Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

July 2, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Thomas Albrecht-Schmitt, the Gregory R. Choppin Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry at Florida State University, discusses his work with atomic element number 98: californium. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


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July 1, 2014

(Note: A spokeswoman for the Education Department said Tuesday morning that the deadline remains in place and that the plan is due today.)

The U.S. Department of Education apparently has revised its July 1 deadline to reach an agreement with Corinthian Colleges on a plan to sell or close the for-profit chain's 107 campuses and online programs.

Corinthian is facing a severe cash crisis, due in part to a freeze the department last month put on the company's federal aid payments. Then, on June 23, the feds and Corinthian announced a short-term deal, through which the company received $16 million in released payments in exchange for agreeing to work on a phasing-out plan. However, an announcement on the department's website about that preliminary agreement has now been edited, having dropped "no later than July 1" for the final plan's deadline.

"Corinthian is expected to submit details of the plan to the U.S. Department of Education," the statement now says, "and we will update this announcement with the details of the plan in the near future."

The new ambiguity about Corinthian's fate is certain to draw criticism from consumer advocates, California's attorney general and a dozen Democratic U.S. senators, who have called for a halt to the company's recruitment and enrollment of new students. The department, however, has said it is seeking to minimize disruption to Corinthian's 72,000 students. The for-profit said it would struggle to find buyers if new enrollments are suspended. In addition, the federal government could lose as much as $1.2 billion on students' discharged loans if Corinthian shuts down.

The company also announced on Monday that its creditors had freed up an additional $9 million in funding. The banks had held that money after the department froze its payments.

Corinthian owns the Heald College, Everest and WyoTech chains. Experts have said that Heald, which holds regional accreditation, is likely the most valuable to a potential buyer. In a corporate filing Monday the company said its board had voted to sell Heald. The chain enrolls about 13,000 students at its 12 campuses, which are located in California and in other Western states.

July 1, 2014

The National Collegiate Athletic Association will reopen a 2011 investigation into academic misconduct at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the university announced Monday.

The original investigation concluded that the university had not violated any NCAA rules when it allowed no-show classes in African and Afro-American Studies to count toward students' athletic eligibility.

At the time, it was determined that -- as other students also took the courses -- there was no indication that athletes received more favorable treatment than non-athletes. No evidence was found that the students received grades without submitting some work even if the classes did not meet, the university said in 2012.

In December, Julius Nyang'oro, a former chair and professor of African studies at UNC, was indicted on a felony charge of accepting $12,000 for a course he did not actually teach. Earlier this month, Nyang'oro, who had not previously commented on the allegations, said he would now cooperate with an investigation, his lawyer told The News & Observer of Raleigh. An Orange County district attorney said last week that he was now considering dropping the fraud charges against Nyang'oro.

"The NCAA has determined that additional people with information and others who were previously uncooperative might now be willing to speak with the enforcement staff," Bubba Cunningham, UNC's athletic director, said in a statement.

July 1, 2014

Apple will this month continue the gradual expansion of its course management system, iTunes U. In an update expected to roll out around July 8, the company will finally add discussion forums, enabling students and instructors to discuss the course without leaving the app. Instructors will also be able to build courses directly on their iPads without having to use a computer. 

July 1, 2014

"Hiring Trends in Higher Education" is a compilation of articles and essays on the challenges and strategies of colleges in hiring the best talent, for faculty and administrator positions. Download the news and opinion articles -- collected in a print-on-demand booklet -- here.

This booklet is part of a series of such compilations that Inside Higher Ed is publishing on a range of topics.

Scott Jaschik and Doug Lederman, editors of Inside Higher Ed, will lead a free webinar on the themes of the new booklet on Thursday, July 31 at 2 p.m. Eastern. Sign up here.

 

July 1, 2014

Public higher education unions dodged a bullet Monday when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a group of home health care workers who mainly take care of their own family members in Illinois don’t have to pay union dues if they don’t want to. Plaintiffs in the case, Harris v. Quinn, sought the larger goal of ending exclusive representation and mandatory union dues for public employees generally, but Justice Samuel Alito in reading the opinion of the court said that the ruling applied only to this special class of “partial-public employees.” (The court, in a five-four vote, said that requiring these loosely affiliated state employees to pay union dues when they didn’t want to was a violation of their First Amendment rights.) Alito indicated, however, that the longstanding precedents in favor of mandatory union agency fees for public employees were based on “questionable foundations” – which many observers took to mean that the court would be open to revisiting the broader issue of open union shops at some point in the future.

