Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, March 7, 2011 - 3:00am

Moody's Investors Service is today releasing a report predicting that the coming years will see more public colleges declare "financial exigency," a condition of such dire financial danger that faculty groups acknowledge it may justify steps as severe as layoffs of tenured faculty members. Moody's makes its prediction on the basis of continued state budget cuts -- without additional federal stimulus money to minimize the impact of cuts. Moody's rates colleges' credit-worthiness, and the ratings can have a significant impact on the cost of borrowing through bonds. The report notes the fears of some colleges that a declaration of financial exigency might result in a lower bond rating.

But Moody's says not to worry. A summary of the report from Moody's says that "financial exigency is likely to be a positive step in terms of credit standing because it empowers management to take aggressive cost-cutting steps to preserve cash flow to pay debt service. Such a declaration would have little or no negative impact on a university's bond rating if Moody's expects the actions to improve the institution's future financial position."

Monday, March 7, 2011 - 3:00am

Senate leaders on Friday released their version of a bill to set federal spending for the rest of the 2011 fiscal year, which would reject virtually all of the cuts proposed in the legislation that passed the House of Representatives last month. The Senate measure -- which, if passed, would set up a sharp contrast and a potential conflict that could lead to a government shutdown -- would keep the maximum Pell Grant at its current $5,550, largely shield spending on other student aid and academic research programs, and sustain programs that the House would eliminate, such as the AmeriCorps national service program.

Monday, March 7, 2011 - 3:00am

In today’s Academic Minute, Douglas Robinson of Mount Saint Mary College explains the environmental factors that trigger migration instincts in birds. Find out more about the Academic Minute here.

Monday, March 7, 2011 - 3:00am

University presses need to consider new business models, and share information on successful new approaches, but no one model should be assumed to be correct for all, according to a report being released today by the Association of American University Presses. "[T]he simple product-sales models of the 20th century, devised when information was scarce and expensive, are clearly inappropriate for the 21st-century scholarly ecosystem. As the report details, new forms of openness, fees, subscriptions, products, and services are being combined to try to build sustainable business models to fund innovative digital scholarly publishing in diverse arenas," the report says.

The report stresses the role of university presses in vetting and improving scholarly writing, not just publishing it, and that emphasis turns up in several recommendations. "Open access is a principle to be embraced if publishing costs can be supported by the larger scholarly enterprise. University presses, and nonprofit publishers generally, should become fully engaged in these discussions," the report says. Another recommendation: "Proposals and plans for new business models should explicitly address the potential impact of the new model on other parts of the press’s programs, as well as explicitly address the requirements, both operational and financial, for making the transition to a new model."

Friday, March 4, 2011 - 3:00am

Howard Davies has resigned as director of the London School of Economics and Political Science, amid a growing scandal over the school's ties to Libya, Times Higher Education reported. The school's governing council has started an inquiry into the Libya ties, which were nurtured by Saif Gaddafi, who received a Ph.D. from the school and is the son of the country's ruler. Elements of the scandal include allegations of plagiarism in Saif Gaddafi's dissertation, accepting money tied to Libya's government in return for providing advice and training, and a failure until recently to disclose the nature of the relationships.

Friday, March 4, 2011 - 3:00am

Harding University, a Christian institution in Arkansas, has blocked access to a website created by some of its gay and lesbian students and alumni, The Arkansas Times reported. A statement from the university said that the university's "student handbook states that the university holds to the biblical principle that sexual relationships are unacceptable to God outside the context of marriage and that sexual immorality in any form will result in suspension from the university. Based on that policy, university administrators felt that having this website available on campus goes against said mission and policies." The website, called HU Queer Press, gave this explanation of its mission: "The voices enclosed are the unedited and uncensored voices of individuals who are all too familiar with censorship. In truth, there is no single, identifiable goal of this zine other than to put our voices out there. Our aim is that through reading these pages you might become the ones to create the zine's ending — to usher in its full political, social, and religious implications. We fully believe in the potential of communities to be free of oppression, hatred, and misunderstanding of queer individuals — will you help us create that reality at Harding and beyond?"

