Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 18, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Lisa Peschel of the University of York discusses the discovery of theatrical works that were only performed in World War II Jewish ghettos. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


December 17, 2013

An Everest College campus located near Atlanta paid employers to hire its graduates for short periods of time in a maneuver designed in part to boost the for-profit college's job placement rate, reported the Huffington Post. The now-defunct Decatur campus in 2011 shelled out $2,000 for each graduate hired, according to company documents the website published. In most cases those employees were let go one month later, sometimes after pushing a broom around for 40 hours a week.

The practice was not limited to Everest's Decatur campus. Two California campuses of the chain, which is owned by Corinthian Colleges Inc., paid temp agencies to hire graduates, the Huffington Post reported, citing a lawsuit filed by California's attorney general. As in Georgia, the practice was aimed at keeping job placement rates above minimum standards set by accreditors. Everest's holding company defended its career services and said the job placement program did not violate any regulatory or accreditation standards. 

December 17, 2013

The Education Department’s research arm is seeking technical expertise from higher education constituents on how to develop the Obama administration’s proposed college ratings system.

In a notice published Tuesday in the Federal Register, the National Center for Education Statistics will issue a formal request for detailed input on how the administration should proceed with its proposal, which the department has dubbed the “Postsecondary Institution Ratings System” (PIRS).

Officials said they are seeking responses from a wide range of stakeholders in higher education, including institutions, faculty and staff members, students, data experts, state officials, think tanks and publishers. In addition, organizations that have developed ratings systems for other industries are “strongly encouraged to respond.” Education Department officials told reporters last week that they had been looking at the rating systems produced by Consumer Reports and the electronic gaming industry. They also said they were impressed by the voluntary disclosures that Lehigh University makes about its graduates’ employment and median salaries.

In its request for information, the department poses 30 wide-ranging questions to guide responses. Officials are seeking input on what data should be used in the ratings system, how metrics should be weighted, how to define peer groups of colleges, and how best to present the ratings to the public. The document makes a distinction between the metrics, weightings, and peer groups that may be used for “informational purposes” and those that may be used for “accountability purposes.”  

The department is pushing ahead with plans to develop an informational college rating system by the 2015 academic year. But it will need Congress to accomplish the “accountability” part of its goal, to distribute federal student aid based on colleges’ performance in the rating system starting in 2018.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week that the administration is still deciding whether the ratings system will assign to colleges a single, composite rating or create different scores across a handful of different categories. 

December 17, 2013

The University of Colorado at Boulder on Monday issued new statements on the case of Patti Adler, a popular sociology professor whose students and former students are furious over what they view as an attempt to pressure her to leave her job. While the university insists that it never threatened her job, it acknowledges raising concerns about a lecture on prostitution in her course on deviance, and questioning whether she could continue to teach the course. For one lecture in the class, she seeks volunteers among her assistant teaching assistants and they dress up as various types of prostitutes and describe the experiences of these individuals.

On Sunday, asked about concerns over Adler, a university spokesman said that "best practice" would have been for Adler to have had her class plans reviewed by the university's Institutional Review Board. That answer concerned many on campus and elsewhere, because IRBs focus entirely on research, not on classroom exercises. On Monday, Provost Russell L. Moore sent an email to faculty in which he said: "Many of you are raising concerns about comments by our campus spokesperson Mark Miller published today in Inside Higher Ed.... I want to make it clear to you that this was a question raised by CU Arts & Sciences Dean Steve Leigh – whether or not the use of student TAs as actors in a skit presented in a class should be accorded a review by the IRB. I want to make clear that this was not a declaration of a policy, or an expansion of IRB’s role. Inherent in Dean Leigh’s question from the beginning was whether or not some consent form, comparable to what might be required by IRB, would be appropriate. Our campus policies reveal that this is not an area in which IRB would become involved, as it only deals with human subjects used in the research process, not material used for teaching."

Also on Monday, Moore sent another email to the campus in which he offered a rationale other than the IRB issue for raising concerns about Adler's prostitution lecture. "A number of you have raised concerns about academic freedom and how it may connect to this situation. Academic freedom protects faculty who teach controversial and uncomfortable/ unpopular subjects. However, academic freedom does not allow faculty members to violate the university’s sexual harassment policy by creating a hostile environment for their teaching assistants, or for their students attending the class," Moore wrote. "In this case, university administrators heard from a number of concerned students about Professor Adler’s 'prostitution' skit, the way it was presented, and the environment it created for both students in the class and for teaching assistants. Student assistants made it clear to administrators that they felt there would be negative consequences for anyone who refused to participate in the skit. None of them wished to be publicly identified."

Adler said on Monday that this was the first she was hearing of these accusations, and that they had not been presented to her before. She has said (and numerous students in her class, including some who have been participants in the skit) that participation was voluntary and led to valuable discussions.



