Behind The News

Behind The News

By:

When trustees for the University of Louisville (Ky.) voted in July to make it the state's first public university to extend health-insurance benefits to unmarried domestic partners, including gays and lesbians, they no doubt believed they were doing a noble thing. After all, at least 300 higher education institutions currently offer health benefits for domestic partners. At the time Louisville President James Ramsey praised the trustees on their action. "That probably wasn't an easy vote for some trustees," he said, noting that extending benefits was "the right thing to do."

The University of Kentucky has also supported the idea of domestic partner benefits and expects to decide on a course of action early next year. In both cases the proposals were largely seen in a practical light, allowing the schools to offer competitive benefits packages that could help recruit and keep the best employees.

Not everyone, however, sees it that way. State Rep. Stan Lee (R-District 45) introduced a bill last month to stop the move. Lee's bill would prohibit any post-secondary institution from providing benefits to unmarried couples-whether they are of the same sex or the opposite sex.

By his reasoning, Kentucky voters rejected the idea of domestic partner benefits when they passed a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.

A similar fight is under way at Michigan State University, where opponents say the school violates a state constitutional amendment by offering benefits. The 2004 amendment defined marriage "or any similar union for any purpose" as the union of a man and a woman, but at least seven other Michigan institutions currently provide benefits to same-sex couples.

And in Wisconsin, where the University of Wisconsin System has been seeking domestic partner benefits, voters approved a constitutional amendment last month that not only defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but also bars the state from granting legal status similar to marriage to unmarried individuals. Despite that, the UW System Board of Regents will likely ask lawmakers to provide domestic partner benefits for its workers. UW-Madison is the only Big 10 university that currently does not offer the benefits.

In all three cases, although the legality of the benefits programs has been challenged, few expect the schools to discontinue the packages, especially since similar benefits are becoming more common in the corporate world. Christine Gilgor, executive director of the Kentucky Fairness Alliance, believes the anti-benefits groups don't have the support to carry through on their challenge.

-Tim Goral

SOUND BITE

 

I  wonder what role Harry Potter may have played in this.

 

-John Bruss, of SewaneeUniversity (Tenn.), on the rise in Greek and Latin language studies.  

 

For unprepared parents, a college's sticker shock can be pretty brutal. But "when it comes to paying for college, the good news is that you have 18 years to plan, there are tax-advantaged solutions, and you don't have to go it alone," says Jennifer DeLong, director of College Savings Plans at AllianceBernstein Investments. Unfortunately, she says, "most parents are about as prepared to meet college costs as freshmen are to do their own laundry."

A study conducted by Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc. for AllianceBernstein found a huge disconnect between the real cost of college and how much parents think it costs.

On average, surveyed parents with children ages 14-to-17 say they plan to have $12,000 saved when their child reaches college age. Considering that the projected cost of a 17-year-old's college education can be in the tens of thousands for a public IHE and even higher for a private IHE, that $12,000 won't go very far.

Part of the confusion stems from parents' expectations that colleges will help cover costs by offering scholarships, grants, and financial aid. Eighty-seven percent of parents are counting on their children to receive scholarship or grant money and more than two-thirds believe colleges will offer reasonably affordable financial aid. But the reality is that scholarship and grant dollars are less available now than in the past.

Sixty-seven percent also believe their children will graduate with debt and 63 percent view debt as a "part of life." Despite good intentions, many are clueless about the real cost of college. Instead of saving appropriately, the study found they tend to spend unwisely, depend on debt, and have unrealistic expectations of the financial aid process.

-Alana Klein

The MIT Press, 2006; 272pp.; $27.95; www.mitpress.mit.edu

It is hard to be a pioneer, but when the environment is going to hell in an SUV cup holder, the hassle is worth it. That is one of the lessons David Orr learned while trying to build the Adam Joseph Lewis Center at Oberlin College (Ohio), the first substantially green building on a college campus.

The Lewis Center is green with a capital G, including everything from solar arrays to produce energy, to a wastewater reclamation system called "Living Machine" that utilizes wetlands plants, to regionally appropriate landscaping. Orr includes enough information in his book about the planning and design process, as well as the political intrigue encountered, to be interesting and provide useful information, but not enough to bog the story down. The project is shown, warts and all, as when Orr presents a variety of reasons the building isn't as energy efficient as it should be. Along the way he talks of bureaucratic foot-dragging demoralization of the design team, and design mistakes that hampered the mechanical systems. He also includes a history of Ecological Design, and meditations on mankind's relationship to buildings and the process of institutional change.

With sustainability currently in vogue, current projects shouldn't find the same resistance Orr encountered, but the book would be a resource on what to include and pitfalls to avoid on other projects.

