Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

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."

 

March 20, 2013

The American Council on Education on Tuesday named 50 faculty members and administrators to its Fellows Program. The program, in which participants work with executives at other colleges from those that employ them, is known as a stepping stone to top positions in higher education -- more than 300 fellows have gone on to presidencies. The new fellows may be found here.

March 20, 2013

A prominent professor at Columbia University's journalism school has sued the institution, charging it with misusing an endowment fund, The New York Times reported. Sylvia Nasar, co-director of the business journalism program and author of A Beautiful Mind, charges that Columbia was supposed to match a $1.5 million gift for an endowed chair Nasar holds, so that Nasar or others holding the chair would have funds both for salary and research. Instead, the suit charges, Columbia didn't match the funds and Nasar had to pay for many of her research expenses. Columbia has declined to comment on the suit, saying it does not discuss litigation.

 

March 20, 2013

A federal appeals court has upheld a lower court's ruling that Oklahoma State University isn't entitled to refunds from a controversial insurance-based fund-raising campaign that didn't work out as planned, The Stillwater NewsPress reported. The idea was to take out life insurance policies on wealthy supporters of the university's athletics program, with the athletics program as the beneficiary. When the supporters didn't die on roughly the expected timetable, however, the university canceled the policies and sued the insurance company, saying it hadn't provided accurate information. But a district court judge and now the U.S. Court of Appeals found no evidence of fraud by the insurance company.

 

March 19, 2013

In order to make good on an earlier pledge to freeze tuition for at least two years, Purdue University President Mitch Daniels, formerly Indiana's Republican governor, announced in a letter Monday that the university would be looking for at least $40 million in savings over the biennium. "It has been too easy in higher education for institutions to decide first what they would like to spend, and then raise student bills to produce the desired funds," Daniels wrote. "That approach has run its course. At Purdue, we will make our first goal affordability, accommodating our spending to students’ budgets and not the other way around."

As a first step toward accomplishing those savings, Daniels announced that he would eliminate merit pay raises for all senior administrators, deans and administrative and professional staff with salaries of more than $50,000 for the next two years, a move projected to save $5 million. The freeze would not apply to faculty members. He also said in a Faculty Senate meeting Monday to expect additional announcements later this month.

March 19, 2013

Thunderbird School of Global Management and Laureate Education announced plans Monday for a joint venture in which the Arizona-based business school would establish academic programs through the for-profit education provider's campuses in cities around the world. Under the arrangement, which is expected to be finalized in June, Thunderbird would remain nonprofit but would look to offer instruction at Laureate campuses in places such as Madrid, Paris, Santiago, Chile, and Sao Paulo, Brazil.

March 19, 2013

At a time of increased scrutiny of law schools, Florida Coastal School of Law has announced the Assured Outcomes Partnership, which it says it intended to “support shared accountability between the school and its students for success in the areas of academic performance, experiential learning, and bar exam passage”.

Under the program:

  • Students will not be academically dismissed during their first year, as long as they meet several conditions, including complying with the attendance policy, attending writing workshops and involvement in the Bar Coaching Program.
  • Students who meet these requirements and are academically dismissed after their first year will receive a refund of $10,000.
  • Students who do not pass the bar exam on the first attempt but are in compliance with the conditions will receive a living stipend while preparing to retake the exam, as well as preparation materials free of charge. Students who make two unsuccessful attempts will receive a $10,000 refund.
  • Students who follow the program but are unable to obtain “substantive practical legal work experience” while enrolled will receive $2,000.

Peter Goplerud, the dean of the law school, said in an interview that the initiative was not in response to a crisis. “Bar results over the last several years have been in the range from about 76 percent first time pass to low 80s on the Florida exam,” Goplerud said, “and our idea in putting this together really was to leverage some of the things that we’ve been doing but to beef it up a little by creating what really is a partnership so that the students have clear-cut responsibilities themselves and shared accountabilities for the outcomes.” (The law school's 2012 bar admission statistics are available here.)

Not everyone is pleased with the development; the non-profit Law School Transparency declined to comment, but linked to a post on the law blog “Above the Law” by Elie Mystal, which says the initiative “only sounds nice if you don’t read the fine print.” “I don’t know what kind of mathematically challenged people think that getting a $10K refund after spending nearly $120K to go to law school and not passing the bar is a good deal,” writes Mystal. “It’s an argument that will only work on stupid people, but that’s kind of the point.”

Goplerud said that he has talked to others that are “very intrigued by it.”

 

March 19, 2013

Leading universities such as Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have successfully lobbied for the defeat of proposed new ways for the government to pay for research overhead, The Boston Globe reported. Currently universities negotiate rates for a percentage of grants awarded that they receive to cover overhead expenses. Harvard's rate is 69 percent, which is much higher than most rates. The Obama administration wanted to shift to a single flat rate for all institutions, but leading universities opposed the idea and it has now been withdrawn.

 

March 19, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Andrew Francis of Emory University explores the role antibiotics played in fueling the Sexual Revolution. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


 

March 19, 2013

Rebecca M. Blank, acting U.S. secretary of commerce, was named Monday as the next chancellor of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, pending formal approval by the Board of Regents. Blank's career as an economist has included positions in government and academe. From 1999-2008, she was dean of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy at the University of Michigan. David Ward, a former chancellor, has been serving as interim chancellor at Madison since July 2011. At that time, Carolyn A. (Biddy) Martin ended a three-year term -- which included controversy over her proposals to give Madison more autonomy from the state -- to become president of Amherst College.

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