Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Major expansion plans for public higher education are relatively rare in these frugal times, but Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy on Tuesday proposed an $864 million expansion plan for the University of Connecticut Health Center, The Hartford Courant reported. The plan -- which would rely on a mix of bonds, private fund raising and other revenue sources -- would expand the enrollments of the university's medical and dental schools, add faculty slots, and create additional facilities. The governor stressed the job-creation aspects of the plan -- both the construction jobs in the short term and biomedical jobs in the long term.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

The Institute for a Competitive Workforce at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce issued a report Monday that explored the potential for innovation in higher education, mostly in the for-profit sector, and what it sees as the barriers, including federal regulation, constrained state budgets and accreditation policies. The report, "College 2.0: Transforming Higher Education through Greater Innovation and Smarter Regulation," promotes for-profit colleges and partnerships as well as some nonprofit innovations as solutions to increasing productivity, effectiveness and cost-efficiency and reaching the goal of being the world's best-educated country by 2020. It singles out several new ventures as examples, including StraighterLine, the company that offers online courses at a low price, and Western Governors University, the online competency-based nonprofit that state university systems in Indiana and Washington have recently embraced.

Margaret Spellings, the U.S. secretary of education under President George W. Bush who now serves as an adviser to the Chamber of Commerce, said the report, and an accompanying forum Monday, during which executives of for-profit colleges and others shared their thoughts on the role of for-profit institutions in innovation, were the beginning of an increased effort by the chamber to increase its visibility and activism on higher education issues.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

A controversial plan to merge Southern University at New Orleans and the University of New Orleans appears to be headed to a very close vote this week in Louisiana's House of Representatives. The Times-Picayune reported that legislative leaders postponed a vote from Monday to Wednesday because a few lawmakers who support the merger were not present, and officials believe those votes could give them the two-thirds majority that the legislation needs to pass. The idea of a merger has been strongly backed by Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, and strongly opposed by advocates for Southern, a historically black institution.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Michael Stefanone of the State University of New York at Buffalo explains how the photos you post on social media sites influence how others see you, and in a way that is largely out of your control. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

While many American colleges have created global outposts where local sponsors have paid big bucks for that to happen, Bard College has set up programs without such resources in numerous locations, without a hefty endowment. Today, the Open Society Foundation -- founded by George Soros and an organization that rarely donates to American higher education -- is announcing a $60 million gift to Bard to support the college's far-flung operations, The New York Times reported.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

Representatives of the three faculty unions staked out their respective positions on student learning outcomes assessment in a new paper released by the National Institute for Learning Outcomes Assessment. The report is being touted as the first time the three associations -- which represent some 450,000 members, many of whom are not assumed to embrace such assessments -- have gone on the record on the subject.

The three representatives -- Gary Rhoades of the American Association of University Professors, Larry Gold of the American Federation of Teachers and Mark Smith of the National Education Association -- each asserted the importance of involving faculty members on the local level in efforts to measure learning outcomes. They also warned against relying on the kinds of standardized tests that are used by states in judging K-12 schools for the federal No Child Left Behind Act, because higher education is an even more complex and diverse sector. "As inappropriate as these proposals are in K-12 education, they are even more inappropriate in higher education situations where the goal is not simply to learn content but also to develop critical thinking and interpretive skills," said Smith.

Rhoades argued that the extensive use of adjuncts undermines student achievement, and that a focus on productivity from policy-makers has hampered non-tenure track and tenured faculty members' ability to advise and provide mentorship that helps students -- who are increasingly demographically diverse. "The challenge is that producing better learning outcomes is an inherently labor intensive endeavor," he said.

Gold referred to the AFT's release last month of a policy statement on outcomes assessment and encouraged members to wade into an honest debate. "Genuine discussion of issues such as these has to begin with a willingness to 'hear a discouraging word,'" he said. "Front-line faculty and staff will not agree with every idea that comes down the pike, nor should they; but they and the AFT are strongly committed to engaging in constructive efforts to improve student success."

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

The attorney general's office in Massachusetts has asked the University of Phoenix for documents and information going back a decade as part of a larger review into "possible unfair or deceptive methods, acts, or practices by for-profit educational institutions in connection with the recruitment of students and the financing of education," the university's parent company announced Monday. In the statement, the Apollo Group said its officials believed that the review stemmed from a coordinated effort by several states "considering investigatory or other inquires into recruiting practices and the financing of education at proprietary educational institutions." The Huffington Post reported this month that as many as 10 attorneys general were cooperating to look into for-profit higher education.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

The incumbent party that lost all its executive board seats in a bitter contest for the leadership of the union representing graduate students at nine University of California campuses says that the election was marred by so many allegations of impropriety that it must be done over.

"No matter who wins the election, it is critical that our members have confidence that the election process is fair and democratic," the group, United for Social and Economic Justice, wrote in a statement that is posted on its website. "And so it is with a profound sense of personal and professional obligation to the integrity of the union that we are protesting this election and requesting that it be set aside and re-run."

A request for comment from the winning party, Academic Workers for a Democratic Union, was not returned as of press time. The race featured allegations of voter intimidation, ballot tampering and ad hominem attacks, and required mediation to resolve.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

John O'Connor is taking a paid leave as president of the State University of New York Research Foundation amid allegations that he gave a no-show job to the daughter of the former president of the State Senate, the Associated Press reported. A state ethics commission found likely fault in the hire of the daughter of Joseph Bruno, who is currently appealing federal corruption convictions. O'Connor has said that he did nothing wrong and that the state commission's inquiry was flawed.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011 - 3:00am

For 10 years, the University of Notre Dame has been the only major American university to bar companies that make clothing and other products with its logo from producing those products in China, Bloomberg reported. The policy is a response to China's ban on independent unions. Some lawmakers looking for ways to punish China for various reasons are examining Notre Dame's policy with the hope that other universities will adopt it, the article said.

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