-Ann McClure

The term "study abroad" usually brings to mind images of European cities, not the ski resorts in Utah, but Westminster College is changing that with its three-year-old Winter at Westminster program. For an extra $2,995 above normal tuition and fees, students receive a season pass to two resorts and specially arranged winter recreation activities, ranging from backcountry skiing and yurt camping to bobsledding at the site of the 2002 Winter Olympics. Dedicated advisors ensure the students' schedules are arranged so they can make the most use of their season passes, and that their course credits will transfer back to their home institutions.

"The program is much more than just a season pass," explains Sarah West, director of Winter at Westminster. Students of any major can attend, and they take a full course load of standard classes, so graduation isn't delayed. Students can also do internships; this opportunity led to one alumni being hired by the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association. Westminster is onto something. Although only 15 students have participated to date, more than 1,000 inquiries have been received this year, so enrollment will be capped at 40 students. -A.M.

SOUND BITE

They don't need to feel defensive.

-U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, in reference to higher ed's reaction to the proposed accountability database, charges of high tuition prices, inaccessibility, and other points made in the report issued by the U.S. Commission on the Future of Higher Education.

 

Just before they were about to be tried for murder, two former roommates from Seton Hall University (N.J.) pleaded guilty to starting a deadly dorm fire nearly seven years ago which killed three students. Joseph LePore and Sean Ryan have confessed to setting fire to a banner in a lounge in celebration of a basketball victory.

Investigators determined early on that the fire was caused by arson, but LePore and Ryan weren't charged with the crime until 2003. The two denied their involvement for years. Further, the defense team claimed the university didn't have appropriate prevention systems in place at the time of the fire. Not true, insists Thomas White, the assistant VP for public relations and marketing. SHU's dormitories complied with fire safety codes at the time of the blaze, he told the media. In exchange for their plea, LePore and Ryan will each spend five years in jail, as opposed to the 30-year sentences they were facing had they been convicted of murder. -Jean Marie Angelo

In recent months a rash of institutions announced capital campaigns with multibillion dollar goals. Which makes one wonder, is there that much money in the world? John Lippincott, president of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education, says there is. According to a study by Boston College professor Paul G. Schervish, during the first half of this century baby boomers will probably inherit between $41 trillion and $136 trillion. Since 1980 annual giving to higher education has doubled every year. Lippincott predicts that if that trend continues, "we could see [total giving] close to $100 billion by 2020." And that won't be because of the dozen multibillion-dollar campaigns alone; thousands of smaller campaigns are also being conducted, but overlooked by the media. Lippincott says most IHEs with an established fundraising team are either currently conducting a campaign, finishing one up, or planning a new one.

What happens to all that money? Cornell University plans to use its $4 billion for student aid, recruiting and retaining faculty, and improving infrastructure. Columbia, Stanford and the University of Virginia have similar goals, with K-12 education thrown in for good measure, while Yale is also going to spend some on the arts.

CASE suggests campaigns not exceed seven years, but that institutions not make it too short either; to raise $1 billion in one year would take bringing in $2,739,726.03 per day. Let's put these staggering numbers into perspective. Aside from state-of-the-art research labs, what will those eye-popping amounts get you?

With $1 billion you could buy 3.3 fast food hamburgers for every person in the country, based on a U.S. population of 300,177,750.

With $1 billion you could buy four Boeing 777-300ER airplanes, or 5,041 of the 2006?Lamborghini?Gallardo?SEs.

With $1 billion you could buy 5,000 tickets to become an astronaut on Virgin Galactic at $200,000 each.

With $1 billion you could buy 12,820 Lexus LS 07 cars, which park themselves.

Looking at it another way, it cost $1.7 billion to build the Space Shuttle Endeavour. The Hubble Space Telescope initially cost $1.5 billion to build and launch. A $900 million stack of $1 bills would be 20 feet tall, 50 feet long, and 31.25 feet wide, or about half as long as a conventional tennis court (www.crunchweb.net/87billion). -A.M.

Don't ask President Patricia McGuire of Trinity

Washington University (D.C.) about U.S. News & World Reports' college rankings. Not unless you want to hear charges that it's just a "beauty contest" and an admission that surveys sent to her get "ripped up" when they arrive.

"I am referring to the portion of the survey that asks [presidents] to rate [one to five] the institutions in your area," she told a recent panel on the subject of rankings. "It has no integrity."

There was no need for panel moderator Paul Glastris, editor-in-chief of The Washington Monthly, to urge frankness among the seven panelists brought together by Education Sector, a nonprofit organization, in October to discuss the new research report, "College Rankings Reformed," which was broadcast on C-Span. As soon as McGuire, leader of a small liberal arts religious college in the nation's capital, interrupted the preliminary softball questions with her statement, "I don't mean to be out of order" before launching into her objections to the popular rankings, it was clear this C-Span broadcast was going to have some drama. One target was Charles Miller, also a panelist, and chairman of the federal Commission on the Future of Higher Education.

