Stories making headlines in higher education.

Stories making headlines in higher education.

Student Database Poses Privacy Concerns ; Between the Lines ; New Balcony Restrictions at NYU ; Groups challenge 'liberal bias' on campus ; Sweet Incentives for Students ; Guidelines on Giving ; New SAT Writing Section Under Fire ; 'Master'ing Homeland Security ; Red or White? ; Universities ride growing RFID wave ;
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Of all the people who should be most concerned about the implementation of a national student database, students should be at the top of the list, according to The United States Student Association (USSA). The organization strongly opposes the database proposed by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), claiming privacy infringement and possible misuse of gathered information. However, the NCES, who was not available for comment, claims that creating the database, which would include information on individual students such as their social security numbers among other personal data, would allow for a better analysis of IHEs in the U.S. as a whole.

"We're opposed to it because it creates a lot of privacy concerns for students and for students records," says Ajita Talwalker, president of USSA, who participated in a series of listening sessions at the NCES to discuss her organization's concerns about the database.

"Students should be concerned because privacy rights would be infringed upon and there is no option to opt out of the program," says Jasmine Harris, legislative director of USSA. "We're most concerned about abuse and misuse of the data."

NCES conducted its own study on the feasibility of creating such a database, which it refers to as a student unit record (UR) system intended to replace the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). The NCES' feasibility study determined that while the newly proposed database would be feasible, issues such as infringing upon student privacy rights, and the additional costs and burdens to institutions and to the federal government to implement the program, could keep the system from being a worthwhile endeavor.

Travis Reindl, director of state policy analysis at the American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU), defends NCES' proposal. He says the AASCU is interested in exploring the option of conducting research using individual instead of aggregate information.

"The concerns about privacy are legitimate. But we are reassured by the fact that NCES has a perfect record of protecting the integrity of their data. They've never had a breach. There are lots of safeguards that personally identifiable information will not be floating around."

Conversely, Daren Bakst, president of the Council on Law in Higher Education, sees a great danger in "data-matching" with the new proposal. "Once you've got a database and information like that," he says, "you let the genie out of the bottle. Just because there is more data, there is no evidence that this is better policy as a result."

According to the NCES' report, the current IPEDS framework is flawed. It states: "The current IPEDS framework cannot accurately capture changing enrollment and completions patterns in the postsecondary education sector, especially given increasing numbers of nontraditional students and the mobility of students."

But Harris says, "IPEDS already includes a good deal of information through aggregate data."

She does admit, though, that numerous problems were cited by the U.S. Department of Education about having inaccurate statistics and measures from gathering the data using IPEDS. "We understand there are some inaccuracies out there for statistical purposes; at the same time we are not willing to sacrifice student privacy rights for the sake of better information. We are willing to help the government to explore other alternatives."

Charles W. Sorensen, Julie A. Furst-Bowe, Diane M. Moen, Editors, Anker Publishing Company, 2005; 233 pp; $39.95

In 2001, the University of Wisconsin-Stout became the first higher education institution to win a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Prior, most recipients were corporations, such as Cadillac, Boeing, and 3M.

The award program--named after a former secretary of commerce--honors institutions that practice "quality management." Winning was no small feat for UW-Stout, a campus of 8,000 students focusing on career-oriented programs. The editors outline what this IHE is doing right, while also reviewing the strengths of five other IHEs, including the University of Northern Colorado, a more recent Baldrige winner.

They note that management at these institutions is agile--able to change course quickly--and dedicated.

--Jean Marie Angelo

As a result of last year's suicides, the balconies in two of New York University's residence halls will be restricted by next fall. However, to allow for fresh air, the balconies will not be sealed, says John Beckman, NYU spokesperson. The university's decision arose out of "research that indicates that restricting the means to taking one's life--such as restricting access to roofs and balconies--reduces suicide rates," Beckman says.

