Moody's Investors Service downgraded 34 higher education institutions in 2012 while upgrading only 3, the ratings agency reported Friday, an indicator of ongoing financial challenges facing colleges and universities. Analysts chalked up the downgrades to problems raising net tuition revenue, continued state budget cuts, and enrollment troubles. "Of the seven public universities whose ratings were downgraded in the fourth quarter, five had declines in total full-time equivalent student enrollment," the report notes. Prominent downgrades included the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and Pennsylvania State University.
Higher Education Quick Takes
Chinese authorities have blocked Ilham Tohti, a leading scholar from China’s Turkic Uighur ethnic minority, from leaving the country to start a fellowship at Indiana University at Bloomington, the Associated Press reported. Tohti said he was questioned for hours at the airport before being sent home. Tohti has spoken out about the treatment of Chinese minority groups, and been criticized for doing so by Chinese authorities. A spokesman for Indiana told Inside HIgher Ed that Tohti was scheduled to start as a visiting scholar in Central Eurasian studies at the university.
The University of British Columbia is giving all female, tenure-track faculty members a 2 percent raise, The Globe and Mail reported. The move follows a series of studies that found female professors earning less than their male counterparts. Some of that gap is explained by factors that were not deemed to constitute gender bias. For instance, male faculty members are more likely than are female faculty members to teach in disciplines where salaries are high. The 2 percent raises are an attempt to remedy the portion of the salary gap that cannot be explained by legitimate factors.
The University of Texas Board of Regents announced Sunday that it would conduct a review of policies about inappropriate relationships between employees and students, USA Today reported. The announcement came after the board met and took no public action against Major Applewhite, an assistant football coach at the Austin campus who was advised to get counseling and who had a one-year salary freeze imposed because of a one-time consensual relationship with a student. The punishment is receiving scrutiny because of the recent ouster of Bev Kearney as track and field coach, also at Austin. She said she was forced out because of a consensual relationship she had with a student. Kearney has charged that the university took a harder line with her than it did with male coaches.
Winona State University fired Bill Murphy as dean of its business college in September after finding that he engaged in ''highly personal sexually oriented discussions and requests to photograph students in various degrees of dress," Winona Radio reported. The university has only now informed the campus why Murphy departed, and that he did not receive severance. The Associated Press reported that Murphy did not respond to messages left on his home number.
The Department of Homeland Security on Friday announced a new pilot program in which the agency will work with six colleges and universities to assess and improve their campus emergency and resilience plans. More information about the program and how to apply may be found here.
Rutgers University will announce today a new center that will focus on research and education to help vulnerable young people making the transition to college. The center will be named for Tyler Clementi, the gay Rutgers freshman who killed himself two years ago after his roommate recorded his meeting with a man, and broadcast it to others. The center will focus on issues of cyberbullying and the challenges facing young gay people, but will not be limited to those issues. Clementi's parents are backing the new effort and working on it with Rutgers.
Officials of the Palestinian Authority, which does not control Gaza, are criticizing Al-Aqsa University, which is located there, for adopting a dress code for female students, Ma'an reported. Women will be required to wear "Islamic" attire, but officials said that need not be a full body or head covering, but must involve modesty. The university says that the vast majority of women on campus already dress appropriately, and that lectures would be used to encourage others to change their attire. Palestinian Authority officials said that the rules conflict with guarantees of personal freedom that are part of Palestinian law.
Florida's Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that the state Constitution gives legislators ultimate authority to set tuition, presumably ending a six-year legal fight over whether that authority lay instead with the state's higher education governing board.
The former U.S. Senator Bob Graham, along with other politicians and some university leaders in the state, had argued that a 2002 constitutional amendment creating a statewide Board of Governors transferred tuition-setting power to the new body. (They believed the state's major public universities were underpriced on national terms and viewed legislators as unwilling to raise tuition.) A judge embraced their legal arguments early in 2011, but a state appeals court overturned that ruling later that year.
In its decision Thursday, the state Supreme Court backed the appeals court's ruling. "Nothing within the language of [the Constitutional amendment] indicates an intent to transfer this quintessentially legislative power to the Board of Governors," the high court's ruling said. "Accordingly, we conclude that the challenged statutes by which the Legislature has exercised control over these funds are facially constitutional."
The legal battling may be over, but the fight over tuition-setting continues. Legislators have proposed (and continue to propose) bills that would allow the University of Florida and Florida State University to raise tuition significantly, while Governor Rick Scott has not only rebuffed those but argued for lowering tuition rates.