Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, April 30, 2012 - 3:00am

The union for tenured and tenure-track faculty members at Macomb Community College, which has been independent of national unions since its founding in 1967, has voted to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers. Dawn Roberts, president of the Macomb Community College Faculty Organization, issued a statement in which she said: "MCCFO is a strong and effective union. But with the mounting attacks on unions and public K-16 education, it is imperative that we affiliate with the larger labor movement in order to remain viable and effective. AFT brings broad experience, effective representation, and technical expertise that will be of great benefit to our members."

Monday, April 30, 2012 - 3:00am

John V. Lombardi has a reputation as a higher education administrator for raising tough issues, attracting strong faculty and student support, and then clashing with his superiors. That was the pattern at the University of Florida and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. That pattern has now repeated itself at Louisiana State University, where he was fired as system president on Friday. Board members said that Lombardi had failed to build key relationships, The Baton Rouge Advocate reported. He had pushed to move beyond budget-cutting (which he said was equivalent to rearranging deck chairs) and to instead look at new sources of revenue (such as tuition increases and reallocating funds from a popular statewide merit scholarship program). Those views and others placed him in disagreement with Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican. (Editor's Note: Lombardi is also a blogger for Inside Higher Ed.)

Monday, April 30, 2012 - 3:00am

Chris Peterman, a student at Bob Jones University, has clashed with university administrators on a number of issues, and he says that he is being kicked out for, among other things, watching the television show "Glee," WSPA News reported. Students are not permitted to watch television on campus, but are permitted to watch off campus, and Peterman said he was spotted by another student off campus watching "Glee." When he was summoned to a meeting back on campus, he said that a dean told him the show was "morally reprehensible," and gave him demerits that had him on a path to suspension. A Bob Jones spokeswoman said that Peterman was not facing disciplinary action over "Glee," but she also said that watching the show would not be appropriate for a Bob Jones student. "We expect students to obey the student covenant in the spirit and the letter.  Our goal is to help him succeed, and we've done everything we can to help him succeed," she said.


Monday, April 30, 2012 - 3:00am

Several major college football programs in recent years have hired assistant football coaches (often at very high salaries) with the idea that they would ultimately succeed their current head coaches when they retire. Now the "coach-in-waiting" trend has extended to college basketball, where Southern Methodist University -- which this month hired 71-year-old Larry Brown to head its men's hoops program -- has hired Tim Jankovich, the head coach at Illinois State University, to serve as an assistant under Brown at a salary of close to $700,000, USA Today reported. Longevity in a specific job has never been Brown's strong suit, and at his age, many observers expect him not to be in the SMU job for more than a few years. Jankovich's hiring is expected to make it harder for the coaches of other programs to discourage would-be Southern Methodist players from enrolling there because of the expected turnover upon Brown's retirement.



Monday, April 30, 2012 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives passed a bill Friday to keep the interest rate on federally subsidized student loans at 3.4 percent for another year, but President Obama threatened to veto the measure because it would cover the $6 billion cost of the extension by cutting money in the health care reform law for preventive care and public health. Obama has seized the student loan issue as the campaign for the general election begins in earnest, touring college campuses and calling on Congress to act to stop the interest rate from doubling to 6.8 percent in July. 

Democrats in the House and Senate proposed paying for the extension through either changing tax laws that allow owners of some corporations to avoid payroll taxes, or through cuts to oil subsidies. Republicans previously said they wanted a long-term solution rather than a short-term extension, and passed a budget for fiscal year 2013 that allowed the interest rate to increase.

Friday's bill passed 215-195. 

Monday, April 30, 2012 - 3:00am

The fight is back on. Last week, El Paso civic leaders reacted with outrage to the news that Francisco G. Cigarroa, chancellor of the University of Texas System, had canceled a planned boxing match in the Sun Bowl, which is part of the University of Texas at El Paso, citing unspecified security risks. The reaction was intense in El Paso, with many saying that the chancellor was playing into unreasonable fears about safety in El Paso because of its proximity to Mexico. On Friday, however, Cigarroa reversed himself, and outlined a series of security steps that he said would "mitigate" the security issues associated with the event.

