Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 6, 2013

Subra Suresh, director of the National Science Foundation and a former engineering dean at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is the new president of Carnegie Mellon University. President Obama appointed Suresh as NSF in 2010, and he has been on leave as the Vannevar Bush Professor of Engineering at MIT since then. In 20 years at MIT, he was a chair and professor of materials science and engineering as well as engineering dean. On July 1, he will be Carnegie Mellon's ninth president, succeeding Jared L. Cohon after 16 years in office.


February 6, 2013

Mandatory cuts to domestic and defense spending are scheduled to take place March 1, but President Obama called on Congress to postpone the cuts Tuesday with a "smaller package of tax cuts and spending changes." The large-scale mandatory cuts, known as sequestration, were originally scheduled to take effect at the beginning of this year, but were postponed as part of the year-end tax deal.

Obama did not specify what types of cuts he'd like to see. Several higher education programs (although not the Pell Grant) would see cuts of 5.1 percent should the across-the-board spending adjustments take effect, and colleges report that federal research funding has already slowed as a result.

February 6, 2013

A group of female students at Memorial University want to organize a sorority there, and a group of male students want to organize a fraternity. But as CBC News reported, the Newfoundland university's student union is blocking the efforts, saying that it will not recognize any group that discriminates on the basis of gender. Most American colleges with single-sex Greek organizations exempt them from gender bias rules, but the student leaders at Memorial won't do so.

Maxwell Page, a director at large at the student union, said the groups' applications were turned down because they are discriminatory.  The student union, he said, "will not ratify any group that the council considers to be of homophobic, racist, ageist, sexist or otherwise discriminatory nature."

But Amanda Wilkins, the co-president of Nu Delta Mu, said her sorority focuses environmental and health causes and it deserves recognition. "We're looking at maybe working with animals or a cancer society, any way we can help the environment, we plan to get involved with those charities," she said.

February 5, 2013

When word spread this weekend that a massive open online course about online education had to be suspended due to technology problems that left many students angry, officials from Coursera and the Georgia Institute of Technology were not available for comment. In interviews Monday, however, officials of both Coursera and Georgia Tech confirmed that the major issue concerned the ability of the 41,000 students to discuss topics in small groups, and that the technology for that feature indeed was not working. The officials also said that they were confident that fixes would be made in a short time period, and that the course would then continue.

Richard A. DeMillo, director of Georgia Tech's Center for 21st Century Universities, said that officials were "not seeing any insurmountable problems" with the technology. There wasn't enough time to test the features for group discussions, he said. Asked if such testing should have taken place, DeMillo said that it was important to put the issue in perspective. "In a bricks and mortar course, it would have taken months to identify and make changes." DeMillo said it was important to let instructors experiment. "If we tell people to just do safe things, we'll stifle innovation," he said.

Andrew Ng, a co-founder of Coursera, said that the experiment using Google Docs for small group discussions "didn't work well enough," but was "really innovative." He said Coursera is continuing to work on quality control mechanisms that can be used before course launches. But he added that "I'm proud we let instructors experiment with different formats."

DeMillo added that he believed that the small group discussion feature, when it works, will be useful in many MOOCs.


February 5, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Robert Heverly of Albany Law School explores the legal implications surrounding differing definitions of the Internet. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


February 5, 2013

York University, in Toronto, announced on Monday that it had received more than $4.5 million from the Canadian International Development Agency to lead the Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) project in Dadaab, Kenya. York is one of four universities -- along with Moi and Kenyatta Universities, in Kenya, and the University of British Columbia -- participating in the initiative, which aims to provide higher education to primary and secondary school teachers in the six refugee camps on the Kenya-Somalia border. The BHER organizers are focusing on education for teachers – who in many cases have completed only primary or secondary school themselves – with the objective of indirectly improving the quality of education for thousands of their students.

Don Dippo, a professor of education at York, explained that the first cohort of 200 teachers/students will be admitted this summer for a foundation year program. Following the foundation year, the participating universities have committed to offer various two-year diploma and three- or four-year degree programs. The programs will be delivered through a hybrid of face-to-face and online instruction.

BHER's organizers expect to enroll 200 new students a year, for a total of 1,000, over the five-year term of the grant.

February 5, 2013

The Common Application has released its new essay prompts -- which have been the subject of some concern because of the elimination of a "free choice" essay topic and the announcement that the length limit would be strictly enforced. The new essay prompts do stress that the length limit will be strictly enforced, but the stated limit is now 650 words, not the earlier pledge of 500 words.

Scott Anderson, director of outreach for the Common Application, said that the change to 650 words was based on "feedback from counselors."

While the prompts do not include the completely open option, the first one is quite broad and would appear to give students wide leeway to write about topics of their choice. The new prompts are:

  • "Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story."
  • "Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?"
  • "Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?"
  • "Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?"
  • "Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family."


February 5, 2013

Inside Higher Ed's Cartoon Caption Contest chugs along this month, with a new drawing to brainstorm about, three new captions for December's cartoon to vote on, and a winning caption from November.

To submit your captions for February's cartoon, please click here. The three entries deemed most clever and creative by our experts' panel will be put to a vote by our readers, and the winner will receive a $100 Amazon gift certificate and a copy of the cartoon signed by Matthew Henry Hall, the artist.

Click here to vote on the three captions nominated as finalists for our December cartoon.

And congratulations to the winner of the Cartoon Caption Contest for November, Joe Broderick, grants facilitator for social and behavioral sciences and international programs at Rutgers University. Find out more about him and his submission here.

February 5, 2013

Dennis Trotter resigned as president of Hastings College Monday over what board leaders called "philosophical differences," The Grand Island Independent reported. Trotter had served only 18 months as president. Don Jackson, who was named as the new president, said that Trotter and the board agreed on goals for the college, but not how to achieve them.


February 5, 2013

U.S. News & World Report announced Monday that it will not change the ranking of Bucknell University even though the institution submitted false data on SAT and ACT averages for several years. When the actual numbers are used, U.S. News says, the changes are so small that they would not change the university's ranking. Bucknell is the fifth college or university to report having submitted false data. U.S. News has moved to "unranked" institutions where the false figures were so different from the real figures that they would have made a difference in the ranking.



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