Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

September 12, 2014

Two professors in Canada faced physical attacks this week by students or ex-students. CBC News reported that a student walked into her former instructor's office at the University of Toronto and attacked him with a kitchen knife. The professor was cut but held off the student. At Red River College, in Manitoba, a former student was charged with knocking down and punching an instructor, The Winnipeg Free Press reported.


September 12, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Susan Meschwitz, assistant professor of chemistry at Salve Regina University, explains the health benefits of honey. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


September 11, 2014

The University of South Carolina Upstate, under legislative pressure, in April called off a planned appearance by a lesbian humorist. This week Wofford College, a private liberal arts institution in South Carolina, held the performance banned at South Carolina Upstate, an appearance by Leigh Hendrix of her one-woman show “How to be a Lesbian in 10 Days or Less.” The appearance was organized by Mark Ferguson, chair of the department of theater, who said it was important to support academic and artistic freedom that had been squelched at a neighboring public institution. Of the cancellation, he said, that "for my colleagues and me, it was an excruciating embarrassment for the state of South Carolina.”

September 11, 2014

Kentucky State University’s plan to kick out a quarter of its students for failing to pay their bills has paid off for the university.

About 452 of the 645 students the university dropped last week for unpaid bills have paid their balances in full or have worked out a payment plan with the university such that they are able to continue taking classes, Kentucky State announced Wednesday. The university’s current enrollment is now 1,881.

The public historically black college last week blamed students with unpaid bills for a $7 million deficit.  So those students -- about 25 percent of the college's population – were dropped, two weeks into the school year.

Interim President Raymond Burse said this week he wanted to thank students and parents who “answered my call for action and accountability.”

“Once students understood that the university was serious about their charges being paid up front, “ Burse said in a statement, “a large number of them found resources to meet their financial obligations to KSU.”

Breana Smith, the president of Kentucky State’s Student Government Association, earlier this week called the situation “unfortunate,” but said in an email Monday, “The university is doing all that it can to help students stay in school; but at the end of the day, the university has to collect tuition and fees in order to maintain its financial stability.”

The Faculty Senate also met earlier this week to discuss the financial conditions.

“We agreed that there needs to be a change in policy to prevent students from returning or enrolling if they are not meeting their financial obligations,” Faculty Senate President Peter A. Smith said in an email. “There were no comments from either senators or the other faculty present that disapproved of the president's action; the discussion focused on what role the faculty could play in restoring financial security to the University.”

Kentucky State is among the public HBCUs that have been struggling with enrollment declines, cuts to government financial aid, leadership controversies and heightened oversight.

September 11, 2014

On a typical day of classes, college students are still more likely to use a laptop than a tablet or smartphone, according to a survey on mobile device use sponsored by Pearson. The survey, conducted by Harris Poll, found smartphone use growing almost as common as laptop use, however. Nearly nine in 10 students surveyed, or 89 percent, used a laptop on a regular basis, compared to 83 percent who said they used a smartphone. Last year, 72 percent of survey respondents said they used a smartphone. Tablet use is increasing more slowly, with 45 percent of surveyed students saying they used one regularly -- up 5 percent from the year before.

September 11, 2014

Learning management system provider Blackboard has simplified how it licenses its smartphone app Mobile Learn. Colleges and universities can license the app for use across the institution, or they can leave it up to individual instructors and students, for whom the price for the app is $1.99. Previously, the app cost $1.99 a year, or $5.99 for life. The change appears to be a result of the company's announcement this July that it would bundle its products together in different solutions.

Note: This article has been updated to reflect how the licensing system has changed.

September 11, 2014

A former West Virginia University professor who had been nominated to lead its epidemiology department made up credentials for his resume, including his doctorate, and may now face questions about his published works, according to an investigation by NBC News.

NBC's report raises questions about Anoop Shankar and what it called his "history of fraud." Shankar, who left the university in December 2012,  was asked to lead a public health program just as the university was attempting to start a public health school and step up its quest for research dollars in a state with many citizens facing dire short- and long-term health problems. The report also suggested, in an even more bizarre twist, that two people close to Shankar falsely accused another professor of sexual misconduct because that professor was reviewing Shankar's credentials. 

In a statement, university spokesman John Bolt failed to address specifics but said the university "immediately and appropriately followed its policies, procedures and all applicable law to assess the circumstances" since questions about Shankar's credentials were first raised while he was still at the university. He added, "WVU's discoveries were shared with law enforcement and appropriate research funding agencies."  Yet, according to NBC, when Shankar was "forced" out under a cloud, the public was never informed about the situation. After WVU, Shankar moved on to Virginia Commonwealth University. But he is no longer there after it opened its own investigation following inquiries by NBC.


September 11, 2014

Faculty at Florida State University are continuing a months-long struggle against a well-connected politician who may become the university's next president. 

Faculty have long said John Thrasher, a state senator and former speaker of the House who is also chairman of Florida Governor Rick Scott’s reelection campaign, has benefited from his connections and back-room dealings. Now, Thrasher, whose name has been in the mix all summer, is one of four finalists. The Faculty Senate approved a motion Wednesday that called upon the Board of Trustees "not to hire Senator Thrasher as the next president of FSU. Senator Thrasher lacks the stated qualifications required for the position, whereas the other three finalists meet those qualifications."

Thrasher has a law degree, the other three finalists have Ph.Ds. They are: Richard Marchase, a vice president at Alabama at Birmingham; Michael Martin, chancellor of the Colorado State University System; and Michele Wheatly, the former provost of West Virginia University. 

September 11, 2014

Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who has been a leading critic of how the U.S. Department of Education oversees the companies it hires to service federal student loans, indicated Wednesday that she is not satisfied with the department’s effort to overhaul its agreements with those companies. Under pressure from Senate Democrats like Warren, as well as many groups representing students, labor unions, and consumers, the Education Department announced last month that it had renegotiated new contracts with the four main entities it hires to manage payments for federal student loan borrowers.

The new contracts change the payment structure for loan servicers, increasing the rate at which they are paid for accounts in good standing and reducing the amount of money they are paid for delinquent accounts. The servicers will also receive new bonuses if they keep their borrowers’ delinquency rates at certain levels.

At a Senate hearing Wednesday, Warren grilled an Education Department official over the new contracts, asking why the loan servicing companies would be paid more to manage the payments of borrowers in good standing. She cited analysis by Compass Point that showed that Navient, the loan-servicing business that was previously part of Sallie Mae, stood to receive an additional $20 million under the payment structure without making any changes to the health of their portfolio.

Navient has drawn particular scrutiny from Warren and other student and consumer groups. Federal prosecutors earlier this year accused the company of overcharging military service members. It entered into a multimillion-dollar settlement with the Department of Justice, in which it did not admit any wrongdoing.

William Leith, the chief business operations officer for the department’s Federal Student Aid office, said that while the department estimated that the servicers, in aggregate, would receive more money to service loans, the contracts were designed to help borrowers. He said that the Education Department was on track to complete a 120-day review of whether any of its loan servicers, including Navient, had illegally overcharged service member borrowers. That review will be completed in the next several weeks, he said. 

September 11, 2014

Scott Dalrymple, the new president of Columbia College in Missouri, is marking his forthcoming inaugural in an unusual way. He is organizing a student match on the popular sports video game Madden NFL. Then he will play the winner, and if the student wins, Dalrymple will pay for all of his or her textbooks for a year. Dalrymple issued his challenge in the video below, which moves quickly from "Pomp and Circumstance" to trash-talking about teams that the president (a Buffalo Bills fan) does not favor.




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