The Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges last week declared a state of financial emergency, based on state budget cuts. The move authorizes any of the 34 community and technical colleges to use an expedited process for layoffs of tenured faculty members. A spokeswoman for the board stressed that the board wanted the colleges to have the option, but that this does not mean the colleges will use it. She noted that the last time the board took this action, only one college used the authority for layoffs of tenured faculty members.
Higher Education Quick Takes
A global survey of international students found that only 4 percent of them used social media in deciding to select a university outside of their home country, and only 6 percent were influenced by staff members at various campus fairs, Times Higher Education reported. The survey was conducted by i-Graduate, which conducts research and consults on international education issues. William Archer, director of i-Graduate, presented the results last week at a meeting of the European Association of International Education. He said that the findings suggest that many universities are spending too much money on social media, and in-person fairs.
Colleges and universities face major security flaws with Blackboard Learn, potentially leaving systems vulnerable to students who want to change their grades, or others seeking private information, SC Magazine reported. According to the magazine, which is based in Australia, university officials there had to threaten to issue a security alert to get Blackboard to do so.
Matthew Maurer, a spokesman for Blackboard, told Inside Higher Ed via e-mail that the article was correct that there was a security flaw, and that this problem was not unique to Australian universities. But he said that the article (which has been circulating among some American IT officials) had an "exaggerated fashion" in describing the problem. "There's not a single reported case of exposure, just the theoretical," he said. Maurer said that many of the issues were very quickly fixed, and that the company is now providing information to colleges and universities so they can see that there are not serious problems remaining.
He acknowledged that the magazine article played a role in the timing of an alert that went out last week to colleges that use Blackboard Learn. But he said that the company didn't notify everyone immediately only because the normal practice is that "we would never do so until the investigation is complete lest we spread bad information." He added: "We've had a lot of client questions in the last few days as you can imagine, but once they get their hands on the facts most have acknowledged that these are not huge issues."
Australian universities have been experiencing major security flaws with Blackboard Learn, potentially leaving systems vulnerable to students who want to change their grades, or others seeking private information, SC Magazine reported. According to the magazine, university officials in Australia had to threaten to issue a security alert to get Blackboard to do so.
The Internal Revenue Service formally declared last week that employers -- including colleges and universities -- can provide cell phones to workers for business purposes without the worker paying any tax on the benefit. The issue has been raised in IRS audits of several major universities, and colleges had been hopeful that this change was coming in the wake of a provision included in the Small Business Jobs Act of 2010 last fall, which removed cell phones from the definition of listed property, a category that normally requires additional recordkeeping by taxpayers. But the IRS declaration provides a formal measure of relief to college officials.
In today’s Academic Minute, Chris Impey of the University of Arizona explores ancient light in an effort to better understand the lifecycle of supermassive black holes. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.
A Canadian scientist has been stripped of a federal research grant after authorities found that his application materials and C.V. included claims that he had conducted research and published findings about the research -- even though the research and publications did not exist, Postmedia News reported. The Canadian research agency that took action against the scientist declined to identify him.
Greg Mortenson has declined this year's Grawemeyer Award for contributions to education. The University of Louisville makes the annual award and selected Mortenson -- author of Three Cups of Tea and a philanthropist who has promoted the development of schools for girls in Afghanistan and Pakistan -- just before questions were raised on "60 Minutes" about his book and about the management of his philanthropy. A university press release quoted Mortenson as saying that the award was a great honor, but that he was declining nonetheless. “I wish to humbly decline the Grawemeyer Award as a way to acknowledge the dedication and sacrifice of all those who have gone before us and those who continue to promote peace through education,” Mortenson said. The scandal over Mortenson's work has put many colleges in an awkward position because they assign his work and he is a popular speaker on campuses.
Following a legal hearing in which John Garvey, president of the Catholic University of America, was asked to defend his gradual elimination of coeducational dorms on the campus, the professor who filed the complaint against him told Inside Higher Ed that additional complaints against two archbishops affiliated with the university are forthcoming. John Banzhaf, a George Washington University professor of public interest law, had said in news releases leading up to Thursday's hearing of the District of Columbia Office of Human Rights that Garvey’s presentation would determine whether he would also charge Rev. Allen H. Vigneron and Rev. Donald W. Wuerl with aiding and abetting illegal sex discrimination under the District of Columbia’s Human Rights Act.
Father Vigneron is chairman of Catholic’s Board of Trustees, and Father Wuerl is the university’s ex officio chancellor and its liaison to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The D.C. statute prohibits discrimination in employment, housing and commercial space, and public accommodations on the basis of sex and other factors such as race, religion and marital status. If the human rights office decides that Banzhaf’s complaint is legally valid, it may begin an investigation.
Reached for comment Thursday afternoon, a Catholic spokesman, Victor Nakas, said, “We remain confident that the law is on our side and neither local nor federal law require us to provide co-ed housing.”
Ruth J. Simmons announced Thursday that she will step down from the presidency of Brown University at the end of the academic year. Simmons, who is in her 11th year as Brown's president, and who was earlier the president of Smith College, said that it was a good time to plan a transition for the university and for herself. She plans to resume teaching at Brown.
Simmons received much attention as the first black woman to lead an Ivy League university, and some of her work related to issues of race and history, particularly in appointing a panel to study to links between Brown's founders and the slave trade. But she also led successful campaigns to increase the size of the faculty, and to provide substantially more money than in the past to financial aid. In recent years, she has generally won high marks from the university for navigating the tight budget environment created by the economic downturn.