The U.S. Education Department announced on Monday that it would propose new regulations governing student privacy rights in the next several weeks. In an announcement in the Federal Register, the department said that it would revise rules to carry out the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, with two goals in mind. One would be to "strengthen enforcement" of the law, commonly known as FERPA; the other would be to "clarify" how states can use information from statewide longitudinal data systems to inform policy decisions without running afoul of the student privacy law. The regulations are likely to be controversial, especially on the latter point; privacy advocates argue that the Obama administration risks running afoul of federal law in how it is encouraging states to collect and share data about students' academic performance with work force agencies within their states and, potentially, agencies in other states.
Higher Education Quick Takes
Brandeis University is seeing debate over the selection of Michael B. Oren, Israel's ambassador to the United States, as commencement speaker. The university's announcement of the choice noted that Oren -- whose recent talk at the University of California at Irvine was interrupted repeatedly, setting off a debate on free speech -- has been both a scholar and a diplomat. An editorial in The Justice, the student newspaper, said, "Although under different circumstances he could have been a fascinating speaker to bring to the campus, Mr. Oren is a divisive and inappropriate choice for keynote speaker at commencement, and we disapprove of the University's decision to grant someone of his polarity on this campus that honor. For the administration, Mr. Oren's invitation constitutes at best naiveté and at worst disregard concerning the reality of the range of student political orientation on this campus." Others writing in the paper have noted that Oren is likely to draw protests, detracting from graduation day. Still others have written in support of the selection, with one column saying that he is worthy to address graduates because of his "academic excellence, rigorous research practices and fearlessly honest writing."
The University of Cambridge is considering changes in the procedures for dismissing professors, and the changes have some worried about a loss of academic freedom, The Guardian reported. Long-standing rules allow for dismissals of professors only for "conduct of an immoral, scandalous or disgraceful nature, incompatible with the duties of the office or employment." The proposed revisions would allow for dismissal for "gross misconduct," which would include "unreasonable refusal to carry out a reasonable instruction."
A federal judge on Tuesday ordered the University of Wyoming to let William Ayers speak on the campus today -- and to reverse a decision to bar him from appearing. The university originally cited political controversy over Ayers, a University of Illinois at Chicago education professor who is controversial because of his one-time role as a leader of the Weather Underground. During the court hearings on a suit challenging the university's decision, officials cited security concerns, but the judge said that did not justify the decision. The Casper Star-Tribune reported that Judge William Downes said: "This court is of age to remember the Weather Underground. When his group was bombing the Capitol in 1971, I was serving in the uniform of my country. Like many veterans, when I hear that name, I can scarcely swallow the bile of my contempt for it. But Mr. Ayers is a citizen of the United States who wishes to speak, and he need not offer any more justification than that."
Via e-mail, Ayers told Inside HIgher Ed he was not surprised by the ruling. "The university put forward a pitiful and transparently dishonest case. They must have known they had no chance, but now they claim they were motivated only by protecting public safety as they wink at their donors."
The university issued a statement that it would "fully comply with the court's order and will provide appropriate security."
A new nonprofit group -- Professors Without Borders -- announced itself Monday, with the goal of sending faculty members abroad to promote public health and sustainability, and to build infrastructure that will help developing and disadvantaged nations. The idea grew out of the Fulbright New Century Scholars Program. A first on-the-ground project will take place in August in Thailand, and work is also being explored in Haiti and other nations.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of American Universities have issued a new handbook with detailed legal resources to help colleges recruit and retain faculty members and students in science fields. The handbook notes legal challenges to some forms of affirmative action, but suggests that many practices that promote diversity are on solid legal ground.
Faculty members at Bates Technical College, in Washington State, have voted no confidence in the college's leaders, The Seattle Times reported. The vote followed the issuing of layoff notices to 45 faculty members. Faculty leaders say that the layoff notices are inappropriate at a time of surging enrollments. Lyle Quasim, the president, defended the layoff notices, saying that he didn't expect that many people to lose their jobs, but that union contracts required him to give the notices now to have the option of eliminating jobs later.
The Newfoundland and Labrador government announced Monday that the College of the North Atlantic had overpaid employees working at its branch in Qatar by about $5 million, CBC News reported. The government also announced that it was accepting the resignation of Jean Madill as president of the college.
Internet sites that obsess over college admissions were abuzz Monday with a rumor about a Facebook posting claiming to be about someone admitted to Harvard University whose admission had been revoked following some rude comments on his Facebook page. The rumor spread from one site to another to another, even many of those posting it noting things that gave them doubts about the veracity of the story. Inside Higher Ed called Harvard, where a spokesman assured us that the rumor is "not true."
Legal scholars and bloggers are increasingly debating whether law school is a worthwhile investment to make, the Chicago Tribune reported. Many are discussing the idea of a "bubble" similar to the one that devastated the subprime mortgage market. Here's how the article summarized the theory, as suggested by Christine Hurt, a University of Illinois law professor: "Double-digit tuition increases in the last 25 years have priced law schools out of reach for many. Yet the promise of a career at a big law firm with its six-figure paychecks kept boosting enrollment. Easy credit allowed more students to finance their law degrees. All of a sudden law firms lay off droves of attorneys and limit the number of new hires, leaving graduates out of work with more than $100,000 in loans to repay."