Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 20, 2013

Lawyers for Aaron Swartz's estate last week filed a motion to have the court that would have tried him release all the documents in the controversial case involving the crusader for public access to information. Many of those documents relate to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has been criticized by Swartz supporters for not trying to have the charges against him dismissed. On Tuesday, MIT President L. Rafael Reif released a statement indicating that MIT will release the documents, but with names redacted and only at the time that MIT finishes its review of the way it handled the case.

Reif explained his decision this way: "At MIT, we believe in openness, and we are not afraid to reexamine our own actions; indeed, it was with those values in mind that I asked Professor Hal Abelson to undertake his analysis following Aaron Swartz’s tragic suicide. But I believe that openness must be balanced with reasonable concern for privacy and safety. That is especially true in this situation. In the time since Aaron Swartz’s suicide, we have seen a pattern of harassment and personal threats. In this volatile atmosphere, I have the responsibility to protect the privacy and safety of those members of our community who have become involved in this matter in the course of doing their jobs for MIT, and to ensure a safe environment for all of us who call MIT home."

 

March 20, 2013

The American Council on Education on Tuesday named 50 faculty members and administrators to its Fellows Program. The program, in which participants work with executives at other colleges from those that employ them, is known as a stepping stone to top positions in higher education -- more than 300 fellows have gone on to presidencies. The new fellows may be found here.

March 20, 2013

A prominent professor at Columbia University's journalism school has sued the institution, charging it with misusing an endowment fund, The New York Times reported. Sylvia Nasar, co-director of the business journalism program and author of A Beautiful Mind, charges that Columbia was supposed to match a $1.5 million gift for an endowed chair Nasar holds, so that Nasar or others holding the chair would have funds both for salary and research. Instead, the suit charges, Columbia didn't match the funds and Nasar had to pay for many of her research expenses. Columbia has declined to comment on the suit, saying it does not discuss litigation.

 

March 20, 2013

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court's ruling that Oklahoma State University isn't entitled to refunds from a controversial insurance-based fund-raising campaign that didn't work out as planned, The Stillwater NewsPress reported. The idea was to take out life insurance policies on wealthy supporters of the university's athletics program, with the athletics program as the beneficiary. When the supporters didn't die on roughly the expected timetable, however, the university canceled the policies and sued the insurance company, saying it hadn't provided accurate information. But a district court judge and now the U.S. Court of Appeals found no evidence of fraud by the insurance company.

 

March 20, 2013

Students at Oxford University are protesting administrators' decision to dismiss a librarian because she let a group of students produce a Harlem Shake video in the library of St. Hilda's College, The Independent of London reported. The student librarian, Calypso Nash, reportedly lost her job even though she was not involved in filming the video, which was recorded in seven minutes at 11:30 p.m. to minimize disruption, according to the newspaper. Many of the student participants were fined for their roles, too.

March 20, 2013

A Washington think tank that focuses on the impact of government policy decisions on low-income students issued a report Tuesday aimed at documenting the extent of state budget cuts for higher education and arguing that they are hurting students and state economies. The report from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities largely mirrored the findings of recent studies by the State Higher Education Executive Officers and others.

March 20, 2013

Michigan lawmakers approved legislation on Tuesday that seeks to punish public universities for entering into long-term union contracts that some legislators view as an end run around the state's new right-to-work law, the Detroit Free Press reported. The Republican majority on the state House's higher education appropriations subcommittee pushed through a bill that would strip nearly $75 million in performance-budgeting funds from Wayne State University and campuses of the University of Michigan. The institutions struck multi-year contracts with labor unions that would put off for years the point at which they would give workers the ability to opt out of paying union dues, as the new right-to-work law would allow. “I think we’ve sent a serious message here,” Rep. Al Pscholka, the subcommittee’s chairman, told the newspaper. “This has to do with trying to circumvent state law. An eight-year contract doesn’t stand up for taxpayers. It’s very blatant what’s going on here.”

March 19, 2013

Going to college can provide students with the opportunity to abuse alcohol, but new research from Pennsylvania State University finds that, long term, going to college does not increase and may decrease the chances that in adulthood someone will regularly abuse alcohol. The research -- being published in the journal Structural Equation Modeling -- looks at characteristics of various cohorts of adults and then compares those who did and did not go to college.

March 19, 2013

The University of Texas Board of Regents, already accused of micromanaging the president of the University of Texas at Austin, has ordered him not to delete any e-mails, The Austin American-Statesman reported. Some regents have been gathering information on Bill Powers, the president, and are widely believed to want to force him out of office. Powers has backing from the faculty, student and alumni leaders. A spokesman for Powers said he was complying with the request. But State Senator Kirk Watson called the regents' order "extraordinarily disappointing," adding that "its breadth under the guise of a specific review begs the question for the motivation of the request. What’s the purpose? Why the global reach?”

March 19, 2013

In the middle of 2011, the regional accrediting agency for California threatened to yank approval from Trident University International unless the online for-profit institution could reassure the accreditor that it had overcome serious problems involving transfer students that raised questions about its integrity. Last month, the senior college commission of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges said it had been largely persuaded that Trident had turned the situation around. In a letter to the institution's president, Lucille Sansing, Ralph Wolff, president of the Western agency, said that after dropping TUI from "show cause" status (in which institutions are required to prove why their accreditation should not be stripped) in March 2012, the commission had taken the university off of probation last month, citing "significant progress" on a range of problem areas.

Trident, which was Touro University's online arm before being sold to a private equity firm in 2007, fell into disfavor with WASC after it failed to ensure that students transferring in had fulfilled their general education requirements and, more importantly, failed to tell the accreditor about the problem.

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