Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 30, 2014

Senator Claire McCaskill on Thursday stepped up pressure on a top higher education lobbying group to turn over copies of a presentation that advised colleges on how to respond to her survey on campus sexual violence.

The Democratic lawmaker sent a letter to the American Council on Education on Thursday that said the group should either provide the webinar materials she previously requested or offer a legal justification for its refusal to hand over the documents.

The letter escalates a dispute that began earlier this month when McCaskill accused the higher education association of interfering with her effort to collect information from colleges about their sexual assault policies. The American Council on Education had sponsored a webinar, conducted by a Washington D.C. law firm, that advised colleges on how they should respond the McCaskill’s survey. The group maintains that the online briefing did not discourage institutions from responding to the survey, but it has refused to provide copies of the presentation materials or a list of which institutions participated. Ada Meloy, general counsel at the American Council on Education, called McCaskill’s request for information about the webinar an intrusion on colleges “rights to association."

McCaskill’s letter on Thursday reiterated her request for a copy of the PowerPoint presentation and struck a harsher tone.  

“While I appreciate your commitment to your members’ confidentially, I question how that commitment would prevent you from providing the presentation materials used during the webinar,” McCaskill wrote.  

 “If ACE continues to refuse to comply with my request,” she continued. “I request that you provide a written response containing ACE’s legal justification for refusing to provide a Subcommittee of the United States Senate with information necessary to carry out its constitutional responsibilities.”

A spokesman for the American Council on Education said Thursday that the group is “in communication with Senator McCaskill and her staff about this issue.” The organization declined further comment on the matter.

McCaskill is drafting -- along with Senators Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut -- legislation aimed at reducing campus sexual assaults. She has said she’s interested in increasing the penalties colleges face for violating federal rules on handling cases of sexual violence on their campus. 

May 30, 2014

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute Thursday awarded grants totaling $60 million over five years to 37 research universities to improve teaching and learning in science-based undergraduate courses. The recipients were chosen from among 170 institutions that applied for the awards, which are designed to encourage the use of "empirically validated teaching practices," replace standard lab courses with "discovery-based research courses," or improve student persistence in science disciplines.

May 30, 2014

In today's Academic Minute, Peter McGraw of the University of Colorado at Boulder, draws on his work with Caleb Warren and The Humor Research Lab (HuRL) to answer the question: “What makes things humorous?” Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


May 29, 2014

At least one House Republican is seeking to block the Obama administration’s efforts to develop a federal college ratings system.

Representative Bob Goodlatte of Virginia wrote in an email to his fellow lawmakers last week that he hopes to insert a provision into upcoming spending bills that would prohibit the Education Department from moving ahead with the ratings system. Goodlatte said he was responding to a range of concerns he received from college presidents about the ratings system. “There are real, long-term consequences that could occur if this proposal isn’t stopped, including the loss of choice, diversity, and innovation,” he said in the letter.

The Education Department is in the midst of deciding which metrics to include in its college ratings system, a draft of which officials have said will be ready “by the fall.” The administration says it wants an operational ratings system by the 2015-16 academic year and then plans to ask Congress to tie the ratings to federal student aid by 2018. A top domestic policy aide to President Obama said in an interview with The New York Times this week that the administration was undeterred by criticism of its college ratings proposal and remained strongly committed to the idea.

“For those who are making the argument that we shouldn’t do this, I think those folks could fairly have the impression that we’re not listening,” said Cecilia Muñoz, the director of the White House Domestic Policy Council. “There is an element to this conversation which is, ‘We hope to God you don’t do this.’ Our answer to that is: ‘This is happening.’ ”

May 29, 2014

As part of a White House summit today on concussions in youth sports, the National Collegiate Athletic Association and the U.S. Department of Defense are committing to spend $30 million on research on concussion risks, treatment and management, CBS Sports reported. The summit is designed to raise awareness among parents and young people about sports-related concussions, and as at President Obama's higher education summit last fall, the White House has pressed participants to commit to a set of actions. The NCAA and Pentagon, whose officials have envisioned a database to comprehensively track the histories of players' concussions to drive understanding and eventually treatment, jointly plan to produce one.

May 29, 2014

Robert Buckingham's controversial firing at the University of Saskatchewan ultimately led to the dismissal of the president and the resignation of the provost. But that doesn't mean he will get his deanship back. Buckingham was dismissed as dean of public health because he publicly disagreed with President Ilene Busch-Vishniac's "TransformUS" plan to reorganize the university, spurring significant faculty anger. The Globe and Mail of Toronto reported that a version of the restructuring plan will proceed -- though almost certainly with a new name, to distance it from the controversy. After initially being stripped of his faculty job and tenure in addition to his deanship, Buckingham was restored to the faculty.

May 29, 2014

The House of Representatives Committee on Science, Space and Technology approved legislation Wednesday that would reauthorize the National Science Foundation and other research agencies -- and would do so in a way that concerns many university leaders. The Frontiers in Innovation, Research, Science, and Technology (FIRST) Act (H.R. 4186), sponsored by Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican, has drawn opposition from the National Science Board because it would slash funding for social and political science research and, in the board's view, limit the agency's autonomy and effectiveness. And Hunter Rawlings, president of the Association of American Universities, said in a statement Wednesday that the committee-passed bill, "while somewhat improved" over an earlier version, "still falls far short of this vision and does little to advance science and close our nation’s innovation deficit. We urge the full House either to amend it significantly or to vote it down."

May 29, 2014

John Q. Easton, director of the U.S. Education Department's research arm, the Institute of Education Sciences, will leave the government to join the Spencer Foundation this fall. Easton, who formerly headed the University of Chicago's Consortium on Chicago School Research, was the second director of IES, which houses the National Center for Education Statistics and the National Center for Education Research, among other entities. Spencer focuses on research-based improvement in education.

May 29, 2014

A graduate, two professors and two students are suing Cooper Union to try to keep it tuition-free. The petitioners, members of the Committee to Save Cooper Union, accuse the New York City college’s administrators and trustees of squandering money and missing opportunities to avoid charging tuition. The lawsuit, filed in state court, asks the court to prevent the college from charging tuition and to appoint a special master to investigate the institution’s finances.

A college spokesman told the Wall Street Journal that Cooper Union administrators were disappointed the activists chose a costly lawsuit over "constructive conversation." 

May 29, 2014

The Western Interstate Commission of Higher Education (WICHE) today announced plans to spin off a learning-analytics project as a separate nonprofit group. The commission formed the Predictive Analytics Reporting Framework in 2011 as a collaboration between six online institutions, which shared data about student learning. Since then the work has broadened to include on-ground and competency-based institutions. WICHE said today that the data-services collaborative would become an independent organization by the end of the year.


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