Higher Education Quick Takes
The rectors of two Russian universities -- Moscow State and St. Petersburg State Universities -- may avoid complying with a Russian law requiring university leaders to report all of their income and assets, The Moscow Times reported. The 2009 law applies to institutions created "by the Russian Federation," but both of those universities were created by Russian royals in the 1700s.
City College of San Francisco trustees earn $500 for attending monthly board meetings, but they get paid even if they skip meetings, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. And some of them skip a lot of meetings. The newspaper reported that one trustee has missed one third of all meetings since 2010, and that all seven elected trustees have been present at only 5 of the last 24 meetings. The article quoted officials as saying that the payments to trustees who did not attend meetings violated the state's education code.
An alumna's letter in the Smith College student newspaper, The Sophian, angered many on the campus last week. The letter writer -- noting Smith's progress in recent years at recruiting low-income, minority and international students -- questioned whether the institution has become "a safety school" as a result. "The people who are attending Smith these days are A) lesbians or B) international students who get financial aid or C) low-income women of color who are the first generation in their family to go to college and will go to any school that gives them enough money.... or D) white heterosexual girls who can't get into Ivy League schools." The letter also questioned Smith's policy of not requiring SAT scores.
Many students and alumni responded with outrage. On Friday, Smith's president, Carol T. Christ, issued an open letter to respond to the alumna's letter. "The letter writer is ignorant about a number of issues. Admission to Smith is far more competitive now than it was in the 1980s, when the letter writer attended Smith," Christ wrote. "We now have the highest number of applicants and the lowest admit rate in our history. The most competitively admitted students at Smith are international students on financial aid; only 10 percent of applicants are admitted. The strongest and most consistent correlation with SAT scores is family income. Most students do submit scores and we, of course, submit them to all of the data-collecting organizations in which we participate, including U.S. News & World Report."
The American Educational Research Association announced Friday that, in response to recent Georgia laws viewed as hostile to immigrants, the association will move its 2013 annual meeting from Atlanta to San Francisco. "As a matter of policy, AERA has an affirmative obligation to operate its own functions and monitor its own behavior in accordance with the research policies it supports, its code of ethics, and a commitment as a democratic organization to the values of equity, equality, and transparency. The relocation from Georgia helps to ensure that AERA members and other annual meeting participants have equal access to engage in AERA activities free of constraint, distraction, and intimidation that could occur under this law," said the association's statement.
The issue of when disciplinary associations should relocate annual meetings -- the locations for which are typically selected years in advance -- has created controversies in numerous fields. Currently, historians are sponsoring an online discussion on the topic.
For-profit colleges will grow as they continue to fill a gap left by public higher education, which cannot keep pace with demand thanks to slumping government support, according to a new study by John Aubrey Douglass, a senior research fellow at the Center for Studies in Higher Education at the University of California at Berkeley. That growth will not be due to well-thought-out policy, and will happen despite concerns about the performance of for-profits, Douglass writes. This "policy default" in the United States follows a pattern in Brazil, South Korea and Poland -- dubbed "the Brazilian Effect" -- that will encourage lower-quality institutions and fail to meet national educational goals, the study predicts.
Officials in Ontario are considering a plan -- not yet made public but obtained by The Canadian Press -- under which students would take three of their five courses each semester online. "As the world of online learning expands, Ontario will be at the forefront of this digital, portable and low-cost alternative," the plan says. The plan also calls for more students to graduate in three years, and for colleges to improve their productivity by 3 percent a year. Student groups aren't impressed by the plan. "The fact that they're talking about such a massive overhaul without having reached out to faculty or students is cause for concern," said Sandy Hudson, president of the Canadian Federation of Students. "To think that three in five of all courses — the majority of courses in a year that students would be doing — would be online, that is definitely harming the quality of education."
Susan Aldridge, president of University of Maryland University College, has been placed on leave, The Washington Post reported. No details were released about why she was placed on leave and she did not respond to an e-mail inquiry. Aldridge has been a prominent figure nationally in discussions of distance education and teaching with technology.
Following the second allegation of sexual assault this season by a member of the Boston University men's ice hockey team, the university has announced the creation of a panel that will study the culture surrounding the team. The panel will not focus on the guilt or innocence of the accused athletes, whose cases are being handled by local authorities (and both of whom have been thrown off the team and are no longer enrolled). In a statement, President Robert A. Brown said that the panel would focus on broader questions.
"We will ask the task force to look at our program with fresh, impartial eyes, to determine whether the culture of hockey at BU meets the high standards of our academic community. If it does not, if the task force finds a culture where players are privileged or entitled or held to lesser standards, it will recommend changes to the way we think about and manage our hockey program," Brown said.
The Council of the American Sociological Association released a statement this week criticizing the federal government for seeking to force a Boston College library to turn over to British law enforcement officials confidential oral history records. The case remains in the courts and has caused considerable alarm among historians who rely on oral history. (The documents in question relate to a violent period in the history of Northern Ireland, with many key players still alive and not expecting their interviews to be public until after their deaths.) The statement from the sociology group says, in part: "The release of the 'Belfast Project' interview data threatens the academic freedom to study difficult and controversial topics. It undercuts the willingness of potential participants in future research to share valuable information. In the short run, such intrusion in research seeking to understand past tragedies can harm the processes through which Northern Ireland now seeks political stability. And in the long run, we must weigh the potential damage to social science that can provide a firmer knowledge base for avoiding these types of conflicts in the future."