Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

April 26, 2018

Text of installation in University of Utah library reads, "A safe place for stressed-out students otherwise known as the cry closet. This space is meant to provide a place for students studying for finals to take a short 10-minute break. Rules of the closet: 1. Knock before entering. 2. Only one person in the closet at a time. 3. Limit your time in the closet to no more than 10 minutes. 4. Turn lights and timer off before leaving. 5. Use #cryclosetuofu if posting on social media. Artist: Nemo Miller in collaboration with Tony Miller and David Meyer."As finals week approaches and students try to learn a semester's worth of information in a few days, it’s likely many will have the inclination to weep. But with campus libraries teeming with students, it can be tricky to locate a private space to shed a tear.

A student at the University of Utah has invented a solution to the pressure of finals week, which begins at the college today: a library “cry closet.”

Nemo Miller, a senior in the fine arts program, installed the closet in Utah's library Sunday. The installation will remain in the library until finals week ends May 2, spokeswoman Jana Cunningham said in an interview. Miller was profiled as a Human of the U last week.

The closet went viral on Twitter after its announcement. Miller was unavailable for an interview, as she was studying for finals, but she expressed excitement about the reception to her work on Twitter and provided a statement Wednesday: "I am interested in humanity and the inherent complexities of the human condition. In my work, I reflect on my experiences and explore what it means to be human. One aspect of humanity that I am currently exploring is connections and missed connections through communication. It’s been interesting to watch the response to this piece about human emotions, and I’m proud to see the power of art in action.”

The installation, called Safe Place for Stressed Out Students Otherwise Known as The Cry Closet, has five rules: Knock before entering, only one person in the closet at a time, limit your time in the closet to no more than 10 minutes, turn lights and timer off before leaving, and use the hashtag #cryclosetuofu if posting on social media.

Students are encouraged to use the closet, Cunningham said.

"You can cry, scream, look your phone and decompress, and hopefully you come out feeling a little better in this crazy week of finals," Cunningham said.

April 26, 2018

Florida State University will cancel its comprehensive subscription to Elsevier journals.

Julia Zimmerman, dean of university libraries at Florida State, released a statement saying the decision to cancel the libraries’ “big deal” with Elsevier had been made after “long deliberation.”

“FSU is being charged too much -- all because of a poorly thought-out 20-year-old contract between Elsevier and the State University System,” said Zimmerman. Florida currently pays just under $2 million a year for access to Elsevier content. She said other public universities are paying much less for the same content.

Zimmerman said that Florida had tried “every possible way” to negotiate a better deal, without success. “A partial cancellation is our only remaining option,” she said.

From January 2019, FSU will only subscribe to a subset of “most-needed journals” from Elsevier. Zimmerman said the cancellation would enable the library to acquire other materials requested by faculty, which had previously been denied.

This is not the first time that Florida State University has canceled a “big deal” with a publisher, according to SPARC’s Big Deal Cancellation Tracking resource. The institution canceled its Springer Nature package in 2015 after it transpired that FSU was being charged several times more than other Florida universities for the same product.

The Elsevier contract was based on enrollment at the time it was signed. Since then, some Florida universities have grown at faster rates than has Florida State.

A spokesman for the company said via email, "Elsevier provides different options for its customers, including all access options such as the Freedom Collection, as well as title by title options that provide customers flexibility to choose the most appropriate titles for their collections. We will look to work with FSU on the options that best meet the balance of their collection needs and costs."

April 26, 2018

Richard Spencer, the white nationalist, has dropped his lawsuit against the University of Cincinnati. Spencer sued after the university said he could speak, but only during spring break and if he paid standard security fees. It is unclear why Spencer dropped the suit, but the decision means he is not scheduled to appear there.

 

April 26, 2018

The five-person conservative majority on the Supreme Court appears willing to uphold President Trump’s authority to impose a travel ban, The New York Times reported. The court heard arguments Wednesday in a case challenging the ban, which restricts entry into the U.S. to varying degrees for nationals of seven countries -- Iran, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Syria, Venezuela and Yemen -- five of which are Muslim majority (an eighth country, Chad, was recently removed from the list of banned countries).

The Times reported that the justices appeared ready to defer to the president’s national security judgments and to put aside Trump’s campaign statements indicating he would ban Muslims from entering the country.

Universities and higher education groups have largely opposed the ban, which has gone through a number of iterations, on the grounds that it is discriminatory and blocks them from bringing talented students and scholars from certain parts of the world to the U.S. The government has defended the travel restrictions as necessary to prevent the entry of terrorists.

April 26, 2018

Pennsylvania should consider mergers for its state-owned universities, says a new report released Wednesday that immediately received pushback from the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and the system’s faculty union.

The report, conducted by the RAND Corporation, recommended five options for Pennsylvania’s 14 state-owned universities that make up the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education:

  • Keep the current state system but improve its governance structures.
  • Keep the state system structure and conduct regional mergers to reduce the number of universities to a suggested range of five to eight.
  • Merge state system universities and convert them to state-related status. State-related universities in Pennsylvania, like Pennsylvania State University and the University of Pittsburgh, are not state owned and have more autonomy but receive funding from the state.
  • Place the state system under the management of a state-related university.
  • Merge state system universities into existing state-related universities.

Options that include mergers were favored. The last two options have the best long-term prospects, according to the report. If a deal cannot be reached with state-related universities, then it recommended the second or third options.

