Higher Education Quick Takes
Unite Here, a labor group, announced Tuesday that Harvard University was going to stop investing in HEI Hospitality, a company accused of unfair treatment of its workers (a charge it has denied). The Unite Here announcement said that Harvard was joining "a growing trend of universities across the country distancing themselves" from the company. The group released e-mail messages from Harvard officials to confirm the decision. But those e-mail messages said that the reason for the decision had nothing to do with the accusations made by Unite Here against HEI. An e-mail from the head of the Harvard Management Company said: "Harvard Management Company has decided not to reinvest in funds managed by HEI. Importantly, this decision was based on factors related to the HMC portfolio and its strategy and needs; not on concerns about HEI's practices."
Rick Santorum has returned to the issue of higher education. Appearing in Wisconsin Monday, he charged that "seven or eight of the California system of universities don't even teach an American history course. It's not even available to be taught." (Think Progress, a liberal organization, noted the statement, and also posted video of it.) One problem with Santorum's claim is that it's not true. The only University of California campus without American history is the system's medical and health professions campus. In fact, the University of California requires undergraduates to study American history. There is also no shortage of history courses (although some sections appear to be at capacity) at California State University campuses. At California State University at Chico, for example, this semester alone one can find courses being taught in United States history (several sections plus honors sections), America in the 1960s, post-1877 American history, the American Indian, Mexican heritage in the United States, the history of California, America's Vietnam experience, and the history of U.S. foreign policy. Other Cal State campuses appear to have similar offerings.
Digital artists who work for movie studies are furious about a new collaboration between Digital Domain -- a company that does digital work for many major movies -- and Florida State University, The Los Angeles Times reported. A new Digital Domain Institute will provide a three-year program of training in the industry (while students also complete bachelor's degrees at Florida State). During their time at the institute (for which students will pay tuition) they will have the chance to volunteer for Digital Domain assignments. While supporters say that the new program will offer students valuable experience, those who currently get paid for such work have a different perspective. One blogger wrote: '"A major [visual effects] company is now turning the routinely accepted practice of free labor into a major part of its business plan."
When the University of Kansas won the 2008 national title in men’s basketball, classes were called off for a day of revelry. Same thing happened when the Jayhawks won the 1988 championship. But this time, as Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little made clear last week in an e-mail to campus, that Tuesday-morning anthropology lecture was happening whether Kansas won or lost its Monday night game against the University of Kentucky. “I believe that our first mission as a university is to foster academic success and that is accomplished in part by setting high expectations for our students,” she wrote. “A national title would be worthy of celebration, but we are confident those celebrations can take place without disrupting KU's academic mission.” She also encouraged students to celebrate safely, and offered the campus arena as a venue to watch the game.
Kentucky President Eli Capilouto expressed similar sentiments in a message to his campus. A spokeswoman said a big game has never been cause to call off classes -- students were in lecture halls the day after national titles in 1996 and 1998.
Elsewhere, the practice of canceling class time to celebrate athletics has drawn criticism. When the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa canceled classes after winning the football championship this year, the Faculty Senate protested. But perhaps a protest is inevitable. In 1952, the Lawrence Journal-World reports, Kansas students marched on the chancellor's house demanding a day off after the college's first basketball championship. (He said no.) Following in those footsteps, an online petition by Kansas students calls celebratory off days a “university tradition” and had more than 725 signatures Monday afternoon.
One student told the campus newspaper he supported the chancellor's decision, but wasn't sure he'd be attending class Tuesday. "I will make a game-time decision," he said.
Since 2008, California State University has settled seven cases brought by whistle-blowers who brought charges of wrongdoing to the attention of superiors, and said that they were subsequently punished for doing so, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. The story focuses on Justin Schwartz, a lecturer at Cal State East Bay who reported that a colleague in the recreation department spent university funds to buy himself a $4,000 bike, gym passes and sailing equipment. The campus investigation confirmed the allegations. Schwartz is now out of a job (the university says that's because of budget cuts). The man he accused is still employed.
The Australian government today unveiled a new website designed to give would-be applicants (domestically and internationally) to the country's 39 public universities information about everything from their fees, faculty credentials and student graduation outcomes to their child-care services and campus pubs, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. Federal officials (sounding like their American counterparts) said they hoped the transparency provided by MyUniversity would "help drive universities to lift performance and quality." Campus officials told the newspaper (privately) that they are skeptical.
Israel's Council for Higher Education is expected to soon adopt a new rule that all of those named as university presidents must be professors, Haaretz reported. The move follows a controversy over the selection of a non-academic to be president of the University of Haifa. The new rule is not expected to be retroactive, so it would not invalidate the selection at Haifa.
Employers expect to hire 10.2 percent more new college graduates in 2012 than they did in 2011, the National Association of Colleges and Employers said in its spring outlook on Monday. That's slightly higher than the 9.5 percent increase that the employers projected when surveyed last fall, suggesting that their view of the economy is continuing to brighten. The job numbers are of increasing relevance to college officials as they seek to respond to growing concerns about recession-fueled student debt and to public pressure on them to report their job placement rates.
Canada's York University -- facing faculty opposition -- has announced that it will not accept a $30 million gift from a think tank to create a new teaching and research center. Professors objected to the idea of sharing decision-making over faculty hires with the think tank, arguing that principles of academic freedom and autonomy require such matters to stay within the university. A statement issued Monday by Patrick Monahan, the university's provost, reiterated administrators' belief that "this initiative held tremendous opportunity and promise." But the statement went on to say that "we know for this initiative to be successful, however, it required broad support from the university." The latest faculty vote against the plan "indicates that the necessary support is not present and, accordingly, we cannot proceed," Monahan added.