Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, June 10, 2011 - 3:00am

WASHINGTON -- The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity voted to recommend extending the recognition of three accrediting agencies Thursday, although the American Bar Association's accrediting arm proved controversial among the committee's members.

The committee, known as NACIQI, hears reports from Education Department staff members on accrediting agencies and votes on whether to recommend that the department continue to recognize them -- a significant task, since only students at institutions accredited by a federally recognized agency are eligible to receive federal financial aid. Thursday was the second day of NACIQI's three-day semiannual meeting.

As at the meeting Wednesday, when all agencies were granted at least a conditional extension of recognition, the committee made its recommendations despite evidence of problems in some agencies. Among the most concerning was the American Bar Association, which had 17 violations of department requirements -- not a remarkably high number in a season of increased scrutiny, but enough to give accreditors pause. The committee eventually voted 9 to 4 to extend recognition, and the agency is required to show within a year that it has fixed the areas of concern.

The agency extended similar conditional recognition to the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools and the Council on Occupational Education before moving on to discuss its recommended revisions to the Higher Education Act when it comes up for amendment in 2013. The discussion focused on the regulatory burden of data collection. Committee members agreed that data collection for institutional self-improvement and for federal eligibility for student financial aid need to be decoupled, but without offering suggestions for how such a system might work.

The discussion continues at today's meeting.

Friday, June 10, 2011 - 3:00am

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, is proposing legislation to increase tuition at the State University of New York by 5 percent annually for the next five years, with 8 percent increases at the system's four research universities, The New York Times reported. Further, he said that the funds raised would be used for SUNY, ending a long-standing practice -- the source of deep frustration to SUNY officials and students -- that only small portions of tuition increases actually support SUNY while the rest helps with the state budget. SUNY officials have been pushing for regular increases in tuition, and the research universities have been arguing for rates higher than those charged for other campuses. While Cuomo has pledged increased aid for low-income students, some have questioned whether the tuition increases would discourage students.

Friday, June 10, 2011 - 3:00am

Officials at Southern Methodist University blocked The Daily Campus, the student newspaper, from including a column critical of the university's board in an issue mailed to incoming students. As recounted by The Student Press Law Center, SMU has asked for prior review of that issue (and not regular issues) as a condition of providing the paper with the addresses of the freshmen. SMU officials said that they didn't see the relevance of the column for that issue. The Daily Campus has now published the column on its website. The topic: the need for more transparency on the Board of Trustees.

Friday, June 10, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, York University's Allan Hutchinson discusses the principles of common law that provide the core of most legal systems. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, June 9, 2011 - 3:00am

Roxanne Martino, president and chief executive officer of Aurora Investment Management, which manages billions in hedge funds, announced Wednesday that she is resigning from the board of the University of Notre Dame, following criticism of her political contributions, The Chicago Tribune reported. Conservatives have noted that Martino has given to Emily's List, which backs female candidates who favor abortion rights. "I dearly love my alma mater and remain fully committed to all aspects of Catholic teaching and to the mission of Notre Dame," Martino said in a statement. "I had looked forward to contributing in this new role, but the current controversy just doesn't allow me to be effective."

Thursday, June 9, 2011 - 3:00am

With many professors at public universities battling efforts in states nationwide to strip faculty of their collective bargaining rights or to roll back tenure, the president of the American Association of University Professors urged them to organize and fight -- especially locally.

“Even powerful national trends can be reversed at the local levels,” Cary Nelson, AAUP president and Jubilee Professor of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of English at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said Wednesday morning at the opening plenary address of the association's annual meeting. “That's the only silver lining that's here.... It's time to stand on your hind legs and fight.”

In keeping with its somewhat ominous title, "Something Wicked This Way Comes: What is Happening and What We Can Do About It," Nelson's speech traced the past several months of anti-union efforts, which he described as “astonishing” and unprecedented in his experience. And, though his remarks struck a less optimistic tone than the one used by union leaders at the annual meeting of the American Federation of Teachers, Nelson also seized on the recent spate of bad news as examples of why the 40 attendees at the session -- about half of whom hailed from organized AAUP chapters -- should organize.

An AAUP chapter -- whether it functions as a collective bargaining agent or as a membership organization, can serve as the public face of the faculty, Nelson said. It can also run useful grievance procedures on campuses where they might not be seen as inadequate, he continued, and they can serve as a counterbalance to and check on administrators -- even if the chapter has no formally recognized role in collective bargaining.

“It can make the faculty an organized force,” Nelson said, adding that some AAUP chapters, even though they are at private colleges where collective bargaining is barred by a 1980 Supreme Court ruling, still claim as members a solid majority of the faculty. With this share of membership united under the AAUP banner, he said, professors can still be a force on campus, stiffening the resolve of a college's faculty senate and promoting shared governance: “The AAUP chapter is the senate's political whip.”

On a more general level, Nelson said, solidarity is the best means of combating the efforts that faculty see as so harmful -- and of lessening the accompanying emotional impact. “Like it or not, fear is the primary emotion of faculty these days,” he said. “If you organize, it can help to conquer fear.”

Thursday, June 9, 2011 - 3:00am

Adjunct faculty members at East-West University, in Chicago, voted to unionize and to be represented by a chapter of the National Education Association. The vote follows numerous disputes in which the organizers accused the university of eliminating adjunct jobs to avoid a vote. The university released a statement after the vote in which it said: "All faculty and staff should be aware that this election will not affect anyone. Nor will this affect the current operations of the university. Although the university will bargain in good faith with the union representatives, this does not change our mission focusing on excellence and service."

Thursday, June 9, 2011 - 3:00am

A woman who was a prisoner in South Carolina has pleaded guilty to a fraud scheme in which she submitted false financial aid applications to Webster University in the names of 23 inmates, The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The woman obtained more than $124,000 for students who were not enrolled in Webster's distance education programs, as their applications claimed. A university employee set off the investigation after noticing suspicious addresses on several applications.

Thursday, June 9, 2011 - 3:00am

New York University is teaming up with the University of the People, a young, unaccredited online institution in which most instruction is provided by volunteers and students don't pay tuition, The New York Times reported. Students who do very well at the University of the People could be eligible under the partnership to enroll at NYU's Abu Dhabi campus, and eligible for financial aid.

Thursday, June 9, 2011 - 3:00am

There are relatively few differences in the success rates of women and men who apply for grants from the National Institutes of Health, according to a new study in Academic Medicine. But on grants after a first successful application, men are more likely than women to apply and to receive funding.

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