Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

June 29, 2009

Trustees of City College of San Francisco have agreed to consider a formal plan to let donors sponsor classes that would otherwise be eliminated, The San Francisco Chronicle reported. Don Griffin, the chancellor, first raised the idea last week, saying that he would let donors pay $6,000 to rescue one of the 800 courses being called off due to state budget cuts. Trustees hadn't been briefed on the idea and demanded a formal discussion first. The San Francisco newspaper reported that the discussion appeared headed toward killing the idea. Some trustees worried about the concept letting the state feel it could ignore the college's needs. One trustee was worried about the possibility of an alcohol or tobacco company sponsoring a health course. But the trustees were swayed to allow Griffin to develop a plan for their review after faculty members and others spoke, detailing their concerns about how many classes were disappearing. One speaker told the board to "take the money and run."

June 29, 2009

With the World Conference on Higher Education -- sponsored by the United National Scientific and Cultural Organization -- scheduled to open in Paris at the end of the week, regional pre-conferences are issuing recommendations for the body. Delegates from Arab nations on Friday issued a "Cairo Declaration" on their goals, with an emphasis on ways that higher education can promote peace and development. European delegations met this month as well and issued the "Bucharest Message" calling for an emphasis on access and equity. The U.S. delegation will be led by Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden and an adjunct at Northern Virginia Community College.

June 29, 2009

The University of Kansas is becoming the first public university -- following moves by all or parts of institutions such as Harvard and Stanford Universities and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology -- to make all faculty journal articles available free in digital form. Chancellor Robert Hemenway proposed the policy, which was endorsed by the Faculty Senate. The articles will be placed in KU ScholarWorks, a digital repository. Open access advocates see the creation of such repositories as a way to spread knowledge at a time that many journal subscriptions are too expensive for many academic institutions or individuals.

June 29, 2009

Brigham Young University on Friday ended its blocking of YouTube on the university network, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Students still must be careful about what they view on YouTube because the honor code requires that they avoid Internet material that is not "virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy," and plenty of the videos on YouTube would not meet that standard. But university officials said that the wealth of educational material on the site convinced them to stop blocking it.

June 26, 2009

Newly released e-mail messages may mark a new low in the admissions scandal that just keeps growing at the University of Illinois. The Chicago Tribune reported that the e-mails show that the chancellor of the university's Urbana-Champaign campus, Richard Herman, pressured the law school to let in an applicant favored by the then-governor, Rod Blagojevich, in return for having the governor get jobs for five law graduates with less than stellar academic records. An e-mail from Herman to the then-dean of the law school, Heidi Hurd, who was apparently balking at admitting the applicant, said that the request came "straight from the G. My apologies. Larry has promised to work on jobs (5). What counts?" Hurd's response, which suggested why the university might need to take special steps to get these students jobs: "Only very high-paying jobs in law firms that are absolutely indifferent to whether the five have passed their law school classes or the Bar." The Tribune noted that law school rankings are based in part on job placement success, so a law school would have reason to worry if even poor academic performers couldn't get jobs. University officials declined to respond to the e-mails, telling the Tribune that their first response should be to a special state panel investigating admissions at the university.

June 26, 2009

Most college leaders lack robust risk assessment strategies, even though they ought to be on guard about a range of issues as diverse as political scandals and endowment losses, according to a report released Thursday. Of about 600 surveyed colleges, both public and private, only 23 percent said their governing boards monitored risk through regular formal reports, according to the United Educators and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges. At a time when colleges are being advised to consider political and reputational risks as part of their overall strategy, only about 42 percent said they did so routinely. “It was really quite disturbing to us,” Janice Abraham, chief operating officer of United Educators, said of the results.

June 25, 2009

Diploma mills have never shown much respect for state or national borders, so the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization have issued a joint set of guidelines on "effective practice" in preventing the spread of disreputable institutions. The document covers such topics as defining diploma mills, agreeing on the importance of the role of quality assurance bodies, and finding ways to share information about these institutions with the public.

June 25, 2009

Officials at Britain's University of Nottingham are inspecting reading lists used in the School of Politics and International Relations to look for material that is illegal or that could incite violence, The Times Higher reported. The committee that is reviewing the materials was created following the arrest of a graduate student and a clerical assistant who were arrested under anti-terrorism laws after police found that the latter had a copy of a terror training manual on his computer. The terrorism charges were eventually dropped. Some professors told the newspaper that they were outraged by the reviews. David Miller, professor of sociology at the University of Strathclyde, called the policy a "fundamental attack on academic freedom," adding that "the module review committee is a censorship committee: it can't operate as anything else."

June 25, 2009

A federal grand jury in Arizona on Tuesday indicted 65 people on charges that they obtained more than $530,000 in student aid illegally -- by pretending to be students. According to the indictment, one woman recruited the rest of those indicted to play the part of "straw students," who would pretend to enroll, and would then receive financial aid. The woman who organized the system is charged with taking fees from every participant. The students pretended to enroll at Rio Salado College -- and it was officials there who first noticed apparent discrepancies and reported them to the U.S. Education Department. Linda Thor, president of the college, issued a statement in which she said: "I want to express how proud I am of the staff of our financial aid office for their stewardship of taxpayers’ funds. I commend them for being alert, vigilant, well-trained and cooperative.... We will not tolerate abuse of the system, and we will continue as a college to practice due diligence in processing all financial aid applications.”

June 25, 2009

A Senate appropriations subcommittee crafted a bill Wednesday that would increase spending on the National Science Foundation to $6.9 billion in the 2010 fiscal year, $426 million more than the agency is receiving this year but slightly less than would be allocated in parallel legislation in the House of Representatives. The Senate measure approved by the Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies includes $5.55 billion for research, $122 million for research equipment and facilities; and $857 million for the foundation's science education programs. It also would provide $878.8 million for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, $59.8 million above the 2009 level.

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