Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 28, 2013

Faculty leaders at Marshall University are raising questions about athletic spending, particularly in light of budget cuts to academic programs, The Herald-Dispatch reported. Faculty members say that they have been promised for years that athletics would become self-supporting, but that it remains a serious drain on funds. Last year, the athletics budget was nearly $25 million, and 46 percent of that was financed through student fees or direct university support. Professors are asking why those funds shouldn't be used to minimize academic cuts. Pamela Mulder, a psychology professor, told the newspaper that athletics was helping "very few people and not remotely connected to the physical well-being of our overall student body." David Steele, Marshall's associate athletics director, said that the university spends less on athletics than many of its peers. He added: "We're part of the institution, and we have to work together to make it work."

 

 

May 28, 2013

Ninety-two percent of tenured faculty members at Green River Community College have voted no confidence in President Eileen Ely, The Seattle Times reported. The faculty members criticized an atmosphere that they say has cut them out of decision-making and numerous unilateral changes that have led to, among other things, significant turnover among senior officials at the college. Ely told the Times that she disagreed with the faculty statement, but valued the input of professors and hoped to have a "courageous conversation" with those who organized the vote. Faculty leaders said that they did not ask those without tenure to vote because they did not want to endanger their job security.

May 28, 2013

The Australian National University forced the student newspaper (threatening it with loss of funds and possible action against editors) to remove a satirical graphic about Islam, The Australian reported. The graphic was part of a series that had satirized various other faiths as well. This one referred to certain Muslim beliefs about women as constituting a "rape fantasy." University officials noted that graphics that mock Islam have set off violent incidents in numerous countries in the past. A statement from the university said: "In a world of social media, [there is] potential for material such as the article in question to gain attention and traction in the broader world and potentially harm the interests of the university and the university community." Woroni, the student newspaper, published its own account of the controversy, questioning the university's response. The student paper apologized to any offended, but also noted that the item in question was satire and was part of a series that satirized other faiths. The paper's editorial added that "Woroni is concerned about the implications of these events for freedom of speech and, more generally, the role of student publications. Woroni regularly features material that is challenging, and even at times confronting. By their very nature, universities are forums to critique ideas and beliefs. University newspapers – as a platform for students – should ideally reflect this role."

 

May 28, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Andrew Marsh of the University of Warwick reveals how nanodiamonds could help keep your energy costs down and your laundry sparking white. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 28, 2013

Pro-Israel students at McGill University are protesting a plan to give an honorary degree on Thursday to Judith Butler, co-director of the Program of Critical Theory at the University of California at Berkeley, The Montreal Gazette reported. Butler is a major figure in literary and feminist scholarship, but she is controversial because her activism for the Palestinian cause extends to support of the movement to boycott Israel, a movement that critics see as equivalent to calling for the destruction of Israel. Ilana Donohue, co-president of McGill Students for Israel, said: "She’s an accomplished scholar, but her views on Israel would be quite disturbing to many students. She doesn’t believe in a Jewish state and we want other schools to think twice before giving her awards because it offends students." Christopher Manfredi, dean of arts at McGill, said Butler is being honored for her scholarship, and that the university supports freedom of expression even if "comments are controversial or considered objectionable by some."

May 28, 2013

Many commencement addresses are forgotten by graduates and their guests as soon as the ceremony is over. But this year, the address at Wesleyan University is getting good online buzz by being built around an unlikely line: "[W]hat I’d like to say to all of you is that you are all going to die." The line, from Joss Whedon, the screenwriter and television producer, actually wasn't meant to be gloomy. Whedon, a member of Wesleyan's Class of 1987, talked about remembering (and not agreeing with) the message of the address by a somewhat cynical Bill Cosby in 1987, and his counter-message mixes idealism and realism.

