Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 23, 2014

Patrick Harran, a professor of chemistry at the University of California at Los Angles, reached a deal Friday with California prosecutors under which he will avoid jail time in the laboratory accident death of one of his assistants in 2008, The Los Angeles Times reported. Harran faced felony counts related to alleged violations of state health and safety standards and could have served more than four years in prison if convicted. Under the deal -- opposed by the lab assistant's family -- Harran did not admit wrongdoing. He did pledge to create and teach an organic chemistry course for college-bound urban students for five summers, to perform 800 hours of community service and to pay $10,000 to a burn center.

June 23, 2014

The University of Pennsylvania board on Friday rejected a proposal that it sell endowment holdings in tobacco companies, as faculty and student groups have urged. A statement from David L. Cohen, Penn's board chair, noted that the university has established criteria for divestment, and Cohen said that tobacco did not meet a key criterion: being morally evil. "After thorough deliberation, the board has determined that the tobacco proposal does not meet the criterion of establishing that there exists a moral evil," the statement said. "The linchpin of any divestment decision at Penn rests on the interpretation of moral evil, which we would view as an activity such as genocide or apartheid. We fully appreciate and understand the concerns that were raised by those who advocate divestment, and we recognize that reasonable people may disagree on this issue. Nonetheless, it is the carefully considered judgment of the board that the manufacture and sale of tobacco products – which is widely accepted as legal, although significantly regulated, in this country – does not qualify as a moral evil." Cohen did say that the university would not seek to add tobacco holdings and that it would use its influence in companies in which it invests to promote responsible policies.

Chris Feudtner, a professor of medical ethics who has helped advocate for divestment, had this reaction via email: "Open and vigorous debate can lead to positive change. Today the trustees of the university took action to prospectively divest from tobacco holding, to use what holdings it retains to advocate for the cessation of tobacco marketing to minors and the curtailment of marketing in the developing world, and to avow the university's commitment to improving the health of individuals and the public by diminishing the harm caused by tobacco. While these steps do not constitute total divestment, they represent a victory for better aligning our institutional values and actions."

June 23, 2014

Officials of Birkbeck, University of London have confirmed a report in The Hindu that one of their scholars was unexpectedly denied entry to India to attend an international academic conference. Indian officials have not confirmed the incident or commented on it.

The statement from Birkbeck follows: “We can confirm that Dr Penny Vera-Sanso, Principal Investigator for research projects on poverty and ageing in India, at Birkbeck, University of London, was turned away at Hyderabad airport early on Sunday morning, June 8. Dr. Vera-Sanso had been invited to attend the International Federation of Aging Conference. She was refused entry by immigration officials without explanation. Dr. Vera-Sanso was traveling with a valid passport and visa issued to her for the purpose of developing further research on aging with India’s academic community, last used for a visit to India in March 2014. Dr. Vera-Sanso, a respected researcher who has undertaken research in India since 1990, has met with an official at the Indian High Commission in London since her return but the reason for the decision is not clear at this point. Birkbeck, University of London, is concerned that a member of its academic community has been excluded from India and has been unable to attend an international conference. Today’s academics work in an increasingly global environment and their contribution to the global production of knowledge is of benefit to all. It is vital that academics are given the freedom to associate with colleagues around the world and to share their research.”

June 23, 2014

In the latest "This Week" audio newscast, Arizona State University President Michael Crow and Seton Hall University's Robert Kelchen discuss the new Arizona State-Starbucks deal to promote bachelor's completion by Starbucks employees. And Juliet Lilledahl Scherer and Mirra Leigh Anson discuss their new book, Community Colleges and the Access Effect: Why Open Admissions Suppresses Achievement. Both panels discuss the issues with Casey Green, moderator of "This Week," and Scott Jaschik, editor of Inside Higher Ed. Click here to sign up for an email reminder about each week's program.

June 23, 2014

Students at the University of South Florida library will be able to borrow drones for academic purposes, CNN reported. The library will make the drones available. They can record video or shoot photographs.

 

June 23, 2014

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, a North Carolina Democrat, last week introduced a bill that would seek to encourage four-year institutions to identify transfer students who have earned enough credits for an associate degree but never received one. Through this process, which is dubbed "reverse transfer," students at four-year institutions can earn associate degrees they failed to receive before transferring. The bill would encourage reverse transfer by creating competitive grants for states.

June 23, 2014

The net price paid by students rose by an average of 10.5 percent from 2008 to 2013 at 33 independent colleges examined by The Boston Globe, faster than inflation, the newspaper reported. The Globe's study found that net price -- the amount paid by students after financial aid was awarded -- rose by at least 15 percent at 11 of the 33 institutions. College officials offered a range of explanations for the increases to the Globe.

June 23, 2014

Adjuncts at Hamline University have voted by a larger margin -- 72 percent in favor -- to unionize. They voted to be represented by the Service Employees International Union, which is seeking to organize adjuncts in various metro areas. The Hamline vote is part of such an effort in the Twin Cities area of Minnesota. A vote is expected soon at the University of St. Thomas there.

 

June 23, 2014

When George Reid left his position as executive director of the Illinois State Board of Higher Education, the announcement said he was leaving for personal reasons. But a state audit report released Friday revealed that Reid left amid concerns that he was using a state-financed rental car for his own personal needs, and that this pattern cost the state $6,500, The Chicago Sun-Times reported. The state report also revealed that when Reid was hired, the board knew that in a previous position at Kentucky State University, Reid had been found to be using university funds for personal items, such as a trailer hitch for a boat and a cat scratching post. The newspaper reached someone at Reid's home, but the phone went dead while the person was taking a message for Reid.

June 23, 2014

The Michigan Employment Relations Commission has denied a petition from the Graduate Employees' Organization of the University of Michigan, which represents graduate student instructors, to also be able to represent graduate research assistants. The commission found that the work of the research assistants directly advances their own educational career interests in ways that make their relationship with the university primarily one of being students, not employees. The GEO is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers.

Brandon Valentine, a graduate student and co-chair of GEO's Communications Committee, issued this statement: "We are not surprised that a board full of Governor [Rick] Synder's appointees would go out of their way to attack the rights of working people. This unnecessary ruling by MERC serves no other purpose than to insert the politics of an unelected body into higher education. GEO stands by the fact that GSRAs are employees of the university and deserve to have their collective bargaining rights recognized."
 

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