While there is mixed reaction to this decision, Phil Satow, head of the Jed Foundation, which was established to combat college suicides, applauds NYU's efforts. "What they are attempting to do is an essential element in suicide prevention; it's a step towards improving 'means restriction'," says Satow, whose son Jed, a student at the University of Arizona, took his own life in 1998. "Suicide is often an impulsive act. So if a student goes to that balcony and sees that it's closed off, that student might be discouraged from acting on that impulse."

A long-running battle may be reaching critical mass as lawmakers in several states consider measures to ensure the representation of conservative viewpoints in the classroom.

The issue gained media attention in recent weeks after David Horowitz, president of the conservative Students for Academic Freedom, touted the plight of a University of Northern Colorado student who "failed her criminology exam after she refused to explain why George Bush is a war criminal."

But Gloria Reynolds, director of Communications and Media Relations at UNC, says "the story is not as it has been repeated a number of times by Mr. Horowitz."

Reynolds told University Business that although the student did file a complaint against her professor, she did not receive a failing grade on the exam, and the question was not represented accurately on the Students For Academic Freedom (SAF) website. Moreover, it's not likely that the instructor, Robert Dunkley, a life-long Republican, would be mistaken for a liberal.

The exam contained four questions, Reynolds explains, and students were required to answer questions 1 and 2 but were allowed to choose between questions 3 and 4. The contested fourth question reads:

The American government campaign to attack Iraq was in part based on the assumptions that the Iraqi government had "Weapons of Mass Destruction." This was never proven prior to the US police action/war and even President Bush, after the capture of Baghdad, stated, "we may never find such weapons." Cohen's research on deviance discussed this process of how the media and various moral entrepreneurs and government enforcers can conspire to create a panic. How does Cohen define this process? Explain it in-depth. Where does the social meaning of deviance come from? Argue that the attack on Iraq was deviance based on negotiable statuses. Make the argument that the military action of the US attacking Iraq was criminal.

But the attention surrounding Horowitz's unfounded charges only served to fuel the conservatives' cry that their opinions are excluded or ridiculed by leftist professors. Groups such as SAF, Campus Watch, and Academic Bias regularly encourage students to report faculty members who squelch the conservative viewpoint in class discussions.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in several states have proposed an "academic bill of rights" that would enforce political parity on campus. Variations of the bill are being considered in Maine, Rhode Island, Maryland, New York, California, Indiana, Florida, Ohio, and Tennessee. In Florida in March, for example, members of the House Choice and Innovation Committee voted 8-2 in support a bill that aims to stamp out "leftist totalitarianism" by "dictator professors."

The bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley, said it would prevent professors from "a misuse of their platform to indoctrinate the next generation with their own views."

But Rep. Eleanor Sobell, one of the only two Democrats on the committee who voted against it, told University Business she sees a real danger in such legislation. "I believe this is a university decision and not a state decision. The state should not be meddling in academic freedom affairs," she says. "There are a lot of details involved in free speech issues and viewpoints; it's very subjective."

Still, Sobell says the bill would likely move through to the Republican-dominated House where Baxley enjoyed the support of the House leadership "for his conservative philosophy."

Southern Illinois University at Carbondale suspects that its next class of incoming freshmen will make an extra effort to complete their coursework "on time." If they don't, they won't be eligible for the new $500 cash reward that the university will be offering to all students who graduate in four years. As of now, only one in four students who enroll as freshmen graduate on time, says Walter V. Wendler, the university's chancellor.

"A lot of this has to do with our big percentage of non-traditional students, including those who work full-time or who have families," says Sue Davis, a spokesperson for SIU. The "Finish in Four Scholarships" program, however, is not targeted directly at these students, but will speak more to the traditional-aged students who prolong graduation for other reasons, Davis says.

"A lot of these students only take 12 hours a semester as a way to boost their GPA by graduation time," she says. "We would encourage these students to take summer school or distance learning hours so they can finish in four."

But in addition to improving its graduate rate, the new program is designed to save money for students, families, and taxpayers. "I think students are now more cognizant of the costs involved with staying in school longer. Every year that passes they will have more student loans and less time to make money to pay them back," says Davis.

