Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

October 23, 2013

Ted Mitchell, former president of Occidental College and president of a "venture philanthropy" fund focused on elementary and secondary education reform, is reportedly in line for a top position at the U.S. Education Department, according to Politico and other sources. Politico reported late Tuesday that Mitchell would be nominated as U.S. under secretary of education, replacing Martha J. Kanter, who announced this summer that she would return to California this fall. But other sources said that Mitchell might be named to a position that did not require Senate confirmation, given the difficulty of getting anyone through that gauntlet these days. A spokesman for the Education Department referred inquiries to a White House spokesman, who said he had no news to share about appointments.

Mitchell rose through the academic ranks as an education professor and administrator, and mostly at highly selective institutions such as Dartmouth College, Stanford University, and the University of California at Los Angeles (dean of the Graduate School of Education). As president of Occidental (which President Obama attended as an undergraduate), he was known for helping to diversify the student body of the selective private institution. "My area of scholarly interest, my area of teaching and policy work has been in educational access and opportunity," Mitchell told the Los Angeles Times upon his departure from Occidental in 2005. (Note: This article has been updated to correct President Obama's relationship to Occidental.)

He left there to take the reins of the New Schools Venture Fund, which has close ties to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other philanthropies interested in using technology and other tools of change to reform education. The fund's "core values" page uses phrases like "entrepreneurship" and "results-oriented" that are likely to align closely with Education Secretary Arne Duncan's modus operandi.

October 23, 2013

The Council for Christian Colleges and Universities announced Tuesday that its board -- "after careful investigation and prayerful consideration" -- had decided to remove Edward O. Blews Jr. from the position of president, effective immediately. Blews had been in office since January. The statement did not say why the board decided to (in the words of the CCCU) "transition" Blews out of the presidency.  Prior to joining CCCU, Blews was for 28 years president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Michigan. CCCU officials and Blews did not respond to requests for more information about his departure.

 

October 23, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Atalia Omer of the University of Notre Dame discusses the role of cultural and religious identity in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

October 23, 2013

The BBC decided to investigate the M.B.A. program offered by American University of London, and so enrolled a dog named Pete, giving him the fake name Peter Smith and a fake biography with various job titles. The university requires that students submit photographs, but the BBC opted not to send one, since the picture would have shown a dog. No problem. The university offered Pete an M.B.A., with no academic work, for $7,300. In a statement to the BBC, the institution defended itself. "We are not a bogus university … and have always been upfront about our status," said the statement. "We have not applied for accreditation with any American, British or other official agency. Many graduates go on to higher education or hold important positions on the strength of our degrees."

 

October 23, 2013

Boston authorities have banned Greek houses from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology from holding any parties or large gatherings at houses in the city, The Boston Globe reported. (Most MIT fraternity and sorority houses are in Boston, not in Cambridge.) Boston officials said that they need to get information about the safety of the houses. The move follows an injury to a fraternity member who crashed through a skylight and fell four stories during a recent party.

 

October 23, 2013

A spokeswoman for the London School of Economics told Times Higher Education that the university is attempting to establish the facts surrounding last week’s dismissal of Xia Yeliang from Peking University, a partner institution of LSE. 

The dismissal of Xia from Peking’s economics department purportedly for political reasons has been widely watched as an important test case for academic freedom in China – one with implications for Western universities collaborating with institutions there. Xia has been an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party and an advocate of democracy. In September, more than 130 faculty members at Wellesley College signed a letter saying they would urge the administration to reconsider Wellesley’s institutional partnership with Peking if the university fired Xia (as it announced Friday that it had).

Peking has said the reason for firing Xia is his poor teaching record.

Although the LSE spokeswoman told Times Higher Education that the university is looking into the case, the president and vice-chancellor of Cardiff University, another partner institution of Peking, told the newspaper it would be inappropriate to take a position on the matter.

“Universities have their own procedures on accountability, agreed with their governing bodies, and as an autonomous institution we avoid intervening in the complex decisions that other institutions may have to take from time to time,” Colin Riordan said in a statement.

October 22, 2013

The National Student Clearinghouse is the closest thing the United States has to a national student-level record system, which makes it an increasingly potent tool for policy makers and researchers hoping to understand how students move into and through higher education. But like all data sources, it has its limitations, and a paper published by the National Bureau for Economic Research aims to help those using the clearinghouse do so effectively.

The paper (abstract available here), written by scholars at the University of Michigan and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, notes that the clearinghouse -- a nonprofit entity that had its start as a tool for tracking recipients of federal financial aid -- has transformed itself into a major source of studies produced by its own staff and a haven for researchers tapping into its data. But they point out as well that, like any data source, the clearinghouse has its flaws -- notably that there is substantial variation in how fully students are represented in certain sectors, states and population subgroups. "As research using NSC data becomes even more common, researchers need to be aware of the benefits and challenges of working with these data," the authors write.

October 22, 2013

Students at Kentucky State University are protesting the firing of Leslie Thomas as director of student life, The State Journal reported. Thomas says that she was fired because of her strong relationship with students. She noted that the university had recently eliminated two popular trips that she organized every year -- one a service trip to New Orleans and the other a black history tour. University officials said that they could not comment on a personnel matter.

 

October 22, 2013

The U.S. Department of Education has rescheduled the second session of its negotiations over possible new regulations to ensure that vocational programs are preparing students for gainful employment, according to a letter a department official sent to participants. The rule making session was postponed during the government shutdown. It is now scheduled for Nov. 18-20. Negotiators are seeking to find consensus on rules for vocational programs at community colleges and for-profit institutions.

October 22, 2013

William Peace University, an 800-student liberal arts college in North Carolina, announced Monday it had closed a controversial land deal that has drawn criticism of the university by already suspicious alumnae, including major donors. It plans to spend nearly $21 million on a shopping center and other property across the street from its campus. Of that, $10.75 million is coming from the university's $33 million endowment -- a third of the endowment, though less than the two-thirds some had suggested would be used for the deal.

The rest of the funding comes from a $10 million bank loan that is structured to put only the new property and not any of the university's existing assets on the line in the event of a default, said Billie Redmond, CEO of Trademark Properties, which brokered the deal for William Peace. Redmond said the vast majority of the shopping center is leased and generates a steady flow of income. The university also can use parcels it purchased for expansion. 

The land deal is only the latest in a series of controversies that involve nearly every aspect of Peace’s operations – the once all-women’s college began admitting men, changed its name, asked faculty to sign agreements giving away their rights to take the university to court, downsized and is attempting to grow its enrollment, according to local news media accounts.

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