Higher Education Quick Takes

Quick Takes

February 23, 2018

Photo of Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.The National Science Foundation announced Thursday that the University of Central Florida will manage the Arecibo Observatory, a major radio telescope facility in Puerto Rico. Arecibo has long been one of the most significant and largest telescope facilities available to researchers, but the NSF has been looking to scale back its support for the facility. The university said it planned major improvements for the facility. UCF will lead a new consortium -- including Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan and Yang Enterprises, a Florida company -- that will manage the observatory.

February 23, 2018

The entire editorial board of the scholarly journal Building Research & Information announced Friday morning that it is resigning to protest the publisher's decision to replace the editor-in-chief. The board members resigning come from leading universities around the world. In an open letter, the departing editorial board members said Taylor & Francis cited no problems with the journal, but only a desire to rotate editors. The editorial board members said that Taylor & Francis was endangering the journal by rejecting the views of the entire editorial board.

A Taylor & Francis spokeswoman, via email, issued this statement: "Whilst we appreciate that in the intervening period the editorial board have collectively resigned, it was always our intention to share an agreed approach and timeline to the wider editorial board once these discussions had concluded. We have now been in direct contact with the entire editorial board to suggest a meeting where this can be fully discussed, including our reasoning for proposing a fixed-term, rotating editor-in-chief position. We hope to continue this discussion directly with them and believe that, despite their collective resignation, this would be a positive conversation, well worth having."



February 23, 2018

Nancy Kolsti, a spokeswoman for the University of North Texas, resigned this week amid public discussion of an email she sent to a student leader criticizing "reverse racism," The Denton Record-Chronicle reported. Kolsti sent the email to a student who was involved in efforts to have the university name a new residence hall for a minority individual or a woman. Just over half the students at the University of North Texas are not white, and 52 percent are women, but none of the 87 buildings on campus are named for a minority individual (two are named for women). Kolsti's email, which the recipient posted to social media, said that "UNT buildings should be named after individuals who are deserving of such an honor -- not individuals who are chosen to fill a quota system." Many were shocked that someone who was a university spokesperson would send such an email, even after the university said she had acted as a private citizen. The university said Kolsti resigned for personal reasons.

February 23, 2018

New research from Aarhus University, in Denmark, predicts that German universities will see gains from Brexit, as British universities lose. The research is based on interviews with academics and university leaders in 10 European countries. Generally, those interviewed said they were feeling less likely than in the past to set up partnerships with British universities, but they were more likely to seek German partners. Further, the study finds Germany is already in a dominant position, as it is currently the top research collaborator for 19 European countries. Britain is the top collaborator for only one country (Germany).

February 23, 2018

Today on the Academic Minute, Samuel Sober, assistant professor in the biology department at Emory University, explores which part of our brain avoids making the same error twice. Learn more about the Academic Minute here.

February 22, 2018

The College Board sent admissions leaders an email message Wednesday related to the murders last week at a Florida high school -- and some recipients are questioning the taste of the message, which they see as a promotion of the Advanced Placement program.

"The shootings in Florida reverberate throughout our halls, hearts, and minds," started the email from David Coleman, the College Board's president. The message went on to say that a Florida student involved in efforts to promote gun control gave a speech this week "infused with references to her A.P. Government class. At a time of utmost passion, she insists that she has been trained in evidence." Then Coleman notes that a journalist describing another student who had learned in AP History about the Pentagon Papers and the role of journalism. Students who cite what they learned in AP courses, Coleman said, "honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to students."

Shortly after the email was sent, admissions leaders in higher education and some high school teachers started questioning why Coleman would send out such an email right now. Also angering some educators was that Coleman criticized one of the students who noted her AP course, saying that her rhetoric "may have benefited from a less partisan approach and an attempt to better understand the positions of gun rights proponents." The student was from the high school where the shooting took the lives of some of her fellow classmates, and many asked why Coleman had any business questioning her perspective.



UPDATE: On Thursday morning, the College Board issued this statement: "This past week, our hearts have ached for the students, educators, and families in Broward County. The purpose of our letter to members was to put the focus on the remarkable students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to share their voices. We sincerely apologize that our words have taken the focus away from the needs of their community at this terrible time."

February 22, 2018

Atlantic Union College, in Massachusetts, will close this year, its board announced Wednesday. The college, affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church, lost accreditation in 2011 and stopped operations for a time but reopened in 2015. A statement from the college's board and from church leaders said that it was no longer financially feasible to run the college. Efforts will be made, officials said, to help students transfer to other institutions. The decision follows a study of the college's finances by the Atlantic Union Conference (the Northeastern division of the church).