“These options are likely to be more difficult to implement and could entail other risks, including possible increases in student costs and the loss of valuable sovereign immunity from lawsuits that protects current State System universities,” the report said. “But if they are implemented well, these options are likely to meet the key objectives of strengthening financially weak institutions and better matching staffing size to enrollment trends.”

System leaders responded that they are already in the middle of a redesign after a study of their own that they commissioned last year. That study called for changes to governance and higher education policy but did not recommend closures, mergers or university spin-offs.

“Let me be clear, we are unequivocally committed to the success of all 14 universities within the State System,” said Cynthia D. Shapira, who chairs the system’s Board of Governors, in a statement. “Our 100,000 students and our entire Commonwealth depend on having access to the high-quality, high-value educational opportunities that our universities provide. We remain focused on that mission as we work with everyone -- on our campuses and in Harrisburg -- to continue progress on our System Redesign efforts.”

The system should focus on affordability, access and academic programs as it redesigns itself, wrote its interim chancellor, Karen M. Whitney, in a response letter included in the RAND report.

“Shifting control of the State System universities to the state-related institutions will not change the factors affecting enrollment,” she wrote. “Nor would it address the other major factor affecting the universities’ long-term sustainability -- lagging state support.”

The president of the state system’s faculty union, Kenneth M. Mash, issued a statement saying, “Those pushing for this study have no love for public higher education.” He called the new study flawed from the start.

“Most of our universities that are struggling are located in some of the poorest areas of the Commonwealth,” Mash said. “How does it improve the lives of those who live there to close out opportunities for students to achieve the American dream?”

The new report notes several external pressures on the state system, including a declining traditional college-age population in Pennsylvania, limited state support for public higher education and competition between colleges and universities. Enrollment declined 12.9 percent across the state system’s 14 universities between 2010 and 2016 and financial indicators worsened.

April 26, 2018

Twelve Colorado State University graduates sued the university last month for failing to accredit its landscape architecture master’s degree program, according to The Coloradoan.

Colorado State discontinued its graduate landscaping program due to insufficient funds and subsequently stopped pursing accreditation, Jessica Davis, department head of horticulture and landscape architecture, wrote in an email to students last April.

The students who are suing received master’s degrees in landscape architecture from the university between December 2012 and May 2017. The lawsuit accuses the university of costing students money in tuition and living expenses, as well as potential earnings and lost job opportunities.

The program wasn’t accredited by the Landscape Architecture Accreditation Board of the American Society of Landscape Architects when students enrolled in the program, the lawsuit states. The students said in the lawsuit that they chose Colorado State after it promised to secure accreditation, saying it expected to become accredited when its first class graduated.

Students were continually told the program would become accredited, according to the lawsuit. Colorado State declined to comment on an open lawsuit, The Coloradoan reported.

April 26, 2018

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in Tennessee rejected Republican governor Bill Haslam's proposal to strongly encourage the state's scholarship students to graduate in four years, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The governor's Complete College Act sought to require the state's Tennessee Hope and Tennessee Promise scholarship recipients to complete 30 credits a year. The idea of encouraging students to attend college full-time has been strongly advocated for by Complete College America, which has also pushed for strategies like 15 to Finish, which encourages students to enroll in 15 credits each semester.

Haslam argued that if the state was going to reach its attainment goal of having 55 percent of the state's adults with some type of post-high school degree or certificate by 2025, then Tennessee needed to encourage students to complete 30 credits a year. However, local legislators argued that it often takes students five or six years to complete, and they didn't want to penalize those students.

April 26, 2018

In 2016, inflation-adjusted spending for academic humanities research decreased for the first time since 2007, the first year for which reliable data are available. Expenditures in 2016, approximately $435 million, were down slightly (less than 0.1 percent) from the year before. The data are from the Humanities Indicators, a project of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. The spending is a small fraction of that for other disciplines. Federal spending made up about 13 percent of the humanities research funds -- less than half the share of federal funding in all other fields, which ranged from 29 percent in nonscience, nonhumanities fields to 67 percent for the mathematical, statistical and physical sciences.

April 26, 2018

An audit released Tuesday revealed that the California State University system has hazardous materials on its campuses, including faulty laboratory equipment, contaminated drinking water and asbestos.

“We found that the Chancellor’s Office has failed to sufficiently oversee health and safety on campuses,” the report, published by Sacramento's Capital Public Radio, said.

The audit looked at four California State University campuses -- Channel Islands, Sacramento, San Diego and Sonoma.

All the colleges fell short in terms of safety measures, the report said. The four campuses failed to give students adequate safety training before working in laboratories. Three of four campuses did not conduct required inspections of laboratory safety equipment. Sacramento and San Diego didn’t post warning signs outside rooms with asbestos. And none of the campuses maintained relevant protocols for laboratory workers using hazardous chemicals -- Sacramento hadn’t updated its plan for 15 years, while Sonoma hadn’t for six years.

“Without resolving these issues, campuses cannot ensure they are effectively protecting students and employees against injuries and illnesses,” auditor Elaine Howle wrote in a letter attached to the report.

The California State University Employees Union called for the audit after several safety issues surfaced recently. Some problems included a professor and a group of students finding lead in drinking water, a faulty shelf in a laboratory that caused a chemical spill and a university employee who claimed he was fired after bringing up concerns about asbestos.

The system plans to follow the auditor’s recommendations, Toni Molle, director of public affairs at California State, told Capital Public Radio.

April 26, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, part one of a student protest series, Jerusha Conner, associate professor of education at Villanova University, compares protests over mass shootings with another politically charged time in our history. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

 

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