Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 23, 2013

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools has denied an appeal by Virginia Intermont College to hold on to its accreditation. SACS cited a number of financial issues in saying that the college should not continue to be accredited, and loss of accreditation would deny students eligibility for federal student aid. The college announced that it is seeking a federal injunction to block SACS from removing accreditation, pending further legal actions. College officials said that the institution was starting the semester with plans to continue operating.

 

August 23, 2013

After hearing testimony from University of California students who say their institutions ignored or mishandled their complaints of sexual assault, state lawmakers on Wednesday authorized an audit with "priority status" to examine how UC and California State University campuses address sexual assault. The audit will include the University of California at Berkeley, as well as another UC campus and two in the CSU system, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In May, students filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging that Berkeley inadequately investigated and reported sexual assault.

August 23, 2013

The City of San Francisco announced Thursday that it is suing the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges, charging it with using inappropriate measures in evaluating City College of San Francisco, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The commission has announced plans to revoke the college's accreditation next year. The suit argues, among other things, that the commission was punishing the college for its opposition to budget cuts at a time that commission leaders agreed with state officials that cuts were appropriate. Commission officials could not be reached for comment, but they have denied that they treated the college unfairly.

August 23, 2013

Boston College’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors has sent a third letter to the Rev. William Leahy, the president, asking that the administration appoint an independent committee to examine the circumstances surrounding the creation and conduct of the oral history collection known as the Belfast Project. And for the third time, the AAUP board members have yet to receive a response from Father Leahy, the college’s provost or its board, said Susan Michalczyk, the college’s AAUP chapter president.

The controversial legal fight over access to oral history records at Boston College has been ongoing since 2011, when the U.S. Justice Department issued a subpoena for all materials from the Belfast Project to be turned over to British authorities investigating a 1972 killing of a Belfast mother of 10. The project included interviews with former members of the Irish Republican Army and other militia groups who fought during the Troubles and gave interviews with the understanding that the records would be kept in confidence until their death. This June, a federal appeals court ruled that the college would only have to turn over 11 of the 85 interviews.

While the case has brought up issues of academic freedom, it has also raised the question of whether the college violated professional standards by conducting research without appropriate policies or oversight for the project, Michalczyk said. The Boston College chapter of AAUP executive board members sent a first letter to the Boston College administration in March of 2012, asking that a committee be appointed to investigate “the review process that led to university funding for the project” as well as “the extent to which the research methods and procedures were subject to institutional review and oversight.”

Dave Quigley, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences responded to the letter, stating, “As this is a matter now before the courts, we will be better informed at the conclusion of the litigation to determine whether the particulars of this case warrant review of our research policies and protocols."    

But a second letter to the administration from Michalczyk and the board brought more of the institution’s actions into question, including where the funding for the project came from. According to the letter, in the introduction to his 2010 book, Voices from the Grave, Belfast Project director Ed Moloney wrote that the bulk of the project was financed by Boston College. In a 2012 faculty forum, Father Leahy contradicted this statement and said all of the funding came from outside sources, Michalczyk said.

Boston College spokesman Jack Dunn said he was not even aware that the Aug. 20 letter was sent to the president. He said that since the case is still active before the courts, Dean Quigley’s April 2012 statement “remains valid.”

Michalczyk said the third letter — which simply reiterates the faculty members’ request for an investigative committee to look into the project — was prompted by an Aug. 6 blog post written by Moloney. In his scathing post, Moloney says he received “threats” from Boston College, and he concludes that “BC simply cannot be trusted. It is not a safe place to conduct research."

Faculty members took the “call to shun the university” from Moloney “very personally,” Michalczyk said, which is why she and other AAUP board members are once again calling for action from the Boston College administration.

August 23, 2013

Pennsylvania State University held a telephone press conference for reporters Thursday regarding its “Take Care of Your Health” wellness initiative. Administrators said the plan was an educated and well-intentioned attempt at managing skyrocketing health care costs – projected to grow by 13 percent by next year absent intervention – without passing that burden on to employees through higher deductibles and co-pays. Susan Basso, vice president for human resources, said Penn State’s average employee deductible is about $250, compared to a regional average of $1,500.  The university believes that its new plan will lead to earlier detection of illnesses, leading to better health outcomes for employees and lower health care costs in the long run for Penn State, she said.

Donald Fischer, senior vice president and chief medical officer of Highmark Health Services, Penn State’s insurance provider, said that several studies – included one funded by Highmark– showed that such measures led to $1.65 in health care savings for every $1 spent on wellness initiatives. An independent researcher involved in that study, Ron Z. Goetzel, director of the Institute for Health and Productivity Studies at the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University, said the study offered sophisticated controls and was published in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s backed up by additional independent studies, he said.

The call followed a media blitzkrieg of negative coverage of the wellness measure, capstoned by a Harvard Business Review blog post called “The Danger of Wellness Programs: Don’t Become the Next Penn State.” Faculty have expressed outrage at the program’s punitive surcharges of $75 to $100 for not completing biometric screenings, online wellness profiles and physical exams, and for smoking and covering spouses and domestic partners eligible for health insurance through their own employers. Some faculty also have raised concerns about the uploading of their personal medical information into WebMD online, a third-party electronic records system.