Friday, March 4, 2011 - 3:00am

Chestnut Hill College on Thursday issued a new statement on its removal of two courses from Rev. James St. George, a gay priest who worked as an adjunct at the Roman Catholic college and was popular with many students. The statement said that "we express our sorrow for not communicating our decision, rife with complex and complicating factors, clearly" and that the college's decision was "sensationalized and distorted," becoming "a source of deep pain and anguish for the members of our college community, especially for those who are gay, as well as for our gay alumni, friends, benefactors, and neighbors. We ache for the negative impact this story is having on them. Likewise, we are sincerely sorry for the confusion and misinterpretation of facts that led people to draw conclusions about Chestnut Hill College that are inconsistent with our history." The statement did not detail any of the distortions that the college believes have been expressed elsewhere, but stated (emphasis in original) that Chestnut Hill is "an inclusive Catholic community that welcomes women and men from all religious faiths, cultures, backgrounds and lifestyles." The statement also said that the college "is reviewing its policies and procedures to ensure that this situation never happens again."

The college did not respond to requests to talk about the statement and to elaborate on its points -- just as the college did not respond to requests for elaboration on its earlier statement about its former adjunct.

Father St. George is not a Roman Catholic, but is part of the Old Catholic Apostolic Church of the Americas, which split from the Roman Catholic Church in the 1870s and which today permits priests to be married or gay. The college's initial statements denied that Father St. George was fired (even though he produced contracts he had been given for two courses) and suggested that he deceived the college by wearing "a traditional Catholic priest's collar" (when Father St. George noted that he is openly gay and openly not a Roman Catholic, and has talked publicly about both of those facts for years).

Students at the college have created a Facebook group and are organizing a rally to defend Father St. George. On the Facebook page, the students say that "Father James St. George is an amazing teacher who has the ability to really get his students to think outside the box while looking at a situation from all points of view," that they believe that "EVERYTHING that Chestnut Hill has released has been a LIE and cannot be reached for comment. They will not even answer to their students, like me," and that students should "show your support for EQUALITY, RELIGIOUS UNDERSTANDING, and JUSTICE."

Friday, March 4, 2011 - 3:00am

The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, the student newspaper at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, has apologized to readers for a column that said that women who dress "a certain way," such as wearing "a promiscuous outfit to a party," should not blame men who rape them. Such a woman, the column said, "is a victim of her own choices." The student newspaper has apologized for the "offensive and inaccurate" column and dismissed its author. The paper is keeping the controversial column available online, explaining that "we cannot hide that mistake and must own up to our bad decisions."

Friday, March 4, 2011 - 3:00am

After weeks of divisive debate, Bergen County College’s Board of Trustees reached a compromise Wednesday with Kathleen A. Donovan, the New Jersey county executive who threatened to cut local funding for the college if she did not gain the ability to unilaterally remove items from the board’s meeting agendas. Under the compromise, which was approved unanimously by the board, Donovan can shelve agenda items, but they can be put back on the agenda within a month. Pleased with the decision, Donovan told the Bergen Record: “It’s not my job to pick the teachers or interfere with the workings of the college. It’s dollars and cents. It’s about how the money is spent.” E. Carter Corriston, board chairman, released a statement Thursday, stating: "The board looks forward to a partnership with the Bergen county executive that will promote the mutual goal of providing excellent educational opportunities to the students of Bergen Community College at a fair and reasonable cost."

Friday, March 4, 2011 - 3:00am

The trustees of New Jersey's Brookdale Community College placed the president of the two-year institution on unpaid leave Thursday amid an investigation into charges that he had run up significant travel and other expenses that "may not be directly connected to Brookdale or are contrary to Brookdale’s adopted policies," the board said in its statement. Brookdale's president, Peter Burnham, came under fire last week after the Asbury Park Press and other publications reported on his significant benefits and perquisites. Further reviews of the college's budget led to Burnham's suspension and the hiring of an interim president, the board said.

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