Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 3, 2013

WASHINGTON -- The White House science adviser criticized Republican efforts to curtail science spending that does not have a direct link to national interests and gave a spirited endorsement of the importance of political science and social science research and of peer review in a speech at a scientific conference here Thursday.

In remarks at the science policy forum of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, made a series of points related to Congress's vote last month to bar National Science Foundation funding for political science research for the 2013 fiscal year and, last week, a leading Republican lawmaker's personal questioning of the validity of specific social science projects financed by the foundation.

"First, the social and behavioral sciences -- which of course include economics, sociology, psychology, and anthropology, as well as political science -- are sciences. Researchers in these fields develop and test hypotheses; they publish results in peer-reviewed journals; and they archive data so that others can replicate their results," Holdren said. And while much of it is basic research, studies in the social sciences strengthen foreign policy and make hurricane warnings more effective, among other public policy objectives.

No scientific research should be judged based purely on its ability to serve national interests, since it is impossible to know which studies -- basic, applied, in physical sciences or social sciences -- will produce the laser or spur the next Google. 

"No system of deciding what research the federal government should fund will succeed perfectly, whatever the standard of perfection," Holdren added. "But the overall degree of success of the competitive, peer-reviewed grant process that is employed by the NSF, the NIH, and in much of the rest of the government’s R&D funding -- success measured by the pace of advance in basic science and the pace of the applied breakthroughs -- has made that peer-review-based process the gold standard, recognized around the world."

May 3, 2013

The philosophy department at San Jose State University is pushing back against the university's pioneering projects to test new online learning ventures.

department-approved letter not only challenges hype around online learning but personally calls out a Harvard University professor who teaches a massive open online class for his alleged culpability in what the department calls perilous online learning efforts. The department's letter to Harvard's Michael Sandel follows a suggestion from San Jose State's administration that the department look at using Sandel's popular edX MOOC on justice.

"There is no pedagogical problem in our department that JusticeX solves," the letter to Sandel says, "nor do we have a shortage of faculty capable of teaching our equivalent course. We believe that long-term financial considerations motivate the call for massively open online courses (MOOCs) at public universities such as ours. Unfortunately, the move to MOOCs comes at great peril to our university. We regard such courses as a serious compromise of quality of education and, ironically for a social justice course, a case of social injustice."

San Jose State Provost Ellen Junn said the faculty had the option of using the online course to supplement their normal course material in the same way professors use textbooks. “Faculty have the complete control and responsibility for using or not using whatever material they want, whether it be a textbook or video,” she said.

San Jose State is using another edX course to "flip" one of its engineering courses and is so far seeing better pass rates, according to university faculty. Junn said the use of material from providers offering MOOCs does not mean the university classes are themselves MOOCs because they are not entirely online and they are not massive courses -- indeed, they have the same number of enrolled students as traditional un-flipped courses. 

Sandel released a statement saying he is only trying to make material available to the public and making clear that he does not believe online courses are a substitute for personal engagement.

"My goal is simply to make an educational resource freely available--a resource that faculty colleagues should be free to use in whole or in part, or not at all, as they see fit," he said. "The worry that the widespread use of online courses will damage departments in public universities facing budgetary pressures is a legitimate concern that deserves serious debate, at edX and throughout higher education. The last thing I want is for my online lectures to be used to undermine faculty colleagues at other institutions."

The San Jose State letter is the latest instance of professors looking at and rejecting attempts by officials at traditional universities to partner with a new batch of online course providers. Amherst College's faculty last month voted down a proposal to join edX. Last week, Duke University faculty members, frustrated with their administration and skeptical of the degrees to be awarded, forced the institution to back out of a deal with nine other universities and 2U to create a pool of for-credit online classes for undergraduates.

