Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of California at Berkeley -- which set off a controversy last year by asking freshmen to send in saliva samples for a program on DNA -- is taking a new approach this year. The university is asking students to record their voices for a project that will examine accents and "map" the speaking styles of the class, The Los Angeles Times reported. About 30 percent of income Berkeley students report that English was not their first language. "It seemed like a good opportunity for me to learn something about our population and also give the incoming class a chance to learn something about each other, just by listening to each other," Keith Johnson, a linguistics professor who is leading the experiment, told the Times.

Monday, July 18, 2011 - 3:00am

Boston College on Friday filed a brief in federal court, defending the right of oral historians to make confidentiality pledges, arguing that courts need to factor in academic needs when weighing requests for access to those records. The college's brief answers one filed by the U.S. government, which asserted that academic freedom is not a defense to protect the confidentiality of such documents. The U.S. government has taken the side of the British government, which is fighting for access to oral history records at Boston College that authorities in the U.K. say relate to criminal investigations of murder, kidnapping and other violent crimes in Northern Ireland. The college promised confidentiality to many of those interviewed and is trying to protect those pledges.

In its brief, Boston College says that it has never made an argument of an "absolute" right to protect confidentiality of oral history documents. But the college says that numerous federal courts have called for a balancing of interests in such cases, and that academic freedom and the rights of researchers are parts of the public policy equation that should be considered. The college's brief also says that the government unfairly cited oral history agreements between interview subjects and researchers at other universities -- agreements that don't go that far too protect confidentiality. These "selective" comparisons, Boston College said, didn't include topics as "traumatic as the Troubles in Northern Ireland." The brief closes by stating that forcing the college to release the documents in ways that violate confidentiality would create "a daunting impediment to collecting candid information about important subjects from willing participants in future oral history projects."

Friday, July 15, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, John Fitzpatrick of Cornell University explains what we can learn about climate change by observing Snowy Owls. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Friday, July 15, 2011 - 3:00am

Japanese universities are reporting, to their relief, that most of the international students who left the country after the tsunami and associated nuclear worries, and whose programs haven't ended, are returning, The Japan Times reported. The universities have been pushing -- with help from the Japanese government -- for students to return. Visa procedures were simplified for those who didn't realize they would need a re-entry permit. And the Japanese government is paying for some return airfares for those who had to evacuate certain areas.

Friday, July 15, 2011 - 3:00am

The Thomas M. Cooley Law School, a freestanding institution in Michigan, on Thursday sued four anonymous individuals who have posted critical comments online and lawyers who have started an investigation into Cooley's job placement rates. The suits charge defamation, interference with business interests and other violations of the law. "With ethics and professionalism at the core of our law school's values, we cannot – and will not – sit back and let anyone circulate defamatory statements about Cooley or the choices our students and alumni made to seek their law degree here," said Brent Danielson, chair of Cooley's board, in an announcement of the suits.

One of the anonymous bloggers being sued runs a site called Thomas M. Cooley Law School Scam "to bring truth and awareness to the students getting suckered in by this despicable excuse for a law school." The blog questions Cooley's academic quality and charges that very few of its graduates find jobs. (Cooley says 76 percent of graduates find jobs, and that the figure was higher before the economic downturn.)

The law firm being sued is Kurzon Strauss, in New York, which ran a notice on the J.D. Underground website stating (according to the complaint) that it was "conducting a broad, wide-ranging investigation of a number of law schools for blatantly manipulating their post-graduate employment data and salary information" to take advantage of "the blithe ignorance of naive, clueless 22-year olds who have absolutely no idea what a terrible investment obtaining a J.D. is." The notice specifically requests information about Thomas Cooley and, according to the law school, suggested that it was "perhaps one of the worst offenders" in manipulating the data. Currently the J.D. Underground website features a posting with some similar language (but not nearly as strong) to that cited in the complaint, and another posting from the law firm retracting some of its earlier statements, suggesting that "certain allegations ... may have been couched as fact."

David Anziska, a partner in the firm, said in an interview Thursday that "this is one of the most ridiculous lawsuits filed in recent memory." Anziska said that the firm will not only defend itself, but plans to sue Cooley for its suit. He declined to comment on the status of the investigation into job-placement rates of Cooley and other law schools, but said that the notice prompted more than 50 responses.

Friday, July 15, 2011 - 3:00am

The National Science Foundation has published new reports on how federal research dollars flowed to colleges and universities in 2009 and the status of graduate students and postdoctoral scientists in research fields in 2008. The first report contains a wide array of data on the institutions that received the most federal research funds over all and by discipline, for instance; the latter includes statistics on the future work force in academic science by field, gender, institution type and other indicators.

Friday, July 15, 2011 - 3:00am

The mammoth endowment fund of the University of Texas is planning to double the $50 million hedge it maintains in an insurance fund against market downturns, officials said Thursday, Bloomberg News reported. Texas officials heard reports that a major financial crisis in Europe or involving the stability of the U.S. dollar could lead to a drop of one-fifth in the endowment's value. "None of us saw 2008, and this could be worse than 2008," said Gene Powell, chairman of the University of Texas Board of Regents.

Friday, July 15, 2011 - 3:00am

A research report released last month by two George Washington University professors argued for weakening the role of the Federal Housing Administration with regard to insuring mortgages, and didn't disclose that it was partially funded by Genworth Financial Inc., a major player in providing private mortgage insurance, American Banker reported. The authors of the paper are Robert Van Order, chair of the Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis, and Anthony Yezer, director of the university's Center for Economic Research. Yezer told American Banker that he didn't realize he had failed to note the sponsorship, but he didn't see it as a major issue. "I am not getting anything out of it, and Bob Van Order is not getting anything," he said. "They are using up our time, so they make a contribution to the university. The small amount that is involved is trivial compared to my billing rate [as a consultant] if I was doing this ordinarily."

Thursday, July 14, 2011 - 3:00am

John Sperling, founder of the University of Phoenix, has sold more than $59 million in stock in the company, whose value has increased since the Obama administration released a version of regulations of the for-profit higher education industry that was much weaker than earlier versions, The Huffington Post reported. The website also reported that other major owners of for-profit higher education stocks have sold off significant holdings in recent weeks. Donald Graham, for instance, sold $12.5 million in Washington Post Company stock. (The company owns Kaplan University.)

Thursday, July 14, 2011 - 3:00am

When the University of Tennessee at Knoxville advertised for a new baseball coach, the listings said that the institution preferred candidates with a bachelor's degree. The Knoxville News Sentinel reported that the coach hired, Dave Serrano, has a degree, but from an unaccredited institution viewed by many as a diploma mill. "Obviously, sometimes you make choices in life and there's scrutiny out there," Serrano said. "I would prefer to be judged by the people and the players over all my years of my coaching career, what I've done for people as a coach and a mentor and how I've led them in life and being successful. People could judge my education, but I know when it comes to coaching and leading young men, I feel like I have a doctorate in that area." The News Sentinel noted that the university is currently searching for three assistant coaches, and that all three require a bachelor's degree and prefer a master's.

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