During the call, David Gray, Penn State’s senior vice president, said seeds of the plan were in place as far back as 2008, and that the Faculty Senate was briefed on the plan in 2011, before the Jerry Sandusky story broke. He called that a fact some in the media “missed."

Basso said that although other university wellness programs have focused on positive participation incentives, Penn State saw no cost savings after pouring “millions” of dollars into such incentives in the past. Surcharges were the most “transparent” way to drive participation, she said, rather than artificially inflating health care contributions for employees to then offer a discount. No personal information will be used for punitive purposes and the employee medical information recently uploaded to WebMD will never be available to Penn State other than in aggregate form, she said.

August 23, 2013

Entrepreneurship education, once considered a “niche program” has become a “hot” area of focus that is now expected in most M.B.A. programs and is primarily focused on experiential, rather than theoretical learning, said Sarah Gardial, dean of the University of Iowa’s Tippie College of Business and president of the MBA Roundtable.

Those two points were among the top findings in an M.B.A. Roundtable study, which sought to better understand what approaches MBA programs are taking to teach topics related to entrepreneurial thought. The study relied on data gathered from interviews with and surveys from 137 M.B.A. program directors.

The study found that 91 percent of MBA entrepreneurship programs use at least some form of experiential learning. The teaching in these programs focuses on an apprenticeship model of education, where the learning is largely hands on, and students are mentored and coached rather than taught. This is a sharp contrast from traditional business school methods of teaching, Gardial said. She said this report on entrepreneurial programs could provide a model for other areas of business school to create a “healthier balance” between theory and “doing.” The study also found that 85 percent of the MBA programs surveyed offered entrepreneurship, and a third of executive MBA programs are likely to have 75 percent or more of their students participate in entrepreneurship offerings.

 

 

August 22, 2013

The White House is keeping a tight lid on what might emerge during President Obama's two-day bus tour to address college affordability. But on the eve of those appearances, which begin today, sources said the president might seek to link federal financial aid to student outcomes, such as debt levels. Observers said that major proposal, which obviously would be controversial to many in higher education, likely would be accompanied by Obama signaling support for competency-based education, particularly programs that are not based on the credit-hour standard. However, the proposal's language was still being hashed out yesterday, sources said.

The New York Times also reported that the president's plan would involve linking federal aid to various student outcomes, likely with rating systems that compare colleges to their peer institutions.

Other parts of the Obama tour in upstate New York may be less controversial. In Syracuse, he is expected to highlight the "Say Yes to Education" program, which provides scholarships to students in participating schools in New York State with to attend public and participating private colleges, while also providing extensive support and guidance on preparing for colleges, The Post-Standard reported.

 

 

 

August 22, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Scott Schieman of the University of Toronto explains why greater work authority can undermine the health benefits that usually come with higher social status. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

August 22, 2013

The University of Notre Dame plans to start admitting students who lack the legal documentation to reside in the United States. To date, Notre Dame has not had an official ban on such students, but has treated them as international students, who must have student visas to enroll. That rule effectively made enrollment impossible for undocumented students -- who typically were brought to the United States as young children and have lived in the U.S. for many years. Announcement of the shift in policy appeared on social media Wednesday night and was confirmed by a Notre Dame admissions official.

Notre Dame's policy to start admitting undocumented students as domestic students reflects a significant commitment for the university because Notre Dame is among the small number of private institutions that pledge to meet the full financial need of all admitted (non-international) students. Since undocumented students are barred from federal student aid programs, and because many of them are from low-income families, their financial need could be large. The aid commitment, however, will only be made to those admitted, and Notre Dame admissions are quite competitive.

 

 

August 22, 2013

A new requirement that private colleges in Malaysia teach a compulsory course in Islamic and Asian Civilization Studies has been politically controversial. The move has been described as a step toward increasing "Islamization" of the country’s colleges, as The Malay Mail Online has reported, and some argue that the course should be an elective. Government officials reject the argument that non-Muslim students should not be required to take the course, saying that the course covers not only Islamic civilization but also Chinese, Indian and Malay civilizations, as the Star reported. The course is already required of all students in public institutions.

Foreign branch campuses in Malaysia are among the institutions that are subject to the new requirement. Christine Ennew, provost of the University of Nottingham’s campus in Malaysia, told Inside Higher Ed in an e-mail interview that Nottingham has taught subjects mandated by the Malaysian government since the campus's establishment in 2000: a 1996 law governing private education providers mandates that private institutions teach compulsory courses in Malaysian studies and courses related to Islam for Muslim students and moral studies for non-Muslim students. What’s changed, she said, is the nature of the mandatory subjects, including the introduction of the new Islamic and Asian Civilization Studies course.

Asked whether the government’s move raises concerns about issues of institutional autonomy, Ennew said, “We’ve been delivering the teaching of compulsory subjects in relation to broad, externally defined content for 13 years – it was a requirement that we were aware of when we made the decision to establish a campus in Malaysia. And Malaysia is not the only country that asks for certain subjects to be taught to students. The key point is that these subjects are outside of the core curriculum and so [the] government is not interfering in the content of our degree programs.”

 

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