Higher Education Quick Takes

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Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 3:00am

Leaders of the University of Wisconsin System are urging Governor Scott Walker to reconsider a plan to spin off the system's flagship Madison campus into an independent university -- while the chancellor at Madison has quietly been encouraging the governor to set the campus loose, The Journal-Sentinel of Milwaukee reported. In a letter to Walker on Tuesday, Kevin Reilly, the system's president, and the leaders of its board write that "it has come to our attention that elements of your proposed 2011-13 biennial budget might remove UW-Madison from the UW System." Doing so would return the state to a two-tiered university system that it abandoned 40 years ago, the letter states, which would be bad for students and taxpayers. The UW system officials said that they are committed to giving the Madison campus more flexibility and autonomy, and noted that Madison's chancellor, Biddy Martin -- while pushing hard for more autonomy -- "is not advocating for UW-Madison to be removed from the system."

But late Wednesday, The Journal-Sentinel reported that it had uncovered evidence to the contrary. It cited a brief memo that Martin wrote in January to a member of the governor's cabinet acknowledging Walker's proposal and expressing support for it, if obliquely. "As I indicated when we met, we will need to continue working with the leadership of our key internal constituencies, among them our key alumni, to ensure support for a proposal," Martin wrote. And Wednesday night, the newspaper reported, Martin -- wrote a letter to the regents explaining why she had "ventured as far as I have" in pushing for Madison to split off from the system. "In my view, it is dangerous not only for UW-Madison, but for the entire System and the state to have the System administration and the regents oppose the possibility that its flagship campus, or any other campus, be given the tools it needs to preserve quality and contribute to economic recovery," she wrote.. There is nothing to be gained, in this economic and political environment, from opposing an innovative and helpful step that could move the entire system and state forward."

Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Notre Dame is facing -- for the second time this academic year -- charges that it was slow to investigate an alleged sexual assault by one of its students on a female student at nearby St. Mary's College, the Chicago Tribune reported. In the first case, the student who brought the complaint subsequently committed suicide. In the new case, the man who was accused of the sexual assault (and who says the sex was consensual) was not interviewed by authorities for 11 days after the accusation was made. Notre Dame, while not discussing details of the cases, issued a statement defending its handling of such allegations.

Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 3:00am

The Department of Veterans Affairs has "suspended and/or withdrawn" its approval for educational benefits for veterans to flow to some for-profit colleges because they have used "questionable recruitment practices," Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a letter made public this week by Senator Richard Durbin. Officials at the veterans' agency did not respond to several telephone and e-mail messages requesting more information about which colleges it had acted against, or the practices they had engaged in. Durbin, who is among a small group of senators who have ramped up their criticism of for-profit colleges in the last year, responded to the letter from Shinseki with one of his own, which praised the department "for taking a more careful look at how for-profit schools attract and serve students assisted by VA education benefits” and asked for "more detailed information on the process it is using to assess the schools, as well as the identity of those that have had their approval affected.” A spokeswoman for Durbin said the senator had not yet received a response from the veterans' agency.

Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Union Graduate College's Sean Philpott examines why women around the world are slightly more likely to contract HIV/AIDS than are men, and continuing efforts to address the disparity. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Thursday, February 17, 2011 - 3:00am

Depression and a loss of financial aid significantly influence college students to consider dropping out -- while events such as a death in the family and students' failure to get into their intended major have little apparent effect on continued enrollment, according to a study by Michigan State University scholars. The study, which was funded by the College Board and is forthcoming in the journal Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, used a mathematical model to analyze the "shocks" that promoted 1,158 freshmen at 10 U.S. colleges and universities to withdraw (or not). “Prior to this work, little was known about what factors in a student’s everyday life prompt them to think about withdrawing from college,” said Tim Pleskac, an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State. “We now have a method to measure what events are ‘shocking’ students and prompting them to think about quitting.”

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Twenty-three academic groups issued a joint statement Tuesday condemning Glenn Beck, the television commentator, for language that has inspired others to make threats against Frances Fox Piven, a noted professor of sociology and political science at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Beck has said that he was only engaging in legitimate criticism of a scholar with whom he disagrees. The statement from the scholarly groups says in part: "We vigorously support serious, honest, and passionate public debate.... We support serious engagement on the research of Professor Piven and of others who study controversial issues such as unemployment, the economic crisis, the rights of welfare recipients, and the place of government intervention. We also support the right of political commentators to participate in such debates. At the same time, we insist that all parties recognize the rights of academic researchers not only to gather and analyze evidence related to controversial questions, but also to arrive at their own conclusions and to expect those conclusions to be reported accurately in public debates." The groups that signed the letter are:

  • American Anthropological Association
  • American Association of Geographers
  • American Council of Learned Societies
  • American Educational Research Association
  • American Sociological Association
  • Association for Humanist Sociology
  • Board, American Society of Criminology
  • Board, Research Committee 19 (Poverty, Social Welfare, and Social Policy) of the International Sociological Association
  • Board, Society for the Study of Social Problems
  • Consortium of Social Science Associations
  • Eastern Sociological Society
  • Linguistic Society of America
  • Mid-South Sociological Association
  • Midwest Sociological Society
  • National Women’s Studies Association
  • Pacific Sociological Association
  • Planners of Color Interest Group, Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning
  • Rural Sociological Society
  • Social Science History Association
  • Social Science Research Council
  • Sociologists for Women in Society
  • Sociologists Without Borders
  • Southern Sociological Society
Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Andrea Habura of the University at Albany, of the State University of New York, explains the importance of single-celled organisms called protists. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 3:00am

A Louisiana judge granted an injunction Tuesday to block a study of a proposal to merge Southern University of New Orleans and the University of New Orleans, The Advocate reported. The injunction was sought in a suit by seven Southern students charging that the Louisiana Board of Regents in its current composition is unconstitutional, and thus lacks the authority to review the study that was under way until the injunction was issued. The lawsuit states that the board is required to represent the diversity of the state, but that all of the appointed members of the board are white. (Until recently there were some minority members, but the latest round of appointments replaced them.) Those bringing the suit, and many other supporters of Southern, a historically black institution, oppose the idea of a merger. Governor Bobby Jindal, a Republican, called for the study of the merger, citing low graduation rates at the two universities, but critics say that Southern has a valuable mission that would get lost in a combined institution.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 3:00am

Ohio State University is today announcing its largest gift ever -- $100 million from alumnus Les Wexner, who founded Limited Brands. The gift will primarily benefit medical research and education, as well as Ohio State's Wexner Center for the Arts.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of California at Berkeley on Tuesday announced plans to spend more than $500,000 to add more than 30 foreign language courses, beginning in the next academic year. The additions are part of a broad effort at Berkeley to add sections of courses needed by freshmen and others to launch themselves in various courses of study. Sections will be added in Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese. The news from Berkeley comes at a time that a number of public universities are scaling back language offerings, frequently citing the relatively small number of majors in various programs. The Berkeley announcement noted that the university's analysis has found that only a small minority of language students at the university are language majors, but that the instruction is essential for many courses of study and careers.

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