Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

August 2, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Vanessa May of Seton Hall University explains why domestic workers were denied the protections of labor law for most of the 20th century. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


August 2, 2013

Millikin University, in Illinois, is standing behind a psychology professor whose past has become the focus of press attention in Illinois and in Texas, The Chicago Tribune reported. An article that appeared last week in The Georgetown Advocate asked "What Happened to Jim Wolcott?" That's the name of a 15-year-old who in 1967 killed his father (a professor at Southwestern University), mother and sister at their home in Georgetown, Texas. The shootings took place after Wolcott, who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, had sniffed glue. He was found not guilty by reason of insanity and was institutionalized for six years. He then went on to higher education, earning a Ph.D. at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and becoming a psychology professor and chair of behavioral sciences at Millikin -- under the name James St. James.

According to a statement from Millikin to the Tribune, the university only recently learned of the past of St. James. "Given the traumatic experiences of his childhood, Dr. St. James' efforts to rebuild his life and obtain a successful professional career have been remarkable. The university expects Dr. St. James to teach at Millikin this fall," the statement said. St. James declined to comment to the Tribune except to say that he planned to return to work.



August 2, 2013

More than a year after its initial publication in Social Science Research, the debate over a controversial study concluding that children with parents who are gay are in some ways less successful as adults than their peers lives on – and is now directed at the journal’s editor.

In a post to his blog, Family Inequality, Philip N. Cohen, professor of sociology at the University of Maryland, calls for editor James Wright, professor of sociology at the University of Central Florida, to step down. Cohen says he’ll boycott the journal as a contributor and reviewer until Wright leaves the Elsevier publication and urges others to do so.

Cohen says that Wright relied on paid consultants on the New Family Structures Study for peer reviews and didn’t disclose that when the article was first published in June 2012. He bases his argument in part on the fact that Paul Amato, professor of sociology at Pennsylvania State University, has said publicly that he consulted the study’s author, Mark Regnerus, professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, for two days early on in the project.

Amato says in a recent post to Cohen’s blog that he disclosed that information to Wright, but Wright asked him to proceed with his review. However, Amato says his role in the study did not pose a conflict of interest, and he has reviewed other studies with which he has had some involvement. If there's no self-reported conflict, he says, journal editors in his experience don't care -- in part because reviewers are hard to come by.

It’s also been alleged that W. Bradford Wilcox, associate professor of sociology at the University of Virginia with former ties to the conservative Witherspoon Institute that funded the study, served as a reviewer. He also consulted on the study, according to documents made public by the University of Texas. Wilcox, who also serves on the journal’s editorial board, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In an e-mail, Wright said he has never publicly disclosed who reviewed the articles and doesn’t plan to. But he said that both “Amato and Wilcox mentioned their prior involvement with the Regnerus study in response to my initial reviewing request.  I asked, as I always do, whether this involvement precluded their writing an objective review. Both said no and so both were asked to proceed.”

Wright did not respond to a question about stepping down as editor. But he said there are no plans to retract the article, for which some, including Cohen, have called.

“[That] to my mind would require proof of fraudulent behavior, cooking the data, faking the analysis or something similar, none of which (so far as I know) has even been alleged, much less shown,” Wright said.

But Cohen said that instead of “seriously reviewing the paper, he essentially whispered into an echo chamber of backers and consultants, ‘We should publish this, right?’”

The criticism of Regnerus’s study came hard and fast and prompted a commentary package in the November issue of Social Science Research and an investigation by the University of Texas. Many said it was “bad science,” a poorly designed study that proved only what sociology already had established: that children from unstable homes have higher problem profiles later in life than children from stable, two-parent homes. Because many parents of children in the study had conceived their children in heterosexual relationships that ended when or before they came out as gay, the study did not have proper controls for studying the true effects of having parents who are gay, critics said.

August 2, 2013

College students may notice prices of items in their campus stores and coffee shops decrease  — or at least not get any higher — thanks to a U.S. district judge’s ruling  that said the Federal Reserve’s 21-cent cap on debit-card transactions is too high.

In an opinion on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Richard Leon agreed with retailers that the Fed’s limit on “swipe” fees that was set in 2011 did not come close to its own staff's recommendation for a cap of 12 cents. These fees are set by Visa Inc. and MasterCard Inc., the biggest electronic-payment networks, which collect the money and give it to card-issuing member banks.