"I’m confronted by a great deal of grand and worthy ambition from this student body. You want to be a politician, a social worker. You want to be an artist. Your body’s ambition: Mulch. Your body wants to make some babies and then go in the ground and fertilize things. That’s it. And that seems like a bit of a contradiction. It doesn’t seem fair. For one thing, we’re telling you, 'Go out into the world!' exactly when your body is saying, 'Hey, let’s bring it down a notch. Let’s take it down.' And it is a contradiction. And that’s actually what I’d like to talk to you about. The contradiction between your body and your mind, between your mind and itself. I believe these contradictions and these tensions are the greatest gift that we have, and hopefully, I can explain that."

The address goes on to focus on such contradictions and urges students to accept and thrive under them. "You have, which is a rare thing, that ability and the responsibility to listen to the dissent in yourself, to at least give it the floor, because it is the key — not only to consciousness-but to real growth. To accept duality is to earn identity. And identity is something that you are constantly earning. It is not just who you are. It is a process that you must be active in. It’s not just parroting your parents or the thoughts of your learned teachers. It is now more than ever about understanding yourself so you can become yourself."

The full text of the address may be found here.

 

May 28, 2013

As the nation awaits a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on affirmative action in higher education, an analysis in The New York Times finds signs of lagging diversity in elite professions. The issue is important because one argument offered to defend the consideration of race and ethnicity by elite colleges and universities is that these institutions provide a pathway to prestigious careers. The Times analysis found that while about 12 percent of the population of working Americans is black, only 3.2 percent of senior executive positions at top companies are held by black people. Further, only about 5 percent of physicians are black and 3 percent of architects are black -- figures that have not changed in at least two decades. The article also noted that the share of lawyers who are women or from minority groups fell in 2010, the first decline since data collection started in 1993.

May 28, 2013

Half of new college graduates are surprised by their levels of college debt, according to a new national poll of graduates by Fidelity. And 39 percent of new graduates said that they would have made some different choices had they fully understood the level of debt they were building up in college.

May 24, 2013

Thomas R. Kepple Jr., the departing president of Juniata College, has been chosen to lead the American Academic Leadership Institute, which trains future college presidents and other senior administrators. As the new president of the nonprofit institute, which derives funds from its for-profit subsidiary, Academic Search, Inc., Kepple will oversee the Senior Leadership Academy, which is sponsored by the Council of Independent Colleges and prepares mid-level administrators for positions as provosts and vice presidents in all divisions) and Executive Leadership Academy (which prepares provosts and vice presidents to become presidents). The latter program is cosponsored by both CIC and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. Both organizations receive support from the AALI. Kepple replaces Ann Die Hasselmo as leader of AALI. (Note: This item has been updated from an earlier version to clarify the relationships between the organizations.)

May 24, 2013

WASHINGTON -- The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday that would create variable interest rates for student loans, but the measure is likely to stall since Senate Democrats strongly oppose it and President Obama has vowed a veto. Interest rates for federally subsidized Stafford loans will double to 6.8 percent on July 1 if Congress does not act, and both President Obama and Congressional Republicans had originally said they favored a long-term solution. But Congressional Democrats have opposed the House Republicans' plan, which would create interest rates based on 10-year Treasury bonds that would vary over the life of the loan, and want to sustain the 3.4 percent interest rate for another year or two so that Congress can consider the interest rate in the context of the broader renewal of the Higher Education Act.

The Obama administration had originally proposed a market-based solution of its own: as in the House Republican plan, rates would vary from year to year with interest rates in the broader economy. But, once a loan was issued, the interest rates would be fixed over the life of the loan. In a statement Thursday night, Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggested that the administration might support Democratic proposals to push the increase back. "Now is not the time to double interest rates on student loans, and we remain committed to working with Congress on a bipartisan approach to a long-term, fiscally sustainable solution that will help students and families afford higher education now and in the future," Duncan said. "Given the impending July 1 deadline, an extension that protects students against higher rates while Congress develops an alternative solution is another reasonable option."

The bill, H.R. 1911, passed by a vote of 221 to 198, largely along party lines.

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