Higher Education Quick Takes
Pro-Israel students at McGill University are protesting a plan to give an honorary degree on Thursday to Judith Butler, co-director of the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California at Berkeley, The Montreal Gazette reported. Butler is a major figure in literary and feminist scholarship, but she is controversial because her activism for the Palestinian cause extends to support of the movement to boycott Israel, a movement that critics see as equivalent to calling for the destruction of Israel. Ilana Donohue, co-president of McGill Students for Israel, said: "She’s an accomplished scholar, but her views on Israel would be quite disturbing to many students. She doesn’t believe in a Jewish state and we want other schools to think twice before giving her awards because it offends students." Christopher Manfredi, dean of arts at McGill, said Butler is being honored for her scholarship, and that the university supports freedom of expression even if "comments are controversial or considered objectionable by some."
Many commencement addresses are forgotten by graduates and their guests as soon as the ceremony is over. But this year, the address at Wesleyan University is getting good online buzz by being built around an unlikely line: "[W]hat I’d like to say to all of you is that you are all going to die." The line, from Joss Whedon, the screenwriter and television producer, actually wasn't meant to be gloomy. Whedon, a member of Wesleyan's Class of 1987, talked about remembering (and not agreeing with) the message of the address by a somewhat cynical Bill Cosby in 1987, and his counter-message mixes idealism and realism.
"I’m confronted by a great deal of grand and worthy ambition from this student body. You want to be a politician, a social worker. You want to be an artist. Your body’s ambition: Mulch. Your body wants to make some babies and then go in the ground and fertilize things. That’s it. And that seems like a bit of a contradiction. It doesn’t seem fair. For one thing, we’re telling you, 'Go out into the world!' exactly when your body is saying, 'Hey, let’s bring it down a notch. Let’s take it down.' And it is a contradiction. And that’s actually what I’d like to talk to you about. The contradiction between your body and your mind, between your mind and itself. I believe these contradictions and these tensions are the greatest gift that we have, and hopefully, I can explain that."
The address goes on to focus on such contradictions and urges students to accept and thrive under them. "You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key — not only to consciousness-but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in. It’s not just parroting your parents or the thoughts of your learned teachers. It is now more than ever about understanding yourself so you can become yourself."
The full text of the address may be found here.
As the nation awaits a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on affirmative action in higher education, an analysis in The New York Times finds signs of lagging diversity in elite professions. The issue is important because one argument offered to defend the consideration of race and ethnicity by elite colleges and universities is that these institutions provide a pathway to prestigious careers. The Times analysis found that while about 12 percent of the population of working Americans is black, only 3.2 percent of senior executive positions at top companies are held by black people. Further, only about 5 percent of physicians are black and 3 percent of architects are black -- figures that have not changed in at least two decades. The article also noted that the share of lawyers who are women or from minority groups fell in 2010, the first decline since data collection started in 1993.
Thomas R. Kepple Jr., the departing president of Juniata College, has been chosen to lead the American Academic Leadership Institute, which trains future college presidents and other senior administrators. As the new president of the nonprofit institute, which derives funds from its for-profit subsidiary, Academic Search, Inc., Kepple will oversee the Senior Leadership Academy, which is sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges and prepares mid-level administrators for positions as provosts and vice presidents in all divisions) and Executive Leadership Academy (which prepares provosts and vice presidents to become presidents). The latter program is cosponsored by both CIC and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Both organizations receive support from the AALI. Kepple replaces Ann Die Hasselmo as leader of AALI. (Note: This item has been updated from an earlier version to clarify the relationships between the organizations.)
WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would create variable interest rates for student loans, but the measure is likely to stall since Senate Democrats strongly oppose it and President Obama has vowed a veto. Interest rates for federally subsidized Stafford loans will double to 6.8 percent on July 1 if Congress does not act, and both President Obama and Congressional Republicans had originally said they favored a long-term solution. But Congressional Democrats have opposed the House Republicans' plan, which would create interest rates based on 10-year Treasury bonds that would vary over the life of the loan, and want to sustain the 3.4 percent interest rate for another year or two so that Congress can consider the interest rate in the context of the broader renewal of the Higher Education Act.
