Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

January 21, 2017

A man was shot and seriously wounded at the University of Washington Friday night outside a building where Milo Yiannopoulos, the Breitbart writer who has been inflaming campuses with his comments about race and gender, was speaking. Details were not available on the shooting victim or on a suspect now in custody. The shooting victim is in the hospital.

As at many other campuses, Yiannopoulos drew protests and there were clashes -- mostly verbal but some involving the throwing of objects -- between Yiannopoulos fans waiting to get in and those protesting. The Seattle Times described some of the chants that took place, with those supporting Yiannopoulos shouting "white power" and those opposed shouting back "Nazi scum."

Prior to the event, many urged the university to call off the speech.

But Ana Mari Cauce, the university's president, declined to do so, citing the values of free expression. In a statement, Cauce criticized Yiannopoulos. "I want to state clearly, especially to the thousands of people who have contacted my office with concerns about an upcoming visit by a speaker known for racist and misogynist provocation, that we understand and empathize with their objections and frustration. The statements he has made at other campuses are clearly in opposition to the University of Washington’s values …. He is not someone I would ever invite to speak here, not because I don’t value a robust or difficult discussion about a range of policies or social issues -- such conversations are necessary and college campuses are ideal places to have them -- but because this is clearly not the kind of conversation he is seeking. He generates heat, not light, and his manner of engagement is anything but civil, respectful or conducive to true dialogue across differences, of which we need more, not less."

She added that the university would not block his right to speak, however. "The right to free speech and expression is broad and allows for speech that is offensive and that most of us would consider disrespectful, and even sexist or racist. As a public university committed to the free exchange of ideas and free expression, we are obligated to uphold this right," she said.

January 20, 2017

Teresa A. Sullivan (right) announced Friday that she plans to step down as president of the University of Virginia when her current contract ends in the summer of 2018. While president, Sullivan has pushed plans to expand the faculty and selected academic programs, and led efforts to improve the undergraduate experience and academic advising. She also led efforts to complete a $3 billion fund-raising campaign. And Sullivan worked to fight sexual assault when the university was the subject of a now notorious Rolling Stone article about an alleged fraternity rape, and she pushed to continue those efforts and to mend campus relations when the article turned out to be false. In the last week, she announced plans to increase undergraduate enrollment to admit more Virginians and to provide new financial aid funds to those not eligible for most other aid.

Sullivan may be best known for her successful effort to hold on to her job in 2012 when board members ousted her but backed down two weeks later amid an outpouring of support on campus for Sullivan and anger at the board members who wanted to remove her.

January 20, 2017

David Gelernter (right), an outspoken Yale University professor, is under consideration as a science adviser to the Trump administration, The Washington Post reported. Gelernter is a computer scientist who is well known for reasons beyond his scholarship -- in 1993, Gelernter was a target of a mail bomb sent by Ted Kaczynski, known as the Unabomber, which nearly killed Gelernter.

He also has become a force in the culture wars about higher education. He is the author of America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats). In that book, he offers many critiques of higher education. Gelernter is Jewish but suggests that some of what he sees as academe's problems relate to increasing "Jewish presence at top colleges." He wrote that, in part because of Jews, colleges have moved to the left politically and acquired "a more thrusting, belligerent tone."

January 20, 2017

Francis Collins (right), director of the National Institutes of Health throughout the Obama administration, has been asked to stay on the job, but it is unclear how long that will be the case, Science reported. The Trump administration is keeping on some senior Obama administration officials while considering others for the jobs on a long-term basis. Collins has said he would like to keep his job, and he met with Trump last week.

Science quoted an NIH statement: "We just learned that Dr. Collins has been held over by the Trump administration. We have no additional details at this time."

Collins is well regarded by scientists and university leaders.

January 20, 2017

A California appeals court has issued a "tentative" ruling backing the right of Deep Springs College to admit women. The college is an unusual institution known for intellectual rigor and hard physical work on the college's ranch. Deep Springs has only 26 male students. The college's board (with strong backing from students and many faculty members and alumni) has been pushing for coeducation but has been blocked by lawsuits from doing so. The suits claim that the original purpose of the college was to educate men.

The college -- now with the tentative support of the appeals court -- argues that the purpose of the college was to provide a certain style of education and that the male-only provision should not be viewed as the dominant factor. The appeals court ruling notes, for example, that other things -- such as religious instruction, which was dropped -- have changed over the years.

