Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 1, 2013

York College put its wrestling program on interim suspension due to “violations of the Student Code of Conduct and the Student-Athlete Code of Conduct, including hazing,” according to a college statement sent to Inside Higher Ed. Campus safety officers and administrators at the Pennsylvania college are investigating the situation during the suspension, which bars the team from “all activity,” and individual students will face campus judicial board hearings. A college spokeswoman told the York Daily Record that she didn't know how many instances of hazing occurred, but administrators learned of the conduct through an anonymous email sent to the athletics department.

November 1, 2013

A standardized test taker filed a multimillion-dollar class action lawsuit against ACT and the College Board for selling personal information about her and millions of American high schoolers.

The lawsuit, filed this week in a federal district court in Illinois, seeks more than $5 million in damages from the test makers for “unfair, immoral, unjust, oppressive and unscrupulous” conduct. Namely, the plaintiff, a Cook County woman about which little else is known, alleges that ACT and the College Board do not tell test takers what will be done with their personal information. She said test takers are asked if ACT and the College Board can "share" personal information with others. That is misleading, the lawsuit alleges, because the information is in fact sold and test takers -- almost entirely high school teens -- become part of a multimillion-dollar money-generating machine for ACT and the College Board.

The test makers have long sold high school students’ personal information to colleges that want to market to students. The current price is about 37 or 38 cents per name. Colleges are using increasingly sophisticated data mining techniques to recruit and shape their classes. Colleges can use such information to deny admission to students and perhaps reduce financial aid awards.

A spokesman for ACT said it would not comment on pending litigation but that the lawsuit was a “unique instance," meaning ACT at least has not previously faced such a challenge. The College Board could not immediately say if it had ever faced such a lawsuit and would not comment on ongoing litigation, but a spokeswoman said, “as a guiding principle in all we do, the College Board takes very seriously the privacy, security and confidentiality of information entrusted to us by the students in our care.”

Three Illinois attorneys representing the woman bringing the lawsuit did not respond to messages seeking comment.

November 1, 2013

Strayer Education announced Thursday that it would close about 20 physical campuses, mostly in the Midwest, to cut costs in response to a 17 percent year-over-year enrollment drop that has sharply reduced its revenues. Strayer is the latest for-profit higher education provider (and among the last) to curtail its on-ground presence in the wake of the double whammy of a tough economy and increased regulatory oversight. The campus closures will affect about 5 percent of the company's roughly 50,000 students, Strayer said; those students will be encouraged to shift to the university's online programs, where most of them already study. (An email sent to students at the affected campuses said those who enrolled in spring courses would receive a $500 voucher toward the purchase of a new computer or mobile device.)

Strayer also said that it would cut its tuition price by about 20 percent effective in January.

November 1, 2013

Maryland officials and lawyers for the state's public historically black colleges have agreed to mediation on what to do about a federal judge's ruling that the state has discriminated against the colleges by permitting duplicative programs to be set up at nearby predominantly white institutions, the Associated Press reported. The judge in last month's ruling suggested that the state and the colleges would be well served by mediation, as opposed to the judge outlining a full plan for dealing with the discrimination.

 

November 1, 2013

A group of Northeastern University students stormed the library quad in a flash mob performance of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” Thursday, in support of the university’s adjuncts’ union drive. About a dozen Empower Adjuncts Student Coalition members broke out in dance and song, changing the lyrics of Jackson’s creepy classic to reflect their cause. Here’s the first verse: “It's after midterms, and we're all gasping sighs of relief/But across campus, injustice has its claws sunk in deep/They're everywhere: teachers without proper compensation/Poverty wages, no offices or job security -- and we don't agree.” And the chorus? “It's time for adjunct, adjunct rights/We're building up momentum, the fuse is set alight/We've got to stand up, fight the fight/Let's organize together to make things better, better tonight.”

Similar events took place throughout the week at campuses nationwide, as part of the United Students Against Sweatshops’ “Hallo-Week of Action” against what it calls low-wage worker “exploitation” in higher education, and Campus Equity Week, a national, adjunct-driven campaign to raise awareness of their working conditions.

