Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 6, 2013

Students and faculty members say that security officials at Providence College regularly engage in racial profiling, the Associated Press reported. Black and Latino students say that they are followed by campus security and required to produce identification in situations in which white students don't face similar demands. A college spokesman said that Providence has "moved swiftly" to deal with the concerns, and is requiring security staff members to go through "cultural competency" training.

 

May 6, 2013

Throughout the economic downturn, some pundits and politicians have suggested that there is limited value to a college degree. An analysis in The New York Times, based on the latest unemployment data, suggests otherwise. The Times noted that in April, when the national unemployment rate was 7.5 percent, the rate for college graduates was 3.9 percent. Further, the number of college-educated graduates with jobs is now up 9.1 percent since the recession started. The number of those with a high school diploma, but no college degree, who have jobs is down 9 percent.

 

May 6, 2013

Adjunct faculty members at Georgetown University voted late last week to unionize, becoming the third major group in the Washington area to join a burgeoning citywide organizing effort by the Service Employees International Union. Nearly three-quarters of the eligible faculty members who voted supported the union. Georgetown officials said they would support the decision of the adjunct faculty members to unionize.

Adjuncts at George Washington and American Universities are already part of the citywide bargaining unit, SEIU Local 500.

 

May 6, 2013

The Rev. Lawrence Biondi announced Saturday that he will step down as president of Saint Louis University once a new president is selected. Father Biondi has served as president for 25 years, but in the last year has been the subject of no confidence votes and considerable criticism from students and faculty members who have said he has ignored their concerns, and who have questioned his management decisions. Father Biondi and the board had until Saturday indicated no intent to change course. The university's announcement did not reference the recent controversies.

 

May 3, 2013

California State University's Channel Islands campus will be closed today after a local wildfire caused officials to evacuate students and staff, the Ventura County Star reported. By Thursday afternoon fire had spread to the campus northwest of Los Angeles, charring landscaping but damaging no buildings, the newspaper reported.

 

 

May 3, 2013

Columbia University's business school said Thursday that the billionaire investor Ronald O. Perelman had pledged $100 million, and that it would name one of its two new buildings on its new Manhattanville campus for him. The gift from Perelman, chairman and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings Inc, is tied for the largest the school has received; the other was a 2010 gift from Henry R. Kravis, for whom the other new building will be named.

May 3, 2013

The University of New Hampshire has terminated the contract of Marco Dorfsman, an associate professor of Spanish, after he admitted to altering a colleague's student evaluations. Provost John Aber said in a statement that the "decision reinforces UNH’s commitment to upholding and teaching ethical behavior." In an e-mail to the faculty, Dorfsman blamed an "emotional breakdown ... related to a personal tragedy in my family and other personal and professional pressures that created a perfect storm in which I acted out from a very dark and vulnerable place."

May 3, 2013

The University of Windsor sits just across the Canadian border from Detroit, yet Americans make up just 82 of its nearly 2,000 international students. So the Canadian institution is trying to woo those south of the border, by cutting its tuition in half for Americans, the CBC reported. Under the policy change late last month, American students will pay $5,000 a semester, down from the current $10,000 and significantly less than the $15,000 some international students pay. "The international relationship we have with folks right across the river is much different than the relationship we have with [other] countries around the world," Windsor's president, Alan Wildeman, told the CBC.

The university's billboards around Detroit encourage locals to "put the 'u' in neighbour."

May 3, 2013

WASHINGTON -- The White House science adviser criticized Republican efforts to curtail science spending that does not have a direct link to national interests and gave a spirited endorsement of the importance of political science and social science research and of peer review in a speech at a scientific conference here Thursday.

In remarks at the science policy forum of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, made a series of points related to Congress's vote last month to bar National Science Foundation funding for political science research for the 2013 fiscal year and, last week, a leading Republican lawmaker's personal questioning of the validity of specific social science projects financed by the foundation.

"First, the social and behavioral sciences -- which of course include economics, sociology, psychology, and anthropology, as well as political science -- are sciences. Researchers in these fields develop and test hypotheses; they publish results in peer-reviewed journals; and they archive data so that others can replicate their results," Holdren said. And while much of it is basic research, studies in the social sciences strengthen foreign policy and make hurricane warnings more effective, among other public policy objectives.

No scientific research should be judged based purely on its ability to serve national interests, since it is impossible to know which studies -- basic, applied, in physical sciences or social sciences -- will produce the laser or spur the next Google. 

"No system of deciding what research the federal government should fund will succeed perfectly, whatever the standard of perfection," Holdren added. "But the overall degree of success of the competitive, peer-reviewed grant process that is employed by the NSF, the NIH, and in much of the rest of the government’s R&D funding -- success measured by the pace of advance in basic science and the pace of the applied breakthroughs -- has made that peer-review-based process the gold standard, recognized around the world."

May 3, 2013

The philosophy department at San Jose State University is pushing back against the university's pioneering projects to test new online learning ventures.

department-approved letter not only challenges hype around online learning but personally calls out a Harvard University professor who teaches a massive open online class for his alleged culpability in what the department calls perilous online learning efforts. The department's letter to Harvard's Michael Sandel follows a suggestion from San Jose State's administration that the department look at using Sandel's popular edX MOOC on justice.

"There is no pedagogical problem in our department that JusticeX solves," the letter to Sandel says, "nor do we have a shortage of faculty capable of teaching our equivalent course. We believe that long-term financial considerations motivate the call for massively open online courses (MOOCs) at public universities such as ours. Unfortunately, the move to MOOCs comes at great peril to our university. We regard such courses as a serious compromise of quality of education and, ironically for a social justice course, a case of social injustice."

San Jose State Provost Ellen Junn said the faculty had the option of using the online course to supplement their normal course material in the same way professors use textbooks. “Faculty have the complete control and responsibility for using or not using whatever material they want, whether it be a textbook or video,” she said.

San Jose State is using another edX course to "flip" one of its engineering courses and is so far seeing better pass rates, according to university faculty. Junn said the use of material from providers offering MOOCs does not mean the university classes are themselves MOOCs because they are not entirely online and they are not massive courses -- indeed, they have the same number of enrolled students as traditional un-flipped courses. 

Sandel released a statement saying he is only trying to make material available to the public and making clear that he does not believe online courses are a substitute for personal engagement.

"My goal is simply to make an educational resource freely available--a resource that faculty colleagues should be free to use in whole or in part, or not at all, as they see fit," he said. "The worry that the widespread use of online courses will damage departments in public universities facing budgetary pressures is a legitimate concern that deserves serious debate, at edX and throughout higher education. The last thing I want is for my online lectures to be used to undermine faculty colleagues at other institutions."

The San Jose State letter is the latest instance of professors looking at and rejecting attempts by officials at traditional universities to partner with a new batch of online course providers. Amherst College's faculty last month voted down a proposal to join edX. Last week, Duke University faculty members, frustrated with their administration and skeptical of the degrees to be awarded, forced the institution to back out of a deal with nine other universities and 2U to create a pool of for-credit online classes for undergraduates.

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