Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 9, 2018

The American Society for Engineering Education published two new reports as part of its Transforming Undergraduate Education in Engineering project. A previously published report from the society focused on input from industry, while the new reports offer “Insight From Tomorrow’s Engineers” and “Voices on Women’s Participation and Retention,” respectively. The society’s project seeks to advance undergraduate engineering education by building consensus among different groups as to what it should entail.

Student insights from the Phase II report include that the discipline isn’t doing enough to produce “T-shaped” professionals, or those who have technical expertise, adaptability and so-called soft skills. Students also say they want real-world applications and design-based projects. Recommendations from the Phase III project on women in engineering include creating an online “diversity dashboard” for the field that shows the demographic makeup of engineering schools, making gender diversity an institutional value and promoting the idea that diversity translates to value in industry. The society’s final, Phase IV report, focused on professional engineering societies, will be published later this year.

February 9, 2018

Maryland’s governor offered as much as $100 million over 10 years to historically black universities, attempting to end a long-running lawsuit over whether the state caused segregation at historically black institutions by allowing predominantly white universities to duplicate successful programs.

The settlement proposal is more than twice an amount offered earlier in the case, which stretches back to 2006, The Washington Post reported. Governor Larry Hogan offered the proposal Wednesday, a day after a federal judge granted a temporary reprieve as the state appeals an order from November. The November order would have created new high-demand programs at Maryland’s four historically black institutions and forced funding for them under court supervision.

In a letter, Hogan’s chief legal counsel called the new settlement proposal a serious commitment he believes goes “well beyond what the law requires.” But the top lawyer for the coalition that sued the state said the offer does not address the fact that more than 122 academic programs at traditionally white institutions are unduplicated elsewhere in the state system, compared to only 11 at historically black institutions. He called for new programs at historically black institutions and state commitments against unnecessary duplications.

February 9, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Il Hyun Cho, assistant professor in the department of government and law and the Asian studies program at Lafayette, details popular myths about this hermit kingdom. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 8, 2018

Ten women -- former students and employees of Northwestern University's journalism school -- have issued an open letter accusing a prominent professor there of repeated sexual harassment, as well as behavior that belittled and insulted people. The letter was published in full in The Chicago Reader. The professor, Alec Klein, has denied the allegations. He gave a statement to CBS News Chicago saying in part, "I categorically deny the allegations and intend to take legal action. Many of the allegations involved a disgruntled former employee who had been on a corrective-action plan for poor work performance several years ago."

The letter was also sent to Northwestern. The university issued this statement Wednesday evening: "The university takes seriously all complaints that are brought to its attention. Many of the allegations were contained in a complaint brought several years ago by a former employee. At that time, the university conducted a thorough investigation and the complaint was not substantiated. Northwestern will now review the allegations received today."

February 8, 2018

Northeastern University has criticized a comment by one of its professors and removed a video showing the comment, The Boston Globe reported. Video of the comment, in a January lecture, was posted online Monday, leading to the discussion of it. Barry Bluestone, a professor of political economy, said, of the president, "Sometimes I want to just see him impeached other times, quite honestly -- I hope there are no FBI agents here -- I wouldn’t mind seeing him dead."

Northeastern sent a statement to the Globe that said, “The university and its leaders steadfastly oppose violence in all its forms … While faculty members are free to express controversial opinions, the university cannot provide a public platform for comments that could be construed to condone violence. As a result, we have decided to take down the video of this event.”

In an interview with the newspaper Wednesday night, Bluestone said that he does not condone violence and does not want anyone to assassinate the president. He said his remark was "offhand" and didn't reflect his intent. “What I should have said is, ‘I would love to see him disappear, I’d like him out of the White House,’” Bluestone said.

February 8, 2018

Photo of Elizabeth AlexanderElizabeth Alexander has been named the next president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. She will start in the position in March, succeeding Earl Lewis, who has been president since 2013. The foundation awards $300 million in grants annually, many of them in higher education. Alexander, a poet, has taught at a number of universities and is currently the Wun Tsun Tam Mellon Professor in the Humanities at Columbia University. She wrote the poem commissioned by President Obama for his first inauguration.

