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.
Higher Education Quick Takes
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.
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.
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.
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.
For the first time ever, white students do not make up a majority among freshmen at the University of Texas at Austin. According to figures announced by the university Tuesday, white freshmen make up 47.6 percent of students, down from 51.1 percent a year ago. Hispanic enrollment now makes up 23.1 percent, up from 20.8 percent; black enrollment is up to 5.1 percent, from 4.9 percent; and Asian enrollment is 17.3 percent, down from 19.6 percent.
Chicago State University, which was in danger of losing its accreditation over very low retention rates and a graduation rate of 14 percent, is holding on to its accreditation, the Chicago Tribune reported. The university has started a series of programs to improve retention, responding to some of the concerns expressed by accreditors, and the university said that its retention rate of freshmen has started to increase. Still, the publicity about the problems may be having an impact. Enrollment of first-time, full-time freshmen is down 12.9 percent this fall, although many urban public universities are reporting increases.
In the latest twist in the legal fight over Fisk University's prized modern art collection, a judge has rejected a plan by Tennessee's attorney general to move it to a Nashville arts center, reopening the prospect that Fisk may be able to sell a half-share in the collection and allow it to be displayed elsewhere for part of the year, The Tennessean reported. Fisk, a financially troubled historically black college, says that it cannot afford to maintain the collection and that proceeds from a sale are needed to support the institution. The judge earlier rejected that idea, saying that Fisk accepted the collection as a bequest to maintain the art, not to raise money. But the judge found that the attorney general's response was not sufficiently long term in its approach. The ruling came on a day that Fisk students protested the plan to move the art to the local arts center.
The White House Summit on Community Colleges is scheduled for Oct. 5. President Obama asked Jill Biden, a community college professor who is the wife of the vice president, to convene the event “to provide an opportunity for community college leaders, students, education experts, business leaders and others to share innovative ways to educate our way to a better economy.” More details about the summit are expected in the coming weeks. A short video posted by the White House Wednesday morning features Biden, students and alumni talking about the value of community colleges and their importance in American society. The White House is also inviting community college students and others to submit their own videos or online comments about community colleges.
New research in the Journal of the American Medical Association says that many medical students suffering from depression are afraid to seek help because of the stigma associated with treatment. The research notes that the finding is a serious one because medical students are more likely than those in the general population to experience depression.