A tentative ruling is not final and is issued to guide lawyers in their final arguments. So while the tentative ruling is an encouraging sign for the college, the fight over coeducation could still go on for some time.

January 20, 2017

Life will soon be a little easier for oral historians and a number of other kinds of scholars who have had to gain approval from institutional review boards. Revised federal guidance for such boards, to take effect in 2018, says the following activities are “deemed not to be research: (1) Scholarly and journalistic activities (e.g., oral history, journalism, biography, literary criticism, legal research and historical scholarship), including the collection and use of information that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information is collected.”

Historians, journalism students and scholars, and others have previously argued that they should be exempt from oversight by a board that aims to protect human research subjects. The American Historical Association, for example, issued a statement in support of the now-published revisions in 2015, saying it appreciates the government’s “consideration of self-regulation by historians. Individuals in any discipline who plan to do oral history interviews should follow the practices and ethical codes developed by the Oral History Association. These principles and codes aim to protect the interests of narrators (e.g., by requiring informed consent) while encouraging the creation of invaluable historical records.”

January 20, 2017

A new Brookings Institution paper by Judith Scott-Clayton questions whether free tuition is the most effective use of additional funds for higher education.

The paper comes on the heels of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's plan to make public college tuition-free for most students in the state. The Excelsior Scholarship would ensure free tuition at New York's public two- and four-year institutions to families that make up to $125,000 a year. The program would cost the state about $163 million annually once it's fully implemented.

Scott-Clayton uses a recent study from researchers at Harvard University and the University of California, Berkeley, who examined a national database of state funding levels, tuition policies, institutional expenditures and student outcomes over time to answer whether reducing the price of tuition had more of an impact on enrollment and completion than increasing institutional expenditures.

"Tellingly, the authors find large effects when state funds are used to increase institutional expenditures but virtually no effect when they are used for across-the-board reductions in sticker price," Scott-Clayton stated.

The Berkley researchers found that a 10 percent increase in institutional spending per student leads to a 3 percent increase in enrollment and larger percentage increases in degree completion up to three years later. However, sticker prices have no measurable effect on enrollment or attainment.

In the Brookings paper, Scott-Clayton states that the "free" message may have an impact beyond the dollar amount, but in order to move forward with the debate, there have to be reasonable cost estimates and lower income caps should be considered, as well as increased support for institutions.

January 20, 2017

Who says play is just for kids? Not the University of Cambridge, which through today is accepting applications for a Lego professorship of play. The Lego Foundation is giving 2.5 million pounds ($3.1 million) to fund the position, in addition to a separate £1.5 million ($1.85 million) donation for a play research center in the university's education school, BBC News reported. The university says it aims to produce play-oriented research so that "children are equipped with 21st-century skills like problem solving, teamwork and self-control.” Tiny plastic blocks not your thing? Cambridge has previously advertised for a doctor of chocolate.

January 20, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute: Nicholas Leadbeater, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Connecticut, asks if laughing gas is a bad thing. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

January 19, 2017

A much talked-about article in The New York Times Wednesday didn't have alumni of Davidson College bursting with pride. Many alumni and others noted the Davidson reference in the profile of Cameron Harris, a recent graduate who mastered the art of creating fake news and making money in the process. As the article notes, his fake news also appears to have had an impact that worked in the favor of Donald Trump in the presidential election.

With so many people asking questions, Davidson released a statement: "Davidson works hard to create a culture of trust in which honesty and personal integrity are foundational. We hope that these values are instilled for life and we are disappointed when any alumnus falls short."

In the Times article, Harris is quoted as saying that he needed money because of the student loans he took out to attend Davidson. Of the money he earned producing fake news, he said, "I spent the money on student loans, car payments and rent."

Of course some in higher education may remember that Davidson is among the small group of private colleges that meet full financial need of all admitted applicants without including loans in aid packages.

Asked about his student loans, Harris said via email that Davidson didn't award him enough aid to cover his costs and that he ended up borrowing $60,000. He said the college is "disingenuous" in talking about how students don't need to borrow.

Davidson declined to comment about that. At Davidson and other colleges that don't put loans in aid packages, some students still borrow. But federal data from the College Scorecard show that borrowing is modest at Davidson. Only 20 percent of students borrow, and for undergraduate borrowers who graduate, average debt is just over $16,000.


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