Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

December 11, 2017

Doug Engelman, an adjunct professor at the University of Tampa, was asking students in his sociology course about their different cultural experiences when he spotted Dylan Romero sporting his signature apparel: a do-rag.

Engelman asked if it was part of Romero’s culture, to which Romero responded, “Nah, it’s my lifestyle,” and joked about Engelman trying one on.

Flash forward a few weeks, and Romero and Engelman have gone viral together after a video of Romero giving Engelman a do-rag and showing him how to wear it was posted on Twitter.

"I'm a 69-year-old white guy who's not going to look good in a do-rag," Engelman told BuzzFeed, which featured the feel-good story. "[But] I just went with it. I was really gratified that he did that."

Romero told BuzzFeed he gave Engelman the do-rags as a gift to show his thanks for teaching an engaging course.

“This man changed my mind-set in life in a whole different way while being in his class, and I couldn’t thank him enough,” he said. “I thought, ‘Let me get him his own do-rags so he can remember me when I’m gone.’”

December 11, 2017

The City University of New York and its faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress, reached an agreement on restructuring the full-time faculty workload to allow more time for individual work with students, advising, office hours and doing research, they announced Friday. The agreement reduces the annual teaching load by three credit hours, about one full course, across CUNY institutions and will be phased in over three years, starting in the fall. A labor management committee has been working on the restructuring plan since 2016, soon after the American Federation of Teachers- and American Association of University Professors-affiliated faculty union and CUNY reached an overall contract agreement that took years to negotiate. By fall 2020 the contractual annual teaching load for  professors, associate professors and assistant professors at four-year colleges will be 18 hours, or six courses instead of seven, according to information from PSC. Professors, associate professors, assistant professors, instructors and lecturers at community colleges will teach 24 contact hours per year, or eight courses instead of nine.

Barbara Bowen, union president and a professor of English at Queens College and the CUNY Graduate Center, called the change a “breakthrough,” most of all for students. “Multiple studies show that the single most important academic factor in student success is time spent individually with faculty,” she said in a statement.

Vita Rabinowitz, CUNY’s executive vice chancellor for academic affairs and provost, said in a joint statement that the agreement moves CUNY closer to a teaching workload that is in line with those of other “quality universities and colleges,” further strengthening “our ability to compete in the recruitment of top-tier faculty.” Just as important, she said, “is the additional time faculty will now spend meeting and advising students, as well as on their research and scholarship. This time invested outside the classroom will provide critical support to CUNY’s goals of increasing graduation rates and remaining a premier research university.”

December 11, 2017

Founded last year, the American Talent Initiative is a Michael Bloomberg-funded effort to enroll more lower-income students at prestigious colleges with high graduation rates. The project, which is being coordinated by the Aspen Institute’s College Excellence Program and Ithaka S&R, began with 30 colleges and universities as participants. In the 12 months since its kickoff, the effort has expanded to include 86 institutions.

Likewise, six participating institutions, including Yale University, the University of Washington and Elizabethtown College, have released "specific action plans to support these students socially, academically and financially, from before they arrive on campus to graduation and beyond," according to a written statement from the initiative.

"America is the world’s greatest meritocracy, but too often a parent’s income still determines a child’s likelihood of attending a great college," said Bloomberg. "The American Talent Initiative is aimed at fixing that, and the program’s momentum is building: more top schools are committing to enrolling more talented students from lower-income families and drawing up concrete action plans to make that happen."

December 11, 2017

The Atlanta Journal Constitution on Sunday reported on the unusual history and structure of the Savannah College of Art and Design in an investigative article focused on the university's president and founder, Paula Wallace.

Wallace for years has attracted national attention for the pay she receives from the nonprofit art and design college. She made $9.6 million in 2014, making her then the highest paid college leader, according to an article published by The Wall Street Journal earlier this year.

"How much Wallace makes from SCAD is a perpetually sensitive subject. The school has paid her at least $1 million a year 10 times since she became president in 2000 and $2 million or more during each of the past five years," the Atlanta newspaper reported. "The $9.6 million she made in 2014 included about $7.5 million in deferred compensation that rewarded her for agreeing to stay at SCAD until at least 2019, the school’s tax returns said."

The college operates much like a private business, according to the newspaper, which said Wallace and 13 members of her family have earned more than $60 million from SCAD during the last two decades. The newspaper also noted the college's relatively high applicant acceptance and student tuition rates.

"Many students rely on loans to cover the $50,000 a year in tuition, housing and other fees. SCAD’s 2016 graduates with student loans owed an average of $37,000, about 25 percent more than the national average, according to government data," the article said. "Student payments from federally guaranteed loans make up more than one-fourth of SCAD’s annual budget."

