Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

March 17, 2014

Occidental College is among the colleges and universities being criticized for allegedly failing to adequately respond to sexual assaults, and The Los Angeles Times reported in December that the college had failed to report, as required by federal law, 27 sexual assault allegations. But on Friday, the Times published a note saying that its article had been incorrrect. "Occidental representatives approached The Times early this month to seek a correction. Documents reviewed by The Times this week show that the 27 incidents did not fall under the law's disclosure requirements for a variety of reasons," the note said. "Some were not sexual assaults as defined by the Clery Act. Rather, they involved sexual harassment, inappropriate text messages or other conduct not covered by the act. Other alleged incidents were not reported because they occurred off-campus, beyond the boundaries that Occidental determined were covered by the act. Some occurred in 2011, and the college accounted for them that year."

The Times note also announced the firing of the reporter who wrote the article and others about Occidental. The newspaper explained that "editors learned from the author of the articles, staff writer Jason Felch, that he had engaged in an inappropriate relationship with someone who was a source for the Dec. 7 story and others Felch had written about Occidental's handling of sexual assault allegations. Felch acknowledged that after the relationship ended, he continued to use the person as a source for future articles. Times Editor Davan Maharaj dismissed Felch on Friday. Maharaj said the inappropriate relationship with a source and the failure to disclose it earlier constituted 'a professional lapse of the kind that no news organization can tolerate.' "

The blog LA Observed published a statement from Felch in which he acknowledges the inappropriate relationship and the errors, but notes that, prior to publication of the article, Occidental declined to make relevant officials available to discuss the allegations on which his article was based.


March 17, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Brent Plate, visiting associate professor of religious studies at Hamilton College, examines how objects can have a rich personal significance. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


March 17, 2014

Some Connecticut legislators are considering changes in the state's controversial new law on remedial education, The New Haven Register reported. The law makes it very difficult for colleges to offer remedial education; instead they are supposed to provide extra academic support to students in need of remediation while they take standard college courses. But many students and college officials have raised doubts about the new system, prompting some lawmakers to consider changes.

March 17, 2014

Officials at the University of Southern Maine and Southern Oregon University have announced retrenchment plans, in response to state budget cuts, that eliminate faculty jobs and academic programs -- and that are controversial.

At the University of Southern Maine, President Theodora Kalikow on Friday announced a plan to eliminate majors in  American and New England studies, geosciences and recreational and leisure studies plus an arts and humanities major at the university's Lewiston-Auburn College. The plan would eliminate the jobs of 20-30 faculty members and 10-20 staff members. The Morning Sentinel reported that many faculty members are opposing the cuts and questioning the process by which the plan was developed.

Southern Oregon University will eliminate its physics department as part of a plan to cut 25 faculty positions, Ashland Daily Tidings reported. Officials said that they hoped to find a way to reinstate physics, linked more closely to regional hiring needs.




March 17, 2014

The University of Louisville last year agreed to pay six months of salary to 175 administrators and staff members who agreed to take earlier retirement. But The Courier-Journal reported that three administrators got a full year's pay. The newspaper noted that all were close to President James Ramsey and all agreed to pledge not to “disparage, demean or impugn the university or its senior leadership.” Some administrators who didn't get the extra pay are raising questions about why the agreements were needed, and why they resulted in much more pay for those three officials. Ramsey declined to comment on the agreements.



March 17, 2014

Kennesaw State University has agreed to restore an art installation that officials ordered removed from its art museum last month. The work dealt with the the homestead of Corra Harris (1869-1935), an author who gained unusual prominence in her era for a female writer -- and whose career took off when she penned a piece widely viewed as a apology for lynching, full of racist stereotypes. The homestead is controversial at Kennesaw because the university accepted it as a gift to preserve in 2009 -- over the objections of some faculty members. University administrators ordered the installation about Harris removed from an exhibit that was celebrating the opening of a new art museum on campus -- and that decision has been denounced as censorship by many artists and others.

A statement from the university said that the exhibit will have explanatory information, and that the university's  leaders "reaffirm the administration’s full support for academic freedom and the free exchange of ideas. Our intention is to use this entire experience as a learning and engagement opportunity for all of our stakeholders." The university statement also included a statement from Ruth Stanford, the artist and an associate professor at Georgia State University, saying that she agreed with the decision to restore the installation.

Via email, Stanford was more critical of the university. "I am happy that my work is going back in the show so that viewers can see it and form their own opinions. However, despite my best efforts I feel that KSU largely continues to control the conversation. The conversation should be about censorship, and KSU does not want to talk about that," she said.

Also via email, the university responded to Stanford, and said that the university has in fact communicated about all issues that have been raised. "We have openly communicated the university administration's perspective and articulated the rationale for the action that was taken through three different media statements. We have responded to each and every individual media inquiry that we have received since this issue first developed. Members of the museum staff also have remained in frequent and consistent communication with the artist to ensure that the line of communication has remained open," the statement said.

"Finally, campus officials have directed that the related programming that the university has pledged to conduct will address all aspects of this controversy -- beginning with the acceptance of the gift and including the present controversy."

March 17, 2014

A report being released today by the Council of Independent Colleges, "Strengthening the STEM Pipeline: The Contributions of Small and Mid-Sized Independent Colleges," argues that such colleges make a disproportionate contribution to efforts to build up the American work force in science and technology. The report notes that many people assume research universities are the key sector for promoting STEM education. But on a per capita basis, the report argues, small private colleges deserve more support for STEM education.

For example, the report says that between 2006 and 2010, 25 graduates of Allegheny College (total undergraduate enrollment of 1,849) went on to earn doctorates in chemistry. During the same period, 30 graduates of the University of Pittsburgh (17,413 undergraduate enrollment) and 25 graduates of Carnegie Mellon University (5,484 undergraduate enrollment) earned doctorates in chemistry.

The report gave another example, this one for the biological sciences. The CIC study noted that one of every four graduates in biological sciences from Swarthmore College, Haverford College, Grinnell College and Oberlin College went on to complete a Ph.D., a rate higher than flagship public universities in their states: Pennsylvania State University (16 percent), the University of Iowa (13 percent), Iowa State University (10 percent), and Ohio State University (8 percent).

March 17, 2014

Pima Community Colleges faces a possible freeze on enrolling new students using veterans' educational benefits because of concerns over whether the college is complying with rules governing those benefits, The Arizona Daily Star reported. The concerns from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs for the last two years have been over reporting requirements on changes in the status of students using the benefits. Colleges are required to quickly report such changes, so that colleges don't continue to receive benefits who drop out or enroll in ineligible programs. Pima has been faulted for numerous instances of failing to make such reports. Lee Lambert, chancellor of Pima, said that “the college dropped the ball. It’s not acceptable."


March 14, 2014

Many students and faculty members consider coffee to be essential to their daily existence. The University of California at Davis could be moving toward offering a major in coffee, The Sacramento Bee reported. The university, already known for its research and teaching on wine, has created the Coffee Center. Faculty members will conduct research on such topics as as the genetics of coffee and sensory perception of coffee drinkers. A long-term goal is establishing a major in coffee.


March 14, 2014

Cengage Learning appears poised to emerge from bankruptcy after the academic publisher's plan of reorganization on Thursday received court approval. The plan, supported by all of Cengage's major stakeholders, eliminates about $4 billion of the company's debt, and secures Cengage $1.75 billion in exit funding. In a press release, the company said the plan is likely to take effect in the coming weeks. Cengage filed for bankruptcy protection last July.


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