Behind the News

Behind the News

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HARVARD HAS A ROUGHLY $38 billion endowment, yet recently its Dining Services started to supplement cherry tomatoes with tomato wedges and use more chicken thighs in place of breast meat, a cost-control decision that sparked student outrage and media attention.

Recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor cite that national domestic food costs rose 5 percent compared to where they were one year ago, and Harvard's adjustments are in line with what food-service operations at higher ed institutions across the country are doing in response to increasing food costs. Gas prices, which are incorporated into food costs, contribute to this issue.

Measures being taken at campus dining halls range from creative menu changes to renegotiating contracts with food suppliers, all while trying to maintain food quality.

"This increase has tasked us with working a little harder and being more creative in helping to offset costs without sacrificing food quality," says David Heidke, director of LSU Dining at Louisiana State University. Ongoing menu revisions aim to offer edible options that are not as costly to make but still appeal to student palates, such as pasta dishes. Another cost saver is making pizza dough in-house. Even with such steps, meal plans at the university will cost almost 7 percent more this fall.

Another savings option, and one that carries additional health benefits for students, has been reducing portions. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst has taken this measure by implementing a "small plate, big flavor" program, according to Ken Toong, executive director of Dining Services. With chicken, for example, students now receive a 3-ounce portion (which the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion considers a single serving) instead of a 6-ounce one.

UMass, which serves 40,000 meals per day to 13,600 students during the school year, has also streamlined its cooking process by using software to analyze the flow of dining traffic so that cooking can be done based on need. In addition, the school has been actively renegotiating its contracts with vendors to address food costs increases.

Eliminating plastic trays is another way schools reduce food waste-and use less energy and detergent. Heidke notes that food waste has been reduced by nearly 30 percent as a result of the decision at LSU to go trayless.

With the fall semester approaching, dining services will still face food cost increases. Sodexho spokesperson Jaya Bohlmann says the company is seeking ways to enhance efficiencies in areas relating to deliveries, food preparation and consumption, and waste management. How long will it all last? "From the data we are seeing," Heidke says, "we believe that we are going to be looking at continued food inflation for the next year or so." -Michele Herrmann

THE NEW VICE CHANCELLOR OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, Berkeley, is an international finance banker who will use his expertise and connections to help grow the institution's finances-all while forgoing a salary.

Frank Yeary, a 1985 UC Berkeley graduate and global head of mergers and acquisitions for Citigroup, will donate his annual pay of $200,000 to the university as a formal gift agreement in order to fund a needs-based scholarship program for undergraduate students from California.

Yeary starts his new job this month, at a time when funding for California's higher education institutions is being altered by the state's fiscal crunch. In this specially created position, Yeary will spearhead the development of a long-term financial plan that will give the campus a stable and reliable funding strategy. He may also teach. His initial appointment is for three years.

In his new post, Yeary sees both a challenge and an opportunity. "I hope that I can bring a fresh set of skills and relationships, built over twenty years working with some of the world's most successful companies and executives, to the university," he says.

Chancellor Robert Birgeneau explains that his new employee's 20-year career on Wall Street "will be invaluable in assisting us to develop strategies, both short and long term, that blend public and private support and take advantage of opportunities, partnerships, and alliances to secure Berkeley's future as a leading public university."

Yeary earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and history from UC Berkeley and has remained active there, as a member of the Berkeley Foundation Board of Trustees since 2001. -M.H.

A RICHMOND, VA., CIRCUIT COURT JUDGE APPROVED AN $11 MILLION SETTLEMENT with families of 24 out of the 32 deceased victims in last year's Virginia Tech tragedy, avoiding a court battle over whether anyone but Seung-Hui Cho was responsible for the shootings.

Under its terms, the Commonwealth of Virginia will pay $100,000 each to the families whose relatives were killed. Eighteen people who were seriously injured will have their health care needs covered for life. Similar settlements with families of four others who were killed are expected to become final. Two additional families plan to sue the state, and claims by two others were unresolved at press time. Attorneys argued that quicker action by officials to shut down the campus after the first two students were killed would have saved lives. Copies of e-mails from a faculty member showed at least one classroom building had been locked down before the entire campus was alerted about the shootings.

