Six higher education groups are urging the U.S. Senate to pass long-delayed legislation this week to overhaul federal patent laws. In a letter to senators, the Association of American Universities and five other associations express their support for the measure, S. 23. The legislation would more closely align U.S. patent laws with those in Europe and Asia in several ways, including by granting patents for a particular innovation to the first inventor to file a patent for it, rather than, necessarily, to the creator of the innovation. An amendment is expected this week that would eliminate the legislation's "first-inventor-to-file" provision, which some lawmakers say would tilt the system against individual inventors and entrepreneurs. The college groups urge senators to reject the amendment.
Higher Education Quick Takes
The University of the District of Columbia is facing questions about first class air travel by its president, Allen Sessoms, following the release of records on the travel to a Fox 5 reporter. One of the trips (this one business class) was to Egypt, and UDC would provide only limited and redacted records about what he did there, spending a few hours a day visiting a sister university and spending other time on tourist activities and shopping. On the same trip, he stopped in Britain on the way back (spending $1,000 there,) but the university said it had no documentation for why he was there. Sessoms declined to comment.
Japan has been shocked by an Internet cheating scandal on an entrance exam to Kyoto University, one of the country's most prestigious institutions. The New York Times reported that questions from the exam (and replies) were posted on a popular website while the exam was taking place.
Many Australian academics worry that the availability of online tools is encouraging more students to skip class, The Sydney Morning Herald reported. The article cites professors who talk about lots of empty chairs in their classes -- and there are surveys to back up their impressions. One survey found that 19 percent of students spend more than 20 hours on campus each week, down from 32 percent in 1994.
Research published Sunday in the journal BMC Public Health finds that higher levels of education are correlated with lower blood pressure and lower incidence of other factors -- such as smoking and weight gain -- associated with health problems.
Republican leaders in the U.S. House Friday released temporary budget legislation that would end the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership Program and cut $129 million in earmarked funds distributed in 2010 through the Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education. The measure, which would extend funding for the federal government until March 18, is designed to give Congressional leaders and the White House more time to reach agreement on spending legislation for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends in September. A failure to reach agreement would result in a government shutdown, and the parties seem far apart right now, with the Obama administration and, to a lesser extent, Senate Democrats opposed to the deep cuts contained in the appropriations measure the House passed this month. The temporary measure introduced on Friday would cut $4 billion over all; $64 million of that would come from eliminating LEAP, which provides federal matching funds to states that use their own money for need-based aid. President Obama's 2012 budget would eliminate that program, too. Unlike the House's 2011 bill, the temporary measure would not cut funds for the Pell Grant Program.
Belmont University has officially recognized Bridge Builders, a group focused on discussion of gay issues, after previously rejecting the organization's requests for official status, The Tennessean reported. The reversal follows an extended debate over gay rights at the Christian university -- after a lesbian coach was ousted in December. In February, the college amended its anti-bias policy to bar discrimination based on sexual orientation.
Two articles in the Los Angeles Times offer a devastating critique of how the Los Angeles Community College District has managed a series of massive bond issues (total of $5.7 billion) for construction in the community college system. While the articles note the construction of some key buildings to meet pressing needs, they also note example after example of poorly planned or poorly executed facilities. One article focuses on these flaws, identifying such problems as heating and cooling units installed upside down, uneven steps, defective plumbing and ceiling tiles that would not withstand an earthquake.
Further, the article details numerous other cases where major spending on planning and designing facilities ended up being a waste as officials decided not to build those facilities. Other examples of questionable spending in the article include funds for a feng shui expert ($250 an hour) and $350,000 on video production (including chartered helicopters for aerial shots) to produce public relations material on the construction campaign. Larry Eisenberg, head of the building effort, defended it to the Times, but e-mail messages he sent that were obtained by the the newspaper suggested that he too sees serious problems. In one e-mail, he wrote, "Our new buildings are fundamentally flawed.... We cannot control lighting systems, HVAC [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] systems, security systems, building management systems, etc. We have buildings that leak.... We are opening buildings that do not work at the most fundamental level."
The second article details donations by companies that have won contracts for the facilities to the campaigns of those elected as trustees of the district and to the campaigns on behalf of the bond measures.