Higher Education Quick Takes
Roman Catholic leaders in Pittsburgh are demanding that Carnegie Mellon University take some action over a parade by art students, one of whom mocked the pope, KDKA News reported. The female student dressed as the pope from the waist up, was naked from the waist down, shaved her pubic hair in the shape of a cross, and passed out condoms on the parade route. A statement from the university said, "We are continuing our review of the incident. If our community standards or laws were violated, we will take appropriate action."
Students at the state of Washington's 34 community and technical colleges will save hundreds of thousands of dollars a year because of low-cost textbooks produced by the state's Open Course Library, the college system said this week. The library, which received funding from the state legislature and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, spent $1.8 million to develop low-cost course material, including textbooks of no more than $30, for 81 common courses. The effort has already saved students $5.5 million since fall 2011, according to an analysis by The Student Public Interest Research Groups, an advocacy organization.
“Students are clearly the winners in the open courseware library model,” said Marty Brown, the executive director of the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, in a conference call with reporters.
Nicole Allen, a textbook advocate for the student group, said Washington's materials are used outside the state, including by a math department in Arizona. Policymakers in California and British Columbia have created similar projects, she said.
The new chair of the U.S. House of Representatives Science, Space and Technology Committee has drafted legislation that would change the criteria under which the National Science Foundation awards grants, Science reported. Traditionally, peer review panels have had considerable latitude within their subject areas. But the draft legislation by Representative Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, would require that all grants adhere to three criteria. Grants would have to be certified by the NSF director to be:
- "In the interests of the United States to advance the national health, prosperity, or welfare, and to secure the national defense by promoting the progress of science."
- "Groundbreaking, and answers questions or solves problems that are of utmost importance to society at large."
- "Not duplicative of other research projects being funded by the Foundation or other Federal science agencies."
The draft is circulating at a time that many science officials believe Republicans in Congress are trying to undercut the traditional peer review system.
Smith released a statement saying the legislation had been misrepresented.
Adjuncts and their supporters are rallying today around a Mayday Manifesto that calls for a minimum payment of $5,000 per course. "The majority of college teachers in the United States today — over a million individuals — are contingent. Most of them are so-called 'adjuncts.' They are paid poverty wages, earning an average of $2,700 per three-credit semester course. Most adjuncts make $10,000 to $20,000 a year, often working more than 40 hours per week. An estimated 80 percent lack any health or retirement benefits, and academic freedom is meaningless in the absence of any job security," says the manifesto, which was organized by Peter D.G. Brown, president of the faculty union at the State University of New York at New Paltz. The manifesto also calls for longer contracts, health insurance and other benefits for non-tenure-track faculty members.
Amid widespread reports of increased numbers of college students taking (and, in some cases, abusing) medication for attention-deficit disorders, some colleges are cracking down, The New York Times reported. These institutions are becoming more rigorous in their evaluations of students, and making it more difficult for students to obtain diagnoses that lead to drug prescriptions.
The American Educational Research Association issued a new report Tuesday recommending best practices and policies for schools and colleges to address bullying. Prevention of Bullying in Schools, Colleges and Universities includes 11 briefs addressing topics such as gender-related harassment, legal rights related to bullying, and school climate. The AERA task force that wrote the report was asked to identify the causes and consequences of bullying, highlight training opportunities for faculty and staff, evaluate the effectiveness of current bullying prevention programs, and asses the connections between legislation and current bullying research and interventions.
"Bullying — a form of harassment and violence — needs to be understood from a developmental, social, and educational perspective," the report reads. "The educational settings in which it occurs and where prevention and intervention are possible need to be studied and understood as potential contexts for positive change. Yet many administrators, teachers, and related personnel lack training to address bullying and do not know how to intervene to reduce it."
An open letter from 1,000 Australian academics to Prime Minister Julia Gillard, published today in newspapers across that country, calls for an end to cuts in spending at universities, The Australian reported. "Universities have made by far and away the largest saving contributions of any federal budget line item," the letter says. "We feel betrayed and taken for granted. Your government's cuts fundamentally jeopardize the future of our sector."
Coursera, the Silicon Valley-based provider of massive open online courses, is entering the teacher education market. The company is partnering with teachers colleges and other educational institutions to provide online professional development courses for K-12 teachers and parents. The company described the new effort as its first foray into early childhood and K-12 and its first partnerships with non-degree-bearing institutions, including art museums.
With this, the company may be eyeing a professional development market that includes about 3.7 million teachers in American plus millions more across the world. “We want to help K-12 students by helping their teachers,” Coursera co-founder Andrew Ng said in a statement announcing the new program. “Many schools just don’t have the resources to provide teachers and parents the training and support they need. By providing free online courses on how to teach, we hope to improve this.”
A revenue plan was not immediately clear. The company has been committed to offering its courses for free but is charging some users who want bona fide certificates of completion. A company spokeswoman said in an e-mail that Coursera will be working with school districts to see how the courses could be used for required professional development training and she said teachers are also encouraged to talk to their administrators to seek approval.
Gordon Brown, the United Nations special envoy for global education said in the company statement that Coursera’s plan is “an important and crucial innovation” to meet the “global challenge of training and supporting over 2 million more teachers” by the end of 2015.
Coursera's partners in the venture are University of Washington's college of education; University of Virginia's school of education; Johns Hopkins University's school of education; Match Education’s Sposato Graduate School of Education; Peabody College of education and human development, Vanderbilt University; Relay Graduate School of Education; University of California at Irvine Extension; the American Museum of Natural History; The Commonwealth Education Trust; Exploratorium; The Museum of Modern Art; and New Teacher Center.
Many colleges and universities are setting new limits on adjunct hours, seeking to keep the part-time faculty members from being covered by the new federal health-care law. On Monday, the adjunct union at Kalamazoo Valley Community College challenged such a limit, filing a grievance with Michigan officials saying that the new policy violated the union's contract, MLive reported. The union called the limit a "unilateral change" in its contract, and said that the college had an obligation to negotiate over that type of change. A college vice president declined to comment on the complaint, saying that administrators had not yet had time to review it.