The settlement will also provide money for the creation of a fund for charities and a hardship fund for victims and their families. -M.H.

By Gregory S. Prince, Jr., Continuum Books (www.continuumbooks.com), 2008; 224 pp.; $26.95

AMERICAN UNIVERSITIES ARE OFTEN accused of a "liberal bias" by those on the right, who claim that students are being intimidated and forced to accept political views against their will. They would rather see "institutional neutrality" in which all sides of an argument are presented and students are left to make up their own minds. Greg Prince, former president of Hampshire College (Mass.), argues that neutrality itself undermines the ability to teach critical thinking. He says neutralists underestimate young people's capacity to see through bias and rhetoric, and that we must encourage students to challenge authority and convention. Drawing on his experiences at Hampshire as well as from representatives in the national debate, Prince argues that neutrality will ultimately damage the very character of U.S. education--and our place in the world--as we move into an increasingly global society. -Tim Goral

THE FLOODING IN IOWA IN JUNE WAS well documented in the mainstream media, showing that every natural disaster brings unique challenges and recovery requirements.

Administrators at the University of Iowa were able to apply lessons learned from floods in 1993 to their current situation, allowing them to have a plan for each stage of the flooding, explains Linda Kettner, associate director of University Relations. "When there was a yellow alert, we activated our critical incident team." They are also using this experience to find ways to mitigate damage from future floods during rebuilding and for future projects. A July 8 report to the board of regents states, "The University has met with representatives from the cities of Iowa City and Coralville to begin considering the future utilization/development of the land along Iowa River and means to mitigate flood damages."

The university has both commercial and federal flood insurance, but administrators are still anticipating a gap in coverage because of insurance limits. In a preliminary report to FEMA on July 3, administrators estimated total damage resulting from the flood to be $231.75 million, with building damages accounting for $136.2 million and building content damages of $55.55 million.

"We're intent on being open for business for the fall semester," Kettner says. Twenty buildings on campus were damaged, and at press time 18 had yet to reopen. With 250 classes still to schedule, administrators are considering renting space in the community. Fortunately, the main residence hall, the Mayflower, should be ready in time to receive students. Approval is required from a number of entities before a building can be reoccupied, including UI police, facilities management, information technology services, the health protection office, and FM Global (the university's property insurance carrier).

Community members have been able to get information from a dedicated blog (uiflood2.blogspot.com), as well as a Flickr photostream (www.flickr.com/photos/uinews).

Even as they dealt with issues on campus, Kettner says administrators tried to keep the community in mind. Extra volunteers were dispatched into town to help with sandbagging efforts, and extra sandbags were sent to communities downriver when the flood danger was past.

Other area IHEs also provided community assistance. Wartburg College in Waverly functioned as a Red Cross shelter, helped match volunteers with assistance needs, and broadcast information on its student radio station.

Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids became an emergency animal shelter, housing up to 1,000 animals at one point. -Ann McClure

WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF AN establishment located stumbling distance from your sophomore housing wanted to change from a family restaurant into a nightclub? Administrators at The University of Scranton (Pa.) responded by lodging a formal complaint in court after getting no satisfaction from the zoning board.

"We're not objecting to the bar; we're objecting to the expansion into the basement space," explains Gerry Zaboski, associate vice president for alumni and public relations. Zaboski expressed concern about whether occupancy rates and adequate exits were considered during the original review process, when the basement was just a basement. Of course, underage drinking is also a worry. But protesting liquor licenses isn't administrators' only plan for addressing underage drinking.

Vince Carilli, vice president of student affairs, says most of the programs related to drinking are run by the Center for Health Education and Wellness. In addition to the online AlcoholEdu education program, the school has peer mentors visit classes, as well as residence hall programming and social norm marketing. As most administrators would agree, a multiprong approach is the best way to deal with such a widespread issue. -A.M.