February 22, 2018

No, it wasn’t satire. A poster inviting “all women who love math” to an all-male panel on the topic was widely criticized at Brigham Young University and beyond this week.

The university’s math department soon responded to the controversy on Facebook, saying that the poster was made by a student organization and had since been updated.

A university spokesperson referred a request for comment to the math department’s response, as well as to commentary from an undergraduate student who said she made the poster. 

February 22, 2018

Rider University intends to sell Westminster Choir College to a Chinese company that owns K-12 schools in Beijing -- an unusual move that would keep Westminster on its campus in Princeton, N.J., but also confirms faculty fears that the buyer is a foreign for-profit entity.

Beijing Kaiwen Education Technology Co. and Rider have finalized a nonbinding term sheet, the university said today. The sale would transfer Westminster Choir College, Westminster Conservatory of Music and Westminster Continuing Education to a company based in China that owns two K-12 international schools in Beijing called the Kaiwen Academies.

Rider will receive $40 million in exchange for Westminster’s campus in Princeton, its facilities and its programs. The deal would also include the transfer of Westminster’s endowment, valued at roughly $19 million, from Rider to Kaiwen.

The unusual move caps more than a year of acrimony between Westminster’s backers and Rider’s administration. Facing financial difficulties, Rider considered moving Westminster from Princeton to its main campus in Lawrenceville, N.J., but faculty members, students and alumni fought the idea. Instead, Rider leaders decided to try to sell the choir college, setting off months of public jockeying and court challenges as faculty members and other Westminster boosters recoiled at details, including notices warning of layoffs if the college cannot be sold. A dispute over the layoff notices is expected to go to arbitration next month.

Kaiwen expects to make employment offers to Rider faculty and staff members, but terms are not yet determined. Rider administrators said many details of the deal are confidential and they will release more information as a binding agreement is inked.

Rider administrators say they reached out to about 280 institutions in hopes of finding a pool of interested buyers for Westminster. No U.S. university showed interest in purchasing Westminster and keeping it in Princeton, said Rider President Gregory G. Dell’Omo. One U.S. university was interested in acquiring Westminster and transferring operations away from Princeton, and six or seven international institutions were interested in a purchase involving keeping portions of Westminster on its campus.

Rider and its board chose Kaiwen because it has the most comprehensive plan for Westminster and wants to invest in its growth, Dell’Omo said.

“This is a healthy move for preserving Westminster Choir College and hopefully investing in the future,” he said. “We gave it our best shot for 25 years and felt we did a very good job, but it just is difficult moving forward.”

Westminster merged into Rider in the early 1990s, when the choir college faced financial challenges. At the time, Rider was in a strong financial position.

No firm timeline is in place for signing a binding agreement, Dell’Omo said. He hopes for some time in the spring. The nonbinding term sheet that has been signed contains some language on how long Westminster must be operated in Princeton, but Dell’Omo said he was unable to share details.

Kaiwen plans to operate Westminster as a nonprofit entity, according to Dell’Omo. It will have to seek accreditation and licensure in New Jersey. The company has hired two consultants to help with that process.

The company does not have experience operating a higher ed institution -- or a college or university in the United States. But it does have experience running educational operations with themes of sports and the performing arts through its K-12 academies, Dell’Omo said.

February 22, 2018

In a new report to members of the American Historical Association, Mary Beth Norton, AHA president, Mary Donlon Alger Professor of American History and Stephen H. Weiss Presidential Fellow at Cornell University, pledged action on sexual harassment -- including developing a procedure that could expel offenders from AHA events. While the association “has long been on record as decrying sexual harassment in employment,” Norton said, that “statement clearly needs expanding and updating.”

Norton said leaders within the association have been discussing the matter since the fall and recently decided to survey members about their experiences with harassment at past conventions. The association also held a session on harassment within the field at its annual meeting in January, during which members requested that AHA develop “best practices” to guide historians and their employers. It has therefore become clear, Norton said, that “rather than one statement, the AHA needed to adopt several: one on sexual harassment, setting forth principles and complaint procedures for our conventions and other meetings we organized, and others on such topics as hiring and mentoring, outlining principles and best practices in contexts over which we have no direct control.”

Members of AHA’s governing council have agreed on the basic outlines of a new procedure to promote appropriate behavior at association events, Norton said, and attendees should be required to consent to related guidelines during registration. An ombuds team also has been created to receive complaints about harassment at meetings. Possible sanctions against offenders include expulsion from the event. The statements and new procedure for addressing harassment will be drafted by an AHA Council committee. “We anticipate approval by the Council in June and full implementation at the 2019 AHA annual meeting in Chicago,” Norton said. 


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