Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, August 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Colorado at Boulder is proud of its numerous environmental initiatives. But as The Boulder Daily Camera noted, the university is not bothering with most surveys of campuses for "green" ratings, even if that means other institutions are named as superior on environmental matters. Until all the surveys opt to collect similar information so that time burdens aren't imposed on Boulder by filling out all of the forms, it is skipping the surveys.

Friday, August 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The American Association of University Professors on Thursday told the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights that its recent crackdown on policies and procedures in cases of sexual harassment has the potential to threaten academic freedom. In April, the OCR sent an advisory letter to colleges and universities reiterating their responsibilities to address sexual assault under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender. Given the aim of the ramped-up enforcement, organizations such as Security on Campus have praised the letter.

But the AAUP is now among groups, such as the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, that worry that the office is overreaching. In a letter to the federal office, AAUP President Cary Nelson and Ann E. Green, chair of the AAUP Committee on Women in the Academic Profession, took issue with the OCR telling colleges to use a “preponderance of evidence” standard -- which requires them only to show that it is more likely than not that an assault occurred -- and suggested that they use the tougher "clear and convincing" standard of evidence because requiring more proof lessens the likelihood that professors be unfairly disciplined or sanctioned. (The OCR has noted that many colleges do use the latter, illegally.) The AAUP also cautioned against rushed judgment of faculty who teach courses touching on sexually sensitive topics. “‘Dear Colleague’ should encourage discussion of topics like sexual harassment both in and outside of the curriculum, but acknowledge that what might be offensive or uncomfortable to some students may also be necessary for their education,” Nelson and Green wrote.

Friday, August 19, 2011 - 3:00am

A local judge has dismissed a conservative watchdog group's lawsuit challenging a Maryland community college's policy that lets recent graduates of the county's high schools pay lower tuition rates, even if they are not legal U.S. residents. The ruling in Montgomery County Circuit Court blocks Judicial Watch's lawsuit against Montgomery College; the lawsuit charged that "[b]y providing reduced, in-county tuition to all students who graduate from Montgomery County public high schools, regardless of their residence or status as unlawfully present aliens, Montgomery College is failing to collect revenue that, by state and federal law, it is required to collect." The court ruled that the three county residents who served as Judicial Watch's plaintiffs did not have standing to sue the college. A lawyer for the college, Michael Hays of Dow Lohnes, said that the college "believes that its tuition policy is fully consistent with all applicable laws and regulations."

Friday, August 19, 2011 - 3:00am

White applicants for grants from the National Institutes of Health were significantly likelier than black researchers to win funding, according to a Science magazine study published Thursday that sought (and struggled) to explain the reasons for the gap. The study found that about 16 percent of black applicants were successful in winning NIH grants, compared to about 29 percent of applications from white researchers and 25 percent of Asian researchers. The gap between black and white applicants shrank (to about 10 percent, from 13 percent) but was sustained even after controlling for factors such as the applicants' educational background, country of origin, training, previous research awards, publication record and employer characteristics. But the gap disappeared among applicants whose applications emerged from the peer review process with "strong" scores.

The study, which was commissioned by the NIH and drew expressions of concern from its officials, said it was difficult to gauge what caused the gaps in grants or in the scoring of the submitted proposals, but suggested that they could be caused by differences in the quality of the papers or by racial bias. "Although our models do not fully explain the funding gap, the greatest differences between blacks and whites that we observed were in the effect of previous training and the probability of receiving a priority score," the researchers wrote. "Although more research is needed to discern the basis for the award differences, it is possible that cumulative advantage may be involved."

Friday, August 19, 2011 - 3:00am

A study published Thursday in Science found that science graduate students are more likely to improve their research skills if they are also teaching. The study counters conventional wisdom that time spent on teaching limits advancement in research. David Feldon, assistant professor of education at the University of Virginia and lead investigator on the study, found that graduate students in the sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics who both teach and conduct research demonstrate greater growth over an academic year in their abilities to generate testable hypotheses and design experiments around those hypotheses than do grad students who only conduct research.

Friday, August 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Utah has fired a political science professor after concluding that he engaged in a "pattern of plagiarism," the Salt Lake Tribune reported. The newspaper said that a faculty panel determined that Bahman Bakhtiari, former head of the university's Middle East Center, had committed plagiarism, but that the panel recommended against dismissing him. But according to documents provided to the Tribune, it said, Utah's interim president overruled the faculty body. "Plagiarism -- holding out the work of another as one’s own -- strikes at the very core of academic integrity," the newspaper quoted the interim president, Lorris Betz, as writing in a June 30 letter. "The only appropriate sanction in this case is dismissal, which is necessary to preserve the academic integrity of the institution and to restore public confidence in the university." Bakhtiari has contended that the overlap in his work and that of others was unintentional and too limited to qualify as a pattern.

Friday, August 19, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Sylvia Alajaji of Franklin and Marshall College reveals how the music of Islamic female rappers undermines dominant assumptions about gender in Islamic societies. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, August 19, 2011 - 3:00am

State auditors are calling on the Los Angeles Community College District to seek a criminal investigation of the district's hiring of an inspector general to monitor a $5.7 billion construction program, The Los Angeles Times reported. State officials said that the district hired a company with links to a construction company that was a major donor in trustee elections, and that an initial review of the proposals for inspector general ranked the selected company second to last among 11 proposals. The Times has run a series of articles about mistakes and wasteful spending in the mammoth construction program. Most district trustees are reluctant to seek a criminal investigation, saying that they do not see the need.

Friday, August 19, 2011 - 3:00am

FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing has added two more colleges to the list of hundreds that no longer restrict admissions to those willing to submit SAT or ACT scores. The new additions are Earlham and Nichols Colleges. According to FairTest, Earlham is the 36th "national liberal arts college" ranked in the U.S. News & World Report top 100 to move away from automatic testing requirements.

Friday, August 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Leon Panetta, the new secretary of defense, is calling on the military to look for new ways to promote language training. In a memo last week to senior Pentagon officials, he said that "language, regional and cultural skills are enduring warfighting competencies that are critical to mission readiness in today's dynamic global environment." He asked relevant military leaders to "establish and execute policies" to "show we value these skills." He called for more "cross-cultural training," and new efforts to "increase and sustain the foreign language proficiency" of military professionals.

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