The judge wrote that the Fed “clearly disregarded Congress's statutory intent by inappropriately inflating all debit card transaction fees by billions of dollars...”

Swipe fees are “invisible” costs for consumers, because they force merchants to hike up costs of their merchandise in order to pay transaction fees to the banks. College students are especially affected, because the merchants most hurt by the swipe fees are those that sell inexpensive products like coffee and snacks — all products likely to be found in an on-campus store, said Ed Mierzwinski, consumer program director and senior fellow for U.S. PIRG. Additionally, swipe fees are the highest costs, after personnel, for campus bookstores, said Richard Hershman, who is the vice president of government relations for the National Association of College Stores. If higher education retailers don’t have to give as much money to the banks as a result of lower swipe fees, then they have more money to “return back to students," Hershman said.

August 2, 2013

The Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a major supporter of entrepreneurial education, has released two white papers about the results of those efforts. The papers note that entrepreneurial education is no longer on "the margins of higher education," as many more institutions have started efforts.


August 2, 2013

Hugo Schwyzer, who teaches history and women's studies at Pasadena City College, is dropping his controversial course on pornography, The Pasadena Star-News reported. Schwyzer said that his online activities have been so controversial (he has until now written regularly on sex and gender issues) that he needs to step back and focus on his family. He said this was especially important because he recently had an affair. The controversial course is about pornography, and Schwyzer clashed with administrators over his guest lecturers (some of whom are stars in the adult film industry). He told the Star-News he didn't want a repeat of the hostility from administrators toward his course. "I'm exhausted by threats and controversy," Schwyzer said. "I need a break."

August 2, 2013

The University of California System bars those flying on the university's dime from using anything but economy class, unless there is a certified medical need. The Center for Investigative Reporting found that 6 of the 17 academic deans "routinely" are certified as having a medical need to fly business or first class, and that travel bills go up as a result. The article noted that one of the deans who does not fly economy is Judy Olian of the Anderson School of Management. The article said that she "has at least twice tackled the arduous 56-mile cycling leg of the long course relay at Monterey County’s Wildflower Triathlon, according to her expense records and race results. She described herself in a 2011 Los Angeles Times profile as a 'cardio junkie.' " None of the deans cited in the article would comment. A spokeswoman for the UCLA business school would not identify Olian's medical condition, but said that it does not interfere with her biking.

UCLA provided a statement defending the need for deans to travel: "While today’s times demand financial prudence, UCLA must make investments in travel and entertainment-related activities to continue its trajectory as one of the world’s top research universities and a national leader in securing gifts and research funding."

August 2, 2013

An article in Chemistry World explores the effect of new guidelines barring European Union funding for institutions in the occupied territories on Israel’s continuing access to European research and development grants. Of the eight universities in Israel, the new guidelines will likely have the most significant effects on Ariel University, which is located in the West Bank and was upgraded to university status last year despite protests from many Israeli academics. 

August 1, 2013

A new federal law requires colleges to step up their efforts to prevent sexual assaults, including through the controversial practice of mandatory training for students. A leading provider of training in financial literacy and alcohol education and prevention, Everfi, is today releasing HAVEN, which has been used so far by 700,000 students at 180 institutions and is designed to fulfill the requirements of the Campus Sexual Violence Elimination Act (Campus SaVE Act).


August 1, 2013

Larry Arnn, the president of Hillsdale College, at a legislative hearing in Michigan on Wednesday, referred to minority student as "dark ones," The Detroit Free Press reported. Hillsdale does not accept any federal funds and thus resists many data-gathering initiatives of government agencies. In his testimony, Arnn described a time he said state officials visited campus to see if he had enough "dark ones" enrolled. Many legislators criticized Arnn for the language.

Hillsdale released a statement later on Wednesday in which it said that Arnn was "sorry if such offense [over his language] was honestly taken." The the issue people should focus on, the statement said, was "state endorsed racism." The statement noted that Hillsdale was founded by an abolitionist in 1844 and has always barred discrimination based on "nationality, color or sex." The statement added that "[r]acial polarization is increasing rather than decreasing in our nation today," and that the solution to thise problem is to "return to the principles of the nation," such as "a colorblind Constitution."



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