The Obama administration had originally proposed a market-based solution of its own: as in the House Republican plan, rates would vary from year to year with interest rates in the broader economy. But, once a loan was issued, the interest rates would be fixed over the life of the loan. In a statement Thursday night, Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggested that the administration might support Democratic proposals to push the increase back. "Now is not the time to double interest rates on student loans, and we remain committed to working with Congress on a bipartisan approach to a long-term, fiscally sustainable solution that will help students and families afford higher education now and in the future," Duncan said. "Given the impending July 1 deadline, an extension that protects students against higher rates while Congress develops an alternative solution is another reasonable option."
The bill, H.R. 1911, passed by a vote of 221 to 198, largely along party lines.
Layoffs have eliminated the jobs of about 10 percent of the 1,400-person staff at the College Board, which runs the SAT, the Advanced Placement program and many other education initiatives. A statement from a spokesman characterized the layoffs as part of a process of shifting priorities, not of retrenchment. "As a not-for-profit organization committed to delivering opportunity to the millions of students we serve, we have a responsibility to bring sharper focus to our work. Moving forward, the College Board will focus our efforts on those programs that have the most significant impact on the lives of students in our care," said the statement.
The University of Tokyo is taking a series of steps to try to increase the intellectual rigor and international perspective of students, The Asahi Shimbun reported. The university is Japan's most prestigious, but educators there have long worried that students focus too much on gaining entry, and not enough on learning once enrolled. One reform will be the use of massive open online courses (MOOCs), to introduce students to new styles of education. Other plans include more courses in English and special grants to allow newly admitted students to take a year off for study abroad or other educational experiences.
The Student and Exchange Visitor Program released long-anticipated draft guidance about conditional admission and bridge, or pathway, programs on Thursday. Students admitted to the growing numbers of these programs typically have to complete an intensive English sequence or, in the case of bridge programs, a combination of ESL and academic coursework, prior to being fully admitted into a regular degree program. In such cases, many colleges have made it a practice to issue an I-20 -- a document that prospective students present in applying for visas – certifying a student's admission to a regular degree program even if that student starts out in ESL. However, the new draft guidance suggests they will no longer be able to do this, as an I-20 can only be issued for a program for which a student meets all admission requirements.
"School officials may agree to admit a student into a program of study pending satisfactory completion of admission prerequisites via another program of study (such as, a bridge program or English language program of study)," the draft guidance states. "However, a student must meet all admission requirements for the first program of study and then transfer to the next subsequent program of study upon successful completion of the prerequisites. At all times, the student must meet all admission requirements for a program of study prior to...issuance of the Form I-20."
The draft guidance also outlines acceptable standards for bridge programs, which some universities run in cooperation with other entities. The guidance would require all schools involved in delivering a bridge program to be SEVP-certified. And while a university may contract with another SEVP-certified institution -- such as an ESL school -- to provide English training or other nonacademic aspects of the program, all academic coursework must be governed by the university issuing the I-20.
"We are going through it very carefully. It is quite an extensive document," said Patricia Juza, the director of global programs at Baruch College and vice president for advocacy for the American Association of Intensive English Programs. "We’re impressed by the level of detail and the amount of legal foundation for some of the explanations."
"There are a couple of things that might require some institutions to change business practices slightly, such as with bridge programs, I don’t believe from the research we’ve done that all colleges and universities that have bridge programs issue distinct I-20s for those currently," she said. A few outstanding questions she has include how this new guidance would affect graduate students, specifically, and the impact on students who are admitted into a degree program but are found to need additional ESL training after arriving on campus.“ We’re not clear whether that school has to issue a new I-20" in that case, she said.