Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

November 15, 2013

A new bill introduced in the U.S. Senate seeks to tackle the rising cost of textbooks by giving states an incentive to experiment with open educational resources. The Affordable College Textbook Act, introduced by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin and Al Franken, Democrats of Illinois and Minnesota, respectively, would create a grant program that would fund the creation of new textbooks -- as long as they are made available for free online.

Durbin previously had parts of a similar bill included in the 2008 reauthorization of the Higher Education Act, though those provisions only required publishers and higher education institutions to inform students about the cost of textbooks. 

Dean Florez, president of the 20 Million Minds Foundation, said the bill, coupled with first lady Michelle Obama's new focus on access to higher education, represents "a groundswell for a national discussion for the cost of textbooks." While he expressed some concerns about the bill's chances in the U.S. House of Representatives, Florez said "Durbin’s bill is going straight to the president."

November 15, 2013

California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, warned the University of California Board of Regents Thursday, that the university system is going to need to look to internal savings to finance improvements, The Los Angeles Times reported. Brown spoke at a meeting at which the board approved a tuition freeze (consistent with the governor's thinking), but also a request to the state for $120 million beyond what he has proposed in his state budget plan. "The big, bad state is not going to bail you out at a rate that is different from what we are doing," Brown said. And he said that the university can't rely on its reputation for "quality and greatness" to get around budget realities.

"Remember that students, unfortunately, are the default financiers of higher education in America," he said. "We are going to have reshape the way things are done.... We are going to have to get into concrete trade-offs of how do you live within your means."

November 15, 2013

More than 20,000 people have signed a petition urging Iowa State University to end a course that critics say encourages the proliferation of puppy mills, The Des Moines Register reported. But the university says the course doesn't exist, and that the outrage is over some materials the university has produced to help dog breeders improve the treatment of animals in their care.

November 15, 2013

In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Deanne Rogers of Stony Brook University discusses the evidence for subterranean water on Mars. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

November 15, 2013

The University of Southern California Rossier School of Education announced Thursday that it will offer alumni of its graduate program "continuous" support in their professional lives. Alumni with professional challenges or questions can call the school and will receive a "plan for improvement" and input from faculty members on a "Rapid Response Team" that USC is creating.

 

November 15, 2013

Bowie State University has announced that it is ending student health insurance due to the increased costs associated with the new federal health care law. The university is encouraging students to either get on their parents' plans or participate in Maryland's health insurance exchange.

 

November 15, 2013

Cornell University officials fired its head men’s lacrosse coach Ben DeLuca on Thursday, nearly two months after the team was temporarily suspended following a “keg race” hazing incident involving “coerced alcohol consumption by underaged freshmen.” The team is currently ranked third nationally, but is not playing in fall competitions due to the suspension. Cornell President David J. Skorton has taken a tough stance on hazing, saying in 2011 that the Greek system would ban pledging to help curb the practice.

November 15, 2013

Russian officials have pledged to investigate why there have been major layoffs at Moscow State University, RIA Novosti reported. The government has been pushing the university to raise employee salaries, but has not provided funds for the increased pay.

 

November 15, 2013

In a rare move, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign on Thursday revoked the tenure of a longtime faculty member. Louis Wozniak, associate professor of industrial enterprise and systems engineering, was removed from teaching in 2010, after he sent an email to students that said he only remembered the names of those students with whom he had had sex. Wozniak said it was clearly a joke, but some found it offensive, and the university launched an investigation into his behavior going back to a prior complaint that he was passed up for a $500 teaching award, the Chicago Tribune reported. A faculty committee cleared Wozniak of most of the charges against him, but the University of Illinois Board of Trustees voted unanimously to revoke his tenure and terminate his employment immediately under university statutes, after finding “clear and convincing” evidence that he “can no longer be relied on to perform his university duties and functions in a manner consonant with professional standards of competence and responsibility.”

In its decision, the board said it did not treat the case lightly, given the gravity of tenure, but added: “There is nothing more fundamental to the mission of a university than to protect its relationships with its students. This includes ensuring that student confidences are maintained and that information is not published about them without the consent required by University policies. Every student of this University deserves nothing less than our complete and unwavering support of these policies.  Prof. Wozniak has refused to meet this most basic understanding."

Wozniak, who joined the faculty in 1966, did not immediately return a request for comment. Greg Scholtz, director of tenure, governance and academic freedom for the American Association of University Professors, said the association was keeping a file on Wozniak's case and would be concerned if the procedures Illinois followed to arrive at Thursday's decision violated AAUP guidelines. It does not appear that any such violations occurred, he added.

November 15, 2013

Robert Sternberg -- president of the University of Wyoming since July -- announced his resignation on Thursday. In a statement released by the university, he said, "I care a great deal about this university. And I have come to realize that as wonderful as the University of Wyoming is, it may not be the best fit for me as president. So I tendered my resignation today to the Board of Trustees." The announcement followed a meeting of nearly nine hours in executive session of the university's board.

During his time in office, Sternberg has pushed for change in the senior administrative ranks, and three deans and five other administrators have left their positions. While turnover in the administrative ranks is common when new presidents take over, the pace of change at Wyoming has been speedy and controversial -- and some who have left (especially the law dean) have been public about their frustration. The university statement, however, quoted the board president as backing the direction in which Sternberg was leading: “The board fully accepts and endorses the personnel changes and changes in direction at the university that have taken place in the last several months that emphasize and reinforce the university’s land-grant mission with service to the people of Wyoming, its state government and the economy.”

Sternberg spent much of his career as a psychology professor at Yale University and is a leader in the field of measuring non-cognitive abilities. He was named president at Wyoming after serving as provost at Oklahoma State University. In that position and at Wyoming, he has spoken out repeatedly about the mission of land-grant universities. In an interview with the editorial board of The Casper Star-Tribune this week, he defended his leadership, and said he was carrying out the plans he had discussed with the trustees. “I am doing exactly what they hired me to do," he said.

 

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