Helen Dragas, a University of Virginia board member, last year objected (when she was serving as rector, or board chair) to a course on Lady Gaga, The Washington Post reported. She sent an e-mail to university administrators noting an article by the Heritage Foundation questioning Gaga courses at U.Va. and three other universities. The e-mail is among many being reviewed as reporters and others try to sort out the board's push to remove Teresa Sullivan as president, an action from which the board backed down. The university's provost wrote back to describe the course as one focused on writing and culture. Dragas replied: "I appreciate that the course content can be defended," but she added that the course and the discussion of it "probably aren't helping us justify funding requests." She added that "opinions will, of course, vary on curricular content and direction, but there must be some internal arbiter of what is appropriate."
Higher Education Quick Takes
Coursera, the company that provides support and Web hosting for massive open online courses at top universities, announced Thursday that more than 1 million students have registered for its courses. The company now serves as a MOOC platform for 16 universities and lists 116 courses, most of which have not started yet. The students registering for the courses are increasingly from the United States. Coursera told Inside Higher Ed earlier this summer that about 25 percent of its students hailed from the United States; that figure now stands at 38.5 percent, or about 385,000 students. Brazil, India and China follow, with between 40,000 to 60,000 registrants each. U.S. students cannot easily get formal credit through Coursera or its partners institutions, but some universities abroad reportedly have awarded credit to students who have taken the free courses.
Monday is the deadline for briefs backing the University of Texas at Austin in its Supreme Court defense of the consideration of race in admissions. On Thursday, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill filed a brief, and included a new research study arguing for the educational value of diversity. The researchers, who looked at law school students, found that racial differences "contribute to learning because differences foster richer interactions and positive educational outcomes that benefit students, institutions and society," according to a summary by the university. "In addition, when a law school’s racial diversity was significant and group interaction was high, graduating law students perceived their law school as more open and respectful of diverse ideas."
Roger Clegg, president of the Center for Equal Opportunity, a group that opposes the consideration of race in admissions, questioned the study. In an e-mail message, he said: "The issues chosen to show how racial diversity correlates with perspective diversity are deliberately narrow (Anything about property? How about tax? ....), and of course law itself is a discipline in which such correlation is more likely than most others (Is there a Latina perspective in chemistry? Mathematics? Economics? Engineering? Russian? Etc.) Even if there are some educational benefits to having racial diversity in a class on "Race and the Law," that would not justify racial preferences in undergraduate admissions to the University of Texas."
Deep Springs College on Wednesday formally invited women to apply for admission to the class that will enroll in the fall of 2013. Deep Springs announced last year that it would admit women, but the college didn't specify a timetable. The college is a small, unusual institution that admits very small classes (currently, enrollment in the two-year program is 26, and there are no plans to increase enrollment with coeducation) of highly intelligent students who take intense courses while managing both the college and its farm in an isolated spot in the High Desert of California. Students who complete the program are admitted as transfer students to some of the most competitive colleges in the country. All students receive a full scholarship (worth $50,000 a year).
David Neidorf, the president, said in an interview that the college would make no changes -- "none whatsoever" -- in its academic or non-academic expectations of students. He said that the main decision the college faced, after deciding to admit women, was whether to go gender-blind in admissions or to aim to admit classes with roughly equal numbers of men and women. The college opted for the latter approach for now, with the goal of "critical mass," he said. He said he expected that at some point in the future, the college would become gender-blind in admissions.
Some alumni who disagree with the decision to admit woman have sued the college to block coeducation. The official invitation to women states that, due to litigation, "we may be prevented from admitting them to the college," but goes on to express optimism that coeducation will start in 2013. Neidorf said that much of the legal challenge focuses on a specific trust that was set up to support the education of men. He said that this trust provides only about 9 percent of the college's funds, so that Deep Springs plans to rely on its other financial resources until the litigation ends.
Some critics of coeducation at Deep Springs have questioned whether student romances may become more prevalent and potentially problematic at Deep Springs with both male and female students present in an isolated, closely knit environment. Neidorf said that there will be "no hard and fast rules," but that there would be discussion of the values of "self-conscious introspection" and "collective responsibility" with regard to the personal choices students make.
A group of engaged University of Virginia alumni released a public letter Wednesday calling for the university's board to be more forthright about why members asked President Teresa Sullivan to resign before reinstating her 18 days later. The letter applauds the decision to reinstate, but argues that the reluctance to fully explain why board members asked her to resign in the first place is nothing by "window-dressing and cover-up" and continues to impair the university's reputation. The letter states that the board failed at the basic responsibilities of corporate governance. "Reconciliation that does not analyze Board operations openly and comprehensively, in order to permit fundamental changes in the Board's operation and committee structure, and possibly the Board's composition, will ultimately reconcile nothing," they wrote.
The board is holding its annual retreat in Richmond next week.
The University of Minnesota and its men’s basketball coach were not negligent in their dealings with an aspiring assistant coach who said he left his previous institution because Minnesota had promised him a job there, the state Supreme Court ruled Wednesday. The decision overturns previous rulings from the district and appeals court that found in favor of James R. Williams, the assistant coach, and frees Minnesota of any damages.
Williams sued in 2007, alleging that he had accepted an assistant coaching job offer from the coach, Tubby Smith, but never got it. Minnesota maintained that Smith had interviewed Williams, but never reached an employment agreement because of Williams’s record of National Collegiate Athletic Association recruiting violations. The university also pointed out that it did not encourage Williams to resign from Oklahoma State University and put his house on the market. The court found that Smith had in fact told Williams that the athletics director would make the final hiring decision, so the university could not have misled Williams, as he claimed.
A New Jersey appeals court ruled that the state illegally denied student aid to a woman who is a U.S. citizen, but whose mother lacks the legal right to reside in the United States, the Associated Press reported. The court ruled that there was no reason to judge the student based on anything but her legal status to be in the United States.
Campus debit card company Higher One will pay $11 million in restitution to students in a settlement with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. over its fees, the FDIC announced Wednesday. The campus banking company, which specializes in providing debit cards for financial aid refunds to students, will also change the way it charges fees. The FDIC said Higher One violated federal law in several of its overdraft fee practices. About 60,000 students paid the fines between 2008 and 2011.
The biggest jump in student borrowing (by economic group) between 2007 and 2010 was from families with incomes of $94,535 to $205,355, according to a new Wall Street Journal analysis of Federal Reserve data. That increase may explain, the article suggested, an increased emphasis on costs when students from families in that group consider colleges.