May 3, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Natalie Phillips of Michigan State University explores how the brain functions while reading literature. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


May 3, 2013

Medical schools are on track to meet a goal set in 2006 of raising enrollments by 30 percent over a decade to try to meet a perceived shortage of physicians, the Association of American Medical Colleges said in a report issued Thursday. The association's annual report on enrollments said that the group's member colleges are projected to enroll 21,434 by 2017-18 -- which would represent a 30 percent rise over the target that the association originally aimed to reach by 2015.

May 2, 2013

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently annoyed academics in his country by suggesting that only a law-and-order approach was needed to fight terrorism, and that people should not "commit sociology." In response, "Worldviews 2013: Global Trends in Media and Higher Education," a conference organized by academic and journalism organizations (of which Inside Higher Ed is a co-sponsor), has invited attendees (in a spoof of Britain's wartime slogan) to "Keep Calm and Commit Sociology." Details on the conference and buttons with the new slogan are available here.

May 2, 2013

There are more than 120 programs in the Football Bowl Subdivision – the top level of National Collegiate Athletic Association competition – but only 23 of them turned a profit in 2012, according to a new NCAA report on athletic department finances. That is despite upward movement in generated revenues: a 4.6 percent increase at FBS programs and a 9.06 percent increase at the smaller Football Championship Subdivision ones. While the median spending at FBS programs is $56 million, for other institutions, it hovers around $14 million. FBS median expenses increased 10.8 percent above the previous year, compared to 6.8 percent at FCS programs and 8.8 percent at Division I institutions without football. The report also notes the gap in the growth of expenses between institutional and athletics spending. At FBS programs, the median athletics expenses increase was 4.4 percent higher than the institutional increase. At FCS and Division I no-football colleges, the gap was 3 percent and 3.1 percent, respectively.

May 2, 2013

Several leaders of University of Puerto Rico campuses have quit their jobs to protest the governor's signing of legislation to restructure the university's governance system, the Associated Press reported. Administrators of at least four of the university's campuses joined the university's president and chair of its governing board in resigning over the measure.

May 2, 2013

A successful football season causes a 17.7 percent boost in applications to an institution, but the increase is more apparent among lower-achieving students (as measured by SAT scores), according to a new paper published in the journal Marketing Science. However, victories on the field do correlate with higher selectivity, with mid-level institutions improving their admission of students with average SAT scores by 4.8 percent, wrote Doug J. Chung, an assistant professor of business administration at Harvard University. To achieve a comparable bump in applications, a university would have to either decrease tuition by 3.8 percent or increase the quality of its education by recruiting higher-quality faculty who are paid 5.1 percent more, Chung said.

May 2, 2013

The City University of New York has settled a discrimination complaint made by a pregnant student.

The National Women's Law Center (NWLC) filed the complaint on behalf of Stephanie Stewart. According to the center, Stewart was told that she would not be able to make up tests or assignments missed as a result of her pregnancy; CUNY administrators suggested that Stewart should instead drop the class, since her due date was before the end of the semester. 

The complaint accused CUNY of violating Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in education. Title IX forbids schools and colleges from penalizing pregnant students for medically necessary absences.

"The university settlement with the student provided that she receive about $3,000 to cover expenses," said Michael Arena, CUNY's director for communications and marketing, in an e-mail. "The university will also renew efforts to work with its colleges to communicate the longstanding non-discrimination policy to the faculty and staff. The colleges will also provide more training in this area to ensure that the policy is properly applied and that the rights of expectant mothers continue to be respected and safeguarded."

Arena added that pregnancy was specifically mentioned in CUNY's anti-discrimination policy.

Stewart's scholarship will also be restored.

May 2, 2013

OpenStax College, the year-old Rice University startup that produces free online textbooks, will more than double the number of fields in which it has titles by 2015, the university announced today. A grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation will allow OpenStax College to add to its current offerings in physics and sociology, and its two new biology books and an introductory anatomy text coming out this fall. The new titles will be in precalculus, chemistry, economics, U.S. history, psychology and statistics, Rice said, toward its goal of producing high-quality open-source books in the 25 most-enrolled college courses. OpenStax says its existing two texts have been downloaded more than 70,000 times so far.





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