Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, August 19, 2016 - 3:00am

It's common for sorority recruitment videos, with their increasingly lavish production values and imagery, to go viral. One widely shared video -- featuring hot air balloon rides, members performing yoga on rocks and soaring drone footage -- drew attention earlier this month after some estimated that it could have cost as much as $400,000 to produce (the sorority says it only cost "a few thousand dollars").

The latest video to gain such notoriety is quaint in comparison, consisting only of Alpha Delta Pi members at the University of Texas at Austin gathered in their house's doorway and singing the sorority's chant. But it has led to criticism familiar to sororities and their recruitment videos: there appears to be little diversity among its members.

The original video has since been removed.

Sara Kennedy, a spokeswoman for UT, said in a statement that while sororities are independent organizations, the university is committed to diversity. "All our staff are directly and actively engaged in promoting and creating a welcoming and inclusive environment, working with our students through development and leadership programming, advising, and organizational support," Kennedy said.

Friday, August 19, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Arik Kershenbaum, research fellow in the department of zoology at the University of Cambridge, delves into whether our pets actually understand what we’re saying. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 4:31am

The University of California, Berkeley, paid $200,000 to consultants to improve the national and international image of Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, who announced Tuesday that he was stepping down, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The contracts with a primary consultant and a subcontractor were for the companies to “‘increase exposure and awareness’ of Dirks’s vision for higher education, elevate the chancellor ‘as a key thought leader,’ and ‘form key partnerships’ so that potential donors would understand his philosophy,” the article said.

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 3:00am

An Azerbaijani university fired 50 Turkish faculty for alleged links to the cleric Fethullah Gülen, whom the Turkish government blames for a July 15 coup attempt, Radio Free Europe reported (Gülen has denied involvement). The acting rector of Caucasus University said the fired instructors will have to leave Azerbaijan within two weeks.

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 3:00am

Inside Higher Ed is pleased to release its latest print-on-demand compilation of articles, with the topic “Campus Safety.” You may download the free booklet here. And you may sign up here for a free webinar on the themes of the booklet on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 2 p.m. Eastern.

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 3:00am

The National Consumer Law Center sent a letter to Education Secretary John King today asking the Department of Education to track the relationship between student loan debt and racial inequality. The letter follows efforts by the group to obtain the release of data on how federal debt collection practices are affecting minority student borrowers in particular.

It was signed by 39 other legal aid, civil rights and public advocacy groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, the Institute for College Access and Success, and the Center for Responsible Lending.

“It is unacceptable that, for nearly a decade, the department has known that student loan debt disproportionately harms borrowers of color, and despite this knowledge, has failed to even track this problem, let alone address the issue,” said Persis Yu, director of National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project.

Under King, the department has taken steps to add more consumer protections for student loan borrowers, including the creation of a Student Aid Enforcement unit. But the groups who signed on to the letter say having data on race and student debt is needed to be sure that new protections are benefiting all borrowers.

The NCLC earlier this year filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit along with the ACLU and the Massachusetts ACLU seeking data on racial impacts of firms collecting federal student debt. The department said in response to a FOIA request that it was not keeping data responsive to the issue.

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 4:23am

Birmingham-Southern College announced Wednesday that it is dropping the requirement that all undergraduate applicants submit ACT or SAT scores. “This move will in no way compromise the caliber of our incoming class or reduce BSC’s admission standards,” said a statement from Sara Newhouse, vice president for admission and financial planning. “Rather, we hope it gives bright, engaged students who fear BSC is out of their reach another way to apply.”

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 3:00am

Ann O'Leary, Hillary Clinton's most visible adviser on education issues, will join Clinton's White House transition team should the former secretary of state win the White House in November.

O'Leary's inclusion on the potential transition team was reported first by The New York Times.

The Democratic primary campaign was preoccupied with debates over higher ed policy, specifically on free tuition and issues of college affordability. But O'Leary's background is mostly in K-12 and early education policy.

A Fortune profile in 2015 described her as one of Clinton's trio of economic advisers along with Jake Sullivan (national security) and Maya Harris (other domestic issues). As a Clinton Senate aid in 2001, she was involved in the development of the No Child Left Behind Act, among other legislation.

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 3:00am

A new survey of part-time faculty members in Ontario offers additional evidence that most adjunct instructors are no longer professionals who teach on the side. The typical instructor surveyed was female (60 percent), with 66 percent reporting having finished a Ph.D. That’s a big shift from a similar, previous survey conducted in the early 1990s, which found that most part-time faculty were male professionals who taught a course or two for fun, fulfillment or service. The involuntary part-timers in the new survey reported working four to five years on short-term contracts and wanting to find full-time academic work with benefits.

The report also notes that among these “precarious sessionals” are those who have “given up” on academe and are seeking any full-time position and those who have taken up work in other fields but who are “in waiting” for a full-time academic position. “A Survey of Sessional Faculty in Ontario Publicly Funded Universities” was written by Cynthia Field, a Ph.D. candidate in education at the University of Toronto, and Glen A. Jones, the Ontario Research Chair in Postsecondary Education Policy and Measurement and a professor of higher education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at Toronto.

Twelve Ontario colleges and universities participated in the survey, with response rates among temporary faculty members varying by institution, from 16 percent to 48 percent. The overall response rate among 7,814 instructors surveyed was 21.5 percent. In addition to demographic data, the survey sought open-ended answers to questions about how learning environments can be improved as part-time-faculty numbers continue to increase.

Respondents said that hiring faculty to more stable positions would reduce stress and enable instructors to better prepare for upcoming courses, according to the report. Many said that undergraduate class sizes were too big for providing opportunities for critical thinking and student engagement, and others said they worried classrooms were poorly laid out for learning. Some wanted private meeting spaces. Others reported wanting more opportunities for professional engagement, as well as more pedagogy and classroom training in their own graduate programs as preparation for teaching. Another concern was a perceived increased need to spend classroom time on remedial work in first-year courses, such as on essay structure.

Thursday, August 18, 2016 - 3:00am

Today on the Academic Minute, Simon Darroch, assistant professor in the department of earth and environmental sciences at Vanderbilt University, explores whether the spread of modern animals led to the demise of the previous era’s inhabitants. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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