While $500 is a modest amount, she says, the hope is to encourage students to consider the four-year plan. "We needed it to be affordable for the school while still making a statement."

Also, students who earn their bachelor's degree on time will be eligible for a $1,000 scholarship to SIU's graduate programs and a $2,000 scholarship to its law or medical programs.

Should the names of those who give to universities' foundations be made public to all? Or should their names and gift amounts be kept secret in the spirit of discretion? The answers aren't easy. Sometimes there is fear that those making donations to a foundation have undue influence on a university. There is only one way to find out if they do, and that is to know who they are and what they give.

On the other hand, some donors truly want anonymity. Some foundation directors fear that full disclosure will discourage generosity.

A number of IHEs have grappled with these questions in recent months. Iowa State University Foundation has written a new policy, effective May 1, that calls for disclosure of all donors' names, a range of their dollar gifts, and specifics on whether the gift is designated for certain expenses. The information will be kept confidential only if a donor makes a pointed request that it be so.

The impetus for the policy change was a 2002 lawsuit filed by two people who wanted the foundation to provide more details about the gift of a 240-acre farm. ISU's foundation sold the land and used the proceeds. The plaintiffs claimed the donor's initial wishes were that the land be maintained in her late husband's name. This particular legal issue will be settled in court at a later date.

The University of Louisville Foundation recently went through a similar situation involving disclosure of its corporate donors list. In this case, court rulings called for the foundation to release its records. The Kentucky State Supreme Court said that foundation records should be disclosed because such institutions perform a government function. The Colorado University Foundation agreed to allow the state auditor to examine its records after it was questioned about its spending. A legal bill requiring disclosure has since been introduced by a state representative, but no new legislation was passed by press time.

Meanwhile, several higher education associations are trying to make sense of these controversies. The Council for Advancement and Support of Education (www.case.org) and the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (www.agb.org) produced a "memorandum of understanding" that gives guidelines on foundations, universities and the type of relationship that should exist between them. While this is not meant to be a document that will cover every contingency, it does delve deeply into proper legal wording on fund raising and management. A free download can be obtained through the CASE website.

Of all the nuances of the new SAT, it seems that the writing section, and in particular the essay portion, is garnering the most notoriety. The score, which tests students' ability to write under pressure, a skill that is often utilized in university settings, is being called unfair by at least three IHEs, including Grinnell College (Iowa), Franklin & Marshall College (Pa.), and Georgetown University (D.C.).

"I think it poses great access issues for low-income students," says Jim Sumner, dean of admissions and financial aid at Grinnell College. Sumner is concerned because a good portion of Grinnell's applicants take only the ACT, which requires a "hefty additional fee" for its writing portion, he says. "If we are going to accept writing scores for the SAT (which has the fee built in) then we must require them for the ACT too."

Sumner says this added fee just makes the college application even more expensive and restrictive. "Why put up another roadblock for low-income students?" he says. While there is a fee-waiver system in place for these exams, Sumner says, it's "only the more sophisticated families that are aware of these things."

Furthermore, there's concern that needy students will be further disadvantaged by their lack of access to essay coaches and prep courses, of which their more affluent peers will use to prepare for the exam. "I'm most concerned with this correlation between low-income students and low SAT writing scores," says Dennis Trotter, vice president of enrollment management for Franklin & Marshall. "Not all schools have the resources to help these students prepare for this new section. That is why we've always taken the SAT as just a piece of the admissions decision." Franklin & Marshall has made the SAT optional to those students with at least a 3.6 GPA or those who are in the top 10 percent of their class.

Rather, Trotter says that the college essay in which the students must submit with their application is more important. "We'd rather use that essay as a measurement of their ability. And clearly if the essay is great and the test scores are bad--red flags go up and we'll look into it."

Aside from the access issue, some are also questioning whether the essay is the best way to assess someone's writing ability. "We really view writing as a discipline. We encourage students to do second and third drafts and really turn in a complex, sophisticated product--not a rushed, overly simplistic one," he says.

