Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 5, 2012

An article in The New York Times looks at a growing student movement to push colleges to sell their endowment holdings in fossil fuel, coal and oil companies. To organizers, such moves are seen as a way to combat climate change. With a few exceptions -- such as the 1980s movement to sell stocks of companies doing business in apartheid-era South Africa -- colleges have generally resisted moves to use their endowment holdings to encourage causes. Two small colleges -- Unity College and Hampshire College -- have adopted policies that will end investments in fossil fuels, but institutions with large endowments have thus far declined to get behind the new movement.

 

December 5, 2012

About a dozen students occupying the clock tower at Cooper Union, protesting the decision by the president of one of the last remaining institutions to offer students a tuition-free education to take it off that short list. The students, who began their protest Monday, vowed Tuesday to remain until their list of demands, including the president’s resignation and a hiring freeze, are met. The occupation is the latest action by students unhappy with the steps taken by President Jamshed Bharucha, who said in April that the institution would start charging for some new graduate programs, and might start charging tuition for all students after 2013. Police have been in and out of the clock tower, and Bharucha said in a statement Tuesday that his first priority is the safety of the students, whose full tuition is covered through scholarships. Faculty members held a press conference at the site Tuesday afternoon, reaffirming their support for a tuition-free college.

December 5, 2012

A University of Alabama graduate student faces criminal charges of stalking and making terroristic threats against officials there in e-mail messages, The Tuscaloosa News reported. The newspaper said that Zachary Burrell, a doctoral student in physics, had been jailed since Friday as a result of “erratic” e-mails that included video clips of a movie ("Dark Matter") that depicted a graduate student's 1991 shootings of professors and a peer at the University of Iowa. While the e-mails "did not contain direct threats to the general campus population,” according to a university spokeswoman quoted by the newspaper, a deposition filed in court said that he had been dismissed from the university for "various behavioral issues.”

December 4, 2012

Faculty and student leaders who have expressed a lack of confidence in the Rev. Lawrence Biondi, president of Saint Louis University, had been trying to patch things up with the president and the board, which backs him. But The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that a leaked memo to trustees has inflamed tensions. In the letter, posted to the Facebook group "SLU Students for No Confidence," the board chair urges fellow trustees not to talk to the press and to trust the advice of an outside public relations firm hired to help calm the situation. Comments posted to the site suggest that Father Biondi's critics are furious at the idea that the controversy at the university is a situation that can be managed by image consultants.

 

December 4, 2012

Wellesley College is joining edX, one of the primary providers of massive online open courses, or MOOCs, The Boston Globe reported. Anant Agarwal, president of edX, said that the college will try to preserve some of the features of liberal arts colleges in its four MOOCs to be offered through edX. The courses will allow instructors to divide classes into small groups for discussions. "We want to create the aura of a small-group setting, so that students can discuss among themselves," Agarwal said. To date, research universities have dominated the MOOC space. edX's other members are Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of California at Berkeley and the University of Texas System. Of the 33 institutions that offer MOOCs through Coursera, only one -- Wesleyan University -- is a liberal arts college.

 

December 4, 2012

A new blog for grad students and professors who need a little distraction as the semester winds down is "When in Academia." Nothing long to read -- just quick images on such topics as "When I realize that the professor I was talking about was within earshot," "When a student asks me to excuse a sorority-related absence," "When someone says that I blame everything on capitalism" and "When I hear undergrads talking about their plans for holiday break."

December 4, 2012

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has issued a stay of its ruling that invalidated a vote by Michigan citizens to bar public colleges and universities from considering race in admissions decisions. The ruling by the appeals court will not take effect until the Supreme Court has decided on an appeal, The Detroit News reported.

 

December 4, 2012

As President Obama's first term nears an end, two Education Department officials -- Russlynn Ali, head of the department's Office of Civil Rights, and Justin Hamilton, the department's chief spokesman -- are leaving the federal government. Ali, the assistant secretary for civil rights, headed an office widely perceived as more aggressive than its predecessors on issues like such as Title IX and sexual harassment. Seth Galanter, the office's deputy assistant secretary for policy, will take her place as acting assistant secretary. Hamilton plans to work on education reform outside the federal government; Daren Briscoe, a former deputy press secretary, is acting press secretary.

The departures are among several from education policy positions as Obama's first term draws to a close. Zakiya Smith, a key White House adviser on higher education policy, left in November for the Center for American Progress.

December 4, 2012

The chancellor of Patrick Henry College, an evangelical Christian college in Virginia, briefly threatened legal action against authors of Queer Patrick Henry College, a blog about being gay at the institution, over their use of the college's name. In a Facebook message, Michael Farris, the college's president, said he would take legal action against Facebook to force the group to change its name because it violated the college's copyright. After the blog's authors, three anonymous students at Patrick Henry, posted about the threat, Farris rescinded it in a Facebook comment. 

Franciscan University of Steubenville, a conservative Roman Catholic college in Ohio, made a similar legal threat over name use against a group of gay alumni earlier this year.

December 4, 2012

In today’s Academic Minute, Sera Young of Cornell University explores why some pregnant women experience a compulsion to eat odd things. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

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