Higher Education Quick Takes
The Russell Group, an invitation-only organization of British research universities roughly equivalent to the Association of American Universities, announced Monday that it is admitting four new members -- more than have ever been added to the organization since its founding in 1994. The new members are Durham University, Queen Mary University of London, the University of Exeter and the University of York. Prior to Monday's announcement, the Russell Group had 20 members. Times Higher Education noted that the gain for the four universities is a loss to the 1994 Group, which Russell's newest members left, and which represented other institutions not in the more exclusive group.
The hit comedy "Big Bang Theory," about a group of scientists, has had Stephen Hawking plot lines. BBC reported that Hawking has now filmed a cameo that will air on the show next month. In the show, he will interact with Sheldon Cooper, known for being socially awkward.
Peter Thiel is the investor, entrepreneur and philanthropist who likes to deride college as pointless. He even offers fellowships for talented students to drop out of or stay out of college. So what's he doing this spring? He'll be teaching at Stanford University, Reuters reported. His course, "Computer Science 183: Startup," is already full, and students are enthusiastic.
Some at Stanford question the idea of having as an instructor someone who questions the rationale behind college. Vivek Wadhwa, a fellow at Stanford's Rock Center of Corporate Governance, said, "It's hypocritical, but I'm not surprised.... The same people who go around bashing education are the most educated. What's he going to do? Tell students, 'When you graduate from my class, drop out right after that?' "
That may just be correct. Thiel, through a spokesman, told the news service of his course: "If I do my job right, this is the last class you'll ever have to take."
The Towson University chapter of Youth for Western Civilization, a group that says it promotes traditional American values but that many critics view as anti-minority, caused a furor on the campus last week. The Baltimore Sun reported that the group's members chalked "white pride" in several campus locations. "As a black student, those words scared and concerned me," said Kenan Herbert, president of the Black Student Union. "A lot of other students and I feel unsafe with this organization being on campus." The university says that the chalkings are protected by the First Amendment.
The University of California at Berkeley has demoted Diane Leite, formerly an assistant vice chancellor, for giving several raises to a purchasing manager, Jonathan Caniezo, with whom she was having a sexual relationship, Bay Area News Group reported. The manager's immediate supervisor, who reported to Leite, objected to the raises as inappropriate. Between 2007 and 2010, a period of deep budget cuts for the university, the manager's pay was increased in a series of raises from $70,000 to more than $110,000. Leite and her lawyer did not respond to requests for comment. Her pay was cut from $188,531 to $175,000.
The University of Calgary student body's new vice president for student life won her election after using an unconventional campaign poster. The Calgary Herald reported that Hayley Wade placed posters seeking votes on top of urinals in men's rooms on campus. Underneath a photograph of the candidate is the tag line "Great dick bro!" While Wade won, the Herald noted that her mother was not pleased with the campaign tactic.
Admissions officers at the University of British Columbia medical schools, one of Canada's top medical schools, report increasing pressure from influential parents of applicants to admit them, The Vancouver Sun reported. Quoting from documents the newspaper obtained, the article cited as an example an applicant who ignored repeated e-mail reminders about deadlines for various materials, but who was allowed to file them late -- after an appeal from her well connected father.
Union supporters in Michigan -- faced with a major setback at the University of Michigan -- are pushing for state constitutional protection. Legislation awaiting the governor's signature would classify graduate research assistants as students, not employees eligible for collective bargaining. If the legislation becomes law, it would undo years of efforts to organize the University of Michigan's research assistants. The Detroit News reported that in response to this and other legislative moves, Michigan unions (many of which aren't focused on higher education) are considering a drive to get a measure on the ballot in the state in which voters could add a provision to the state's Constitution declaring that no state law can limit the right of collective bargaining.
Open records requests by The Independent have revealed that British universities have found that 45,000 students cheated in the last three years. Officials blamed the sophistication of digital cheating techniques, the pressure to succeed in higher education and (from critics of the expansion of higher education) increased enrollments of students who may not have been well-prepared. Thirteen universities reported discovering finding, on average, more than one case of cheating a day.