Higher Education Quick Takes

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Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The Houston Athletics Foundation, an endowment that supports athletics programs at the University of Houston, lost more than 40 percent of its assets to a Ponzi scheme, the Associated Press reported. More than $2.2 million of the endowment's $5.1 million had been invested with a financial adviser for college basketball coaches who is believed to have set up the scheme and who committed suicide last summer.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The University of Michigan on Friday promoted news coverage of an open letter on college costs by Mary Sue Coleman, president of the institution, to President Obama. "Higher education is a public good currently lacking public support. There is no stronger trigger for rising costs at public universities and colleges than declining state support," Coleman wrote. In the letter, she praised Obama for recently gathering a small group of college presidents to talk about college costs. But in offering this public advice to Obama, Coleman didn't note that she was one of the presidents invited to the White House, but sent her regrets. A spokeswoman said that Coleman's "schedule wouldn't permit" her to join the White House meeting.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

The faculty, key administrators and the board of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute have all now approved a new system for faculty governance, potentially ending a long conflict between faculty leaders and President Shirley Ann Jackson. The dispute over faculty governance started in 2006, when the Faculty Senate voted to extend voting rights to non-tenure-track faculty members and the administration objected, saying that the Faculty Senate could not do so, given the role of faculty committees in topics such as tenure review. As the dispute escalated, RPI killed the body, replaced it with a new interim body, and was widely criticized by faculty groups such as the American Association of University Professors. The new constitution for faculty governance authorizes the election of non-tenure-track faculty members for some seats in the Faculty Senate and on some (but not all) committees.

The Albany Times Union reported that the adoption of the new constitution may signal an improvement of relations between professors and Jackson, although the article noted that the student government at RPI recently asked the institute's board to remove Jackson (a request the board rejected). The Times Union also noted that RPI's accreditor, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, has been pushing for a restoration of a faculty governance system.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Missouri State University officials are apologizing for the actions of their band, which played "Dixie" at the dedication of a park where three black men were lynched in 1906, The Springfield News-Leader reported. Black leaders complained that the selection was offensive. Missouri State officials said that the band leader did not understand the historical significance of the song, and that it would not again be performed at public events.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Illinois State University allows five nonprofit groups in the state to be counted as employees of the university, gaining them access to the state's pension system for university employees, The Chicago Tribune reported. The university defends the practice as a way to help the groups (which include several education-related associations and the Special Olympics), and says that the policy doesn't cost the state money. The university doesn't pay these employees and the organizations make contributions to the pension fund. But others say that those payments don't cover costs for all employees, and that the practice is inappropriate at a time of concern about the financial stability of the pension system.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 4:28am

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- which pioneered the idea of making course materials free online -- today announced a major expansion of the idea, with the creation of MITx, which will provide for interaction among students, assessment and the awarding of certificates of completion to students who have no connection to MIT.

MIT is also starting a major initiative -- led by Provost L. Rafael Reif -- to study online teaching and learning.

The first course through MITx is expected this spring. While the institute will not charge for the courses, it will charge what it calls "a modest fee" for the assessment that would lead to a credential. The credential will be awarded by MITx and will not constitute MIT credit. The university also plans to continue MIT OpenCourseWare, the program through which it makes course materials available online.

An FAQ from MIT offers more details on the new program.

While MIT has been widely praised for OpenCourseWare, much of the attention in the last year from the "open" educational movement has shifted to programs like the Khan Academy (through which there is direct instruction provided, if not yet assessment) and an initiative at Stanford University that makes courses available -- courses for which some German universities are providing academic credit. The new initiative would appear to provide some of the features (instruction such as offered by Khan, and certification that some are creating for the Stanford courses) that have been lacking in OpenCourseWare.



Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Tea Party organizers and others are gathering petitions for a statewide vote in California to repeal the state's Dream Act, which authorizes students who do not have the legal right to reside in the United States to receive state financial aid, The Los Angeles Times reported. It is unclear whether the organizers will be able to gather enough signatures to get their proposal on the ballot. Polls have shown that 55 percent of state residents oppose the law that gave the students aid eligibility, but the outcome of California ballot measures is difficult to predict.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

A new study released by the Community College Research Center found that performance-based funding policies lead to greater use of data by colleges in institutional planning. Performance-based funding also encourages academic improvements and better student services. However, the policies can create unintended consequences, such as compliance costs, narrowing of institutional missions and grade inflation, the study found.

Monday, December 19, 2011 - 4:32am

Riley Westmoreland, student government president at Samford University, doesn't need to worry about access to the university president. The Birmingham News reported that the university's president is Andrew Westmoreland, her father. And he has a tradition of regularly inviting the student government president to dine with his family.


Monday, December 19, 2011 - 3:00am

Ugandan higher education authorities recently authorized the Virtual University of Uganda to begin offering fully online programs, the first such programs in the region. The university has created an open access virtual library and a course management system through Moodle. Instruction will be in English, but there are plans to expand to French as well.


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