IN RECENT YEARS, ALTERNATIVE LOANS HAVE BECOME INCREASINGLY important in college financing. According to 2007 data from The College Board, these loans grew at an annualized rate of about 24 percent (in inflation-adjusted dollars) for undergraduate and graduate students over the prior five years. However, 65 percent of 263 financial aid administrators surveyed by Student Lending Analytics are concerned about the credit crunch impacting the alternative student loan supply. SLA, a California-based company that helps financial aid officers with lender selection, conducted the survey on June 10 and 11.

What are financial aid offices to do? Significant numbers of aid administrators are encouraging the use of Parent PLUS loans and loan application co-signers, as well as building alternative lender lists. But SLA founder Tim Ranzetta cautions against a one-strategy-fits-all approach in communicating with families about alternative loan availability. "It is critical to customize the approach based on understanding the financial situation of the student and his or her family," he says. For example, parents who strongly believe their child has a significant stake in his or her education might be steered toward the idea of co-signing on a student loan.

One strategy being used very sparingly is that of recommending peer-to-peer lending networks. Considering the financial aid evolution of the past year-from new regulations and changes in borrower benefits to the credit crunch and lenders leaving the marketplace-Ranzetta says it's not surprising that aid administrators are taking "a 'wait-and-see' approach to the peer-to-peer industry, which is in its infancy." -Melissa Ezarik

A NEW YORK TIMES ARTICLE ABOUT COLLEGE campuses cracking down on student drug use inspired State Sen. Roy Herron to introduce a bill that would make Tennessee the first state to require its public colleges and universities to inform the parents of students caught drinking under the age of 21. At the Tennessee Board of Regents office, vice chancellor of administration and facilities development David Gregory's initial thought was this: "Let's make sure it isn't violating FERPA."

Though the bill risked contradicting the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act, which prohibits schools from releasing such information about students 18 or older without the student's permission, the board found no violation. Gregory will be involved in informing the student affairs department in each of the state's schools about how to implement the law and ensure that each institution's administrators are "correctly interpreting what constitutes an offense," he explains. Details about the process are still being refined.

Though designed to help curb student drinking and reduce the number of health issues related to drug and alcohol abuse, Anthony Haynes, associate vice president and director of state relations for The University of Tennessee system, doesn't think the law will have that effect. He hopes university officials will realize when it comes to student drinking, "there is no silver bullet approach." While Haynes admits the university will miss the flexibility of the federal law when deciding in which cases it is wise to involve parents, he says that "the interest of the student is first and foremost."

When asked if he anticipated other states would adopt this law, Haynes says, "It will be interesting to see if this becomes a test case." He adds that it's probably too early in the game to predict the law's long-term influence. -Ginny Marr

NOTHING STIRS INTEREST IN AN ELECTION LIKE A LITTLE controversy. A record number of Dartmouth alumni-38 percent-voted in a recent election for a new executive committee for the Association of Alumni. First order of business: dropping a lawsuit brought against the college seeking to block the expansion of the board of trustees.

The proposal was to add eight more appointed members to the 16-member board, upsetting the current balance between elected and appointed members. The lawsuit was brought because some members of the AoA, who were elected through a petition rather than a nomination process, didn't like the elected trustees being outnumbered. But all of the trustees are alumni. So this year the nominated candidates ran election campaigns as well-to the tune of $75,000 each-and won by a landslide. "We felt the most important thing was the search for the new [college] president," says John H. Mathias Jr., AoA's new president. "Suing each other isn't a way to settle disputes."-A.M.

IN JUNE, STANFORD UNIVERSITY (CALIF.) went into damage control mode after a laptop containing the personal information of some 62,000 former and current employees was stolen. And in April, a laptop belonging to a University of Virginia employee and containing private information for more than 7,000 staff and students was stolen-and used to rack up $20,000 in fraudulent credit card charges.

Researchers at the University of Washington and the University of California, San Diego, hope to put an end to such thefts with their free open-source laptop tracking service. Adeona (http://adeona.cs.washington.edu) is the first laptop tracking system that does not rely on a proprietary, central service. It continually monitors the laptop's location, recording the last-used IP address and network information, so that law enforcement officials can track down the criminal, says Tadayoshi Kohno, a UW assistant professor. Bonus for Mac OS X users with MacBooks: Adeona can capture the thief's picture with the built-in iSight camera. -T.G.


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