Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 24, 2014

Wisconsin’s two major education unions are planning to merge, in light of declining memberships following 2011 anti-union legislation, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. Under the plan, the American Federation of Teachers-Wisconsin, which includes faculty at public, postsecondary institutions, would join with the National Education Association-affiliated Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state’s largest K-12 teachers union. The new union would be called Wisconsin Together, tentatively starting in September. A vote on the merger is slated for April.

Following Act 10, which made union membership and dues-paying voluntary, the K-12 union has lost about one-third of its members, according to the report. The higher education union has about 6,500 members, down from a peak of 16,000. Kim Kohlhaas, AFT-Wisconsin president, said the new structure would allow the union through pooled resources to focus on professional development and advocacy for public education – not just faculty working conditions. “I think Act 10 was a huge eye-opener for us,” Kohlhaas told the Journal Sentinel. “I think historically even the union got caught up in [collective bargaining], and it used to be a lot of contract organization. This allows us an opportunity to focus on that completely differently.”

If approved, the joint AFT-NEA union become the sixth such union nationwide, after those in Minnesota, Florida, North Dakota, Montana and New York.

January 23, 2014

The massive open online course provider Udacity unveiled a redesigned website on Wednesday, highlighting the company's recent focus on corporate training. In an accompanying blog post, the founder Sebastian Thrun also announced the start of two new courses, developed in partnership with Cloudera and Salesforce, that "address the widening job skills gap in the U.S. and around the world."

Udacity has displayed a growing interest in corporate training, such as its inexpensive master's degree in computer science created with the Georgia Institute of Technology, after experimenting with online courses in remedial education last year. Udacity last redesigned its website in early 2013.

January 23, 2014

A group of institutions that favor a competency-based approach to student learning have offered examples of the sorts of approaches they would try in a program the U.S. Education Department is contemplating to encourage such experimentation. The department in December issued an invitation to institutions to propose ways in which a waiver of certain federal financial aid rules, as part of an "experimental sites" program, might allow them to improve student outcomes, speed time to degree, and lower costs for students.

In their submission, the institutions -- which include a mix of traditional public and private institutions, online only institutions, and community college systems -- proposed "testing new or alternative federal definitions of attendance and satisfactory academic progress," "decoupling federal financial aid from time-based measures," and allowing federal aid to flow to a degree program that mixes competency- and credit-hour-based learning, among other approaches.

The institutions are: Alverno College, Antioch University, Brandman University, Broward Community College, Capella University, Cardinal Stritch University, Charter Oak State College, Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, Excelsior College, Kentucky Community and Technical College System, Lipscomb University, Northern Arizona University, Southern New Hampshire University, SUNY Empire State College, University of Maryland University College, the University of Wisconsin-Extension and Westminster College.

January 23, 2014

Adjuncts in the Maine Community College System, who teach about 45 percent of all courses, have won their first union contract, The Portland Press Herald reported. The contract provides for a 2 percent retroactive salary payment for those who taught in the 2012-13 academic year and again last fall, a 3 percent raise in the current base salary calculation and another 3 percent increase on July 1. The adjuncts are represented by the Maine State Employees Association, of the Service Employees International Union.


January 23, 2014

While linguistics remains a relatively small major nationally, it has been seeing significant growth nationally, from a little more than 700 bachelor's degrees awarded in 2000 to 2,200 in 2012 -- a period in which there has not been dramatic change in graduate enrollments. Further, 70 percent of the undergraduate enrollments are women. These are among the figures in the first report of the Linguistic Society of America on the state of the discipline. While the new report features some longitudinal data based on other sources, the new report will seek to annually track changes in the discipline.

January 23, 2014

A judge has ruled a taped interview of an alleged killer conducted as part of a sociology study off-limits to Montreal police, The Globe and Mail reported. Luka Magnotta, a stripper and porn actor accused of killing and dismembering a 33-year-old Chinese student, participated in a study on the sociology of sex work conducted by two University of Ottawa professors in 2007, five years before the alleged murder took place. After reviewing a transcript of the tape, Justice Sophie Bourque of the Quebec Superior Court ruled that while the right to confidentiality in academic research is not absolute and must be weighed against other societal goals, in this case the harm to academic research done in releasing the tape would outweigh the benefit.


January 23, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Kathryn Medler of the State University of New York at Buffalo explains why sweets can be experienced differently by people of different weights. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


January 22, 2014

With a blizzard sweeping the East, AccuWeather.com released a list of the "10 snowiest colleges in the U.S.," and loyal alumni of those institutions started boasting about the rankings. We couldn't help but ask some questions about the methodology when we noticed the Syracuse University was listed as tied for second, while the State University of New York Upstate Medical University (literally across the street) didn't make the list. And it didn't make sense that the University of Rochester could be third on the list but its neighbors, such as Monroe Community College and Rochester Institute of Technology, could have so much less snow so as not to make the list at all. AccuWeather responded that it "could not include all the colleges in the surrounding areas without being repetitive in the same region," so "we choose those colleges that we believed the most people would know."

So with that rather large caveat, here is the top 10 list, followed by typical annual inches of snowfall:

1. Michigan Technological University: 200

2. Syracuse University and SUNY Oswego: 124

3. University of Rochester: 99

4. State University of New York at Buffalo: 94

5. University of Minnesota at Duluth: 86

6. University of Vermont: 81

7. Southern New Hampshire University: 69

8. Western Michigan University: 67

9. Cornell University: 65

10. University of Alaska at Fairbanks: 62



January 22, 2014

What are those peer reviewers really saying, in six words? Check out the hastag #SixWordPeerReview. Some of the entries:

  • You didn't cite my paper: reject.
  • Incremental at best. Enthusiasm is limited.
  • Please cite more of my papers.
  • Six years of your life. Sorry.
  • Needs to be about my interests.


January 22, 2014

A Purdue University undergraduate is facing a murder charge in the shooting death Tuesday of another student at the university. The university was locked down in the early afternoon Tuesday after shots were fired in a classroom building. One student, Cody Cousins, was arrested in the death Andrew F. Boldt, both of whom were seniors in the College of Engineering, according to a university statement. The Journal and Courier of Lafayette, Ind., reported that the two men both were teaching assistants for an electrical and computer engineering professor.


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