But Northeastern students said they were protesting in particular the university’s recent hiring of Jackson, Lewis, a New York-based law firm specializing in “labor and preventive practices,” among other areas, according to its website, as outside counsel for a union drive there. Sophomore Troy Neves said the student group hoped to encourage university administrators to “remain neutral” as adjuncts attempt to organize under the Service Employees International Union. Tufts University adjuncts recently voted to unionize with SEIU, which seeks to organize adjuncts across Boston, but Bentley University adjuncts recently voted down a union effort there.

Mike Armini, a Northeastern spokesman, said the university had met with concerned students recently, telling them the firm had been hired to help the university “navigate” the intricacies of labor law related to the union drive. He referred questions about the university’s position on the drive to a letter to part-time faculty from Stephen Director, the provost. “Ultimately, the decision about whether to support SEIU or not is yours,” the letter reads. “We do want to emphasize that the issue of union representation is of critical importance to every faculty member, including you, as well as to the university as a whole. Therefore, we urge you not to remain uninvolved. However you may feel about this issue, please make your voice count.”

October 31, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Douglas Kenrick of Arizona State University explains why irrational behavior can appear rational when viewed from an evolutionary perspective. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

October 31, 2013

The Georgia Institute of Technology has in 20 days received almost 1,000 more applications for its low-cost online master's degree than it does in a year for its residential program, according to data released by the university.

The 2,359 applicants are also demographically different from the students who normally apply for the residential program, which is popular among international students. About 80 of applicants for the online program come from the United States, compared to about 20 percent for the residential program. The master's degree program in computer science is a partnership between Georgia Tech, AT&T and massive open online course provider Udacity. The degree costs only $7,000, and university officials have promised it will be as rigorous as the residential program, which can cost up to $40,000 a year.

Men make up about 86 percent of the applicants, and the program has drawn almost as many applicants from Georgia -- 336 -- as California, the highest represented state, with 343 applicants. AT&T employees total 514 of the applicants.

Because of space issues, about 450 of the applicants will start the program in January, but every qualified applicant will be accepted and may start next summer, a spokesman said. University officials have previously said the program could scale up to enroll as many as 10,000 students within three years.

October 31, 2013

The cuts continue in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. East Stroudsburg State University has announced that it is eliminating 15 tenured and tenure-track positions, The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. The university also plans to close its movement studies and lifetime fitness department and to place a moratorium on bachelor's degrees in music and in French.

 

October 31, 2013

Professors in Cleveland State University's College of Law believe the college dean likened some faculty members with union ties to the devil when awarding them $666 merit raises. The Cleveland State University chapter of the American Association of University Professors filed an unfair labor practice charge with Ohio’s State Employment Relations Board in August against the dean, Craig Boise.

AAUP organizers received raises of $0 or $666 despite “exemplary scholarship and teaching scores,” according to the charge. Of the eight union organizers listed in the charge, two did not receive raises and the remaining six received $666 raises. Other faculty members in the College of Law received $3,000 or $5,000 merit raises, according to the charge.

The charge says Boise’s actions are “a poorly veiled threat in opposition to AAUP’s organizing and concerted activities.” Boise and representatives from Cleveland State University did not respond to requests for comment.

October 31, 2013

San Francisco State University was the site of the first sustained protests for the creation of ethnic studies programs, in the late 1960s. But The Los Angeles Times reported that in the California State University System, of which San Francisco State is a part, ethnic studies is now on the defensive. Administrators have cited enrollment declines to suggest cuts in a number of programs. Faculty leaders are asking for a moratorium on changes to the programs. Experts in the field say that the career focus of so many students today makes it more difficult to attract students. "A discipline like ethnic studies lays itself wide open to the critiques of what the hell do you do with this, can you run a corporation or fly a plane with this?," said Ron Scapp, president of the National Association for Ethnic Studies.

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