Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Supreme Court to Weigh Race in College Admissions

New York Times
June 30th, 2015


The Supreme Court agreed on Monday to take a second look at the use of race in admissions decisions by the University of Texas at Austin, reviving a potent challenge to affirmative action in higher education.
The move, which supporters of race-conscious admissions programs called baffling and ominous, signaled that the court may limit or even end such affirmative action. The advocates speculated that the court’s most conservative members had cast the four votes needed to grant review of the case in the hope that Justice Anthony M. Kennedy would supply the fifth vote to strike down the Texas admissions plan.
Justice Kennedy has never voted to uphold an affirmative action program.

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The Initiation

Inside Higher Ed
June 20th, 2015

In the summer of 1996, I spent two weeks driving around Greece with my girlfriend and my undergraduate adviser. We argued all the time: me and my girlfriend; me and my adviser; my girlfriend and my adviser. One stop was particularly memorable for its unenjoyableness. We spent a day and a night at Monemvasia, a fortified Crusader town on a massive rock off the coast. The whole time, my adviser berated me to learn more about the extensive history of the place and turned his nose up at my girlfriend, who wanted to find a nightclub on the island.
To be fair, my adviser was not actually on the trip. He was in my head, or rather, I had internalized him. I couldn’t have a conversation without hearing him remark on the substance (or lack thereof) of my comments. He haunted my relationships and my thoughts. I carried him everywhere, like Anchises on my shoulders.

International Grad Student Apps Increase

Inside Higher Ed
June 30th, 2015


Foreign students' applications to American graduate schools climbed by 2 percent this year, driven in part by continued growth in applications from India, according to survey results released today by the Council of Graduate Schools.
Applications from India increased by 12 percent over the previous year, the third straight year of such double-digit increases.
Meanwhile, the number of applications from China continued its modest decline -- another trend that's three years running -- dropping by 2 percent. These two country-specific trends -- China down, India up -- should be understood against the fact these two countries are the two largest sources of international students at U.S. graduate schools by far, together accounting for about 67 percent of all international applications received.

Supreme Court to Consider Case That Could Upend Unions at Public Colleges

The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 30th, 2015

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday decided to take a case that could upend how unions are financed at public colleges. The New York Times reports that the court will hear arguments in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, which was brought by public-school teachers in California who argue that being forced to pay union fees violates their First Amendment rights.
Public employees in states without right-to-work laws can be required to pay fees to unions that represent them but that they may not want to be associated with. The plaintiffs in the Friedrichs case, No. 14-915, are seeking to have the 1977 Supreme Court decision that allowed such fees, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, overturned.

In Defense of Ethnography

The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 26th, 2015

Controversy over the sociologist Alice Goffman’s On the Run, a study of young people on the margins of society, has put ethnography on trial. Lost in the accusations and rebuttals, I fear, is the reality that ethnography is one tool among many but too valuable to dismiss or ignore. Like other methodologies, it has strengths and weaknesses, but it complements other approaches in crucial ways.
Almost two decades ago, I finished a visual ethnography of a small police department in a suburb of Minneapolis. Over several years, I had examined how media-driven stereotypes of what it was to be a "cop" affected officers’ work. I spent hundreds of hours, mostly on the "dog" shift, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m., riding along in squad cars, attending roll calls, and generally hanging out, observing, and photographing the police. I eventually "joined" the department as a reserve officer — lighter-blue uniform, no gun. My study, including some of the pictures I took, was published as a book.

Professor Says Facebook Can Help Informal Learning

The Chronicle of Higher Education
June 20th, 2015

Who says Facebook is always a distraction? A new study suggests that if engaged in online debate, college students can use the popular social network to learn and develop a variety of skills.
In a paper released on Monday, Christine Greenhow, an assistant professor of education at Michigan State University, argues that using informal social-media settings to carry on debates about science can help students refine their argumentative skills, increase their scientific literacy, and supplement learning in the classroom. Past studies have shown that informal settings, like conversations with friends, can facilitate learning, but according to Ms. Greenhow, very little has been studied about informal online contexts and social networks, like Facebook applications.

Oregon Teacher Union Chief Speaks Out

Jefferson Public Radio
June 30th, 2015

We can't seem to go a week without some news about standardized testing.
It's the accepted way to measure the progress of students. 
But when student progress is extrapolated to measure teacher quality, that's when the National Education Association and its state affiliates get their backs up.
The national Representative Assembly this week includes Oregon Education Association President Hanna Vaandering. 
She joins us with a discussion of testing and other hot conference topics. 