Before he reversed himself, the chancellor's decision led to widespread speculation about why he was opposed to the fight. And that speculation led to exposure for Academically Adrift, a book sharply critical of the quality of higher education, in the nation's boxing press. Bob Arum, promoter of the fight, said that he believed Texas might be punishing him for comments made by Richard Arum, his son and a co-author of Academically Adrift. The younger Arum, a professor at New York University, was recently quoted in The Washington Post suggesting that students at the University of Texas at Austin don't learn very much. Richard Arum told Yahoo! Sports: "This is a crazy situation.... It's hard for me to believe it's connected to my criticisms and the book. However, the timing of things is an incredible coincidence." Texas officials responded to the alleged link between the criticism and the boxing match decision by pointing to the official statement on the match, which cited only security issues.


Monday, April 30, 2012 - 3:00am

The National Collegiate Athletic Association cited the University of South Carolina on Friday for a failure to monitor its athletics program. The violations, which included impermissible recruiting, extra benefits and preferential treatment for athletes, primarily involved football players. Twelve athletes lived in a local hotel, considered a booster organization by the NCAA, for a daily rate of under $15 and nine received loans in the form of deferred hotel rent (the athletes signed leases to live there at about the same cost of local apartments, according to the public infractions report). The total rent added up to about $51,000. Also, two boosters, with whom the university self-imposed an “indefinite disassociation” as part of its penalties, provided $8,000 for recruiting inducements and extra benefits like cash and entertainment for football players and prospects.

The NCAA accepted the university’s self-imposed penalties, adding only a three-year probation period and a reduction of three football scholarships during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 years. South Carolina volunteered to give up three initial football scholarship for each of those years as well. Other self-imposed penalties include an $18,500 fine, limits of official visits in 2012-13 to 30 for football and 50 in men’s and women’s track and field, suspension of the head track coach from the 2012 Penn Relays meet, the withholding of an assistant men’s basketball coach from recruiting in December 2012, and the withholding of an assistant football coach from campus recruiting during January 2012.

Britton Banowsky, commissioner of Conference USA and chair of the Division I Committee on Infractions, said South Carolina’s aggressive handling of the case and its strong self-imposed penalties made this “one of the best cases” he has seen in terms of process. “When information comes to their attention, a university really has a choice to make. It either decides to fully develop an investigation and go above and beyond to the truth, or it tries to manage the information in a way to protect themselves,” Banowsky said in a call with reporters. “The university wanted to get to the truth.”

Monday, April 30, 2012 - 4:18am

In 2009, Georgia Institute of Technologies uploaded sensitive information about U.S. military technologies to servers, where the information could be accessed worldwide, even though that information was supposed to be blocked to non-Americans, Bloomberg reported. The incident prompted a rebuke from the U.S. State Department. The security lapse, which wasn't intentional, came when the instructor for a course for federal employees and contractors, asked that course materials be placed on a DVD, and Georgia Tech staffers instead uploaded the material to servers. The article uses the Georgia Tech incident as an example of the potential problems faced when sensitive course material is shared on American campuses with traditions of openness.


Monday, April 30, 2012 - 3:00am

Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican, vetoed a bill Friday that would have allowed the University of Florida and Florida State University -- research universities where tuition rates lag national averages -- to increase tuition substantially. In his veto message, Governor Scott cited concerns about the impact of tuition increase on students and their families, and a need for more information on whether tuition increases would provide an appropriate "return" for Florida taxpayers. Florida State and University of Florida had lobbied hard for passage of the bill, arguing that they needed more money to achieve the state's aspirations for them as research universities. The veto comes amid deep budget cuts to the state's universities. Following the veto, Bernie Machen, president of the University of Florida, issued a statement saying that he was "so very disappointed" in the governor's action. "This legislation presented the University of Florida with a pathway toward excellence and would have enabled the great state of Florida to have two world-class universities."

Friday, April 27, 2012 - 3:00am

Top Russian universities may be poised to use debt to finance major improvements in their facilities, according to a new report by Standard & Poor's. The Moscow Times reported that the S&P report follows a new Russian law giving about 30 universities new financial authority, opening up the possibility for them to use debt. The report found that Russian universities -- which have depended on government grants for facilities -- lag their international peers in investments in their physical plants.


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