Higher Education Quick Takes
A sit-in at the German University in Cairo has entered its third week, Ahram Online reported. Students are demanding protection of their rights to dissent, following the expulsion of two students and the suspension of two others over earlier protests. Those students were protesting actions by Egypt's rulers. The university told them, in advance of the protest, that they could have a silent protest, but punished some students after they shouted their views during the demonstration.
The Education Department will track the number of students completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and release the data to the public, sorted by high school, the department announced Tuesday. The website, which lists the number of students per high school who have completed and submitted the form, is intended to help high school counselors (and others) and uses data from the Education Department's systems, the first time such data has been made available. The numbers will be updated every two weeks.
Advocacy groups, including Campus Progress, US PIRG, Rebuild the Dream and other student groups, delivered 130,000 letters from students to Congress on Wednesday, asking the lawmakers to stop the interest rate on subsidized student loans from doubling to 6.8 percent in July. President Obama has urged Congress to stop the rate increase, and Congressional Democrats have called for the change as well. Keeping the interest rate for subsidized loans at 3.4 percent would cost about $5 billion.
The board of Santa Monica College has approved a plan to charge a much higher price for certain courses, typically to students who enroll for them after the two-year institution has filled its allotment of state-funded courses, the Los Angeles Times reported. Under the plan, the college would create a nonprofit foundation that would charge as much as $200 a unit for high-demand courses such as English and math, compared to the standard rate of $36 (which is due to rise to $46 this summer).
College officials said they believed the program was on solid legal ground, but critics express the concern that such an approach amounts to privatizing public higher education, and a spokesman for the California Community College chancellor's office told the Times the plan did not appear to comply with state education codes.
Robert J. Birgeneau announced Tuesday that he will retire as chancellor of the University of California at Berkeley at the end of 2012. He was appointed in 2004, and said that he originally hoped to lead the campus for seven years, but opted to stay due to the severe budget pressure the university has faced. Birgeneau has faced student criticism over budget cuts, and what many students believe was excessive force in dealing with protests. But he also pushed hard through private fund-raising to protect Berkeley from raids on its faculty talent.
The Russell Group, an invitation-only organization of British research universities roughly equivalent to the Association of American Universities, announced Monday that it is admitting four new members -- more than have ever been added to the organization since its founding in 1994. The new members are Durham University, Queen Mary University of London, the University of Exeter and the University of York. Prior to Monday's announcement, the Russell Group had 20 members. Times Higher Education noted that the gain for the four universities is a loss to the 1994 Group, which Russell's newest members left, and which represented other institutions not in the more exclusive group.
The hit comedy "Big Bang Theory," about a group of scientists, has had Stephen Hawking plot lines. BBC reported that Hawking has now filmed a cameo that will air on the show next month. In the show, he will interact with Sheldon Cooper, known for being socially awkward.
The Pennsylvania Board of Trustees on Monday issued a statement clarifying the reasons that it dismissed Graham Spanier as president and Joe Paterno as football coach in November. The dismissals came as the university reacted to the scandal involving allegations that one of Paterno's top assistants had for years molested boys, sometimes at Penn State facilities. Many alumni have criticized the board in particular for its decision on Paterno, who had already announced he would retire at the end of the football season and who has since died. The board said that it fired Paterno because he did not notify police when he learned of allegations involving the abuse of one boy. (While Paterno did notify a Penn State administrator, meeting the legal requirements for reporting abuse allegations, the board statement said that "his decision to do his minimum legal duty and not to do more to follow up constituted a failure of leadership by Coach Paterno.") As for Spanier, the board said that he "insufficiently" informed the board of his knowledge of various incidents, and that he issued press statements as the scandal became public that were "without authorization of the board or contrary to its instructions." Spanier declined to comment on the board's statement.
The social media site LinkedIn has declared college adjunct to be one of the fastest growing job titles in the United States, The Economist reported. The LinkedIn analysis is based on people adding the job title, and is offered as an example of how LinkedIn can analyze labor market trends. Some commenting on the article suggest that LinkedIn may be a better reflection of the population that is job hunting or in need of better work, not the entire labor market. The Economist's comment on adjuncts: "an ill-paid, overworked species of academic."
Another group of college presidents and chancellors has been invited to the White House for a meeting on college affordability and productivity. Details about the meeting, scheduled for March 23, are scant, including whether President Obama will attend (as he did when another group of college presidents was invited to White House in December).
According to an email forwarded to Inside Higher Ed by a person connected to an invited guest, "administration officials will engage presidents and chancellors in exploring constructive solutions to bringing down college costs, making higher education more affordable and attainable, and regaining America’s global leadership in higher education attainment."
The White House has focused increasingly on college costs and productivity as Obama ramps up his re-election campaign, including proposals to tie some forms of financial aid to measures of "value" in higher education.