William Herbert, executive director of the Center for the Study of Collective Bargaining and Higher Education and the Professions at Hunter College of the City University of New York, said a decision that overturned the closed shop concept in the public sector more broadly would have “destabilized” labor relations and collective bargaining nationwide.  But, based on Monday’s ruling, faculty collective bargaining is not immediately affected, he said. Advocates of agency fees -- which are required in 26 states, including Illinois -- say that they protect unions from "freeloaders" who would benefit from but not contribute to their cause, and keep the unions on sound financial footing.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement that while the court “upheld the importance of collective bargaining and unions to families and communities, let’s be clear that working people, who have aspired to the middle class and tried to make a better life for their families, have taken it on the chin for years. Stagnating wages, loss of pensions and lack of upward mobility have defined the economic distress they have experienced. Today’s decision makes it worse.”

July 1, 2014

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the federal government may not require privately held businesses to offer contraceptive coverage that violates the religious beliefs of the owners of these businesses. While there are several lawsuits by religious colleges making cases in some ways similar to Hobby Lobby, the business by which Monday's ruling is known, the ruling was very specific about applying only to certain kinds of for-profit businesses. While some religious colleges filed briefs backing Hobby Lobby, religious college leaders and lawyers said that they expected another Supreme Court case, likely in the next year or so, would determine how religious colleges are covered by the federal health-care law.

Via email, Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, said: "As with many court decisions, this one doesn’t necessarily lend itself to quick summarization, but it appears that today’s ruling does not have immediate bearing on nonprofit, religious-based colleges. We are encouraged that the court demonstrated a respect for the freedom of citizens to live and work in accordance with their religious convictions, but will continue to confer with legal experts on the potential effect of the decision on our nation’s Catholic colleges and universities.”

July 1, 2014

Timothy Flanagan, the former president of Illinois State University, was convicted Monday of disorderly conduct and sentenced to probation, the Associated Press reported. The conviction comes from a confrontation between Flanagan and a grounds-keeper at the presidential home. Flanagan quit the university presidency, after only seven months on the job, amid an investigation into the incident. While Flanagan denied that he did anything illegal, he gave reporters Monday a statement in which he said "I regret raising my voice during this encounter and my choice of words was ill advised."

July 1, 2014

The New Hampshire Higher Education Commission voted unanimously on Monday to allow the degree-granting authority of a troubled for-profit Italian institution to expire at the end of the day. St. John International University had long been plagued by low enrollments and legal claims of unpaid wages filed by former employees, raising hard questions about the oversight role of the New Hampshire commission, and, more broadly, the practice of cross-border accreditation or authorization.

The New Hampshire commission had issued a May 14 letter to the university asking it to address seven specific points, including confirmation that the university is meeting payroll (as verified by an accounting firm), evidence that all former employee claims had been settled and paid in full and/or that sufficient funds are being held in reserve in an escrow account to pay outstanding claims, confirmation that no new claims had been made against the university and/or explanations of any claims, evidence of payment of all costs related to a New Hampshire commission site visit, and submission of a financial report and financial and enrollment projections.

“They provided a status report which nominally responded to those seven requests, and today at the commission meeting, we went over each of the seven and the consensus was that they were not responsive and therefore there was not a compelling case to extend their authority to offer degree programs,” said Edward R. MacKay, the director of the New Hampshire Division of Higher Education. MacKay said his interpretation of the regulations is that since the degree-granting authority was simply allowed to expire, the university does not have an avenue for appeal.

SJIU's board secretary and U.S.-based lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday evening.

July 1, 2014

Faculty members in science and engineering at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor say the overall work climate has improved significantly since 2001 – but change took that long to manifest, according to a new report. The climate survey was first conducted in 2001 as part of the university’s ADVANCE program to promote women and underrepresented faculty members. The program includes a network for women scientists to prevent women in mostly-male departments from feeling isolated, as well as a mentoring program for new faculty members.

There was little improvement in overall climate reported in a subsequent 2006 survey, but in 2012 – survey data for which was only recently released – faculty members report statistically significant gains in the general climate and climate for diversity in their departments. Faculty members described a more civil work environment and white women and white men and men of color reported hearing fewer disparaging comments about women. All faculty members reported overhearing fewer disparaging comments about racial or ethnic minorities or religious groups. Women of color also reported higher levels of job satisfaction, and all women reported more satisfaction with the level of social interactions shared with fellow professors.

Not all data was rosy, however. Women still report more gender discrimination than their male colleagues, and faculty members of color report unchanged rates of racial-ethnic discrimination.

Janet Malley, director of research and evaluation at the university, said that change takes time is the project’s biggest takeaway. Improving climate is “a long-term project, so one shouldn’t perhaps expect to see dramatic changes in five years – but in 10 years, maybe.”

Malley said change takes a “concerted effort on the part of the administration and faculty,” but that Michigan’s ADVANCE program easily could be exported to other institutions wanting to tackle climate issues.

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