Higher Education Quick Takes

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

While many American colleges have created global outposts where local sponsors have paid big bucks for that to happen, Bard College has set up programs without such resources in numerous locations, without a hefty endowment. Today, the Open Society Foundation -- founded by George Soros and an organization that rarely donates to American higher education -- is announcing a $60 million gift to Bard to support the college's far-flung operations, The New York Times reported.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

Representatives of the three faculty unions staked out their respective positions on student learning outcomes assessment in a new paper released by the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. The report is being touted as the first time the three associations -- which represent some 450,000 members, many of whom are not assumed to embrace such assessments -- have gone on the record on the subject.

The three representatives -- Gary Rhoades of the American Association of University Professors, Larry Gold of the American Federation of Teachers and Mark Smith of the National Education Association -- each asserted the importance of involving faculty members on the local level in efforts to measure learning outcomes. They also warned against relying on the kinds of standardized tests that are used by states in judging K-12 schools for the federal No Child Left Behind Act, because higher education is an even more complex and diverse sector. "As inappropriate as these proposals are in K-12 education, they are even more inappropriate in higher education situations where the goal is not simply to learn content but also to develop critical thinking and interpretive skills," said Smith.

Rhoades argued that the extensive use of adjuncts undermines student achievement, and that a focus on productivity from policy-makers has hampered non-tenure track and tenured faculty members' ability to advise and provide mentorship that helps students -- who are increasingly demographically diverse. "The challenge is that producing better learning outcomes is an inherently labor intensive endeavor," he said.

Gold referred to the AFT's release last month of a policy statement on outcomes assessment and encouraged members to wade into an honest debate. "Genuine discussion of issues such as these has to begin with a willingness to 'hear a discouraging word,'" he said. "Front-line faculty and staff will not agree with every idea that comes down the pike, nor should they; but they and the AFT are strongly committed to engaging in constructive efforts to improve student success."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

The attorney general's office in Massachusetts has asked the University of Phoenix for documents and information going back a decade as part of a larger review into "possible unfair or deceptive methods, acts, or practices by for-profit educational institutions in connection with the recruitment of students and the financing of education," the university's parent company announced Monday. In the statement, the Apollo Group said its officials believed that the review stemmed from a coordinated effort by several states "considering investigatory or other inquires into recruiting practices and the financing of education at proprietary educational institutions." The Huffington Post reported this month that as many as 10 attorneys general were cooperating to look into for-profit higher education.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

The incumbent party that lost all its executive board seats in a bitter contest for the leadership of the union representing graduate students at nine University of California campuses says that the election was marred by so many allegations of impropriety that it must be done over.

"No matter who wins the election, it is critical that our members have confidence that the election process is fair and democratic," the group, United for Social and Economic Justice, wrote in a statement that is posted on its website. "And so it is with a profound sense of personal and professional obligation to the integrity of the union that we are protesting this election and requesting that it be set aside and re-run."

A request for comment from the winning party, Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, was not returned as of press time. The race featured allegations of voter intimidation, ballot tampering and ad hominem attacks, and required mediation to resolve.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

John O'Connor is taking a paid leave as president of the State University of New York Research Foundation amid allegations that he gave a no-show job to the daughter of the former president of the State Senate, the Associated Press reported. A state ethics commission found likely fault in the hire of the daughter of Joseph Bruno, who is currently appealing federal corruption convictions. O'Connor has said that he did nothing wrong and that the state commission's inquiry was flawed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday asked the Obama administration to weigh in with a brief on a request that the court overturn a Florida law barring travel by state university system professors to Cuba. The law was adopted by Florida lawmakers intent on distancing the state from Cuba, and an appeals court upheld the law as a justified education policy. But faculty members and civil liberties groups are challenging the law, arguing that it improperly has a state setting foreign policy. In other actions related to higher education, the court let stand an appeals court ruling dismissing a False Claims Act lawsuit brought by former faculty members against Chapman University, in California. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit had dismissed the lawsuit after a 2009 Supreme Court decision that resolved a technical issue involving how False Claims Act cases could be appealed. The case, which involved how part-time students were educated, was seen as having potentially significant implications for higher education accreditation.

Monday, May 16, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Michelle Budig of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst reveals the financial cost of motherhood and why mothers consistently earn less. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, May 16, 2011 - 3:00am

A group of public and for-profit institutions has agreed to collaborate on a project aimed at finding a common way to use the data they collect about students' academic progress to better understand how and why students succeed or fail. The project will be led by WCET, the WICHE Cooperative for Educational Technologies, and funded by a new $1 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is designed to bring student-level data (drawn from learning management and student information systems) from six institutions -- American Public University System, Colorado Community College System, Rio Salado College, University of Hawaii System, University of Illinois Springfield, and the University of Phoenix -- into a common format so they can be stripped of identifying information about students and merged into one dataset. The researchers say this will allow them to study the variables that affect student progress, and test the ability to merge student-level data from numerous and varied colleges in one place -- a goal that some policy makers have laid out as the holy grail of education research.

Monday, May 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Thai authorities last week charged Somsak Jeamteerasakul, a prominent historian at Thammasat University in Bangkok, with lèse majesté, a serious crime in the country, punishable by up to 15 years in jail, AFP reported. Jeamteerasakul has openly called for reforms of the Thai monarchy, but he maintains that by calling for reform (as opposed to elimination), he is not violating the law.

Monday, May 16, 2011 - 3:00am

A majority of Americans (57 percent) believe that the higher education system in the country fails to provide students with good value for the money they and their families spend, according to a survey released Sunday by the Pew Research Center. Three-quarters of those polled said that college is too expensive for most Americans. But among Americans who are college graduates, 86 percent said that college had been a good investment for them personally. Pew also released a survey, in conjunction with The Chronicle of Higher Education, of college presidents. (Inside Higher Ed released a survey of college presidents in March.)

The Pew survey is the latest to find public ambivalence about higher education -- with majorities seeing the importance of a college education, but much skepticism about college pricing and access. A survey by Public Agenda and the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education last year found that a majority of Americans believe that colleges mainly care about their own bottom lines instead of making sure that students have a good educational experience. But the survey also found that a majority of Americans believe a college education is essential for success.

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