Higher Education Quick Takes
Marion Barry, the former Washington mayor who is now on the City Council, is facing criticism for comments he made at a council hearing on the budget of the University of the District of Columbia. The Washington Post reported that Barry was urging the university to train more black nurses. The controversy concerns his rationale: “[I]f you go to the hospital now, you’ll find a number of immigrants who are nurses, particularly from the Philippines,” said Barry, who has previously been faulted for comments about Asians. “And no offense, but let’s grow our own teachers, let’s grow our own nurses, and so that we don’t have to go scrounging in our community clinics and other kinds of places, having to hire people from somewhere else.” The National Federation of Filipino American Associations blasted Barry’s remarks as “racist” and “bigoted.”
As President Obama continued his barnstorming tour to campuses in key election swing states calling for Congress to stop the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans from doubling, several bills were introduced to do just that, including one from House Republicans. The key difference among the bills is how they would pay for an extension of the 3.4 percent interest rate, estimated to cost about $6 billion in the first year. A bill from Senator Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, would pay for the extension by changing a tax loophole for so-called S corporations. A House version announced by Representative George Miller, a California Democrat, would cut oil subsidies, and a version from House Republicans, introduced by Illinois Republican Judy Biggert, would cut money from a portion of the health care law used for disease prevention and public health.
The bill represents a reversal for House Republicans, who had previously said they weren't interested in a short-term extension. Future debate is likely to center around what will be cut to pay for the extension, without which student loan rates will increase July 1.
Internet2, the higher education technology consortium, on Tuesday announced new master agreements with 16 companies in what the consortium is calling a major step toward eliminating the “transaction costs” that have made campus-based technology deployments unduly expensive for universities and vendors alike. Instead of negotiating individual contracts, Internet2’s 221 member colleges essentially will be able to opt in to a licensing agreement the consortium negotiated with more than a dozen providers of cloud computing services, including Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Desire2Learn.
The agreements are part of Internet2’s Net+ Services project, which it unveiled last year. The goal of the project is to work with technology companies to tailor versions of their cloud-computing services to match the needs of colleges and universities, then enable institutions to buy licenses for those services through Internet2, rather than negotiating with companies on an individual basis -- a tedious, redundant exercise that was driving up the cost of doing business for everyone involved, says Shelton Waggener, the CIO of the University of California at Berkeley.
Internet2’s negotiations on behalf of its members do not merely constitute a group discount deal, but a “new operating paradigm for delivering services to higher education,” says Waggener. Campus technology budget makers “cannot trim [their] way to success,” he says. “It’s about creating models that allow us to keep the dollars in the classroom and the labs and not spend them on lawyers for contracts or shipping costs or wasted capacity.”
A faculty-administration agreement has cleared the way for a faculty union (including both tenure track and non-tenure-track faculty members) at the University of Oregon. The union -- organized jointly by the American Association of University Professors and the American Federation of Teachers -- first submitted cards indicating that the professors wanted to unionize. The administration objected to the make-up of the bargaining unit, but negotiations resolved those differences, and the process of union certification is now expected to proceed. The new union is the result of a campaign by the AFT and the AAUP to jointly organize more faculty members at public research universities. Union organizers pledged to use collective bargaining to improve working conditions for all instructors in ways that would also improve the quality of education.
Robert Berdahl, interim president of the university, issued a statement in which he said that "we have acknowledged from the beginning that our faculty has the right to organize. We did not oppose the organization effort nor did we support it. We simply recognized the rights of those who chose this route." His statement added: "While the University of Oregon has a long history of working with collective bargaining units on our campus, a faculty union will present unique questions that must be addressed. This will be particularly true when we account for tenured and tenure-related faculty. For example, tenure-related issues typically involve peer review. The peer review process is an essential means by which universities have always assured the achievement of quality; it must remain central to how we evaluate faculty in the future, even with a union overlay."
As President Obama began a three-state tour of college campuses, making a speech in North Carolina about the importance of keeping the interest rates for federally subsidized loans at 3.4 percent, House and Senate Democrats said they intend to introduce legislation today to stop the rate from doubling and pay for the extension by ending a tax break for self-employed. The interest rate for subsidized loans, currently at a historic low, is scheduled to double to 6.8 percent on July 1 if Congress takes no action.
The bill, the Stop the Student Loan Interest Rate Hike Act of 2012, would pay for the lower rate -- which costs about $6 billion per year -- by limiting a tax provision that allows owners of certain kinds of corporations, called S corporations, to avoid payroll taxes on their earnings. About 4 million S corporations exist in the US, including many professional offices like doctors or law firms, the Associated Press reported. They do not pay corporate earnings taxes, instead redirecting the income to their owners, who pay income taxes on that money (but not payroll taxes for Medicare or Social Security). Under the Democrats' bill, such corporations making more than $250,000 per year and with fewer than three owners would no longer be able to avoid payroll taxes.
It was unclear whether the plan would get any Republican support.
- The Big Ideas in Higher Education Conference, The Jersey Alliance and Rutgers University, May 17-18, Piscataway, N.J.
- Global Advancement of Universities & Colleges Conference, Arcadia University, Xi'an International University, China Peking University, Voronezh State University, May 23-25, Voronezh, Russia.
- 52nd Annual Forum, Association for Institutional Research, June 2-6, New Orleans.
- 7th Annual University-City Relations Conference, International Town and Gown Association, Eastern Kentucky University and City of Richmond, Ky., June 4-8, Richmond, Ky.
- 2012 College Media Conference, Council of Independent Colleges and American Association of State Colleges and Universities, June 27-29, Washington, D.C.
These meetings, conferences, seminars and other events will be held in the coming weeks in and around higher education. They are among the many such that appear in our calendar, to which campus and other officials can submit their own events. Our site also includes a comprehensive catalog of job changes in higher education; please submit your news to both listings.
Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, may be making a play for the student vote, but Super PACs that back President Obama are fighting back against the effort.
In a conference call organized by the Romney campaign on Tuesday, Hank Brown, a former U.S. senator and former president of the University of Colorado, predicted a "dramatic turnaround" in the student vote in 2012, Bloomberg reported. "Four years ago, the president was able to fool a number of our college students into supporting his campaign and the result has been the highest level of unemployment for youth in our country's recorded history," Brown said.
The same day, two pro-Obama PACs released an advertisement based entirely on Romney quotes, in which he boasts of cutting state spending on higher education while he was governor of Massachusetts, expresses skepticism about federal spending on higher education, and tells students concerned about loan debt that they need to look for inexpensive colleges.
And perhaps more powerful than that ad will be President Obama's appearance on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," in which he "slow jammed the news" with a focus on student loan issues.
More than 300 professors from around the world have signed a petition asking Appalachian State University to reinstate Professor Jammie Price, according to a news release. Price's supporters planned to hand Provost Lori Gonzalez the petition on Wednesday. Price was suspended last month after showing an anti-pornography documentary in her sociology class. The video, which she checked out from the university library, included explicit scenes. Price was suspended after students complained that she had created a hostile learning environment by, among other things, not adequately warning them about the documentary's content. Price's advocates believe her suspension is a breach of academic freedom.
Chairs are transforming Harvard Yard. The Boston Globe reported that an experiment of placing brightly colored, portable chairs in Harvard University's iconic space has turned into a popular feature of the quad. While initial reaction was that the chairs "did not look very Harvard," students and visitors now use them not only to sit but to block the sun from electronic screens.