Higher Education Quick Takes

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Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - 3:00am

Blackboard, the e-learning giant, announced on Tuesday that it has received "unsolicited, non-binding proposals" to be bought out. The company, which is publicly traded, appears to be taking the offers seriously; it has retained the investment firm Barclays Capital to help it figure out whether it wants to sell. Blackboard's stock leaped by nearly 30 percent with the news.

The entity that has proposed to acquire Blackboard is not known. Scott Berg, a research analyst with the investment bank Feltl and Company, told Inside Higher Ed he thinks it is unlikely that the suitors would be other software companies, since the software products Blackboard sells -- online learning platforms, emergency notification systems, and data analytics tools, among others -- would not make an obvious addition to the arsenal of any other software firm. (The only software-related companies Berg speculated might make a bid for Blackboard are Microsoft and Pearson. Neither of those companies elected to comment.) It is more likely that a potential suitor would be a private equity firm, Berg said, in which case the consequences for Blackboard's many higher-ed customers would be difficult to predict.

Kenneth C. Green, director of the Campus Computing project, speculated that an acquisition could mean increased costs for colleges. “Blackboard has been aggressive in buying other firms,” Green wrote in an e-mail, “more than half a billion dollars in acquisitions since 2006…. That's a lot of debt to pay down, and more debt is likely to come following an acquisition. All of which suggests that the company's new owners will be looking for new revenue, which could well mean price increases across the range of Blackboard's current product lines and services.”

This article in The Financial Times explores reasons some companies may or may not be likely to be making a bid for Blackboard. Joshua Kim, who writes the Technology and Learning blog for Inside Higher Ed, has written in the past why a Blackboard purchase would make sense for either Microsoft or Google.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - 3:00am

President Obama on Tuesday signaled that he would strongly oppose Republican budget plans that would, among other things, cut the size of the maximum Pell Grant. In remarks at the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College, he said: "How many of you who are in the audience have gotten a Pell Grant to help you pay your way? How many of you can’t afford to pay another $1,000 to go to school? I know what this is like. Scholarships helped make it possible for me and for Michelle to go to college. It’s fair to say I wouldn’t be President if it hadn’t been for somebody helping me be able to afford college. That’s why I think it would be such a huge mistake to balance the budget on the backs of students, by cutting scholarships by as much as $1,000, forcing students to go without them altogether."

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - 3:00am

Rick O'Donnell, a controversial adviser to the University of Texas Board of Regents -- seen as promoting the ideas of Governor Rick Perry, a Republican -- is no longer employed by the system, the Associated Press reported. O'Donnell blamed senior officials at the system office and the flagship campus at Austin for obstructing research he was doing on whether faculty members spend enough time teaching.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011 - 3:00am

After unionizing last August, adjuncts at Central Michigan University have reached agreement on a new contract that would increase job security and, more modestly, their pay. The four-year deal, announced Tuesday by the Union of Teaching Faculty and CMU, would apply to about two-thirds of the unit's 340 members who work part-time or more. The bargaining unit includes adjuncts and graduate students. A separate unit, affiliated with the Michigan Education Association, represents tenured and tenure-track faculty.

CMU administration confirmed that a tentative agreement had been reached, but withheld further comment pending the deal's ratification. Sources familiar with the terms of the deal said that, a year from now, adjuncts who have taught for five years will become eligible to sign multi-year contracts. Job security was achieved in return for modest pay increases, mostly directed to lower paid workers. The lowest paid adjuncts who work full-time would see their wages rise from the current level, less than $20,000, to $24,000, sources said. The union recently began campaigning for higher wages for adjuncts by highlighting members who worked full-time, but needed to rely on public assistance to make ends meet.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of San Francisco has announced an agreement to continue sponsorship of Upward Bound, a program that helps prepare low-income students for college. The university has sponsored the program for more than 40 years, but recently said it would evict the program because of space needs, setting off protests from some on and some off the campus. Under a new arrangement, faculty members at the university will play more of a role in the program, the university will provide classroom space, and some administrative functions will be moved off campus. But the university has pledged to continue sponsorship of the program.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Nicole Soper Gorden of the University of Massachusetts Amherst explains the love-hate relationship the plant kingdom has with insects, and how some plants defend themselves. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - 3:00am

A University of Notre Dame investigation into the October death of a student worker during a football practice found the incident to be a "collective responsibility" for which no individual can be blamed, according to a report on the inquiry. Declan Sullivan died when the hydraulic lift from which he was videotaping the football team fell over in high winds, but the investigation concluded that no one can be blamed in the incident. "We did not find any individual who disregarded safety or was indifferent to safety. Consequently, there was not any individual discipline," Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, said. "Our conclusion is that it's a collective responsibility that must be deal with collectively as we move forward."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Three academics were on Monday named winners of Pulitzer Prizes in arts and letters. Kay Ryan, who teaches at the College of Marin, won the poetry prize for The Best of It: New and Selected Poems (Grove Press). In a 2009 interview with Inside Higher Ed, Ryan discussed her work and her efforts on behalf of community colleges. Eric Foner, the DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia University, won the history prize for The Fiery Trial: Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery (W.W. Norton & Company). Siddhartha Mukherjee, an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University, won the general nonfiction prize for The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (Scribner).

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Students at St. John's University in New York are protesting its refusal to recognize a gay-straight alliance, The New York Daily News reported. University officials said that they cannot recognize any group inconsistent with the Roman Catholic teachings of the institution. But students note that the university enrolls gay students, professes a strong commitment to diversity and recognizes Jewish and Muslim student groups, among many others.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Gov. Jan Brewer of Arizona on Monday vetoed legislation that would have allowed individuals to carry guns on public routes through college and university campuses, The Arizona Daily Sun reported. The measure, which Brewer said she vetoed because it was "poorly written," was strongly opposed by most college officials in the state. It is one of several measures under consideration in various states around the country.

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