Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 15, 2013

Southern Utah University has released a report from external reviewers who evaluated its English as a Second Language program after a former instructor raised concerns about lax standards for instructors and students and the toleration of plagiarism. The external reviewers, professors of ESL from Utah State University, interviewed eight instructors, four students, and two administrators, in addition to reviewing syllabuses and faculty C.V.s. The reviewers found a number of curriculum-related issues, including a lack of outcomes-based assessment (with many students passed through the program based in large part on attendance), a lack of clear course objectives, inconsistency across course sections, a lack of vertical integration within the writing and reading curriculums, and a general failure to prepare students to work with outside sources. Over all, the reviewers recommended that there be a greater focus on academic skills throughout the program.

The reviewers also recommended hiring full-time faculty with a master’s in teaching English as a second language and at least three years of experience teaching English for Academic Purposes. They noted that none of the faculty they interviewed had previous training in EAP and for those who did have prior ESL experience, it was on the K-12 level. As Inside Higher Ed reported in November, Southern Utah’s ESL instructors are part-time and paid $17.50-$20 per hour taught, with no compensation for time spent grading or preparing for classes.

Finally the reviewers wrote that the claim that plagiarism was tolerated in the program appeared to be unfounded: they note that while faculty members are concerned about plagiarism, other factors, including the reliance on inexperienced part-time faculty and the failure to integrate work with sources into the curriculum, may have contributed to incidents of plagiarism that have occurred. (They also write that “in the case of the students, it did appear that they knew there was an ‘issue’ surrounding plagiarism as they smiled when we brought it up.”)

In its response to the report, SUU indicated that it will take into account many of the suggested curricular changes as it undergoes a curriculum overhaul under its newly hired director, and that it does plan to take steps to hire some full-time faculty and to provide opportunities for current teaching staff to become trained in teaching ESL.

January 15, 2013

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- known for not speaking out during sessions of the court -- spoke on Monday, the first time in seven years of hearings. While the official transcript did not capture his words, recording only that Justice Thomas said the words "Well -- he did not -- ," court observers believe that he cracked a joke at the expense of Yale University's law school, which is where he went to law school, The New York Times reported. The Times explains how the case before the Supreme Court concerned the competence of death penalty lawyers, and some observers believe Justice Thomas quipped that a law degree from Yale could be a sign of incompetence.

January 15, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Priscila Caçola of the University of Texas at Arlington explains a condition that causes balance and motor skill impairments in many children. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 15, 2013

California officials will today announce a program in which San Jose State University and Udacity, a provider of massive open online courses, to create online courses in remedial algebra, college-level algebra, and introductory statistics, The New York Times reported. The courses will be offered to San Jose State and community college students. In the pilot stage, only 300 students will be enrolled, but the effort is seen as a way to potentially reach large numbers of students in a state where many public colleges and universities don't have room for eligible students.

January 14, 2013

John F. O'Brien, dean of New England Law, Boston, a free-standing law school, may be the highest paid law dean in the United States, and some wonder why, The Boston Globe reported. He earns more than $867,000 a year. Board members of the law school praise his work. And O'Brien noted that because the law school isn't attached to a larger institution (as most law schools are), he has to deal with issues other deans don't. But the Globe noted that tuition is going up at a time that demand for lawyers is going down. "It’s a remarkable sum to pay a dean of a law school, never mind the dean of a bottom-ranked law school," said Brian Z. Tamanaha, author of the 2012 book Failing Law Schools.

January 14, 2013

The University of Buckingham, in England, has ended a relationship in which it validated degrees for a Ugandan university due to concerns about pending legislation in Uganda’s parliament that would impose harsh prison sentences as a punishment for gay sex. In a statement released last week, Buckingham said it had suspended its relationship with Edulink, which owns Victoria University, in Kampala. “We have both become increasingly concerned about the proposed legislation in Uganda on homosexuality and in particular the constraints on freedom of speech in this area,” the University of Buckingham said.

Victoria University also released a statement in which David Young, the acting vice-chancellor, said “there are fundamental differences between the two nations’ respective laws regarding equality and diversity, which cannot be reconciled.”

The relationship between Buckingham and Victoria dates to the latter university's founding in 2011. According to the BBC, Victoria is attempting to make arrangements to transfer the approximately 200 students affected by the suspension to other institutions. 

January 14, 2013

New data on international student enrollments released by the United Kingdom’s Higher Education Statistics Agency offer insight into the effects of changes in visa policies, including the elimination of a post-study work option. The total number of international students in the U.K. increased by 1.6 percent in 2011-12, a slowdown from the 5.5 percent growth rate reported the year before.

There was a significant rise in the number of students from the U.K’s top sending country, China (up 16.9 percent). However, the number from India, the second-largest sending country, dropped 23.5 percent. There were also double-digit decreases in the numbers of students from Pakistan (-13.4 percent from the year before), Ireland (-10.5 percent), and Poland (-14.1 percent).

The U.K. experienced a small drop in the number of international graduate students (from 213,685 in 2010-11 to 209,710 in 2011-12). In a statement, Jo Beall, the British Council’s director of education and society, said the decline in international graduate enrollments was “of real concern as international students make up the majority of numbers in many post-graduate courses and research teams in the STEM [science, technology engineering and mathematics] subjects. Attracting the brightest and most ambitious post-graduate and research students is critical if the UK is to maintain its quality reputation for research and innovation.”

Beall added: "The UK’s overall growth in international student numbers of 4,570 is tiny compared to recent U.S. figures of a growth of 41,000 students over the same period. This suggests that we are beginning to lose out in an incredibly competitive market.”

January 14, 2013

The American Association of University Professors has updated guidelines for librarians to reflect their changing roles as teachers and researchers. The joint Statement on Faculty Status of College and University Librarians now includes language on technology in the library and recommends that institutions adequately compensate librarians for the 12-month cycles in which they typically work.

It also recommends that colleges and universities involve librarians in governance issues, such as curriculum development, said Deanna Wood, a reference librarian and associate professor of reference at the University of New Hampshire who helped draft the updated guidelines. That way, students won’t enter the library to do research and find “there’s nothing there to support it.”

The revised statement also reaffirms an earlier version’s call to consider librarians involved in teaching and research as faculty members and lauds their role as independent guardians of intellectual and academic freedom. Wood said while she and many fellow librarians at public land-grant universities are tenured faculty, the practice is rarer at private universities. It’s unclear what percentage of librarians are tenure-track faculty nationwide, she added.

A joint committee of AAUP and Association of College and Research Libraries members drafted the updates to the original, 1973 guidelines, which were approved by both groups last year.

January 14, 2013

While Lake Superior State University releases an annual list of words to ban, Wayne State University offers lists of words that need more use. This year's list includes "dragoon," "fantods," "mawkish" and "natter." Definitions, background and the full list are available here.

 

January 14, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, François Blanchette of the University of California at Merced reveals the math behind the warmth of a penguin huddle. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

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