Higher Education Quick Takes

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Friday, September 17, 2010 - 3:00am

The University of Wyoming is not going to adopt a policy on guest speakers, despite recent controversies involving some invited to the campus, The Star-Tribune reported. Some have suggested the university needs a policy in light of its decision to stop an appearance by William Ayers, the former Weatherman leader who has gone on to a career as an education professor. But Tom Buchanan, the university president, on Thursday reiterated that he stopped that appearance because of safety concerns, not because of criticism of Ayers. While a federal judge went on to say that the decision was inappropriate, Buchanan defended it. "For me -- perhaps not for you, but for me -- it was a safety issue," Buchanan said. "I did what I thought was right, knowing that a judge and many others, on and off campus, might disagree."

Friday, September 17, 2010 - 3:00am

President Obama on Thursday said in a statement that he would support efforts to use a defense spending bill as a vehicle to pass the DREAM Act, which would create a path to citizenship for many college students who have been in the United States for years -- typically brought by their parents at young ages -- without legal documentation to allow them to stay. Many political leaders have argued for keeping the DREAM legislation -- arguably one of the less controversial parts of immigration reform -- in an overall package of changes in immigration laws. The statement issued by the White House stressed that Obama still supported comprehensive immigration reform but that he was getting behind the idea of moving on DREAM first. "The president noted that it is time to stop punishing innocent young people for the actions of their parents, especially when those youth grew up in America and want to serve this country in the military or pursue a higher education they have earned through academic excellence," said the statement.

Friday, September 17, 2010 - 3:00am

Student journalists at Southwestern College, a community college near San Diego, say that the administration is trying to block them from publishing controversial election-related articles by invoking an old rule to require them to seek bids on their publishing contract, The San Diego Union-Tribune reported. The college has not enforced, for at least 15 years, a policy requiring the paper to seek bids before signing a printing contract, but the college now says that the paper may not be printed again until a bidding process takes place. The students say that this is an attempt to squelch them, but college officials say they just discovered the rule -- and they note that students can publish online.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

Labor leaders are criticizing plans by the University of California to require a greater employee contribution to the pension fund, the Los Angeles Times reported. With the university projecting a deficit in the pension fund as high as $21 billion, it started requiring payments by itself (of 4 percent of salaries) and of employees (2 percent) this year. Under a plan that could be approved as soon as today, those shares would increase to 5 percent for employees and 10 percent for the university. Future changes could raise the retirement age or create two tiers of benefits, with new employees not receiving everything going to those currently employed. Union leaders argue that many of these changes will have a disproportionate impact on those at the low end of the salary scale.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

Higher education leaders from 17 countries on Wednesday announced agreement on a set of principles for evaluating quality in master's and doctoral education. The agreement seeks to articulate principles in light of the trend in which much more consideration goes into global consideration of standards for undergraduate education. Among the principles: that quality evaluation must "go beyond the assessment of research quality" and consider such factors as admissions, recruitment and student learning outcomes; that "meaningful quality metrics" are needed to evaluate research; and that faculty members need to play a key role in the evaluation process. Higher education groups from the following countries signed on: Australia, Britain, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, the United States and Vietnam.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

The Higher Education Price Index (HEPI) for fiscal 2010, was 0.9 percent, less than half the 2.3 percent rate for FY2009, according to the Commonfund Institute, which calculates the figure. The index is intended to be used, like an inflation rate, in examining college budgets and policies. The idea is that colleges' expenses are sufficiently different from those in national inflation rates to merit a separate figure. The chief reason for this year's low rate was that two spending categories used in calculating the rate -- materials and utilities -- saw declines in prices.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit has overturned the arson conviction of Briana Walters for an attack on a horticulture laboratory at the University of Washington, The Seattle Times reported. The appeals court ordered a new trial for Walters, of the Earth Liberation Front, saying that the judge in the trial -- who has since died -- improperly allowed some evidence into the trial and failed to question jurors about whether they were exposed to news about the case. "While the evidence against Waters may have been sufficient to sustain her conviction, our review of the record does not leave us convinced that her conviction was fairly obtained," the decision granting a new trial said.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

The Justice Department on Wednesday published revised regulations on certain aspects of the Americans With Disabilities Act, dealing with some issues that relate to higher education. More detail is provided on the obligations to make sure that their athletic stadiums are sufficiently accessible to people with physical disabilities, for example, an issue on which some universities and advocates for those with disabilities have clashed in the past. Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education, said she had not yet studied the revisions -- which are lengthy and complicated -- in detail, but that it appeared that the department had responded to concerns expressed by colleges about some parts of earlier drafts of the regulations. One example is in another part of the regulations -- concerning service animals. The regulations state, for instance, that "service animal means any dog that is individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of an individual with a disability, including a physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual, or other mental disability. Other species of animals, whether wild or domestic, trained or untrained, are not service animals for the purposes of this definition. The work or tasks performed by a service animal must be directly related to the handler's disability." Meloy said that some colleges have received requests to treat other animals -- including reptiles -- as service animals and that officials wanted specificity of the sort outlined in the regulations.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

Ohio State University announced Wednesday that its new senior vice president for university development is Andrew A. Sorensen. The appointment is unusual in that Sorensen already has been a university president, twice -- serving at the University of South Carolina and the University of Alabama. While many former presidents return to faculty positions, it is unusual -- but not unheard of -- for them to take administrative positions in which they aren't president. Among those who have done so: Thomas G. Burish, provost of the University of Notre Dame, who was president of Washington and Lee University.

Thursday, September 16, 2010 - 3:00am

During a year in which the University of California at Berkeley faced deep budget cuts, furloughs and student unrest, did it become a much better institution? Times Higher Education released its world rankings Wednesday night -- and Berkeley came in at #8, an impressive gain from #39 last year. And once again, the power of methodology changes is evident in rankings. After last year's rankings were widely criticized -- with many citing Berkeley's relatively low grades as an example that something must have been wrong with the formula -- Times Higher switched rankings partners and changed its methodology. (Among other changes, the weight has been reduced for the "reputational survey" -- with separate surveys on teaching and research.) Generally, American universities fare well in the formula, occupying 7 of the top 10 spots, and all of the top 5.

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