Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 16, 2014

The South Carolina Legislature has approved a measure -- signed into law by Governor Nikki Haley, a Republican -- that will require the College of Charleston and the University of South Carolina Upstate to spend $70,000 teaching works related to the founding of the United States. The measure is designed to punish the colleges for assigning gay-themed books last year. The measure is being called a "compromise" because initial versions of the legislation simply stripped the $70,000 (the cost of the gay-themed books used for first year programs) from the budgets of the colleges.

But a coalition of academic and civil liberties groups -- including the American Association of University Professors and the Modern Language Association -- issued a statement on Saturday denouncing the measure. "The provision is ostensibly a compromise, replacing a previous version in the House to cut funding in amounts to reflect the cost of the books," the statement says. "The version enacted poses exactly the same concerns as the initially proposed cuts: it represents unwarranted political interference with academic freedom and undermines the integrity of the higher education system in South Carolina. The history of the legislative debate makes it 100 percent clear that the legislature’s primary concern is to force schools to eliminate educational content that some legislators dislike, or risk financial penalties."

 

June 16, 2014

Ron Webster was a research assistant at the University of Liverpool in 1953 when he accidentally took a library book with him when he moved to continue his research in London. Recently, when working to thin out his library, he discovered that he had held on to Structure and Function in Primitive Society for 61 years. Planning a trip to Liverpool, he decided to return the book, even as friends warned him that he might face a huge fine. In theory, he owed a fine of £4,500 (more than $7,600). But the university library, amazed by someone returning a book so many years past due, agreed to waive the fine provided that Webster, 91, agreed to "live an exemplary life and return all his books on time." He agreed to the terms.

 

June 16, 2014

King's College in New York is styling itself the first U.S. institution to allow students to pay for their tuition with the cryptocurrency bitcoin, The New York Times reported. The Christian liberal arts college, located in lower Manhattan, enrolls about 500 students. A semester at the college will cost about 27.6 bitcoins (or $15,950), based on Friday afternoon's exchange rate.

June 16, 2014

German high school graduates are increasingly shunning vocational training in favor of attending universities, The Wall Street Journal reported. Government officials said on Friday that new data show that 2013 was the sixth consecutive year in which there was a decline in the number of high school students seeking vocational training. Germany's education system, long hailed as a key to the country's economic growth, has a strong divide between vocational training and universities for those finishing high school.

 

June 16, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Avner Ben-Ner, a professor at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, discusses the physiological impact that treadmill desks may have on the health of employees. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

June 13, 2014

Senator Lamar Alexander said Thursday that he plans to attach an amendment to the labor, health, and education appropriations bill that would stop the Obama administration from moving ahead with its college ratings system.

Alexander, the top Republican on the Senate’s education committee, said in a speech on the Senate floor Thursday that the amendment would prohibit the U.S. Department of Education from “using any federal funding to develop, refine, publish or implement a college ratings system.”

He derided the college ratings system as a “taxpayer-funded popularity contest” that would “pick winners and losers.” “It’s not the job of the federal government,” Alexander said. “I have a serious practical concern with the department’s ability even to begin this effort.”

The Obama administration has said the ratings system is needed to provide better consumer information and hold colleges more accountable for their use of taxpayer money.

The spending bill that funds the Departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education cleared a Senate subcommittee earlier this week. But Democrats have postponed a vote on the measure by the full appropriations committee after Republicans said they would force politically difficult votes relating to President Obama’s health care law.  

The bill’s sponsor, Senator Tom Harkin of Iowa, a Democrat, said Thursday that the bill is likely to be rolled into an omnibus appropriations package rather than be considered separately on the Senate floor. 

June 13, 2014

Jamie Comstock Williamson, president of Winthrop University, and her husband are repaying $27,000 that the husband, Larry Williamson, was paid for part-time work on strategic initiatives, Herald Online reported. The repayment came the day after Herald Online reported on the payment.

In a statement, Jamie Comstock Williamson defended the payment as entirely legal and consistent with state law and her husband's qualifications. But she said it was important to pay back the money. “As president, I believe I must set a standard even greater than compliance with the law and hold myself to higher values grounded in honesty and integrity. I will not allow even the appearance of wavering from those values. That is why Larry and I have returned the compensation paid to Larry by the university," she said.

June 13, 2014

William Peace University is offering some (maybe a large share) of its tenured faculty members buyout offers of $30,000 contingent on their giving up their jobs and agreeing not to criticize the university, The News & Observer reported. The offers follow a letter from tenured faculty members criticizing the leadership of President Debra Townsley. Faculty members have questioned her financial decisions and cuts. Townsley led a process two years ago to make the one-time women's college coeducational, and many critics say that the improvements she promised would follow havent materialized. Townsley declined to comment, and board members indicated that they backed the president and had extended her contract.

 

June 13, 2014

A campaign to encourage students in the California State University System to get health insurance has made significant gains, The Los Angeles Times reported. According to a poll of the 15 largest Cal State campuses, released Thursday, the share of students without health insurance dropped from 30 percent to 10 percent. That drop means that 60,000 students who previously lacked coverage signed up for health insurance. The gains are significant both for Cal State and the Obama administration's health care program. The university wants its students covered. The Obama administration needs younger Americans, who on average are healthier than older Americans, to sign up so that there is balance in the health costs of those with insurance.

 

June 13, 2014

Stanford University has declined to expel a student found by the institution to have committed a sexual assault, The Bay Area News Group reported. While the university will allow the student to complete his senior year and graduate, it will withhold his degree for two years and bar him from enrolling in a graduate program until 2016, which is a year longer than his original punishment. These are the results of an appeal by both the student accused and the women who brought the charges against him. The case has become a focal point at Stanford for students angry about what they see as weak punishments of those found guilty of sexual assault. Many students say that expulsion should be the default punishment in such cases. Stanford is considering changes in its system for handling sex assault charges.

 

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