Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

May 5, 2014

The University of Notre Dame on Friday announced a $75 million gift -- the largest ever to the university -- from John W. Jordan, an alumnus and trustee. The money will be used for "the creation of a world-class research program in an area of science and technology that is new to Notre Dame and that has the potential to create innovative intellectual property that has important commercial potential."

May 5, 2014

Campbellsville University, a Christian institution, on Saturday announced plans to introduce an online chapel in the fall. The goal is to provide online students with the same spiritual opportunities available to those on campus, and the university said it believed its program would be the first of its kind. There will be three parts to the program: There are three parts to the online chapel. One will be live streaming of regular worship services, and the creation of an archive of services. (Some other institutions, such as Baylor University, provide such a service.) The second part will be the creation of an online Bible study center, in which Bible study offerings will be refreshed each week. The last part will be the creation of a 12-part video about the Old and New Testaments.

May 5, 2014

Students at the University of California at Davis staged a sit-in Friday in a campus coffee house whose student employees had planned an off-campus party with the name "Cinco de Drinko," playing off today's celebration of Mexican heritage, The Sacramento Bee reported. Many students said that they were offended by a Facebook page promoting the party, which has now been canceled. The page featured four male students in sombreros, attempting to get over a chain-link fence.

May 2, 2014

The University of Southern California has transferred an M.F.A. program to the Vermont College of Fine Arts. Several professors will move and the program that was an M.F.A. in professional writing will now be part of a new School of Writing and Publishing at Vermont College of Fine Arts. The college already offers low residency programs, but the new degree will be its first residential graduate program, and will start in September. A spokesman said that while the program was transferred, there was no cash exchanged in the deal.

May 2, 2014

In today’s Academic Minute, Ajay Nahata, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Utah, is developing new technology using parts borrowed from some somewhat old technology. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

May 2, 2014

Faculty members in the sciences spend too long on burdensome administrative work, at the expense of their other, more meaningful duties, argues a report out today from the National Science Board. The report, called "Reducing Investigators’ Administrative Workload for Federally Funded Research," is based on the work of the board's Task Force on Administrative Burdens, which asked professors to identify through roundtable discussions and requests for information which federal and internal university procedures and requirements were the biggest drains on their time. Financial management, the grant proposal process, progress reports, institutional review boards, and layers of oversight related to working with animals all were common responses.

The paper acknowledges that some oversight is necessary, but says that regulations -- once set -- are not easily changed or lifted, and that "[principal investigators] at many institutions suggested that a culture of overregulation has emerged around federal research, which further increases their administrative workload." The paper argues that such problems have been cited for years -- including two Federal Demonstration Partnership surveys that found principal investigators spend 42 percent of their time on administrative tasks -- but that failure to address them has resulted in "wasted" federal research dollars. “Escalating compliance requirements and inconsistent audit practices directly impact scientists and the time they have to perform research and train students and staff,” said Kelvin Droegemeier, board vice chairman and a member of the Task Force. 

The report offers numerous suggestions for decreasing the administrative burdens of research, such as not requiring as much information in initial proposal merit reviews, and instead requiring more details only once the project is being considered for funding. Progress reports also could be "streamlined" to focus only on performance outcomes, it says. Federal agencies also should work together to streamline grant management processes and paperwork, for example. The task force also recommends that universities review their IRB processes and staff organization "with the goal of achieving rapid approval of high-quality protocols that protect research subjects."

May 2, 2014

Chatham University announced Thursday that its board has voted to admit men to what has been an undergraduate women's college. The university previously created graduate and professional programs that admit men and women, but until now has preserved its original base as a women's college.

Officials said that enrollment declines in the undergraduate program made the decision necessary. Many alumnae have opposed the decision and some held a protest on campus Thursday, The Pittsburgh Business Times reported.

May 2, 2014

After withdrawing last week from a signed agreement with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights to resolve a Title IX complaint, Tufts University has recommitted to the agreement, a spokeswoman confirmed on Friday.

“We consider the signed agreement to be in effect,” Kimberly M. Thurler, a university spokeswoman, said in an email.

The university had “revoked” its signature on the agreement on April 26 -- nine days after first signing it -- once the OCR said it was going to find the university’s current policies out of compliance.

University officials said they were “surprised and disappointed” in that finding and that they had signed the agreement under the pretense that the OCR had only determined a previous violation of Title IX, not a current issue of noncompliance.

That led the OCR to take the unusual step of warning the university that it might have sought to terminate federal funding to the institution if it did not resolve the issue within 60 days.

More than 100 students rallied on Thursday to protest Tufts’ decision to withdraw from the agreement.

Following that rally, the university said in a statement Thursday that it acknowledged the OCR’s position that the university had breached its agreement by withdrawing from it.   

The university further said it had “had productive conversations with OCR regarding the issue of Title IX compliance” and that it expected “those conversations will move toward a successful conclusion in the very near future, well within the sixty-day period that has been stipulated.”

Anthony P. Monaco, the university’s president, will travel to Washington next week to discuss the university’s Title IX compliance issues with OCR officials in person, Thurler said.

The university also said that, in spite of its disagreement with the OCR it was pushing ahead, on a voluntary basis, with an array of projects aimed at combating sexual assault on the campus. One element of the OCR agreement that was unusual was monetary compensation to the female student who filed the Title IX complaint that alleged the university mishandled her sexual assault case, which started in 2010.  

The lawyer representing that student, Colby Bruno of the Victim Rights Law Center, said in an interview this week that monetary compensation mentioned in the OCR agreement was governed by a private arrangement the university previously struck with her client. It was therefore not affected by the university’s dust up with the OCR last week, she said.

The OCR’s finding that Tufts’ current policies are out of compliance came last week as the Obama administration promoted its efforts to push colleges to clamp down on sexual assaults. In addition to urging colleges to do more on the issue, the administration also publicly named, for the first time, all of the 55 colleges that the Education Department is probing for their handling of sexual assault cases.

May 2, 2014

ITT Educational Services has filed a court motion to dismiss a complaint the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) lodged against the for-profit chain in February. In its first enforcement action against the sector, the CFPB accused ITT of predatory lending and other abusive practices.

However, the lawsuit filed this week by ITT claims the bureau has overstepped its statutory authority. More broadly, the for-profit claimed the CFPB's enforcement approach lacks due process and is unconstitutional.

"Defendant ITT Educational Services does not provide consumer financial products," the filing said, "and its conduct as described in the Bureau’s complaint falls outside the Bureau’s jurisdiction."
May 2, 2014

The abundance of big data in education "raises serious questions about how best to protect student privacy," a White House working group warns in a report released Wednesday. 

The working group, led by the White House counselor John Podesta, has examined the impact of big data on education, government efficiency and health care, among other sectors. In the section on education, the report notes that much of the data is owned by for-profit companies, which "raises complicated questions" about ownership and usage. The workgroup also urges the federal government to maintain an "ongoing conversation" about protecting student privacy.

"Big data and other technological innovations, including new online course platforms that provide students real time feedback, promise to transform education by personalizing learning," Podesta wrote. "At the same time, the federal government must ensure educational data linked to individual students gathered in school is used for educational purposes, and protect students against their data being shared or used inappropriately."

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