Supreme Court to hear case threatening public employee unions

USA Today
June 30th, 2015

The Supreme Court signaled Tuesday that it may be prepared to strike down laws forcing public employees to pay union dues, posing a major threat to organized labor.
The justices agreed to hear a California case next fall challenging the requirement that teachers contribute to unions, even if they don't join them or agree with their positions on issues.
Two lower courts upheld that arrangement, but the high court in recent years has been hostile to the so-called "agency shop" rules. In two prior cases, Justice Samuel Alito has written majority opinions scaling back on the requirement.
Under the high court's 1977 precedent, unions largely have been allowed to collect dues from all private or public employees they represent. Those who object don't have to contribute to political or lobbying activities, but they must chip in for the unions' efforts in fighting for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

Supreme Court to Weigh Dispute Over Union Fees

New York Times
June 30th, 2015


The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear a challenge to the way public-sector unions finance their operations. Union officials said a ruling against them would deal a blow to organized labor.
The case, Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, No. 14-915, was brought by California teachers who said being compelled to pay union fees to subsidize activities they disagreed with violated their First Amendment rights.
Limiting the power of public unions has been a long sought goal of conservative groups, and they welcomed Tuesday’s development.
“The question of whether teachers and other government employees can be required to subsidize the speech of a union they do not support as a condition of working for their own government is now squarely before the court,” Mark Mix, president of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, said in a statement.

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Monday, June 29, 2015

The Backup Plan

Inside Higher Ed
June 29th, 2015

When writing a grant or fellowship application, prudent researchers prepare for unexpected challenges by outlining alternative means to address their research questions. Ph.D.s would never invest precious grant money and time in a project whose success is tied to the implementation of a single research method. Nor should they invest in a job search that is too narrow. Although there are a plethora of career options for Ph.D.s, landing the first job after graduate school or postdoc training is still difficult.
Considering multiple options is simply pragmatic since a narrow job search can lead to unfortunate consequences including training that drags on indefinitely, reactionary career decisions and even a period of unemployment. If you find that your job search does not have a serious backup plan, there are several easy steps that you can take to create one. Having a backup plan will increase your chances of finding a fulfilling job after graduate school or postdoc training.

College Accreditors Weigh Aggressive Steps

Wall Street Journal
June 29th, 2015

College accreditors are vigorously debating how they can more aggressively examine low-performing schools amid increasing scrutiny into whether colleges are providing enough value.
Judith Eaton, president of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, said there was an “increased level of urgency in the national dialogue about the public’s confidence in accreditation,” in light of hard-hitting questions posed at a Senate hearing last week and the publication of an investigation by The Wall Street Journal.
Accreditation is a nongovernmental process set up by the nation’s colleges and universities, but it is required for a school to receive a share of the $130 billion in federal loans and grants that students receive each year.
The Journal’s report examined how accreditors rarely revoke membership of low-performing colleges, and give strong reviews to schools with graduation percentage rates in the teens and single digits.
Accreditors say their assessments are aimed at helping schools improve, rather than at weeding out schools with low graduation rates or high student-loan default rates.

Social media causes academic freedom concern

Daily Chronicle
June 26th, 2015


A wider audience for public speech has created vulnerabilities – and liabilities – for all involved. Social media is somewhat altering discourse on free speech, said Gunkel, a Northern Illinois University communications professor and author of numerous books and articles about culture, new media and ethics. “The clearer we can be upfront the better,” he said. “The real problem is that we are operating in a vacuum and making it up after the fact.”
As corporations and colleges try to manage their reputations, employees may feel the need to censor themselves – lest they find themselves out of a job. It gets more complicated when you add the concept of academic and intellectual freedom into the mix, Gunkel said.
Universities in particular have to be cautious when considering social media policy, specifically to protect those intellectual freedoms, Gunkel said.

Congress's Plans for NIH, Education

Inside Higher Ed
June 29th, 2015


Both congressional appropriations committees approved legislation last week that would set spending levels for the nation's health, education and workforce programs, setting up likely showdowns with the Obama administration over budgets for some programs and policy initiatives that congressional Republicans want to stop.
The policy battles could trump any deliberations over the spending levels, as the Obama administration is likely to go to the mat over its efforts -- now backed by two federal courts -- to require vocational programs at for-profit and other colleges to prove that they provide "gainful employment" to their graduates.
The spending bills passed by both the House and Senate Appropriations Committees last week would block the gainful employment rule and a series of other regulatory efforts that the Obama Education Department has undertaken, but the administration has invested so much time and energy in the gainful rule that it is almost certain to fight any attempt to undermine it.

Still Out of a Job

Inside Higher Ed
June 29th, 2015


The board of Northwest Nazarene University announced Friday that it is standing behind a decision to end the job of a theologian whom students, former students and colleagues view as a model teacher and an important thinker.
Officially the elimination of Thomas Jay Oord's job was a layoff that the university said was necessary for financial reasons. But professors and others doubt that reason, and say that universities don't generally eliminate the jobs of their best known and most loved faculty members -- especially those with tenure -- without faculty consultation and without sound evidence of financial distress. Many of Oord's supporters believe his job was eliminated because his views on evolution clash with those of some Nazarene traditionalists. And for many, his case has raised concerns about the state of academic freedom at some religious institutions.

The Supreme Court Ruling and Christian Colleges

Inside Higher Ed
June 29th, 2015


Friday's Supreme Court decision that states must authorize and recognize gay and lesbian marriages could create major legal challenges for religious colleges -- primarily evangelical Christian colleges that bar same-sex relationships among students and faculty members. Or the decision may not create much of a legal challenge at all. Or it may create challenges, but not soon.
Legal experts are divided. But the question of whether same-sex marriage as a national right changes the legal status of Christian colleges is no longer just theoretical.