Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 12, 2013

The president of the University of Michigan plans to go ahead with a controversial cost-cutting program, despite faculty objections. University officials had planned to move 275 staffers from across campus into a single building on the edge of Ann Arbor to save money. Faculty objections have already delayed staff moves beyond April.

Several hundred faculty voted Monday to back a longer delay, but President Mary Sue Coleman made clear on Wednesday her so-called "shared services" plan might be delayed but it cannot be stopped. “The Administrative Services Transformation — our efforts to accomplish routine business functions in a more efficient way — must and will continue,” Coleman said in a statement. “The question for me is not whether the university will mount a shared services program, but how to do so in a way that best meets the needs of the Michigan community.”

The faculty vote on Monday also admonished the administration for spending “tens of millions” on outside consultants. Faculty, in effect, said Michigan faculty and administrators should be experienced enough to run the institution without such paid help.

University officials initially hoped to save $17 million from the plan, but now that figure is down to as little as $2 million in the first year and $5 to $6 million per year in the near term after that. Some of that savings is offset by new costs, including $4 million to fix up the building staff are supposed to be moving to, $1 million a year to lease the building and nearly $12 million for Accenture to work on cost-saving efforts.

December 12, 2013

High school guidance counselors were trading emails and posting comments on listservs Wednesday about unexpected packages from the College Board containing stickers showing a cow. Many wondered why they were receiving the packages -- some were annoyed at the cost and apparent effort to promote College Board services. Others thought the College Board was showing a sense of humor. The source of the stickers? On the last PSAT, there was a question involving a cow that led to much social media discussion after the test.

 

December 11, 2013

Nearly 140 ineligible Southeastern Louisiana University athletes in all 16 sports were allowed to practice, compete and receive scholarships because of the institution’s failure to monitor its eligibility certification process, the National Collegiate Athletic Association announced Tuesday. The NCAA cited Southern Louisiana with a lack of control over its athletics department and issued penalties including a $25,000 fine, scholarship reductions and vacation of wins from 2005-9 for teams that played ineligible athletes. The mistake stemmed from a compliance coordinator’s misunderstanding of NCAA progress-toward-degree requirements and failure to verify those rules, the public infractions report says, and the subsequent failure of other staff to step in and correct the system.

December 11, 2013

More evidence that all that texting you see isn't about academics? Researchers at Kent State University tracked how much time students spend on their phones, and their grades. More use of phones is negatively related to grades, but positively related to anxiety. The research appears in the journal Computers in Human Behavior.

December 11, 2013

The college commission of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools took several institutions off of probationary or warning status at its meeting this week, including the University of Virginia, Fisk and Florida A&M Universities, and Greensboro College. UVa had faced scrutiny from the accreditor because of an effort by a cadre of trustees in summer 2012 to dump President Teresa A. Sullivan. SACS' president, Belle Wheelan, said the university had presented evidence that it had changed its governance policies to ensure that a small minority of the board could not bring about change in leadership. "The board has right to fire president -- in fact, it has the responsibility to do so in some cases. But it is the board that has that right, not a minority of the board -- that was the issue with them," Wheelan said.

Fisk, which has faced significant financial problems that most visibly led it to sell its high-profile art collection, came off probation because the SACS commission was persuaded that its new president had raised sufficient money and had it "heading in the right direction," Wheelan said. Florida A&M, which has undergone enormous turmoil and turnover in the face of a fatal hazing scandal, was taken off probation even though most of its top officials are serving on an interim basis, Wheelan said. Greensboro has resolved many of its financial troubles, the agency determined.

SACS placed or continued another set of institutions on warning status at the meeting, including several because of financial issues (Newberry College, Allen University, Midcontinent University), Norfolk State University (financial and governance issues), Hampden-Sydney College (failure to have sufficient representation of full-time faculty), and Erskine College. (Note: This article has been updated from an earlier version.)

December 11, 2013

College students from middle-income families are more likely to end up with student loan debt than their peers from both lower and higher socioeconomic backgrounds, a new study has found.

The research by Jason Houle, an assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth College, will be published in January in Sociology of Education. “Children from middle-income families make too much money to qualify for student aid packages, but they do not have the financial means to cover the costs of college,” Houle writes in the article. The study found that students from families earning between $40,000 to $59,000 per year racked up 60 percent more debt than lower-income students and 280 percent more than their peers whose families earned between $100,000 and $149,000 per year. A similar trend held for more affluent middle-income families earning up to $99,000 annually. 

December 11, 2013

Zhang Xuezhong, a law professor at East China University of Political Science and Law, said Tuesday he had been fired after refusing to apologize for publications championing constitutional law in China, The New York Times reported.

Officials at the Shanghai-based university did not respond to the Times’s requests for comment. However, Zhang obtained and circulated an internal university memo that accuses him of breaking university rules by “forcibly disseminating his political views among the faculty and using his status as a teacher to spread his political views among students.”

The memo cites an e-book he authored, New Common Sense: The Nature and Consequences of One-Party Dictatorship

The dismissal of Zhang, who had been banned from the classroom earlier this year, comes amid concerns regarding increasing restrictions on political speech in China and in the aftermath of the controversial dismissal of Xia Yeliang, an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party, from the economics faculty at Peking University. Peking maintains that Xia was fired for his poor teaching and research record, but many believe his criticism of one-party rule was the real reason.

 

December 11, 2013

Details emerged Tuesday about allegations that tests prepared for use at Florida International University were being stolen and sold. The university announced Monday that three people -- two of them students -- had been arrested in such a scheme, but released few details. Officials said Tuesday that the case involved hacking into a professor's email account, stealing four tests, and then selling them to students for $150 each, The Sun Sentinel reported.

December 11, 2013

Students in courses hosted by Coursera, the massive open online course provider, can now access lessons on the go -- as long as they have an iPhone. The MOOC provider launched an official mobile app on Tuesday, allowing iPhone users to browse courses, receive notifications from the courses they are enrolled in, and stream and download lectures.

Additional features such as in-video quizzes and private courses are not yet available. The official app is in development for other platforms, according to Coursera's website, but for now, Android users have to make do with several unofficial options. Coursera is the first of the larger MOOC providers to create an app, but competitors such as edX may soon follow. "We are working on a mobile solution for a global audience -- we think of mobile from the [inexpensive Android tablet] Akash to the iPhone," an edX spokesman said in an email.

December 11, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Martin Hasselmann of the University of Cologne discusses the genetic process that determines the sex of honey bees. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

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