December 11, 2017

The U.S. Department of State will revamp its foreign travel warnings in January, CNN reported. The current system of travel warnings and alerts will be replaced with a four-tiered system in which every country will be rated according to the level of security risk, with level one being “exercise normal precautions,” level two being “exercise increased caution,” level three being “reconsider travel” and level four being “do not travel.” All warnings will be of an advisory nature.

Many colleges and universities factor State Department travel warnings into their risk assessments in deciding where to permit students and faculty to go on study abroad programs and other university-sponsored travel.

December 11, 2017

The University of Wisconsin System’s Board of Regents last week adopted a policy calling for institutions to track faculty teaching loads, based on a Republican-backed state budget measure linking funding to instructional time. The controversial legislation, first proposed by Republican Governor Scott Walker, also requires institutions to reward those who teach more than a standard academic load. Regent Tony Evers, a Democrat who is running against Walker for governor next year, cast the only dissenting vote, according to the Associated Press.

Individual campus chancellors will decide how to meet policy requirements. Critics of the tracking initiative, including Madison campus Chancellor Rebecca Blank, have said the measure undervalues research and service and so puts research campuses in Madison and Milwaukee at a particular disadvantage in tying teaching to state funding.

December 11, 2017

Cheyney University has announced that it is dropping its football program, The Philadelphia Tribune reported. Officials at Cheyney, a financially troubled historically black institution in Pennsylvania, said that they needed to take the action to save money. The program costs about $2 million a year.

December 11, 2017

An agreement reached in the first phase of Brexit negotiations would allow European citizens living in the United Kingdom as of the date it withdraws from the E.U. to retain their residency rights even if they leave the U.K. for up to five years. It would also allow the U.K. to continue to participate in E.U. science and student exchange programs through the end of the current budget cycle in 2020.

"Following withdrawal from the union, the U.K., will continue to participate in the union programs financed by the MFF [Multiannual Financial Framework] 2014-2020 until their closure," a joint report from the E.U. and U.K. negotiating teams says. "Accordingly, the eligibility to apply to participate in union programs and union funding for U.K. participants and projects will be unaffected by the U.K.’s withdrawal from the union for the entire lifetime of such projects."

The main association of university leaders in Britain, Universities UK, praised the developments, while stressing the importance of the next phase of Brexit negotiations to British academe.

"It is welcome news that an agreement has finally been reached on citizens' rights, which has long been universities' first priority for Brexit negotiations," Universities UK’s chief executive, Alistair Jarvis, said in a statement. "Today's announcement means that the 46,000 E.U. nationals working across the U.K. university sector have clarity that they can remain and work in the U.K. and gain settled status. We also welcome the confirmation that people with settled status will be able to spend up to five consecutive years outside the U.K. without losing this status."

Jarvis also described it as “positive news” that students and universities will be able to participate in Horizon 2020, a research funding program, and Erasmus+, a student exchange program, “until at least the end date of the current programs.”

"Phase two of the negotiations is hugely important for universities," Jarvis said. "To ensure universities can deliver maximum impact post-exit, this should include negotiating access to the next European research and innovation program (FP9) and to the Erasmus+ mobility program. Developing a post-exit immigration system, with minimal barriers to allow talented European staff and students to work and study in the U.K., is a priority."

British academia has been to a large degree united in its opposition to and concerns about Brexit. In advance of the 2016 referendum on whether the U.K. should leave the E.U., university leaders and researchers argued that Britain's exit risked cutting off the flow of talent into the U.K. and damaging the country's universities and science.

December 11, 2017

Today on the Academic Minute, Sebastian Deffner, assistant professor of physics at the University of Maryland Baltimore County, explores quantum supremacy and how it could keep our data safe in the future. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

December 8, 2017

Representative Pete Sessions, a Texas Republican, on Thursday circulated a letter to House colleagues urging GOP leaders to exclude from final tax reform legislation a provision that would tax graduate students' tuition benefits.

The letter signals at least one House Republican is focused on an issue graduate students across the country have organized around for weeks. On Tuesday, about 40 graduate students protested at the office of House Speaker Paul Ryan, leading to nine arrests.

"A tax on graduate tuition waivers would be unfair, would undermine our competitive position and would inhibit the economic growth that tax reform promises," he letter reads.

The provision -- one of several in House tax reform legislation stripping current student and borrower benefits from the tax code -- would effectively treat tuition waivers offered by colleges to grad students as taxable income. For many graduate students, that change could increase their tax bill by several thousand dollars, making the cost of their programs unaffordable.

While the House legislation passed last month included the repeal of tax-free tuition benefits for grad students, Senate legislation passed over the weekend left out that and other House provisions affecting student benefits. A conference committee named by House and Senate leaders Thursday will soon look to iron out the differences between the two bills. Higher ed lobby groups like the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the American Council on Education have joined students in calling for those provisions to be excluded from final legislation.

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