Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 21, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Howard Lasker of the State University of New York at Buffalo explores how coral reefs respond to natural and man-made damage. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


March 21, 2013

Suzanne Miles has resigned as interim chancellor of Pima Community College, following harsh criticism from the college's accreditor of senior management under Miles and under the last chancellor, Roy Flores, The Arizona Daily Star reported. Investigators from the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools questioned hiring practices, contracting and a "culture of fear and retribution" for which the accreditor largely blamed top administrators. In a statement, Miles said: "Pima Community College is a wonderful, vibrant institution that will surely overcome our present difficulties. However, it has now become clear that my continued service as Interim Chancellor could be viewed as an obstacle to moving forward."

Miles had recently been named as a finalist to become president of Mt. Hood Community College, and this week she withdrew from consideration for that post.


March 21, 2013

Colleges and universities could educate more students or cut costs considerably if they asked professors to teach more courses, says a report issued Wednesday by Education Sector and the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. The report uses information from Education Department surveys on the teaching loads of tenured and tenure-track faculty members to argue that there has been a serious erosion in the average number of courses taught by faculty members. "From 1987-1988 to 2003-2004, the average number of courses tenured and tenure-track faculty taught per term ... declined 25 percent. It is hard to overstate how dramatic this decline has been. For example, liberal arts colleges tend to specialize in teaching, and yet professors at liberal arts colleges taught less in 2003-2004 than professors at research universities did in 1987-1988," the report says. "All of this matters because low teaching loads are extremely costly. At four-year universities, the decline in teaching loads has increased costs by $2,598 per student."

The report notes limitations on the data, particularly that this particular survey has not been conducted since 2003-4.

Faculty leaders questioned the findings and methodology. Rudy Fichtenbaum, president of the American Association of University Professors, noted that the report starts by stating that faculty salaries often make up a majority of college budgets. He noted Education Department data showing that faculty salaries make up less than 30 percent of costs at community colleges, and less than 20 percent at four-year colleges. Fichtenbaum said that the calculations of student savings were thus based on a false assumption about the role of faculty salaries in college budgets. Further, he noted that the salaries of full-time faculty members have been declining as a share of all instructional expenses.

Craig Smith of the American Federation of Teachers said via e-mail that the report "uses outdated data and a simplistic argument to blame faculty for the rising cost of college." Smith noted that colleges have shifted more and more instruction to non-tenure-track faculty members, who tend to be paid only for teaching and on a course-by-course basis. "This report appears to willfully ignore the increasing reliance on underpaid and under-supported contingent faculty and the resulting increased demands on the shrinking number of tenure-track faculty to handle responsibilities outside of the classroom," he said.


March 21, 2013

The University of Melbourne is a member of Coursera, one of the primary (and U.S.-based) platforms for massive open online courses. But an all-Australian MOOC platform was launched today, The Conversation reported. Several universities are already signed up to offer free courses through the platform, called Open2Study.


March 21, 2013

The University of Texas Board of Regents voted Wednesday to conduct a new inquiry into the relationship between the University of Texas at Austin and the foundation that supports its law school, The Dallas Morning News reported. The relationship has already been the subject of two prior reviews, which did identify some financial concerns, which have since been fixed. The new review is being called for by regents who are believed to want to oust Bill Powers, currently the president at Austin and formerly the law dean there. 

The Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education, a group formed by supporters of public higher education in the state, issued a statement questioning the motives behind the new review. "Unfortunately, today’s vote by the UT System Board of Regents has the appearance of a continued vendetta against UT Austin and its leaders," the statement said. "From all appearances, UT Austin has been open, transparent and cooperative in regards to the investigation into the UT Law School Foundation, fully complying with three rounds of inquiry — from system’s general counsel, from the attorney general and from the board’s Audit Committee. President Powers himself requested the Law School dean’s resignation. The suggestion that he or his office have not been transparent or cooperative is untrue."


March 21, 2013

If the National Collegiate Athletic Association shared revenue with players the same way professional leagues do, the typical football and men's basketball players from Bowl Championship Series conferences would earn an average of more than $714,000 and $1.5 million, respectively, beyond their full scholarships over the four years between 2011-15.

And players on the top-10 revenue-generating basketball teams would earn another $3.5 million during that time, according to the new study from the National College Players Association and Ellen Staurowsky, a sport management professor at Drexel University.

The study found that while the average full scholarship for Football Bowl Series conference players is worth $23,000, football and men's basketball players have a "fair market value" of $137,000 and $289,000, respectively. It also found that the average full FBS scholarship fell an average $3,285 short of the full cost of attending college during the 2011-12 academic year.

March 21, 2013

Colleges and universities that offer online classes across state borders have a long way to go before they comply with state authorization laws, though they are doing more, according to a survey of about 200 institutions with distance learning programs.

About a third of distance learning operations have not applied for any authorization to operate, though on average they serve students in more than 30 states or territories. Still, compliance efforts are up from 2011, when two-thirds of institutions had not sought any authorization.

Some institutions are deciding not to apply for authorization in certain states because of compliance efforts, confusion or cost. "As institutions have gained a greater understanding of the laws and regulations of each state, more have opted to bypass those states that they perceive as being  too costly or the approval processes too cumbersome, for the number of students they enroll in certain states," said Bruce Chaloux, executive director and chief executive officer of the Sloan Consortium, which helped put together the survey. 

About a third of the institutions don't bother to notify students about state authorization issues. Because of that, the report said "students may, unwittingly, get caught in the middle."

The federal government had once tried to require distance education providers to get authorization from each state they have at least one student in, but the government dropped that requirement and now institutions are bound, in theory, only by state regulations. 

March 20, 2013

Michigan lawmakers approved legislation on Tuesday that seeks to punish public universities for entering into long-term union contracts that some legislators view as an end run around the state's new right-to-work law, the Detroit Free Press reported. The Republican majority on the state House's higher education appropriations subcommittee pushed through a bill that would strip nearly $75 million in performance-budgeting funds from Wayne State University and campuses of the University of Michigan. The institutions struck multi-year contracts with labor unions that would put off for years the point at which they would give workers the ability to opt out of paying union dues, as the new right-to-work law would allow. “I think we’ve sent a serious message here,” Rep. Al Pscholka, the subcommittee’s chairman, told the newspaper. “This has to do with trying to circumvent state law. An eight-year contract doesn’t stand up for taxpayers. It’s very blatant what’s going on here.”

March 20, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Sarah Benson-Amram of the University of St. Andrews compares the intelligence of wild animals to those socialized to human contact. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


March 20, 2013

Lawyers for Aaron Swartz's estate last week filed a motion to have the court that would have tried him release all the documents in the controversial case involving the crusader for public access to information. Many of those documents relate to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which has been criticized by Swartz supporters for not trying to have the charges against him dismissed. On Tuesday, MIT President L. Rafael Reif released a statement indicating that MIT will release the documents, but with names redacted and only at the time that MIT finishes its review of the way it handled the case.

Reif explained his decision this way: "At MIT, we believe in openness, and we are not afraid to reexamine our own actions; indeed, it was with those values in mind that I asked Professor Hal Abelson to undertake his analysis following Aaron Swartz’s tragic suicide. But I believe that openness must be balanced with reasonable concern for privacy and safety. That is especially true in this situation. In the time since Aaron Swartz’s suicide, we have seen a pattern of harassment and personal threats. In this volatile atmosphere, I have the responsibility to protect the privacy and safety of those members of our community who have become involved in this matter in the course of doing their jobs for MIT, and to ensure a safe environment for all of us who call MIT home."



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