Despite the skepticism of the new section, these IHEs say they will take a "wait and see" approach to the writing section. "While we won't count the scores, we will obviously still see them," Trotter says. "Over the next few years, if we find three's a strong correlation between their writing scores and their performance in our academic programs then we may start paying attention to them."

Realizing the need for better homeland security preparedness, Penn State College of Medicine will be the first to offer a master's degree in homeland security. With a focus on public health preparedness, this master's program, which will be administered strictly online, will debut in the spring of 2006.

"There is truly a need for more people with advanced training, knowledge and skills in how to prepare for disasters and bio terrorism emergencies," says Robert Cherry, academic chair of the program and medical director at Penn State Shock Trauma Center. Cherry expects to see great interest in the program. "There is an enormous market out there. Last year we conducted extensive market analysis by World Campus and it became quite clear that a number of people--both professionals already working in the industry and those with an interest in the subject--are thinking about a career in this field," he says.

While Cherry sees the program expanding in the future, he expects to enroll 24 to 32 students initially to maintain a faculty to student ratio of 4:1.

Cherry hopes that more IHEs will start to recognize the importance of offering these programs.

"After September 11, it was clear that there were a number of deficiencies as to how we responded. We learned that we weren't as prepared as we thought we were," Cherry says.

Some program courses will include an introduction on public health preparedness and disaster, disaster psychology, agricultural biosecurity, public health evaluation of disasters, and critical infrastructure.

Having a drink with meals was normal for Colby College (ME) senior Catherine Welch when she studied abroad in Nepal. Although drinks with meals is not customary in Nepal, she and other American students she met there partook in social drinking when they went out.

This experience abroad prompted Welch, president of Colby's Student Government Association (SGA) to rethink the whole dining experience for Colby's 1,800 college students, one-fourth of whom are of legal drinking age.

In the fall of 2004, she and SGA Vice President Adeline Cai immediately began speaking with Janice Kassman, vice president for student affairs and dean of students, about how to implement a policy in the dining hall for older students who might want a glass of wine with their meals. The goal was to introduce students to moderate drinking, as opposed to the excessive binge drinking that reigns during the college years, though Colby does not have a problem with that on campus, according to Welch.

"Eyebrows shouldn't be raised at a 21-year-old having wine with their meal, and yet it is," Welch says.

The program started in November when older students were allowed to check into a separate room adjoining the dining hall. There, on Friday nights, students would not only have the choice of beer or wine, but also have the opportunity to learn first-hand from brewery representatives the history of local breweries, beer and wine production, and of course, how to taste alcoholic beverages.

According to Director of Communications Stephen Collins, a dining services employee acts as a bartender behind a table set up with the available varieties of wine and beer. There is also a discussion about what variety of wine goes with the entrees of the day.

"Many schools have pubs on campus," says Collins, "We've had one for years." This situation in the dining hall "much more closely mirrors what students like to call 'the real world.'"

He says the response from faculty, administration and students has been very positive. "It moves away from the 'just say no' approach, which makes alcohol the forbidden fruit."

College libraries are using it in place of bar codes. Manufacturers and retailers use it to manage the supply chain. The CIO of Harvard Medical School even had it implanted in his arm to judge the pros and cons for himself.

"It" is Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) technology, and its growing use is running up against a shortage of people skilled in the technology. A March study by the Computing Technology Industry Association (www.comptia.org ) says the current supply of professionals skilled in RFID is too low to meet demand. That's why some IHEs are adjusting their curricula to accommodate the changes of the marketplace.

Baylor University (Texas), for example, has added RFID to its existing supply chain courses, and Western Michigan University opened the RFID Technology Center Laboratory at its College of Engineering and Applied Sciences last fall. Indiana University's Kelley School of Business announced it would begin to integrate RFID into curricula for MBA students and undergraduates.

RFID eventually will be a part of a functional core of classes that all Kelley School undergraduates must complete in order to graduate.


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