Suffice to say that McGuire wasn't buying Miller and U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings's argument that there is not enough comparable data in higher education, something they say will be remedied with a national database. TWU has plenty of outcome data, said McGuire, who views providing it as an ethical obligation to the lower-income students she serves. Other schools, like Alverno College (Wis.)-a small IHE often cited as a model in higher ed-do too. Problem is, no one is paying attention to them because all the focus is on Harvard, Princeton, and Yale, she complained.

"Mr. Miller is a financial expert, not an expert in student learning," she charged gingerly. "Many administrators have devoted their lives to education. The bashing of college and university administrators is part of what is wrong with this discussion."

Miller's retort: "I'm not bashing anyone, but the system is dysfunctional." Hear the discussion at www.educationsector.org/events. -J.M.A.

As the pundits continue to analyze what the post-election results mean for education, one outcome clearly has a direct impact. Michigan voters passed Proposal 2, a ballot issue that would ban affirmative action. The proposal, which was passed by a margin of 58 percent to 42 percent, culminates three years of contentious debate in the state after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the University of Michigan's law school could consider race a factor in admissions. (The court ruled, though, that the undergraduate admissions practices had to be altered when regarding race.)

Ward Connerly, a former regent at the University of California, spurred on the fight against affirmative action in Michigan, as he has done in the states of California and Washington. Proposal 2 says that race and gender cannot be considered factors in admissions practices.

Jennifer Gratz, who led the recent ballot drive in Michigan, was clearly pleased with the outcome. She is one of the two women law students who sued the University of Michigan after her application was declined in 1997.

UMich President Mary Sue Coleman retorted two days after the November 7 elections that the university will legally challenge the outcome of the elections. "I am deeply disappointed that the voters of our state have rejected affirmative action. ...We will not be deterred in the all-important work of creating a diverse, welcoming campus." -J.M.A.

The college affordability crisis has inspired a new movement of student activism. Outraged by soaring college costs, a rise in loan interest rates, and cuts to federal college aid programs, students have taken it upon themselves to advocate for change. The young voter turnout on November 7's midterm elections attests to this. More than two million 18-to-29 year-old Americans voted this year than in the 2002 elections, according to early exit poll analyses."A new generation of voters has arrived as a force in politics," says Heather Smith, director of Young Voter Strategies (www.youngvoterstrategies.com).

"Today's young adults proved that they're a critical voting bloc for both political parties to court-at 42 million strong, this generation will only grow in importance as more and more vote in each election." Many national and student-run organizations helped mobilize student voters in the months before the elections. Some of these include The Campaign for America's Future, the United States Student Association, Young Voter Strategies, Campus Progress, USAction, and The American Democracy Project.

Grassroots efforts took place at the University of Colorado at Denver, which staged "a party at the polls" featuring local bands in front of a campus polling station. At College of the Holy Cross (Mass.),x Republican and Democratic students teamed up to organize an absentee voter drive to increase the number of voters. -A.K.

A growing number of college and university endowment investment portfolios include hedge funds these days. So it helps for institutional leaders to have at least some knowledge of them. University Business contributing writer Ann C. Logue, who wrote the November 2005 article "Hedging Your Endowment Bets," is author of the new book Hedge Funds for Dummies (Wiley Publishing). Besides providing general information about the basics of hedge funds and setting up investment strategies, the book includes some explanation of endowments and the fiduciary responsibilities of endowment managers who invest in hedge funds. Unfarallon, the Yale student and faculty group formed to protest the institution's investment in hedge funds, also gets mention here. For more information, visit www.dummies.com. -Melissa Ezarik

SOUND BITE

It appears to be an open secret.

- Don Joe, an attorney and activist who runs Asian-American Politics, an internet site, on the claim that qualified Asian students are being rejected by Princeton and other elite universities.

An ever-growing number of colleges and universities are putting special emphasis on environmental concerns such as global warming, water conservation, and finding alternatives to fossil fuels. Sustainability is a field that has been identified as one of the "future jobs" which will require specially trained individuals to tackle the complex problems facing our planet. Toward that end, Arizona State University has launched a universitywide effort to educate these future environmental protectors with the establishment the world's first School of Sustainability.

Located in Arizona's Sonoran Desert, the School of Sustainability encompasses such diverse fields as science, technology, public policy, economics, education, and urban planning. The school has the advantage of using Phoenix as a kind of living laboratory because a recent population boom threatens the area's environmental balance.

"Phoenix has doubled its population in the last 20 years to become the fifth-largest city in the United States. Our population-and our urban infrastructure-will double again in the next 20 years," says ASU President Michael Crow. "Because this is the region doing so much building, we are the ones who have to figure out how to do it properly, and ASU has committed itself to being at the forefront of that effort."

The School of Sustainability will begin enrolling students next month, and will offer bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in sustainability. The innovative curriculum builds upon an existing base at ASU that includes 300 courses, 80 degree programs, and 170 research projects that involve sustainability. -T.G.


Advertisement