Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

U.S. News & World Report announced on Friday that it is pulling some of its rankings of engineering programs due to "several database errors." The previous year's rankings will remain in place, the magazine said. "Because year-to-year changes in these rankings are usually marginal, we don't feel that the outcome is substantial to our readers. However, we know that a one- or two-place change can be important to the institutions involved, and we apologize for any problems or confusion this has caused," said the statement. The specialty areas that were replaced by last year's rankings were the following engineering fields: aerospace/aeronautical/astronautical; bioengineering/biomedical; chemical; electrical/electronic/communications; environmental/environmental health; materials; and nuclear.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

There's a new online satire of life working at a college -- the fictional Juniper College. Episodes look at gossip, ambition, frustrations and many other situations familiar to all who work at colleges. The stories are told through the perspective of an adjunct. As The Altoona Mirror reported, most of those involved in the project have ties to Juniata College, a real institution with similarities to Juniper. The show, "Office Hours," may be found here.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

A state judge in Wisconsin temporarily blocked a controversial state law that would bar faculty unions at the University of Wisconsin System and limit collective bargaining by most public workers in the state, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. The judge ruled in a suit backed by critics of the law, but her finding was focused not on the substance of the law, but on lack of required notice given for a key committee vote on the bill. The judge indicated that legislators could take new votes to make the issues in the suit moot, but for now Republicans who pushed the law are vowing to fight her ruling.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Michigan has shut down its Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter, and some of its members face university discipline over hazing issues, The Detroit Free Press reported. The investigations followed allegations from the parent of a pledge that the fraternity hazed pledges by, among other things, hitting them with broomsticks, shooting them with Airsoft guns, making them drink regurgitated water with goldfish and requiring them to pay for strippers. Chapter officials could not be reached for comment, but the national organization disbanded the chapter for a year.

Middlebury College suspended its men's and women's swimming teams, and ended the season for most of its women's team swimmers because of hazing incidents, The Burlington Free Press reported. Also last week, two former pledges settled lawsuits against the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and Sigma Chi over alleged hazing, The Lincoln Journal Star reported. Each student will receive at least $62,500 from the university, but full details of the settlement were not available. The university has suspended the fraternity.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

Last week's news that the latest essay question on the SAT focused on reality television has set off quite a bit of media commentary and comedy. The Huffington Post, for example, suggested that the College Board might shift the focus of the SAT entirely, with questions requiring aspiring college students to calculate the circumference of a Kim Kardashian body part, or to "compare and contrast the social impact of Kanye West's interruption of the VMA's with his tweet on abortion."

The College Board is not making any apologies, however, and is stressing that the essay questions it asks are judged not on content knowledge, but on the ability to explore an issue and make an argument. Laurence Bunin, senior vice president of the College Board, wrote an essay on the controversy for The Daily Beast, saying that all of the "breathless commentary" was irrelevant.

"The central task of the SAT essay -- any SAT essay -- is to take one side of an issue and develop an argument to support that position. Questions raised about the so-called reality-show prompt miss this basic point entirely and confuse the literal topic with the task of writing the essay. Everything a student needs to write a successful essay is included in the prompt itself; one need not have spent any time watching a 'reality' television program to write a strong essay," Bunin wrote. "If the topic had been about balancing the risk of climbing a mountain with the reward of reaching the summit, for example, you could write that essay without ever having done so. It’s about the balance, not the mountain climbing. Students tell us that they can relate to popular-culture references. Using such references is not only appropriate, but potentially even more engaging for students."

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

Matthew Cucchiaro, a graduate student at the University of Colorado at Boulder, has resigned from his position as diversity director of the student government after the dean of students approached him with concerns about a blog post, The Boulder Daily Camera reported. Officials at the student government confirmed that Cucchiaro was asked to resign and did so. The post, which Cucchiaro said was "clearly satirical," ran on his blog, StupidHumanBeings.com. In the post (currently labeled as satire), he identifies women as that day's "stupid" subject for the blog. Part of the post: "Guys, I don’t need to tell you this: women are not as smart as men. Now before all you chicks look up from your gossip mags and yammer on and on as you do about how that’s sexist, I don’t mean all women – I’m sure there are a couple of heffers in congress or the senate who are about on par with the average male. Also, that Asian character on Grey’s Anatomy knows some big words but she obviously doesn’t count because … well, she’s Asian. In your defense, look at who your options are for role models on TV: Tyra Banks, the cast of Friends, The Hills, Sex and the City, and women on Lifetime."

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

A Texas state representative has filed legislation that would bar public colleges from penalizing students or faculty members based on their research or beliefs that reject evolution, The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported. It is unclear what impact the bill would have on grading. Anti-evolution groups say that academic freedom should allow people to argue that evolution is not accurate, despite the consensus among scientists.

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

A teaching assistant at Canada's York University has apologized for critical comments she posted on her Facebook page about her students, The Toronto Star reported. The comments, now removed, said: “My student’s papers are making me dumber, so very stupid; by the minute. Please, make them, stop. They are infecting me with there huge and apparent stupidity, and I fear they will start to effect in my opinion the way I myself right papers (sic).”

Monday, March 21, 2011 - 3:00am

Alexandra Wallace, who made a now notorious video mocking and complaining about Asian students, announced Friday that she is leaving the University of California at Los Angeles, because of death threats and ostracism, the Los Angeles Times reported. She has apologized several times for the video and did so again in announcing her departure. Also on Friday, UCLA announced that while it had denounced the video, it had no plans to take disciplinary action against Wallace because her actions did not violate the campus code of conduct.

Friday, March 18, 2011 - 3:00am

New York City officials on Thursday announced an impressive list of proposals from universities around the world to build a new engineering and science campus in the city, The Wall Street Journal reported. Among the universities seeking to do so are institutions in Canada, India, Israel, Korea and Finland. Proposals also arrived from Columbia, Cornell and Stanford Universities and the City University of New York. Some of the proposals are for partnerships, such as one involving New York University, Carnegie Mellon, the City University of New York, the University of Toronto, and IBM.

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