Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, February 28, 2011 - 3:00am

Republican leaders in the U.S. House Friday released temporary budget legislation that would end the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program and cut $129 million in earmarked funds distributed in 2010 through the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. The measure, which would extend funding for the federal government until March 18, is designed to give Congressional leaders and the White House more time to reach agreement on spending legislation for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends in September. A failure to reach agreement would result in a government shutdown, and the parties seem far apart right now, with the Obama administration and, to a lesser extent, Senate Democrats opposed to the deep cuts contained in the appropriations measure the House passed this month. The temporary measure introduced on Friday would cut $4 billion over all; $64 million of that would come from eliminating LEAP, which provides federal matching funds to states that use their own money for need-based aid. President Obama's 2012 budget would eliminate that program, too. Unlike the House's 2011 bill, the temporary measure would not cut funds for the Pell Grant Program.

Monday, February 28, 2011 - 3:00am

Belmont University has officially recognized Bridge Builders, a group focused on discussion of gay issues, after previously rejecting the organization's requests for official status, The Tennessean reported. The reversal follows an extended debate over gay rights at the Christian university -- after a lesbian coach was ousted in December. In February, the college amended its anti-bias policy to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Monday, February 28, 2011 - 3:00am

Two articles in the Los Angeles Times offer a devastating critique of how the Los Angeles Community College District has managed a series of massive bond issues (total of $5.7 billion) for construction in the community college system. While the articles note the construction of some key buildings to meet pressing needs, they also note example after example of poorly planned or poorly executed facilities. One article focuses on these flaws, identifying such problems as heating and cooling units installed upside down, uneven steps, defective plumbing and ceiling tiles that would not withstand an earthquake.

Further, the article details numerous other cases where major spending on planning and designing facilities ended up being a waste as officials decided not to build those facilities. Other examples of questionable spending in the article include funds for a feng shui expert ($250 an hour) and $350,000 on video production (including chartered helicopters for aerial shots) to produce public relations material on the construction campaign. Larry Eisenberg, head of the building effort, defended it to the Times, but e-mail messages he sent that were obtained by the the newspaper suggested that he too sees serious problems. In one e-mail, he wrote, "Our new buildings are fundamentally flawed.... We cannot control lighting systems, HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems, security systems, building management systems, etc. We have buildings that leak.... We are opening buildings that do not work at the most fundamental level."

The second article details donations by companies that have won contracts for the facilities to the campaigns of those elected as trustees of the district and to the campaigns on behalf of the bond measures.

Monday, February 28, 2011 - 3:00am

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has placed the University of California at Berkeley on two years’ probation for recruiting violations in its men’s basketball program. A Division I Committee on Infractions report released Friday reveals that the men’s basketball coaching staff made 365 “impermissible recruiting phone calls.” The report notes that the violations began shortly after the hiring of Coach Mike Montgomery and his staff in the spring of 2008. The university’s compliance office “acted quickly” to train the new coach and his staff about NCAA rules and “had processes in place to monitor recruiting telephone calls.” Reviewing these records in the fall of 2008, the compliance officer discovered these violations. In addition to the two years’ probation for the university, the NCAA limited to five the number of official paid visits the men’s basketball team can offer recruits for the 2011-12 and 2012-13 academic years.

Friday, February 25, 2011 - 3:00am

A Louisiana judge has refused to block a study for the Louisiana Board of Regents on the idea of merging Southern University of New Orleans and the University of New Orleans, The Advocate reported. Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, has called for consideration of the merger -- an idea strongly opposed by advocates of the historically black Southern system. Some of those supporters charge that the lack of diversity on the Board of Regents makes the body unconstitutional -- an argument rejected by the judge.

Friday, February 25, 2011 - 3:00am

A lawsuit against Texas Christian University -- which has been enjoying national publicity over the success of its athletics programs -- charges the university with fraud for failing to protect students from athletes with patterns of inappropriate and dangerous behavior. The Associated Press reported on the suit, filed by a woman who says three university athletes raped her in 2006. Records in the suit indicate that two of the athletes were allowed to remain on campus despite numerous violations of university rules, and that the instructor of one of the athletes considered him "dangerous."

Friday, February 25, 2011 - 3:00am

A federal appeals court ruled Thursday that state immunity bars a national pharmacy association from suing the University System of Georgia for copyright violations. The ruling, by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, came in a long-running legal fight in which the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy is seeking redress for the alleged misappropriation by a University of Georgia professor of material from the association's licensing examinations. While legal claims against the professor are still pending, the 11th Circuit panel concluded that the Board of Regents of the university system is immune from suit.

Friday, February 25, 2011 - 3:00am

Nearly 2,000 applicants to Virginia's Christopher Newport University are the unlucky ones this year: recipients of an e-mail telling them they had been accepted when they actually had not (at least not yet), The Daily Press of Newport News reported. The e-mails, which went out Wednesday bearing the subject line "Welcome to CNU!," were intended to encourage students who had already received paper acceptances to attend orientation. But because of an error, the notices went to a group of presumably anxious students who are awaiting word from Christopher Newport, and will not get their answers until March 15, the newspaper reported. "We understand that for some students this is a highly emotional time, and we would like to express our regret for any additional anxiety this may have caused," Maury O'Connell, vice president for student services, said in a followup e-mail that went out Wednesday, four hours after the originals.

Friday, February 25, 2011 - 3:00am

Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin, a Republican, is trying to end the newly gained right of faculty members at the University of Wisconsin System to unionize. But faculty members at the university's La Crosse campus voted this week to unionize, following similar votes by professors at the Eau Claire and Superior campuses. Faculty members at the campuses have voted to affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers, which also has organizing drives going elsewhere in the system. Union organizers said that the governor's push to end collective bargaining rights has made made faculty members more committed to the union. At La Crosse, the vote for collective bargaining was 249 to 37.

Friday, February 25, 2011 - 3:00am

The U.S. Education Department has vowed to revamp a program designed to forgive the student loan debt of disabled borrowers after an investigation by the nonprofit journalism entity ProPublica found significant abuse in the program. ProPublica, which conducted the investigation with the Center for Public Integrity, reported Thursday that the Education Department had committed to making a series of changes aimed at improving responsiveness to borrowers, among other things.

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