Instructure, a new company offering learning management systems, is announcing today that it will make its system open source so that institutions can download a version free. The company describes itself as an alternative to market leader Blackboard, but the move also creates competition for open source providers such as Moodle and Sakai. Instructure says that 26 educational institutions have signed contracts and that another 100 are evaluating its offerings.
Higher Education Quick Takes
Members of two national associations of student affairs professionals in higher education -- ACPA: College Student Educators International and NASPA: Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education -- are voting this spring on whether the two groups will merge. Leaders of the two groups negotiated for a long time about the merger plan, and have argued generally that there are enough commonalities of interest and potential economies of scale that a merger makes sense. But a group with NASPA has now formed to argue against the merger. On a website called "NASPA, Yes! Consolidation, No!," the group argues that a merger would "complicate governance," eliminate choices for student affairs professionals, and create "a monstrous annual conference." A spokeswoman for NASPA said that the organization was not responding to the members who created the website. Statements from both organizations' leaders about the planned merger may be found here.
Thirteen percent of public high school biology teachers advocate creationism or intelligent design for at least an hour of time, according to a national study by two Pennsylvania State University professors. A majority of high school teachers are cautious about endorsing evolutionary theory as the clear scientific consensus position, the professors found.
For-profit college have moved in recent years into offering institutional loans to students, and this trend needs more scrutiny, according to a report released Monday by the National Consumer Law Center, which conducts research on behalf of borrowers. According to the report, high default rates suggest that "schools seem to view these loans more as 'loss leaders' to keep the federal dollars flowing" than as a form of financial aid. Further, the report says that in some cases, the terms on loans are "predatory."
Five faculty members at the Air Force Academy have filed a suit to block a "National Prayer Luncheon" event that they infringes on the separation of church and state, the Associated Press reported. The event, to which cadets and faculty have been invited, features a motivational speaker who describes himself as a "U.S. Marine for Christ." An academy spokesman said that attendance at the event was strictly voluntary.
Hope College's board has adopted a new statement on sexuality that affirms the legitimacy of scholarly examination of sexuality, even if that examination does not adhere to the teachings of the Reformed Church in America, with which the college is affiliated. "Hope College promotes the indispensable value of intellectual freedom and recognizes that there are Christians who take scripture seriously and hold other views. Hope College affirms the scholarly examination and discussion of all issues surrounding human sexuality even if they differ from the institutional position," says the statement. The board studied the issue and released the statement amid criticism over the college's decision last year to block an appearance on campus by Dustin Lance Black, the screenwriter for the film "Milk" and an advocate for gay rights.
While the new board statement affirms the right of professors to examine issues of sexuality, it is not clear that student groups could invite someone like Black to appear on campus. The board statement says: "Sexuality, including longing and expression, is a good gift from God and a fact of our existence affirmed in the Christian scriptures and by the Church throughout the centuries. This biblical witness calls us to a life of chastity among the unmarried and the sanctity of marriage between a man and a woman.... Accordingly, Hope College will not recognize or support campus groups whose aim by statement, practice, or intimation is to promote a vision of human sexuality that is contrary to this understanding of biblical teaching."
Local and national faculty groups on Friday blasted what they saw as a violation of academic freedom in the case of Kristofer Petersen-Overton, an adjunct instructor who was removed from teaching an upper-level master's course on the Middle East following criticism from a state politician -- though the college reiterated its prior statements that the two events were unrelated.
Calling the situation an "ugly byproduct of a labor system that undermines academic freedom for thousands of hard-working adjunct faculty," Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York, the faculty union at CUNY, said in a statement that the union will not tolerate what she called political meddling in academic decisions. The term "meddling" was a reference to complaints from New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind that the syllabus written by Petersen-Overton lacked balance in presenting a uniformly critical look at Israel in its dealings with the Palestinian territories.
The college continued to state that Petersen-Overton was removed from the course because, as a fourth-semester graduate student, he was not sufficiently qualified to teach the upper-level master's course, and that he was approved outside of normal hiring channels (the faculty of the political science department has come to Petersen-Overton's defense). Moreover, the college added that the review of Petersen-Overton's credentials began before administrators received Hikind's letter.
The union said that other doctoral students in the CUNY system regularly teach courses at similar levels. A college spokesman, Jeremy Thompson, said the administration was going to review its hiring practices to make sure that no longer happens.
Bowen added that the union would use "every tool" at its disposal to defend its members, whether they work full time or part time. Those tools include using political influence and, if necessary, legal action, a spokesman said.
CUNY's Professional Staff Congress is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the American Association of University Professors. The latter group also issued a statement defending Petersen-Overton, and added that it does not require courses to balance competing views. "Exposure to advocacy can be a beneficial component of an education, so long as students are not expected to agree with an instructor's point of view," said Cary Nelson, AAUP president, in a statement. Nelson added, speaking for himself, that Petersen-Overton's disputed unpublished essay "Inventing the Martyr," which discusses the role of sacrifice and martyrdom in the construction of Palestinian identity, is "a serious and informative work of scholarly analysis" that would provide insight to readers no matter what their stand on the Middle East might be.
Three postsecondary institutions affiliated with the Assemblies of God and located in Springfield, Mo., may merge, they announced on Friday. Announcements from the three colleges suggested that there may be economies of scale by joining forces, and enhancements of their missions, given their common religious faith. The institutions are the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Central Bible College and Evangel University.