Higher Education Quick Takes
The latest deficit-reduction plan from the two men who led President Obama's deficit reduction committee in 2010 calls for changes to several programs important to higher education. The plan, released Friday by former Senator Alan Simpson, a Republican, and Erskine Bowles, a Democrat, would eliminate the in-school interest subsidy on student loans, end PLUS loans to graduate students, use a market-based interest rate for all student loans, and create a "two-tier" system of income-based repayment. The plan, which is unlikely to be passed in its current form, does not call for significant cuts to the Pell Grant.
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A faculty committee at Florida Atlantic University has found that the institution compromised academic freedom by banning the use of an exercise in which students were told to write "Jesus" on a piece of paper and to step on it, The Palm Beach Post reported. The use of such an exercise -- those recommended in a nationally recognized textbook, and though the intent is not for students to step on the paper -- set off a controversy in the state. Subsequently, the university said it would ban the exercise. Florida Atlantic administrators said that they supported academic freedom, but they refused to answer questions about their ban on the class lesson.
The idea of tiered tuition at California community colleges draws strong opposition from students, and the new system chancellor has come out strongly against the concept, but it keeps coming back. Legislation has been introduced to formally grant community colleges the right to charge higher tuition rates for extension courses offered in the summer or winter terms and to award credit for those courses, if they have been at capacity for the previous two years, The Los Angeles Times reported. Many courses have been at capacity in recent years, delaying students from completing their programs. Supporters of differential tuition say that it can provide revenue to pay for courses students need, but critics say that these policies effectively enable wealthier students to have greater access to education and run against the ideals of community colleges.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has rejected calls to fire the education and science minister, Dmitry Livanov, The Moscow Times reported. Livanov has attracted controversy for seeking to reduce the number of universities through mergers or closures and decrease the number of state-funded student placements.
"I believe that a minister whom everybody likes is a person who most likely doesn't cope very well with his duties," Medvedev reportedly said.
Mary Sue Coleman announced Thursday that she will be retiring as president of the University of Michigan in July 2014. Coleman started at Michigan in 2002. While there, she backed numerous major research projects and pushed hard to raise private funds to offset state support that was for many years in steep decline. She also promoted the hiring of more junior faculty members and the decision to be one of the founders of Coursera, a provider of massive open online courses.
Also on Thursday, Michigan announced its largest ever gift -- $110 million for graduate fellowships and to create a residential space where 600 graduate students will live in a space designed to encourage interaction across disciplines and research approaches. The residence will be named for its donor, Charles T. Munger, a close associate of Warren Buffett's.
Iranian officials have warned citizens there not to view a Farsi-language blog operated by Haifa University, The Times of Israel reported. The warning followed reports in Iran about the popularity of the blog, which says it has more than 100,000 visits a month. One warning sent to Iranians said: "Beware of this site; it’s meant to recruit spies for the oppressing Zionist regime."
Boston University trustees have given $560,000 to launch a scholarship fund in memory of Lu Lingzi, the graduate student who was one of three people killed in a terrorist attack on the Boston Marathon on Monday. Lu's family members, who are traveling to Boston from China, have endorsed the effort as an appropriate honor.