and schools, known as the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. The staff report to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity is the latest salvo in a long-running dispute between the commission and the National League for Nursing, the membership association for nursing educators, from which the accreditation commission separated in 1997 at the urging of the Education Department.

Then and now, the Education Department doubted whether the accrediting function operated with sufficient independence from the membership group. The two organizations have been unable to reach agreement over changes in the accreditor's bylaws that would allow it to operate independently.

In the report, released in advance of the advisory committee's June 1 meeting, Education Department staff members express concern "that ACEN could be subjected to interference in its operations by NLN or any other organization or individual other than its own Board of Commissioners," which "would severely affect the agency's compliance with the department's conflict of interest and separate and independent requirements."

June 16, 2015

A federal judge has ordered the U.S. Army's Reserve Officer Training Corps to permit Iknoor Singh, a Sikh student at Hofstra University, to enroll in its programs without shaving his beard, cutting his hair or taking off his turban, the Associated Press reported. The Sikh faith forbids such actions. While the Army has opened the door for case-by-case reconsideration of its rules on hair and facial hair, this decision orders the Army to let the student enroll in ROTC. "It is difficult to see how accommodating plaintiff's religious exercise would do greater damage to the Army's compelling interests in uniformity, discipline, credibility, unit cohesion and training than the tens of thousands of medical shaving profiles the Army has already granted," said the judge.

The Army has not responded to the ruling.

A spokeswoman for Hofstra, where Singh is enrolled and wants to participate in ROTC, said that the institution "supports Mr. Singh's desire to serve his country, as well as his right to religious expression and practice. We are pleased that the courts have affirmed that he can do both as a member of the ROTC."

June 16, 2015

A high school student from Long Island has sued the College Board and the Educational Testing Service in federal court, charging them with breach of contract and negligence in the June 6 administration of the SAT, The New York Daily News reported. Students' answer forms incorrectly gave extra time -- and proctors allowed extra time in some but not all of the testing centers. As a result, the College Board is not scoring those sections, but the suit and many student complaints say that all test takers should get a free retest and should not have to accept scores without those two sections. The suit seeks to be declared a class action. The College Board has not yet seen the lawsuit, and so is not responding to its specifics.

However, the College Board did announce Monday it would offer the retests many have been demanding. A statement from the board said, “We remain confident in the reliability of scores from the June 6 administration of the SAT and don’t want to cause undue anxiety for students by making them believe they need to sit for the test again. However, we have waived the fee for the October SAT administration for students who let us know that their testing experience was negatively affected by the printing error and we will continue to do so.”

June 16, 2015

The University of Pennsylvania is expanding its lineup of free online courses by joining massive open online course provider edX. The university was one of the first to join Coursera, another MOOC provider, and has seen millions of learners enroll in its online courses since then. In a press release, the university said edX's open-source platform was its main reasons for joining. The university's courses will be offered through PennX, and early offerings include courses in anatomy and intellectual property.

June 16, 2015

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation International Quality Group has issued a set of seven principles "intended to serve as a framework for international deliberation about quality in higher education…. The principles may be used to inform discussions of quality, quality assurance and qualifications at the country, regional or international level."

June 16, 2015

In today's Academic Minute, Rob Spencer, an oceanographer at Florida State University, discusses his research on permafrost. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

June 15, 2015

A South Carolina jury last week found that Erskine College violated the rights of William Crenshaw when it fired him in 2011 from his tenured position as a professor of English. The court ordered Erskine to pay $600,000 to Crenshaw. While the college has never been specific on the reasons it first suspended and then fired Crenshaw, many traditionalists in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, with which the college is affiliated, objected to many of his statements. Crenshaw, who won teaching awards and many student fans in 35 years of teaching, was known for encouraging critical thinking. He spoke out regularly about, for example, the need to study science even in ways that do not conform literally with the Bible. Crenshaw's suit said his dismissal violated his rights because the college ignored its own rules and its stated pledge to protect academic freedom.

A spokesman for the college said he could not comment, but said that an appeal was possible.

June 15, 2015

The College of Saint Elizabeth announced Friday that it will admit men to all programs, starting in the fall of 2016. The women's college has already been admitting men to some weekend and evening programs. "We have a 115-year history of transforming lives and educating first-generation college students. We recognize there is an opportunity to do this for both women and men," said a statement from President Helen J. Streubert. "Therefore, the decision to go coeducational will allow us to make our dynamic learning environment available to increasing numbers of women who would not otherwise have considered us, and to male students who will also benefit from the mission and values that CSE represents."

NJ.com noted that New Jersey, which once had six women's colleges, won't have any once the transition is complete. That article also noted that the college has eliminated more than 30 faculty positions since 2013, as enrollment dropped from about 2,100 to 1,411.

Last month, Saint Mary-of-the-Woods, a women's college in Indiana, announced that it will admit men. And Sweet Briar College, a women's college in Virginia, is in the process of shutting down.

June 15, 2015

In a speech billed as a campaign opening, Hillary Clinton, favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination, pledged Saturday to take steps to help students afford higher education. She twice referred to students' debt burdens, and vowed to do something about them. She said that a measure of success is "how many young people go to college without drowning in debt," and "Let’s make college affordable and available to all… and lift the crushing burden of student debt." She did not, at least on Saturday, explicitly endorse free public higher education or debt-free college, as many are expecting her to do in some form in the next month.

Clinton also made several references to the importance of science and said, "We will restore America to the cutting edge of innovation, science and research by increasing both public and private investments."

June 15, 2015

Leading universities regularly intervene when men's basketball or football players are suspected of or charged with breaking laws, an investigation by ESPN has found. The investigation involved examining the athletes of 10 universities to see the percentage of them who were eventually charged with crimes. The network found that athletes are much less likely than similarly aged men in the localities where the universities are located to end up with any charges at all. The most fortunate athletes, in terms of being identified as suspects but never facing charges, were those of Florida State University and the University of Florida.

In exploring these patterns, the network wrote about how the athletics departments contact lawyers on behalf of athletes, and how the assertive defenses of skilled local lawyers discourage local authorities from taking action against athletes.


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