December 17, 2013

The Catholic University of America is defending a $1 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation to hire visiting professors in the business school. A group of Roman Catholic theologians and teachers sent an open letter to the university this month questioning the gift.  "Given the troubling track record the foundation has in making gifts to universities that in some cases include unacceptable meddling in academic content and the hiring process of faculty, we urge you to be more transparent about the details of this grant. Charles and David Koch have an ideological agenda when it comes to shaping the national debate over economics and politics that is not simply academic in nature," the letter says. "The Koch brothers are billionaire industrialists who fund organizations that advance public policies that directly contradict Catholic teaching on a range of moral issues from economic justice to environmental stewardship. As you well know, Catholic social teaching articulates a positive role for government, an indispensable role for unions, just tax policies, and the need for prudent regulation of financial markets in service of the common good. We are concerned that by accepting such a donation you send a confusing message to Catholic students and other faithful Catholics that the Koch brothers’ anti-government, Tea Party ideology has the blessing of a university sanctioned by Catholic bishops."

The university issued a statement noting that it has full control over the hiring process for the visiting professors. And a spokesman said via email that there is no Koch role identified at all in seeking candidates for the posts. The university's statement went on to question the appropriateness of the letter. "The  letter is presumptuous on two counts. First, its authors cast themselves as arbiters of political correctness regarding Charles Koch Foundation grants. They judge the foundation’s support of the arts and culture to be 'noble philanthropic work'; its underwriting of grants to universities elicits their 'serious concerns.' Second they seek to instruct the Catholic University of America’s leaders about Catholic social teaching, and do so in a manner that redefines the Church’s teaching to suit their own political preferences. We are confident that our faculty and academic leadership are well versed in Catholic social teaching and well equipped to apply it. We created a school of business and economics for the express purpose of promoting respect for the human person in economic life, based on the principles of solidarity, subsidiarity, human dignity, and the common good. The aim of the Charles Koch Foundation grant — to support research into principled entrepreneurship — is fully consonant with Catholic social teaching. On that point the letter’s authors are strangely silent."


December 17, 2013

Alexander Gonzalez, president of California State University at Sacramento, has asked for a review of policies on the public display of art, following a controversial student artwork on the theme of lynching. In the piece, two white students were suspended from a tree in a way that made it appear they had been lynched. The idea was to present lynching without black victims. In a note to the campus, Gonzalez said that he does not think that the students' intent was to incite people, but that they had upset many. "I think that as members of a very diverse university community, it is our responsibility to always be mindful and respectful of cultural sensitivity in our pursuits and activities," he said.


December 17, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Francisco Beron-Vera discusses vortices that transport bodies of water around the globe. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.


December 16, 2013

California has been the site of much high-level political excitement about the potential of new models of online education to provide introductory or remedial courses at low cost. But The San Jose Mercury News reported that the leaders of the University of California and California State University Systems -- in a joint appearance Friday -- were skeptical. Janet Napolitano, the UC president, said she thought online education probably wouldn't solve issues related to providing most courses, but could be a useful tool for specialized courses. Timothy White, the Cal State chancellor, meanwhile called the much-debated experiment between San Jose State University and Udacity a failure, the article said. It quoted him as saying: "For those who say, 'Well, Tim, you'll save a lot of money if ... you do more things online,' that's not correct." (A spokeswoman for California State University said Monday that the quotes attributed to White were inaccurate, and that his comments were not about a specific campus.)


December 16, 2013

The Texas A&M University Board of Regents on Saturday named Mark Hussey as interim president of the system's flagship campus at College Station, The Texas Tribune reported. Hussey, dean of agriculture and life sciences, has strong support on the campus and from the system administration. But his selection wasn't a sure thing when Governor Rick Perry, a Republican who has appointed all of the regents, backed another candidate, Guy Diedrich, the system's vice chancellor for strategic initiatives.

December 16, 2013

The Obama administration on Friday announced that it had convinced nearly 1,956 colleges and universities to adopt its financial aid “shopping sheet” -- a standardized template aimed at allowing students to easily compare the aid packages they are offered from different institutions. The administration has more than doubled since this summer the number of colleges committed to using the voluntary templates. In July, officials said that about 700 colleges had opted to use the shopping sheet in its first year.

The institutions that will now be using the forms enroll more than 43 percent of undergraduate students in the United States, an Education Department official said in a blog post. The department also announced Friday that it was making minor changes to the shopping sheet. The new version, will clarify that a university’s median borrowing statistic listed on the form only captures students who borrow at the institution. The revised shopping sheet will also feature a glossary of financial aid terms and an expanded customizable box where institutions can provide more individualized information about a student.  


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