February 8, 2018

A Cornell University fraternity has been put on probation for two years for setting up a lewd game called “the pig roast,” in which pledges could rack up points by having sex with heavier women.

Members of Zeta Beta Tau were told not to discuss their contest with the women they slept with, according to a new university report. In the event of a tie in the game, the would-be brother who slept with the woman who weighed the most would win, the report revealed.

In a post on Facebook, the Cornell fraternity asserted that these were not “chapter sanctioned activities nor ones that brothers were aware of.”

“We, too, are in disbelief and even more so that these alleged actions may have been taken by those whom we called brothers. As a result, we are looking inward to ensure this type of behavior never occurs by anyone connected with ZBT, or the campus community as a whole, on our watch,” the statement reads.

The national fraternity will conduct a membership review of the Cornell branch, which is also being forced to hire a live-in adviser who will remain with the chapter through the entire two-year probation.

Members must attend certain educational programs, such as having 75 percent chapter participation in at least two events during Cornell’s Sexual Assault Awareness Week in April.

February 8, 2018

The University of Southern California suffered through a significant fund-raising downturn in the second half of 2017, with donations dropping by almost $100 million, or 22 percent, compared to the last six months of 2016.

USC's school of medicine felt an even sharper drop, with donations plunging by $45 million, or 55 percent, according to the Los Angeles Times. The drop came as the university was rocked by a scandal surrounding the university's former medical school dean Carmen Puliafito. An investigation by the Times published in July found Puliafito used illegal drugs, including methamphetamine, while serving as dean and treating patients in an eye clinic at the university. Puliafito was kept in his position for years despite of complaints about his behavior, according to the investigation.

In October, Puliafito's replacement was forced to leave amid news that USC had settled a sexual harassment claim against him. That same month, the university's leading health sciences fund-raiser left in the midst of accusations he harassed female colleagues.

Officials at USC argued the downturn in fund-raising is not related to those high-profile events. Donations tend to come in at different times throughout the year, they said, adding that the university and its school of medicine are not struggling to raise money.

But the Times quoted anonymous university employees as saying donors had been put off by scandals.

February 8, 2018

The University of Turku in Finland announced Wednesday that it had canceled its employment contract with theoretical astrophysicist Christian Ott, days after the university defended its decision to hire Ott despite his history of sexual harassment. Ott resigned from his professorship at the California Institute of Technology last year after the university found he'd harassed two graduate students. He was scheduled to begin work as a senior researcher without teaching or supervising duties at Turku next month. Rector Kalervo Väänänen said that Turku had backed out of the contract after “extensively hearing the science community.” Ott could not immediately be reached for comment.

February 8, 2018

As part of the ongoing negotiations over a student loan forgiveness rule, the Trump administration is proposing a change to evidentiary standards for debt relief claims that would be a compromise between the positions of colleges and student advocates.

The borrower-defense rule -- crafted by the Obama administration to clarify how students defrauded or misled by their institutions could apply to have their federal loans forgiven -- was originally set to take effect last year. But Education Secretary Betsy DeVos blocked the rule and announced she would pursue an overhaul that reflected the concerns of colleges.

A panel of negotiators representing a range of higher education stakeholders is set to meet next week for a third negotiating session, where the department will propose that borrowers filing a loan forgiveness claim meet a "substantial weight of the evidence" standard -- essentially, the borrower's claim they were defrauded, plus some form of evidence. That would be a compromise position between the tougher "clear and convincing" standard sought by college representatives and the lower "preponderance of evidence" standard pushed by student advocates.

The department's proposal also drops what amounted to a "rogue employee" exception for borrower-defense claims. But it maintains an "intent standard" for those claims, leaving in place potentially the biggest hurdle for negotiators to reach consensus on a new rule.

The proposal also adds a three-year limit for the government to seek reimbursement from a college after it determines there is reason to approve a borrower-defense claim.


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