Higher Education Quick Takes
The College Board is being criticized by admissions officers and others over a pilot program that will test an August administration of the SAT this summer -- but only for participants in a program for gifted and talented students with a $4,500 price tag. So critics are deriding the program as a "rich kids SAT." Many students have requested an opportunity to take the SAT in August, when they might not be dealing with schoolwork, so the complaint isn't about trying out the idea, but doing so in only one setting. A statement from the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (a frequent critic of the College Board) notes questions raised by a private college counselor in a letter to College Board officials: "Why is a summer test being made available only to kids whose parents can pay close to $5000 in tuition and fees? Do not College Board annual reports already demonstrate that students from the highest socio-economic backgrounds significantly out-score other demographic groups on the SAT? Why are other students who are preparing for the SAT over the summer also not allowed to take an August test? How does the College Board justify making all these students wait until October?"
Matt Lisk, executive director of the SAT Program, issued this statement: "This program was announced publicly nearly two months ago. In response to the many requests from students, parents, and educators to consider a summer SAT administration, the College Board will be conducting a pilot SAT administration in August 2012 to begin evaluating the feasibility of a summer test administration. Because of the obvious differences in the logistics of testing in the summer due to school and faculty schedules, a pilot program such as this is the only sound way to work through any potential operational challenges before considering an expansion to millions of students and thousands of sites. This year's pilot is being conducted in collaboration with the not-for-profit National Society for the Gifted and Talented (NSGT). If successful, we will examine the expansion of the scope of the summer SAT administration to additional locations in the near future."
U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley has asked the National Institutes of Health to explain why it has provided a new grant to a researcher who was barred from receiving federal funds several years ago in a conflict of interest controversy. In a letter to NIH Director Francis S. Collins, Grassley questioned a $400,000 grant awarded to Charles Nemeroff, who resigned from Emory University in 2008 amid an investigation into his failure to report fees received from a pharmaceutical company in violation of institutional rules.
"It’s troubling that NIH continues to provide limited federal dollars to individuals who have previously had grant funding suspended for failure to disclose conflicts of interest and even more troubling that the Administration chose not to require full, open and, public disclosure of financial interests on a public website,” Grassley wrote in the letter, which he copied to Donna E. Shalala, president of the University of Miami, which hired Nemeroff in 2009.
Grassley was critical of the Obama administration last year for revising its conflict of interest rules in ways that some ethics experts thought were not strong enough.
Some at the University of California at Los Angeles are questioning why Justin Combs is receiving a full-ride athletic scholarship, The Los Angeles Times reported. The questions don't relate to his academic or athletic qualifications, but to his wealth. Combs is the son of Sean (Diddy) Combs, who has so much money that he gave his son a $360,000 Maybach for his 16th birthday. UCLA officials stress that funds for athletic scholarships are financed separately from the budget for need-based awards. Justin Combs used Twitter this week to defend the scholarship, writing: "Regardless what the circumstances are, I put that work in!!!!"
The American Association of University Professors and the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education both on Thursday expressed concerns about the way Texas A&M University at San Antonio notified Sissy Bradford, an adjunct with excellent teaching evaluations who had been told earlier she would have four courses for the fall, that she would have no courses. The university told Bradford of this development the day that a local newspaper noted her complaints about how the university responded to threats she received after her objections played a role in the removal of crosses from a tower being built at the entrance to campus. Bradford and her supporters see the university punishing her for speaking out. University officials have said that there is no relationship between her lack of courses for the fall, and her public statements. And university officials have stressed that adjuncts are not entitled to courses in any future semester.
A letter from the AAUP to President Maria Hernandez Ferrier said that "we believe that the action taken against Ms. Bradford was effectively a dismissal for cause, without the administration's having demonstrated adequacy of cause before a faculty hearing body. It thus seems to us to be a summary dismissal, fundamentally at odds with academic due process." The letter continues: "We accordingly urge that the Texas A&M University-San Antonio administration rescind her dismissal and reinstate her to the teaching that had been assigned to her for the fall semester, with any further action in her case to be consistent with the enclosed principles and standards."
FIRE announced that it was looking into the case. A statement from the organization said in part: "Many know, of course, that the job security of adjunct instructors like Bradford is nowhere near what it is for tenured professors and that universities may (and frequently do) decide not to rehire them for myriad reasons -- or no reason at all. But this does not mean that adjunct professors possess fewer First Amendment rights than their tenured counterparts. Adverse employment action taken against adjunct instructors on the basis of their protected expression as citizens violates the First Amendment."
On Thursday, the university released a letter from Bill Bush, interim head of the School of Arts and Sciences, in which he said that portrayals of the situation at the university have been "extremely one-sided." He said that the university offered support to Bradford amid the controversy over her statements about the crosses. He said that the decision not to offer Bradford courses for the fall was related to a desire to hire more tenure-track faculty members, and he said that she was in no way punished for any stances she took. He said it was a "duty" of the university to protect students and faculty members who express a range of views.
The university did not respond to a request that it explain why Bradford was initially offered courses for the fall, and then told that she would not teach those sections.
Maryland authorities who have charged a 21-year-old Morgan State University student with killing a man have reported an unusual confession by the student: He said that he ate parts of the victim's brain and heart, The Baltimore Sun reported. Alexander Kinyua, the student, was "disenrolled" in January from Morgan State's Reserve Officers' Training Corps program following a disciplinary incident.
About 900 colleges nationwide have agreements with banks or financial services companies for debit or prepaid cards for financial aid disbursement, student identification cards and other services, despite concerns and occasional controversy about fees on those cards, according to a study released Wednesday by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group's Education Fund. Despite inroads from banks and other companies offering prepaid debit cards, Higher One still dominates the market, with agreements on more than 500 campuses.
Prepaid debit cards can come with high fees, including a 50-cent "per swipe" fee for Higher One cards if they are used with a personal identification number (as a debit card) rather than a signature (as a credit card). The report calls on colleges to negotiate agreements with lower fees and to provide students with a range of options, including checks and bank deposits, for financial aid disbursements.
The California Senate on Wednesday passed two bills that would require the state to create free, online textbooks through open source materials for the top 50 courses taught in the state, the Associated Press reported. Senator Darrell Steinberg, the sponsor of the bill, said it would protect students from the "exorbitant" prices charged by some publishers. The American Publishers Association is opposing the legislation, which now moves to the Assembly.
New Jersey should establish guidelines for the compensation of community college presidents, which varies enormously from institution to institution, the state's comptroller said in a report Wednesday. "There are no state standards or guidelines for college trustees to rely on when setting compensation terms for their president," said the comptroller, Matthew Boxer. "As a result, there are huge disparities in not only the salaries of community college presidents, but other forms of their compensation as well. We’re not suggesting a one-size-fits-all approach, but it’s appropriate to set boundaries when schools are spending taxpayer dollars."
Dozens of law professors have signed a joint letter to President Obama urging him to take steps to help college students who lack the legal documentation to permanently reside in the United States. President Obama has backed proposed legislation that would create a path to citizenship for such students, but the letter argued that the administration has "clear executive authority for several forms of administrative relief for DREAM Act beneficiaries: deferred action, parole–in–place, and deferred enforced departure." Through these means, the administration could remove the fear many of these students (many of whom were brought to the United States as young children and who have few ties in their original countries) of being deported, the letter says.